Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Winter Semester Loop Schedule Updates

Not too much has changed in my Catholic Charlotte Mason loop schedule since the last time I posted about it. But I've been thinking a lot lately about the challenge of striking a balance between simplicity and "spreading the feast" of a liberal curriculum. I finally pulled off the shelf the book of Christina Rossetti's poetry that I've had checked out from the library for a long time and introduced it into our homeschooling lessons. I added the poetry subject to my Humanities Loop, and I also have not given up on Spanish.

I have been reading CM's Vol. 1, Home Education, in which Charlotte says that "all educated persons should be able to speak French." Part of my hesitation to get into a foreign language is the indecision about which one. French would be great, but I have no background, whereas I do in Spanish. Even with Spanish, however, I have to build my confidence back up where the pronunciations are concerned, and I never could trill my Rs! Happily, I found a woman on youtube who I believe can help me. Then there is Latin, which especially as a Catholic I would love to learn. If I were Charlotte Mason, maybe I'd just do all three! But I am not. So for now I'm choosing Spanish and have put that in the loop to alternate with poetry. It may very well be that all educated persons in America should be able to speak Spanish!

What encourages me in CM's writing about French is the method of teaching only orally in the beginning, with no written language, adding six new words per day. When I consider the idea of tackling only six words at a time, it seems perfectly doable.

The thing to keep in mind is to add a little at a time by way of subjects. Do not expect to start the six-year-old off with 20 subjects, and do beware of having unrealistic expectations for both yourself and your children starting out.

I added a spelling book to the writing loop, to replace the Montessori Movable Alphabet. Workbooks are not "banned" in a CM education, but they should not be relied upon heavily or take the place of the traditional CM methods. I added dancing to our Tea Time activities. I am hoping to get myself back into shape as an Oriental dance artist and teach my daughter some basics.

I am sorry to report that The Guiding Light vintage Catholic picture Bible I was using to have Beezy read the Old Testament stories from is not serving my purposes. It is a beautiful book, but so many details are taken out of the stories that they lose both literary value and clarity. As such, we will be returning to Hurlbut's Story of the Bible. The only issue I've had with this at all is the need to explain the Catholic interpretation of Jesus' brothers and sisters. That is done easily enough, and otherwise it's a wonderful living book, very well written.

As I've often done, I again want to encourage readers to design your own CM curriculum. The guides at Mater Amabilis, Ambleside Online, and Simply Charlotte Mason are a great help when you need ideas, but I've read accounts of many mothers feeling overwhelmed and "behind" when they try to keep up with the schedules. I get the most use out of Elizabeth Foss' cycles in Real Learning, but I never try to complete every book suggested for a particular month. I browse among all the cycles for a particular age group and put things together in my own way.

I'd love to hear how your current term is going, so please share in the comments! And now here is my updated loop schedule for the current winter term.

Daily Core:
American Cardinal Reader or chapter book (The Courage of Sarah Noble)
Math lesson
Piano practice
Literature read aloud: Leif Erickson the Lucky (for lesson time, with oral narration and/or discussion); Anne of the Island (bedtime)
Writing loop:
copy work
grammar workbook
written narration or spelling workbook

Extended Loops:

Religion loop:
The Baltimore Catechism or other religious lesson book
The Rosary in Art (picture studies)
New Testament Bible reading (Rosary mysteries and decade prayers)
Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible (Old Testament stories)
Saint Isaac and the Indians by Milton Lomask

Humanities Loop:
The Story Book of Science, One Small Square or Edible Chemistry Kit
A Child’s Geography of the World, map work or visual enrichment
Poetry or Spanish
Memory work/recitation
The Care & Keeping of You

Tea Time:  music, baking, correspondence, handicrafts, dance

Religious Ed. Class at parish church on Wednesdays
Gym and art classes at Catholic school & piano lessons on Thursdays
Art, lunch and recess at Catholic school on Fridays

Monday, November 30, 2015

A Charlotte Mason Advent

We had an excellent beginning to our Charlotte Mason homeschooling winter term today. Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent, so naturally this season of the liturgical year is a major theme at this time in our studies. We went to Mass Saturday evening and picked up the last two purple candles to be found anywhere on the way home. Luckily we still had a pink and a purple one left from last year, so our Advent wreath was complete! We blessed the wreath with holy water, and we say special prayers and light the appropriate candle or candles at dinner each night. Beezy had brought home an Advent pamphlet from religious education class, so we are using that as our guide. She also brought home a small Advent calendar with a flap to open, revealing a picture and a Bible verse, each day.

We began lesson time this afternoon with Beezy reading the "Prayer During Advent" from Prayers for Young Catholics (Daughters of St. Paul). I then read the selection on the beginning of the Church Year and Advent from The Church Year for Children (Rev. Jude Winkler), and we discussed it. Her American Cardinal Reader (Neumann Press) contains a few Christmas stories, so she began reading one of these.

Beezy practiced her piano. She had a math lesson; a science lesson from One Small Square: Coral Reef (Silver), supplemented with an online article about algae from the Kids Research Express blog; and a read aloud which she narrated from Leif Erikson the Lucky (Kummer). We finished with a Rosary lesson. We are currently praying the Luminous Mysteries (read directly from the New Testament) and using the wonderful 5th grade book from Seton, The Rosary in Art, for picture studies and artist biographies. Beezy did copy work from the story of the Wedding at Cana.

This is to give you a sampling of a particularly Catholic CM day of learning in our home. I have ordered several books from Elizabeth Foss' elementary lists for December, found in her Catholic CM manual, Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home. So far I have received The Way to Bethlehem (Biffi); Letters from Father Christmas (Tolkien); and The Huron Carol (Jean de Brebeuf). This last selection is especially timely, because we are reading the biographical novel, Saint Isaac and the Indians (Lomask). St. Isaac Jogues goes to live among the Huron in Canada in this book. The music to the Huron carol can be found at the end of the de Brebeuf picture book, which contains the lyrics and beautiful illustrations, so I'm going to encourage Beezy to play it on her keyboard.

I hope this inspires you, especially if you are having trouble finding ideas and resources for observing Advent. I plan to keep it simple. Go to Mass, light the Advent wreath at dinner, pray Advent prayers to open our lessons each day, and read living books for the season. I also plan to incorporate Tea Time, using Advent hymns found on youtube, and watch good holiday movies together as a family. Since we only have three weeks until our Christmas break begins, it's also a good time to finish up some of the books we have been reading, and then start with new things after the New Year.

I wish you all a blessed and joyful time of preparation for celebrating the coming of our Savior into the world!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Pause Before Advent

Yesterday my village became a winter wonderland. My daughter's snow boots from last year are, alas, too small. But that does not stop her from embracing what she says is her favorite season! She inspires me. Winter has never been my favorite season. I like neither the wind nor the cold, though I do love the beauty outside my windows and the coziness of a fire.

We wrapped up our fall homeschooling term on Friday. I decided we would take all of the coming week off for a Thanksgiving break. We can decorate the house for Christmas and shop for our harvest meal. We may be traveling, but as of yet we aren't sure.

In Teaching from Rest, Sarah Mackenzie encourages home educators to "bake in review time." In this week before Advent begins, it seems to me the perfect time to reflect upon how our living education goals are panning out. What books have been a grand success, and which were a flop? Which methods are bringing about the desired results, and what needs to be modified?

Our fall term just happened to end up being exactly 3 months. You may wish to make your terms shorter or longer. But I do believe that regular breaks for refreshment and reflection are necessary. We all need periods of rest and a change from the usual routine.

Take a little time today or another day soon and write down a review of your homeschooling year so far. Pray over your efforts and assess with gentleness the areas where you've been successful and where you need to grow. When the first Sunday in Advent arrives next week, you will be prepared to fully enter into this holy season.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Discerning an Authentic Charlotte Mason Education

Many of the homeschoolers I have interacted with online are dabblers in Charlotte Mason. I get that. I too was once a dabbler. I can immediately think of two reasons for not pursuing a traditional, authentic CM education.

1) We want to be able to customize the curriculum to fit the needs of the individual child, and an eclectic approach seems like an effective way to accomplish this goal.

2) Laziness.

From my experience, the idea behind the first item is based on an underlying fallacy. For whatever reason, we get the notion in our heads that any "pure" approach to homeschooling is going to be restrictive to our freedom. I like to draw a parallel here with Catholicism. We have rules in our Faith--the teachings of Scripture and Tradition, the interpretation of the Magisterium, dogmas, codes of canon law, an order to the Mass, papal encyclicals, etc... Yet we understand that our freedom depends upon the boundaries, or limits, of our religion. A faithful Catholic does not pick and choose which teachings of Jesus and his Church to obey and which to cast aside. We trust that God wants the best for us, and so we joyfully follow the tenets of our Faith.

Of course, homeschooling style is not so grave a subject as religious belief and practice. But the philosophy and method that we follow in education must be in accordance with Christian principles. It is imperative that our choices be solid and not made willy-nilly, and we must avoid the possibility of serious error as much as possible. Because a CM education is built upon a basis of natural law and is oriented as the "handmaid of Religion", it makes for a happy marriage with the Catholic Faith. While it isn't the only viable option, I have personally found it to be ideal; especially in that it allows for a customization of the child's education as well as providing an already proven path to follow. You need not be a trailblazer.

Now to address the laziness issue. Homeschooling is a lot of work, and a CM education requires much preparation. It's common to get excited about a new idea, read a little bit about it, apply some of the techniques, and then fail to fully follow through. There might be doubt that the approach is rigorous enough, or worry that it is too rigorous. It might be difficult to trust because it is so different from what most of us experienced in school ourselves. We may become distracted by other tantalizing methods and fear that by focusing in on Charlotte Mason, we and our children might miss out on benefits that another way has to offer. The problem is, you can't get the full benefits of a CM education if you don't make the effort to really know what it is and truly apply it. When push comes to shove, simple laziness is often the culprit of our wishy-washy homeschooling ways.

First things first--the philosophy. The method flows from the philosophy, not the other way around. It's like Sacred Tradition and Scripture in this respect. The fullness of Christianity is not found in the Bible only. Likewise, simply applying methods such as narration and copy work do not a CM education make. You have to understand the why behind it.

So how should one begin? I recommend that you read and re-read Charlotte's 21 Principles of Education; meditate on them and understand them as well as you can; and begin to integrate them into your family life. Then read the sixth book in her home education series, A Philosophy of Education, where these principles are fleshed out. She wrote this volume last, after more than 30 years of teaching experience. It is apparent that in the mind of Miss Mason, there was no question as to the success of her method and the solid philosophical foundation upon which it was based.

The next step is to read Volume 1, Home Education, to get into the nitty gritty of how to practically apply CM's ideas with children ages six to nine. Even if your kids are older, do not skip this volume, as it lays down the rails. At the same time, you can read a supplementary work written by a contemporary author, such as Karen Andreola's A Charlotte Mason Companion. Here the reader is provided with the history of CM and a summary of the basic tenets and how they are applied. Karen is responsible for getting the original volumes reprinted and brought to the U.S. from England, so I consider her the best go-to resource. I would also recommend the particularly Catholic CM manual, Real Learning by Elizabeth Foss. It's fine to start with a companion volume such as these to get the ball rolling before you get into CM's own series, but do not stop here.

Continue through Charlotte's volumes. To be blunt, if you aren't going to read CM's own words, you may as well forget the whole thing. When you aren't sure how to proceed in your homeschooling efforts, go back and re-read. In my personal experience, I have found that the only way to stay motivated, inspired, and on task is to go further up and deeper in. The answer is not to seek other methods or to "blend" them with CM. Trust me when I tell you that this will only lead to confusion and inconsistency. You will waste time that you could be spending immersing yourself in Charlotte's own words, not to mention time that could be spent directly with your children. Remember, we aren't seeking the "perfect" method or curriculum, but rather directing our children's minds and hearts toward God. If we follow the guidance of our Savior and turn our will over to him, the only possible result will be excellence.

Once you have put in the time and effort to set your homeschooling on a solid Catholic CM foundation, it will practically flow of its own accord, especially if you use the loop scheduling idea that I recently wrote about. At its heart, a CM education is teaching from rest. I assure you that it is flexible and simple. Get your head out of "curriculum mode" and reoriented toward a living style of learning. What we are talking about here is no less than a paradigm shift. Be gentle with yourself and give it time. Give yourself permission to make mistakes.

This approach is also adaptable to any child's learning style or temperament and any family's needs. It will look a little different in every home, but the common chords will be present. Begin with the basics and gradually add additional subjects. The only way to do it is to actually do it. You will learn how it works and become more comfortable and confident as you go along. A Charlotte Mason education will die on the table if you keep it sequestered as an intimidating, abstract idea in your mind. Choose and mix your ingredients well, and don't take the cake out of the oven half-baked! Only then will you partake of the splendid feast offered.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The "Why" of Homeschooling

When the idea of homeschooling first came up, my daughter was still a baby. My husband seemed to think it would be a good idea, but I shot it down. When he asked why I wouldn't want to homeschool, I said with vim and verve, "Because when she's five, I want my life back!"

I've told this story before, and also the part about how my mom tried to tell me, "This is your life now," but it took a long time for that truth to sink in. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy being a mother. It was simply that I was 35 years old and used to a certain freedom, and this radical new path of motherhood took some getting used to.

By the time Beezy was three, my husband and I were definitely leaning toward homeschooling. I can't for the life of me remember what caused this change of heart, but surely it was a God thing. And books by John Holt and John Taylor Gatto were influential. Despite the belief that we were following the Divine Will, I was not Catholic at the time that my child's home education began in earnest, and religion wasn't at the top of the list of reasons for this choice.

Since then I have become profoundly aware of the Church's assurance that parents have received the responsibility and solemn authority to be the primary educators of their children. Parenthood is truly a divinely decreed vocation. That does not mean that Christian parents must homeschool. But the Church says that a true education must be a Christian one, with the purpose of all study being directed toward the supreme end of getting one's children to heaven. A Catholic school could certainly be a valid choice, if it faithfully adheres to the teachings of the Church on education. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. But even if one's parish school is excellent in the realms of both religion and academics, some of the same concerns that parents have about government schools also apply here.

The secular humanism that indoctrinates children in public schools has also crept into parochial ones. The Common Core standards of the federal government that have recently been adopted by most states in the U.S. bring with them a mediocre and morally questionable curriculum that requires increased hours spent in testing and preparation for the tests. Funding is withheld from schools that do not adopt Common Core. And while it is only the subjects of math and English that are currently being hijacked, the long-term plan is to infiltrate all subjects and to establish an invasive tracking program that follows people from the cradle to the grave. I fear that Catholic schools which have adopted Common Core put their traditional aims, purpose, and freedom at risk.

There are also those intangible but crucial considerations of the well-being of the family that come into play in the question of education. Sarah MacKenzie, in her book Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakable Peace, explains this perspective so eloquently:

"Our children are not projects. If, by the grace of God, we can manage to remember that our children are all made in his image--and more importantly, if we can treat them as such despite the mess and the chaos--then we will really be able to teach from rest. Therein lies the reason we've taken on this arduous task of home education at all--because a government school would not see our children as the image bearers that they are. After reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, there would be no Morning Offering, no Nicene Creed. They would miss countless opportunities to love on their siblings and form deep, meaningful encounters with each other, with us, and with material chosen specifically to nurture their souls. We want all else to pale in comparison to our quest toward honor, virtue, and wisdom."

Though I have not completely ruled out the possibility of a Catholic parochial school for my child, I have serious reservations. The school day and year have grown increasingly longer over the course of American history. In addition to the standard school day plus transportation time, homework and extracurricular activities leave little space for families to spend time--of either quantity or quality--together.

Since its advent, government schooling has sought to weaken the authority of parents. Teachers and the peer group exert undue influence. One benefit of the Catholic schools is that there may be lesser issues with negative socialization, and the prevalence of a religious atmosphere is surely preferable to the obliteration of anything to do with God in the public system. 

At a Catholic school there will, or at least should be, the due support given to parents as the primary educators of their children. Yet at any school, siblings are separated from one another for long hours every day, and family bonds in general may be strained (not to mention the pocketbook in the case of private schooling!). Cacophonous bells interrupt a child's concentration and short-circuit his ability to go deeply into any course of study. Children are shuffled from one room to another, and conformity is mandatory. Problems of bullying persist, and the personality of the child is encroached upon. I am not convinced, even in the best of circumstances, that giving so much of the care and education of one's children over to others is the wisest course or is in the best interest of families. Homeschooling may not be the best option for every family, but it is worthy of prayerful discernment and consideration.

In our fast-paced, busyness idolizing world, a homeschooling atmosphere can be a haven for the family. The fulfillment of God's design for the domestic church has a better chance for successfully coming to fruition. There is a control over one's time and a freedom that I would be hard-pressed to give up. If my daughter went to school, she would miss out on the benefits of a Charlotte Mason lifestyle of learning. Because of her unique learning style, she thrives best in a one-on-one teaching situation. We need not fear being "behind", though I know that such worries do intimidate many home educating parents. If we keep our eyes and hearts tuned to pleasing the Savior, faithfully and consistently tending to the work we have been given, then we will enjoy the true measure of our success.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Tea Time & More on Loop Scheduling

After reflecting upon my new loop schedule for our Charlotte Mason curriculum, I decided to take "Tea Time" out of the Humanities loop and put it into its own category. (See previous post on loop schedules.) There were of couple of reasons for this. First, I realized that I had left out one of our books, The Care & Keeping of You, which we are using to cover health, a subject required by the state of Ohio. I don't want to have more than 5 items in a particular loop. My loops are all full!

The other reason is that I don't want to feel any pressure to work Tea Time in on a regular basis. I started thinking, anxiously, about how I would have to make sure we had some tasty baked goods to eat, and that I would need to ensure getting those subjects on that list accomplished. The last thing I want to associate with Tea Time is stress! Truth be told, we already have plenty in our current fall term. I recently came across this sage advice from Nancy Kelly: Keep cutting back until there is peace in your home. This was such a timely godsend! I realized that I could not fit poetry and Spanish into the current term, and that I should put those noble subjects off until winter.

Yet with Tea Time, I can perhaps include a little of those things that are well worth doing but that would overload our regular schedule, saving them for when I have time or when the mood strikes! It can be an occasional treat. Tea Time is a popular practice among CM home educators. It's a warm and leisurely event, imbued with culture. You can break out your fine China, have tea (or cocoa or whatever suits your fancy), arrange a pretty bouquet, and relax with your children. In addition to Spanish and poetry, I have music, correspondence, baking, and handicrafts on the list. You could read a delightful classic novel to your kids just for the pleasure of it, listen to an audio book, pray the Rosary together, write letters to Grandma, or work on your knitting. The possibilities are endless. The key is to enjoy spending time together doing something fun and enriching, but without the academic strings attached.

Tea time could be held at the traditional 4:00 p.m. of the English, or you could make it a special brunch with French toast or pancakes and call it "morning time". Some mothers like to have a "morning basket" in which to keep activities for such occasions. Some do Tea Time daily, making it the core of their homeschooling. Others have it once a week or only occasionally. You don't have to provide gourmet offerings, either. A simple plate of sliced apples, peanut butter, cheese, and crackers would do the trick. Do you have Tea Time in your home? How do you like to celebrate it? And that's exactly the perfect word for it--celebration. A celebration of family, of life, of learning, and of rest. Treat yourself and your children to Tea Time now and again, and discover its simply abundant treasures.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Catholic Charlotte Mason Loop Schedule

Shortly after posting my weekly Charlotte Mason schedule for the current fall term, I began reading Sarah Mackenzie's Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooer's Guide to Unshakable Peace. Sarah is a Catholic mother of six, and she writes at the blog, Amongst Lovely Things. Who wouldn't wish to have unshakable peace, yes?

Last night I encountered this idea of "looping subjects", and my world was rocked! As I mentioned in the previous post, I often end up doing a particular subject on a different day than I have planned in my schedule. I have been finding it very useful to have the schedule nonetheless, so that I make sure to work everything in during a given week. In reality, I have been looping and didn't even realize it!

Sarah explains on p. 41, "The concept of looping is simply this: Instead of assigning tasks to certain days of the week, list tasks and then tackle them in order, regardless of what day it is."  In my opinion, it isn't even necessary to do them in order. Simply check each item off as you do it, and the next day choose another one from the list.

Sarah advocates using short loop schedules, with three to five items on each. You can also put an item in a loop more than once. I was up late last night working this out--so excited! I typed it up today and made copies for myself, so that I can start a fresh list each time I get through all the loops. Sarah says the time frame will likely be one or two weeks.

As you can see, my Daily Core items are reading, math, piano practice, literature read alouds, and writing, which has its own loop. The Extended Loops are for subjects in religion and the humanities, which are basically what remains to round out our liberal arts curriculum. You can read the details of the resources we use in the original schedule. Most likely, in addition to the Daily Core, we will include a task from each of the Extended Loops, for a total of seven subjects worked on per day. Today we did two in religion and none from the humanities. Sarah emphasizes that every subject does not need to be done every day, for the whole year long. Don't you feel more restful already?

In case you are not familiar with the "tea time" concept, that will be forthcoming in the next installment! I do hope this inspires you to create your own loop schedule. For ideas on how to accomplish such a thing with a large family that includes very little ones, get Sarah's book. I highly recommend it!! 

Daily Core:
American Cardinal Reader
Math lesson
Piano practice
Literature read aloud: Leif Erickson the Lucky (for lesson time, with narration and/or discussion); Anne of Green Gables (bedtime)

Writing loop:
copy work
word making w/ movable alphabet and sentence writing

Extended Loops:

Religion loop:
The Baltimore Catechism
The Rosary in Art (picture studies)
New Testament Bible reading (Rosary mysteries and decade prayers)
The Guiding Light (Old Testament Bible stories)
The Saint Book or Loyola Treasury

Humanities Loop:
The Story Book of Science
A Child’s Geography of the World (or map work/visual enrichment)
Nature walk or nature notebook
Memory work/recitation
The Care & Keeping of You

Tea Time: poetry, music, Spanish, baking, correspondence, handicrafts

Religious Ed. Class at parish church on Wednesdays
Gym and art classes at Catholic school & piano lessons on Thursdays
Art, lunch and recess at Catholic school on Fridays

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fall 2015 Charlotte Mason Weekly Schedule

Being that we are halfway through our fall term, I thought it would be a good time to give a review of our weekly Charlotte Mason homeschooling schedule. The soccer season has ended, and Beezy has resumed piano lessons, so practice is now being incorporated into the daily routine. What I have found with the schedule I have set up is that it can be used very flexibly. I don't think I would do it at all if I felt compelled to adhere to it strictly! One conclusion I have come to is that I was trying to fit too many subjects into one term. I think I have found a reasonable balance between variety and simplicity...

Every day, Monday through Thursday, we do reading, writing, and math. I have considered making religion the 4th "R", but as the Catholic Faith permeates the curriculum, religion doesn't have to be its own subject. We start each lesson time with a prayer, often using Prayers for Young Catholics from the Daughters of St. Paul. This book is often used for copy work.

Currently we are using an American Cardinal Reader, a vintage reprint from Neumann Press. Each day there is some type of writing. It may be a prepared dictation lesson from the reader; copy work; word making (using the Montessori Movable Alphabet) and sentence writing using those words; cursive writing; or a grammar workbook lesson. We use a Total Math workbook from American Education Publishing, along with manipulatives for introducing new concepts, board games, and life learning that incorporates math skills, such as baking. Piano practice occurs about 4 days a week.

On most days, for history, I am reading aloud from Leif Erikson the Lucky by Frederic A. Kummer. Leif Erikson is the first biographical character for American history, as it was he who discovered America, before Christopher Columbus, and brought the Christian Faith (which was Catholicism) to its shores. Beezy narrates passages from the book. With this one source, we are covering history, geography, literature, and religion! This is a grand example of a living book. If it is a saint's feast day, we read The Saint Book by Mary Reed Newland instead. Most evenings we have a bedtime read aloud of the literary classic, Anne of Green Gables.

Monday:  This is Rosary day. We are using The Rosary in Art from Seton, a beautiful book from the 5th grade curriculum. On Mondays I read the story, directly from the New Testament (1952 Confraternity Bible), for one of the Rosary mysteries. We pray the mystery on the beads, and Beezy does copy work from a key verse. Then she does a picture study of one of the corresponding classical works of art from the book. The only problem I have come across is that, because there are about 5 pictures for each mystery, this has become picture study overload. As a result, I am spreading the picture studies out some, so we are not covering one mystery per week as I had planned. As such, the introduction of a new mystery sometimes does not occur on Monday. I have found it very easy to move subjects around as needed!

Tuesday:  Beezy reads an Old Testament story from The Guiding Light: The Catholic Bible in Pictures (an amazing 1955 edition found on Ebay) to herself and then does an oral narration. We do a spelling/word making lesson using the Montessori Movable Alphabet, and Beezy writes a couple of sentences using some of the words. For health, and particularly relevant for this current season of puberty, we are using The Care and Keeping of You from American Girl. Beezy reads the selection, and then we discuss it.

Wednesday:  We do a lesson from The Baltimore Catechism. We go over the vocabulary at the beginning of the lesson. I read the questions, Beezy reads the answers, and we discuss the topic. She has religious education class at our parish church in the evenings. Her class is working on memorizing the Apostles' Creed, so I regularly have Beezy read this over and give a recitation of it. This is also science day. Science may be anything from a nature walk or working on the nature notebook to a chemistry experiment or a chapter of The Story Book of Science by Jean-Henri Fabre. Occasionally the choice may be a documentary film. We do a lesson from the grammar workbook.

Thursday:  On Thursdays Beezy has "a la carte" art and gym classes at a Catholic school. We come home and have lunch and then do our CM lessons in the afternoons. I read a chapter from Hillyer's A Child's Geography of the World. Beezy does narrations, and we often locate places on a map or globe and look at monuments, buildings, bridges, etc., online. Sometimes we find an online documentary on the subject. There is a lot of American history included in this book, so there is a nice natural correspondence, as Charlotte Mason would say. Currently Beezy is learning the first verse of "My Country Tis of Thee". Cursive writing is also done on this day, and Beezy has her piano lessons.

Friday:  Fridays are light. Beezy has art, lunch, and recess at the Catholic school. Except for piano practice and a Spanish lesson (we are using flash cards from eeBoo), this day is otherwise reserved for a field trip, sleepover with a friend, or to catch up on lessons from the week if needed. We occasionally do music appreciation. We have read two picture books about early medieval composer (among many other talents!) St. Hildegard of Bingen, Doctor of the Church. We have listened to her music on youtube and on CD, and Beezy did a drawing narration.

I am planning to work in poetry and a needlepoint craft for the winter term! I hope this has helped you to form a picture of how the bountiful feast of a broad, self-designed CM curriculum can be spread. Let me repeat that my schedule is very flexible. I keep it handy to make sure that I cover all of our subjects each week. It's a general guideline, but by no means are we slaves to it. It has helped me enormously to put together this weekly plan, so I do highly encourage you to do something similar!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Blue Heron Nature Walk

Great Blue Heron

A friend of mine who blogs posted pictures on Facebook recently of a nature trail right outside our town. It's part of the national Rails to Trails project, in which former railroad tracks are converted to walking trails. Kudos to whoever came up with this plan!

My daughter Beezy and I checked out the Wabash Cannonball Trail in NW Ohio on Monday. It was such a beautiful day, and I didn't feel like doing the usual lessons. When you crave a bit of nature, give in! My powers of intuition have been highly tuned lately, and our timing turned out perfectly. From a bridge on the trail that sits above the road we came in on, I looked down to see a very tall bird standing in a roadside stream. Another walker came along, and I motioned him over to take a look. He told us that the bird was a Blue Heron. What good fortune! It stayed where it was for a long time.

All of Beezy's practice using the camera over the summer paid off, because she was able to get much better still shots than I was, and she recorded a wonderful video of the heron taking off in flight. When we came back home, I felt refreshed, so after lunch we proceeded to have our lesson time, and I easily found online information and short documentaries on this grand bird. Tuesday it rained all day, so I was glad I had followed my instincts. Once I get the photos developed, they will go into Beezy's nature notebook.

This focus on relationships with God's creation lies at the heart of a Charlotte Mason education. Natural science studies should be largely a hands on prospect. Homeschoolers have the freedom to go exploring when the mood or the opportunity strikes. I cannot emphasize enough how well this gentle art of learning benefits our family and our relationships with one another. I can teach from a place of rest, and my child can learn in a likewise manner.

Praying Mantis


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Pope & Letting Go

I didn't want Pope Francis to go home. The feeling reminds me of the times my grandparents would come to visit me when I lived in Columbus, and I would be so sad when they left. Once my husband found me sitting on the couch crying, and I realized then how very much I missed them. There was an elderly couple living around the block from my house, and they were so kind to me and Beezy, always inviting us to sit on the porch or come in for ice cream. It made me wish it was that easy to spend time with my own grandma and grandpa. So I moved. I did what some people thought was a crazy thing, to leave the culture of the big city for my humble hometown.

We had to let go of many things. For example, virtually nothing is open here on Sundays. That is as it should be. But in the beginning it was hard to fathom not being able to go to a coffee shop, book store, the mall, or the movies. In fact, you have to look harder for any sort of entertainment or social activity in our area. I'd have to drive an hour one way to even shop at a decent mall. But I am creative. Between thrift stores and Ebay, I manage to clothe myself reasonably well. What I have learned is that when most of the toys are taken away, you find out what you're really made of. Without so many of the distractions, the search for meaning in life becomes crucial.

Some days I am extremely annoyed by what is lacking. I want to shake people until they wake up. This could be a much more vibrant community. It was once a self-sufficient, thriving railroad town, a happening village. Today it's as if the ghost of all those yesteryears moans in the alleyways like an orphan. Yet the characteristic independence of the place stubbornly clings, and so there is hope for revival. And if it comes, it will be something new. My part in that transformation may be small, but there is power in a mustard seed.

I have to let go of how-things-used-to-be, because now is all we have. Pope Francis was here while he was here, and it was glorious like Christmas morning, but he had to go home and prepare for the next thing. Like Jesus' apostles who saw him transfigured in his heavenly glory on the mountain top, we have to descend again and press on with the task at hand. I don't have to go looking for my purpose in life. It is here, all around me. I'm sitting in the middle of it. I have a home and a family to care for, a book and blogs to write, and seeds of contemplation to sew. I am needed in non-earth-shattering ways, but my presence matters nonetheless. I am blessed to have my grandparents to visit, only a few minutes away. There are things unseen that come into sharper focus in the melancholy, fading fall light.

I think the Pope came to America to help us step up where we need to step up, and to let go where we need to let go. The trouble lies in discernment between the two. But I'm a little closer to Wisdom than I was before he came. Thank you, oh Francis, my Francis.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Soul Searching

A situation occurred in one of my Facebook groups which required me to reactivate. I'll reflect on that in a moment. One good thing about being back "on" was that a friend had been looking for me, and we had a nice chat. She relayed how she had struggled with Facebook herself and found a solution by unfollowing most of her friends. So there is another suggestion for simplifying the process. You can still be active on social media, but you can take control of what you see. I don't personally know this awesome woman, but she is a fellow Catholic, and she told me that she has been doing a lot of soul searching. I'm right there with her.

Pope Francis is visiting the United States right now for the first time in his life. And this morning he addressed a joint session of Congress, the first pope in history ever to do so. I was in my car trying to catch his speech on the radio, but the reception wasn't great, and combined with his accent, he was difficult to understand. I'm certain it will be available to listen to or watch another time. I decided to focus as much as I could on Francis' voice, on his tone, even more than on what he was actually saying. I noticed how slowly he spoke, with such care. And although they were supposed to hold their applause, his audience members could not contain themselves. From what I heard afterward, politicians from both sides of the aisle were very moved. Francis wants America to become a land of dreams once again.

Indeed. My country seems a long way from the land of the free and the home of the brave that she once was. The small town I live in provides little opportunity for gainful employment. Many empty store fronts line its main street. People here are very brave. They try to get a restaurant, or a boutique, or an arts center going. It's discouraging to see these efforts take off, then struggle, then ultimately fail. And some people are very, very sensitive to any criticism of the village. How can we form a vision for where we wish the community to go if we refuse to see the truth? The run down houses, the drunks, the meth labs, the abused and neglected children, the profanity heard loudly on the streets. The pope sees all of it and shines a spotlight on the stark realities.

So the moderator I put in charge of one of my groups while I was taking a hiatus from Facebook voiced a concern regarding two girls she personally knew who had broken an arm during recess at school, both within a week. This was in fact the third girl she knew that this had happened to at the same school, and while the discussion was going on, she found out about two more broken bone incidents since the last two. One happened on the way to school, and the other occurred while a child was playing near the school on the weekend. While my friend acknowledged that these events could certainly all have been a bad luck coincidence, it seemed very odd in such a small town. She wanted to know if others might have some insight into the situation.

This moderator simply questioned whether the recess accidents might have occurred due to insufficient supervision. She also shared her experience as a teacher. Most group members were polite, but a couple attacked her and accused her of bashing the school. Absolutely no one consented that it was even a remote possibility that the kids aren't being watched well enough on the playground.

This is a little thing compared to abortion, war, terrorism, and hunger, but bear with me. These angry folks want to censor others who say anything they don't like. They jump all over anyone who brings a problem into focus. I won't allow the censorship. I won't allow bullying. And even if not a single soul sees things one person's way, that doesn't mean that person is wrong. It isn't wrong to question, to be concerned, to hold our public servants accountable. It's perfectly okay, and even necessary, to keep a watch on those local institutions to which our taxpayer dollars go. If we can't be realistic about one little town, if we can't have civilized conversations and disagreements on social media, if all we want is to have perfume blown up our you-know-whats, then how on earth can we be effective as a citizenry when it comes to monumental national issues?

People don't want honesty and sincerity anymore, unless you are singing a Snow White happy song surrounded by turtledoves. But the Christian Faith is the narrow road. It ain't gonna make you popular to sound your horn of justice. To say, hey look, there's an ogre living next door who tears babies apart and eats them for breakfast! (And sells the leftovers for profit.)

I was amazed that during the recent GOP debate, the topic of education was not addressed at all, except for a brief mention by one candidate, in a tone of disdain, that another was a fan of Common Core. The unconstitutional, federal Department of Education and its liberty robbing agenda needs to be faced like a fearless bullfighter against a brutal beast. I hope the next president has a red cape and a spine to drape it across.

Expect me to be even more frank than usual. My soul is melancholy. My heart hurts. The evil in the world is overwhelming. Jesus didn't pussy foot around. He was kind, healing, humble, loving, and compassionate. He also turned over the market tables in the Temple. He broke man's laws when they were not in harmony with God's. He did not mince words or endeavor to be politically correct or falsely diplomatic. His own hometown people tried to throw him off a cliff. Luckily I live in a very flat land.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify.

A popular slogan used in 12 Step groups is keep it simple. This is great in theory, and so many of us would love to simplify our lives, but we don't know how. Recently I've taken some steps that have made a difference, so I'll share them with you.

I went through my email inbox and removed myself from several mailing lists. So my first tip is, unsubscribe. If a blog sends you notifications of new posts too often, it can be overwhelming, and you may feel obligated to read each post. So you keep them in your inbox to read later, and soon you have several accumulated messages. If you really love the blog, you will go there without reminders. Jennifer Scott posts to "The Daily Connoisseur" every Monday, so I visit her blog each week without being notified. I only post here at Organic Mothering 2 or 3 times a month, so I promise not to clog your inbox if you do wish to follow me via email!

One of my biggest hassles was an overabundance of emails, with numerous attachments on each, that I received several times a week from the Catholic school where Beezy takes a la carte art and gym classes. It suddenly occurred to me to ask the principal to take me off the list. I told her it would be fine to send a paper copy of the weekly newsletter home with my child, and that would serve our purposes. I am now receiving hardly any email messages at all, and it's wonderful!

You can do the same thing with paper magazines. If you don't absolutely adore the publication, cancel the subscription, or do not renew it when it runs out. I have so many magazines that have accumulated in my home that it's difficult to know where to begin, but I am paring them down. Donate old issues to a thrift store or to your local library. Make sure that you also deal with snail mail immediately. File any bills and recycle the junk. Do not allow piles to grow.

I deactivated my primary Facebook account. A couple of years ago I had deleted it altogether, but after my grandma died last year, I wanted to be able to stay in touch with family members. That has been a great thing, but to be honest, most of what I see in the newsfeed is uninteresting. Not the personal stuff, but all of the "cute" animal videos, asinine memes, and general nonsense. It's too easy to get sucked in and waste valuable time. There is also the issue of being offended by what someone wrote, or feeling obligated to respond to someone else's offense over something I've posted. It's just not worth the stress. Real life throws enough curve balls at us, like when I was at the park yesterday and desperately needed to use the restroom. It was locked up for "painting," though I saw no signs of painters. Then when I hurried to the outhouse, I discovered it was out of toilet paper. Thanks be to God that I noticed this before I went ahead with my business. We don't need Facebook on top of daily life. Really.

I do still have a pseudonym FB account in order to remain active in a particular group that is important to me. Even here, I find myself getting too caught up in my advocacy for Charlotte Mason homeschooling and spending too much time thinking about what to share and how to get others involved in edifying conversation. The idea of letting go of my "baby" is almost unthinkable. But I'm thinking about it. I have caught myself designing posts in my mind, and this can become habitual. I know you know what I mean. This is no way to live.

So there you go! Consider just one thing that you can do today to simplify your life.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

"Fat Chic" Reactions

I know it isn't politically correct to even use the word "fat". Just like you can't say that you don't believe in same-sex "marriage" without being called a homophobic or gay hater. Just like you can't say that you are against abortion without being accused of conspiring with the "war on women". People, there was also a time when you didn't dare say cancer out loud. It had to be whispered. Folks didn't talk about it in polite society.

Now it has been suggested that I'm not being a good, humble Catholic because I called the media out on the carpet for glorifying and glamorizing obesity, and that I am "fat shaming". I pointed out that children are helpless victims of the unhealthy and alarmingly growing trend in American society of being grossly overweight. I shamed the media, not fat people. Magazines and runways feature mostly models who are a size 0, but recently a size 22 model has been celebrated, and such examples of portraying obesity as sexy have become more prevalent. Where are the examples of real women with imperfect bodies who are not at either end of the extremes? What we need are models who are of various ages and body types, who are all beautiful in their own, unique ways.

Anorexia is an eating disorder which leads to death. So are the disorders that lead to obesity. As I wrote in "Toxic Accumulation", I am exploring those areas of life in which we tend to have too much. In which we desire to pare down and simplify our lives. In which we want to be more joyful and purposeful in the way we spend our time. Being overweight drags me down. It adds to the pain of my torn spinal disk. It makes it almost impossible to be comfortable in a bra, or without one. My belly fat is the most dangerous kind. As long as you are not underweight and eat a nutritious diet and get adequate exercise, don't smoke, etc., it is always healthier to be slimmer rather than fatter. That's just the truth, dear readers.

I'm not shaming myself or anyone else for the state their bodies are in. But I do want to encourage all of us to treat our bodies well, like the temples of the Holy Spirit that they are. To stop the toxic accumulation of junk food. To learn what real food is, to move our bodies creatively, to take good care of our children, to tell the media that we are tired of the way it makes an idol out of the body.

So to Hades with political correctness. If you are offended by what I wrote, it's because you choose to be. Take a closer look at your reaction. I was writing about me and about the worldly temptation to allow myself to lead a lifestyle that ends in sickness and an early death. I can't be the person God has created me to be if I have no energy to serve him. Being fat weighs us down, in more ways than one. I choose to celebrate life and health. I will not say, "Good for you for proudly being a size 22." I will ask instead, "Is this really how you want to live?" And I will ask, "What can I do to help?" The first thing I can do to help is to get rid of my own toxic accumulation. I will love myself enough to clear my clutter, including the excess inches around my waistline. The bird with it's head stuck in the sand will never fly. I say, let's fly!