Thursday, August 30, 2012

Segue Style Learning

To segue (sey-gwey, seg-wey) means to make a transition from one thing to another smoothly and without interruption. People often segue from one topic to another in conversation. Sometimes the transition is clear, and other times it is difficult to tell how the speaker related one thing to the next. He may seem to have diverged to an entirely new topic, but something in his mind made the connection. "That reminds me of the time when..." is a common type segue.

Segue style learning, which is a term I have coined, refers to an organic progression from one related topic or activity to another. For example, I had planned to do a rainforest unit for science in our homeschool. A couple of weeks before we started, Beezy, her dad, and I went to the zoo for my husband's birthday. When we walked through the rainforest habitat, I made sure to tell Beezy that we were in a tropical rainforest and to remember what it was like. This experience kicked off our science unit perfectly, and segue style learning works well in unit studies.

On the first day of "school" we watched a PBS Reading Rainbow video from the library of The Shaman's Apprentice, a book by Lynne Cherry and Mark J. Plotkin. After the book was read by Susan Sarandon showing its illustrations with some added movement in the pictures, the video host, LeVar, flew by helicopter over the Amazon rain forest and landed in the very village, called Tirio, featured in the book. He met the real Kamanya, the shaman's child apprentice who grew up to be the tribe's next shaman and teacher of traditional healing. They went into the forest and learned about the various medicinal trees and plants and what ailments they are used to treat. Animals of the Amazon were seen, and the whole self-reliant way of life in the village was beautifully depicted, including food preparation, arts and crafts, transportation by river in canoes, and ritual dance. The whole video was a prime example of segue style learning.

The next book, which we are still reading, is One Day in the Tropical Rain Forest, by Jean Craighead George. In true Charlotte Mason fashion, the facts of the rain forest are related via story about a native boy of Venezuela named Tepui whose forest area is about to be bull-dozed. Tepui assists scientists working in his forest to find animals, and in particular, he is helping to search for a new, unnamed species of butterfly in hopes of saving his home.

One of the animals mentioned in the book is a sloth. Beezy did not remember what a sloth looked like, so we segued to an online article from National Geographic to learn more about this creature, and then on to some additional photos, including 111 pictures of baby sloths. I think Beezy viewed over 50 of them!

Today we were reading Kaya's Hero, an American Girl series book about  Native Americans of the Nimiipuu tribe (a.k.a. Nez Perce). The women were crushing dried deer meat in a mortar with a stone pestle to mix with berries to make pemmican. There was a small picture of a mortar and pestle, and I asked Beezy if she remembered seeing one at Sauder Village, a living history museum in our area. She did not, but of course I happened to have a mortar and pestle, which I promptly got out of the closet. The maple trees in front of our house were gracious enough to have dropped dry, brown leaves to the ground. Beezy immediately went out to get leaves to crush, discovering that green leaves do not lend themselves well for grinding, whereas the brown ones are perfect. But she tore up some green leaves to add anyway to make her "stew", for of course one needs some color! She fed me the stew and continued to grind while I read more of the book, and I reinforced the new vocabulary of mortar, pestle, and pemmican.

 mortar and pestle

I allowed her to make discoveries, such as wondering why the green leaves she found had little bumps on the back of them. This I could not answer, but if her dad had been home, we would have segued to asking him, and we will pursue this question later. The mortar and pestle provided a practical life lesson, fine motor skills practice, and dramatic play.

When I was a Montessori teacher, the classroom was divided into sections, such as language arts, math, science, art, ect... When we did unit studies, there would be something in almost every area relating to the unit. A similar approach can be taken in the home. As Charlotte Mason taught, education is a science of relations.  In public schools, subjects are usually so compartmentalized that no connections can be readily made between one area of study and another, and this is simply not how real life is. I have hopefully illustrated a better way in my "segue style learning" approach! It also helps one stay in the present moment and avoid getting locked into your lesson plans/curriculum.

Allowing the child to make her own connections, to freely move from one thing to another through natural transitions--which can be initiated and guided by the teacher but should not be impeded by the adult--inspires discovery, wonder, and imagination. This is an invigoration of the spirit and makes learning as natural as breathing--and so much fun to boot!

Monday, August 20, 2012

A New Homeschooling Year!

I am planning to begin our homeschooling year tomorrow, Tuesday, August 21!  My husband will start his first day of teaching college for the semester, so it will be nice and quiet in our home.  My intentions are very focused this year on using the Charlotte Mason method, in a relaxed homeschooling environment, so I will post regularly on what books and materials we are using. Hopefully this will provide others who are inclined toward Charlotte Mason with some ideas, and I hope readers will comment with ideas of their own! For this method can seem intimidating, because it does not rely on a set curriculum purchased from a company.

The Charlotte Mason method, to me, is about natural family living.  Its tenets are living books and narration, nature studies, the formation of habits that lead to self-discipline, auto-education (basically, self teaching), and the use of a broad and generous curriculum.  There is structure in this method, and it does not fall under the category of unschooling.  Formal studies are traditionally finished by 1:00 p.m., with the afternoons free for doing hand crafts, spending time outdoors, being together as a family, and exploring personal interests. The spiritual growth of the child is on an equal par with academic development.

We will be focusing especially upon reading, so this will be the top priority.  While other subjects will not be neglected, I will be more relaxed in what we cover.  We use a multi-subject BrainQuest  workbook curriculum (available at Target for $10); otherwise, our resources come from "living books", which include classic and high quality literature as well as books written by a person who is passionate about his subject and provides the pertinent information in story form.  In other words, dry textbooks are very much not Charlotte Mason! Much of what we use comes from the library.  I have purchased some materials from Ebay and from a local education store.

Since Beezy, age 8, loved the Dick and Jane readers, we will progress using the similar Ginn readers, beginning with Under the Apple Tree.  We will also continue using Beatrix Potter's books, implementing sight reading primarily. The Ginn books will be a combination of sounding out words and the sight reading that naturally occurs by the pattern of repetition used in these readers. The BrainQuest pages will provide practice in phonics and spelling.  Charlotte Mason advocated beginning sight reading as soon as the basics of phonics have been learned, because this is where the art of reading truly happens.

She did not believe in ever using "twaddle" written for children which consists of only 3 and 4 letter words and the forced creation of sentences with obvious word families (ie. cat, sat, and bat all in one sentence)--sorry, Dr. Seuss! I can attest to Charlotte's wisdom in this, because the BOB readers by Scholastic that we started with were just such books, and they were laborious to read and a big flop with Beezy!  Long words are delicious to children, and the number of letters in a word should be of no consequence.  In fact, longer words typically have more easily distinguished patterns than words that are short and very similar to one another (ie. what and went).  And the recognition of sight words is encouraging to children, rather than having to sound out each and every word.  Decoding is a building block, but it is not, in itself, actually reading.

Following Beezy's interests, she will begin to learn cursive writing this year! Since her printing is very neat, I believe she has the fine motor skills for cursive.  But we will still continue to practice printing skills, especially since she needs a little more experience with some of the capital letters.

For literature we will continue with the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis that we began over the summer. We are almost finished with Prince Caspian.  I read these books to her, and beginning with the next one in the series, she will narrate back to me every few pages or after each chapter. This takes the place of tiresome questions, allowing the child to make the story her own, and giving the teacher a true idea of the child's comprehension.

For history I will be reading The Earthshapers by Karen Speerstra to her, which is a story about a Native American girl of the Mound Builders, which include the Hopewell, who lived, among other places, in our state of Ohio.  For natural sciences we are studying the ecosystem of the rainforest, and our first book is actually a video of The Shaman's Apprentice by Lynn Cherry.  Both of these subjects will also be narrated.

For math we will continue learning to tell time, using a clock with moveable hands as well as BrainQuest pages.  And every day we will use a Melissa and Doug magnetic calendar and the song, "Days of the Week."  After some review with addition and subtraction, we will begin multiplication. We will also continue our study of fractions begun last year. I use an abacus and Montessori bead materials for math, as well as fractions manipulatives.  It is very important that the foundations of math be very concrete, rather than based merely upon the abstraction of symbols.  One should be able to touch math!

Soccer practice begins tomorrow, so that covers gym, and if we have time, we will begin a needlecraft project for children that I found at JoAnn Fabric.  I also got one for myself so that we can learn together!  And right there is the beauty of homeschooling--learning together and creating a unique family lifestyle that nurtures the spirits of all those living under our roof!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Belly Dance Challenge!

So yesterday my aunt, who is always in charge of our annual family reunion, called me and said, "I know you really wanted to belly dance for the reunion this year." I know when I've been told.  It's the 85th anniversary of the reunion, and my aunt is my elder, so how could I say no? The reunion is the 19th of this month, so I am down to less than two weeks already to prepare. As such, I need some of you fellow, lovely dancers to join me in a challenge!  I have a few pounds to shed and some kinks to work out of my joints and bones.  My muscles are tight as a circus rope.

So here's the deal.  Every day except for Sundays and Fridays, we are going to practice for 50 minutes. That includes 10 minutes of warm ups and 10 minutes of cool downs.  It's time to break out of the summer malaise and get our hearts open and our breath quickening. It's time to "yawn and stretch and come alive" (in the words of Dolly Parton, who has remarkable energy for any age).  I will have classes to teach beginning next month after taking the summer off. Let's not be merely good enough, ladies--let's be amazing!

I have already begun my practice.  Please comment today and let me know if you are with me!!


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Summer Malaise

My days have certainly lost their sense of flow lately. This past week I went to the doctor twice. Monday was for my sinus infection, which was a particularly nasty one, and I still have goopy drainage clogging my throat. I was down and out for a couple of days. Luckily my husband is home for the summer! Then my arm had a slight, itchy rash a couple of days later, which turned into an alarmingly large, thick, blistery area. Some sort of contact dermatitis, like poison ivy, with itching bad enough to interrupt my sleep. Add to those maladies a certain womanly nuisance also involving itching, and I've been quite a mess!

The intense heat and drought of the summer have been wearing on everyone, I think. Today is cooler, and it looks like it might possibly rain. My husband and I have been keeping the house picked up, and he got our monthly groceries from the health food co-op that comes in on a truck, so that is cheering. The refrigerator was looking bare. Now we have organic ice cream!

I have gained a few pounds, which started when I couldn't exercise due to having a half inch piece of hard wood floor embedded in my big toe for 10 days. I didn't know for sure that something was still in there after pulling out the first two pieces that were sticking out of it. I had gotten up from the chair I am sitting in now, and when I stood up, I pushed my foot into loose splinters. I did not know hard wood floors could do such a thing! My husband dug around in my toe with tweezers, but the remaining piece was too deep to be found. My doctor was my hero the day he removed the "thorn", like the mouse did from the paw of the lion.

I need to get back on track. I have made a lot of progress with ordering my house this summer, but it requires constant vigilance to keep up. We haven't taken any vacations, money is tight, and I just want to be healthy and free of itching! I know this will pass, and these have really been only minor inconveniences. There is no agenda for today, which is how it has been since I got sick. "What should we do today?" is the question. It's discouraging not to feel an energizing hum of purpose to my days. My huband wants to go back out to the garage sales along 127, and I want to make it to Mass this evening. Sometimes you just have to get started. Do what needs to be done. Take the day one moment at a time. Energy can just get blocked, and we have to pull our boots out of the mud to release it, before we get mired. How do you get unstuck? Maybe my readers will be so gracious as to share with me how you get your wheels turning again, and I can write a post with the answers!