Thursday, December 18, 2008

Gift Giving with Kids

With Christmas right around the corner, I’m pondering the purpose of gift giving and how to teach that to my children.  It seems to me that as much as the gifts we give are intended to please the recipient, they are more importantly intended to convey our love and affection.  Surely that’s the primary purpose?  Without thinking it through, that’s how I’ve always approached the issue of having the kids give gifts to family members, and so the gifts have always been something the child has made or purchased with her own money.  Always the gift has been the child’s choice, although I provide suggestions.  Sometimes they’ve been ugly because the taste of small children differs greatly from mine; mostly they’ve been useful because I encourage that. 

This year my two oldest (7 and 5) took it upon themselves to start Christmas shopping early in the fall, when I was thinking of Christmas shopping, and so with their own money they bought gifts for grandparents, aunts, and uncles.  I’ve been remiss this year in coming up with tangible Christmas gift projects for those they didn’t buy for or for the third child, so now I have to scramble a bit, but that’s my omission.  I’m thrilled that the older two thought of the gifts on their own, decided what to buy, and that they considered it important to have a gift from themselves to give, and that in their own way they even considered what the recipients would like.
From my perspective right now, I think they’ve learned the gift giving lessons I would want them to learn.  Are there other lessons to be had here that I should be considering as well?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Advent Jesse Tree

I have previously posted our plan or schedule for observing Advent and then Christmas.  This year, since our kids are older, we’re adding in a true Jesse Tree observance.  We use the devotions in The Advent Jesse Tree during breakfast each day, then sometime later in the day the kids use assorted craft supplies to make a symbol related to that day’s story to hang on their "tree".  (The trees are construction paper creations taped to the shutters in the kitchen.)  I don’t provide a lot of input into how the symbols should be constructed, although for my 3yo I do sometimes cut out a shape for him if he asks me to.  I also sometimes provide general suggestions for ways a symbol might be constructed, but mostly the project is theirs.  I’ll try to post a picture later in the season, since the "trees’ are turning out to be quite interesting.

Our Jesse Trees 2008

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Formidable List of Attainments for a Child of Six–For Five-Year-Olds or Six-Year-Olds?

[This post at the moment is something of a rough draft.  I welcome your comments as I revise it.]

"A Formidable List of Attainments for a Child of Six" is described as a reprint of a curriculum outline from a CM school in the 1890′s; it was printed in the Summer 1993 Parents Review published by Karen Andreola.  Here is the list:

"To recite, beautifully, six easy poems and hymns.

To recite, perfectly and beautifully, a parable and a psalm.

To add and subtract numbers up to ten, with dominoes or counters.

To read-what, and how much, will depend on what we are told of the child; children vary much in their power of reading.

To copy in print-hand from a book.

To know the points of the compass with relation to their own home, where the sun rises and sets, and the way the wind blows.

To describe the boundaries of their own home.

To describe any lake, river, pond, island within easy reach.

To tell quite accurately (however shortly) Three stories from Bible history, three from early English, and three from early Roman history.

To be able to describe three walks and three views.

To mount in a scrapbook a dozen common wildflowers, with leaves (one every week) ;to name these, describe them in their own words, and say where they found them.

To do the same with the leaves and flowers of six forest trees.

To know six birds, by song, color and shape.

To send in certain Kindergarten or other handiwork, as directed.

To tell three stories about their own "pets"-rabbit, dog, or cat.

To name twenty common objects in French and say a dozen little sentences.

To sing one hymn, one French song, and one English song.

To keep a caterpillar, and tell the life-story of a butterfly from his own observations.

A formidable list of attainments for a child of five or six, but it is nearly all play-work, and to be done out-of-doors. The "sit-still" work should not occupy more than an hour and a half daily, and the time-table will show how all can be done, little by little, by day-by-day efforts. Our aim is to gather up the fragments of the child’s desultory knowledge, so that nothing is lost. "

Because the original article is apparently not available online and I am unwilling to pay $20 to purchase the issue in which it appeared, this is all the information I have available about this list.  Many of us who are educating children below the age of six using Charlotte Mason’s principles have wrestled with exactly how and when this list should be applied. The six volumes Charlotte Mason wrote do not deal with the ages before six except in bits and pieces.  Even Volume 1 focuses primarily on children ages six to nine, although sometimes it’s hard to tell exactly what age child is being referred to.  

Although this list comes from a PNEU school, we should not assume that it represents the official recommendation from Charlotte Mason for what should be done with children below the age of six.  It’s important to note that the Formidable List of Attainments does not appear in any of Charlotte Mason’s volumes, although she has another similar list for older children at the end of Volume 3.  What does Charlotte Mason actually say about what children should be doing before the age of six?  

She considers the first six years to be vitally important.  On p. 2 and 3 of Volume 1:
"We are waking up to our duties and in proportion as mothers become more highly educated and efficient, they will doubtless feel the more strongly that the education of their children during the first six years of life is an undertaking hardly to be entrusted to any hands but their own. And they will take it up as their profession–that is, with the diligence, regularity, and punctuality which men bestow on their professional labours."

But what did she want during those first six years?  From p. 43 of Volume 1:
"In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mothers first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it spent for the most part out in the fresh air. And this, not for the gain in bodily health alone–body and soul, heart and mind, are nourished with food convenient for them when the children are let alone, let to live without friction and without stimulus amongst happy influences which incline them to be good."

From p. 96-97:
"The consideration of out-of-door life, in developing a method of education, comes second in order; because my object is to show that the chief function of the child–his business in the world during the first six or seven years of his life–is to find out all he can, about whatever comes under his notice, by means of his five senses; that he has an insatiable appetite for knowledge got in this way; and that, therefore, the endeavour of his parents should be to put him in the way of making acquaintance freely with Nature and natural objects; that, in fact, the intellectual education of the young child should lie in the free exercise of perceptive power, because the first stages of mental effort are marked by the extreme activity of this power; and the wisdom of the educator is to follow the lead of Nature in the evolution of the complete human being."

From p. 179-180:
"But it is possible that the child’s marvellous power of obtaining knowledge by means of his senses may be undervalued; that the field may be too circumscribed; and that, during the first six or seven years in which he might have become intimately acquainted with the properties and history of every natural object within his reach, he has obtained, exact ideas, it is true–can distinguish a rhomboid from a pentagon, a primary from a secondary colour, has learned to see so truly that he can copy what he sees in folded paper or woven straw,–but this at the expense of much of that real knowledge of the external world which at no time of his life will he be so fitted to acquire. Therefore, while the exact nicely graduated training of the Kindergarten may be of value, the mother will endeavour to give it by the way, and will by no means let it stand for that wider training of the senses, to secure which for her children is a primary duty."

She wants us to train the children in habits of the will, of the mind, of the body.  She wants us to let the children alone as much as we can, while still watching over them.  She wants us to give them as much outdoor time as possible and to guide them toward developing powerful habits of attention during that outdoor time.

She definitely implies in some places and states in others that *some* academic work is going on in the first six years–learning to write (because on p.54 she mentions a child of five or six possibly making notes in his own nature journal), learning the alphabet and at least some pre-reading and possibly even full-blown reading (see section IV of Volume 1 Part V), learning to paint (again mentioned on p.54), learning to keep himself clean (p.127). But she says that this work should be the choice of the child at this age (pp. 193-194):
"A child will have taught himself to paint, paste, cut paper, knit, weave, hammer and saw, make lovely things in clay and sand, build castles with his bricks; possibly, too, will have taught himself to read, write, and do sums, besides acquiring no end of knowledge and notions about the world he lives in, by the time he is six or seven. What I contend for is that he shall do these things because he chooses (provided that the standard of perfection in his small works be kept before him)."

On page 11 of the preface to Volume 1 she says:
"This period of a child’s life between his sixth and his ninth year should be used to lay the basis of a liberal education, and of the habit of reading for instruction."
She doesn’t say that we should start laying the basis for that liberal education at age five or four or earlier but at age six.  On p.12 of the preface, she specifically states that the material in Part V of Volume 1 applies to children between the ages of six and nine.  In regards to memorizing, she did not recommend we begin until at least age six.  In Volume 1 on p. 226:
"Let the child lie fallow till he is six, and then, in this matter of memorising, as in others, attempt only a little, and let the poems the child learns be simple and within the range of his own thought and imagination."
Also, on p.231 (and again on p.232) of Volume 1 she specifically mentions that a child should not be asked to narrate until age six, which means that the items on the list that ask for the child to tell accurately about a story would be inappropriate at this age (although the child could certainly hear the stories at an earlier age).  And on p. 253 she says that Bible memory work should begin at age six or seven, which means that the parable and psalm should not be begun before then if we are following her recommendations.  She suggests in that same volume that art instruction and drawing lessons begin at age six.  In Volume 5 (beginning on p. 215), she says that children under the age of six don’t need to be read to but should just be told a dozen or so really great stories over and over.

Formal lessons would not begin before age six according to Volume 1, where on p.193 (and in other places) she says formal lessons should begin at age six or seven:
"At six or seven, definite lessons should begin, and these need not be watered down or served with jam for the acute intelligences that will in this way be brought to bear on them."

Also, all the parts of Volume 1 that talk about formal lessons (or at least the ones I’ve looked at as I searched through just now) speak of beginning at age six or seven or of undertaking the lessons during the ages from six to nine.  In a couple of places age five is mentioned, but that’s not the usual pattern.

If you are familiar with the passages in Volume 1 that deal with kindergarten, there’s a strong tone of caution about too much structured activity before formal lessons begin at age six or seven.  (That age is the one specified by CM on p.193:
"At six or seven, definite lessons should begin, and these need not be watered down or served with jam for the acute intelligences that will in this way be brought to bear on them.")  In fact, the whole concept of kindergarten and the necessity for it is questioned by CM in those sections. She talks at length about the kindergarten and why it isn’t necessarily a positive (even though the kindergarten she was describing was a beautiful experience).  (I should add that she find some positives in that kindergarten experience, but in the end she emphasizes that the benefits of masterly inactivity–which is what the mother does, not the child–and the outdoors experiences children get by spending hours outside every day far surpass the results of the organized academic work they get in even the best kindergarten situation.  *Note: that’s my very quick summary of her notes on kindergarten.  Please feel free to disagree with them and present quotes to clarify her actual points.)

Charlotte Mason did not intend for children under the age of six to be free to play all day with no parental direction or instruction.  She gives us definite guidelines for the type of gentle instruction we should weave into our children’s days.  She strongly urges us toward diligent formation of habits, both habits of character and habits of mind and body–those habits will provide excellent preparation for formal academics.  However, the entire Formidable List of Attainments, as written, cannot be achieved before the age of six while still adhering to CM’s recommendations.  It may be that this list was in fact an outline of goals for a PNEU kindergarten.  That does not mean that it is in line with CM’s recommendations.  In 1903, after the Formidable List of Attainments was published, Charlotte Mason wrote "A P.N.E.U. Manifesto", and in it she specified:
"Children may not enter under six. We think the first six years of life are wanted for physical growth and the self-education children carry on with little ordered aid."

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Starting Out Homeschooling

If you are new to homeschooling, you have a lot of decisions to make.  That *can* seem overwhelming.  But remember you can always change your mind later.  Of course, it’s also true that if you put in a little time up-front to think about what you are trying to accomplish and how you would like to accomplish it, you may save yourself wasted time and money!  You’ll find that homeschoolers use lots of different approaches and materials–there is no "one right way" to do things.  One option to learn more about getting started (if you live near an area where these are offered) is to attend Smoothing the Way classes. 

Don’t rush to get started!  First, you’ve got some thinking to do about what your goals and priorities are.  Your choices are almost endless and very different, and you’ll need to have a good idea what you’re looking for or you’ll be completely lost.

This site might be a bit helpful:

Home School Curriculum Advisor

(Click on the items under How to Choose on the left-hand menu to see the content without taking the eCourse.)

I don’t think their descriptions of the homeschooling styles (like literature-based, Charlotte Mason, Robinson, etc.) are accurate, but they at least give you a general idea and their other suggestions are good.

I use the Charlotte Mason approach, because I want something with structure but that’s also flexible, something that challenges and inspires my kids but also allows them to approach the material individually.  You can find out more about it here:

Ambleside Online

You *could* start the year with this curriculum because it’s free and books can often be found at the library or printed from the computer.  Then if you decided to change, you wouldn’t have invested much, and you’d still have been making forward progress.

There’s a good website that helps you see the steps to getting started with Ambleside:

 Getting Started with Ambleside Online

This site has links to lots of different curriculum outlines or lists of things kids should know in various years, which might help if you want to take an eclectic approach and gather materials from a variety of sources:

Homeschooling on a Shoestring

Remember too that if you’re coming straight from a traditional school setting you need to allow some time to deschool.  More about that here:

Deschool Before You Homeschool

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Scheduling CM

When we started Ambleside’s Year 1 last June (2007), I had to figure out how to take the weekly assignment list and turn it into a usable schedule.  I had seen other schedules, but none seemed to fit our way of doing things.  DD needs to feel some ownership in this process, some control over parts of it, in order not to be rebellious, so a micro-schedule with each reading assigned to a specific day would not work well for us.  Also, we had a new baby coming and two other little ones with their own needs and activities, plus the usual interruptions that life brings along.  A very specific schedule would be hard for us to stick to.

I knew we would school in the afternoon during naptime when we could be relatively interruption-free and could count on being at home regularly.  That gave us approximately 2 hours each day, although once we got in the swing of things we didn’t need anywhere near that much time.

In the end, I took the Ambleside weekly schedule for Year 1 and added to it the other items I wanted to be sure to get in each week.  Next to daily items I put 4 or 5 little underlines, some items got 3 little underlines, and the weekly items got 1 little underline.

That’s it!  That gave me a place to check off the items as they were completed, and an easy way to see at a glance what remained for the week.  I could make notes to the side to record what was done or what needed to be done.  If a subject (like nature study or drawing) was missed for a couple of weeks I could see that and make it a priority the next week.  And dd could choose for herself what readings to be done each day.  I often specified *how many* had to be done, but she selected them from what remained on the list.

This year, for Year 2, we are using the same schedule format.  To that, I’ve also added an organizational help.  I have one doing K and one in Year 2, so they each have a bin that contains all their school materials.  I keep it right next to the kitchen table where we school, so that I never have to get up to find the right supplies (well, almost never).  This has helped us speed up the flow tremendously.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Ham and Lentil Stew

This recipe is from Pillsbury.  Because of the lentils, this is another good cholesterol lowering recipe and a great way to sneak dried beans into your diet.

3 Cup Cooked Ham, Diced
2 Cup Celery, Chopped
2 Cup Carrot, Chopped
2 Cup Lentils
1 Large Onion, Chopped
2 Can Chicken Broth
4 Cup Water

In 3-1/2 to 4 quart slow cooker, combine all ingredients; mix well. Cover; cook on low setting for 7 to 9 hours.

Salmon Fillets in Chicken Broth

Here’s another great cholesterol-lowering recipe.  Salmon is good for cholesterol levels, and I modify this recipe to use oat bran instead of flour.  The recipe as written uses red wine, which would also be good for cholesterol, but I sub more chicken broth for the wine since we don’t like the taste.  This recipe comes from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman.

2 Tablespoon Butter
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
4 Ea Salmon Fillets (about 6 Ounces Each), Skinned, With Pin Bones Removed
Flour (For Dredging)
Black Pepper, Fresh Ground
1 Medium Onion, Diced
1 Teaspoon Garlic, Minced
1 Medium Carrot, Peeled And Roughly Chopped
1/2 Cup Fresh Parsley, Minced
1/4 Cup Broth (Fish, Chicken, Or Vegetable)
1 Cup Red Wine (Dry, Full-Bodied), Optional

Heat a large skillet, preferably non-stick, over medium-high heat for 2 or 3 minutes.  Add the butter and oil, turn the heat to high, and wait for the butter foam to subside.  Dredge each of the fillets in the flour and shake off the excess.  Place them, flesh side down, in the skillet.  Season with salt and pepper and brown them quickly, on one side only.  Remove them (browned side up) from the pan to a plate, and keep warm.

With the heat on medium, add the onion, garlic, and carrot to the pan and cook, stirring, until the onion softens slightly, about 5 minutes.  Add half the parsley and some salt and pepper and stir.  Add the broth, raise the heat to high, and reduce until it is almost evaporated.

Add the wine and reduce by about half.  Return the fillets to the pan, skin side down, and cook over medium heat until the fillets reach the desired degree of doneness (peek inside with a thin-bladed knife), about 3 to 5 minutes.  Sprinkle with the remaining parsley and serve immediately.

Morning Glory Muffins

This is a popular recipe, available all over the internet.  Mine is slightly modified, though.  When dh had high cholesterol, the doctor recommended a particular cholesterol-lowering plan that relied primarily on increasing soluble fiber intake to help lower cholesterol.  So these muffins use oat bran instead of flour, olive oil instead of butter, brown sugar or molasses instead of white sugar–I think those are the only changes.  He was supposed to eat three muffins a day in order to get the right amount of oat bran.

2 Cups Oat Bran                                                  
1/2 Cup Raisins                                               
1 Cup Sugar (Or Brown Sugar or Molasses)                                                   
2 Tsp Baking Soda                                        
2 Tsp Cinnamon                                           
1/2 Tsp Salt                                                 
2 Carrots, Grated                                         
1 Apple, Green Grated 
1/2 Cup Almonds (or Pecans), Sliced or Chopped
3 Eggs (or Egg Whites or Egg Substitute)            
2/3 Cup Olive Oil            
2 Tsp Vanilla
Soak raisins in hot water to cover for 30 minutes; drain thoroughly. Preheat oven to 350. Mix oat bran, sugar, soda, cinnamon & salt in bowl. Stir in raisins, carrots, apple, almonds. Beat eggs with oil & vanilla to blend. Stir into oat bran mixture until just combined. Divide into muffin cups. Bake until golden brown & tested, 20 – 22 minutes.  (Watch the baking time.  Oat bran burns easily.)  Cool 5 minutes before removing from pan.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Year 0 Introduction

The early years with Charlotte Mason require a bit of a different focus than most of us are used to. Instead of academic goals, we focus on the "many relations waiting to be established; relations with places far and near, with the wide universe, with the past of history, with the social economics of the present, with the earth they live on and all its delightful progeny of beast and bird, plant and tree; with the sweet human affinities they entered into at birth; with their own country and other countries, and, above all, with that most sublime of human relationships–their relation to God." (Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series, Volume 6, pp. 72-73) The rest will come! This may even sound like a huge task, but in reality we accomplish this through simple activities and interactions–no scope and sequence is necessary.

The most important Year 0 goal, according to Charlotte Mason, is time spent outside. ". . .[T]he chief function of the child–his business in the world during the first six or seven years of his life–is to find out all he can, about whatever comes under his notice, by means of his five senses; that he has an insatiable appetite for knowledge got in this way; and that, therefore, the endeavour of his parents should be to put him in the way of making acquaintance freely with Nature and natural objects. . . ." (CM’s OHS, V1, p.96)

A close second in priority behind outside time is habit formation. ". . . [T]he education of habit is successful in so far as it enables the mother to let her children alone, not teasing them with perpetual commands and directions–a running fire of Do and Don’t; but letting them go their own way and grow, having first secured that they will go the right way, and grow to fruitful purpose." (CM’s OHS, V1, p.134) CM has much to say about the why, what, and how of habit formation, which involves far more than just establishing a routine. CM refers to such habits as obedience, attention, imagining, cleanliness, and more. Take the time now to learn about it and implement it. Volume 1, Volume 2, and the first part of Volume 5 help explain how to do this.

As for scheduling, that depends on the age of the child. Many moms (or dads, grandparents, etc.) on this forum have one or more children in Year 1 or higher. For those children they are probably planning 2 or 3 hours (or so) of formal lessons each school day. Sometimes when a post talks about scheduling and planning, it’s referring to children in that age range (6 or 7 and up).

Year 0 is sort of a kindergarten year, so some moms are using it for a 5 or 6 year old. Those moms may be beginning some formal lessons, like reading. Generally those wouldn’t be more than 1 hour a day. Year 0 doesn’t require this sort of structure, but as long as it is kept short and lots of time is left for time outside and other non-academic pursuits, it’s still in line with CM.

Year 0 also encompasses the preschool years, below the ages of 5 or 6. Those years should not have formal academics, but some moms may plan short activities each day. The most important objectives at this age, though, are lots of time outside, building relationships (including a relationship with God), and habit formation. Select only the very best books, and don’t let reading keep you from more important activities. Charlotte Mason actually recommended learning a few excellent stories and telling them to your children instead of reading books, during these first few years. "Away with books, and ‘reading to’–for the first five or six years of life. The endless succession of story-books, scenes, shifting like a panorama before the child’s vision, is a mental and moral dissipation; he gets nothing to grow upon, or is allowed no leisure to digest what he gets." (CM’s OHS, V5, p.216)

Children in these early years should be working with concrete objects from the real world, like planting a flower and watching it grow. Between hearing great stories and spending time with nature, you’ll be amazed what they’ll learn.  For more learning goals for the preschool years, look at the items on the Formidable List of Attainments for a Child of Six, an excerpt from a curriculum outline from one of CM’s schools.  You can read it at the bottom of the page here.  Remember that this list was meant to be addressed after a child turned six, not prior to the child turning six.

The Year 0 years provide an opportunity to begin Ambleside art appreciation, hymn study, folk song, and classical music.  Try gently beginning a foreign language.  Develop the habit of tea times.  Teach them to sew and draw, hammer and paint.  Play card games and board games.  These are all CM friendly activities for the Year 0 ages.

Check out our Yahoo group site. Look in the Links section, the Files, and the Database. All three sections have the content categorized by subject, so be sure to look at more than one category.  You’ll find many helpful resources.  Then read Charlotte Mason’s writings.  They are the key to implementing a Charlotte Mason education.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Our Little Flock

This has been a wild month!  First we had a hen, unexpectedly, and then we had two hens, also unexpectedly.  Then we had a hen and a rooster, and then we just had a rooster.  It seemed unkind, and also useless, to keep the rooster by himself, so we’ve been looking for a couple of hens.  Hens are hard to come by these days, though.  The only place we could find that had hens, rather than just very young chicks, was about an hour away.  As it happens, Papaw found them not long after we did.  He agreed to pick up the hens from the poultry farm and deliver them to our house on Thursday evening, so once again we acquired new birds unexpectedly (since all this was worked out during the day Thursday).  DH called the farmer and placed his order for what we wanted.  The man only had two laying hens for sale at all, but he had lots of younger hens to choose from.

Papaw arrived with five birds in a large dog carrier:  two young hens and three very young pullets.  We put the hens in the run with the rooster, who was extremely happy to see them even if they weren’t so enthusiastic about making his acquaintance.  After seeing the reception those two hens got, Papaw advised against putting the younger ones in with the rooster, so we made them a home in a cat carrier temporarily.

Today we left the older hens and rooster alone and didn’t let them out of the run.  The young hens got to run in the yard as much as the kids would let them, but they spent a lot of the day being chased or carried around.  They did get acquainted with the older hens and the rooster through the run fence, too.

We had tentatively planned to build a small run for the little ones until they grew some, but after reading online I think we might try letting the big ones outside the run tomorrow and introduce the little ones to the flock at that time.  We’re not sure about that, though.

For the time being, we have six chickens.  One young rooster (Black Australorp), two young hens (Americana–one looks just like the picture at bottom right; the other is that color without the black markings), and three very young hens (two Americana (the buff pictures are pretty similar to what we’ve got) and one Black Australorp (she’s very small)).  At this point we are not getting any eggs.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Natasha R.I.P.

The kids are crushed.  Natasha died early this afternoon.  Since we got her, she’s had a couple of spells where she seemed quite ill, but she’d always recovered.  This afternoon it seemed clear she was not going to get over it this time.  We’re not sure exactly what was wrong, but we think she might have had complications from some injuries she received when a dog attacked her awhile ago, before she came to live with us.

We can’t leave Alexander by himself, so we need to get a couple of hens now.  Hopefully that won’t turn out to be a difficult project, and hopefully we’ll be able to introduce the hens without a lot of conflict.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Why Not KJV?

I use the Ambleside Online curriculum, and for our daily Bible reading AO suggests we use the KJV.  In an article on the AO website, the use of the KJV is defended on literary grounds.   The argument is that since the KJV uses big words and rich language, and since it is often quoted in great literature, we are intellectually improved by reading it.

I do not disagree with that argument.  Familiarity with the KJV is almost certainly useful in reading literature and in generally improving one’s intellect and grasp of language.  However, I think that this quote from early in the article is key:

"Decisions about which version a) is the more correct translation or b) will most readily help your child understand the truth of God’s Word, should be approached individually, intellectually and prayerfully."

Now, the article goes on to immediately add a third criterion, that of enhancing a literary education, but it is my contention that this criterion has no place in a discussion of Bible translations.  When selecting a translation to use for Bible study (rather than for some school-related reading that is in addition to regular Bible study), the two questions given in the quoted selection should be the primary considerations.

I am not going to advocate for any particular translation.  I am, however, going to argue that the KJV is singularly unsuited to effective Bible study today.

As far as question a) is concerned, which is the more correct translation, the old KJV is certainly out of the running as we now have available much better texts.  However, the NKJV has made changes based on the newer information.

Some sites which offer information to compare available translations (I have not extensively reviewed these sites, so I can’t vouch for them; on cursory review they looked helpful):
Question b) holds quite a bit of weight for me, assuming no significant issues were found with question a).  In other words, after we’ve determined that  a particular set of translations are acceptably accurate, then we need to grapple with which one is going to best convey the meaning of the text, which is of course the point of Bible study–understanding.

The KJV uses archaic language.  That of course is the attraction for those who wish to use it as a tool for improving our minds, and I understand that appeal.  But for the purpose of Bible study, using archaic language represents an obstacle to understanding.  It’s not just that the KJV uses big words and complicated sentences.  If those big words and complicated sentences fairly communicate the sense of the original, particularly if the original also used big words and complicated sentences, that would not be problematic.  The problem arises more from the fact that the KJV also uses words not in use today at all, as well as words whose meaning has changed so that what the word means today is not what it meant in the past.  That latter group creates the most barriers to understanding, since we read the word and assume we know the meaning because we have no way of knowing that its meaning has changed.

Can a child learn to read and understand the KJV?  Certainly.  I contend, however, that the Bible study done with this version will not reach the child’s heart as effectively as study done with a version using modern English.  I donate money each month to support Bible translation internationally.  These translations are being done in areas where Bibles are available in a language spoken in that area, but not in the "heart language" of the particular people group.  In other words, those people grow up speaking one language, but learn another for purposes of communicating with the larger world.  They have a Bible available in their second language but not their first.  The Bible translation effort is necessary because God’s word is not effectively reaching their hearts when it comes through a language that does not reach their heart.  How ironic would it be if I helped these people receive God’s word in their own language but gave my children God’s word in a language we do not speak in our home?  I have yet to meet anyone who speaks KJV English in their home.

Ambleside is a Charlotte Mason curriculum.  Charlotte Mason used the KJV, but she used it because it was the only option at the time.  Also, the language used in homes at the time she wrote wasn’t nearly as far removed from KJV English as the language used in homes today.  She doesn’t discuss Bible translations much because that wasn’t an issue in her day.  She suggests that children can understand Bible language better than we give them credit for, and that they should not be given watered-down retellings.  She does, however, emphasize the idea that spiritual training is about helping children develop a relationship with God and suggests in at least one place that KJV English interferes with that process:
From Volume 2, pp.56-7:
But the little English child is thrust out in the cold by an archaic mode of address, reverent in the ears of us older people, but forbidding, we may be sure, to the child. Then, for the Lord’s Prayer, what a boon would be a truly reverent translation of it into the English of to-day! To us, who have learned to spell it out, the present form is dear, almost sacred; but we must not forget that it is after all only a translation, and is, perhaps, the most archaic piece of English in modern use: ‘which art,’ [Catholics say 'who art'] commonly rendered ‘chart,’ means nothing for a child. ‘Hallowed’ is the speech of a strange tongue to him––not much more to us; ‘trespasses’ is a semi-legal term, never likely to come into his every-day talk; and no explanation will make ‘Thy’ have the same force for him as ‘your’. To make a child utter his prayers in a strange speech is to put up a barrier between him and his ‘Almighty Lover.’ Again, might we not venture to teach our children to say ‘Dear God’? A parent, surely, can believe that no austerely reverential style can be so sweet in the Divine Father’s ears as the appeal to ‘dear God’ for sympathy in joy and help in trouble, which flows naturally from the little child who is ‘used to God.’ Let children grow up aware of the constant, immediate, joy-giving, joy-taking Presence in the midst of them, and you may laugh at all assaults of ‘infidelity,’ which is foolishness to him who knows his God as––only far better than––he knows father or mother, wife or child.
Choosing a Bible translation to use can be daunting.  There’s no one right answer.  In our home we use several versions in different contexts and for different purposes, and the KJV is available to the children as well.  I do agree with the statement quoted above, from the AO article, that a translation should be selected after much study and prayer.

A New Hen?

Two weeks ago my mom unexpectedly bought us a laying hen to keep our other hen company.  She got an 8-month-old Black Australorp from a flea market, and was assured that the hen had laid an egg that very day.   We had a little trouble introducing the new hen, which the kids named ‘Popo’, as she didn’t like to stay in our yard and kept escaping to the woods.  However, she eventually settled down, but she never did start laying.  The kids also noticed that she made strange sounds, different from our other hen.

Well, yesterday while we were getting ready in the morning my husband informed me that our "hen" was crowing.  I poo-pooed his observation, reminding him that she always had made odd sounds.  But later that morning, with the kitchen window open, I heard a flat out, clear-as-a-bell "cock-a-doodle-doo."  I have it on good authority that hens don’t crow, so it seems clear that we have a rooster who just reached puberty (and is not yet nearly 8 months old)!  Goodbye Popo; hello Alexander the Great!

The chickens had already been providing excellent opportunities for nature study, even to following the actual lessons in Handbook of Nature Study.  Now we are able to observe the remarkable, almost instantaneous changes in our rooster’s appearance and behavior.  Yesterday, when our rooster was mounting the hen, we got a whole new area of lesson, and I’m pretty sure our hen (who’s never been around other chickens) was taken by surprise!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Hickety Pickety My Fine Hen

We just acquired a chicken, one which was previously a family’s pet.  This was a boon to us because my intentions to build a henhouse and run never went anywhere due to time and money constraints, but once the chicken was here we had to build a suitable shelter immediately.  The henhouse we inherited but the run we had to create.

DD age 4 will be the owner of the chicken, and as such she’ll eventually take on most of the chicken care and half of the expense.  At the moment, DH and I are helping quite a bit as we figure out what we’re doing.  Right now the kids love carrying her around or watching her scurry around the yard snatching up bugs (and at least one small toad so far, to the older DD’s dismay).  And of course the first green egg collected was a wonderment.

Now I’ve got to go look through the relevant section of the Handbook of Nature Study, which as I recall suggests that bird study begin with chickens.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Easter Preparation

We don't really observe Lent in our house.  Neither of us comes from a liturgical church tradition, so my dh and I do not have any history to draw from.  We have decided to include some of the liturgical church year in our home, though, to provide a framework for some of our spiritual training.  Lent provides an excellent introduction to Easter (which is of course its intent), but we don't "do Lent" in any traditional sense.

This year, starting on Ash Wednesday or shortly thereafter, we began exploring the story of the Good Shepherd.  The girls each had a set of paper figures--one shepherd and several sheep--and a shoebox sheepfold, left from last year.  DS got a tissue box sheepfold, a clothespin doll shepherd, and some cotton ball sheep.  We explored a different aspect of the story each week.

Older dd needed a bit more, so we also read the Gospel reading from lectionary cycle A each week (although we missed a few weeks because I forgot).  Next year I'll try to remember to have both girls illustrate that reading each week.

Starting with Palm Sunday, we began reading from the lectionary Gospel reading each day at breakfast, still reading from cycle A.  In this way we've read through the whole passion story up through the burial.  We've been listening to the second part of Handel's Messiah each night at supper.

On Palm Sunday, the kids made their own palms and danced.

On Thursday we ate matzo ball soup and a modified haroset (a fruit salad for Passover). 

Today we made hot cross buns (although again they are rising very slowly and look to be headed for the rock status they had last year, alas).  We also made jeweled crosses (to symbolize how beautiful is the cross of Christ) and a rock tomb, into which we put the clothespin good shepherd before sealing it with a rock.

Tomorrow we will go through our Resurrection Eggs, I'll hang up a fancy jeweled egg we have, and perhaps we'll decorate eggs (although that isn't likely).  I learned today that long ago the egg symbolized the rock tomb in which Jesus' body was laid, so egg activities are particularly appropriate for Saturday.  Then tomorrow night we'll bake our Easter Story Cookies.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Flower Garden

In Volume 1 (titled "Home Education") of her six-volume series, Charlotte Mason talks about the
kindergarten, which at the time was a new concept.  She discusses this new approach to educating small children in terms of its educational value and then in terms of its philosophical value.  She had concerns about both.  In this post I’d like to look at her second area of concern, the philosophical underpinnings of the kindergarten.

CM criticizes the "garden" concept as setting up a false analogy–children are not flowers and the sort of care effective with plants does not work well for children.  "The outcome of any thought is necessarily moulded by that thought, and to have a cultivated garden as the ground-plan of our educational thought, either means nothing at all, which it would be wronging the Master to suppose, or it means undue interference with the spontaneous development of a human being."  Vol 1, p. 189

I believe she is saying that these "gardens" give each child the same treatment, expecting the same result at the end for each child.  There is no recognition that children are actually "born persons" (remember the 20 principles?) and that they may have natural bents that differ from each other and even from what we’ve planned for them.  But CM always recognizes that children are people from the very beginning and that we must work with them as they are, in their individuality.  She goes on in the following paragraph and decries the organized activities for infants that are so popular even today.  What is her concern?  That the natural, sweet play of mothers with infants is being supplanted by something less when we substitute  pre-planned games for spontaneous play.  She follows this by decrying the unnatural arrangement which puts many children of the same age together for hours on end every day.  Then she explains, with two points:

1) "It is possible to supplement Nature so skilfully that we run some risk of supplanting her, depriving her of space and time to do her own work in her own way."  Vol 1, p. 191

God made us to grow in a certain way.  Sometimes, when we try to help the process along, we actually interfere.

2) "Nature will look after him and give him promptings of desire to know many things; and somebody must tell as he wants to know; and to do many things, and somebody should be handy just to put him in the way; and to be many things, naughty and good, and somebody should give direction."  Vol 1, p. 192

On the other hand, children can’t just be left on their own to grow without direction.  Parents are there to answer their questions and help them learn to do things and to help direct their moral development.  We must not interfere overmuch, but we must not let them alone altogether either.

"The educational error of our day is that we believe too much in mediators."  Vol 1, p. 192
We can make this error at home just as well as it can be made at school.  If we try to control the environment and development, hoping that in doing so we are ensuring a positive outcome, we are trusting in ourselves as mediator.  (This can be, in fact, a form of idolatry.)

Sometimes as homeschoolers we think we are avoiding many potential pitfalls by bringing our children home to educate, but I think the problems CM has with the kindergarten are often replicated in our own homes, even in homes where Charlotte Mason’s principles are being followed.

I believe this happens because so many of us find it so easy to slide into the "system" approach to homeschooling/parenting rather than using CM’s principles as a "method". For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, this is covered in Volume 2, where CM explains that she is giving a method (essentially some general principles to follow) rather than a system (a lined-out set of rules).

I believe that if you are viewing CM in terms of general principles that should be applied in a way that suits your particular child, you aren’t gardening.  At least, what I see CM telling me to watch for and diligently apply myself toward is very different from the externally-focused efforts that so many programs emphasize.
*But* if I instead try to outline her principles, look at the PNEU programs, see what others are doing, and then compile them all into a template that I can use in my home, and if I think that by following this template I will inevitably receive on the other end the sort of people I hoped for, then I’m making CM into a system, which was not her intention at all.

I think one big culprit in this is the popular books about CM that really describe her philosophy in terms that easily become a system, a checklist of activities and experiences.  Another big culprit is our natural human tendency to prefer systems to methods.  Systems are easier and require less from us, and they also leave us with less responsibility.

Charlotte Mason calls us to be much more than gardeners, much more than mediators or gatekeepers.  She is calling us to exercise our God-given role, with the help of our intellect and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to assist in the work God is already doing with our children.  We can’t shirk our responsibility or foist it off onto someone else (a teacher at school or the creator of a curriculum), but we also shouldn’t believe that we are solely responsible for the outcome or that we can, by completely controlling the situation, ensure the results we desire.  The results we desire will come only by the grace of God.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Where Do I Start?

It seems like the biggest obstacle faced by parents thinking of implementing a CM homeschool is figuring out how to get started.  This is especially true if they are thinking of using Ambleside, because Ambleside doesn’t come in a nice neat package with a teacher guide.  This is magnified by the confusing array of websites and books professing to guide parents in implementing a CM education–in many cases these end up replacing CM’s method with a system.

Carol H., a wise and knowledgable contributor to the Ambleside Yahoo group among others, has a website full of helps for beginning Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, particularly those using Ambleside.

The various CM Yahoo groups can be helpful as well.  Many different curricula can be implemented using CM’s principles, but none will be completely successful if those principles are not understood.  You can’t just follow a teacher guide.  Reading and discussing CM’s volumes with others on one of the Yahoo groups helps clarify what a CM education really is.  The CM Series group always has one or more volumes being discussed.  The CMason group discusses implementation.  The Ambleside Year 0 group discusses applying CM’s methods to preschool and kindergarten (and is more of a general CM group than a specifically Ambleside group).  The Ambleside Online group helps answer questions specifically about implementing that curriculum.

Start where you are, and implement as much as you know.  You can learn as you go, but don’t be afraid to start.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Unforgiving Servant

My dh and I are taking a video course at church covering the material in the book Grace-Based Parenting.  In the book, Tim Kimmel encourages us to show the same grace to our children that God shows to us.  He explains what our children really need from us and what it looks like to show grace through our parenting.  As I’ve been thinking over my recent readings in the book, I’ve realized that I’ve had a perfect opportunity to show grace in my own home.

Last fall I had a baby, baby number four.  At least two of the other three kids had sensitivities to foods I ate while nursing, but this baby had severe reactions to almost everything I ate.  In order to allow him to sleep at all, rather than screaming while doubled-up in pain, I had to restrict my diet to chicken, rice, beef, pasta, and cheerios, more or less.  All seasonings had to go.  All dairy and soy had to go.  It’s certainly been a struggle for me to nurse a baby and handle my other responsibilities while not being able to eat normally, and it was especially difficult during the Thanksgiving/Christmas season.  But I’ve felt blessed that I’ve been able to resolve a source of extreme discomfort for my child.

Interestingly, I’ve had a couple of people express amazement that I would go to this length for my baby.  One even told me (and she has two small children) that she would just put him in his room and let him cry rather than adjust her diet so drastically!  Somehow, the thought of eating normally and just allowing him to suffer never occurred to me.  I think I did that somewhat with baby number three, but that was because I didn’t know my eating was causing his distress.  This time I had a wise advisor who helped me find the right foods to eliminate.

This situation has reminded me of the parable of the unforgiving servant.  God shows me grace in many ways, not least of which is the fact that even though I was completely helpless and completely unloving and unlovable, He went to the extreme length of sending His Son to go through terrible agony for me.  How could I fail to show a small measure of grace to my own child by enduring a much smaller discomfort on his behalf?  (A friend pointed out that, although I felt very deprived, I am still able to eat more variety and certainly much more quantity than many if not most of the world’s inhabitants.)

I don’t know when I’ll be able to return to an unrestricted diet.  But for now, every time I eat I’m reminded of the grace that has been given to me.

Free Time

There was much to think about in this article, but one statement really stood out to me:

Miss Mason devises time-tables which cover such reasonable hours as to leave time over for this solitude, but parents are often very culpable in thinking that Tango or some other new thing must be learned as well, and the much needed time for solitude is used for plans which necessitate hurried journeys, always in the company of a responsible person, who feels it her duty to talk in an instructive way, and the thinking time, the growing time, the time in which the mind is to find food is diminished, and the child becomes restless, tiresome, irritable, disobedient, everything that a child who is reputed to be difficult can be.

Wow! Isn’t that exactly what we homeschoolers are terrible about doing? When the children should have free time, we instead schedule all kinds of extra activities that we just know they *have* to have, and so their lives pass away without this valuable time for reflecting. It’s hard to buck the trend and decide that they can, indeed, grow up without dance or soccer or choir or whatever worthwhile activity it is. Because the activities are generally good ones, but there isn’t time for all of them. And the more children you have, the more you really have to cut back if free time is to be secured for all the children (unless you have the resources to hire a driver to take the children to their activities lol).

Is Play Important?

Here are three very different articles addressing this subject:
Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills
Taking Play Seriously
A game called suicide

Children on Sundays

Defining our Sundays has been a nagging issue for me.  What do I want the children to get from Sunday?  What is it about for our family?  How can we best achieve that?

This Parents’ Review article nicely analyzes the issues and provides suggestions to help families come up with a plan that helps them define and achieve their goals.

I am always unimpressed with one-size-fits-all edicts, especially since one size doesn’t even fit my own family at different life seasons or circumstances.  This article makes no edicts but instead helped me clarify the real issues to be addressed.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Lenten Observance

This year for Lent, just like last year, we’re exploring the story of the Good Shepherd to prepare the children for the ideas embodied in Easter.   Our activities are coming from Celebrating the Church Year with Young Children, a book I’ve found very helpful even though it’s written from a Catholic perspective and I’m not Catholic (or even in a liturgical church).  Last year, I photocopied a sheet with a shepherd and sheep to cut out and made one set for each of the girls, along with a shoebox sheepfold for each.  This year the oldest boy needed a set, and I forgot to photocopy the page.  Plus, I didn’t think a paper set would survive his play for long.  We just happened to be making clothespin dolls anyway, so I made him a clothespin shepherd with cotton ball sheep (they really are just cotton balls!) and a tissue box sheepfold.  This was a perfect solution!

UPDATE:  The sheep in the picture is not a cotton ball, of course.  The ones in his set are.  In the photo he was using his shepherd with his farm toys.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Grace Based Parenting

Tim Kimmel’s Grace Based Parenting details an approach to parenting that meshes nicely with Charlotte Mason’s philosophy.  Kimmel’s approach, like CM’s, holds out high expectations for children but expects parents to help children meet those expectations with graceful guidance rather than brute force.  I see no indication that Mr. Kimmel has ever read CM’s works, but their thinking follows along the same lines.  Kimmel outlines the primary needs children have, then shows how parents can meet those needs by showing children the same grace that God has already shown us.  He recommends that parents examine their children’s strengths and weaknesses, looking for ways to hone the strengths and help the child overcome the weaknesses, in the same way that Charlotte Mason encourages us to use habit training not only to avoid the child’s natural flaws but also to avoid the pitfalls in their virtues.  He suggests that parents follow the child’s natural bent rather than imposing our own vision, just as CM says that "children are born persons" and we must respect the persons they are rather than trying to make them into the persons we want them to be.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A System for Chores

DD, age 7, has a few regular responsibilities in our home, such as making her bed and clearing her place at the table after each meal.  She’s big enough to do more than that, and so for at least a year she’s had extra chores to do each school day.  We started with cleaning her toilet (on the outside) and mopping the kitchen floor.  However, she got tired of doing the same chores over and over, so after seeing someone else’s comments about negotiating for chores I started letting her contract for her work for a month at a time. 

At the end of each month, I get out a file box in which I keep 3×5 cards, one card for each household task.  (My list is extremely incomplete, but I add to it as I think of new tasks.)  Cards without a point value are not for her.  Cards for her have either 5 or 10 points marked.  She must select a total of 10 points each day, Monday through Friday.  When the chores are selected and I’ve agreed to them, we write them in her planner, listing the assigned chore for each weekday of the next month.

Often after she completes a chore for the first time, she decides she doesn’t like it or it’s too hard, but I remind her that it was her choice and she must finish out the month.  She does like the variety and the fact that she is able to choose for herself.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Pasta with Lentils

From How to Cook Everything.

1 1/2 Cup Lentils, Washed And Picked Over
2 Carrots, Peeled And Minced
1 Medium Onion, Minced
1 Cup Tomato (Canned Is Fine; drain First), Cored And Chopped
Black Pepper
1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano (or Marjoram;1 Tbsp Fresh)
2 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Medium Onion, Sliced
1 Teaspoon Garlic, Minced
1 Pounds Pasta (Elbows, Shells, Or Similar)

Combine the lentils, carrots, minced onion, and water to cover in a large pot over medium heat.  Simmer until the lentils are tender but not at all mushy, 20 to 30 minutes (some lentils may take even longer, but check frequently to avoid overcooking).  Add the tomato, salt, pepper, and half the oregano, stir, and keep warm over low heat.(This sauce may be made up to this point and covered and refrigerated for a day or two ahead, or put in a closed container and frozen for several weeks.)Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat for 1 minutes.  Add the sliced onion and cook, stirring, until it begins to brown and become crisp, about 10 minutes.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.When the lentils are done, salt the boiling water and cook the pasta until it is still quite firm and a bit chalky in the center.  Drain it, reserving a cup or so of the cooking liquid.  Stir the pasta into the lentils along with the garlic, the cooked onion, and the remaining oregano.  Add enough of the pasta water to moisten the mixture.  Cook for 2 or 3 minutes, or until the pasta is tender.  Taste, adjust seasoning if necessary, and serve in a warm bowl.

Ham and Lentil Stew

From Pillsbury Soup and Crockpot Recipes.

3 Cup Cooked Ham, Diced
1 Large Onion, Chopped
2 Cup Celery, Chopped
2 Can Chicken Broth
2 Cup Carrot, Chopped
4 Cup Water
2 Cup Lentils 

In 3-1/2 to 4 quart slow cooker, combine all ingredients; mix well.Cover; cook on low setting for 7 to 9 hours.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Year 1 Math Update

We are using Ray’s Arithmetic for math, but modifying it to fit the plan laid out by CM in Volume 1.  We are now almost finished with Term 2 of Year 1, so we’ve been schooling for almost 24 weeks, approximately.  We’ve finished the addition and subtraction lessons, although I think we need some review to cement the information.  I suspect that I discontinued the use of counters sooner than I should have, mostly because I was on bedrest and using the counters was inconvenient.  We have done the first three multiplication/division lessons, and so far they have gone very well.  This seems to be because dd has already grasped the concepts without the lessons, though.

I do think I’m going to add in some addition/subtraction review activities, probably games, so that we don’t lose those facts and to help improve her grasp of them.  But yes, so far I’m pleased with the way these lessons have worked out.