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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Value of Home Base

With life's constant change and flux and a pulling desire to balance between school work/habits and outside opportunities to see friends & get out of the house, how do you set boundaries? How many activities do you fit in each week, while also managing the full AO curriculum?!
~Anonymous Ambler

Dear Fellow Ambler,
I used to be a very able multi-tasker but I've never been able to figure out how to be out running around all day most days and still get school done! ;) Your question made me think back to when I had a very real struggle with my own priorities and my role as teacher. What follows may or may not apply to your situation, it's just what came to mind as a result of your thoughts and questions. :)

While my kids were still pretty small, I had to come to the painful realization that if we didn't commit several hours (the same time every day) to only do school, we were rarely able to accomplish everything we wanted to do (either the basics or the extras were left behind - this left us always trying to 'catch up'). Before that time, we often spent our school hours in the car, outside, sometimes we took our work on vacation, but this mobile kind of school was always when the kids were pretty young and only for short interim periods. I only had two boys in AOy1&2 in those days, and their schedule was way less demanding. I liked to be going, going, yet still, I found it exhausting! (I am still all for carefully selected outings and/or activities... but when they begin to pull the focus away from family and home life... well, that's another thing)

However, for school, I've found that the commitment of certain limited hours out of every day is a bare minimum at best. If that was all we ever did, it would not be enough to accomplish an education truly based on CM philosophy. A CM education is truly MUCH more. More delightful, more fulfilling, more comprehensive than a couple of hours a day officially 'doing school' could encompass.
Education is a life.

Time is the prime ingredient to a non-rushed, delightful education. The child needs time to be absorbed in nature, to think, to create, to be... This will not happen when rushed around from place to place. And I will risk much to say, I don't think it can happen often even at HOME with a mom always with her own agenda rushing around in the background!

This is a difficult thing. I am not speaking to anyone in particular other than myself. I have a tendency to try to do WAY too many things at once. I used to think I could get lots of other things done while my kids did school. Not true. It is NOT a waste of time to commit all of my attention to my kids while doing certain hours of school (much of which will be spent in 'masterly inactivity')... there will undoubtedly be things that come up for our kids, that if we're doing 'other things', their questions will seem an interruption to our lives. If we make ourselves fully available to them, WE will be less frustrated and THEY will be able to learn in peace and confidence before moving on to other activities.

As for which outside activities we choose, we don't have a hard fast rule.
Here's some things we consider:
  • When we feel tired, overwhelmed and harried... often it's because we're trying to do too much. I've found it's easier to add one thing in at a time than to have taken on too much and then to decide where to cut back.
  • We like doing as many things together as a family as possible, this automatically rules out lots of activities. One idea that I've had is to organize a youth soccer night at our house, all of us could be involved in some way with that... we shall see once we get our yard in working order.
  • Many times 'school-related' activities can be made into fun family activities to which we can invite other families or friends too, ie., nature walks, concerts, art museums, historical reenactments, etc. We usually slot this type of thing in once a week at most, in an afternoon.
  • For the things we do as individuals, we have it a little bit simpler here in Peru, as the options are more limited (which I consider a HUGE blessing on the one hand, and extremely frustrating on the other). I have this loose idea that one lesson a week per child would suffice whether that be musical or sport-related. With five, that adds up to something every weekday! Since we've just moved back to the jungle, I have yet to find opportunities for everyone's selected activity (or a substitute). We're currently only integrating one guitar lesson a week. We're still looking for drum, ballet and art lessons. The ideal would be that they would all be scheduled during the same time slot on one of two afternoon/evenings each week.
  • If the lesson/activity can't be scheduled in the afternoon, it's next to impossible logistically. One term we had swimming lessons in the morning - but we had the first hour @8am, and all the kids went, so we started school a little later on those days.  
  • Activities that are scheduled too late at night on a school night, pretty much get nixed (at least for me and my littlest). This is a personal issue as I am NOT a morning person, and if I'm wiped out it throws our whole day off. Here in Peru as many meetings/gatherings begin after 8pm. As missionaries, this takes wisdom to figure out. I do have to make some exceptions in this point. 
Overall, after years of trying different things, I personally have found I like being home best.
I'm less hurried and life is simpler. Considering our family the primary unit and home the starting place, we can easily then branch out into areas of ministry and of interest as the Lord leads.

I read this, this morning from Sally Clarkson and my heart sang...
"If a woman chooses to stay at home with her children, she has the opportunity of nursing her baby in the peacefulness of her own home, caressing her precious little one, singing sweet lullabies to comfort and please the child's deepest emotional desires. She can offer them the restfulness of long quiet naps in their own bedrooms. She has time to enrich the home environment with beautiful sights and smells- from the aromas of homemade soup bubbling on the stove to the beautiful pictures in books- and arrange outings that foster budding intellects and awaken curiosity. And she has the flexibility to change her schedule to respond to teachable moments - those times when children's natural curiosity leads them to question and learn."
The Undivided Heart (ch3), Mission of Motherhood, Sally Clarkson

Monday, May 21, 2012

Nature Study on Monday: Watercolor for the faint of heart

Today is Monday.

How convenient then that this guy scurried into our lives today... on Nature Study Monday. Woohoo!
See below for a helpful tip on how to incorporate watercolor in the nature journals a non-intimidating way.

Helpful Tips:

Has the following ever happened to you?
After spending time carefully looking at some amazing piece of Creation and after what seemed hours of painstaking concentration and sketching then erasing then sketching again, you've got a product that you're really quite satisfied with. No, you have a sketch that you love... and then you try to paint it... uh, well, let's just say, unfortunately you quickly fall out of love with your now warped, run-on colored, very wet sketch that is in your BOOK (the non-ripped out pages are slowly dwindling).

Has this ever happened to you? Well, it has happened in our house. More than once.
So, here's what I did today...

  • Scan a copy of the pencil sketch from the nature journal. 
  • Use a photo editing program to darken the lines by adjusting the contrast (picasa is free!). 
  • Print a copy or two to practice using watercolors on, so as not to "wreck" the sketch! :) 
  • Paste the printed off colored version into the nature journal, or use simply use it as a practice, getting your feet brush wet, before watercoloring in the original. :)
Though everyone does their own sketches in their own journals, afterwards, I let my littles choose if they'd like a practice in watercoloring one of my scanned sketches (they normally use a mix of pencils, colored pencils and dry brush in their own journals depending on the subject). I offered to scan/print copies of the older boys' sketches if they were a little nervous about altering theirs as well.

Attention to detail, trying to replicate the color/size EXACTLY is a super great exercise that comes from nature journaling. The littles may not have patience to dry brush their own sketches (and subsequently destroy them). After they've finished coloring their own sketches in their nature journals with colored pencil, or if they'd rather use water color and not mess up their books, I feel it's a valid exercise for them to occasionally "watercolor" a copy. I imagine that one could potentially use the Dover coloring books in this same way. :)

Would you like to join me? I'd love it if you did! Just grab the image above, post it in your post and then link up here in the comments. :)

Also linking up here:

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Current Events: On the go

Once upon a time, I was starting this really cool (and time consuming) custom of posting links to online articles written about current events in history both for my AOy7 boys (and anyone else who cared to share). Since over the last insanely busy weeks (months?), I've not had time to choose articles for the "This Week in History" feature, I've reverted to using a VERY easy option for kindling ideas for entries in the boys' journals. I've recently subscribed to World Magazine Podcasts; this is not quite the same as 'reading' the newspaper or news magazine, but very much more convenient. 

Basically, the podcasts are the radio blurbs World magazine broadcasts - summaries of what's going on in the world. Ideally, these would work to simply spark an interest in something and on their own initiative they could look up an article to expand their knowledge on the subject. Until things settle down, I'm just happy that the boys listened to the weekly hour long podcast and are now writing in their journals about whichever news item struck their fancy.

World Magazine Podcasts

There are two features: The daily radio blurb, "This is News" from World Magazine and the weekly hour long program "The World and Everything in It" which covers news as well as a little bit of everything else, as the name suggests. :) The lastest episode had a literature theme for example and discussed the anniversary of C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters (I did skip over some brief spots re: movies and books - gotta love that feature as opposed to listening to live radio! All things were handled appropriately, but I had my smaller kids nearby as well).

Click the links above to subscribe via rss on the World magazine website or subscribe via itunes.

Helpful Links:
Current Events: What we do
Fisher Academy Current Events posts
Current Events page @

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Spanish: Q&A

Rosetta Stone is out of my price range and I need a program that we can get started on in a few weeks when we start Year 8. Suggestions?
~Ambler {technical term for an anonymous AO user}

Dear Ambler,
First of all, I'm going through a revolution in my foreign language learning/teaching understanding. Previously I would probably have recommended both resources you have already nixed (Rosetta Stone seems to be the most comprehensive, customizable and highest quality - which aspects are definitely reflected in the price!). The BEST option would be to meet some Spanish speakers and get involved in their lives... :) but, as this is not going to be something you can check off a list or get credit for... :) A ready-made curriculum is better for those who maybe wouldn't otherwise be able to incorporate a foreign language because of time constraints or interest level or what have you. As far as I know, Rosetta Stone remains the best in its category.

However, I am more recently again becoming a big proponent of each family putting together their own custom-made studies based on real life Spanish experiences when possible and otherwise on free resources available online (and the library when available!). I know that in your case, you may not have time to work out your own curriculum, and that's okay. There are a lot of free curricula online (see links below). Based on my study, learning audibly first, then speaking, before integrating reading and writing IS the best way and so if one has time and willingness, a custom-made plan might just be better... (see my post here for the beginnings of my research). I plan to continue my research in this area and hopefully someday have some resources of my own to share. :)

Some AO users have expressed the concern that in their experience some colleges won't accept 'Homeschool Spanish' at the high school level, this could be addressed by taking community college courses, or better yet, testing out of them!

Here are the best links I've found for higher level Spanish (or been directed to by a trustworthy source):

Helpful Links:

How to Learn Spanish online for free  (a webtour) - this webtour lists just about every online Spanish resource I've ever heard of and that one could possibly want... seriously, it's worth the 9min. to watch
BBC Languages: Spanish

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Latin: What we do

Latin is a subject we do together. :)
We like learning together. 

Normally, one would begin Latin studies around Ambleside Online's Year 4. However, we didn't officially begin until AOy6 (for several reasons which I explain in another post). Up until recently, we've gone weekly through 1-3 lessons (per 20min sitting) in Getting Started with Latin (GSWL). After lesson 20 or so, we watched Visual Latin's (VL) Intro videos (free online). Honestly, VL's Dwane really brought life and meaning to our studies; the boys suddenly really WANTED to learn Latin. They like this guy who knows more than just one language and obviously finds Latin fun. I was seriously tempted to switch right away, but in the end, I think I'm glad to carry on through the end of GSWL and use the VL as an encouraging boost throughout. Once we're finished with GSWL, I'll probably use VL in conjunction with Lingua Latina (the teaching guide for using these together is free online here).

Here's what our weekly Latin lessons looked like:
1) I show the kids the new vocabulary word at the top of the page and they try to guess at its meaning. Having a good knowledge of Spanish already, this is usually a no-brainer for them. Other times, the word is new, we make a mental note of it and then get right to work using it in context of other ideas (the practice sentences).

2) I read the lesson aloud and then we alternate reading and translating with the given practice sentences like this:

3) I read the sentence aloud, Cullen reads the sentence aloud, Javen translates the sentence.

Spectat lunam. He looks at the stars.

4) Then we switch. I read aloud, Javen reads aloud, and Cullen translates.

Nauta stellas spectat.

Currently, we're doing Latin almost daily. I was noticing that we were having to spend too much time reviewing each week. Converting to shorter daily lessons should help to keep it fresh (and finish with this book sooner). This is recommended for all language study! Frequent short lessons are better than less frequent long lessons... this might just hold true for many areas of study!! :)

So for us, Latin's been relatively painless! It took some getting used to in the beginning, referring back often to the pronunciation guide in the back of the book (or one could listen to the free audio commentary provided by the author online here - my boys said this is BORING to listen to. I agree, but I think for some, teachers especially, it is probably really helpful).

Javen has started keeping his own notes of words he especially wants to remember. I like that initiative; paying careful attention does a good job of making an impression on the memory and then using the words often helps too. Eventually, if we continue deeper, a Latin notebook is definitely required as a REALLY helpful tool for keeping exercises and favorite passages in.

After lesson 60 or so, we watched Visual Latin's Lesson 1: Being Verbs (available for free online). This was awesome fun for the kids because they already were very familiar with many of the words Dwane uses, and yet they learned several words that they'd been really wanting to know (Getting Started with Latin introduces new words VERY slowly). I'll have them do the free worksheet on the day following that of watching the video.

So that 'bout sums it up. Both kids say they like Latin; personally I think they're rather proud of the fact that they are learning it. I certainly am proud of them for both learning and liking it!

Helpful links:

My kids tolerate this book:
Getting Started with Latin w/ free Audio files

An Extension of the above book:
Linney's Latin Class w/ free Lectures online based on the following classic book (available for free online): Latin for the first year

My kids ENJOY this:
Visual Latin. Try it here: 6 FREE Visual Latin Lessons!
The author recommends: Latin audio found here.
When/if I buy Visual Latin, I'm considering this Latin 1 & 2 package deal on DVD
*One of the MAIN advantages of this company is that almost all the materials are also available as downloads... perfect for oversea dwellers (like us!) and no shipping costs. :) But, I still think the DVD idea is kind of nice to keep info all in one place for back up.

Visual Latin: Free lessons to mak your kids laugh in Latin Class

More Helpful links:

Parents' Review article: Why Learn Greek and Latin?
Ambleside Online's page on Foreign Language.
English as She is Taught (through Latin).

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival - 20 Principles {overview}

Welcome to the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival!

As always there are a variety of wonderful posts to peruse this time around. Grab a cuppa something and enjoy right now, or bookmark and come back for more inspiration throughout the week :)
Quotes are taken from this excellent PR Article: P.N.E.U. Principles As Illustrated by Teaching
"In every undertaking it is well to have an ideal end, and a scientific means for realizing that ideal."

Nancy presents: Picture Study at Church

Gina presents: Choosing Method over System

Tricia Hodges presents: Dogwood Nature Study and Chalk Pastel Sketches

Delightful Education presents: Teaching Reading, part one and part two.

"Good apparatus, clean school books, and perfect order are simply essential. Our last and greatest materials for "mind-building" are "ideas."

Catherine presents: Learning Foreign Language, part one and part two.

Alesha presents: Foreign Language

Penny presents: Florida History without a Textbook

"We believe in an "open-door policy" for our children; the larger and nobler an idea, the more fit are the children to receive it, for their hearts and minds are like a great open porch, not yet bricked up by prejudices."

The Tiger Chronicle presents: He's Still Alive

Angie presents: Poetry Surprise

Jimmie's Collage presents: Writing Formulas

"We therefore adopt a time-table calculated to give ideas and experiences in as many branches of our relationships as possible."

Barb presents: Nature Study, Living Science and Beyond

Shirley Ann presents: Intro to CM's 20 Principles

amy in peru presents: 20 Principles: {intro to an overview}

"No lesson is valuable which does not promote self-activity by making the child think, exercising its powers of narration or reproduction, or laying the ground-work for some future mental habit, making the idea given a well-spring of activity."

"No, it is the child who has to become accustomed to an idea, or led to discover a fact with as little of the teacher as a middleman, and as much "direct trading" as possible."

Upcoming carnival: @ Delightful Education on 5/15
Topic for discussion (optional): Education is a Life!
For further reading:
* Volume 3, School Education, pgs 152–156
* Volume 6, A Philosophy of Education, pgs 104–111.
Submit posts here: charlottemasonblogs (at) gmail (dot) com
To find out more about upcoming & past CM blog carnival schedule,  Click Here!


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