February 28, 2015

Craft Lack

Lest you think I have all the areas of a Charlotte Mason education under control, let me share what I know from personal experience about handicrafts.


I made some friendship bracelets in elementary school, and made some throw-away crafts at camp a couple of summers.  That's it.  Seriously.  I did draw on occasion for fun and take art class in high school, but I certainly didn't come away with anything worth keeping, or useful in any way.  

Everything I know about handicrafts comes from the reading and researching I've done the past 4 years on behalf of my son, and my short experience knitting last winter.  (I keep meaning to pick that up again, and I WILL, but my finger injury that occurred mid-October is holding me back, as it still hurts to type with it, so needles wouldn't be a good thing, but I'll get there!)

Knowing my own lack, I reached for help.  We started with Boy's Ma, my mother-in-law, who knows all about sewing.  They hand-sewed, then machine-sewed, so that was weekly for a year.  For second grade, I went to his Pa, who knows a bit of leather-craft, so that was weekly for about half the year, then we floundered about.  We tried soap carving with a bit of success but it wasn't exciting, hence the previous post about wood carving.  When he gets bored, I always suggest picking up a handicraft, but he rarely goes for it.  Why?  Possibly my lack (and my husband's lack) of modeling that way of life.  We reach for electronic devices, or sometimes a book.

This lack of craftiness will not fix itself.  While making artwork isn't technically handicrafting, I tend to lump it together in my mind, and am giving myself some credit for making an effort in this area by taking painting classes sporadically.  Yesterday, we attended a homeschool art class (the first in our county! yay, progress!) with Boy and you can see our success below.

However, I do need to be more intentional.  I write it on the schedule at least 3 days a week, and we may get to it one of those times.  I save handicraft until last in our school day, so he can work on it as long as he wants.  It's never very long, though, so I'm considering moving it earlier; perhaps it will be less forgotten.  

Honestly, the reason I let handicrafts fall by the wayside more often than not because I feel my own inadequacy in this area.  I can read and write, and even do math, but ask me to carve some wood or try something new, and I'm on the same level as the Boy.  Its good for him to see me this way, though - I can model trying, failing, trying again, dealing with frustrations and sharing successes.

Are you willing to let go of pride and perfection and learn something new with your kids?

February 27, 2015

What is a Living Book?

Here at Windy Hill Homeschool, we use living books for school and for fun reading.  Its a strange term for those not familiar with the Charlotte Mason method, but for those who love her, it is very familiar, and the heartbeat of education.  

Charlotte Mason fans LOVE books. But not just any book.  We do away with twaddle - those books that you cringe at having to read to your preschooler for the second time, much less the twentieth time - and replace it with books that LIVE.  

AO Year 4 books
How can a book live?  

When it is filled not just with words or pictures, but with ideas that point the mind of a child towards what is good, pure, and best in this world or the next.  It lives by passing a thought onto the next generation.  It may inspire towards kind actions and make you want to be a better person.  It may make you sigh with happiness or cry with compassion.  But it will not bore you to tears, nor will a living book be easily forgotten.  It is rarely, if ever, a textbook.  Living books are written by a single author with a true passion for their subject.

How do you use a living book?  

For school, it is only read once, then narrated a portion at a time.  Of course, it can be reread for pleasure numerous times, but for the purpose of holding the child's attention and encouraging good focus during lessons, it is not reread when his mind wanders.  He is made to feel the loss of the moment and encouraged to pay better attention the next time.  Its the teacher's job to notice when the mind begins to wander, though, and ask for a narration then take a break by switching subjects.  Don't read until your eyes cross and the kid is asleep :)  Not that I've EVER done that...

I didn't read my horse to sleep, though!
How does the student learn from a living book?

To properly learn, the child must do the digging, so to speak.  The teacher doesn't read it, water it down or paraphrase it, ask multiple choice questions, then grade him.  Instead, he reads a portion (or listens), narrates it (orally or written), and asks his own questions of the reading.  I am a facilitator, present to listen and guide, and help find answers to his questions if I don't know them myself.

How do you use books in your school?  Are they living?

February 21, 2015

Transitioning to AO Year 4

We are nearing the end of The Boy's second term of AmblesideOnline's year 3.5.  This is an extra year that doesn't follow the history rotation and has a little bit of a lighter load to help students transition from year 3 to 4, or to introduce older students who may be coming to AO and aren't sure where to start.  (Remember, AO years to necessarily correspond to grade levels.)  I debated for quite a while as to whether he was ready for year 4 this school year, and due to sensory issues, dysgraphia, and undiagnosed dyslexia, I thought a more gradual easing into the "hard stuff" would be best.

There is a jump in expectations in a Charlotte Mason education around age 10.  This is when grammar, Plutarch's Lives (citizenship), dictation (instead of just copywork), and full Shakespeare plays are added.  Its also the age where most students will be able to do at least a couple of the readings (history, literature, natural history, etc.) on their own.  He still isn't ready for that, but I decided that two terms of year 3.5 is enough, and we will soon begin year 4!  The books scheduled in 3.5 are good, but I am more than ready for more "meaty" readings, and I think he is too, as his narration skills have improved, and so has his self-control and attention span.

Here is how I have gradually introduced the more advanced subjects into our day.  We finished year 3 with about 3 readings a day, 4 days a week.  If we actually had 5 full days at home, then somedays would have 2 readings, but it is typical for Friday's to be kept fairly open for appointments and field trips, and homeschool get-togethers. Anyway, with year 3.5, I kept the load at 3 readings a day so he would be ready to transition to year 4 more easily.

We started grammar towards the end of year 3, and do less than half a lesson at a time, twice a week.  With year 4, I will back down to once a week and try to do a bit more than half a lesson in one sitting.  We did Publicola as his first Plutarch study, and spread it out over about 14 weeks (instead of 1 term of 12 weeks), reading a bit once a week.  We also did his first full-length Shakespeare - Hamlet - during term 1, and are on track to finish Midsummer Night's Dream this term.  We have not begun dictation, nor written narrations, and due to his dysgraphia, it will be the hardest for him.

As you can see, I have already added the more intimidating subjects while the readings for year 3.5 were easier. I see it as taking the stairs one at a time, instead of jumping up them with both feet!  I didn't do the year exactly as written - since I wasn't planning on all 3 terms, I rearranged some things, and dropped some since we had already read them.  Also, my starting year 4 in March, I'll have 4 terms if needed, and will still be able to start year 5 when he hits 6th grade.  I do have a copy of a 42-week schedule for year 4 and am working on tweaking it to work for him.  I would rather move forward into the best books of year 4 at a slower pace (42 instead of 36 weeks), at this point, then to continue at a faster pace with less worthy books.

Who else is combating the February blahs with some school-planning sessions?

(Now for those that have read this far, and want more details, please leave a comment with what exactly you want to know, and I will be glad to do a second post with more year 3.5 details.)

February 10, 2015

Keeping in Progress

For this month's Keeping Company link-up, some questions were proposed, and I decided to use them as the basis for this post.  I like easy. :)

My favorite part of keeping a commonplace is being intentional.  Knowing I want to keep a record of what is important to me, I begin to *seek* for what is important.

One of several pages since I began "keeping" last month

I do my common placing wherever I read the book.  Sometimes its in the bedroom - that's my reading home-base.  I keep all my colorful gel pens and my notebooks in the bedside table drawers, and the books I'm currently reading (or plan on reading this year) on top.  I also enjoy reading in my comfy living room chair, which is just outside the bedroom, so its easy to bring my notebook and pen out and write there instead.  The other place I write is next to my computer - usually only when I found the quote online and that's the easiest way to save it.  (I do also use Evernote, and have a Commonplace notebook there for saving quotes as well, which works when on the go.)

My reading and keeping "home base"

I get my inspiration from whatever books I'm reading each week.  I follow several book discussions at Ambleside Online (what a great forum!), plus I'm reading the Bible through in a year again.  I'm also reading a couple more books on my own!  I love having a different book to read each day of the week, plus a "fun" one to fill in any extra reading time I get.

Currently, in addition to the Bible, I'm reading Stepping Heavenward (love it!), Charlotte Mason's Volume 2: Parents and Children, Tennyson's Idylls of the King, Chesterton's Everlasting Man,  Adler's How to Read a Book, and I am about to begin Watership Down.  In spurts I also get back to Endangered Minds, Handbook of Nature Study, and books related to health challenges, such as Trim Healthy Mama.

Does Gymnastics Help Kids with Sensory Issues?

Our local homeschool group has been trying to find some good indoor activities that aren't too expensive, so that winter and rainy days don't keep us from meeting up.  After all, we mamas need fellowship and kids need to build friendships, even when its not nice enough to go to the park.

We have started meeting monthly at a local church for parties and crafts, but really needed an active option, so I contacted the local gymnastics business that has a great new facility, and the coach was totally on board with a daytime class!  So now, we  have a small class of homeschoolers meeting monthly or more to learn gymnastics.  In addition, we pay a bit more some days to have open gym, so the kids can just go crazy in there. :)

So what does this have to do with sensory systems?  Lots!  In OT, they work on mid-line crossing activities, hand-eye coordination, balance, core strength, and following directions, in addition to the feeding therapy that I've talked about before.  Gymnastics supplies most of this, especially in a small class setting.  The balanced, they followed directions, they jumped and practiced good landings.  They did warm-ups, learning to stretch their muscles.  They used the uneven bars, strengthening arms and core.  There is so much good in gymnastics for those with SPD.  I wanted to start years ago but could not get The Boy to agree, but he loves it with his homeschooling buddies around.

At home, we have an indoor trampoline, a large outdoor trampoline, and a playset with a climbing wall that see good use.  Plus, plenty of space to run.  Most kids pay attention better, control themselves better and have fewer meltdowns when they are well exercised because it ups the feel-good hormones and burns off excess energy.  It also activates vestibular systems, which is a particular focus for this child - if we can't get outside or he doesn't want to jump, he spins.  Lots of extra spinning in the winter!

What opportunities do you provide for your child to get the proprioceptive and vestibular inputs he needs?

February 1, 2015

Learning by Hand: Beginning Woodcarving

Woodcarving is not something I thought I would ever do.  It still isn't, really, but in my quest to find a handicraft that my son will work at willingly, here we are.  I bought the video months ago, and put the book and carving knives on his wish list, and he got them for Christmas!  Thanks to the grandparents :)

So far, he has watched the first few chapters on safety and the basics a couple of times, and has been practicing holding the knives and making small cuts.  Just this week, he progressed to making an actual shape, which he says will be a sword.  The video has the first object as a bird, but hey, he's a 10 year old boy, so sword it is!

Why do we spend time doing things like sewing, painting, leatherworking and woodcarving?  Because all learning does not come from books.  Its important for a child, or adult for that matter, to have areas of competence, and to be able to contribute beautiful, useful things to the world. Not to mention the dexterity it builds, the habit of attention, and more.  We are creative beings, and need outlets in which to be creative!  I like to knit and scrapbook, but those don't appeal to my son in the least, so we are trying different things, looking for the one or two things that he can really love and stick with over the next several years, if not for his whole lifetime.  It may remain a hobby, or it could turn into a supplemental income.  Only God knows!

This post is linked to Learning By Hand at Crossing the Brandywine, a fellow CM educator's blog.