Saturday, August 19, 2017

The First Week: Sleepy Weekend Afterthoughts

Oh friends, I write from a sleepy sort of haze, full coffee mug at hand, as we close this first glorious week of school together. No, "glorious" was no typo, because it really was. It brimmed with curiosity, delight, contemplation, and slow feasting for minds that have starved for more filling dishes. It also held more late night planning, adjusting (of both attitudes and studies), and humility than I guessed it might, so yes, we're all now pretty tired at this end of things, but I think I can safely say for all of us that it's the contented kind.

I have so much on my heart to sort out before I can put the week behind and fall into much needed rest, so please bear with me as I use this space to ponder.

Language Arts / Phonics
When I pulled out the Turbo Reader in prep for that first day, A visibly cringed. Hm, not a good sign. I was already looking more critically at the thing because I was realizing the need for a program with more broad coverage (another topic for another day), so I turned a more serious eye on the other options out there, discussing my way through them with Will. Thus entered The Good And The Beautiful. On one hand, it seemed perfect, almost too good to be true. On the other, I was wary that too many subjects in one curriculum was too overwhelming. But in the end, that beautiful reader of theirs, the fact the program covers topics I would either have to buy elsewhere to cover or create something myself (super basic grammatical rules, spelling, etc,), and the price sold me and I ordered the thing.

Best decision.

It has the straightforward simplicity I need, and the element of fun that A needs - she loved it so much that she kept asking for more! Not to mention I can better see this program fitting a wider range of learning styles for "recycled" use. And once I wrapped my head around the dynamics of it? My former concerns evaporated because it was so easy to break up and distribute it to our needs. But I'm starting to sound like a radio ad now. To be clear, I'm actually not for hopping from one curriculum to another at the first hint of trouble, but this is the starting line for us and it's a time of joyful challenge and foundation laying, not punching through what needs to be done - there's time aplenty for that.

I'll be honest, I went into this week with no more than a vague idea of how studies would be distributed - these subjects for everyday, and those for just a few, maybe this in the morning and that in the afternoon?. . . To some extent, I'm glad it happened this way because I felt more free to probe for the most natural rhythm (read: lifelong) than I might have with a set schedule, and I have a lot to learn about all that anyhow.

It started on day one minute 15 when I tried the whole inserting breaks between subjects thing - that didn't fly. Easy adjustment though, just surprising. Then I found that nature and art in one day? That's a no go, so they had to be shuffled around, which worked out anyway because it turns out that we all thrive on having at least one different thing every day. Oh and that one different thing? It usually best fits into the afternoon, while on the other hand, I'm finding Charlotte Mason's advice to keep most lessons to the morning hours were given for a reason.

You get the idea.

It is tickling me how much behind the scenes work it takes to seep learning into life so that it both feels and happens more naturally and habitually over time (read: again, lifelong. See the theme here?). I mean what did I expect? Even I don't really know the answer to that, but I am now assured that it turns out to be much like the festivity of Christmas experienced in childhood versus that of motherhood.

If you read the planning post, you already know I went with Beautiful Feet to guide us in this subject. Well, that didn't work out too well for us. Yeah I know, already. You see? Humility.

Honestly, I don't think A had any idea of change because she was busy gobbling up the stories and churning her thoughts out with (slightly prompted) discussion and some narration. The problem was on the other side of the table with me who was hemming and hawing over cutting this activity, pasting in a lesson here from over there, replacing that book, shoving small readings closer together to satisfy the demand for them, etc. I love Beautiful Feet and all the beautiful literature they're bringing back in print, but the guides just weren't a good fit for us personally.

All credit to what happened beyond this point can and will be attributed to my wise MIL (and Mom's seconding it). She listened to my woes, took one look, and said "just stick with the literature on your shelf, go simple." Ah, duh. Digesting her advice did my resisting heart a lot of good - what are assigned readings and a few good prompts to the actual content? Again, duh. Also, hallelujah hands. So that's exactly what we're doing,

Oh Ambleside curators, how I love thee.

Go figure that it was again my dear MIL who pointed me their way. I mean I had browsed the Ambleside curriculum before, but I was totally overwhelmed at the time, so other than for articles and book suggestions I hadn't looked since. Maybe they reformatted though because when I looked again at MIL's prompting, it was so comprehensive that I was able to spot right away that "hey, this is pretty nearly what I'm doing." So after inserting some different choices under general subject categories, tweaking just a touch here and a pat there, I adjusted us to most of their general Year 1 outline.

Let me tell you, it helped so much with record keeping. I now know how to term the things I was struggling to, and categorize some of the obscure CM things that I wasn't sure how to. Besides that, I just feel more at ease because, as Brandi discussed on her blog this last week, I trust operating within this method to take care of all the little details as we press toward that end-all goal of loving the Lord God with all ours hearts, souls and minds.

Small Children
Leave it to the toddlers to give you consistency.

I say that mostly for the humor factor, but honestly, I almost appreciate that I could, at the very least, confidently anticipate what would happen there. Five thousand interruptions, the pressing need for cuddles now, quite a bit of background shouting, more snacks than usual, etc. Here, at least, my experience as the eldest of a larger family and A's understanding of her sisters could shine. Sort of. Actually, the truth is that we survived but I'd like to do better than that - to see all of the above as opportunities to shape character, shift habits, and bring our everyday tasks and interactions to a place of worship, however imperfect it may be.

Now how that happens? I suppose creativity, patience, and prayer will show.

And this is only week one. See what I mean? So much to learn. But that's good, right? Because it shows we're growing.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Mama's Feast (aka Pep Rally Mode)

Another warm Summer day and I think I may be the odd one out for having brownies setting to gooey perfection in my oven. After a long, lovely morning with friends, the girls are now settled here watching Little Bear (anyone remember that show?) while I finish a cup of coffee, and somehow, brownies just seemed the right thing to do. I only second guessed myself after sticking the pan in the oven - the moment when I remembered the no AC situation in our house. The chocolaty aroma was quick to wipe away that thought though.

This pretty well embodies what our Summer has been - one moment rushing hither thither like busy field mice, then sprawled across one another like sun bathing seals the next. As fun as it's been, I can already see our little spools of peace and enjoyment winding tighter and tighter with each passing day, which to me is a glaring indicator that we'll be needing all those un-Summerly routines again. It's sort of a wrench in my plans for starting school on that first Monday of September, but a good one when I think of all the hoopla that will happen to fall within the school year. So I'm taking the hint to erase my plans and go with the flow, so to speak, because I'm suddenly remembering that God sees a whole lot further ahead than I do and I'd be the one at loss to not align myself with what He has going.

So I'm moving into pep rally mode.

You know what I mean - unshelving all the books that fill my cup and soaking up podcasts of much wiser and more experienced people than myself. Need I even mention the stocking of coffee and praying like crazy every time I'm tempted to think of what could go wrong, and also, for that matter, what will hopefully go right (all is grace).

Are you doing this too, friends? Should we pool resources?

For myself, I like variety - sometimes paddling through light inspiration, sometimes diving into deeper waters. The stack in that first handful you see up there is some of the more thoughtful things I've been paging through lately, it includes (not all are pictured):

Educating the Wholehearted Child (Clay and Sally Clarkson)
This is a sort of middle ground book for considering the "big picture" of homeschooling in a practical sense. A really great starting line and reference sort of book.
Honey For A Child's Heart (Gladys Hunt)
I think I bought this book when A was maybe. . . a few months old? And amazingly, I've used it consistently since then. More book list than informational, this book is a classic and no one should be without it.
Read For The Heart (Sarah Clarkson)
Another great book of book recommendations (can never be with too many of these).
Ten Ways To Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (Anthony Esolen)
In a similar style as C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters, this is a satirical look at how to quite literally destroy the imagination. Hilarious and soberingly thoughtful, this is one of those books that is a must.
Caught Up In A Story: Fostering A Storyformed Life of Great Books (Sarah Clarkson)
Well, if the last book is a must, this one is an absolute must. A short and thoughtful look into how stories form us and why this is important.
The Educated Imagination (Northrop Frye)
If I remember correctly, this book was originally a series of live BBC recordings. In the vein of stories and imagination, this is a poke at the disciplined side of it - what education and imagination have to do with one another and how they are also vital for one another. Very interesting.
Beauty In the Word: Rethinking The Foundations of Education (Stratford Caldecott)
This is a weighty book and took me quite awhile to read despite how small it was. It's hard to condense everything in this book, but basically it shows where education has come from - those pre-medieval foundations of education - and why they're important to remember and hold on to.
Teaching From Rest (Sarah Mackenzie)
This one, ah goodness, I guess the best way to explain it would be as a real look at "teaching from rest." But really, the application spreads like a generous dollop of butter across bread, so this could very well just be said to be about how to live from rest. If not this book, the subject itself is necessary.
Leisure the Basis of Culture (Josef Pieper)
I can't say much about this one yet because it's my current read, but it has come highly recommended. Very highly recommended.

That second handful that you see above is the stack of my lighter "so how might all this look in practice" sort of reads. It includes (not all are pictured):

The Charlotte Mason Companion (Karen Andreola)
A thick book at practical ways to approach gentle learning. The illustrations alone are beautiful and inspiring - I remember paging through my mom's copy as a kid, and now A and S do the same.
Pocketful of Pinecones (Andreola)
A fictional rendition of what a gentle education might look like in an every day context. I'm a very visual person, so this verbal visualization really inspires me.
Lessons From Blackberry Inn (Andreola)
Part two to Pocketful of Pinecones. Same concept, every bit as good.
Talking to Fireflies, Shrinking the Moon (Edward Duensing)
This is just a fun little book that I actually picked up for Summer, but I'm reading to stow all the little tricks in my back pocket to pull out during nature studies.
How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare (Ken Ludwig)
This is a handy guide to approaching Shakespeare with kids. Super easy to apply, great resources in the back, and overall lovely. Sarah M. actually did an interview with the author that is worth listening to (Read Aloud Revival Podcast, episode 6 - listen here)
The Lifegiving Home (Sally Clarkson)
This isn't a book geared toward education, but if Charlotte Mason is correct in saying that atmosphere plays a part in education, then this would be thoughtful inspiration toward that. This is a month by month, season by season collection of ideas for creating an atmosphere within our homes that gives life, essentially asking "how does this look in action?"

I mentioned the podcasts too - they're a boon to me during dinner prep, that hour when the house never fails to crumble to chaos. None of the education related podcasts seem to run during the summer, but there are plenty of old episodes to listen and re-listen to, so I've slowly been soaking up:

Schole Sisters
I love every episode, but some that I've come back to would be episodes 002 "What's love got to do with it?" (listen here), 004 "We dare you to read the classics" (listen here), 005 "Balancing work and wonder" (listen here), 014 "Reading pagan literature with highly resistant children" (listen here), 019 "The intersection of effortlessness and hard work" (listen here), 0020 "Mothers, don't let your methods grow up to be systems" (listen here), and 021 "Amusing ourselves to leisure" (listen here).
Circe Institute's Mason Jar (with Cindy Rollins)
I particularly appreciate the Q&A episodes (a bit confusing to link). And while you're finding these episodes, do check out the Close Reads (a sort of book club) and Perpetual Feast (delightfully wandering discussions on Homer) episodes on there as well!
Read Aloud Revival 
I personally prefer the first couple seasons of this podcast, but I do come back to catch up on content from time to time. Episodes 01 "Reading aloud to older kids, a conversation with Andrew Pudewa" (listen here), 04 and 05 with Jim Weiss about the art of reading aloud (listen here and here), 17 "On living a storyformed life" with Sarah Clarkson of one of the books I mentioned above (listen here), 20 "Reading aloud as discipleship" (this one is so good! - listen here), 22 "Read good books. The end." (listen here), 31 "reading aloud for history" (listen here), 44 "Magic and fear in children's books" (listen here), 51 "the golden age of children's books" (listen here), 60 "Your Job is to plant the seed: a conversation with Sally Lloyd Jones" (another seriously wonderful one - listen here), and 62 "Inspiring a love of nature through books" (listen here)
Every single episode is wonderful, just be aware that this one has ALL the book recommendations and might end up costing you some dollars (not a totally bad thing). Find their show notes right here.
Wild + Free 
Lovely front porch type conversations about all different things homeschooling. Their conferences, groups, and monthly bundles are all equally wonderful and worth checking out.

Is this oversharing? Forgive me, it's all so good that I can't help myself. Now, I just hope you find something in all this that will encourage and challenge your heart and mind as it has mine.

Rah rah rah rah. Jesus with us, coffee pots full, let's do this, friends!