Saturday, August 28, 2010

2 weeks down

(Warning, long post ahead with no pictures!)

Now that we're two weeks into the school year I thought I would do a post about what is working so far and what needs to be adjusted...
I had some problem with organization for this post so I decided to use a quote by a well known person in the home school world:  Charlotte Mason (see links below).  While I tend toward a classical curriculum and, as evidenced by our enrollment with Mother of Divine Grace, I appreciate and use the curriculum suggested by Laura Berquist, I still go back to the writings of Charlotte Mason on a regular basis.  In fact, one of the things that drew me to Mother of Divine Grace in the first place was that Laura Berquist's curriculum is, in my understanding, quite "Charlotte Mason friendly".

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
~ Charlotte Mason

So, based on this philosophy, here's what's working and what's not in our little home school, according to Miss Mason's quote.

"Education is an atmosphere" ~
On the positive side, I would have to say the atmosphere of our home, in  general, is quite "education friendly".  We have tons of books that the children are reading on a regular basis.  Books are a standard gift at Christmas and birthdays, and I try to stay keyed into my children's ever changing interests so I can provide the books that will encourage them to go deeper into those interests and learn more.
"What would happen if ...?" is a frequent question here and I love to indulge the kids by letting them find out ... unless it's dangerous of course!  That often means we have messes here and there and the level of activity in the house can be a bit nerve wracking but, like many moms, I would rather have my kids learning by doing something messy then watching television.  Even now, as I type, Jetter is rolling magnets down the side of the fridge and discovering that by placing them in a negative-to-negative position they roll differently than when they are placed in a negative-to-positive position.  Builder is using his screw driver to take apart an old remote control car that doesn't work any more.  He loves to take things apart, piece by piece, to discover how the object works.  Of course, he doesn't put them back together, he just stores all the parts in a box that is now a jumble of screws, wires, plastic pieces, etc.  But, he is curious and this allows him to feed that curiosity.
So, yes, in this regard, "Education is an Atmosphere", in our home. 

But ... there are definitely some things we need to work on regarding "Atmosphere"...

Organization of the school room is the big one!  We dove into the year even though the school room wasn't ready for us!  I didn't get it done ahead of time, but I knew if I waited it might be another two weeks before we actually started, so we started in the midst of a messy, disorganized room.  Bad idea.  It caused much stress for me and the kids.  So "number 1" on my to do list this weekend is to whip this room into shape!

Besides the school room, I feel like I need to restore some general sense of orderliness to the rest of the house as well.  While I really can't complain about this pregnancy (I feel quite strong and healthy), I do need to take it easy and often lay down for a bit in the afternoon.  Over time, I'm seeing that the house is slowly becoming disorganized because I am not as diligent at keeping up with things.  I don't think children need to be raised in a sterile environment, but I do think the environment needs to be orderly.  The lack of order that is creeping in definitely needs to be remedied!

"...a discipline"~
Under the area of discipline I think of  schedules,  curriculum, and general obedience.  This might not be what Charlotte Mason meant, but for me, discipline is like an orderly environment; without it, learning is scattered and those very important things that children need to learn at various stages in their development might not happen.  Without discipline, I might decide it is unnecessary to teach Builder to read.  Builder might not care at this stage, after all, "reading doesn't require the use of a screw driver so who needs it!"  But without the ability to read, he wont be able to pursue the interests that he will have regarding our nation's history or complicated science concepts later on.
As Social Butterfly grows into a young lady she often struggles with why it is necessary to obey certain rules.  She is truly a blessing but she is strong willed and, while that will serve her well some day, it makes things a bit tumultuous here at home at times.  If I allow the disobedience, once again, learning is quite haphazard so I must have standards and rules in place with proper consequences.  (Although I must admit, the natural  consequences are often the best means of learning why a certain rule is in place!)
So discipline is necessary.
As far as a schedule goes, we get an A+ for following our morning schedule over the last two weeks.  For various reasons our afternoon schedule isn't working as well.  Here, once again, it's the discipline.  Usually by afternoon I'm a bit tired and the kids, having finished most of their school work, just want to play.  I've designed our schedule to make this possible to some degree, but there are still afternoon chores to be done and quiet reading times that are important.  These things seem to be getting tossed by the way as we relax or prepare for the late afternoon activities like football practice.  I told the kids that our goal for the coming week is to keep to the daily routine even into the afternoon.
Curriculum for this school year seems to be working quite well for the most part.  I can't think of anything that I regret using.  The big hit for Social Butterfly has been the science with her best friend!  I am very pleased with how seriously the girls are taking this.  They have accomplished more than the assignment requires both times they have met.    Their differing interests really compliment each other and they encourage each other in positive ways.  For Jetter, the big hit has been his taped history lessons.  I've actually had to stop him from moving too far ahead in the text since there are certain activities I want to do that are scattered throughout the history curriculum.  For Builder, it's the reading that he is learning.  He doesn't always seemed thrilled when it's time to get out the reading materials, but once we start into it he doesn't normally want to stop.  So, for curriculum, I'd say we are doing well.
As I mentioned above, I think the "chore category" falls under discipline as well.  This is where we need to step up quite a bit!  Enough said about that already!

"... a life."~
I have a hard time separating "Education is an atmosphere" and "Education is a life".  Perhaps the difference is that the term atmosphere is in regards to the child's surroundings, and life is in regards to the length of time required for education.  If this is true, than I think the life of a child is often full of education, even when we adults step out of the way.  We need the discipline to teach them long division (and they need the discipline to pay attention and learn it!) but there are so many things a child learns just by their very lives.  As I mentioned above, the curiousity to roll the magnets now the side of the fridge or  take an old electronic toy apart make those activities educational even though there was no adult involvement.  I stopped later in this post to check on these two boys of mine who had since abandoned there activities to venture into the woods.  They were just playing, but in their play they discovered various things in the woods that weren't there before. Different flowers in bloom, a tree that had fallen for no apparent reason, turkeys flying across the river (to get away from my boys!).    They excitedly told me about each of these things and I saw the learning taking place ... "Why did that tree fall?" , "Turkeys seem to have a hard time getting started in flight, and they don't stay in the air long!" , "Is this flower a different kind of Trillium mom?"  All questions and comments that lead me to say "Let's find out!"
My oldest son is currently researching various recipes from around the world.  He is filling files on my computer about the foods found in various countries like France, Jamaica, or even Macedonia.  His school hasn't started yet so he's spending lots of time on this "foodie interest".  I don't mind in the least!  I love the fact that my big, football playing, weight lifting, "all boy" of a son enjoys cooking.  Someday his wife will too, I'm sure!  I also like knowing that in learning about the foods of these countries he is also learning about  some of the customs and even the locations of very small countries that he might now have heard of in is geography studies.
Our faith is another area in which we learn so much by the living of it.  Catechism, Bible Study and the lives of the saints all play a huge roll in the kid's education.  But, the very living of our faith is where they learn the most.  Talking to good friends who have taken missionary trips, attending Mass and taking part in the sacraments, access to pictures that lead to questions regarding the Catholic Faith, praying the rosary or various novenas are all things that we "just do" that teach us about our beautiful faith.  As my oldest left for his first football game of the season I yelled  "Don't forget to pray for the intercession of.." and he yelled back, "I know, I know.  St. Sebastian, St. John Bosco and Mary!"  It was just another everyday thing we do but he has learned that our prayers are important and that the saints actually do intercede for us.  (He played really well in that game by the way:) !

I myself am still learning, and I hope I can still say that when I'm a grandmother.  I want each of my children to love the idea of learning and to stay ever-curious even into adulthood.   

So, "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life" is not just a great quote to keep in mind but a goal for our homeschool.  There are so many areas that need improvement in this regard, but I think it is the striving for perfection that will keep us on the right track.

(If you are interested in reading more about Charlotte Mason, there are many sites available on the internet.  Here is just a sampling of what is available:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Planning 4: Curriculum for Social Butterfly

Wow, I was on a roll with the planning posts then I took what I thought was going to be a short break from thinking about school (something I force myself to do every summer to avoid burn out) and now here we are, it's almost time to start, and I have to hurry to get the rest of the planning done!  Social Butterfly's is really the only curriculum I haven't talked about yet and her's is pretty easy.

While Jetter's curriculum required lots of deviation from the Mother of Divine Grace recommendations,
Social Butterfly's is right in sync with them. She's a lot like Night Owl was in that regard - sort of your classic, classical learner! I have made a few changes, based on what I already have that works, but most of it is straight from the syllabus.

Here's the short and sweet form:

Religion ~ Social Butterfly's Religion curriculum changes a bit this year.  Instead of doing the Catechism / Bible History / Saints Studies trio, she will concentrate more on just the Bible.  She will still use the Baltimore Catechism but her focus will be on the Gospels of  St. Mark and St. Luke.

Math ~ Social Butterfly will continue in the Saxon series for Math.  She will be working from the 7/6 level this year.  Saxon is a good fit for her.  The transition, which usually happens in 4th grade, is a bit difficult beause the child goes from what are primarily work books, to more of a text book format.  I like the text book for Math because once I have it on my shelf, I don't have to buy it again!  The difficulties come in the fact that now the student has to write her answers on paper instead of directly in the book, and the instruction is given in paragraph form.  In order to understand the day's lesson, the child must read about it.  This is a bit difficult at first, but I think it is a good discipline.  I'm always there to answer any questions and help the child if they don't understand the lesson, but I always have them try on their own first.  Night Owl was well prepared for highschool using this series so as long as it works for my children's individual needs, we will continue on with it.

Science ~ Social Butterfly is really looking forward to science this year.  I have to admit, it has more to do with the idea the she will be doing the science lessons with a friend than with the actual content of the lessons, but I'm hoping this social aspect will be a great motivator.  Social Butterfly has never really been that interested in science so I was a bit concerned that the TOPS science kits she will be using would be a flop.  But then a friend and I got the idea to let our daughters work together so I think now it will be a big hit.  Social Butterfly will be using the kits for Electricity and Magnetism.  In the syllabus, it is set up in such a way that each lesson will take two days.  The first to read and gather materials, and the second to actually perform the experiments.  The girls will do the "reading days" at home, then meet at one of the two houses for the "experiment days".

Latin ~ Social Butterfly will continue with Latina Christiana I.  This year will be a greater focus on the grammar of Latin, while continuing with the vocabulary study.  I've purchased the Latina Christiana I DVD's that we will watch as part of her lesson.  I learned with Night Owl that some things have to be learned along with the student and Latin grammar is one of them for me!
Because she is such an auditory learner, I will also be adding Lingua Angelica as a supplement this year.  This program is really based on learning beautiful Latin songs and prayers.  I'm looking forward to using it and I think she will enjoy it as well!

Language Arts - The series I'm planning to start with Social Butterfly this year is Easy Grammar.  I've heard both good and bad reviews, and I'm hoping this will be a good fit.  I found Voyages to be a struggle with Night Owl at this age, so we're trying something different.  Social Butterfly seems to pick up grammar concepts pretty quickly so I think the simplified approach of Easy Grammar should work out. ... We'll see.

For Spelling and Editing I have deviated from the Mother of Divine Grace plan.  Both resources are published by the Institute for Exccllence in Writing.  The Editing resource we will use is called Fix It.  I used this with Night Owl and it is a great learning tool.  For Spelling, we will use the Phonetic Zoo.  This program is also developed by Anderew Pudewa and seems to be geared towards auditory learners (although I'm sure it will work with any child).  Social Butterfly is very auditory, so I'm giving it a try.  Spelling is not something she excells at so I'm hoping this will help her learn some of those concepts that she struggles with.

History - Social Butterfly will change directions a bit in History this year.  Instead of continuing with American History, she will begin a study of Ancient History.  The text she will use is The Old World and America, but like other years with Mother of Divine Grace, the text is mostly a spine and there are many books recommended for supplemental reading.  This link will take you to that list of living books that will be included with the Ancient History studies.  It is a bit long for individual links.  Of course, I have added a few fun activities for this study of Ancient History.   I think Social Butterfly will enjoy the artistic component of  Paint Your Own Papyrus and these Punch Out Mummy Cases.

Geography will coordinate with history this year.  Social Butterfly will be studying maps of Egypt and the Ancient Near East.

For Music, Social Butterfly will continue her piano lessons and the study of classcial music.  I deviate a bit from Mother of Divine Grace because all my kids study the classical pieces together.  This seems to work best for us.  One of the best ways I have learned to do this is to pop the cd in while we are driving to piano lessons.  I have a captured audience then and they can listen with attention.

For Art, besides the extra activities I have purchased to go along with her history studies, Social Butterfly is very excited to begin learning calligraphy this year.  We will be using the Calligraphy First Steps book.  She has been really looking forward to this so I think she will enjoy it.  We will also continue our study of classical art which we do every year.  I normally use the "picture study" method, a Charlotte Mason approach to the study of art, but this year Social Butterfly will be using a text on her own for this.  Art 7 For Young Cathoics is a book published by Seton that I hope she will enjoy.

That wraps it us for Social Butterfly and all the kiddos.  Now I just need to get the school room in order!

Thursday, August 5, 2010


As planning for the coming school year wraps up, I am reminded to keep my focus on what is truly important, and fellow homeschool bloggers  often provide inspiration.

The first thing I read this morning was an excellent quote at this Cajun Homeschool Blog.   Please go to her  blog and read it today, whether you homeschool or not.  It is a great reminder of what is important. 

Another important reminder comes from this blog post, where she writes her thoughts regarding this article on simplifying homeschooling.  I too tend to be a "Martha" yet I see time and time again that my children learn much from the simple, ordinary things.

 So often it's the grandiose plans that fail around here, but the simple things, built into our very life, are the occasions for true and deep learning.  Daily prayer, daily reading times, nature walks, and even the time I leave unplanned for the kid's own creative play are often the times when life lessons, the most important lessons, are learned. 

And it's interesting to me that, unlike those concepts learned from complicated science experiments and the memorization of history dates (both highly important in a child's education ... but maybe not the most important ...), those lessons learned during these simple, daily routines of our life are not easily forgotten.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Summer's End

While the weather is telling us we're in the midst of summer, last night's football sign-ups are a big reminder that we are soon to start school.  We're starting early this year (Aug. 9th or 16th) to ensure plenty of time in December for a break when this baby is born.  Here are a few pictures from our last big summer event - swimming lessons!
Jetter in his way-cool goggles!

Beany made a good friend.  These two played together each day while their older siblings took swimming lessons.

Social Butterfly and a good friend. Gotta love that goggle look!

Social Buttefly with her instructor.
Diving instruction.  Do you see Jetter (just behind the handrail)?  He's obviously ready to give it a try before the instruction is complete.  Doesn't surprise me in the least! :)

As for Builder, he is constant motion in the water.  It made it very difficult to get a clear picture.  Thank heavens he had a very patient instructor.  Heres a video instead of a still shot - since "still" isn't his nature! (Just click the arrow.)