Monday, December 1, 2014

Advent Daily Readings

For the last two years, during Advent we've read daily from The Jesse Tree, a beautifully illustrated book that follows a traditional sequence of daily Jesse Tree readings from the Old Testament.  The frame story used in this version by Geraldine McCaughrean involves a curmudgeonly man carving Jesse Tree figures in a church and a little boy who asks constant questions about the figures.  In response, the carver tells each Bible story, explaining why it is included on the tree.  We enjoyed these daily Advent readings and will read them again.

This year we're reading from The Christmas Mystery as a change.  This book also has one chapter to be read each day, but the chapters are significantly longer than those in The Jesse Tree.  The Christmas Mystery does tell the story of the nativity, but not directly.  The frame story hinges on an unusual Advent calendar, the story the calendar tells, and what that story means for the "real" world.  The calendar's story takes the frame story's characters on a delightful run in their imagination through geography and history, focusing on the history of the Christian church. In the end, though, the author abandons the magical tale, substituting an unbelievable and mundane explanation driven by the author's political biases. The failure of Jostein Gaarder, the author, to weave the threads of the story into a satisfying conclusion left me disappointed

If you skip over the forced realism in the ending (simply omit that section of the last chapter), the magic of the story will still delight. Parents should be aware that for several chapters the young protagonist hides the mystery (including a visit to their home from a strange man) from his parents through deception and outright lies, until the parents discover the secret. The parents are blamed for their something but the boy is never chastised for his lying. Also, in a couple of places some dubious theology is expounded.  These flaws will keep this from being a regular Advent reading in our home, but with judicious editing as we read we'll enjoy it this year.

Since The Christmast Mystery doesn't include the Jesse tree component, each morning we're also reading a traditional Jesse Tree story  from The Advent Jesse Tree.  We're not making the ornaments or doing anything extra with this--just reading the scripture and bits of the devotional reading from the book.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Parenting as a Recovering Listaholic

I like lists.  I like calendars and planners and organizers.  I have a stand specifically made to hold my Daytimer (only that brand will do) for which I have a lovely binder to hold my lesson plans.  I love to plan out my day and then check off items all day long.  I have an app that plans out my FlyLady zones.  I have another app that tracks my to-dos.  I feel wonderful when I've accomplished all my goals.

Children, however, do not fit into neat and tidy lists or schedules.  I've seen the books that purport to make children fit into boxes, but I don't own any.  I've glanced at the websites, but it's a bit like an alcoholic stopping in front of the bar on the way home.  I try to walk past as quickly as possible.  Probably those books and websites help those who find scheduling a mystery or a burden.  They inspire *my* soul with a zeal to make my day conform to my plans, and that zeal does not make me a good mom.

I have to lean the other way.  I have to consciously focus on what we have accomplished rather than on what we have not accomplished.  I have to take moments as they come and enjoy them, not overshadowed by the knowledge of what we should be doing instead of what we are doing.  When I make plans and then try to force us to fulfill them, I shut out opportunities I could have had, opportunities that come unexpectedly, and in their place I create lifeless accomplishments no one will treasure.  My children need to see that people matter more than things, but also that people matter more than accomplishments.  It is less important that we get the kitchen clean than it is that we treat others with kindness and respect.

I do make lists.  They help me to target my free moments towards tasks that need to be done.  They help me to prioritize my time.  I do use schedules.  They allow us to know what needs to happen for our important goals to be reached.  But I have to make the lists and the schedules subservient to life, to the real needs of our family and the individuals in it.  I keep my goals small and targeted, and I have to remind myself that it's ok if we don't meet them every day.

What I am learning is humility, and it's not easy.  Humility means accepting that my big goal for the day just blew up because I need to calmly and pleasantly teach a couple of siblings how to resolve their differences peacefully.  Humility means graciously redirecting my goals to account for the overflowing toilet (usually a victim of a child) or malfunctioning washer (most recently killed by Legos).

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds."  Becoming "mature and complete" isn't a pleasant process, but the end result is beautiful.

Friday, June 20, 2014

There Is Truth

Why do we teach children about history (or literature or any of a number of subjects)?  What is the best way to teach these subjects?  How do we know if we have taught them successfully? In Consider This:  Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition, Karen Glass explains the choices facing all of us who have the responsibility of teaching children.  When we choose to present or not present certain topics, even more so when we choose to present topics in particular ways, we are making philosophical choices whether we know it or not.  These choices have a profound effect on the way each child views the world.

Karen explains that today's preferred methods of teaching resemble the old story of the blind men and the elephant, as we present children with disconnected bits of information without ever showing them the whole.  Without that view of the whole, children do not come to care about the subjects of their studies or to care about the process of learning about the world around them.

There is a better way, and it is not new but yet it is fresh and lively.  The original classical educators, back in the distant past, aimed at pursuing virtue through "synthetic" learning.  (Synthetic meaning all the parts together, like the whole elephant.)  Charlotte Mason, back in the early 20th century, studied the principles espoused by classical educators and found ways to apply them with her own students.  Our job is to do the same today, if we want to equip students to pursue truth and virtue.  "There is nothing quaint, nostalgic or old-fashioned about a desire to educate in the classical tradition.  It is a radical thing to do.  We do nothing less than demand that chaos resolve itself into order, simply by saying, 'There is truth and I want to know it.'"

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Organizing our AO Year (Scheduling Overview)

I've blogged about different aspects of this process at different times.  Here are the key posts, all in one spot!  (Updated in March 2017)

Sample Term Schedules - See a sample (for each AO year I've scheduled so far) of the schedules I create for my own family.

How I Scheduled Year 3 - Walk through the process of planning Year 3.
How I Scheduled Year 5 - Walk through the process of planning Year 5.
How I Scheduled Year 7 - Walk through the process of planning Year 7 for an 8th grader.
How I Scheduled Year 10 - Walk through the process of planning Year 10.

A Natural Reward - Guest post at Afterthoughts.

Planning Our Ambleside Year  - What resources to pull together at the start of the year.
Chart Format Example - See a sample of how I set up the chart-format schedule.
More Chart Format Examples  - I added these in February 2015 to provide more recent examples using our current method of organizing our day and our week.
Organizing Our Homeschool - How I set up daily and weekly checklists so the kids can manage their own work.
Categorizing Our Schoolwork - How I organize the assignments into handy categories to make the weekly schedule into a daily schedule.

Balaam's Ass - Encouragement when all does not go as planned.
Parenting as a Recovering Listaholic - The best laid plans. . .

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Road Trip Treasure Chest

Today we transformed a diaper box into a Road Trip Treasure Chest by covering it with pages from a worn out picture book.  Inside, we stowed interesting items, bundled in groups of four similar items, which will make their appearance during our next long road trip.  For a long trip (more than 3 hours), every 100 miles we get out a bundle of items.  Each time it's a different child's turn to pick first from that bundle, but each child gets an item from each bundle.  (Unless that child has seriously misbehaved during the previous 100 miles.  In that case, no item from that bundle.)

This provides frequent changes in activities, something interesting to look forward to, and regular opportunities for logical consequences to reinforce helpful behavior.

What do we have in our treasure chest?  I gather items all the time, from stores, garage sales, thrift shops, bookshelves and toy bins at home--anywhere!

When we are not traveling, these items stay in a couple of large plastic bins in the garage.  When we get ready to go on a trip, I pull them out and organize them and choose what to take along.  Instant entertainment!

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Way of Reason

18. The way of reason: We teach children, too, not to 'lean (too confidently) to their own understanding'; because the function of reason is to give logical demonstration (a) of mathematical truth, (b) of an initial idea, accepted by the will. In the former case, reason is, practically, an infallible guide, but in the latter, it is not always a safe one; for, whether that idea be right or wrong, reason will confirm it by irrefragable proofs. - Charlotte Mason, Volume 6
 Charlotte Mason suggested two guides to "moral and intellectual self-management": 'the way of the will' and 'the way of the reason.'  Teaching a child to recognize and use the strength of his own will power allows him to manage his thinking and behavior.  Teaching a child to recognize and beware the limitations of reason helps him to avoid being deceived by his own mind.

Reason can be a powerful tool.  But when reason is used to provide support for an idea, it can find support for any idea we choose.  We cannot rely on reason to be our guide because reason will prove anything we want.  If you've ever participated in debate competitions, this should be obvious.  Give an experienced debater any side of any argument, and that person will produce convincing arguments to prove that side.  Switch the sides, and the same person will produce equally convincing arguments for the opposite position.

Reason alone provides unreliable guidance when we're evaluating ideas.  We need our reason, but we must not trust too fully in it. 

In these days when Reason is deified by the unlearned and plays the part of the Lord of Misrule it is necessary that every child should be trained to recognize fallacious reasoning and above all to know that a man's reason is his servant and not his master; that there is no notion a man chooses to receive which his reason will not justify, whether it be mistrust of his neighbour, jealousy of his wife, doubts about his religion, or contempt for his country. - Charlotte Mason, Volume 6, p. 55
To avoid falling prey to the deceptions of reason, we should a) train the child "to recognize fallacious reasoning" and b) teach the child "to know that a man's reason is his servant and not his master."
The prescription?  "[A] liberal education which affords a wide field for reflection and comparison and abundant data upon which to found sound judgments."  History, learned well, should show the limits of reason.  Watching as figures in the history tales make foolish or wicked choices because they allowed their reason to convince them of what their judgment should have warned them against helps children see the wreckage that misused reason leaves behind.  Great literature also demonstrates this truth. As these incidents, historical and fictional, come up in the readings and later discussions, the fallacies should become evident.  Occasionally it might be helpful for the teacher to point out a particular fallacy directly.

The history of science also demonstrates this truth.  Reason affords scientists a great resource in uncovering truths about the world in which we live.  But reason also sometimes leads them astray, following convincing evidence and lines of reasoning down paths that later we can clearly see to have been false.  Children need to see this so that they can understand that, while scientific exploration makes significant accomplishments, the findings of such explorations are not infallible, no matter how convincing the arguments in favor of a particular finding might be.

In this gentle, steady way, children can learn to put reason in its rightful place, a servant rather than a master.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Teaching Musical Instruments

When each child reaches K or 1st (depending on the child and what all is going on), we begin slightly formal musical instruction with a lap harp.  Lap harps work well for early music instruction because each string makes one note, so the child doesn't have to try to make the instrument produce the right sound, and the song sheets lie under the strings and show the child where to pluck.  I've used three different lap harps, one for children, one for adults, and another one for children that I just bought.  This last is by far my favorite for this type of instruction:   Hape Early Melodies Happy Harp.  During our lap harp phase, I expect to work on rhythm, music reading (just learning to read the different types of notes), and hearing the scale.  I tune the instrument myself and sit with the child during each lesson and most practices.

After a year or two of lap harp, each child has moved to a recorder.  I never have bought a recorder because I was given some by a friend, but ours are plastic and made for learning on (not just toys).  Recorder lessons are done independently using an older version of this book:  Recorder Fun! Teach Yourself the Easy Way!.This instrument does not need to be tuned, so I do not need to be involved in that way.  The child does have to struggle at first to learn how to make the recorder produce the desired sound, something not experienced with the lap harp, and by the end of the book the music is written in standard notation so that the child is learning to truly read music.

After a year or two of recorder, we've had the opportunity to move on to actual band instruments taught in a band setting once a week, so I've not needed to teach any more than that.