Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Advent Homeschooling 1

I hesitated to type that 1, for fear that it might lead someone to presume that there will be, in sequence, an Advent 2, 3 & 4. In real life there will be, of course, and thank goodness. But don't expect any sequence here. See that "unschooly" in the blog description above? It means we don't do sequence so much.

What we are doing right now is Advent. What does "doing Advent" mean at my house? Well, this week it means the following:

1. business as usual, mostly. Epiphany is focusing on Latin, for her final exam next week, and on math while she has a tutor available to help her. Once the college term is over, at the end of next week, we'll devote the next week or so to biology, English, and history. She's also knitting up a storm and doing some drawing.

Amicus also has been concentrating on Latin -- Father wanted them to have Lessons VII and VIII in Latina Christiana 2 finished by Thursday -- and on math and independent reading for science and history. We're in Chapter 3 of From Sea to Shining Sea, but he's been more preoccupied with National Review (civics, history, government, culture) and with his new National Geographic. The politics of the former and the politics of the latter should more or less cancel each other out, should anyone be worrying that we don't offer our children a well-rounded worldview, or that Amicus's political views are anything but his own. He's also still working on his Redwall fan-fiction story-with-no-end, and I'm letting Latin, since he has needed to get a good bit done for class, stand in for English grammar this week, as he's covering more or less the same territory as the diagramming text. Later we'll go back and diagram similar sentences by way of reinforcement.

Helier and Crispina and I have continued to read The Hobbit and to do Miquon Math. I love Cuisenaire rods: it's so easy to illustrate simple addition using them. You put, say, the two rod and the three rod together, and then you find the rod which matches them in length, and hey presto: you've just seen, in concrete terms, what 2+3=5 means. So we run through maybe four problems a day, two for each child, and they take turns putting the rods together and writing the correct number in the answer box. Today we took a break from the rods, however, and played our way through about half the games in the Funbrain Math Arcade. See "unschooly," above.

2. Special Advent stuff. I've been using collects for Advent instead of the usual prayers at the end of Terce, Vespers and Compline, and I've replaced the hymns which always begin the office hours in my prayer book with an Advent hymn for us to learn. This week it's Hark, a Thrilling Voice Is Sounding. The lovely thing about learning hymns is that they count as poetry, too; in this case, we're imbibing the poetry of Edward Caswall, translating a 5th-century Latin text. We're also reading some Christmas stories using a book from my childhood: The Tall Book of Christmas.


This is my best-remembered childhood Christmas book, full of lovely and evocative stories from around the world. Today we read "Everywhere Christmas," which details many Advent feasts and traditions including St. Nicholas Day, the feast of Saint Lucia, and Las Posadas. I also remember with great fondness the stories of Babouscka, the Christmas Rose, and Granny Glittens who makes incredible edible mittens at Christmastime. There are also poems: today we read an old Czech carol, "The Birds." This book was first published in 1954; the stories and poems are charming and I guess what we'd call "multicultural," though they utterly lack the political overtones which usually accompany that term, perhaps because what they're about is not pluralism, but mutual rejoicing -- in both overtly religious and quasi-secular "folk" manifestations -- in the birth of Jesus. Highly recommended!

We've also begun "making our house fair" for the coming of our great Guest, cleaning and dusting and putting away our everyday clutter in preparation for festive decorations. And though we've already made one round of Christmas gifts, we'll be making many, many more as the weeks progress: artwork, cooking, needlework, etc. It's my favorite season of the liturgical year, the most beautiful, full-filled time to be learning with children.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My Dream Middle-School Language-Arts Program

We're doing it right now: Latina Christiana II (or some comparable Latin grammar course -- I'm not necessarily that in love with LC, though it's pretty good), plus sentence diagramming via Ye Hedge School's First Whole Book of Diagrams and Elementary Diagramming Worktext. I didn't plan things out this way, but the two courses dovetail beautifully, if serendipitously: this past week Amicus was simultaneously working on the accusative case in Latin and diagramming sentences with direct objects in the diagramming worktext, for reinforcement in both directions.

I've said it before, but I love diagramming. It's one of those things I didn't expect ever to do with my children, because I hadn't liked it or seen the point in it as a middle-school student myself, but we have found it both useful and fun. Just goes to show you that "I found/didn't find it interesting" is never a sound basis for a pedagogy. Even if a given child isn't wired analytically, as Amicus is, it's worth doing structural-language work at least as an exercise, because at some point one does have to admit that writing isn't merely an overflow of self-expression, but -- as William Carlos Williams says, of the poem -- "a large or small machine made of words." Latin helps to make this clear -- it's the Lego set of languages, with endings you pop on and off to connect ideas with each other in some kind of coherent fashion. English isn't so obviously that way, since we dropped the inflection business, but that's where diagramming is useful, so that you see how a given thought fits together and is coherent or not.

Add to that a lot of reading and, above and beyond the sentences you're asked to compose and diagram in FDWT, writing a lot of Redwall fan fiction, and there you have it, a program which encompasses all areas of English study and balances required seatwork (ie Latin and diagramming) with child-directed learning. Of course, if we hadn't stumbled into fan fiction, I'd be imposing some kind of composition program this year, but so far that's something I've never had to do. I thought I'd have to light a fire under Amicus to get him to write, but he apparently had his finger on that switch all the time, which is a great relief and will make formal writing instruction in high school that much easier.

Fridge Letters

I forgot to mention that we found a box of magnetic letters as we were unpacking, and this has formed the backbone of our language-arts program in the last week. Crispina can spend hours sitting on a stool in front of the fridge arranging letters and asking me what they spell ("QMPAGBDL," of course) and, increasingly, asking me how to spell actual words and taking dictation. Helier's gotten in on it, too, despite his antipathy to anything which might possibly, remotely, in some galaxy somewhere, be construed as educational. Just now, as I was drinking my morning coffee here in the study, he called me in to witness the word he had just created: "WOPIG." Like a Blogger verification-code word, it sounds plausible . . . I should ask him what he thinks it means.

Monday, November 24, 2008

I Am Running Out of Zippy Titles That Amount to "What We Did This Week." (and other late-breaking news)

No, really, this is going to be about what we've been doing, as soon as I can collect my wits and remember any of it.

Item #1: Amicus and books


We went to the library for story time two weeks ago, and I found a whole series of books, mostly set during the Revolutionary War, mostly in our very neighborhood (almost), so I checked them out for Amicus, and he's been reading them. The author is one Manly Wade Wellman -- you know, of course, that the more names somebody has, the more local an author they are, not that that's a bad thing. There's Alfred Leland Crabb, after all, who wrote all those Civil-War-Nashville novels, which are quite readable, even if the one about the building of the Parthenon offers a female love interest named "Neely Barrow," who says things like, "Are they really -- Ionic -- columns -- darling?" Anyway, Amicus has been reading away at Manly Wade Wellman and as a consequence knows more about the Battle of Kings Mountain than he formerly did.

I notice, by the way, in searching Amazon for Wellman's books, that in addition to a long series of local-historical novels, he also wrote lots of sci-fi, and possibly some quasi-occultish stuff, but the historical fiction seems straightforward enough.

At any rate, Amicus has read through that stack and is now reading


Item #2: Amicus and Latin

Our Latina Christiana II book arrived several weeks ago, so we've been playing catch-up on the lessons we missed. Fortunately Father's been in the Holy Land, so class didn't meet for two weeks, and we're now working, after skipping around quite a bit, on Lessons 7 and 8, which is where we should be. Amicus still seems to be suffering no ill effects from having missed all of LCI -- we're having to fill in gaps here and there, but the second year of this course seems to review the first year quite heavily.

Item #3: Amicus and Helier and Crispina and Scheduling


I think we're finally working out a rhythm we can live with, by which neither Amicus nor Helier and Crispina get too shortchanged. We all say prayers together in the morning, and then I send him to read -- usually either historical fiction or his history text, though today I just let him keep reading National Review (he calls it goofing off; I call it civics), while I either help Helier practice reading (this week: Green Eggs and Ham) or do Miquon Math or Anno's Math Games with both him and Crispina. Occasionally we'll do both. We follow that with a reward of read-aloud time, currently including both The Hobbit and another of my great favorites, Marguerite De Angeli's The Door in the Wall. It's such a beautiful book, and Helier especially was enchanted with it.

With the two of them I've also been doing an informal "circle time," with finger-rhymes and songs mostly taken from a book we got in a charity shop in England:

We only have the book in an older edition, not the CD, but these are great fun. Some of the rhymes are ones the older children learned in school in England. For people who really like to do circle time, this is a great resource; I do circle time, as it happens, because I have this book and like it.

So there you go. I finish all that with Helier and Crispina, not necessarily in that order, and then I turn to Amicus to work on sentence diagramming (1-2 days a week), science reading and narration (1 day a week), Latin (4 days a week) and math (4-5 days a week). He's just finished the chapter 5 test, on long division, so at last we can move on!

Item #4: Epiphany

It's hard to know what to say about Epiphany: she does her work, and that's that. She spends two long days at the college every week, attending her Latin class, working with a math tutor, and otherwise just getting her subjects done. The other three days she works at home, almost entirely on her own. Lately she's been knitting a lot while she listens to her history lectures: she's trying to get her knitwear business off the ground (again), so we spent quite a bit of time the other day trying to figure out sales tax issues-- file that under "economics," I guess. She's also been reading P.G. Wodehouse (The Small Bachelor, not a Jeeves and Wooster) in addition to all her English reading: Canterbury Tales and medieval mystery plays, currently.

Item #5: Dancing is Educational

One of the many wonderful things about our new parish is that it contains a family who are really, really, really into both folk dancing and historical re-enactment. The mother of this family (of five boys) teaches Irish step-dancing and calls folk dances, and every six weeks or so there's a dance at our parish, to which all ages are invited. This past weekend we had a Veterans' Day dance, with dances from every conflict ever waged on this continent, from the French and Indian War through Vietnam. We not only followed an historical timeline, but along that timeline we learned about the various cultures which had been a part of each era: French, English, Scottish, Irish, German, and so on. We did Irish reels, English contra dances, a Russian troika (can't remember what war that was supposed to go with -- maybe 1812, but not our 1812, obviously), a World-War-I era "rag," some swing dances, and a beautiful circle waltz. My kids, especially Epiphany and Amicus, adore these dance nights -- there are always lots of teenagers, and you can't just stand there and not dance. So we did not only some living history, but some dancing history, and a good time was had for sure.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tightwad 101

In our current economic climate, I'm sure we're far from the only people who have looked at what's been passing for their budget and acknowledged that particularly come the new year, reality is going to be a far tighter fit than whatever they'd been projecting. Just as I was arriving at precisely this epiphany, I opened a moving box -- somehow realizations and moving boxes seem to go together in my life -- and found a copy of The Tightwad Gazette, which a friend had thoughtfully given me last year sometime.

I sat down on the back porch, where all the book boxes are stacked, and started reading. Slash Your Food Budget in Half. Trim Your Energy Bill. Never Pay Full Price. &c.

Well, not only has all this been timely and useful information -- let me tell you about my new back-porch clothesline, for starters -- but it occurred to me that perfecting our own household tightwaddery could present all kinds of learning opportunities. And so it has. Only today, for example, I took Amicus, Helier and Crispina out comparison-shopping. Our challenge: find the cheapest milk in our town. Now, I have to admit that I quickly whittled down my ambitions: people were behaving fractiously, so we really only compared The Really Big Store That Sells Everything with Bi-Lo (there's one in a neighboring town that we refer to as Dri-Lo, but fortunately ours isn't: not that we're now buying wine, in our new tightwad life, but we CAN). We looked at gallons of nonfat milk first: $2.98 at TRBSTSE, $3.69 for the cheapest brand at Bi-Lo. I taught Helier and Crispina how to read prices; we also had a little lesson in greater than and less than. We also were glared at by a number of very stolid-looking elderly ladies in TRBSTSE, so we didn't linger.

We've also been looking at various brands of powdered milk, which is recommended as a means of stretching one's milk purchases. You use half a unit of regular milk mixed with half a unit of powdered-milk and water for baking, sauces, and, if you can persuade your family to stomach it, drinking. So I wanted to cost out how much, per cup, all these brands of milk cost. Fortunately Amicus has been doing a lot of long division, so I set us a division challenge: Cost That Milk.

And, um, there's clearly something I can't get my head around, because the powdered-milk option doesn't seem cheaper to me. If I can buy a gallon of milk for $2.98, which translates to roughly $.18 a cup (a measuring-cup cup, that is, not a drinking cup), why do I want powdered milk which -- at least, the brands I looked at -- comes to more like $.22 a cup? Even doing the half-and-half method, you end up saving only about 2 cents a cup. Granted, that adds up; still, Amicus and I didn't think that that seemed worth the bother of mixing the powdered milk, or worth the taste, either. The only thing either of us could come up with was that you wouldn't go to the grocery store as often, because your milk would last longer -- it evaporates straight out of the jug here, so I can appreciate the value of not constantly running out of it -- but otherwise, we're still scratching our heads.

On the whole, though, we're having a good time making a family project of frugality. That's not to say that we were all that extravagant to begin with: if I have to, I'll buy clothes from thrift stores, but I'd much rather have them given to me. There are whole categories of consumer goods which we just don't buy: makeup comes to mind, as do CDs, DVDs, furniture and home decor, and commercial toys (mostly). Still, especially in the areas of food and energy use and all-around waste, we can use more discipline than we've habitually exercised. It's providential that I unearthed this book in November, in time for us all to start making Christmas gifts. We've thought our Christmas budget was modest before, but this year . . .

So out of this book we'll get some habit-training, some budgeting skills (Tightwad Gazette is on the list of texts for Home Economics in CHC's High School of Your Dreams), some math practice, some arts-and-crafts projects, some cooking (which necessarily involves a measure of both math and science as well as creativity), and some values education: at the heart of all budgeting lies the question of what really matters to you.

Today also, in the spirit of frugality, Amicus and Helier hiked up to the bookstore with a load of Star Wars novels to trade, and came home with roughly $3.17 in store credit, as well as a burning desire to find more books to trade, so that they can rack up more credit. Amicus said something remarkable, I thought -- okay, I think that a lot of what he says is remarkable, but this really was, in a larger philosophical way. As he was meditating on the possibility of taking these books in to trade, he remarked that he thought he'd outgrown them. At one time he'd loved them, and he'd collected quite a pile of them, and I had sighed and looked the other way, because I think they're utter twaddle, but I couldn't bring myself to say, "Don't read those books." Instead, I banked on its being a phase from which he would eventually move on. And wah-lah, if it hasn't happened, and the reason it happened is that a friend turned him on to Redwall: better written, better characters, far higher literary worth. Having read the entire Redwall series, Amicus now finds that he really has no use for Star Wars -- not the novels, at any rate. All this eases my mind no end on the subject of twaddle. We don't, in fact, have a lot of that kind of thing lying around -- I don't have any patience with bad prose, so I don't tend to encourage its sojourn in my house, but children do go through these stages where all they want to read is X. Part of me hears the ghost of Charlotte Mason whispering that their brains will rot if I let them read X; the other part of me thinks that perhaps eventually they'll tire of brain rot, without my having to say a word on the subject. And then they'll have some idea, when looking at a shelf of books for sale, what's worth spending their $3.17 on.

Other doings:

Helier's reading has made a giant leap forward lately -- the other day I was in the bookstore using up my credit to buy birthday gifts for Amicus, and I saw a big Dick and Jane treasury which, since I had the credit, I bought as kind of a gamble. Somebody would read it, I figured, and if they didn't, I could always trade it back in. I brought it home, Helier picked it up, and the next thing I knew, he was doubled over with laughter. I'd never especially thought of Dick and Jane as funny, except as something to parody, but the little situations are sort of sweetly slapstick. We sat down together to read it, and he wanted to keep going, and keep going, and keep going.

Yesterday we were walking to the polling place to vote, and Helier wanted to take the book with him. We stopped in at the political party headquarters up the street from our house, so that Aelred could pick up some information, and Helier read an entire story -- "Go, Go, Go," I think it was called -- to a lady coming out the door with her arms full of campaign signs, who happened to ask him whether he was happy to be "off school" that day.

Still doing Anno's Math Games with Helier and Crispina. We're also reading More Milly-Molly-Mandy aloud.

These are sweet, simple, small-child stories about a little girl in an English village in the 1920s. The language sometimes strikes me as over-sweet -- Milly-Molly-Mandy's best friend is always referred to not as "Susan" but as "little-friend-Susan" -- but the plots all involve the kinds of innocent scrapes children get into, which particularly in a culture with a narrative diet of superheroes and Dora the Explorer we don't always think of as adventures. So maybe these stories provide a kind of boredom antidote.

As I write this, Amicus is reading The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War, for something to do while he waits for the new Redwall book, which we ordered for his birthday, to appear on the doorstep. He's also been rereading Cheaper By the Dozen and reading Mark Twain's Roughing It.

Epiphany's been busily studying for her Latin midterm, which happened today, and reading Wuthering Heights. She's also working away at her new biology coloring book -- hooray for coloring books! and the various pages call to mind some lab experiments we might do, like testing our blood type -- and meeting with a math professor at the college for some tutoring. AND she's reading Canterbury Tales for English. I had the online class read the Prologue, and I assigned them each a couple of characters to "introduce" to the yahoo group, as well as summarizing the plot as it's laid out in the Prologue. She has not been un-busy . . . but I imagine we'll get in some tightwad home ec this term as well.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mountains, Miquon, Math Games, and . . . uh . . . Some Essay-Writing and Stuff

Otherwise I would have titled this post "A Look Back at the Week," or something exciting like that. I ought to go back and count how many of my posts on this blog have titles which include the word "notes" . . . Of course, now, judging from my last post over at Fine Old Famly, the word of the week is "stuff." Cause that's what we do lots of.

So, what did we do? Sunday and Monday were spent in the mountains, visiting Country Workshops -- see also here. There we did lots of running up and down trails and through woods; also we spent lots of time in a completely handmade house (visit that second link to check out the hand-carved wooden door latches), with acres of organic gardens and chickens. The children got to watch artists at work -- namely my woodworker brother and his painter wife -- and investigate the big woodworking studio at the farmstead. We hiked down to the original 1920s house on the 11-acre property and saw some old tools, a stove, sewing machine, etc. We learned what table scraps chickens will and won't eat, and why a woodstove burns fuel more efficiently than an open fireplace. Plus we nourished our souls with beauty, both natural and human-crafted.

The rest of the week: back to the usual routine. On Wednesday the three youngers and I went to the library for story time, while Epiphany went to campus for Latin. She was also busy with her Beowulf essay, which she finally finished today. She also, incidentally, hit the wall with the Barrons biology book, so I've bought her a biology coloring book to try and make things a little plainer. That should be here by early next week, and I think it'll make for an improvement. There's something about coloring that helps her process things -- she's learned a lot of anatomy via her Dover anatomy coloring book, and I know it's going in, because she comes and tells me about it. It's when she's silent about a subject that I start to worry. No news is not good news. We're also lining up a tutor at the college to get her out of her current mathematical quagmire.

Meanwhile, the others:

Amicus -- The rest of our schoolbooks, which have been in storage since last spring, arrived this week, and I've been busy unpacking them. This has meant that at last Amicus can start reading From Sea to Shining Sea, the American history text from the Catholic Textbooks Project, to provide some spine for the novels he's been reading. He actually prefers it to the latest novel I'd given him, Naca: the White Deer.

I love this author, but the book simply hasn't grabbed him. We might try it as a read-aloud, but for now he's genuinely enjoying ingesting straight information via the history text, which is quite well-written and vivid as textbooks go -- it's enough of a living book, despite its textbook appearance, that the Mater Amabilis online curriculum recommends it for American history at the late-elementary/early middle-school level.


Otherwise, he's plowing through more long division, with double-digit divisors this week, diagramming sentences with direct objects and dealing with simple and complete subjects and predicates, and -- not very happily -- doing chemistry copywork. I think next week I'll have him narrate in writing, rather than copy, information about the next element, and include it in his binder with his drawings of atoms and molecules.

And he's reading lots of Redwall, as usual, and writing fan fiction.

Helier and Crispina -- This has been a math week for the two of them. We've used the Miquon Orange Book

to work on addition facts with Cuisenaire rods. I love rods -- once you know what numbers they represent, it's so easy to demonstrate how these basic operations work. This week we simply worked on adding one to numbers from one to nine, and also on the various ways to make four and five. With Helier I followed up by beginning to teach him how to use a Learning Wrap-Up to practice addition facts.

We also checked Anno's Math Games out of the library and have been having great fun with it. So far we've done a chapter whose basic theme is categorizing -- identifying which item in a series is unlike the others and discussing what the criteria for categorization are -- and a chapter on "putting things together," which essentially teaches chart reading. All that sounds a little dull, maybe, but the pictures and puzzles are clever and funny, and both Helier and Crispina are enjoying the book.


Meanwhile, we've been doing lots of reading: continuing Rosemary Sutcliff's The Sword and the Circle, as well as reading picture books from the library, including Robert Lawson's beautiful They Were Strong and Good, the story of his grandparents and parents and their lives in the 19th century.



All of us went to the Latin Mass this week, which was followed by the Latin class which Amicus is taking. We've read Great Moments in Catholic History, talked about what saints everyone wants to be for the parish All Saints party, prayed various hours of the Daily Office, done lots of coloring and drawing (Crispina), lego-building (the boys), conversing, cooking and cleaning (everyone) . . .

It's been a week.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Morning Notes

Aelred's van is still in the shop, so he took mine to work this morning. He also took Epiphany, who has Latin class today. Her professor has tracked the class into sections of better- and less-prepared students and given each "track" a day off: instead of Monday/Wednesday/Friday, Epiphany -- who I think is in the more-prepared group, thanks to Fr. Victor and Henle last year -- now goes to the college only on Wednesdays and Fridays, which gives her a bit of a break and makes the long days in the library a little more palatable. She does get a fair amount of work done in that setting -- it helps her to be away from home, with all home's distractions (though to be entirely truthful, I fear that Facebook, to which she has access on the college computers, provides a substantial distraction at times). Still, she's written an outline and a rough draft for her Beowulf paper this week, done a good amount of math and biology, and read her history, so I can't complain. I meant to suggest to her today that if she got tired of the library, she might go over to the beautiful and recently-completed Adoration chapel on the campus, and spend some time with the Lord. Adoration would be a good thing to work on -- good for her soul, and we can count it as religion class, too . . . Aelred and I will have to pull together some readings for her to take with her. This could be a very good thing, now that I mull it over.

Here at home, we're carless, and it's raining, so we may or may not carry through on our plan to walk to the library later on. So far today I've done more Miquon Math with Helier and Crispina -- we concentrated on the many ways of making 4 (4+0, 3+1, 1+3, 2+2) using the rods and practicing writing the numbers in the answers, while Amicus began work on a chemistry notebook, going back and drawing the atoms for the elements in the first Latitude. Another day we'll carry on with the copywork we began the other day -- I won't make him go back and copy ALL the entries for ALL the elements, because he'd be sure to see that as cruel and unnecessary punishment. Now he's reading Malory's Morte D'Arthur in a prose translation.

He picked it up off the porch, where I'd been reading it. We had a very Arthurian weekend with a friend who had brought along Tennyson's Idylls of the King to read to me, so the legends are very much in my mind. After math this morning I began to read aloud to Helier and Crispina, who were busy coloring and putting pages of art in binders, from Rosemary Sutcliff's The Sword and the Circle, which is a beautifully-wrought retelling of the legends managing to keep both the sense of the primal Celtic origins of the legends and the medieval chivalric overlay created by Malory and others. It's not really a little-children's book, and I have edited and abridged here and there as I've been reading, but it is very well-told, as all Sutcliff's stories are, and what's in the legends as she tells them is pretty much in any telling which isn't utterly bowdlerized and sugar-coated. You can't get around Uther and Igraine, for example -- though we did spend some time talking about David, Bathsheba and Uriah, and the way that God both levies consequences for sin and exacts penance, AND turns human evil to His own purposes (ie raising up a king like Solomon in the wake of David's sin). If you think you can't have conversations like this with kindergarteners, well . . . I dunno. I kind of think you have to. Anyway, the story is compelling, and it's in a very great sense a foundational epic for Western culture, in the vein of the Iliad, and I think that one can't begin internalizing the great stories too early, or thinking about the ways in which they point to the Truth.

So we did all that. In a while, Amicus is going to pick up with the chapter test on division which he's been doing in the MCP book, while Helier and Crispina and I are going to make gingerbread. They want to make men, but I'm going to make some hearts, too, for Saint Margaret Mary on her traditional feast day. Meanwhile, Crispina's playing with Moon Sand on the porch, and Helier's building with Legos upstairs. If the rain stops, we'll walk to the library -- otherwise, I'm not sure what we'll do to occupy the day. Read some more Arthur, possibly . . .

Oh, and I've been trying to pray an abridged and edited form of the Office, as found in this prayer book --

Helier and Crispina joined me voluntarily for Lauds this morning, and we prayed Terce at the beginning of our schoolday; I imagine we'll say Sext, with the Angelus, at noon. So we really are playing home monastery today . . . somehow I think that meshes with reading about Arthur, though I'm not sure at this moment that I can articulate exactly how.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

More Good Stuff in Our World

Miquon Math: Last year I bought the Orange Book for Helier and Crispina and didn't use it. I hadn't bought the Annotated Lab Sheets, which understand that you really need (though I still don't have them), and the book sat on the shelf all year. This year, however, I've pulled it out, with the Cuisenaire Rods, and decided just to look at what's on the pages and wing it.

So today Helier and Crispina and I had math lab. We did a lot of counting, and then we worked with the rods, first to determine what number each kind of rod stands for (little white square is one, red is two, lime green is three, and so on). Then we did some simple addition with them, seeing how many ways we could come up with 4, 5, and 6. Crispina, who loves puzzles, was enchanted; Helier less so. Still, it was a good way to spend 15 minutes.

Another good buy from the used bookstore:

It's a math book (counting)! It's a science book (more fascinating info about bugs than you thought possible in a quick-read book)! It's beautiful (seriously. You should see these illustrations)! It even has a secret alphabet-related puzzle (sshh -- you have to get the book to see what it is)! We've had a great time reading this book this week, covering lots of kindergarten basics while we read.

Epiphany's Recommendation of the Week:

She was grousing earlier in the semester about having to translate Ovid and Aesop's Fables in Latin class, but she came home the other day raving about these. I'm not sure exactly which book they're using, as I believe her professor's just pulling stories from it to have the students translate. But she volunteered that these are seriously fun and make Latin good.

The Amicus Recommendation of the Week:

Dibbuns Against Bedtime

If you or someone in your house reads the Redwall books by Brian Jacques, then you will know what this is about. It seems to be a carefully-moderated fan site, though I'm honestly going more on Amicus's word than on my own meticulous investigation. I do recall vaguely that they seemed to need several layers of approval from me, and lots of vouchsafing that he was a child and not someone pretending to be a child for nefarious purposes, before he could join. The reason that this is a Good Thing in Our World this week is that Amicus has been making enthusiastic use of the "fan fiction" part of the site, and is writing a long Redwall-inspired narrative which, like Jane Austen, he hides away whenever I come into the room. I have caught a quick glimpse of it, and he's doing well. At any rate, I feel comfortable letting this exercise stand in for whatever I might have done in the way of "composition" for the moment.

Everyone in the house has now read Rascal. No, we will not be getting a pet raccoon. Not no how, not no time. But it's a great book, and I love seeing the various ages pass it around and talk about it. It's hard to imagine another context in contemporary culture in which a 14-year-old and a 4-year-old could be talking about the same book, which they both were reading and loving -- at the same time, as they both were reading it (or in the case of the 4-year-old, having it read aloud). The beauty of homeschooling, all over again.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Another Monday Morning: Chemistry and Copywork

Just as I like open-ended toys -- in other words, toys which let the child decide how to play with them, rather than dictating to the child how to play -- so I also, increasingly, like open-ended curriculum resources. Now that I think of it, I don't know why I said, "increasingly," because it's not as though I've ever used any other kind. But the longer I homeschool, the more I appreciate books and resources which offer themselves to be used in flexible ways.

Resources from Ye Hedge School fall into this category. I've never used their Universe in My Hands science program, which people seem either to love or -- well, not hate, but be flummoxed by -- but we did buy their Chemistry 101: Introducing the Periodic Kingdom to Its Heirs book and chart this year for Amicus, and I'm finding it to be a wonderfully flexible foundation for a growing literacy in chemistry (I say this, incidentally, as an almost total non-scientist).

It is one of those books I guess you'd wonder what to "do" with: there's no workbook, just a text with a little illustrated entry for each element on the Periodic Table, plus a chart which you can laminate and write on, to map where the elements go. I'm still figuring out things to do with it all; so far Amicus is working with the book, with the idea that we'll read through and learn about the elements, then go back and map them and learn more about them on the second pass.

What we're doing with that idea right now: chemistry copywork. Amicus has always struggled with handwriting and other fine-motor skills, though that's all improved greatly in the last year or so. Still, he's always benefited from copywork, and today it came to me that we could integrate that language-arts discipline with science. So he's working on copying the information about rhodium right now. I can have him draw the molecule, too. It's not that he loves copying so much, but aside from the benefits, which we've already seen, in terms of mechanical facility and the internalization of well-written English (I'd never have him copy from something twaddly or poorly-written), writing something down does help to imprint the information on the brain.

What we still need to do: invest in an experiment book and/or a chemistry set, so that he can play around with at least some of the more harmless elements. But I figure that the play will be that much more informed if he's got some schemata knocking around in his head. Of course, it could have happened the other way -- he could have played around with chemistry and had the play form schemata for the hard factual info. It just happens that we bought the book first.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Unschooling Catholics

Thanks so much to Leonie and others for starting this resource blog for Catholics who tend towards the less-structured end of the homeschooling spectrum. I look forward to visiting often.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Me Online at First Things

At long last, that review I've been talking about writing, about Gregory and Martine Millman's Home Schooling: A Family's Journey.