Saturday, November 29, 2008

Charlotte Mason Basics: Copywork Resources

Photo courtesy of fortinbras

Last week we looked at copywork, the whys and the hows of including it in the modern homeschool. This week, I hope to inspire you with a few resources that you may find helpful in assigning copywork for your children.

The number one living book, of course, is the Bible. I often have our children select passages that we are currently studying and I like to vary the translation used. A particular favourite for copywork is the King James version. We use this version occasionally to read from, but I enjoy it a lot for copywork. The language is rich and beautiful. Most of the Bibles in our home are not King James, so I find it much more convenient to obtain a passage online. I really like this site for finding Bible passages. It is simple to search for various translations and it is a snap to paste selections into Word, change them into a suitable font and print them out for a child to copy.

Another fabulous online resource for copywork is the Ambleside Online copywork yahoo group. A huge number of the books Ambleside suggests for reading have selections chosen specifically for copywork purposes. The file section contains a wealth of great passages from a large number of common books. Whether you are using Ambleside Online or not, this group is terrific since it has copywork selections from books your child has probably read and enjoyed.

As for print resources, our children enjoy using The Harp and Laurel Wreath: Poetry and Dictation for the Classical Curriculum by Laura M. Berquist. This is a well-known book in homeschool circles, which can be used for a variety of things besides copywork. We have also made use of it for recitation and, as the sub-title suggests, for dictation. Another big favourite around our home is Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. Our children love to find quotes from famous people whose lives they have studied. (They particularly love the obscure quotes!) A searchable, online version can be found here.

Poetry is probably my children's favourite thing to copy. We make use of many different poetry books, but the one we come back to again and again is Favorite Poems Old and New compiled by Helen Farris. It contains hundreds of poems, listed by topic, which I find very helpful. The arrangement makes it fantastic for finding poetry to add to a nature notebook, or for finding a poem on a particular topic of interest for a child to copy. It is a great resource which we have enjoyed for years.

Do you have other favourite online or print resources you like to use for copywork? I'd love to have your ideas included. Just add a comment in the comments section.

Next week, Charlotte Mason Basics will continue as we look at the topic of Living Books. I hope you have a wonderful weekend. :)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Charlotte Mason Basics Postponed until Tomorrow day was packed full, so I was not able to write up a post for you today. I will be posting on Copywork Resources tomorrow as part of the Charlotte Mason Basics series. See you then!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Last Day for Holiday Homemaking Freebies

Have you enjoyed the freebies at Joyous Home? I have downloaded a number of them. This is the last day there will be a freebie posted. Since they are up for one day only, if you are interested, head on over there! Today's is a wonderful tutorial/recipe for delicious Holiday Bread. I am definitely going to make this...only not in the next few days because I am hopelessly hooked on knitting right now. ;)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Will work for high fives

I like to keep our main floor, the one on which most of us spend most of our day, in relative tidiness. I feel particularly stressed out if there is a lot of clutter on surfaces, so I do my best to keep those clear most of the time. It is inevitable, though, with seven of us home all day that there will be some mess. The key, for us, has been to manage the mess with frequent, regular tidy times. For years now, we have tidied the main floor:
  • before mealtimes
  • before Daddy gets home
  • before bed
  • before anytime we leave the house

This ensures that the children and I learn to pick up our things after we use them, or at least relatively soon after. Charlotte Mason was a huge believer in training children in good habits and orderliness is one habit that did not come easily to me. I want it to come much easier to our children.

However, my children would tell you that they don't enjoy hearing me bark at them all day to pick up their stuff. I don't enjoy barking either. So, I try to use a variety of things to make tidying time more pleasant. The first is attitude. We are tidying because it brings us pleasure and calms our minds to have tidy, serene surroundings. We can find things easier and we don't have to shove stuff aside every time we want to use a table or an area on the floor. It is also much less embarrassing when people drop over. It feels good to be able to welcome them in without having to worry that the place is a mess! So, cultivating the attitude that tidying our home is a blessing to us and others makes it more pleasant to do the work than to leave the children thinking tidying is a punishment.

As far as the actual tidying part goes, I find the best way to get the children to tidy happily is to work alongside them. This can be a hassle if I have something else to do, like making lunch or caring for a baby, but it makes all the difference in the world. What looks like just a few things to you can be an overwhelming job for young children, particularly if you have a child who is not inclined to look after their things. One of my children, when told that it was tidy time said, "But Moooooooom, I can't clean up because I'm toooooo lazy." Isn't that the truth?!

Finally, I have found that some kind of encouragement along the way works wonders. I have a little song that I sometimes sing while we tidy. I learned it from the Waldorf school years ago when we attended a parent and tot class. However, you can easily make one up to a favourite tune (Row Row your Boat, Twinkle Twinkle, etc.). Basically, you just start singing about what you are tidying up, or what needs to be tidied up, while you work. The children just seem to join in like magic. It doesn't work every time, so I like to mix it up a bit.

I also use the high five system, which is a particular favourite. I will tell each child one thing at a time that needs to be tidied. "Please pick up the puzzle and put it in the bin." Then, as the task is completed the child runs to me for a high five. This works really well and helps keep things from being overwhelming. Before they know it, the room is done.

What things do you do to encourage your children to tidy their surroundings? I'd love to hear some ideas.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Quick winter knitting

Isn't this the cutest thing ever?! It was a nice, quick project from the current issue of one of my very favourite magazines, Living Crafts.

I promised myself I would not to cast on the snowman until I had finished two knitting projects I already had on the go -- the socks I posted the other day and a pair I had almost finished for Steve. I finished Steve's socks yesterday and cast on this little guy last night. I'm going to have to make a few more of these for our winter decorating!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Knitting...the final finish

Well, it was pretty touch and go, but the yarn held out and the socks are finished. They are lovely and fit very nicely, if I do say so myself. :)

You can click the above pic to enlarge and see the detail.

And, just for interest's sake, here is the amount of yarn I had left. Trust isn't very much!

In case you didn't see it, today's installation of Charlotte Mason Basics is underneath this post. I don't know how to get it to be first!

Charlotte Mason Basics: Copywork

Photo courtesy of greywulf

You know, one thing I truly love and appreciate about Charlotte Mason's method is how inexpensive it can be. Using her methods, a child can have an excellent education making liberal use of the library and materials from home. Copywork, like narration, is another one of those facets that are simple and inexpensive, but very powerful.

Charlotte's methods are freeing to me as a mom, too. Because of their simplicity, I don't have to try to decipher a complicated curriculum or do a lot of m
ental gymnastics to dream up a new way to try to get my children to learn something.

In Charlotte's schools, learning was natural and made common sense. ( If you are just joining us, you may wish to read through the Charlotte Mason Basics previously covered.) We have looked at narration already and have seen that our children begin to le
arn story composition by retelling the stories in the high quality literature they read. Similarly, our children learn grammar, spelling and penmanship by doing copywork, that is copying worthwhile portions of literature precisely and in their best handwriting.

Children still have specific penmanship lessons and in our modern home, these take the form of completion of the Getty-Dubay series of workbook
s on Italic Handwriting. Ideally, the children would be doing specific penmanship lessons alongside copywork, but in our home, I find it more practical to work on the italic workbooks at the beginning of the year and then move to focus exclusively on copywork.

Gathering materials:

Our older children each have an attractive, lined journal-type notebook for their copywork, as I hope this will be a treasure they will want to look at again and again in later years. Younger children (about grade 3 and under) need to copy from a separate page specifically made for them in the style of handwriting I want them to use as opposed to the original source, so I find it more practical to give them a binder with page protectors.

Older children in our family use a fountain pen purchase
d at the local Waldorf school, while younger children just need a pencil and an eraser.

Choosing a passage to copy:

The possibilities are endless here. You can choose from Bible passages, selections from the literature the child is currently reading, or from poetry. You can even use the words of a beautiful hymn. I have even read of people assigning math times tables for copywork! For very young children, to get them excited about copywork, I have occasionally used something they have dictated to me about a subject they love. I correct grammar and print out a page for them to copy. They can then reproduce their own words and even add a picture. Here is an early example from my son's work when he was about five:

Older children can choose their own passage or have one assigned. To encourage variety, I like to have a mini-schedule.
Monday - Literature
Tuesday - Bible
Wednesday - Poetry
Thursday - Free Choice

The selection needs to be somewhat challenging. As they get older, watch for opportunities to encourage children to learn the use of quotations/quotation marks, to include challenging vocabulary, and to practice difficult spellings or unusual punctuation. Also, the selection needs to be long enough to be appropriate to their age. As with narration, we are going for quality. You are aiming to end the copywork before the child gets tired and bored and the writing becomes sloppy. This trains them to do their very best work. It is better to have one line done beautifully than a page full of sloppiness. Also, keep in mind that it is not necessary to finish a passage during one session. You can make it an ongoing work. For example, a child might copy one verse of a poem each day until it is completed.

Finishing up:
When the child is finished, check their work against the original. This gives you a chance to check spelling and punctuation as well as to gauge if the passage was a good length for the child, neither too short nor too long. I get our children to date their work. (And, I won't tell them the date. I will help them look it up on the calendar, if necessary, but they have to find out for themselves.)
I also encourage our children to add a beautiful coloured border or small illustration to make their work even more aesthetically pleasing. We certainly don't do this every time, but it is definitely a special part of their books.

Next week, we will look at some great sources for copywork, some books and some online sources.

God bless!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Nail-Biting Knitting Moment

I am currently knitting the most lovely pair of Vine Lace Socks, which were the 'sock of the month' club kit from The Knitter last summer. (I didn't start them until a few months ago.) Tonight has been a roller-coaster of knitting emotion! At various times in the evening, I have been sure I will run out of yarn, only to re-consider a few rounds later. Then, I would see how much I have left and how quickly the yarn seems to be disappearing and change my mind again. Steve has been faithfully cheering me on, saying he thinks I will make it. (I think he was just trying to prevent another fiber purchase.) I was so sure that I was going to run out that I actually contacted Judy at The Knitter to see if she had more yarn in the right dye lot. She does!! However, by the time she got back to me - less than an hour after I contacted her - I was already starting the decreases for the toe and I hadn't run out of yarn, yet! The photo above doesn't fully capture the dire situation I find myself in. It is actually a bit deceptive in how much yarn it appears I have left. It is really very little.

The suspense is killing me! Will I make it? Will my sock be left with only a few stitches left to complete and no yarn? Or, will I complete a successful toe, kitchener stitch the end closed and have a few inches to spare? Tune in tomorrow to find out!

HOW can a homeschooled child lose a pencil?

What do you mean you don't have a pencil? Didn't I give you a pencil box and tell you to put your things away after each time you use them? HOW can you lose your pencil when you are homeschooled?!?!

Who knows? I just know that this was a regular occurrence at our home and, as I understand it, in many of your homes, too! I thought I was nice and organized because each child in our family had a plastic pencil box with their name labeled on the outside of the box. Taped to the inside lid was a list of the contents that should be inside: pencil, pen (for older children), highlighter, eraser, ruler, gluestick, etc. Anyway, it didn't work. For years and years, I kept using this system, but it kept not working. Their things were always getting lost and little ones were always getting into the pencil boxes.

So, I came up with something new. The supplies basket!

TA DA! Now, THIS works. First of all, we have two jars. One houses pencils and pens. The other jar holds erasers and pencil sharpeners. In the bottom of the basket, you will also find small rulers, a small stapler, a highlighter, a gluestick and a pair of scissors. While the children are doing seatwork, the basket sits on the dining room table. When they are not, the basket is put into a cupboard with a childproof lock on it. This way, when we find a pencil somewhere, we always know where to put it. No more trying to determine who is missing their pencil or who didn't put away their eraser. I'm telling you, for weeks now, I have had not one complaint of someone not having a school supply.

The other benefit is that the basket is attractive, unlike the plastic pencil boxes. I have learned that surrounding ourselves with as much beauty as we can adds to the soothing atmosphere I am trying to establish in our home.

See you tomorrow as we continue to examine Charlotte Mason Basics in the real life homeschool!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Getting kids' clothing ready for winter

Do you get caught each year not having organized your children's winter outerwear? Does the first (or second or third) snowfall find you not knowing whose boots from last year still fit or whose snowpants need repair? I used to be in this position, but a few years ago, Steve and I developed a good system for making sure we knew exactly what we had and what we needed. In early November, we make a grid like this one:

Then, it is simply a matter of hauling out the winter stuff and checking off the list.

Steve and I get the kids busy with a game or activity on the main floor and we head downstairs to our basement, put on the fire - sometimes some music - and get to work. Each child in our family has a small bin, labeled with his/her name. We toss the smaller items we think will fit into each child's respective bin and place larger items alongside the bins. Then, we call each child downstairs one by one and have them try their stuff on. As the things fit, we check off the list. Then, the bins are brought upstairs and placed on the shelf in our main floor bathroom. At the end, we have a clear list of what we need to find at the thrift store.

Okay, so this year, I kept meaning to get our stuff ready, but didn't actually get to it until yesterday, just after the first snow that stayed on the ground. However, today we are well organized and ready to go! I only need to shop for two pairs of boots. One pair is for my oldest son, whose feet grow like crazy and the other pair is for one of my daughters who would be traumatized by being forced to wear the 'ugly boy boots' that we have in her size. I would have called them unisex, but what do I know?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Charlotte Mason Basics: Common Questions on Narration

Photo courtesy of djwhelan

While narration is an extremely simple skill, it is also extremely effective. We discussed the basics of narration last week, so this week will be devoted to answering the most common questions I am often asked about narration.

At what age should I start narration?
Well, if you are a parent of any talking child, you will already know that children love to retell events and stories right from an early age. You will notice them acting out favourite stories in their play or telling you, in detail, exactly what happened the day they threw up on the rocking horse. (This is a real life example from our house, a story our now three year old loves to relate time and time again!) These narrations, like the wobbly baby steps that will eventually lead to proficient walking, are the beginning of exactly what we are trying to encourage. Before age six, Charlotte suggests just listening to narrations as the child chooses to relate them. Formal narrations, meaning ones you ask for, begin at age six. At this point, you would choose a book you are reading to your child, stop at appropriate points and ask the child to tell you the story.

How long a passage should I read before asking for a narration?
Of course, this depends. Last fall, our Charlotte Mason study group held a session on narration (for the moms) and we were all panic-stricken to learn that a narration would be expected of us! It was a relatively short passage, not too difficult, but the problem was that although many of us were experienced homeschool moms (and some of us leaders of the group!), we were inexperienced at narration. And, we all had a deep appreciation for the concentration and skill needed to narrate. When I related this to my oldest daughter (who attends the meetings to serve by helping to manage the library alongside the lovely daughter of another leader), she said we should have asked her and her friend to narrate for all the moms. They would not have felt the least bit intimidated because they are both very experienced and capable narrators!

So, the length of the passage depends on the child's age and his experience at narration. This is really a matter of using your own instincts, along with trial and error. If you are beginning with a child of six, I recommend starting very small, possibly just a few sentences, unless the story is very simple. There is a delicate balance between short enough to be encouraging and long enough to discourage the child's memorizing and reciting the passage word-for-word. Just keep trying until you find a good length for your child.

For older children, a paragraph or so might be appropriate, but again, it is up to you to determine. We are aiming for detailed narrations, but we also need to be mindful that this is a skill that is meant to be learned one step at a time and built upon.

What if my child balks at narration?
Then, you can congratulate yourself for raising a child and not a robot! :) Seriously, particularly in the beginning every child will balk, but they will all get used to it with perseverence and consistency. Narration is very important, so be patient and don't give up. Consider whether or not the selection is too long or too difficult. Also, you might consider offering a very simple leading question or request. For example, "Tell me about the Christmas dinner at Ma and Pa's," or "What do you remember about ladybugs?"

All else failing, when a child is struggling for internal motivation you might offer some natural form of external motivation. I will often say something like, "As soon as you are finished doing your very best to tell me the story, we'll be all set for drawing."

What if my child makes a mistake in narrating?
Well, Charlotte Mason recommends not correcting the child at all. She did allow other children present to correct narrations if they heard something amiss. When faced with a mistake one of my children makes while narrating, I use my common sense. If it is a whopper (something integral to the plot, for example) I will correct it or, alternatively, ask the child to re-check their information. If the mistake is minor, I will simply let it go to avoid interrupting the flow of their thoughts. Think about when you are trying to relate a story to a friend and one of your children, annoyingly, corrects some minor detail: "No mom, it wasn't last week, it was the week before that." With a few of these corrections, it gets to be difficult to get your thoughts together enough to finish. It is the same for your child.

Those are probably the top few questions I am asked, but if you have others, please feel free to ask away in the comments section and I'll do my best to answer. Next Friday, Charlotte Mason Basics continues with 'Copywork'.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Some Favourite Homeschooling Links

Photo courtesy of fd

The internet can be a fantastic tool for the modern homeschooler. Of course, it can also be a huge distraction from actual homeschooling! Sometimes, moms can get stuck surfing for hours looking for just the right site. I hope you will enjoy these sites that we have used in our homeschool and that this list will save you some surfing time.

  • Watercolour Tutorials: A terrific site with a whole bunch of watercolour tutorials from beginner to advanced
  • Drawing with Children Nature Journal Style: How to use the book, Drawing with Children by Mona Brooks to develop nature journalling skills
  • Harmony Art Mom: A terrific blog which features Sketch Tuesday, an opportunity for you and your children to sketch the assignment of the week and e-mail your scanned sketches to Barb, the owner, for inclusion on her weekly flickr slideshow
  • Totally Tessellated: This one is really math and art. Tessellations are...well, I'll let you discover them at this site which features tons of information and free printables, again from basic to complex designs
  • Bible Reading List by Episode: I love this article by Penny Gardner, author of The Charlotte Mason Study Guide. If you click on the links in the body of the article, you will find lists of episodes (sections with natural breaks) from the Bible, making your Bible study well-focused and narrate-able
  • Scripture Memory System: The best idea I've ever seen for memorizing scripture together. You can make this at home for a very minimal cost (or free, if you have the materials on hand, as I did). We've used this for a couple of years.

  • Handbook of Nature Study: This blog, owned by Barb of Harmony Art Mom, features weekly Outdoor Hour Challenges which are lesson ideas to help you use the book, Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock, in your homeschool

  • Scrapbook to Learn: My children have loved learning to use digital scrapbooking, using the program Scrapbook Max, to narrate things they have learned
  • Lapbooking: We haven't done a lot of this, but when we have it has been a lot of fun. It is a great way to include mini-narrations on a topical or unit study or even narrations from chapters of a particular book
  • Ambleside Online: A free Charlotte Mason Style curriculum which we have used for just about our entire homeschooling 'career'. A wealth of information and ideas!
  • Educational Fontware: This company sells a cd of fonts you can install on your computer that correspond to all the major handwriting books. We use Getty-Dubay Italics and this program has allowed us to make our own copywork for younger children who aren't able to copy directly from a book
  • Book of Centuries: A Charlotte Mason concept and a lifetime project where children keep a timeline in a book. This can include simple entries with dates, or pictures/maps or even narrations. This site has a free, printable Book of Centuries.
  • Homeschool in the Woods: We love the collection cd from this site which features the most gorgeous, printable timeline figures. They come in black and white so your child can colour them before use. The author/illustrator has a wealth of ideas for how to use the figures -- from simple timelines to making your own games!
There are lots more sites I'd love to recommend to you, but I think this is a good start. :) If you have other favourites, please feel free to mention them in the comments section.

Remember that tomorrow I will continue Charlotte Mason Basics for a real life home, covering common questions about narration. See you then!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

We eat food.

Photo courtesy of martinlabar

Opening the newest issue of Chatelaine or Today's Parent at the doctor's office will always result in finding another article on food and nutrition. Everywhere we turn, new information crops us about a nutrient the experts want us to eat more of or, more likely, something they want us to eat less of. As a society, we are obsessed with eating. The amazing thing is that with all this 'expert' information about food and nutrition, our population actually becomes more malnourished, overweight and unhealthy. Tragically, while experts are essential for more complicated subjects, relying on them to replace commonsense will always yield problems. Commonsense can not be broken down by science.

When you take a step back and think about it, isn't it bizarre that we actually need scientists to tell us how and what to eat?!

In the last year or two, I have done a lot of thinking about our diet. We have always had a very healthy diet, with a minimum of processed or convenience foods and only a rare meal out. However, I had definitely fallen trap to 'nutritionism'. Nutritionism assumes that you can take nutrients out of the context of food, rearrange them, in the form of vitamins or 'added value' products, and consume them for a healthy diet. The trouble is that humans are not all-knowing. We are always discovering new things and we really have no idea what we don't know. A healthy diet cannot be artificially created by combining the right nutrients. Even if it could, we have no idea what nutrients we have not discovered yet. In addition, we have, truly, no idea of the way different parts of food are supposed to work together. I think this Bible verse really speaks to our belief, as humans, that we can begin to understand the complexities of God's creation enough to try to rearrange what He has made:

For in measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, they are not wise.
2 Corinthians 10:12

This is an excellent verse for all kinds of situations in life. It reminds us that because we are humans, not God, we cannot accurately assess our own situation independent of Him. A friend gave the analogy of a fish in water. How does a fish know that it is wet? We are the fish here.

I, personally, am done listening to the experts and I have returned to commonsense.
Our family has decided to put our trust in God and the way He has created food. One of La Leche League's 10 core concepts is an excellent statement on food, which I think sums up our family's philosophy well: "Good nutrition means eating a well-balanced and varied diet of foods in as close to their natural state as possible." That's it.

So, what does this mean for our family? For us, it means that in general, we make food from scratch. We are not concerned with what is not in food (low fat, for example) because we just eat food straight-up, not boxes or bags of things someone else has made. I only do one big-ish shopping trip to the grocery store about once a month, but even then I don't buy much. Why not? Because the majority of what is at the grocery store is not real food. It is substances that used to be food rearranged into something else. Basically, if it comes from a factory, we avoid it. (Not that we don't eat it ever. Don't get me wrong. This is our general policy.) We also don't put any stock in whether or not factory-made products come from the health food store. Organic whole wheat noodles with powdered cheese are still not real food. I believe these foods are a slight improvement over their grocery-store counterpart, but I don't rely on them to feed our family or convince myself that they can compare to food.

So, where do I shop, then?

  1. Steve and I make a weekly trip to the local Farmer's Market. We are very blessed to have a market that is open all-year. We try hard to eat seasonally and shopping at the market makes this possible. There is such joy in getting that first bushel of apples in the fall or in spotting the first asparagus of the spring.

  2. Next, we patronize a local organic, biodynamic farm. There, we have a CSA share both in the winter and the rest of the year. This provides the majority of veggies we need. We also purchase things like wheat, honey, eggs and meat from them.

  3. Once a month, I order from a health food co-op. This provides us with things like tea, dried fruit, some dried legumes, cream (that has only cream listed as the ingredient!), and the few factory foods that we still eat, such as wraps and crackers.

  4. And, as mentioned, I do a bigger shopping at the grocery store once a month and run to the natural food store for coffee cream and sour cream once in awhile.
I try hard to be as frugal as possible with our food choices without compromising our principles. It is my goal to nourish our family and invest in our health, not to try to get the cheapest food possible at all times. Because our budget is not limitless, this means that we don't get to have swiss cheese on our sandwiches very often or eat yummy steaks more than once or twice a year. It does mean, though, that we are very rarely sick and that our food almost always tastes great. It has been a joy to rediscover food as food and to be free from micro-managing our diet.

Can I recommend some great reading to you, if you are interested in learning more? Michael Pollan has written some fantastic books. His most recent book, In Defense of Food had me saying, "YES!" out loud on more than one occasion. It is definitely worth 'devouring' and is almost certainly available at your local library. I would also recommend Real Food by Nina Planck, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and The End of Food by Thomas Pawlick (this one is Canadian).

Happy Eating!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Charlotte Mason Basics: Narration

Image courtesy of lord marmalade

Narration is a skill that, on the surface, seems so simple that many parents take for granted its power. I would say that the biggest misunderstanding people have of narration is a belief that it is solely for evaluation of students' learning. The misunderstanding is this: Narration is not the evaluation of the learning. Narration is the learning. During narration, a child is developing a mastery of a huge range of complex skills, including classification, recollection, interpretation, and on and on. The 'King' skill being developed -- the one which is the very hallmark of an educated person is the habit of attention. Narration, the simple retelling of a reading in one' s own words, is the very best way to develop this essential, valuable habit.

Okay, let's get practical.

If you have studied Charlotte Mason philosophy, you know the 'correct' way to do narration is that the teacher (that's you) is to preread the passage and pick out any difficult vocabulary to define for the child ahead of time. In addition, you write down a few important dates, places or names for the child to refer to during his narration to avoid interrupting his train of thought. In Charlotte's schools, different children were called on to narrate, but no one knew who would be called, so each child had to be prepared to narrate everything he read.

I don't know about you, but with several children reading many different books, there is no way I could possibly read ahead, let alone prepare vocabulary, dates and names.

This is where ideal meets real.

In our home, children do narrate just about everything they read. The children read the passage, or listen to it being read aloud, only once. (This is very important to their ability to pay attention. Knowing the passage will be re-read is license to be lazy in attending.) I only read aloud the Bible and choose different children to narrate. Otherwise, readings are independent and the children simply come to find me and let me know they are finished a reading and ready to narrate. They narrate while I fold laundry, nurse a baby or chop veggies for lunch. I rarely sit and do nothing but offer eye contact. I simply can't. And, very often, I have never even read the books they are narrating.

The point is, I could feel guilty that I'm not doing it the 'correct' way, or I can embrace my life and my home and come up with a workable plan to make narration happen. Guess what?! It's okay!! My children are learning magnificently and are very capable and thorough narrators and we've been doing it this way since the beginning.

Basic oral narration, as I have outlined in this post, is your bread and butter. Don't feel like you have to come up with a whole bunch of fun alternatives to simple retelling of the passage in the child's own words. These ideas can be fun for a change once in a while, but a habit is formed when you do the same thing time after time. Let the living stories your child reads and the ideas that feed his mind offer the variety he needs.

How do you include narration in your homeschool? Have you ever tried narrating for your children?

Next Friday, I will cover 'Common Questions about Narration. If you have any questions you'd like to see answered, please ask them in the comments section of this post. Otherwise, I will be covering questions I get asked most often in my real life. :)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Charlotte Mason Basics starting tomorrow

Charlotte Maria Shaw Mason

Beginning tomorrow on my blog, Fridays will be a day to learn about the basics of a Charlotte Mason education, with a guilt-free twist for the modern homeschooling mom! I hope it will encourage you as you offer your children a fabulous education in your home. Charlotte Mason-style homeschooling is very do-able and a wonderfully natural way to learn. The only problem is that many moms continually guilt themselves into believing they fall short and often feel discouraged. No more!

Tomorrow we will jump in with narration, which is the best educational tool available for you in your home. It is simple, it is free and it offers an endless wealth of opportunity to you and your children.

In the meantime, I encourage you to check out this worthy post on banishing guilt from your life.

See you tomorrow!

Holiday Homemaking Freebies

Woohoo!! Joyous Home is putting together a terrific-sounding treat for us that they are calling: "12 Days of Holiday Homemaking", reminiscent of their wonderful magazine, Seasons at Home. Each of the 12 days will include freebies, such as: Holiday sewing, giving a Holiday tea, Holiday menu ideas, sweet treat ideas, Holiday bread making, traditions and more.

They are not requiring newsletter sign up or anything. It is just a gift to visitors. I really love Seasons at Home magazine, so I hope you will enjoy these free days! I can't wait to see them. :)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Home Management: Bedtime

You arrive home a little later than you'd like from visiting your parents with the littles cranky and needing to get to bed. After a thorough search, one of them seems to have no clean pyjamas. The next one is melting down because she can't find her diaper cover (you only bought one for her because you keep hoping she'll outgrow night-wetting). The next one has lost her toothbrush. Ahhhhh! You know they need to be asleep now, but it will probably be 20 minutes before you can get everyone together! Does this resemble your home at some point? Or worse, does this resemble your home many nights?

This used to be the scenario in our family, but not anymore. We like our littles to get off to bed around seven o'clock but it is virtually impossible to do this if we aren't organized. In our home, bedtime preparation begins in the morning.

As part of the kids' morning routines, they pack their bedtime bags. I made each of them a bag using the 'simple tote' pattern in the book, Bend the Rules Sewing by Amy Karol. The pattern isn't important, though I do like this one because it has a little pocket on the inside that we keep toothbrushes/toothpaste in. If you are going to make this pattern, I'd suggest enlarging the bag just a hint. Any bag that can be hung on a hook or doorknob or a box or basket that can be kept under the bed will do just fine.

Each child includes the following things in her bedtime bag:
  • clean pyjamas
  • diaper and cover (if needed)
  • toothbrush
  • toothpaste (sometimes we've done everyone having her own tube, sometimes just one person keeps the tube for the family)
Then each bag is hung in their room on a hook dedicated to this purpose. Again, the exact place isn't important. What is important is having a clearly defined place for their bedtime stuff.

The great thing about doing this preparation early on is that it is clear in the morning if someone is out of clean pyjamas or has a missing toothbrush (though this almost never happens, now) and the problem can be dealt with long before evening. Now, when evening rolls around, we simply tell the littles, "Get your bedtime bags," and bedtime is a breeze.

How about you? How have you dealt with bedtime organization?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A perfect birthday season craft

Do you have a season where most or many of the birthdays are concentrated in your family? We do! Many of the birthdays in our family (immediate and extended) occur in September/October and December. Earlier this school year, we did a short unit study (Charlotte Mason style) on pioneers and the candle-dipping craft fit in perfectly. Since we were in the midst of our birthday season, we made our candles into birthday cake candles. They ended up being about 2 1/2" with a small diameter. I love their homemade look...and, of course, the fact that they are made of pure beeswax, so I won't be hearing about them on the evening news!

It couldn't be simpler. First of all, we got out our fondue pot. (We never use this particular pot because I don't think it is designed with large families in mind.) I filled it partway with water that I had brought to a boil in a kettle. Next, I placed chopped beeswax into a cleaned tomato paste can, adding more as it melted down. I used this size of can because it was about the length I wanted our candles to be and it had a fairly small diameter. If you use too big a container, you will have to melt tons of beeswax to bring the height up. I covered a table with paper and placed the pot in the centre.

Next, I took a length of wick, twice the size I wanted the candles to be, plus a bit to hang over our homemade lincoln logs. I dipped the wick on both ends one time, letting it drip back into the can. As it started to cool, I pulled it out tight to straighten it, so that the candle would end up straight. If you just let the kids start dipping, the wick will be all wonky. After it had a minute to cool, we were ready to go. I hung the double wicks over the lincoln log and gave them to the kids.

Now, you can see that for our 4yodd, the two candles are sticking together. We found out that for the littlest ones, it seems better to just tie one wick at a time on the lincoln log (or use a pencil) because they have trouble holding the stick straight so that the candles hang down and don't touch. Anyway, we walked around in a circle, each taking a turn to dip our candle(s) as we got to a certain spot. This works well because if you dip the candle before the last layer has had a chance to cool a little, it will just melt the previous layer. Also, it is important to just dip in and out quickly, not let the candle linger in the wax, otherwise the candle will also melt. Some people like to repeat a little poem as they walk around the table. You will need to top up the wax as it is used up to keep up the height inside the can. At the end, you will have leftover wax inside the can. You can leave this to cool and then melt it from the can next time you want to use it, or you can make a few poured candles, if you have any molds. (I made a few homemade molds out of aluminum foil.)

Here they are, hanging to harden up before being cut apart to be used. I think they are very cute and I love their handmade look. We have had a couple of opportunities to use them already and will have several more before the year is over.