Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Photo Journal of One Homeschooling Day

With my recent blog posts about the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling, I've had several questions from sweet Mamas who would like to implement this in their own homeschool.  Most of those questions were answered in some of the more recent blog posts or in private email.  One question I've heard in the past has been, "What if my child really likes textbooks?"  So I thought I'd address that here in case someone else is wondering the same thing…

If your child loves textbooks, then by all means, use them.  I think of it like food.  One of our daughters could eat rice and chicken every day of her life, but the rest of us see the many options for other foods.  Some people love rice cakes, while others would rather eat a cardboard box.  :)  Some people need gluten-free foods and are so excited when they find something gluten-free at Wal-mart, because finally something meets their needs.  Think of the CM method like that…  Some children (and mamas!) need something different than what is provided in textbooks.   If your child thrives with textbooks, then you have a wide array of choices at your fingertips (lots and lots and lots of textbooks out there).  But if you have a child who dreads his lessons, hates textbooks, cannot wait to be finished with "school" every day so that he can do what he really wants to do, then perhaps it's time to look into something other than the typical textbook.  It may be time to make some changes in their "diet."  Charlotte Mason spreads a feast of many morsels before the child, and learning indeed becomes truly enjoyable.

One sweet mama came by our home to get a glimpse of our materials and to get a feel for how to put it all together.  Sometimes it helps to have a visual.  In that vein of thought, I got my camera out one day and tried to capture as much of our day as possible so that you could perhaps see how it all flows together in real life.  

So, here's one of our days (Tuesday) in photos…

In our home, Mama has to get up before anyone else is stirring.  The very first thing I do is feed the kitties and put a load of laundry into the washer.  Then I find my comfy spot on the couch to read my Bible, write down what God is teaching me that day, pray and just have some quiet unhurried moments to get centered before my day begins.  This is where my well gets filled before pouring out all day.  

After my quiet time, I transfer the clothes from the washer to the dryer and then do one chore in whatever zone we are cleaning for that day.  On this particular day, I mopped the floors (something I like to do before there are children walking around).

 Then it's time to get breakfast.  I baked honey whole wheat blueberry muffins this day.

Someone said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  And I add to that: our breakfast reading time is BY FAR the most important learning of the day.  This is my gold mine of sorts…the real gems, the good stuff.  First, we read the Bible.  This school year we are studying the life of Jesus, so we are reading through the first 4 books of the New Testament a little at a time.  Second, we read a section in The Child's Story Bible.  We are in Genesis in that book.  Occasionally, there will be some interesting Bible facts to go along with the story we are reading (i.e how the Adam's apple got its name), so we will read those quick facts in the Awesome Book of Bible Facts.  And last, we read a chapter in a missionary biography.  THIS IS AN ABSOLUTE STAPLE!  We adore these biographies, and they have taught life skills, character traits, and a way of trusting God enough to truly submit your life to Him and His Kingdom work.  It really is a completely different way of thinking, and I cherish the morsels it has deposited into our hearts.

This is the missionary biography that we are reading now, and it is absolutely priceless.  And of course, the children all beg for just one more chapter!  They look forward to this every morning.

After our breakfast reading time, we clean up our mess, get teeth brushed, etc and then head downstairs to our homeschooling room.  Our 2 oldest children go downstairs before the rest of us so that they can work for 10 minutes on their Scripture memory.  Right now, they are memorizing the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5.  While they work on that, I throw in another load of laundry if there's another load waiting (or someone's sheets, etc).  I also get our youngest child dressed.

Then the 2 youngest children and I head downstairs to join the others.

Here's how I keep myself somewhat organized...  I have a taller chair where I can sit where everyone can see the books I'm reading.  I pull up a stool and place my current reading materials there so that I can access them.

The first thing we do is an audio/visual exercise.  Everyone loves this, even though it's just a simple test of their audio/visual skills.

This particular day was a Tuesday, so on our plate was Poetry.  We read 3 poems in this book, and then they narrated them back to me (telling me everything they remembered from the poems).  This is only 15 minutes, and they enjoy it.  Poetry is full of amazing flavors, especially when it's presented in such a way.

Next is Latin and Greek root words.  We are not looking to get our PhD in Latin or Greek here.  :)  We are just wanting a general exposure to many of the root words of the English language.  Our children view this as a detective sees clues.  They really do enjoy reading these cards and figuring out that photograph is writing a picture with light…because photo means light and graph means to write.  Intriguing!  We simply get out a Greek word and a Latin word and discover things together about those words.  Then they write them down in their notebooks.  Again, this is only 15 minutes, and the time just flies.  It's long enough to chew a morsel, savor it and then put the cards back until the next time it is presented (next Tuesday).

Then we move on to our read-aloud literature time.  This is when Mama reads, and they practice their listening skills.  As I read, I will stop and ask different children to tell me what I have just read (which is called narrating).  Younger children will narrate a paragraph, while older children narrate longer passages.

Two things to remember here:

1) When we read something that creates an emotional response in us, we remember it.  That is why a child who is not interested in the textbook presentation of the dates and facts of the Civil War will usually forget the information directly after spitting it back out onto a test.  But a child who reads a well-written, interesting biography or a historical fiction book about a character who is a soldier in the Civil War will remember.  Our children can carry on educated conversations with adults about complicated issues of the Civil War, only because they saw it through the eyes of a character.  They remember it, because they had an emotional response to it.  Hence, the term "living books."

2) Narrating is an amazing way for the child to take the information that they have just heard, retell it in their own words and therefore secure the information as their own.  It is highly effective and is a very gentle, interesting way of learning   Long lists of vocabulary words, fill-in-the-blanks, series of dates, and true and false questions simply do not cause retention of the information as well as narrating does.

The first thing we read in our read-aloud time is a book that is geared toward our youngest child.  She climbs on my lap to see the pictures while I read.  She LOVES this time every day, and the other children listen to the story too.  Sometimes we read the same book every day for one week (the "five-in-a-row" way of approaching it).

When I finish reading her book, she heads to her table to look at the book herself.  Often, we hear her pretending to read it.

Then, I read a book geared for the children who are a bit older.  We get book suggestions from Simply Charlotte Mason, and we are never disappointed in their selections.  We find that these books are delightful to all ages (including Mama).

After our read-aloud time, our oldest child begins her math on the computer while the rest of us head outdoors to stretch and exercise.

By the way, this left/right motion helps organize the brain

When we come indoors, I gather our water and snack to take downstairs to the homeschooling room.  I take cups, napkins/paper towels, a bowl filled with a mixture of goodies and a measuring cup to scoop it out.  I use a big cookie sheet to carry everything downstairs in one trip.  Every day we make the snack a bit different, so it's always fun for them to wonder what snack they will be having that day.  Sometimes one of the children will ask to put the snack together to surprise his/her siblings.

Then I reach for my Sonlight Curriculum guide so that we can get into our history time.

As I said in another blog post, Sonlight works very well with the CM style of homeschooling.  It provides an absolute ton of good literature that makes history come alive.  And, it's all laid out so that all a mama has to do is open the instructor's guide, pull out the books listed for the day's reading and off we go!  It tells us what to read on each particular day.  And the Sonlight core curriculum is very flexible and can be used for children younger than the recommended age and older than the recommended age...with very minor alterations.

We are currently reading Red Sails to Capri, a great book that is set in Italy.  We are so enjoying this one.  The children always wish I'd keep reading more and more chapters, but we usually read only what is on the Sonlight curriculum guide for that day.  This has served to give them a hunger for continuing the story the next day.  Learning really IS fun, and we all thoroughly enjoy almost every book we read.

Also noted in this day's curriculum guide were 2 pages in the Usborne Book of World History.  So, they gathered around me, and we looked at pictures and facts about nomads.

Meanwhile, our youngest is working on manipulatives while we read.

Next is math for 3 of our 4 children.  Our 5th grader does his math on the computer.

And the youngest 2 do their math with Mama.  We are doing Shiller math, and we LOVE it.  And I mean LOVE LOVE LOVE it!  Our youngest daughter, who has special needs and has struggled so much with getting simple concepts has had a great start with this new math program.  This week alone, she successfully identified 4 shapes, began to understand right and left, and (this was a major WOW moment for us!) wrote the number 1 with no trouble at all!  I love the simple way that Shiller math is laid out for the parent and how engaging it is for the children.  The set we bought covers pre-K all the way through 3rd grade, so it's a keeper!

 Meanwhile, our oldest is following her separate schedule at this point.  Here she is reading her literature…Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.  She chooses to read this upstairs on the couch, because downstairs in the homeschooling room during this time we are working on math with the youngest 2 children.  She prefers a quiet setting for her reading.

Later, I help our 2nd grader with his language arts.  This day, we were reading a poem about a pigeon.  I read it, and he narrated it to me.  He also answered some questions like, "What type of animal is described in this poem?" This is a very short and sweet lesson…enough to get some nice morsels and leave a desire for more the next time we do a language lesson.  The short lessons and huge variety of different lessons are really a JOY in the CM method!

I failed to get photos of several lessons during the day (with 4 children all working on something different!).  So forgive the gap in the photos for 2 time blocks…

After his typing lesson and his assigned reading (which right now is Riding the Pony Express), our 5th grader begins his Mandarin Chinese lesson on Rosetta Stone.

Meanwhile, the youngest 2 work on a dinosaur floor puzzle.

And our oldest finishes her day with biology.  She tells me that DNA is intriguing (without me asking her…which is a good thing for a child who really doesn't have a natural love of science).  :)

Okay, and just to keep it real…  This incident created an uproar of laughter and "Mama get the camera!!"  We make messes, have accidents, laugh when we should be reading, argue when we should be getting along, completely forget to water the newly planted seeds, and a host of other idiosyncrasies…and even poor Woody fell victim to the harsh realities of homeschooling!  :)  But as the children said, "At least he's still smiling!!"

After lessons are finished, I record everything in our planner.  I use lots of abbreviations so that I don't have to write the names of subjects and books every day.  

After the last lesson for the day, everyone cleans up their work space.  I put away everything I used during the day, as well as collect the snack things on the cookie sheet.  If I have things I need to do or look at later, I carry those up on the tray as well.  On this day, I needed to put together the sight words cards (which I will show later in this post).  I also took up our oldest child's book to see what types of writing assignments we need to do first this school year.  Would you believe she is actually requesting to write a research paper on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln?  After visiting Ford's Theater in D.C., she spent the last few weeks of her summer reading a good book about Lincoln (just for fun).  I tell you...when the information is presented in an interesting way, they are hungry for more!  I told her that yes she can do a research paper on that, and she made excited plans to go to a library in another town where she saw a whole shelf of Lincoln books.

One child helped me get lunch made, and he asked if we could play Whoonu during lunch.  We do this sort of thing about once a week, laying a game out on the table to play while we eat.

Lunch was served this day with chopsticks.

After lunch, we do chores.  We have always done chores in the morning after breakfast, so we are still getting used to doing them in the afternoon.  We clean in "zones."  Monday is the living room and dining room...Tuesday is the kitchen and pantry...Wednesday is the homeschool room and office...Thursday is bedrooms...and Friday is bathrooms.  Everyone has specific jobs in each room, and we all work together.  Each new school year, we switch jobs around so that everyone gets practice at different jobs.  This was a Tuesday, but we were doing Monday's chores due to missing them Monday for some reason.

Then Mama gets some necessary things done.  Doing dishes, putting fresh hummingbird nectar out in the feeder, folding laundry, etc.

Our oldest, who is the only one who misses exercise time in the morning, goes outside to exercise herself and our youngest dog (the latter of which needs very much to relieve lots of energy!).

One of the loads of laundry I did in the morning was the sheets that go on this bed.  So, in the afternoon, I make the bed.  Look at my sweet helper.  This is my kitty who follows me around all day like a puppy.  :)  Making beds is her specialty...with all the excitement of hiding under the layers as I put on the new sheets!

We spend time inside as well as outside.  Here, big brother helps the princess get settled on the porch swing.

Then inside she goes to build a train track.  On this day, the tracks came right through the kitchen!  Lovin' the fine motor skills practice here!

Our playwright disappears into the office to work on another play that she has been writing for months. This is big fun to her, and she has taught herself everything about writing plays.

On this day, the boys pretended to be on a trip to Minnesota (interesting, as we've never been there).  They brought their gear and camped in the yard.

This afternoon, I sat down to put these sight words onto the big rings.  We met a neurodevelopmentalist in the spring who showed us how children with Down Syndrome can read sight words quite well.  So, we bought these cards for her as well as our son who is not yet quite confident in his reading.  They love these cards.  And I do too.

I love how each card has 2 ways of presenting each word, especially for children who may need to see the word a particular way...

Then it's time to make dinner.

I hope this visual has been somewhat of a help to see how everything fits together when implementing the CM method into family life.  I always keep in mind that Charlotte Mason had an amazing educational approach, BUT she was not a mom.  She did not have to fit in the cooking and cleaning and changing diapers and the host of other things that moms have to do on a daily basis.  So, we take the cream of her teachings and mix them into our real life in a homeschooling context.  I can honestly say that we all truly enjoy it.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Using the Charlotte Mason Method in High School

We now have a high schooler in the house, and I absolutely hated the idea of switching to a typical textbook method for the high school years.  But the questions crept up: But what about transcripts for college?  What about figuring grade point averages when Charlotte Mason shied away from grades?

But, after researching this over the summer, I felt completely comfortable and excited about continuing our CM education throughout the high school years.  My daughter was very happy, because she truly does LOVE learning and wanted to continue this very rich "feast" that the CM method spreads before her every day.  Once you've tasted the feast of whole education, it is indeed very difficult to think of reducing your diet to fast food education.

Simply Charlotte Mason has a great article about how to homeschool through high school using the CM method.  That article is packed with good information.  There is plenty of other information available about how to create high school transcripts using the CM method.  One idea that I liked was to use 3 x 5 index cards to keep track of the number of hours that a student spends in each subject.  That way, when they spend hours researching Abraham Lincoln just for fun  :), those hours can be counted toward the high school U.S. History credit.  

Here's a quick run-down of how we've gone about beginning our high school journey…  Our daughter feels led to be a missionary of some sort.  She is not sure of the exact details, but she knows she wants to work on the mission field with children (perhaps orphans).  So, we basically are working backwards from that goal.  We contacted a missionary agency to ask them what they require of their candidates.  Then we looked at a variety of Bible colleges to determine a good degree plan for her.  Each college has their own list of requirements for high school graduates, so she narrowed her college choice down to one.  That way we have an idea of what their requirements are.  For example, some colleges require high school students to have 4 science credits on their transcripts; others require 2 or 3.  So, it's nice to know what a particular college wants.  

Then, we looked into state requirements for high school graduation to make sure that we'd be covered on that end too.  We hope to very soon be moving back to our home state of Texas, and so we looked at those requirements.  In Texas, home schools are considered private schools, and parents can determine their own graduation requirements.  So, for our situation, our goal for graduation requirements is based mainly on what the college requires. You may live in a state that has specific graduation requirements, so keep that in mind.

If our daughter ends up shifting direction, that's okay too.  Who knows…she may not even need a college degree for what God calls her to do (We are reading a book about a girl who went to Uganda to serve orphans, and she didn't have a college degree…so we never know what God is doing in our children's lives!  It is far better to let Him do the leading.).  Or, she may end up going to a different college than she has planned.  But, we believe that God will make those details clear in His time.  For now, we march forward with what He has made clear so far.  

If your child has no idea what he or she wants to do with their lives yet, don't fear.  You don't necessarily need to look at a college's requirements for graduation.  You can look at your state's requirements for high school graduates, and that should be a good guideline to determine how many credits in each subject are recommended. 

Here's something I purchased this year, and I do love it.  It's a planner for all 4 years of high school.  Instead of using it as a planner, we use it as a record of everything accomplished each day.  It will be very easy to go back later to determine the number of hours that she studied in each subject, simply by looking at this daily record.         

This planner includes information on figuring grade point averages, preparing transcripts, etc.

There's also a sample transcript included in the planner.

There are 4 sections…one for each year of high school, so everything will be in one spot when she finishes high school.  I love that.

Each year, we will write the titles of any curriculum that we use for that school year.  We are also putting together a portfolio with samples of her work in every subject for every grade.  We will make a photocopy of the front cover and the table of contents for each book she uses, and all that will go into her portfolio as well.

In the planner, there's also a place for keeping track of test scores.  In CM style, we don't test like typical textbooks do.  If you want to read about how Charlotte Mason tested her students at the end of each term, Simply Charlotte Mason has a good article (don't they always?!).  There are many ways to obtain grades and test scores in the CM method.  An interesting way to do this is by creating rubrics, and you can Google that or read about it here.

Here's the lesson plan block with all she accomplished on Monday.  Scores are circled (her math program and Rosetta Stone provide a % correct for each lesson, so we record those).  Charlotte Mason was against using grades for motivational purposes, and we very rarely have used grades at all.  Now that our oldest is in 9th grade, we see that even when she is graded on an assignment, she thinks very little of the numbers.  In other words, she does not memorize and spit out on a test just to get a grade.  She really loves learning and is motivated purely by her desire to learn.  The scores that happen to be provided really do not mean much to her.  On Monday's math, she commented that she had made simple math mistakes and wanted to redo some of the problems the next day.  That is reflected in the 86% on this sheet.  After she got 100% in Chinese, she commented that she still did not feel like she fully knows the language well enough to move on to the next lesson.  The 100% reflected the tones she spoke and not her true grasping of the language the way she wanted to understand it.  So, even though the number says 100%, she plans to spend more time on that lesson in order to feel certain that she knows it.  The grades simply don't mean much to her; instead, what matters more to her is whether she truly knows the information.  I believe this is due mainly to our CM method of education.

We have thoroughly enjoyed so much of what we've read and learned and experienced over the years, and we wanted to continue that vibrant way of learning throughout the high school years.  We didn't want to have to switch to tasteless textbooks and fill-in-the-blanks just so that we can churn out a transcript at graduation.  It has been most freeing to realize that the Charlotte Mason method is not only acceptable for transcripts but also really prepares college-bound students for the higher level of thinking required in college.  All those narrations (telling or writing what they have read) have indeed caused them to know how to assimilate information and how to think on a higher level than fill-in-the-blanks could ever do.

“Self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a child's nature.” 
― Charlotte M. Mason