Saturday, July 8, 2017

First Grade's Feast

It's a gloomy morning as I sit to type, but I'm cozy in a spot close enough to the little ones to hear their bird-like chatter yet far enough to not be taken notice of. They've taken complete possession of the living room for their "nature center," and are currently up to their elbows in recreating crafts that highlight their visits to the real thing. Though a little bleary eyed from an early morning with Wrennie bird (she's fond of those lately), I'm grateful for the free moment to pretend that you, my sweet friends, are here with me and my teapot glancing through all these piles of books and school plans (again).

I'm so excited for September. Learning is one of those things that gets me giddy, so to slowly dip our toes into more focused learning and disciplined rhythms as a family, it's just. . . good. Really good. Honestly, I've had to reign myself in a bit - "We don't need to learn everything this year, Carissa," was the mental prodding that happened more times than I'm willing to admit, "be realistic, this/that doesn't even fit our family." This kind of prodding, thoughtfulness, consultation of the mamas, and study circled on and on until I finally had to file away my binder of notes with the reminder that it's the ordering of hearts, souls, and minds that I'm after, not stuffing ourselves just for the sake of being full. Gosh, I can't even tell you how helpful it was having that main goal that I mentioned before. It simplified the groveling through curriculum and subjects that could have happened, and was an instrumental tool in carving some achievable goals for the year (for example: Become familiar with addition and subtraction, become familiar with letters and their sounds, work at diligence, etc.), all while steering everything onward toward what's most important. So, so helpful.

Anyhow, before I share my choices, please let me preface by saying that while it's true that I have the veteran wisdom of my mama and mama-in-law to build off of, bear in mind that our plans and choices are shaped specifically around our own family. And beside that, a plan is simply that - a plan. And we mamas are painfully well acquainted with the fact that these things look lovely and organized on paper but are much messier in practice, right? So please read this as a kitchen table chat over tea and don't be burdened.

The loose schedule I have in mind is pretty simple: "Every day things" and "couple times a week things." I did that purely to keep studies from becoming totally monotonous. 

So, these are our every day things:

When I was young, my Mom set a rhythm of family worship in our home. Every day she would call us to pile onto the couch, and with much tickling, shoving, and sass as the backdrop, she would read from a Bible Story Book or Scriptures and pray with us. It was one of those daily rhythms that definitely took effort on her part, but rooted so deeply that it is now part of her grandchildren's days. The only change for us is the addition of hymns (at the rate of about one new one every other month or so, sometimes more like one new stanza instead), and a psalm or proverb over morning meals (short and sweet enough for them to listen and comment on). At night we just swing back and forth between the Jesus Storybook Bible and Catherine Vos Story Bible (the latter being the one my mom used and I can't recommend it enough for becoming acquainted with the grand narrative layout of scripture). I've come to see this worshiping together as not just the foundation but also the keystone of learning - and life - so if we do nothing else but read and pray together in a day? It's still a good one. (Thanks, Mom).

Such a shocker, right? It's no secret that we're all about the literary lifestyle around here, so reading great books is unsurprisingly high on our priority list. Unfortunately, I'm currently facing the fact that we'll never be able to read every great book together, but then again, I'm also coming to question whether we really need to. If there's one thing that Northrop Frye (The Educated Imagination) pried my eyelids apart to see, it would be that literature covers certain central themes so just a selection that covers these themes is a solid literary education. If I'm not mistaken, Oxford concurs. Now when it comes to the actual selection of these few, there are SO many opinions, so we're dipping our toes in with the D'aulaire Book of Norse Folktales, Aesop's Fables, and some Shakespeare (we're not reading ALL of these every day, by the way).

Handwriting - 
Okay, I know that not everyone is on board with formal handwriting programs, especially within the Charlotte Mason community which is big on simple copywork (and I love it too, by the way). We do the formal stuff because I was taught that there's something to be said for learning the correct way to write -  along the same line of reasoning as learning to type vs. figuring out how to type. I grew up with the Italic handwriting series - not my favorite. We dabbled in the indirect approach of pre-Explode The Code - didn't jive with us. But I think we've finally hit on something that hits the spot for us in Handwriting Without Tears. I still prefer some simplicity here, so instead of purchasing one of their kits we've made use of the workbooks, the chalkboards, and the big sheet draw and write paper (primarily for writing letters, but I'm thinking for narration too).

Phonics - 
I talked a little bit about this in the kindergarten post, but what I mentioned there isn't quite what we're needing any more. We'll still be making use of Turbo Reader for all the weird combinations and rules, plus their word lists that go with them - these I take selections from and then spell out manually with wooden letters that are easier for Lanna to both read and focus on (word on top of word in a list is distracting). Once we get through some of those, it'll be weekly trips to the library for Lanna to make her own choices from their early reader section.

Math - 
This has been a more difficult area for me to plan for because it's the one that Lanna has consistently mentioned she most looks forward to. The first question was of which program to use, so armed with samples from the three more widely recognized and higher reaching programs, we messed around. Teaching Textbooks won out for us, but the thing about them is that their program begins at 2nd/3rd grade level. My MIL solved the question of what to do until then with her find of Mad Dog Math. You guys, it's simple, brilliant, and pairs well with anything else you want to use it with (I'm pairing it with Life Of Fred books).
The second question to tackle came up only recently: How do we approach math in a way that points us toward that main goal we set? Because let's be honest, telling the kids that it's all going to be practical for use someday just doesn't fly when we don't half believe it ourselves (thank yooou Ravi Jain for pointing this out). May I be honest? I have no answers yet because I'm still hammering my way out of the "it is what it is" mindset. Understanding the medieval mingling of lines between Music and Math to discover the music in the universe is helping a lot - that's a thought that fills me with wonder (remember how Narnia and Middle Earth were created with music?. . .). I can't avoid the fact that I need to begin somewhere though, so pattern blocks and puzzles for the girls and the Vihart channel for myself it is; we'll take it one step at a time from there.

History -
I've often joked that history these days should be renamed World opinion, American opinion, etc. It's a joke, but it does lean on concern. History from certain perspectives is a given, I understand that there's no way around perspective and that's not the bone I have to pick anyway, it's the perspective-with-a-dash-of-history that I think we can all make do without. I'll just stop myself right there and say that it's probably no surprise that we favor a literary approach here also, and that for all my criticism of modern historical perspective there are still plenty of trustworthy resources out there. With it's slew of beautiful old books and God-centered perspective, Beautiful Feet's Early American History (the primary one) fit the bill for us this year. And because Lanna and I are "so how does all this pair together?" type of people (and she's a tad too young for Genevieve Foster), I'm further using Peter Marshall's The Light and The Glory For Young Readers as a reference point (plus, it just looks like solid content). Aaaand because I have two willing-to-share mamas with amazing literary taste, I supplemented in a bunch of extra titles alongside BF's layout. If we breeze through all of them, great. If we inch through only the core items, also great. The idea isn't to overwhelm but rather. . . how did Charlotte Mason put it? To spread an abundant and delicate feast that small guests might assimilate what they may, or something like that.

And then there are the couple--times-a-week things:

Art and Music - 
I'm of the camp that totes humanities like my life depended on them. To some extent, I suppose it does. Humanities is like the pantry for human experience, where we preserve our culture in the jam jars of art and music and all the rest. Preserved properly, we can open them expectant of an experience that grounds us in our humanity and allows a taste of the sweet presence of God in and among us, all the while developing our palates for the good, the true, and the beautiful. Without humanities, I expect we'd be more machine than human. That said, I don't think we can ever be too young for them, so we're diving into Monet, Degas, Renoir, Handel, Mozart, and Beethoven this year. It sounds like a lot, right? In reality, this works out to more than a month toward each. 
I chose the Anholt Artist series to help connecting with the Art side because we already love them, and I'm taking Charlotte Mason's advice in displaying and observing six great works per artist (she believed you could gain a taste for their style that way). I remember my mom doing this for us and it being so interesting, so I'm still scratching at old memories to offer the same rich experience I had.
For music, I'm taking the same approach but with the Opal Wheeler books and "greatest compositions."

Nature Studies -
I can still remember nature studies in school - taking what mom called "nature walks," our sketchbooks tucked under arm and mom calling reminders for us to observe one thing, just one thing we hadn't noticed before. That was years ago and yet, I can still recall some of the pages of those notebooks, and my sibs and I still have a fondness for being outdoors. Now, I do have to admit weakness here - nature is fascinating but not my strength in studies (or creativity, for that matter). There is something to be said for appreciation and wonder though, before turning to the more impersonal world of science proper, so with the help of Burgess, Holling, and some colorful field guides, that's exactly what I hope to nourish.

I already know that Selah (who will be three) will want to be in on the fun too, so aside from joining whatever interests her from Lanna's things, she has her own small binder of this and that filed away with Lanna's. It's nothing crazy, things like a simple workbook (Handwriting Without Tears again), some alphabet activities, and numbers. Nothing crazy, just enough to delight and challenge her.

So that's the spread of our "feast." Now I turn the question to you, sweet friends - what is your spread for the year? Any good resources or titles to share?