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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Pray. Study. Act. (and a Loop Schedule!)



May has always been one of my favorite months. Despite the unseasonably cool weather this year, the days are beautiful. Since becoming Catholic, the special honoring of Mary during this month brings me the greatest reason to be joyful. During the Easter season, we continue to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, and we do so through the eyes of our Blessed Mother. I'm currently reading a devotional by Rawley Myers, Embraced by Mary, which contains readings for every day in May.

Mary is our best model as mothers, and especially as homeschooling mothers. Like all of us, Mary suffered worries and grief in her vocation. She had the unparalleled responsibility of raising the Son of God! Imagine the courage, humility and patience required of her. We must do as she did and continue to say yes to God--daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. In order to follow the will of the Father, we have to pray. I am reminding myself of this today, because my patience has been tried and found to be wanting. Putting first things first, at the top of the list is a daily prayer life. If we try to go it alone, the ship will hit the rocks for sure.

The next right thing is to study. Primarily by this I am referring to the Bible. We also need edifying spiritual reading. So before you dive into your studies on educational philosophy and methods, seek out the words of the saints or contemporary spiritual writers. And don't forget to include a good work of fiction. Keep it simple. If you're reading Sacred Scripture, one excellent book on spirituality, and one enjoyable novel, plus one book on education, that's more than enough to juggle.

Once you've fortified your mind and soul (and don't forget to take good care of your body as well!), it's time to act. Trust that you've assimilated what you need to carry out your vocation, and that the Holy Spirit is there to guide you every step of the way. Make a plan, assemble the curriculum materials, and teach your child in the way he should go. Make faith formation and the pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty the foundation of your goals. Sometimes we fail to do the teaching well because we're trying to do it in some exact, "pure" kind of way. Instead we need to make the actual carrying out of our homeschooling lessons a priority, and stop comparing ourselves to other mothers. One learns to teach by teaching.




In my recent post about my "unit studies" plans (May 2, "Multum Non Multa & Homeschooling through History"), I promised to show you a schedule including the sources for ancient Egypt, and I was going to do it according to subject area. Instead I've created a simple loop schedule. I'm only including those books which we will be using to begin the first term in the fall, but as we go along some will be set aside and others will be incorporated. This schedule is for a four-day week and is divided into three sections: the Daily Core, Twice Per Week activities, and a Weekly Loop. Keep in mind that a schedule is a place to start, and mine is only a suggestion for your own process. You will find the best balance for you and your children as you go along.

Music will be covered via Choir and Musical Theater classes at a co-op on Fridays, plus weekly piano lessons. Physical education will also be partially outsourced. As usual, please post any questions in the comments!

Daily Core:
- Literature: Mara, Daughter of the Nile
- Total Math
- Piano practice
- Cursive writing (Seton)
- Language of God grammar (CHC)


Twice Per Week:
- The Harp and Laurel Wreath (memory recitation, copy work)
- Dictation/spelling
- Written narration
- Learn Spanish with Grace!

Weekly Loop:
- Religion for Young Catholics (Seton)
- A Child's Geography of the World and Usborne Essential Atlas of the World
- Draw and Write through History
- Science 7 for Young Catholics; Nature Study
- Bible History: Old Testament (Seton)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Homeschooling--Notebooking & Workbox Strategies

vintage train case workbox


You know how sometimes you can spend a very long time, hours even, surfing the net for homeschooling ideas, only to come up with nothing? Well, last night the search was worth it--I got the last bits I needed to allow myself to let it all go for summer, confidently prepared for Beezy's upcoming 7th grade year.

But you thought we were done obsessing over homeschooling philosophy and methods?! Though there will always be a little tweaking of the curriculum as we go along, discovering what works well and what needs to be altered, I feel good about my Vintage Catholic Home Education method. In producing a synthesis of Charlotte Mason, Classical Studies, and the Scholastic Method, I find that each helps to balance the strengths and weaknesses of the others in my mind, and together they form a holistic integration.  

What we are addressing today is the topic of organization. I've been wanting to move Beezy toward greater independence in her studies, but I haven't been sure how to do this, apart from the natural transition from me reading most of the books aloud, to her reading the majority of her own school books. 

One wise mother solved the mystery. She wrote that homeschooled children need to know when their work is going to be done, just like children who go to school know when their day is over. The solution is in something called a workbox. This system was invented by Sue Patrick (see http://workboxsystem.com/). The basic idea is that each child has a set of boxes, each box numbered in order of assignments, one task to each box. Some of the examples I saw online were stacked, plastic boxes with drawers. Once the child has finished completing the work in his boxes, he is done for that day. 

As I was reading about his system, Sarah Mackenzie's notebooking strategy came to mind. She spends a few minutes each evening writing the child's assignments for the next day in a spiral notebook. The child checks a box after he completes a task, and Mom checks off a 2nd box when she has inspected the work. Of course, some lessons must be done with Mom's help. 

I put the two ideas together, and I have the system set up to begin on Monday. We have a couple weeks left to this 6th grade year, so this will give me the opportunity to try it out and fine tune the details. My hope is that this process will end the whining--"How many more things do we have to do?"  "Do we still have a lot of things left to do?"  "Why can't we just be done?" 

The picture at the top of the page shows the vintage train case I set up as Beezy's workbox. Up till now I've had control of the clipboard with the list of the assignments. She now has her own clipboard with that day's assignments. She'll check them off as she goes, and I'll put a line through the check mark when I've inspected the work. Workbook pages that she will need to do will be on the clipboard, and the books she will be reading will be in the box. This will make her responsible for completing her lessons. She will be able to see what she needs to do, and she'll know when she is done!

I'm keeping a 3-ring Mother's Master Book of all the assignments on loose leaf paper, with work samples in pocket folders. The curriculum outline and general planning ideas also go in the book. So a portfolio is being made for our end-of-year evaluation by a certified teacher as we go along. I have my own clipboard with the schedule for the week printed out, and I just check things off as they're accomplished. It's a simple record-keeping system, and you could do something similar for each child in your family. You could either have a section for each one in the Master Book, or a separate book for each person, just as each one has his own workboxes. You could also create a "morning basket" for group read alouds and activities. 

Here are some more pics of all the things I've just described. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions!

 Monday's assignments on Beezy's clipboard


My clipboard with weekly schedule


Mother's Master Book



 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Multum Non Multa & Homeschooling through History



It seems that the classical principle of multum non multa (much not many) can be as confusing as the meaning of classical education itself. In podcast episode #11 at the Schole Sisters blog, the hostesses discuss what Pliny the Younger meant by multum non multa and how this applies to the homeschooling curriculum. They conclude that the idea would be to track less books, not fewer subjects. Therefore, Pliny is right in step with Charlotte Mason, being that CM advocated covering a broad spectrum of subjects while going slowly and deeply through the books themselves.

The Schole Sisters fear that there can be too much cutting back of the curriculum in the name of multum non multa. They see this happening with the "minimalist" homeschooling trend and also in The Latin-Centered Curriculum. (You can read this "Multum Non Multa" article by Andrew Campbell at Memoria Press for the strictly Latin-based interpretation of the principle: https://www.memoriapress.com/articles/multum-non-multa/.)

In his youtube series on the 8 classical principles of education, Dr. Christopher Perrin seems to agree that Charlotte Mason's philosophy fits within the classical framework. For example, CM would correspond the history, geography, and literature studies, in a similar way to Perrin's classical approach of putting subjects into "family" groupings. One book can cover three or four subjects. Perrin says that multum non multa is about achieving breadth through depth. But he differs with the Schole Sisters in that he advocates tracking both fewer books and a smaller number of subjects.

Whether or not Charlotte Mason is "classical," and if she is, in what way this might be true, will likely never be perfectly resolved. But if we start with the idea of corresponding history with literature and geography, we have found a great place to begin in designing the curriculum. RC History is a popular Catholic program which labels itself as both a classical and unit studies method. It is actually "neoclassical," with respect to corresponding the trivium with stages of child development. CM was definitely not classical in this sense, and neither am I. She also didn't believe in unit studies, in which all subjects are tied to a particular theme.

It just so happened that as I was planning my 2017--2018 (7th grade) curriculum, I noticed that the books I had chosen would allow me to expand beyond corresponding literature, history, and geography to include additional subjects. It wouldn't be a true unit studies method, but it would be a more comprehensive way of homeschooling through history; akin perhaps to the RC History program, but more streamlined, more multum non multa.

My favorite quarter of college at OSU was one in which the three classes I took corresponded to the same time period. I believe these were English, classics, and history courses (perhaps relating to the Middle Ages). This happy coincidence allowed me to experience first-hand how enriching such a living approach to learning can be. I so much enjoyed these studies done together that I wished my entire education would have been organized this way! I was able to make so many wonderful connections on my own, and I'm certain Charlotte Mason would have approved!!

I have so far planned units for ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and ancient Rome/early Middle Ages. In this way history will be studied chronologically, as CM advocated, and we will venture into the realm of Classical studies. We may get no further than the early Middle Ages, but that's okay, because we can pick back up where we left off for the 8th grade.

This way of scheduling organizes the material in a very natural way, and I can see now how the curriculum I've planned will flow in an organic manner. There will be both rhyme and reason present in our lessons! Not that there wasn't before, but going forward there will be a clearer picture, a better system in place, and more selective choices for the spreading of the feast. I think that subconsciously I had selected the books with following history in mind.

We already read the chapter on ancient Egypt in Our Catholic Legacy Vol. 1 (Seton) this year, but we did not dig deeply into this subject; so Egypt will be the first theme to be studied during Term 1 for the upcoming year. Beezy will finish reading the Bible History: Old Testament book from Seton for the history portion of the unit. (We are wrapping up history this year with King David and His Songs by Windeatt, along with the Bible History chapters on David.) The additional books will touch upon the other civilizations that were covered in the chapter on Egypt as well.

The following is a list of the books and specific chapters that will be included:

Bible History: Old Testament from Seton (chapter 21, "The Wisdom of Solomon," to the end)
A Child's Geography of the World by Hillyer (chapters 50-52, 54, and 64)
Mara, Daughter of the Nile by McGraw (plus mini-guide from Rainbow Resource Center)
Science 7 for Young Catholics from Seton (History of Science chapter 1, sections I and II)
Draw and Write Through History: Greece and Rome (The Hanging Gardens of Babylon)
The Meaning of Trees by Hageneder (Introduction)

It's possible that Jansen's The Story of Painting will be included, but I have misplaced the book! In the next post I will provide the entire Term 1 schedule, organized by subject area, and you will be able to see how each item in the Egypt unit fits. Until then, I hope this gives you some additional ideas for planning your curriculum. I'm really beginning to see how my synthesis of the Charlotte Mason, Classical, and Scholastic methods is going to work beautifully!!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

My Yard in Bloom!

“Nobody sees a flower - really - it is so small it takes time - we haven't time - and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.”
― Georgia O'Keeffe


When my family and I walked out the door to go to church on Easter Sunday, we were delighted to see that the tulips had popped into bloom, as if on cue. They are still on parade. Some have faded away while new ones have opened up, so I wanted to capture the scene while I still have it to enjoy. Here is my yard en fleur, tulips and beyond... Happy Spring!



Monday, April 17, 2017

2017--2018 Catholic Homeschool Curriculum






Happy Easter, everyone! I know it is only the middle of April, but yes, I have already prepared my curriculum for the next homeschooling year! Keep in mind that I'm only teaching one child, so I have more time than many of you to get a heart start. 

Very often I encounter some sort of difficulty or suffering during Lent, and this year was no different. There was a death in my family right before Lent began, and that was a sorrowful time. But what was keeping me awake at night toward the end of Lent was a peculiar crisis in which I felt anxious about how I was going to approach 7th grade literature. I think this came about because 7th grade means junior high school, at least for those of us for whom "middle school" was not a thing growing up. So this is the phase when children become teenagers and are gearing up for high school. It's the beginning of the big leagues, and I knew I would need to present new experiences and greater challenges.

In order to work through the crisis and start sleeping well again, I had to go ahead and hammer out the curriculum. Thank goodness for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the wonderful moms who answered my questions and supported my ideas in various Facebook homeschooling groups. I appreciate you more than you can know!

What I've come up with is a curriculum which reflects a synthesis of approaches recently discussed here at Organic Mothering--Charlotte Mason, the Scholastic Method of traditional Catholic education, and Classical studies and principles. I explored the connections between these philosophies, and I'm now feeling like I can proceed confidently forward. I'm calling this synthesis, Vintage Catholic Home Education.

Initially in my struggle with how to approach literature and historical fiction for 7th grade, I considered working with the study guides from Memoria Press. But after much prayer (and debate in my own mind!), I've decided to continue in the CM method, transitioning from mostly oral narrations to a greater practice of written ones. (I will, however, be using a mini-guide for Mara, Daughter of the Nile, that I found at Rainbow Resource Center.) 

This spring term I've begun having Beezy answer chapter study questions that I write, and those will be incorporated next year as well. At the end of each book will be a final exam, basically a CM-style essay. I've also added Laura Berquist's classical compilation of poetry, speeches, and Shakespeare, The Harp and Laurel Wreath, which includes lessons for dictation and study questions. This is a most excellent resource, and I'm excited to get going with it!

I've assimilated CM well over the years, but I will continue to read her Original Homeschooling Series and refer back to books I've already read as needed. I want more structure for science next year, so I'm adding Seton's 7th grade text/workbook. We will continue to take nature walks and keep the nature notebook, but especially during the winter it will be beneficial to study science and health subjects more formally. I've also added a couple of art lesson books, as this is an area I felt was weak in our curriculum this year. Though I've always designed my own curriculum and have been intent upon following Charlotte Mason very closely, I realized that for going to the next level I felt more comfortable adding a little more of the traditional materials. 

Please note that music is being delegated to others for the most part next year. Beezy will have Choir and Musical Theater classes with a homeschooling co-op and will continue with her piano lessons. Physical education this year is being covered by a tumbling class, and that will continue next year. These are subjects of intense personal interest, and I think it's important to feed those needs. And we homeschooling parents cannot do everything ourselves!

As usual, my curriculum outline is set up for the requirements of my state. If it seems like an overwhelming number of books, please know that I don't expect to get through everything in one year. Like Sarah Mackenzie says on her blog, Amongst Lovely Things, planning is guessing! We will likely defer some of this plan to the 8th grade. Feel free to use what you would like for your own curriculum! 

I. Vintage Catholic Home Education: We will be using a self-designed curriculum integrating the Scholastic Method of traditional Catholic education; the philosophy and method of Charlotte Mason; and Classical studies and principles. Drawing from the books and resources listed below, learning tools such as living books, narration, copy work, dictation, and memory recitation will be utilized, with a core of Religion and the liberal arts.
II. Curriculum Books and Resources:

- Seton Home Study School (www.setonhome.org)
- Memoria Press (memoriapress.com)
- Catholic Heritage Curricula (www.chcweb.com)
- Charlotte Mason Original Homeschooling Series
- The Holy Bible, Douay-Rheims Version
- Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie
- Public and home library selections
- Real Learning by Elizabeth Foss
- Ambleside Online (amblesideonline.org)
- Mater Amabilis: A Charlotte Mason Style Curriculum for Catholics (materamabilis.org)

III. Subjects and Books/Materials:

Language ArtsA Book of Fortitude (Seton reader); Mara, Daughter of the Nile (McGraw) and mini-guide from Rainbow Resource Center; A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys and Tanglewood Tales (Greek myths by Nathaniel Hawthorne); Lassie Come-Home (Knight); King Arthur and His Knights (Robinson); The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (Pyle); Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb; Bard of Avon and Good Queen Bess (Stanley/Vannema); The Harp and Laurel Wreath (poetry and dictation); The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Twain); Language of God grammar and composition (CHC); Handwriting for Young Catholics (Seton); correspondence; popular fiction (free reading); Learn Spanish with Grace!

Religion, Geography and History– Religious Education class at parish church; Prayers for Young Catholics (Daughters of St. Paul); Pure Faith: A Prayer Book for Teens (Evert); The Gospel of St. Luke; Bible History for Young Catholics (Seton, Old and New Testament volumes); Journeys with Mary (De Santis); Our Catholic Legacy Vol. 1 (Seton world history); A Child's Geography of the World (Hillyer); Usborne Essential Atlas of the World; The Life of Saint Patrick (Reynolds); Augustine Came to Kent (Willard); Columbus and the New World (Derleth); Pocahontas and Captain John Smith (Marie Lawson); Fifty Stories from Ohio (Martzolff); Sauder Village Farm and Living History Museum membership; States & Capitals flash cards

MathematicsHamilton’s Essentials of Arithmetic (measurement; fractions; time and money; place values; addition and subtraction with regrouping; multiplication; division; decimals and percentages, etc.); TheMathWorksheetSite.com; Archimedes and the Door of Science (Bendick); math manipulatives; flash cards; calendar; board games; baking

Science and Health Science 7 for Young Catholics (Seton: history of science, scientific method, geology, chemistry, electricity, space flight, the five senses); General Hygiene (Overton); Nature Anatomy (Rotham); The Meaning of Trees (Hageneder); Nature walks and notebook; The Feelings Book: The Care & Keeping of Your Emotions (American Girl); sustainable living and organic gardening; Humane Society volunteer work

Physical EducationTumbling class; basketball team; dance; daily outdoor play; hiking; sledding; trampoline; running; swimming; scooter; climbing; horseback riding; bicycling; dog walks

Fine Arts Choir and Musical Theater homeschool co-op classes; piano lessons; The Story of Painting (Janson); Creating Art: Lessons & Projects for the Grammar Stage (MP); Draw and Write Through History: Greece and Rome (Gressman); Anholt’s Artist Books for Children series; folk songs and hymns; card making; art museum visits; attendance at plays and concerts; dramatic play; parks and recreation/library arts and crafts programs; movies and documentaries; videography and photography; creative writing

First Aid, Safety, and Fire Protection – Continued reinforcement of these subjects through library materials, field trips, and home safety plans

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Giving Up Distractions--Clutter




Here we are in Holy Week, the final stretch of Lent. How have we faced our trials and carried our crosses? How well have we offered up our sufferings? And how can we continue to give up our distractions, for good?

Everything I've written about in this series is clutter of a kind. The mental, emotional, and spiritual clutter is perhaps all the more insidious because we can't literally see it. But it could also be that the physical clutter in our home environments is indicative of the deeper, hidden elements. I think that the physical clutter has something to do with holding on to the past.

Some of us are more sentimental than others. Indiscriminately throwing everything out is no better than clinging to every little possession. Either extreme is a sign of imbalance. So no, we can't just set fire to all of it and begin again. Unless there is, actually, a fire or a flood or some such disaster that clears the clutter for us. Usually, we have to employ prayer and self-discipline and attend to our stuff with temperance and diligence. It sounds as if we are being called upon to cultivate virtue, doesn't it?

When I was a young adult, I tended to pride myself on being from a family of pack-rats. I also believed in the popular notion that creative people are by nature messy. The chaos of my apartment bore testament to my artistic, sentimental soul! It didn't help that as a Montessori teacher, I was encouraged to save anything that could be used to create "works" for the children. As such, I had a substantial collection of things like laundry detergent lids in my tiny kitchen closet.

There was one saving grace. Two, actually. The first was the Kidney Foundation charity. My youngest brother had a kidney removed as a newborn, so as a way to protect the health of his remaining kidney, I gave to the KF. They came to collect one's donations. I gave so often that they would call me monthly when they were scheduled to pick up from my neighborhood. I had no money to give to the poor, but somehow I always had stuff. I learned that when one gives of one's abundance, the Lord provides.

The other saving grace was my sensitivity to beauty, which I inherited from both parents. My mom's primary artistic outlet has always been home decor. I grew up with her regular rearranging of the furniture. Because of my own impulses to suddenly need to move the furniture around and re-decorate, I would be forced to clean! I also enjoyed entertaining friends and having parties, so there was that motivation to bring order to my surroundings as well.

These principles should hold true for all of us. We are called to be charitable with our time and our possessions. Our God is a God of order. There is no Beauty without order. And hospitality and Christianity go hand in hand. So it seems that we've received a divine ordinance to clear the clutter.

After sorting out my clothes to donate this Lent, I realized that there is no need anymore to store away off-season clothing, having pared my wardrobe down so well. And the way the weather works in my neck of the woods, it makes more sense to have just one, year-round capsule wardrobe. Sure, there are those few items that belong exclusively to winter or summer, but much of the time we are in-between the various seasons. Layers are the name of the game!

And so with clothing squared away and my vanity table tidy (jewelry and make-up sorted and organized), I had to face finishing up with my books. And this I have accomplished. I'm far from finished. There are still the magazines, the personal papers, and those sentimental items that will require my intense attention. There are closets, drawers and cupboards that will see the light of day and be shown very little mercy. Oh, and there is my daughter's room. But let's not think about that today. It's painful, my friends, this clearing of every type of clutter, but it's the virtuous thing to do. It's the kind thing to do, for ourselves and for our families. We have to start with being good stewards of our own homes before we can effectively spread the love.

Have a happy Easter, my dears, and I'll see you dancing in the Son!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

What If Sarah Mackenzie Is Right?


 Sarah Mackenzie


Okay friends, time to get real! I am very, very distracted right now. My Lenten dreams seem like so much sand running out from between my fingers. This might be a moment of reckoning. I was up at 3:30 a.m. filled with anxiety. Maybe it's hormones, or the fact that I'm on antibiotics for a sinus infection. Perhaps the weather is to blame. But today the sun is out. Though not quite warm enough for porch sitting, things are looking springy and fine.

Well, with my blurry-eyed vision in the wee hours of insomniac hell, I pulled out Sarah Mackenzie's Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakable Peace. I've been mulling over a certain paragraph in her book, and here it is:

     Whether or not you purchase an open-and-go curriculum doesn't really matter. You can pretty much forget all the heated discussions about whether you are caving in to school-at-home if you use traditional workbooks or a straight-from-the-box curriculum. I know successful homeschooling families who use textbooks and successful homeschooling families who eschew them. I don't think that's a relevant debate to be having if we want to teach from rest and become happy, content, peaceful, and effective homeschooling moms.  (pp. 31-32)

And then there's her article at Amongst Lovely Things titled, "My Biggest Homeschooling Mistake: Over-thinking Methods and Philosophies" (https://amongstlovelythings.com/my-biggest-homeschooling-mistake-over/). The whole thing is quotable, so read it in its entirety. But here is a portion of the wisdom:

"It was only when I silenced the voices of educational gurus coming from the bookshelf and internet and really paid close attention to my own children that I found our groove. One does not need to be versed in educational methodology to teach well. One needs to love her child. Pay attention to him. Notice how he learns- what he understands easily, what hinders his understanding.

If I had spent those hours watching my children and following my instincts instead of reading up on this or that educational philosophy, I would have reaped greater rewards far sooner.

My children would have received a better education, and I would have been a happier, more-content homeschooling mother."


I have resisted what Sarah is saying in this regard for some time now. Of course philosophy and method matter, right? How can they not? What if we have attached so much time and energy and faith to this stuff that we have become obsessed, confused, and the very antithesis of unshakable peace. More like a bowl of jello during an earthquake.

What if I just want to be a Catholic homeschooler and take JPII's advice, "Families, be who you are!"?  Do you know, I can't even find a general Catholic homeschooling group on Facebook anymore? Everything is a niche or combination of niches--classical, Charlotte Mason, unschooling, following a particular curriculum, you name it. But oh, I have told myself, I don't want to be eclectic. I want to be true to CM. But I like Seton and their text/workbooks and vintage reprints and Catholic historical fiction. And CHC's grammar and composition book really fits the bill. But...what about those lovely classical principles???

The truth is, we can't say yes to everything. We have to say no to some things, even good things. 
(And you can quote me on that.)

I think that researching scholasticism has made me realize the we have a grand tradition of Catholic education going back many hundreds of years, and there is no reason to reject it. Can I just be a Catholic home educator, in complete and true freedom, please?!

What if Sarah Mackenzie is right?