Thursday, August 30, 2018

Best Laid Plans

It seems no matter how much time I spend preparing, once we get started on a school year there will inevitably be some tweaks that are needed.

This year, it was in the area of language arts for my younger kids. I'm not entirely surprised by this. I have a plan that I veered from this year.  Typically, I use Cottage Press Primer for 2nd grade, then begin Writing & Rhetoric in 3rd grade. Levi is in a co-op class and the majority of his class was not ready to begin Writing & Rhetoric, and I felt it would be a stretch for him.  So I had to figure out something else for this year to stretch him toward readiness for it next year.  Meryn also just did not seem quite ready to take on Cottage Press Primer 1. Her handwriting needs work. She's just starting All About Spelling Level 2. Her reading is right on beginner 2nd grade level and we need work on that.  So I had to find something to stretch her as well that was not part of my original plan.

Since I've been hearing a lot of buzz about Good & Beautiful curriculum, and they offer their language arts as a free download, I thought I'd try it.  We got four lessons in and abandoned it. It assumed enough skills that my kids hadn't been taught (like it directed Levi to write a five paragraph essay with no other instruction... what?!?).   It also was all over the place without a lot of repetition or continuity between the lessons.  Lastly, it was overly moralistic to the point that it was really annoying for me as a teacher.

So I was back to the drawing board.  Upon reflection, I decided that they both need a lot of practice on their printing/handwriting.  Meryn needs intense spelling/phonics lesson to progress her reading. She needs LOTS of repetition, not lots of bells and whistles and spiral.  Levi could stand a bit of challenging reading and some introduction to basic grammar before he starts Writing & Rhetoric next year.  So I decided I'd focus on these things with resources I already have.  We're doing the following things with them together:

-Spelling: All About Spelling levels 2 and 3. I'm focusing hard on this and being really diligent with them on their phonics and spelling.
-Handwriting: copywork from spelling, dictation from spelling, copywork from poetry, Scripture in pages that I put together for them.
-Grammar: Grammar Island, Sentence Island, Music of the Hemispheres by Michael Clay Thompson

I found some fonts that worked to make up copywork based on their spelling words and phrases/sentences for dictation for each level of All About Spelling.  They're getting multiple opportunities to practice their spelling concepts while they work on their handwriting. This is what they both really need.  It only took me about an hour to type out six weeks worth of worksheets for both of them, print them, and put them in their notebooks.

For Michael Clay Thompson, we are reading Grammar Island first. When we finish it, we'll read Sentence Island, and then Music of the Hemispheres. I'm really drawing out the lessons in Grammar Island. We spent two weeks on the first three parts of speech and took the lessons off the page. I had them make notebook pages for each of the parts of speech and color them to match the colors used in Grammar Island (nouns=blue, pronouns=green, adjectives=purple).  We're adding words to these pages as we go through the book.  And as a first step at "sentence analysis," I had them copy sentences from the book onto their own white boards, and then use colored dry erase markers to circle the words with their corresponding color. I thought this might be a bit beyond Meryn, but that she would just be along for the ride. But I've been pleasantly surprised by how she's kept up so far!  This seems to be really helping them grasp the ideas of nouns, pronouns, and adjectives!  I'm really pleased with their progress with these things so far!

This has been a very streamlined, simplified approach using stuff I already had at my disposal, and I love that!  We're just laying really firm foundations for language.  I think this will prepare them both really well for what's up for next year!

Friday, June 29, 2018

Year-Long Term Planning

A few years ago, I started doing year-long planning for one subject over the summer. It started with history. I tried to basically plan out our books and projects for the year so I could have the books ready to go, and the project supplies on hand in hopes these things would actually get done. When my oldest kids were 3rd-4th-5th this was a great way to save some time over the course of the year by doing long-range planning in the summer. But as they've grown, I've started expanding this long-range planning to other subjects.

Last year, I added science because the older kids wanted to study the human body.  Since I haven't ever loved Apologia and it was the only ready-made curriculum for elementary I could find on anatomy, I decided to put together our down study.  I had a few resources chosen, and I laid out which chapters coincided with each other, and what order we'd do them in, how long we'd give to each body system, etc.  This worked out really well for us last year and left me with very few decisions to make during the school year. Decisions make me tired. :)

So this year, I decided to try this for *all* the subjects to eliminate almost all big-picture decisions throughout the course of the year.  I've realized that once I have the science book out to plan six weeks, or even one week, it doesn't take that much longer to keep going and plan the whole year. Actually, it's easier to just go ahead and do the whole year.

I look at the program/book/resource and divide it into six equal  portions (as even as I can make it). Since we homeschool on a sabbath schedule, we do six, six-week terms each year.  So those six portions get divided down further into six chunks. These chunks are what will be assigned each week.  Then I plot them on my spreadsheet. I love spreadsheets. :)

This is the whole year.  I can see exactly what will be assigned in each track for the whole year. This process really allows me to see if I've over-planned (almost always) or under-planned (almost never!).  From here, I can make decisions about subjects that are top priority, or subjects that are more elective and good for looping or only for half the year. This allows us to get a lot more done!  The top few subjects or courses are year-long things.  The further down you go, the more flexible I am with these subjects.  I have them on loops for certain days, and what's on here is what will be assigned for the term its listed under.  These are goals, and are held loosely. :) 

From the year overview, I move over to a term spreadsheet. Once I have one term's worth of work listed out in one column, it's pretty simple and straightforward to just break it up into six chunks and plan it over six weeks.  Once I see exactly what a week will consist of for them, I can see clearly if what I'm expecting and planning is reasonable for my kids. This is our first year with official middle school material, and I have been feeling like I've over-shot for them. When I started looking at the books, the amount of reading and work, I realized I had.  But if I reduce some of the less-necessary subjects and put them on a loop, we can still do a lot of what I had hoped to do. I wouldn't have known this if I hadn't taken a week this summer to look at each subject in-depthly. Then I would have been scrambling mid-year to figure out what to cut, where to go, how to make things work.  I know this because it's happened before.  I get totally de-railed. :)

At the same time, I plot out all the books the kids will read for every subject so I can get a feel for their reading load.  Of course, I have a spreadsheet for this as well. Since we kind of follow Tapestry of Grace, I set it up by 9-week Units. Since my older kids are getting most of their history from The Century by Peter Jennings this year, they will have a few biographies to read each unit alongside and that's about it. My younger kids have a longer reading list which will mostly be read aloud. Picking and choosing books ahead of time helps me have a real plan and not be overwhelmed with all the options. I've had years where I was just overwhelmed with all the books to the point that we hardly read any of them. :) Making a list before hand of the ones I really want to make sure we read helps me to work that list and get them read.

Hopefully this year, I won't get totally de-railed when things don't go to plan. I'll hold this plan loosely and be flexible, but it helps me keep my goals in sight.  I take what's on these spread sheets and just copy it onto the weekly assignments sheets in just a few minutes each Sunday afternoon...

How do you plan for the year? If you've never tried year-long or term planning like this, pick one subject and give it a try! See if it helps reduce your decisions and time spent on planning through the year.  It helps me reduce decisions mid-stream, eliminates pulling out all the books every six weeks (or even every weekend!) to decide what to do next.  With these spread sheets and a few hours over the summer, I have a plan for the whole year that allows me to just do the next thing every week. It frees me up to actually read many of the things the kids are reading and have meaningful conversation with them about it.  Less time planning, more time playing!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

How to Get Started with Morning Time

Morning Time is quite a buzz-word in homeschool circles these days.  I first heard of it through Cindy Rollins' old blog Ordo Amoris. We've been beginning our days with Morning Time for about four years now in an effort to not skip over the really beautiful and rich parts of our education that usually get shoved to the side in the busy-ness of a normal day. 

We started small: Bible reading, memory verse, and a read-aloud together.  But gradually over the four years, we've grown into a robust hour of Morning Time on an average day. Here's how I organize and plan it over the summer so that it actually happens during the year. :) 

I begin with this overview chart for the year. 

I organize Morning Time into six terms.  We try to do school on a semi-Sabbath schedule: six weeks on, one week off.  The top chart of the page lays out by each term what Bible passages or catechism questions we'll read, what hymn we will learn, and which Shakespeare play or Plutarch life we will study.  I rotate them, spending one term on each play or life, so we get through three plays, and three lives each year, hopefully! :) 

For catechism, we use Training Hearts, Teaching Minds by Starr Meade along with the Westminster Catechism songs.  For Shakespeare, I follow How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig, and I'm using Renee Matheny's materials on Shakespeare this year as well!  For Plutarch, we use Our Young Folks Plutarch free on 

For Composers and Artists, I usually pick 2-3 of each that are relevant to our historical studies.  This year, since I have Harmony Fine Arts Year 4, I'm using some of their ideas to study three 20th century composers and three artists. We'll spend one term on each one, rotating again. 

The bottom grid of my planning page helps me organize our recitations for the year. I set the goal of working on one Scripture passage, one poem, and one Shakespeare passage or speech simultaneously.  This has proven to be do-able for the kids if we just simply read all three each day together or individually. So here, again by terms, I set out to choose the passages in each category we'll commit to memory.  This is where Living Memory by Andrew Campbell comes in to help. 

Living Memory is basically a catalog of rich things to commit to memory. Mr. Campbell has done all the work of compiling a great list that you can choose from and you really can't go wrong.  There's way more in here than we could ever get to!  Each year, I progressively work through the Scripture, hymns, Poetry, and Historical speeches sections, just kind of choosing the next selection that fits for us.  This makes it REALLY easy to pick out recitations for the whole year in under an hour. 

My younger two will be doing their first formal recitations this year, so for them, I'm using a simple little stack of poetry cards I downloaded free from somewhere. I can't for the life of me remember where, it was years ago. But I'm finally putting them to use!  They'll do these and Bible verses. 

In the past we've had binders to keep our recitations in.  The past few years, this has worked fine, but gradually, the binders have become cumbersome and one more thing to keep track of.  This year, I'm trying to be more diligent about actually doing our recitations, so I need to figure out something else. If our binders weren't with us, we'd just skip it. And I had a hard time keeping them organized with the recitations changing regularly, mainly because I didn't always have the next selections ready to print or already printed, and I'd put it off. Then a whole term would have passed before I'd get around to doing it!  So, this summer I am putting together a document that I'll print and put in their one student notebook at the front.  It has: 
-Catechism song lyrics
-Music and verses of all the hymns for the year
-Pictures and short bios of the hymn writers
-Shakespeare selections in order
-Scripture recitations in order
-Poetry recitations in order
-Speech recitations in order

I am hoping by having all of this put together neatly and printed ahead of time, it will make it easier for us to implement our Morning Time plans and reach our goals! The last step is to transfer all the plans from the overview sheet to the sheet for each term, which looks like this: 

This is where I keep track of what we actually do. Those little boxes are not supposed to all be checked, but they sure help me see how many days it's been since we actually did recitations, or read Shakespeare, or sang our hymn! :) It's Morning Time accountability. 

Check out these sheets at my Etsy shop if you'd like to put them to use for your Morning Time plans! They're completely customizable, so you can change the categories, terms, frequency or anything to fit your goals and plans! 

To get started with Morning Time, pick the things you're most excited about, but the things that get pushed off the schedule too often. If that's reading aloud and an artist study, start with that. If that's Bible and recitation, or catechism and Shakespeare, start there!  Start with 1-2 things your first term, and as you feel hungry for more, add one more element until you're satisfied with your Morning Time routine!  It shouldn't look like mine or anyone else's.  It's yours, for your family.  You may need 4 elements for Morning Time, or you may want 15. Morning Time is a great time to gather together as a family and feed your souls on things that nourish us together, to build family culture, and to create memories of shared experiences.  Here's to happy Morning Times this year!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Preedy Academy Plans: 2018-19

Here's what's on tap for next year at Preedy Academy!

This is the plan for my older two kids. They do all their studies together with the exception of their math studies.

-Writing & Rhetoric Books 7-8: Encomium & Vituperation, Comparison
-Latin for Children C: Second half of book
-French for Children B
-Poetics: A World of Poetry by Michael Clay Thompson
-The Art of Argument: Introduction to the Informal Fallacies

-Math-U-See PreAlgebra & Algebra, some select Art of Problem Solving work for fun
-Novare Earth Science
-A Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe: Numbers 1-6

-20th Century History: The Century by Peter Jennings, biographies
-Literature: 20th century literature with Teaching the Classics AND
-Memoria Press American Literature: Poetry & Short Stories (selected works)
-Memoria Press Geography 3: 4 units of the 8

They will also continue with piano lessons and orchestra at the local school. We will study hymns, Bible and catechism, Shakespeare and Plutarch, composers and artists in our Morning Time, as well as recitations.

We have two new elements for next year, but I'm compensating for that by basically swapping Reasoning & Reading for Logic, which is a new study for us.  We're also taking a break from grammar for this year to make room for the Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe. I'm so excited about this book! It's about the art of number and how number is used in nature to literally construct the universe. This is my attempt at dipping our toes into the quadrivium. I hope to work on this fun study of number for the next 2 years and then move into Euclidean geometry, possibly with Polymath Tutorials curriculum.

I'm also beginning a gentle on-ramp to upper level literature and history.  We'll be in year 4 of our history cycle next year, so it will be covering modern history.  We'll be using a spine book called The Century for Young People and reading a number of biographies that the kids will get to choose with certain parameters.  They'll also get to read some topical non-fiction books on major events like WWI and WWII, the life of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement, and more.

For literature, we'll read 6-10 modern novels like The Call of the Wild, The Tolkein Trilogy or Narnia, Anne of Green Gables, The Little Prince, Lord of the Flies, The Red Pony.  The kids will have some choice in this.  We will use the tools from Teaching the Classics by Adam and Missy Andrews to discuss the themes and plot of these books, and the kids will have an essay writing assignment at the end of each book.  We'll use these assignments to cycle back through reviewing the types of essays they have learned through the first seven books of Writing & Rhetoric.  As the Andrews suggest as well, we'll start the year off by learning to analyze the plot, characters and themes by applying their tools to simple picture books the first four weeks of school.  We'll also be reading the CiRCE Reading Guide to learn how to skim, close read, and their highlighting system to annotate as you read. The goal for next year(s) is to learn to read (well).

We're also stepping into upper school science this year. I gave the older two the option of one more year of nature study on birds and trees or to begin the Novare science sequence with earth science.  They opted to do birds and trees over the spring and summer and do earth science next year, because they wanted to do it all!

I'll be taking a class on teaching Logic over the summer in preparation for teaching that. :) In writing this year the kids will continue to practice writing encomium and vituperation essays, as well as begin learning about writing research papers, in addition to beginning comparison essays. 

I'm really excited about this coming school year! I have a fully fleshed out plan for high school, and this is hopefully a gentle step to higher level work they'll be doing in a couple of years. My hope for the older kids is they will be able to really delight in what they're learning, learn to read deeply, reason well, while also having plenty of time to enjoy music, art in their own way (crafts, Lego design, drawing), meaningful work, being outside, sports, quiet contemplation, and service to others. I don't want our family to be hyper-focused on academic achievement. I do want to give them space to develop well-rounded, full lives lived in wisdom and virtue to the glory of God. 

For My Lower Grammar kids: 

-Song School Latin 1 & 2
-The Good & The Beautiful Language Arts, Levels 2 & 3
-Copy work and New American Cursive

-Math-U-See Beta and Gamma
-Nature Study with ChildCraft books, Christian Liberty Nature Readers, etc.

-20th Century History with picture books from Tapestry of Grace
-My BookHouse and a year with Andersen and Grimm Fairy Tales 

For my younger two, we're just pretty much repeating what we did 4-5 years back for the older two.  They both will be continuing in their math studies which are working so well.  We have a pretty heavy focus on language learning in the elementary years.  Meryn is dying to learn Latin (to the point of making up her own words and claiming they're Latin!), so I'll let her begin next year with a very gentle intro with Song School Latin 1.  Levi has worked on it over the last 18 months and is ready to move on to Song School Latin 2.

Levi is not quite ready for Writing & Rhetoric, and as much as I was dying to try Cottage Press Primer 2, I wasn't sure that was going to be a good fit for him either.  So we're trying something totally different this year to bridge him into being ready for Writing & Rhetoric next year.  He and Meryn will both be using The Good & The Beautiful language arts (levels 2 and 3) next year. I had planned to start him with Michael Clay Thompson's Grammar Island books this year, but I'm now thinking I'll wait until he begins Writing & Rhetoric to start those since G&B is extremely thorough. Right now I don't plan to do any other spelling or grammar, but once we get into it we'll see if its sufficient. I have All About Spelling ready on stand-by to rescue us if we need it.

We'll keep with our organic nature studies for the younger two for another year, and more Tapestry picture books and My Book House for history and literature.  I do plan to begin to teach them the tools in Teaching the Classics with some of these pictures book. I'd like them to learn to identify and talk about the characters and plots to some of the short stories that we read.

Overall, my goals for this age is to develop a real wonder in learning: how letters form words and words form thoughts and stories express truth and beauty is really wonderful. How numbers work together in the mathematical operations and never fail is truly wonderful. How the intricacies of design in creation show us a glimpse into the creative genius of God is truly wonderful.  This is what I want to cultivate in the younger two kids through their studies!

I'm really excited about next year. And for the third year in a row (or maybe fourth?) I'm finishing this school year feeling really filled up rather than really drained.  This is the grace of God, and I think also due to the philosophy of education we're allowing to guide our days, to inform our habits and to shape our loves.  When you work along the grain of your nature, instead of against it, things are so much easier! 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

2017-18 End of Year Evaluations

Three more weeks left in our school year!  Things are beginning to dwindle as some subjects are finished and more are dropping off each week. It's that time of the year where we start feeling a bit more free! I've come to love the end of the school year, not because I'm exhausted and so ready to be done, but because it is so satisfying to reflect on the past year and all that was studied, experienced, read, discussed, made, and enjoyed.  Focusing on filling our souls with truth goodness and beauty has resulted in full hearts and minds at the end of the year. Of course we're all ready for a break, but we're not exhausted, burned-out, and dreading the start of "school" again...

This past year, my 5th/6th grade kids had the following subjects:

-Math: Art of Problem Solving PreAlgebra and Math-U-See Zeta
-Latin for Children Primer C
-French for Children Primer A
-Writing & Rhetoric Books 6-7 (Commonplace, Encomium & Vituperation)
-Grammar Voyage by Michael Clay Thompson
-Building Poems by Michael Clay Thompson
-Reasoning & Reading Level 1
-Lyrical Life Science Anatomy
-Tapestry of Grace 19th Century history
-Hand-picked literature titles

Much of this is just carrying on in the paths we've been walking for the past few years. I had planned to also work through Memoria Press Geography 3, but it proved to be too far above their level for this year. We'll try again next year. :)

Math: We did our best with The Art of Problem Solving. We both really liked it. It was super challenging, but it required a lot of time, and incurred a lot of frustration. The results were what we enjoyed though, as the math concepts were coming to life for both me and Luke.  But, after one semester, we were only a third of the way through the book. :( He chose at semester to switch back to Math-U-See Prealgebra. He started at the beginning of the book, and found it so easy after The Art of Problem Solving that he's going to finish the whole book by the end of this semester!  So, I'd call that a win. I'm going to have Kiryn work in it a little bit next year too for fun.

Language: We all still love Latin!  It is the kid's favorite subject, with French now a close second.  We are translating harder and harder sentences and it's a lot of fun.  They both really enjoyed French this year, and we'll continue into the second book next year. Writing & Rhetoric is going so well. They are really turning into wonderful writers, and best of all, they enjoy it! I have been so pleased with their encomium essays this semester!

Again, we love love love Michael Clay Thompson grammar and poetics. We made it through both books this year and I'm so impressed with the depth of understanding they have of poetical devices, complicated sentence structures, and their ability to use different phrases and clauses in their writing appropriately.

We began the year with Sassafrass Science as our main text for our human body study. But somewhere in the middle of the first semester, they got bored with the reader and we weren't getting to the experiments.  They really preferred the Lyrical Life Science book, and so I let them focus more on that. They did great with the songs, and with the workbook.  I also had them do some sketches in their nature book of the body systems they were studying.  This was a really interesting study, and kept things simple for science this year. We finished it with six weeks to spare, so we're moving on to birds using Memoria Press's What's That Bird? set.  They both are LOVING that since high now we have lots of different kinds of birds in our yard building next. We have European Starlings, blue jays, robins, cardinals, and several small sparrows or finches...  Great time for a bird study!

Tapestry went really well this year. I really just use it as a guide. I did my Big-Picture planning over the summer where I planned out the books we'd read and how long we'd give each one, what projects we might do, maps, and what literature titles we'd read.  I kept it fairly restrained and set reasonable expectations that were just about right. I wanted them to be reading 45-60 minutes per day. I'm so very pleased with their finished book stacks this year!  They've written some great narrations on their history, done some beautiful projects, and thanks to the Accountability and Thinking Questions in the Tapestry student pages, we've had some really good discussions together as well. I plan to keep doing Tapestry my own way for the foreseeable future.

In addition to this, we studied Rembrandt and Botticelli paintings all year, got to know Vivaldi and Beethoven's works, read two Shakespeare plays in their original entirety (Twelfth Knight and Romeo and Juliet), read two lives of Plutarch (Theseus and Romulus), learned six hymns, and memorized I Corinthians 13, Psalm 100, and the Gettysburg Address.

My younger two had a great year with Veritas Readers, All About Spelling 1-2, Explode the Code, Cottage Press Primer 1, Song School Latin 1, MUS Alpha and Beta, and lots of wonderful books from Tapestry of Grace, Ambleside, and My Bookhouse.

And now for Mom.  I have somehow managed to complete the following ClassicalU classes:

-Essentials of Effective Teaching by Robyn Burlew
-Teaching the Great Books by Joshua Gibbs
-Listening, Speaking, Reading, Writing by Andrew Pudewa
-Principles of Classical Pedagogy by Dr. Christopher Perrin
-Essential Latin by Karen Moore
-Plato: The Great Philosopher-Educator by Dr. David Diener
-Teaching Math Classically by Andrew Elizalde
-How to Teach History by Wes Callahan

Over the summer, I plan to take:
-Reading and Teaching the Odyssey
-Assessing Students Classically
-Essential Logic: The Logical Fallacies
-Teaching the Classics by Center for Lit with Adam Andrews

I've also read:
-Plato: The Great Philosopher-Educator
-Villette by Charlotte Bronte
-Treasure Island
-Robinson Crusoe
-Life Under Compulsion by Anhony Esolen
-The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse
-Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition by Karen Glass
-Little Women
-Uncle Tom's Cabin
-The Iliad
-You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith
-Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie
-Norms & Nobility by David Hicks
-A Thomas Jefferson Education
-The Black Moon and Angry Tide (Poldark novels) by Winston Graham

I'm currently reading or will read over the summer:
-How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler
-Beauty for Truth's Sake by Stratford Caldecott
-The Aeneid by Virgil
-A Beginnner's Guide to Constructing the Universe by Michael Schneider
-The Vicar of Wakefield

This is one of those things like when you look back at your budget and you cannot figure out how you paid all your bills. I look back at this list of books read and classes taken and cannot account for how I did this. :)  It does not seem like it should have been possible. But, there it is! I did it! It's been a tremendous year of growth for me personally, and I'm so thankful for the time I had investing in myself as a person, mother, and teacher before we step into the middle school and high school years. I feel equipped and prepared. I have a plan and I'm sticking to it.  Well, not really. I'm sure it will be drastically changed! Maybe I should say, I have principles and a philosophy, and I'm sticking to them. :)

Here's to a great year next year!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"Multum, non Multa" or a "Broad and Generous Feast"? Yes please!

(Nota bene: this is not a scholarly article. I'm a homeschooling mom. These are the ramblings of my mind as I'm processing the things I'm reading, listening to, and being changed by. Please forgive me for not citing sources or attributing quotes properly. I'm summarizing. If you think I'm getting it wrong, please comment and let me know!)

There has been much and lively debate about whether Charlotte Mason deserves to be considered part of the larger classical tradition of education.  Having first discovered the classical tradition, and through that being introduced to the ideas of Charlotte Mason, I have always been curious about the differences and similarities between the two. Last year I chose Charlotte to be my educational mentor for the year and set a goal to read as many of her volumes as possible in one year. I made it through four: Home Education, School Education, Formation of Character, and Towards a Philosophy of Education. I found myself nodding in agreement with much of what she said, and encouraged and affirmed with the study on classical education I had done.  It seemed to me, uneducated as I am, they were much in agreement.

Since then, in reading and interacting with others who strongly disagree that Charlotte Mason is in any way part of classical education, two main differences between her method and the classical tradition have risen to the surface.  The first is the role of the teacher.  The second is the contradiction  of a broad and generous feast with the classical principle of "multum, non multa." Charlotte proposes the implementation of a broad and generous feast, and uses the analogy of a broad and varied diet for the mind, just as for the body. In classical education, a main principle is multum, non multa: much, not many.

In all the curricula I've looked at based on Charlotte Mason's writings, there are lots and lots of subjects.  Most have at least twelve, some up to fifteen or more.  Each subject or area of study has one or two books assigned to be read over the whole year.  Often times, the books are read very slowly over a long period of time.  A student may read one chapter a week in nature lore, one chapter a week in history, one chapter a week in science.  Different subjects are studied everyday, or, lessons are kept very short and every subject is read every day.

The idea of multum, non multa, would seem to be in contrast to this. Dr. Christopher Perrin likens it to digging deep wells with our students.  When you are digging a deep well, you inevitably can only dig so many at a time, so you must focus and think deeply on a handful of things at any given time.  I have heard some strong Charlotte Mason proponents criticize this idea by saying it is like starving your child.  I rather think that the way most curricula spread a broad and generous feast could be doing that instead.

C.S. Lewis talks about treating books as if they were people. (I think.... it could have been Mortimer Adler. Or maybe Angelina Stanford. I know she talks about this in her lecture on the Nourishing Your Soul Circe Conference audio CD.)  But this idea has gotten me thinking.  We all know that we can only handle so many relationships at a time.  Trying to juggle too many friendships can leave them each neglected and prevent them from deepening as much as they could otherwise.  What's an ideal number of friends to have? Isn't this a relative question? For some people, it's one.  For others it might be 7 or 8.  For others, 3-5 good friends is a healthy number.

Charlotte Mason also talks about education as the science of relations.  I think this is a really important idea.  We want our kids to develop relationships with their areas of study. To care about them. To make friends with them.  We also want them to notice the relationships between one subject and another. We want them to see the connection between one author and another.  But in order for our kids to develop good relationships with their studies and to love them each, shouldn't we bear in mind how many relationships they can handle at any given time?  Is it realistic to think that any child could really develop a deep love, relationship with, and understanding of 15 or more friends at a time?

It is possible that digging a little each day in lots of wells will achieve the same results over the course of the year as digging deeply in a few for a time, followed by digging deeply in a few more wells for a time.  But what is going to be more rewarding and healthy for the child?  Many children will do much better with a more focused, long gaze at a few things.  It will enable them to focus their interest and think deeply about things.  Over the course of a year, if we spend a twelve-week term digging 2-6 deep wells, and the next 12 week term, pick 2-6 new wells, and so on, by the end of the year, we could have even more deeply dug wells than digging 15 a little each week!  Not only is this good for the students, but it's so much more manageable for moms!

I put this theory to the test this year.  I had been attempting to follow the Ambleside Online recommended reading lists and schedule for a handful of subjects. I used these mostly as read-alouds for our Morning Time.  Last year, it just felt like slogging through waist-deep water;  it was a lot of effort, and very little progress to show for it.  Reading 8-10 books at a time was just wearing me out.  None of us enjoyed it. It just felt like so long between meeting each character or entering each story, and it felt like starting all over each time (much like seeing friends infrequently for brief encounters).

This year, I decided we'd focus on only 2-3 topics each term, and we'd change them up from term to term. (This is in addition to our core studies).  We are reading a something historical (historical fiction, biography, or a narrative history), and a literature title for pleasure at all times.  Then we have one other thing we're reading.  It could be a science classic like The Storybook of Science or Parables from Nature.  It could be a life of Plutarch, or a Shakespeare play.  But, it's only one thing.  And we'll read it until we are finished with it. We'll read it everyday.  I have been so surprised and pleased with how this has worked out in our school this year.  Far from starving my children, they have loved the books we've read. We read through (almost) the entire Parables from Nature the first term, and my daughter did a lovely drawn narration of each chapter.  We moved through it much more quickly than Ambleside schedules it, and we still loved it. We spent eight weeks reading Swiss Family Robinson. We read it everyday for about 20-30 minutes. We LIVED in that story.  We knew the family. We could picture their homes and the entire island. It became a regular topic of conversation.

The best benefit of all has been the amazing finished book stack we have as we are approaching the end of this year. It is the biggest and best shelf of finished books we've ever had.

By serving a few dishes at a time and savoring them each for their intricacies, we have feasted royally this year.  There's more than one way to serve a broad and generous feast to our children. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Great Homeschool Convention 2018: Two Big Questions

If you have not had the opportunity to go to one of the Great Homeschool Conventions, I can't encourage you enough to start planning right now to go to one near you next year!

This was my second trip to the GHC in Fort Worth, TX. I went last year and was so encouraged and blessed by the trip. I just took in as much as I could from the "mentors" I had been following online and learning from. I got to listen to Dr. Christopher Perrin, Sarah Mackenzie, and Andrew kern, among other excellent speakers.  I was eager to go back again this year!

While I was anticipating my trip this year, I thought of some specific things I wanted to research or get answers to. Over the past year, I've done a lot of comparative analysis of many of the most popular Great Books programs out there, trying to wrap my head around what it means to teach/read the Great Books and how to do it in high school. (The spreadsheets I've made of book lists make my head spin...)  I went really looking forward to talking to the publishers of some of those programs and hearing from them about why their programs were laid out the way they were. I have felt like all of them (with the exception of Memoria Press) have unrealistic book lists, and I kind of wanted to hear their defense for their choices and why I should require my kids to read that many (challenging!) books over 3-4 years. :) 

My second question was much less straight forward. Pursuing a liberal arts education for our kids as we are, I have been doing some reading and study on... the seven liberal arts. I feel like as a community classical educators have a pretty good handle on the lower three arts, the Trivium. These arts are Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric, which are arts of language. From a mastery of these arts, students proceed into a study of the four upper arts, the Quadrivium: Arithmetic/Number, Geometry, Music/Harmonics, and Astronomy. I've heard these described like this: 

-Arithmetic: the art of number
-Geometry: the art of number in space
-Music: the art of number in time
-Astronomy: the art of number in space and time

Clear as mud, right??  Yeah, me too. I really want to explore these ideas, and had some ideas hammered out, thanks to the excellent Classical Homeschool Podcast by Jennifer Dow and Ashley Woleben. But I wanted to talk to three specific people who I felt had done a good bit of reading and thinking about these arts and could have some input as to whether I'm heading in the right direction or not. 

I needed to plan to spend a good bit of time in the Expo Hall in order to get answers to all these questions, but didn't want to miss any of the wonderful sessions! There were like three lectures at each  hour that I would have enjoyed hearing.  

I ended up attending the following lectures: 

-Andrew Kern: Faith and Thinking: Is There Room for Both in Homeschool?
-Brandy Vencel: Thoroughly Christian Education: Charlotte Mason meets Thomas Aquinas
-Adam Andrews: Teaching with Grace: An Unlikely Path to Success
-Andrew Kern: Why Should Christians Embrace Classical Education?
-Adam Andrews: The Seven Laws of Teaching and Other Myths
-Classical Education Unhinged: A Panel Discussion
-Janice Campbell & Carol Reynolds: Literature and the Arts Can Help You Teach
-John Mays: Science and the Poet Should Be Friends
Andrew Kern: Christ: The Wisdom and Virtue of God

After my first opportunity to listen to Adam Andrews, I loved so much what he had shared about teaching literature that I made a beeline for his booth in the expo hall afterward. I wanted to talk to him about teaching Great Books in high school.  I told him that I had been looking at the different Great books programs and I just felt like they were all trying to do too much.  His eyes lit up and he said, "You're right!! They are all trying to do too much! Hold on to that!"  We talked about the feasibility of putting together our own book lists for high school and reading deeply, and he was so, so encouraging.  I already owned his Teaching the Classics curriculum, but had never seen some literature guides they publish for different levels, as well as a book called Reading Road Maps that has a book list for each year K-12. The book lists are thorough, but also quite restrained and look very do-able from a perspective of teaching for delight and rest. I was sold! Dr. Andrews saved me a lot of time talking to other companies by giving me confidence to trust my gut and do what I know is best. I just needed someone to give me permission to create my own book list.  Since I came home, I've discovered quite a few other curricula/resources/companies that have a "less is more" approach to literature, which has just affirmed even more we're going in the right direction.  (Center for Literary Education, Excellence in Literature, ScholĂ© Academy Great Books classes, and Greenleaf Press history and lit guides)

I so enjoyed Brandy Vencel. Her talk was an hour-long contemplation on the Florence fresco so often referenced in Charlotte Mason's works that depicts Thomas Aquinas and the seven liberal arts and then some. There is SO much to that fresco and I loved learning a lot more of the depth to the history of the painting. 

In Faith and Thinking, Andrew Kern made the case that without faith, no one would think. He asked, "If you knew there was no answer to a question, how long would you think about it? If you didn't believe there was a solution to a math problem, how long would you try to solve it? You wouldn't." Faith is the precursor to thinking, because without faith there is Truth to be found, you will not even seek. So thinking is the very evidence of faith. I loved that!  That's a very simplistic and basic summary of everything he covered in that talk, but it was my main takeaway.  

A surprising theme that emerged for me happened on Saturday.  Carol Reynolds, Janice Campbell, and John Mays all talked about the same idea: gaining knowledge of one thing through another, namely, through art.  They all made the case that you can grow in depth of knowledge of literature, and in science, by pursuing and engaging art that depicts those themes.   Reynolds and Campbell had a great session on tracing a story through its historical artistic expressions.  They showed different paintings, musicals, and orchestral/ballet productions of the story of Romeo and Juliet. It was beautiful to see how differently it was interpreted by people, and each one brought more depth to the story!  John Mays of Novare science gave a wonderful talk on artistic presentations of scientific ideas.  He gave a handout that had an extensive list of poetry, stories, paintings, music, and more that encourage students to think more deeply about scientific concepts.  It was one of my favorite sessions because it took me in a direction I least expected and was so pleasantly surprised by. 

Throughout Saturday, I got the chance to talk to Brandy Vencel (Afterthoughts and ScholĂ© Sisters) briefly, and Martin Cothran of Memoria Press for a bit longer, to get their thoughts on teaching the Quadrivium. Brandy talked mostly about harmonics, and suggested learning harmony singing, specifically Sol Fa, and named some resources that would be good for that.  Martin talked mostly about math, the need for mastery-based math curriculum, and suggested having the kids take a drafting class in high school.  I also got to talk to a  couple of people at the Circe Institute booth who said various things, like learning an instrument and singing is good for music, mapping the night sky through the year is appropriate for astronomy, and things like that.  

After my last session, I was able to get a few minutes to talk to Andrew Kern about this. I had the highest hope for his thoughts on the quadrivium, and he so graciously gave me about 40 minutes of his time to talk through it. I felt like he really understood that I wanted to know more than just some practical applications of how to "teach" these arts.  He calls them arts of truth perception, so I felt like  there's got to be more to it than learning an instrument and taking a drafting course, as good of a start as those things might be. Through picking his brain, the big Ah-Ha I had was that I cannot treat these arts as subjects. It's not like I can find a curriculum or book and study each one for a year.  This is not how they work.  And that's about all I know. :)  He did point me in the direction of a few other resources to read more, so I hope to keep pursuing this and growing!  I still think there's a place for studying these arts, especially what people in the past have thought and written about them.  I'm trying to work out what it will look like. The good news is that as classical education is being rediscovered, no one really knows. So we're all just learning by trial and error. As Andrew Kern said, we're all archaeologists unearthing classical ed and it is not all yet clear, we don't have all the answers yet (and probably never will). So we'll just do the best we can!

So I came home feeling so encouraged that I'm heading in the right directions and challenge to keep asking questions and pursuing growth. I'm so thankful I had the opportunity to go again this year!