Sunday, October 13, 2013

Categorizing Our Schoolwork

Our organizational system for this year's school has worked excellently, which happens to make life so much easier as I am physically unable to keep school running by myself this year.  We have finished our first term and are working on exams, although since I really can't sit at the computer for more than a few minutes at a time exams may drag on for awhile this term.

One facet of our system that may not be clear from the original post is the way we categorize our work.  I thought I'd give some examples.  For Ambleside's Year 7, Term 1, we sorted the work this way:


Mere Christianity
Saints and Heroes


CM's "Ourselves"
How To Read a Book
Story of Painting
Whatever Happened to Penny Candy




The Brendan Voyage
Lay of the Land
Map Drill
Map Work


Asser’s life of King Alfred
Book of Centuries
Churchill's Birth of Britain
History of English  Literature
William Malmsbury’s Battle of Hastings


Age of Chivalry
Once and Future King
Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night
Watership Down


Great Astronomers
Signs and Seasons
Signs and Seasons Field Work
Stargazing Year


Grammar of Poetry
Grammar: Our Mother Tongue

Really, the arrangement is slightly arbitrary, but the focus is on evening out the work load so that each category has roughly equal amounts of weekly work and work of a similar type, more or less.

Our arrangement changes each term as the books change.  For Term 2 of year 7, we have this list of daily items:
Focus Room
Musical Instrument
Recitation - Bible
Recitation - Poem
Recitation - Shakespeare

All the assigned work fits in one of these categories.  The items at the top half of the list must be done before lunch.  Some of them are chores rather than schoolwork, but keeping them all on one list works best for us.

Friday, July 12, 2013

CM Blog Carnival: The Knowledge of Man (History)

Let's explore this wealth of topics, from what it means to study history to how to save our children's imaginations!

Dewey's Treehouse:  Tell Me Another Story -  History is supposed to be a great story.

Surviving Mexico:  Parenting Challenge-Living History - This was dead history, no heroes, no battles, no great achievements to remember.

Letters from Nebby:  Learning History -  When we study history, we study human beings.

...where the blacktop ends:  Tendrils of Attachment -  A well written tale of history really comes alive and I'm looking forward to reading them with my son.
Living Books Library:  Anything New? -  Do books have to be "old" to be worth reading, are there any "good" new books, and how can we offer contemporary books to children to interest the "modern" child?

Classically Charlotte:  The Nature of Children - A development of Charlotte Mason's second principle of education

Joyous Lessons from Celeste:  Learning Languages the CM WayToday I want to talk a bit about her thoughts in Volume 1 and the work of Francois Gouin, whom she references in this section.

Joyous Lessons from Angela:  Grammar and FrenchBack to our Volume 1 discussion!  The next two sections are grammar and French, and in both of these areas,  Charlotte gives some very practical advice for teachers.

Living Charlotte Mason in California:  Those first-born affinities - "Those first-born affinities That fit our new existence to existing things." 

Sage Parnassus:  Charlotte and Japanese Royalty Here is an interesting tidbit about Madam Shimoda from Japan - someone I had heard about but never understood what her relationship to Mason was.

Snowfall Academy:  truth, goodness, beauty - The goal is to become wise, virtuous people who can reflect the glory of God to those around them.   And the way we do this is by absorbing and contemplating that which is good and true and beautiful.

Afterthoughts:  On Bad Attitudes (Part I) - What ought we to do if little ones tell us they "hate school" or they don't like studying on their own, anyway?

Sage Parnassus:  The Found Tools of Learning -  We should never have lost them.  They were sitting right in front of us all this time.

Sylvia Cachia:  The Story of Two Daughters - This year 1 and year 3 promise to be a wonderful one. Challenges will be met with patience and educated common sense, apart from tea and chocolate.

Grace to Abide:  Preparing My Homeschooler for Mainstream School When I think about my girls going into mainstream school, I can foresee two potential areas of where the school might have a different approach to the one my girls have been used to: 1) writing ‘creatively’ and 2) spelling.

 All Things Bright and Beautiful:  Von Bremen, Bach, and Fisher - Art, Music and Poetry to inspire a love in the hearts of our children for all things beautiful using a Charlotte Mason approach.

Harvest Moon By Hand:  Artist/Picture Study-Georgia O'Keefe and Composer Study-Frederick Chopin - See how these studies took place in this home.

Our Journey Westward:  Pond Nature Study -  What could we possibly find during one simple walk around a small pond?  Enough to keep us busy for over an hour!

journey-and-destination:  A Sentimental Journey -  How can we prevent our children's imaginations from being destroyed?

Fisher Academy International:  Nature Study Monday:: July! LINKup! - Please forgive the lack of new and inspiring nature-ish notes this week, but please do feel free share your nature study posts for everyone to visit!!

Upcoming carnival: @ TBA (wouldn't you like to host this one?!?) on 7/23
Topic for discussion (optional): Knowledge of Man: Literature (Ch10, pt2b)
Submit posts here: charlottemasonblogs (at) gmail (dot) com
To find out more about upcoming & past CM blog carnival schedule,  Click Here!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Organizing Our Homeschool

Last school year we implemented a revised scheduling system that was a bit more complicated than what we had done in the past, so that I could manage work for three kids (plus a roamer) and give them some independence and flexibility. 

This year I wanted to tweak this a bit to improve some aspects that were time consuming.  I'll have four needing a schedule, although only three will be doing an official Ambleside Online year.

Our schedule has two parts:  the master schedule and the child's weekly sheet.

The master schedule for each child is a chart (like this one for Year 2) that shows every assignment for every week for the 12-week term.  I print this out and keep it in my binder where I keep everyone's schedule.  I do edit it first to reflect our own preferences and to add other items I want to track.  I sorted the work into somewhat arbitrary categories so that each category has a fairly even work load for the week.  This becomes important in the child's weekly sheet.  I also put the memory work for the term at the end so I'll have the passages handy when needed each day.

The child's weekly sheet has two parts.  One is a list of every book (or weekly work type) for the term.  These are sorted into the categories I created when I edited the master chart. One is a list of all the daily work plus the list of categories.  The daily list has a line separating it into two parts--above the line the tasks must be complete before the child can eat lunch!  Below the line the tasks must be complete before any free time is to be had.  I let the kids pick icons to designate the various categories, so the category title on the daily list will show a picture that matches the picture next to all the books/resources in that category over on the weekly list.  This sheet is inserted in a dry erase pouch to which I added magnet tape to hang it on the freezer.  Each pouch has its own pen, even!

My part of all this is to update the child's booklist at the beginning of the week, crossing off the books that are not scheduled for that upcoming week.  Each day, then, the child has to work down the daily list, doing all the daily activities and choosing one book/resource from each category.  When an item is completed, it is crossed off the daily list and, if it was an item from the weekly list, that book/resource is crossed off over there too.  This allows the students to select their own work for the day but keeps their workload balanced throughout the week.

We have not yet tried this at all, but since it's very similar to the system we used last year, I have confidence that it will work smoothly.  If not, I'll let you know!

Organizing Our Household

I've posted before about how we organize our chores, more or less.  As summer approached I determined to get more serious about organizing our meals (with which the children take turns) and along with that our shopping.  Also, I needed to have a way to keep track of extra chores needing to be done.

Our Household Organizer
The easy part of this is the orange-bordered sleeve with the dry erase marker on the top.  I bought five sleeves like that to use for our school schedule (another post on that to follow) and only needed four.  Inside the sleeve are five sheets, one sheet for each of our zone chore lists.  (The zones are loosely based on Fly Lady's cleaning system.)  When someone needs something extra to do, they can now come look at the list for the zone for that week (which will be the one displayed), choose a chore and do it, and come back and cross that chore off the list.  Once a week I'll clean the sleeve and move the new zone sheet to the front.

The rest of the freezer front comprises my food system.  lol  I took a large sheet of paper and drew boxes for each day of the week.  I had already organized our most-used recipes into categories, enough categories to last for six days of the week (assuming the seventh will have leftovers).  I now wrote those recipe titles on notecards, a different color card for each category.  Those are what you see clipped around the top and left side of the days of the week poster.  Each child has a separate magnet to use. 

Each week, each child selects a recipe from the clips and attaches it with a magnet to a free day on the poster.  Only one recipe of each color may be selected each week.  At the end of the week, all the recipes used that week will go in the Out of Play envelope shown on the left.  Those are not available to be selected until put back into the clips in a few weeks.

Children may also select a recipe for *next* week, following the same rules.  They may not select any further in advance than that.  It's easy to see the color of next week's selection peeking out from behind this week's card for each child, so that makes checking categories pretty simple.

Below all of that, I have a list of lunch, snack, and breakfast ideas.  The lunch list has two columns: one for "bread" alternatives and one for toppings.  That list, plus our dinner list, allowed me to make a "permanent" shopping list because I knew more or less what we'd be eating each week.

Having all this lined out should make life a bit simpler.  I expect the kids to be taking charge of more of this work this summer and fall, and so I needed to set parameters and provide some structure that wasn't as necessary when I was able to just wing it myself.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Teaching Human Development and Sexuality

Obviously every family will handle these subjects differently, which is as it should be.  In fact, each child may require a slightly different approach.  My intent here is merely to share what we have done, not to prescribe what anyone else should do.

A great parent resource is Kevin Leman's A Chicken's Guide to Talking Turkey with Your Kids About Sex.  In fact, with this book alone a family would be in great shape to adequately handle these topics without any other resources.

We generally first approach these topics very informally by talking about babies.  Anytime I, or anyone in our immediate circle of family and friends, am pregnant, I pull out our books about babies.  We especially like Hello Baby by Lizzy Rockwell, which follows a pregnancy through the first day at home with baby from the point of view of big brother, and The Miracle of Birth by Jenny Bryan, which uses acetate overlays to show what is going on inside of Mom as the baby develops.  As we read books like these together, inevitably we discuss eggs and sperm, the ovaries, the uterus--laying the groundwork for later discussions.

Once a child starts to ask more specific questions about how the sperm gets to the eggs, we explain in more detail.  At that point, a great book to use is Before I Was Born by Carolyn Nystrom.  This book explains intercourse in a tasteful way, focusing on God's design for the marriage relationship.  We generally explain the subject ourselves first, then follow up with the book to make sure we were clear about all aspects.

At the same time, children need to understand how their own bodies are developing and be prepared for the changes they will encounter.  We try to do this a little early, because we want to have discussed it before any of the changes actually occur and also before any other children raise them.  So we aim for seven or eight years old to cover puberty issues, realizing that many families prefer to wait until later.  For our girls, we've used The Care and Keeping of You from American Girl (although our edition is an old one--we haven't reviewed the current edition).  We do skip the content on the question and answer pages between each section--those delve into topics we do not wish to cover and provide answers with which we are not always comfortable.  For the boys, we use The Boys' Body Guide by Frank Hawkins.  Both of these books cover the whole gamut of developmental topics with a matter-of-fact tone, without slang or silliness.

A bit later, we're ready to talk about other aspects of growing up, the emotional and relational aspects.  With the girls, we love Beautiful Girlhood by Mabel Hale.  We used the version updated by Karen Andreola, but the original is available free online.  This book, in typical Victorian fashion. explains the struggles and joys and pitfalls and beauties of growing into womanhood in direct but discreet fashion, dealing with young ladies forthrightly but without the coarseness so many modern books embrace.  For the boys, we plan to use Boyhood and Beyond by Bob Schultz.  I'll have to update this post after we've actually used the book with a real live boy!

None of our children has yet entered the teenage years, so we haven't used any resources beyond these.  I have previewed many, though, and have rejected most as being far too descriptive of abuse and transgression.  I do not believe it necessary to include detailed descriptions of awful situations in order to provide guidance and support for children growing into adulthood.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Texas History Resources

Here are some books about Texas history we have enjoyed, most of which we picked up here and there for little money:

The Story of Texas by George Sessions Perry
Texas: The Land of the Tejas by Siddie Joe Johnson
Sketches from the Five States of Texas by A. C. Greene
Johnny Texas by Carol Hoff
Johnny Texas on the San Antonio Road by Carol Hoff
Remember the Alamo by Robert Penn Warren
The Boy in the Alamo by Margaret Cousins
Call of the Southwest: Stories for Young Texans by J. A. Rickard

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

More than Habit

Charlotte Mason's first volume, Home Education, emphasizes the importance of habits in making our lives run smoothly.  We all operate on lines of habit, either good or bad habits; most choices we make are not made consciously but are made habitually.

We are all mere creatures of habit. We think our accustomed thoughts, make our usual small talk, go through the trivial round, the common task, without any self-determining effort of will at all. If it were not so––if we had to think, to deliberate, about each operation of the bath or the table––life would not be worth having; the perpetually repeated effort of decision would wear us out.  Volume 1, p. 110
 Modern neuroscience actually supports this idea, calling the "ruts" of Ms. Mason's terminology "neurological pathways" instead.

Reading Volume 1, with its emphasis on formation of solid habits, it is easy to lose site of another part of Ms. Mason's philosophy.  Habits were a useful tool, in her estimation, and at the time of the writing of Volume 1 she had high hopes that careful training in positive habits could initiate great societal change.  (By the time of the writing of Volume 6 she had begun to question the usefulness of habit training, although some of her doubts have been refuted by modern science.)  But even at the zenith of her enthusiasm for habits, still more important to her was a respect to the personhood of the child.

Volume 1 does not begin with a paen to habits.  First, Ms. Mason lays out our parental responsibility to our children.  She even calls children "public trusts," but she does not mean, as some do today, that parents have no authority over their children.  She means that parents have a duty to raise their children to be a benefit to the world around them.
Now, that work which is of most importance to society is the bringing up and instruction of the children––in the school, certainly, but far more in the home, because it is more than anything else the home influences brought to bear upon the child that determine the character and career of the future man or woman. It is a great thing to be a parent: there is no promotion, no dignity, to compare with it. The parents of but one child may be cherishing what shall prove a blessing to the world.  Volume 1, p. 1
 Therefore, she asserts, parents must learn what they can about the most effective ways of raising children, so that their efforts will produce the best possible results.

Once the importance of the role of the parents is established, Ms. Mason moves toward identifying the nature of the child, looking specifically at what Jesus says about children in the gospels. 
It may surprise parents who have not given much attention to the subject to discover also a code of education in the Gospels, expressly laid down by Christ. It is summed up in three commandments, and all three have a negative character, as if the chief thing required of grown-up people is that they should do no sort of injury to the children: Take heed that ye OFFEND not––DESPISE not––HINDER not––one of these little ones.  Volume 1, p. 12
 I do not intend here to go into detail analyzing these biblical statements or Ms. Mason's analysis of them, although that would be a worthwhile enterprise.  The point I wish to make is that, even when most hopeful for the benefits of habit training, that training was not Ms. Mason's primary, first focus.  The respect for the personhood of the child and the responsibility of parents towards him received her first attention, as it should receive ours.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Easter Week

Dh and I talked through, tonight, our plans for Easter week this year.  We completely agree that our goal is for the children to understand the need for a redemptive sacrifice and the extraordinarily loving response to that need.  Here's our rough draft plan for this week:

  • Matthew 21:1-11
  • Genesis 3:1-15
  • Matthew 21:12-17
  •  Genesis 22:1-14
  • Matthew 26:1-16
  • Exodus 12:1-13
  • Matthew 26:17-46
  • Isaiah 53:1-3
  • Matthew 26: 47-75
  • Isaiah 53:4-6
  • Matthew 27:1-31
  • Matthew 27:32-56
  • Matthew 27: 57-66
  • Isaiah 53:7-9
  • Matthew 28:1-15
  • 1 Corinthians 15:20-26
  • Ephesians 2:1-10
  • Colossians 1:11-23
  • 2 Corinthians 5:14-21
  • Romans 3:21-26

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Stumbling Block

I've been reminded recently, on several occasions, of how important is parents' role as the gatekeeper for the education of our children. We simply cannot turn our children over to someone else to be cared for or taught without paying close attention and intervening when needed. So often, I think, we assume that since no other parents object then there must not be anything about which to be concerned. I know that in some areas that was my assumption.

For Christians, this is even more imperative since God's instructions in the New Testament regarding children continually warn us not to interfere with their development, not to hinder them, not to cause them to stumble. When we allow others to present them with incorrect theology and biblical interpretation, casual views of God and holy things, or instructions about personal matters that rightly should be handled by parents, I believe we are presenting them with a stumbling block.  

Even when we ourselves are teaching our children, as we are instructed to do, we must be vigilant about the teaching and care they receive from others--we are charged with that responsibility for our own children.


I hate housework, but I do like a tidy and orderly house.  Not that I really ever have achieved that, but the ideal seems lovely. . .  I cannot possibly keep up with all the housework and homeschool, nor do I want to.  And I want to be sure my children know how to manage their own homes in the future.  So we share the work, just as we share the money.

Several years ago I thought about the cleaning tasks that really needed doing on a daily or weekly basis.  I wrote each one out on a notecard, trying to break down large tasks into smaller steps.  (Instead of "clean the refrigerator" I wrote "clean one refrigerator shelf," for instance.)  I made a big pile of these.  I let my oldest (who was at the time the only child doing this type of chore) select the required number of chores from the stack.  She could choose whatever she wanted--I tried to define the chores to be of about equal importance and difficulty (although I've had to refine my definitions over time of course) and whatever she did would be one thing that would at least get done.  I think at the time she did one chore of this type each weekday, so she had five cards.  If at some point she tired of a chore and wanted to swap out, this was perfectly allowable, but swaps made in the current week apply to the next week's chores.  (So you can only swap a card for a chore that's already complete for this week.)

Now I have three children doing these chores.  Two of them have two chores a day and one has one.  I needed a way to keep track of what was done and undone!  So I found some small metal pails that we had lying around, selected one for each child, tied wide ribbon to the handle of each one, stapled the ribbon to the wall, and clipped five clothespins to each ribbon.  The cards for each child go in the bucket at the beginning of the week, and as each day's work is done the cards for completed chores get clipped to the ribbon.  If they want to do more chores one day, that's fewer chores for a later day.  If they want to trade chore cards, they may, with each other or with the master stack.

Oldest now also has responsibility for one room's regular maintenance.  At the moment this is the kids' bathroom.  I made her a checklist sheet like you would find in a public restroom, with one column per week.  At the top are several weekly tasks, then under that a daily list repeated for each weekday.  Next to each task is a line for her to initial when the chore is done.  It hangs on the bathroom wall on a clipboard with a pen attached!  One sheet lasts for four weeks.

I still have to train them in doing their new tasks, supervise and check their work, but this system helps keep things going smoothly and makes sure that many tasks get done that I could never get to and that each child is learning many household chores.  They feel in control because they choose which chores to do and when to do them.  As much as housework can make any of us happy, this way of handling it works for us.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Timeline in a Binder

This is not a timeline for purists.  It's a timeline that fits in a binder.  Perhaps timeline isn't even really the right name for it!  This is a way to keep track of people and events as they fit into various historical periods rather than listing them along a strict line of dates.  It allows each child to have a separate journal and to add his or her own words and pictures to it.  This requires very little parent help.  Although this is not as visual as a true timeline, I've found it to be invaluable for helping my kids place people and events in history and remember them.

The website I found this on appears to no longer be available, so I'm posting this so the instructions will still be available online.

For this timeline, you will need looseleaf paper (I use unlined printer paper), a hole punch (if the paper doesn't already have holes), and a three-ring binder of some kind (so additional pages can be added later as needed).

On the front of each sheet, write a header with one of the following time period labels.  The back of each sheet will provide additional space for drawings or notes about people and events that fit in that time period.  You can allow several sheets for one time period, if needed, or you can add additional sheets as you run out of space on the first sheet.

Time period labels:
In the Beginning
Fall to Flood
Flood to 3500 B.C.
Ancient Civilizations (3500-500 B.C.)
Classical World (500 B.C.-1 B.C.)
Classical World (1-500 A.D.)
Middle Ages (500-1000 A.D.)
Middle Ages (1000-1450 A.D.)
Renaissance and Reformation (1450-1610 A.D.)
Exploration and Colonization (1610-1750 A.D.)
Industrial Revolution (1750-1940 A.D.)
Modern Era (1940-Present)

We use this timeline for historical figures, composers, artists, Bible stories, scientists, and any other person or event that seems of interest in our school studies.  I allow my children to add drawings or notes of their own invention, so many of the entries are quite crude, but as the entries accumulate the product becomes a quaint creation of the child's own.

I don't use a separate notebook for this but keep it at the back of the binder we use for other school papers.

Here are example pages from two different children's notebooks.
From my 7 yo ds
From my 12 yo dd