Friday, March 23, 2012

A Comment on Charlotte Mason's Philosophy

Charlotte Mason emphasized the importance of children experiencing nature in all kinds of weather, including the rain and mud of spring. In theory, I agree with her completely.

In practice, though, I'd just like to point out that Ms. Mason did not have to do the laundry, mop the floors, or shampoo the carpet when everyone came back inside.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: The Empty Pot

The Empty Pot by Demi

In this wonderful picture book, the Emperor needs to choose a successor. He gives each child a seed and asks them to return showing the flower that blooms. Ping, a young boy with a gift for cultivating flowers, cares diligently for his seed but nothing grows. Despite fears of appearing before the Emperor with an empty pot and the embarrassment of failing to grow anything from his seed, Ping courageously carries his pot to the palace with the encouragement of his Father.

Ping's courage and honesty are exemplary. The illustrations are enchanting. I especially love the two page spread showing Ping and his empty pot before the Emperor. They are shown at opposite ends of the pages, alone. All of the other children and people are gone. Though the Emperor and Ping are far apart, they are focused entirely on each other.

May we all learn from Ping!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (24th Ed.)

1. Beautiful weather. Last week was just gorgeous! It's hard to believe since we've had two full days of rain, but we spent lots of time outside last week.

2. Second Son's love of our Lenten traditions. He always wants to help put flowers on our prayer garden and begs for coins for our alms jar.

3. Second Daughter's dancing

4. Second Son hamming it up for the camera

5. First Son's First Communion retreat - This was just fabulous. It began with a Mass, or rather, preparing for Mass. Father invited all of the children to help him set up for Mass. They told him everything he needed, displaying an amazing knowledge of the Mass in the process. I think we were all impressed. What a wonderful experience for them! Then, it got even better. He invited the second graders to come stand behind the altar while he consecrated the bread and the wine. Amazing!! I think the retreat would have been fantastic if it ended after Mass, but they continued on with adoration, crafts, pizza for lunch, recess on our lovely playground (and even running some races with Father), strawberry cupcakes and two separate sessions in the Atrium. So many people in our parish showed God's love for our First Communicants in putting together that retreat. What a blessing!

6. First Son's First Communion - This deserves a post all its own and will receive one...eventually. In the meantime, let me just say it was magnificent.

7. Our celebration - We had enchiladas (First Son's choice), cake, cookies and a few presents with some dear friends. It was quiet but lovely. Kansas Dad made the enchiladas and cleaned up afterward so I could talk.

8. Second Son's crazy hair - This picture doesn't do it justice, but it's the best I could do. No matter what we do, some part of it is sticking up and out. And it's not even always the same part!

We're having a bit of a quiet week here on the Range, trying to catch our breath a bit after First Communion. Next week, my parents will be here for a visit. Hopefully it won't rain all week so we can get out of the house a bit!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Homeschool Review: Writing with Ease, Year One

Writing with Ease: Strong Fundamentals by Susan Wise Bauer

This book provides a four year course (generally for first grade through fourth grade) in writing skills. It's a well-constructed hardcover nonconsumable book that may be used in conjunction with four workbooks (one for each year). I remember being a bit dismayed at the initial cost, but it is a book that will be used for the entire family, four years for each child.

Last year, when First Son was in first grade, I attempted to implement writing preparation beginning with dictation and copywork. To be blunt, it was a complete disaster. We kept up the copywork a little, but I eventually gave up on dictation entirely.

This book would have made all the difference. I purchased it last summer and began the Year One exercises in second grade. After the first term, I sped up our work a little because I saw such enormous progress in First Son's abilities. We recently completed Year One and have begun Year Two exercises for our last term of second grade.

Ms. Bauer (famous for The Story of the World and The Well-Trained Mind) has outlined a course of study that begins with the most basic skills, guiding students as they learn to recognize the main points of a reading and formulate those thoughts into their own words (narration) as separate from the physical act of writing their own thoughts (both moving the hand and learning proper punctuation and grammar).

In Year One, students alternate days of narration practice and copywork. There is no dictation in Year One. This is not a book that follows Charlotte Mason's philosophy. Parents (as it is written specifically for homeschoolers) are encouraged to ask leading questions after a reading and to re-read sentences or paragraphs to guide children to the answers. I have mentioned before how horribly First Son fared at narrations. For nearly a year (all of first grade) he could only successfully narrate Aesop's fables. A narration of anything longer or more complicated nearly always resulted in tears. (I won't say whose.) I am loathe to admit I sometimes eliminated narrations completely. More often, though, I was using this strategy - asking questions to help him form an answer. I discovered he often knew exactly what happened in the reading but was unable to begin his narration and follow through from one thought to another. It was, therefore, a relief to see Ms. Bauer encouraging that very strategy. First Son's narrations have improved dramatically. Though we maintain a stricter narration practice for our Writing with Ease narrations, I often let him narrate entirely on his own for other readings and he does significantly better than last year or even the beginning of this year.

At the end of each narration, the parent writes out one or two sentences as the child narrates. The child watches and parents can then explain as how words are spelled or punctuation is used. One day a week, the child then copies their own sentence.

The book itself contains excerpts for narrations and selections for copywork for the first week of any new unit. There are workbooks available for each Year that provide the substance of the exercises for each week. For those who wish to select their own readings, Ms. Bauer provides guidelines for the lengths of passages and suggested elements for the week's copywork selections. For example, one week she may recommend finding sentences that use the pronoun "I" or days of the week.  By the end of the year, the students has encountered a wide variety of grammatical situations with little effort. No elaborate grammar lessons are required. It is enough to say (for example), "Notice how the I is a capital letter when it appears by itself in a sentence." I have found these small statements complement well the Primary Language Lessons we have also been using.

I opted to choose our own selections from our history, science or literature readings. In general, I use our Saints for Young Readers for Every Day (volume 1 or volume 2) for at least one Writing with Ease narration each week. I found selecting my own to be a bit time-consuming. I might spend as long as an hour (though usually much less) reading through our upcoming week to find appropriate selections for in-depth narration practice and copywork. As the year progressed, I became more proficient at it. I liked choosing my own because it allowed us to narrate selections in context rather than use books we may not yet have encountered. Also, it allowed me to incorporate Writing with Ease without really extending the time we would spend on lessons as the readings were ones we would do anyway. I also saved money by avoiding the consumable workbooks.

Have I mentioned Year One includes no dictation? (Yes, I know I did but I dreaded it so very much I still relish its absence.) Dictation begins in Year Two but it begins with a sentence the child has already encountered, one used for copywork the day before. Importantly, the child is not left alone to complete it. According to Ms. Bauer, the child should not be allowed to spell or punctuate incorrectly, so the parent should sit with the child, answer any questions and immediately point out mistakes. I'm not entirely certain what Charlotte Mason says about dictation, but last year I felt like First Son should write his dictation as well as he could all on his own which frustrated First Son and myself. I am much more comfortable with Ms. Bauer's recommendation.

I find Ms. Bauer's explanations and responses in this book encouraging and sensible. I appreciated many of her recommendations in the Troubleshooting Appendix. I intend to finish Writing with Ease by the end of fourth grade (completing it in three years instead of four). I highly recommend this resource, especially for a student who struggles with narration or a parent-teacher who would like some guidance in selecting passages for narration or for copywork.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Adele and Simon in America

Adèle and Simon in America
by Barbara McClintock

In this wonderfully illustrated book, Adele and Simon travel from New York City across America and back again with their adventurous aunt. In every city, we learn a little of America in the early 1900s...and Simon loses something. With persistence, children can find his lost belongings on each two page spread. McClintock has also included interesting and famous people in each of the illustrations. An informative guide at the end of the book gives more details on the locations shown. First Son is, as always, thrilled with the map provided at the beginning of the book. (Look closely and you'll find another of First Son's favorite characters, Tintin.)

This book is a lovely peek at America that children and adults will relish. If you are looking for more, also check out the first Adele and Simon book, Adèle and Simon in which Simon loses his belongings throughout the beautiful city of Paris.

Monday, March 12, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (23rd Ed.)

1. Soccer! Basketball! Soccer! First Son and First Daughter both started playing spring soccer and attending an elementary basketball camp. So now we have soccer practice one night a week (the kids are on different teams, but Kansas Dad is coaching First Daughter so practice is at the same time as First Son's team), basketball for two hours once a week and soccer games galore on the weekends. It's a bit overwhelming for this mama, but so very good for the children, especially since I am not very excited about running around outside with them. Also, you know, team sports can be difficult to learn when there are only four kids and two of them are three years old and one year old.

2. Second Son's first knock-knock joke:
SS: Knock knock! (Yes, he really says this.)
Mama: Who's there?
SS: Monkey (Well, maybe not quite, but it's the closest approximation to the sounds he made.)
Mama: Monkey who
SS: whooo whooo
3. First Son had his reading practice for his First Communion Mass. He'll be reading the petitions, which we've been practicing diligently. I wasn't there, but Kansas Dad said he did well. First Communion is in less than a week!

4. I snatched a little time after my Catechesis class on Saturday to do a little shopping. Wonder of wonders, many of my clothes were getting too big! I didn't find any fabulous dresses to wear for First Communion and Easter, but I did find a nice pair of jeans that's (wait for it) two sizes smaller than I wore in December. (I think part of that is a trick by the brand, but we'll enjoy it anyway).

5. Kansas Dad was stopping by a local store to buy coffee for his coffee class (yes, you read that correctly) and I asked him to buy a few teas for me. The list was online, so I wrote them down for him. The kind lady at the shop complimented my selections. Well, you know they're going to have my business for the foreseeable future. (I've tried the first of my four teas and it is indeed wonderful.)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Preschool Reading Around the World: Asia

In the first term of reading-around-the-world, we read picture books based in Africa. Starting last November, we read books set in Asia as we read around the world. I realized as I typed up this list that I didn't group the stories at all based on their country. I tended to select books from our public library rather than our home library because one of the goals is to read new books along the way.

I also wanted to point out that there are probably hundreds of wonderful picture books we could have chosen. Almost all of these are treasures in their own right, without the need to fill a spot in our weekly reading spreadsheet. Please share any suggestions you have; I have a feeling I'm going to expand this subject for future preschoolers. (Have I mentioned I have a picture book problem? Kansas Dad is going to have to send me to a support group soon because we're running out of wall space for bookshelves.)

The Story about Ping by Marjorie Flack, a classic to start our journey. I remember listening to a cassette tape of this story when I was a young girl.

The Bee Tree by Stephen Buchmann and Diana Cohn is the story of a boy who makes his first climb of the bee tree with his grandfather. It is a great honor and a great responsibility. The ecological moral is not too overwhelming and the girls were surprisingly enthralled.

On My Way to Buy Eggs by Chih-Yuan Chen is a delight, pure and simple. I love it every time I read it.

Ruby's Wish by Shirin Yim, which I recently received through the generosity of a PaperBackSwap club member, is one of my favorite books. It's the true story of a traditional Chinese family whose patriarch allows himself to think beyond tradition. I love how Ruby wishes for more but is obedient to her family. As always, my children love reading stories that are true stories.

The Day of Ahmed's Secret by Florence H. Parry is set in Cairo, Egypt, which (of course) is technically in Africa, but it seems to fit better with the feel and culture of Asia and the Middle East. It's a delightful story of a young boy who works hard all day in Cairo to help his family financially. As a mother, I'm a little sad to see a young boy working instead of in school, but the end of the story is sweet. It gives a wonderful glimpse of life in Cairo and displays only pride, not anger, at the hard life of the boy.

The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland begins, "My grandmother saw the emperor cry the day he lost his golden dragon throne." On that day, she steals a lotus seed from the palace gardens. She treasures it for years, remembering the brave emperor. Later, during the Vietnam War, she flees with her children to America. She tells her grandchildren the story of the seed, but they do not understand. One of her grandsons buries the seed in the yard. She is distraught, but beauty and new life are triumphant. It's a poignant story of courage, loss, war and love of country, of home.

Kami and the Yaks by Andrea Stenn Stryer is one of my favorite picture books. Kami is a deaf Sherpa boy who finds a way to help his family despite his own fear and his father's disbelief. We also read All The Way to Lhasa: A Tale from Tibet by Barbara Helen Berger on the same day, a beautifully illustrated book that retells a Tibetan parable.

The Leaky Umbrella by Demi is a fun little book showing a couple of silly boys walking about in the rain under a leaky umbrella. My girls laughed out loud.

Cherry Tree by Ruskin Bond is a lovely story of a young girl who plants a cherry stone that surprisingly grows into a beautiful cherry tree. I think this is a lovely story and my older two both enjoyed it.

Monsoon by Uma Krishnaswami is a wonderfully illustrated book showing a family and a city waiting for the monsoon rains. Be aware that it does mention Hindu customs and beliefs, including the mother dropping money before a statue. My children are well acquainted with discussions of idols thanks to our Old Testament studies so I was prepared for any questions.

The Story of Little Babaji by Helen Bannerman is a classic my children always enjoy. We read the revised edition which is more palatable to modern ears. Another version I like a lot (but which didn't seem quite so Asian) is Sam and the Tigers by Jerry Pinkney.

Night of the Moon by Hena Khan is a nice story of a young girl's experiences with Ramadan. We used this book as a way to talk a little about Islam and the Muslim faith. Talking about other faiths requires a fine line as we want our children to understand the Catholic faith as the one true faith but to recognize the good in other religions and to be always respectful of others and their beliefs.

Our last tour of the year is Central and South America, but I've had so much fun with this course we're going to continue next year with books about Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Canada, Greenland, Antarctica and the Arctic Circle. Suggestions welcome!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: How to Dig a Hole to the Other Side of the World

How to Dig a Hole to the Other Side of the World by Faith McNulty, illustrated by Marc Simont

I can't remember where I saw this book mentioned, but I requested it from inter-library loan because I thought it might go well with our study of mountains and volcanoes next year. It's perfect!

This book is a fascinating tour of the inside of the earth, all the layers you'd find if you were to dig a hole from North American straight through the center of the earth. It's silly enough to make children laugh, but full of facts and terminology, not to mention some sharks (which are always welcomed by First Son and First Daughter). The illustrations are wonderful, too.

Monday, March 5, 2012

What I Loved About Last Week (22nd Ed.)

On Monday, we met Grammy at a department store and picked out a suit for First Son's First Communion. He looks so sharp in it! (Thanks, Grammy, for the perfect First Communion gift!) We then met Kansas Dad for dinner at one of First Son's favorite restaurants. He survived the shopping pretty well, all things considered. (The girls did wonderfully.) His First Communion is now less than two weeks away!

On Tuesday I was able to spend a few hours with my goddaughter (and her brothers and sisters). She is such a joyful four month old.

Last Thursday was a beautiful day. I had planned on spending the afternoon making two dinners (one for us and one for a friend) and doing nothing else, but I was compelled to take the children on a little nature walk. So, I made the dinners while Second Son napped then took everyone for a drive to deliver them before we stopped at a park. Second Son is really the only one who enjoys such things. The rest are merely along for the snack. Since I spend most of the time chasing Second Son as he tries to jump into the creek or run the other direction, there are more enjoyable ways to spend an hour or so, but it's good to be out in the sun.

Obligatory picture before we cross the bridge
Posing by the creek
Second Son pulling the wagon
In bigger news, First Daughter lost another tooth - her second in as many weeks. She is very excited to see the dentist this coming week to show off her new gap.

On Saturday, the kids and I visited with a dear friend and her children. It was wonderful to see them and catch up a little.

Another dear friend has surgery this week and is doing wonderfully well. It was truly a joy to see her looking so wonderful at church on Sunday.

Friday, March 2, 2012

February 2012 Book Report

The Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke is a wonderful little book, imagining a fourth wise man who seeks the Christ child his entire life, from Bethlehem to Egypt to Jerusalem. It's not always accurate in a Scriptural sense, but it is true to the heart of Jesus' teachings. I'm not entirely sure my children would be ready to appreciate it, but I'm going to consider it as a family read-aloud next year during Advent. (library copy, but it's free for the Kindle)

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury is another book for the science fiction and theology class I'm auditing. I love reading Ray Bradbury and am not sure why I haven't read more of his books. His descriptions are wonderful, though his anti-war and environmentalist themes can be a little overwhelming. Overall, recommended. (desk copy)

Raising Financially Fit Kids by Joline Godfrey (library copy)

The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century: A Comprehensive World History by Robert Royal, though I really only read one chapter - on Edith Stein. I found the chapter gave a good biography of her, including her life leading up to her conversion to Catholicism. The whole book looks pretty interesting, though I think I'd have to read it a chapter a month or something to avoid becoming depressed. We read a lot of saints here, but not all of them are martyrs for the faith. This book in particular could become difficult to read because these are all recent martyrs, reminding us that Christians are not as safe in the world as we feel here in America. (library copy)

The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald is one I found in the Sonlight catalog but I found it horrible. The book is narrated by a young boy whose brother is The Great Brain. He uses every person, event and action to his own financial advantage. I was really horrified to read some of the things he does to his brother and was displeased by the description of how he helped a young Greek immigrant fit in for his own profit, but the worst part of the book was the casual portrayal of how a young amputee wanted to commit suicide with the aid of the narrator. He doesn't succeed, but it was just awful. I would certainly not read this book to my children. I might not even allow them to read it if they found it on their own. It's that bad. (library copy)

Dawn (Xenogenesis, Book 1) by Octavia E. Butler was another book for the science fiction and theology class I'm attending. It's a rather dark portrayal of humans in a world in which aliens have "rescued" humans from an earth destroyed by war. Earth is being remade, but the aliens want to interbreed with humans. Unlike Star Trek, these aliens are different in every way. There's a lot of uncomfortable scenes and this book is certainly only for teens and older readers. I will reserve final judgment until I finish the trilogy, though I probably won't have time for those other two books until the class is over. (library copy)

Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford (purchased copy)

52 Days by Camel: My Sahara Adventure by Lawrie Raskin with Debora Pearson is a delightful account of the author-photographer's travels in the desert on a journey to Timbuktu and beyond. Full of information about salt, caravans, people, customs and Islam, this will be a perfect book for our study of deserts in third grade as recommended by Mater Amabilis. This book is one of those we'll use in our move to First Son reading more of his studies independently. He may read this aloud to me, but he will read it himself. (library copy)

The Child who Never Grew by Pearl S. Buck (inter-library loan)

A Little Tiger in the Chinese Night: An Autobiography in Art and The Children of China: An Artist's Journey by Song Nan Zhang, both recommended by Mater Amabilis for third grade. The first book tells of the author's life in China during the revolution and Communism including the dramatic events in Tiananmen Square in 1989 (when the author was in Canada but his son was involved in the protest). The second shows children in the far reaches of China, painted during and after the author traveled around the country. These books show a harsh life. In addition to the general fears under Communism, the text in the first book tells of a man who commits suicide. I think these will be appropriate for a third grader, though we may not read all of them aloud when his younger sisters are listening. The second one offers some good opportunities to talk about the geography of China naturally flowing from the book. The study would probably be fine with either of the books, but since our library has both of them we'll read them both in the course of one term along with map work for China. (library copies)

Sovietrek: A Journey by Bicycle Across Russia by Dan Buettner shows the journey he made with three others across Russia in 1990 by bicycle. The book begins by telling of the inspiration for the trek, the challenges to get funded and approved and the journey from Minnesota to eastern Europe. The trip through Russia is shown in wonderful detail and in photographs. It's astounding to read how the Russian people lived even just 25 years ago. The bikers endured harsh conditions and challenges along the way but were always welcomed and assisted by the Russians they encountered. This will be a wonderful addition to our studies next year. (library copy)

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie was a fun relaxing book to read. I didn't guess the murderer, but I never do on those rare occasions when I read a mystery because I rarely bother to think much about it. It seems Poirot functioned mainly on stereotypes, but I guess you can't argue with results. (library copy)