Friday, October 30, 2015

Great Sand Dunes: Hiking, Wading, Mountains, Joy! (Seven Quick Tales Vol 12)

In August, we spent three nights at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado. I would like to devote today's seven quick takes to encouraging all of you to see it for yourself. Until this summer, I didn't know such a place existed and if you could design a national park for young children, you almost couldn't do better than what you'd find right here.

1. Hiking like this:

2. Sand dunes, which children can climb, scramble, slide down, roll down, and surreptitiously stash in every pocket and crevice of their clothes. I struggled with the altitude, so just sat and watched as the children wore themselves out climbing and tumbling in the sand.

Yes, those little specks are my children.

You can rent sand boards and sand wheelchairs. Our kids seemed satisfied with direct contact with the sand.

3. Mountains

We're from Kansas. There are no mountains in Kansas. My kids would see a little hill and wonder, "Is that a mountain?" No, no it is not. These are mountains!

Kansas Dad yearned for alpine hiking, but after one attempt at a mile walk up a bit to a scenic view, he knew such an excursion would have to be child-free.

4. If you come in the right time of year (or in August, if there were heavy snows in May), there's Medano Creek.

It was only a few inches deep when we were there, so we could wade right through it.

Or, you can bring swimsuits, sit yourself down, and dig a swimming pool. Recruit other children to aid and assist while you are there and to take over when it's time to leave for lunch.

It's practically a homeschooler's paradise - what with all the learning about water-based erosion, tiny waterfalls, levees, meaders, oxbow lakes, and the satisfying smush of sand between your toes and fingers.

5. For the early rising adventurous crowd, the High Dune beckons.

Kansas Dad, First Son, and First Daughter made it to the top!

6. This view while taking a guided nature walk during which a kind patient ranger endured Second Son's autobiography of his short but apparently eventful life.

We attended a few of the ranger programs, opportunities to learn actual geology, geography, and natural science relevant to the dunes. Second Daughter and Second Son were particularly enthralled by the one about night visitors and spent much of the walk to the creek the next morning pointing out all the tracks of the kangaroo rats and tiger beetles.

My favorite was the guided nature walk. We had walked the same trail the day before, but the children were drawn in by the ranger in a way they were not when it was just us. Though we had all stopped to draw the day before which we couldn't do while on the guided walk, so perhaps having both is the best option.

We camped right at the Dunes, which was fantastic. It was incredibly windy one night (high winds help create the dunes and clear them of footprints and marks), but our tent was well secured. Being right there made attending ranger events easy.

7. Sunsets a little like this

There's only one disadvantage: no showers. You have to leave the park to get to a shower (and pay a fee once you find one). I'm also still finding sand that might very well be from Colorado. Even so, Great Sand Dunes is officially one of my favorite places in the world to visit with my children and I would love to return.

Bonus, just because it amuses me. Here's a video First Son made the first morning at camp:

Read other Seven Quick Takes at This Ain't The Lyceum.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

An Atypical Perfect Homeschool Moment

I glanced around the table and realized I was living one of those elusive moments - a boy working diligently on his math with math-rich games flourishing on either side of him. It was so unusual in its perfection, I had to take a picture.

This, ladies and gentlemen of the blog, is an ideal homeschool moment, so rare I almost tingled when I realized what was happening.

It degenerated into chaos shortly after this picture was taken.

The children pictured claim no memory of such an event.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Our School Books Are Official

We've finished ten weeks of school, but I just finished the page for the blog of this year's school books. For those who are interested, you can find sixth grade, third grade, first grade, and prekindergarten plans here and in the sidebar.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Second Daughter's Birthday Post: Seven Years Old!

Over the summer, Second Daughter turned 7 years old. We always start our kid birthdays with pancakes. The others all like pancakes-bigger-than-your-head, but Second Daughter prefers her birthday chocolate-chip pancakes with whipped cream and chocolate sauce.

We celebrated with a Big Hero Six birthday party (a shared party with Second Son). By far, the highlight of the party for the children was dressing each other as Baymax using toilet paper. Hilarity ensued (but a huge toilet paper mess, especially once someone figured out it could be thrown high enough to hit the fan and shred, falling like a fine mist of fuzz on everyone and everything). It didn't take nearly as much toilet paper as I anticipated, so we've been using super-cheap toilet paper for months.

That's a Baymax cupcake. There isn't a closer picture because they looked best from a distance, but the kids liked them. I found way too many good ideas on Pinterest.

Second Daughter's baptismal anniversary is about five weeks after her birthday. It was a much calmer affair than her birthday party. She requested chicken enchiladas. (Chicken enchiladas were a bit of a theme here on the Range for a while. Second Daughter and Second Son requested them for both birthdays and both baptismal anniversaries.)

Dinner was easy, but the cake was another matter. Second Daughter doesn't do dessert half-way and requested the Smitten Kitchen chocolate peanut butter cake (lovingly made by her father). We invited some dear friends to celebrate the anniversary with us mainly so they could help us eat this cake. It's too deadly wonderful for left-overs.

Her favorite foods: chicken enchiladas with red sauce, vanilla yogurt, bread with butter. She's recently refused to eat many former staples like rice and cold pasta. Vegetables are only choked down under duress.

Her most common responses:

"Just a minute..."

More ominously, "Don't worry, Mom."

Her favorite books: Henry and Mudge books, Stuck, animal encyclopedias, bird guidebooks, really just about anything about birds or animals.

Second Daughter's reading has really taken off, just a few months after she turned seven. We're reading books featuring Henry and Mudge together, but she's reading The Boxcar Children aloud to Second Son. They dressed as Violet and Benny for a recent literary costume party. She reads everything now and often shares her new-found knowledge with us. ("Did you know Cheerios are made with whole grain oats?")

Her favorite things to do: board games, playing outside, imaginary games with Second Son, crafts with scissors, play with friends, Playmobil. All those little pieces are taking over the girls' room, but they are wonderful! She's really quite good at keeping herself busy all day. She's also wonderful with younger children. She delights them, entertaining them with stories and imaginary journeys.

She received a face paint kit for her birthday (a great gift idea I learned from a friend). She and First Daughter have experimented with it often.


Her favorite games: Munchkin*, Catan (we have an older version), Dixit, Agricola, Trouble.

Second Daughter is my nature girl. She can wade at the edge of a stream (or the middle of it) for hours at a time. Though she often doesn't seem quiet and observant to me, she always finds something intriguing, something peeking out from under a rock, or tiny fish visible only in brief reflections of light.

At the water's edge at Great Sand Dunes National Park

She has a habit of falling in love with a stick or a rock, insisting we bring it home, naming it, carting it around for weeks, and mourning dreadfully when it finally falls apart or is lost.

The three older kids took an art class in June. It was organized by a Charlotte Mason homeschooling mom and focused on nature drawing. Second Daughter was a bit under the age limit, but the instructor agreed to let her join the class because I knew she'd be the one to appreciate it most. This is one of the paintings she brought home. (All the artwork impressed us!)

a shell found during nature study at a river in Kansas

For a few months, Second Daughter attended a taekwondo class with Kansas Dad, First Son, and First Daughter. She successfully earned her yellow belt before opting to take a break. Now she stays home and entertains Second Son for me. She'll still show off her kicks every now and then.

She and Second Son play games for hours on end - imaginative games, board games, reading games, school games. They get along much more often than not, which is a blessing.

First day of school - 1st grade

The monkey is George (previously known as Boots). He's been around longer than she has and is a near-constant companion. (I think First Son received him as a gift from my mother when she visited us in New York City and bought it for him at Macy's.)

Second Daughter started first grade this year. Her favorite lessons: math games, picture books, fables, letters (for which she draws a picture to send or give away), Cut-Crease-Create books.

She loves games and always has. This year, we're playing lots of games during her math lessons (from Addition & Subtraction: Math Games for Elementary Students (Math You Can Play) and from our cabinet). I can see her number skills improving; sometimes she even wins! She'll probably start Life of Fred later this year, too.

Her least favorite lessons: narration, copywork, and cursive. Anyone sense a theme? She often refuses to narrate at first, but usually relents before too long.

 May God bless you in the coming year, Second Daughter!

* Please note that Munchkin, while a favorite game in our house, is not right for every family. Many of the cards are inappropriate (and have therefore been modified by the grown-ups here).

As always, links to Amazon are affiliate links. I receive a small commission if you follow the link, add something to your cart, and purchase it within whatever time frame Amazon specifies. My family appreciates every little bit.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Consider This: Virtue, Humility, and Synthetic Knowledge

Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition by Karen Glass

I have been reading about, contemplating, and imperfectly implementing Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education for more than seven years. This book is a delightful reminder that no matter how much I read and how many narrations I suffer through encourage, there is always more to learn.

Karen Glass is a member of the advisory of AmblesideOnline, a free online curriculum for today based on Charlotte Mason's philosophy. I recently read and reviewed her abridgement of Mason's sixth volume, Towards a Philosophy of Education, called Mind to Mind. I started reading this book earlier, but one of the disadvantages of reading through a library book slowly is the probability of another person requesting the book. A few of us were taking turns with it, I think, but I've finally finished reading it.

The author claims Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education is consistent with classical education.
We might understand character-training as a task that belongs to parents, or churches, but we tend to separate that kind of teaching from the teaching of school subjects such as math or grammar. The classical educators did not make such a distinction. All areas of education were brought into service for this single goal--to teach children to think and act rightly.
I don't know much about classical education, mainly just what I've read on blogs by those mostly interested in Charlotte Mason's methods, but it seems to me that Ms. Glass has smoothed Charlotte Mason's relationship with the classical tradition mainly by asserting that the modern idea of classical education (particularly the concentration on the trivium in sequence: grammar, logic, rhetoric) is a deviation from the original idea of a classical education. I'm tempted to agree, but I think someone educating using the trivium today would be less likely to be convinced by this book that Charlotte Mason was a classical educator. To do so, would they have to admit that they have strayed from the classical idea?
If we can get a vision of grammar, logic, and rhetoric not as subjects to be studied but as arts to be practiced and refined in the process of reading, narrating, and writing, we can see how beautifully Charlotte Mason's methods may be considered a synthetic implementation of the trivium of classical instruction, more especially when the ultimate goal of forming character and virtue is recalled.

Despite a title and main argument concerned with classical education, I most appreciated how this book inspired me anew in my dedication to my own education in reading widely and fostering humility and in my understanding of Charlotte Mason's philosophy in practice.
If virtue is the true goal of classical education, pride in intellectual achievement is the perfect stumbling block to ensure that the goal is never reached. In other words, we must not only become humble, but remain humble if we want to continue our pursuit of wisdom and virtue.
I have recognized my own lack of humility in the past year or so and have thought much on how to practice true humility.

Even after all these years, it is good to be reminded why we read so many books all at once, why we insist on composer study, piano, Latin, geography, history, and science.
We should not limit our children's exposure to knowledge, not because they need to acquire a great deal of information about everything, but because they need to develop relationships with every area of knowledge.
These relationships are the goal rather than the knowledge itself. Therefore, not only must students read widely, even in areas in which they do not feel an immediate affinity, but these lessons must be pleasant and inviting: living books.
Every child's mind will take what it requires, and we respect the personhood of children by not substituting our insights for their own needs. If they are to be nourished, they must take that nourishment for themselves. If one takes more or something very different from another, we accept this. If the feast is wide, various, and composed of only the best, there will be something for everyone.
Reading books on a variety of subjects slowly over time allows the student to make connections between them, recognizing the interwoven nature of science, discovery, and historical events.

Consider This encouraged me tremendously in our school's pursuit of virtue and poetic knowledge. A deceptively thin book, it's pages are thought-provoking and galvanizing for anyone interested in Charlotte Mason's methods.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

September 2015 Book Reports

Mind to Mind: An Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason and Karen Glass - Read my review. (promotional copy from the author)

The Children's Charter by Mother Mary Loyola was written for catechists of First Communicants. Always searching for the imagined better sacrament preparation materials, I gingerly read my inter-library loan copy as it nearly crumbled in my hands, hardly believing the lending library would send it out. Thank goodness it survived! If you haven't read anything on preparing students for First Communion, you might find much good advice here. (It is available in newer copies, as you'll see if you follow the link to Amazon.) I intend to incorporate at least one new idea into Second Daughter's preparation next year. This is not, however, a book to read aloud with your First Communicant. (The Good Shepherd and His Little Lambs Study Edition: A First Communion Story-Primer is my favorite so far, which I purchased from Sacred Heart Books and Gifts.) (inter-library loan)

The Trailblazing Life of Daniel Boone and How Early Americans Took to the Road by Cheryl Harness is recommended in Connecting with History (find it here at RC History's store). Enjoyable and informative. I love the timelines at the bottom of the pages of these Harness books because they help me place events in the context of world events. First Son (in sixth grade) is reading this book independently, mostly for fun and without narrating it. (library copy)

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo - Read my review. (library copy)

Helena by Evelyn Waugh - Read my review. (library copy)

The Father Brown Reader II: More Stories from Chesterton adapted by Nancy Carpentier Brown is a companion volume to The Father Brown Reader: Stories from Chesterton which I started reading to the children when my parents were in town because they (my parents, not the children) love to watch a television series about Father Brown. The second volume is more serious in that in contains stories of murders rather than just thefts. Additionally, there is a suicide. My children were confused by that idea at first. Apparently, it's the first time they noticed a suicide in a book I've read to them. (It may be the first suicide; I can't recall another.) A few times, too, I had to walk my eight year old through the conclusion as often it is not explicitly written out. (read aloud to the children, borrowed from a friend)

The Extraordinary Journeys: Around the World in Eighty Days (Oxford World's Classics) by Jules Verne, translated by William Butcher - Read my review. (purchased copy used on Amazon)

How to Babysit a Leopard: and Other True Stories from Our Travels Across Six Continents by Ted and Betsy Lewin is a new book from these renown picture book authors and illustrators. It's a collection of bits and pieces from their journals, dating back decades in their lives together of travel and adventure. Illustrated with drawings and photographs, it's a fantastic example of observation and sketching I'd like to encourage in my children's nature journals as they grow. It may be best to wait until children have matured a little before sharing the book. Experiences described include a shaman's prophetic trance and blood gushing at a bull fight, among other things. The authors mostly refrain from making too many environmental or disparaging comments (about minority or majority populations), but there are some. This will be a book First Son can choose this year for independent reading (sixth grade) and I would have been comfortable with him reading it last year. I think it could appeal to boys and girls. (library copy)

Books in Progress (and date started)
Links to Amazon are affiliate links. As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order). My homeschooling budget is always grateful for any purchases. 

Links to RC History are affiliate links.

Links to Sacred Heart Books and Gifts are not affiliate links.

These reports are my honest opinions.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Evelyn Waugh's Helena: Simple Prayer for Truth

Helena by Evelyn Waugh

Waugh's fictional novel of St. Helen imagines what life might have been like for the Emperor's mother, the woman credited by tradition as the one who discovered the very beams that held Jesus at the crucifixion, the ones furtively hidden by Roman guards as the rumors of Resurrection flooded the streets.  In the Preface, the author admits how little we know about St. Helen and justifies his liberties in the fictional account based on his research and suppositions.
We do not know that the wood Helena found is the True Cross. We need make no difficulty about the possibility of its preservation, for the distance in time between Helena and Our Lord is not greater than between ourselves and King Charles I, but if we do accept its authenticity we must, I think, allow an element of the miraculous in its discovery and identification.
Waugh eloquently describes Helen as a rash young Briton maiden who falls for a visiting Roman military man without realizing his future prospects.
It was as though she had fallen asleep in the secure, child's bedroom at Colchester -- the low-raftered room that had been hers since first she slept alone, where sitting on the press she could toss her shirt to its peg on the opposite wall; where, dressing, she had countless times paced it's length and breadth two steps from press to looking-glass, four paces from glass to door -- and had lived since in a nightmare where walls and ceilings constantly receded and everything but herself swelled to monstrous size and in all the remote corners dark shadows lurked.
Her child-like nature is integral to his characterization of her relationship with her faith. She is always asking "child-like" (and yet profound) questions of religions, eventually including Christianity.
"What I should like to know is: When and where did all this happen? And how do you know?"
Until she asks these questions of a Christian, the answers are vague or nonexistent. The Christian answers with dates and names, the names of Pontius Pilate, John, Luke...These questions are still relevant today which is why the answer to them appears in the Creed we recite at Mass.

As in life, her baptism and acceptance of Christianity is hidden. She wasn't a Christian, and then she was. A fascinating conversation between Helena and Constantine describes the common but twisted view of baptism by those in power.
"Sometimes," Helena continued, "I have a terrible dream of the future. Not now, but presently, people may forget their loyalty to their kings and emperors and take power for themselves, each one of them. Think of the misery of a whole world possessed of Power without Grace."
Constantine misses (or ignores) her point. Eventually, he responds:
Well, then, what does the wise man do -- the man in a position like mine where it's impossible not to commit a few sins every now and then? He waits. He puts it off till the very last moment. He lets the sins pile up blacker and heavier. It doesn't matter. They'll be washed away in baptism, the whole lot of them, and then all he has to do is to stay innocent, just for a very short time, just to hold the devil at bay for a week or two, perhaps a few hours only. It shouldn't be too difficult. That's strategy, you see. I've got it all planned."
Her time in Jersusalem commences in a flurry of activity and hope, but as time goes on without reliable information on the true cross, Helena's strength fails, physically and spiritually. On Twelfth Night, she imagines herself talking with the Wise Men. It's a lovely scene of prayer, with bits and pieces like these:
"Like me," she said to them, "you were late in coming..."
"Yet you came, and were not turned away. You too found room before the manger. Your gifts were not needed, but they were accepted and put carefully by, for they were brought with love..."
"You are my especial patrons," said Helena, "and patrons of all late-comers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents."
There are no stories linking the Wandering Jew with St. Helen, but Waugh uses him to lead her to the True Cross in an illuminating dream:
"I wouldn't take anything for you, lady, for a little service like that. I shall get paid all right, in time. You have to take a long view in my business. How I see it, this new religion of the Galilean may be in for quite a run. A religion starts, no one knows how. Soon you get holy men and holy places springing up everywhere, old shrines change their names, there's apparitions and pilgrimages. There'll be ladies wanting other things besides the cross. All one wants is to get the thing started properly. One wants a few genuine relics in thoroughly respectable hands. Then everyone else will follow. There won't be enough genuine stuff to meet the demand. That will be my turn. I shall get paid. I wouldn't take anything from you now, lady. Glad to see you have the cross. It won't cost you a thing."
Helena listened and in her mind saw, clear as all else on that brilliant timeless morning, what was in store. She saw the sanctuaries of Christendom become a fair ground, stalls hung with beads and medals, substances yet unknown pressed into sacred emblems; heard a chatter of haggling in tongues yet unspoken. She saw the treasuries of the Church filled with forgeries and impostures. She saw Christians fighting and stealing to get possession of trash. She saw all this, considered it and said: "It's a stiff price"; and then: "Show me the cross."
Waugh's prose is witty and poignant, a joy to read. In a time when we are all more likely to be "confused with knowledge and speculation," the child-like questions as well as the prophetic vision of Waugh's Helena invite us to remember the faith that is both simpler and richer.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Translations Matter: Around the World in Eighty Days

The Extraordinary Journeys: Around the World in Eighty Days (Oxford World's Classics) by Jules Verne, translated by William Butcher

I have never read anything by Jules Verne. Would it be shameful to admit most of what I know of him is from the Back to the Future trilogy?

Mater Amabilis recommends three works of classic literature for the first year of Level 3 (sixth grade) including Around the World in Eighty Days. I attempt to pre-read most books before my children read them so I can talk intelligently about them and, sometimes, decide against them. So I checked out a copy of Verne's book and settled down for a read...after two pages I wanted to give up. It was just...painful...and if I wanted to give up, what hope did First Son have?

Then inspiration struck! Jules Verne wrote in French! My good friend useful tool, Google, discovered someone dedicated enough to wade through multiple translations and offer his recommendations for the worthy ones.

Armed with an ISBN number, I purchased a copy. It did not disappoint. A trek around the world with Jules Verne was cheeky, adventurous, enlightening, and satisfying. I'm still contemplating it weeks later, which is one of the characteristics of the best books.

A note of caution: Verne's text contains a number of allusions to adult themes. Most of them will probably go right over First Son's head. I missed a number of them myself (being apparently remarkably innocent despite my years of age), until I read the end notes, which helpfully pointed them out (in professional language). I doubt First Son will read any end notes, not yet having displayed my tendency to read every single word on every page. If you have a student who will do so, be certain to either preview the notes and perhaps have a serious conversation about anything you feel needs explaining ahead of time.

If you haven't, read some Verne.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

I heard about this book from Rachel Balducci and decided to request it from the library when I saw there were dozens of people waiting for it. They couldn't all be wrong, right?

Ms. Kondo writes in a casual style, relating stories of her own youth and learning experiences in sharing how to decrease unnecessary belongings.
I discovered that there is no point whatsoever in changing your approach to suit your personality. When it comes to tidying, the majority of people are lazy.
That certainly seems true, especially of my children.

For Ms. Kondo, tidying starts with discarding. The less we have, the easier it is to put everything in its place.
[We] should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.
She claims we should hold each item, not just look at it, and ask of ourselves, "Does this spark joy?" Kansas Dad pointed out that he can't get rid of his electric screwdriver just because it doesn't "spark joy," but I think in many ways her point is valid. For example, she mentions purchased supplies for projects never completed that haunt us from the depths of our closets. Wouldn't it be better to admit that project will never be completed (at least by me) and pass those supplies on to someone else? I in fact did just that, discarding some supplies I had gathered back in 2004. Did I feel lighter or just imagine it?

She recommends that you start with your own room. The rest of the family will follow suit. Spending time in my own room cleaning and clearing is time I am not harassing my children or even quietly stewing about the messes elsewhere in the house. I suppose if they don't follow my example, at least I can go sit in my own beautiful tidy room to soothe my senses.

Then, there are the gifts!
The true purpose of a present is to be received....Of course, it would be ideal if you could use it with joy. But surely the person who gave it to you doesn't want you to use it out of a sense of obligation, or to put it away without using it, only to feel guilty every time you see it. When you discard or donate it, you do so for the sake of the giver, too.
Considering gifts in this light, I donated a number of items we had floating around the house after years of collecting dust without any guilt. It's also changed my attitude about receiving gifts. So often, when receiving something well-meant but unnecessary, I would feel frustrated. Instead of feeling their love, I would immediately start to wonder where I would put the gift. Now, I can (in theory) delightfully receive everything, focusing on the love instead of the thing.

You are very likely to get rid of something you find you need in the future. She admits this, but claims you'll find it doesn't matter that much.
Life becomes far easier once you know that things will still work out even if you are lacking something.
She has a strange affinity for possessions. She talks to them, thanking them for their hard work. She claims they want to help us. I think that's probably going a bit too far myself, but I do think it's better if material possessions are treated properly and if they are passed on to someone else who can really use them if they are no longer useful in my home.

This short book is worth a bit of time. Even if you don't take all her advice to heart, you may find joy in reading aloud some of the more unusual passages.