Saturday, August 24, 2013

Mid-term evaluation: 2013-14 Term 1

I really haven't been able to get this blog going the way I had hoped.  Shortly after I began writing, my computer broke and we haven't replaced it.  Needless to say, I had to re-think some of my curriculum plans - particularly in the areas of music, art, and Spanish.  I have a whole series of posts about Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education sitting in a spiral-bound notebook waiting to be revised, typed, and posted.  Hopefully someday I'll actually get around to sharing them.

Time has really been flying, and we are half-way finished with our first term of school.  I'm using Ambleside Online's "Year 0" as a base for John's kindergarten.  (Curriculum here; Book list here.)  I've chosen a couple of additional chapter books - Little Pilgrim's Progress by Helen Taylor, Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis, and depending on how the year goes I have The Wizard of Oz sitting on my shelf as well.  We're also using B is for Buckeye (Sleeping Bear Press) to learn a little bit about Ohio, referencing a road map to find the various locations mentioned.  We've begun short and simple lessons in reading, spelling/phonics, writing, math concepts, Spanish, Bible, music, art, and science/nature.

Some highlights of our first half-term:
  • Every-other-week sketches of the pumpkin growing in our garden.  At first, I had to point out details for the children to observe and monitor their choice of crayon. (Sally wanted to color her pumpkin purple.)  This week, before I even said anything, John pipes up: "Mom!  It's bigger!  And orange - but not all orange, I'll need a dark green, too.  And look, look - the flower fell off!"  This is exciting because, of course, the lesson's not really about the pumpkin - it's about seeing.
  • Reading lessons.  Or rather, the lack of them.  I started off trying to very carefully stick to a Charlotte Mason based reading curriculum as outlined at Jen's blog. (here - I was doing "Stage 3: Average") But even though I started at just the right point in his book - challenging, but not impossible - John's abilities quickly outpaced my lessons and he was getting bored reading just 2-3 lines a day.  SO . . .so, so, so . . . I stepped up the pace to 1 story a week, with lots of review and practice.  He finished the Treadwell & Free primer this week, and we'll be moving on to their Reading and Literature: First Reader on Monday.  I plan to phase back in the actual lessons now that the literature is a little more challenging, but using the "Stage 3: Advanced" methods.
  • We memorized Psalm 100, and while singing a hymn at church last Sunday night John pulled on my arm "Mommy!  That's my Bible verse!  We're singing my Bible verse!"
  • Learning to write his name.  (Well, almost.  There's one letter that is still tricky.)
  • Adjusting to slow readings of long books has gone easier than I expected.  Nearly every day our lesson ends with "But, don't stop - what happens next?"  Much of the children's free time involves Narnia, Winnie-the-Pooh, or Little Christian.
Challenges for the second half-term:
  • Music study so far has all been selections the children have loved since they were small.  We're going to be foraging into some less familiar territory - both for singing and for listening.
  • They don't seem to be connecting to the Bible lessons very well.  Memory work, yes.  Stories, not really.  I'm wondering if two stories a week in school (one Old Testament, and one New Testament) is too much when layered over bedtime Bible lessons from Daddy (in another part of the Old Testament), Sunday School (in yet another section of the Old Testament), and sermons in church.  I might be better off backing off on the "planned" curriculum for the time being and just reinforcing what they are learning elsewhere.  I don't want to cut Bible lessons out of school, but the glazed expressions are telling me that I need to change something in my approach.
  • I'm trying to implement "picture lessons" in Spanish, along with singing songs.  That is, showing them a picture, talking about it (in Spanish), and having them narrate back to me or answer some simple questions.  Still trying to work out how to meet John half-way on this so that the lessons are stretching him but not frustrating.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Treasuring These Things: Mother's Day Eve, 2013

The day began in the dark, chilly quiet of 4:30.
I have been blessed with a baby who sleeps from 9 to 6 more often than not.  This morning was a "not."  This morning, you were wide awake at 4:30.  For the next hour and a half, I held you while you ate, and giggled, and smiled, and looked.  I wasn't very good company, but you didn't seem to mind.  I sang a lullaby, hoping you'd settle down and I could get another half hour of sleep.  You sang with me.  When you did fall asleep, I didn't.  I sat there and held you and thought that these hours, with no big siblings or housework or anything else demanding my attention, was a gift.  A gift to Mommy from Molly, for Mother's Day: two whole hours of smiles, and giggles, and coos, and songs, and those beautiful wonder-full eyes taking in all of the world around them.

The day began at 6:30.
Your sister had just fallen soundly asleep, and I was near drifting off myself, when I heard you get up, go to the bathroom, and wash your hands.  I thought about how responsible you're becoming, how short (yet long) a time it's been since I cuddled you in the sleepy dawn-light listening to Daddy's alarm.  After washing your hands, you came into my room, knocked several things off my nightstand so you could get closer to me, and whispered, "Mommy, the sun is awake.  Can it be morning? please?"  I stifled the desire to snap something sarcastic, and told you that yes, it was morning, but since everyone was still sleeping you should play very quietly in your bedroom.  You did.  (Another Gift.)  

Later, I watched you play.  Your dinosaurs roamed a vast domain - all the corners of the bedroom, the hall, the stairs.  You love to lay down next to Molly, eye to eye, and tell her stories from your imagination, to tell Sarah stories, to become a character in a story and play out the role, to build puppets with your blocks or use your toys to act out the story.  And you always make it bigger and more interesting than the story I would've told, even if it happens to be the same one.  When we went hiking, and saw a tower, it was Rapunzel's Castle - but she's not home, because when you called "let down your hair" she didn't answer.  You protect your sisters, come running for me when Molly cries, make sure Sarah remembers the rules.  You make me understand, a little better, how amazing my Mom is and what it must've been like to mother me.

The day began at 7:30.
I heard John's play getting a little louder, a little more excited.  I went in to remind him that you were sleeping.  Only you weren't.  That is to say, your eyes were open.  You were still in bed, and I asked if you would mind me climbing in with you.  We cuddled and snoozed for about an hour, while the dinosaurs did their thing.  I apologized for letting Molly monopolize my arms lately.  That hour was another of my Mother's Day Gifts - a nap with my favorite hug-giver.

Afterwards, we got dressed and you helped me make breakfast, just Sarah and Mommy.  You are a such a good helper - excited to be with me, paying attention to what I do and asking good questions, doing anything you're asked with a cheerful attitude.  I need to invite you into my work more often.

Molly giggles and coos, John is a chatterbox, but you don't say much at all.  Not that you can't talk, if you wanted to.  It's just that you'd rather watch and listen.  But when  we were walking at the park, you held my hand most of the time.  Near the end, as we'd returned to the car, you tugged on my arm: "Mommy, mommy - I know what happened to Rapunzel!"  Your voice dropped almost to a whisper.  "She sailed away on a pirate ship!"  Your little imagination had been marinating on that story ever since we found the "castle," and I was the person you chose to share it.

There are far too many days when I don't stop and savor these moments.  Mornings when I just want to get 10 more minutes of sleep, to get breakfast on the table, to get on with the day.  Afternoons when I'm too preoccupied with my grown-up stuff to enter into your imaginings.  Days when "being Mommy" is just something else I have to do, instead of something I get to do.  And these little gifts are brushed aside, and forgotten, gathering dust in the corners.  But today, I am seeing you.  And I'm staggered by the weight of this treasure that God has entrusted to me.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Thoughts on Dragons . . .

This is intended to be a blog about my home-school.  Some may wonder, "what does school have to do with dragons?"  The answer: Everything.  But maybe I should explain what I mean by that.

I stumbled across the following quote last summer, and it has been rattling around my brain ever since: 
"Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already . . . Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him with a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors have a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear." - GK Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles (emphasis added)
The first reason I couldn't get this quote out of my head is that Mr. Chesterton summarized my thoughts on fairy tales (and, for that matter, great fantasy in general) much more eloquently than I ever could've put it. But the second reason that I couldn't forget it is because of the example he uses.  St. George is one of those stories that I know any good bookworm with an interest in history, religion, fantasy, and myth really ought to be familiar with (on about the same order as the Arthurian legends) and yet the only thing I knew about it a year ago was that a.) George fights a dragon, and b.) I really ought to become acquainted with Mr. Spenser at some point.  So . . . last September I tracked down a copy of Book I of The Faerie Queen.

It took a while to get through it.  (As in, 5 months.  sigh.  I miss the luxuries of high school, like having time to gobble up a good fantasy romp in a week.)  But taking it slow gave me plenty of time to ruminate over the whole thing.  Also, as it happened, the day after I finished reading the poem another mom on a forum I frequent asked some questions about this book.  I was still basking in that afterglow one experiences at the end of a great story, and couldn't help responding: 

"As far as the symbolism goes, each book in the Spencer's poem features a knight who is on some sort of quest, and each of those central knights represents a particular virtue. George (who Spencer simply calls "Redcross") is identified with Holiness.

"The idea is that only a pure and true knight can defeat the dragon, which is why Princess Una had to travel to the Fairy Queen's court to find her champion. But, as it turns out, George is not strong enough/good enough on his own, and throughout their journey he fails at a number of tests that are placed in his way. (Lust, Pride, Selfishness, etc.) It is only through the help of Una and Prince Arthur (a sort of Christ-figure who reoccurs in each of the six books) that he ever even meets the dragon. This litany of failures ends when he faces Despair, and is rescued from certain doom yet again by Una's intervention, after which she takes him to the House of Holiness. They spend several days there and Una introduces the knight to Humility, Reverence, Faith, Hope, Patience, and Charity. The sisters take him to meet the Hermit, who shows George a glimpse of a beautiful and far-off city - the New Jerusalem.

"It's only after these encounters that Redcross is ready to face the dragon, and even then he can't defeat it relying on his own strength, and Una cannot save him this time. Redcross comes to the end of himself, finds the Living Water and the Tree of Life, and finally defeats his adversary.
"It's a beautiful picture of spiritual warfare; of righteousness/holiness imparted through grace, rather than our own merit; and of God using broken vessels to achieve his purposes. In fact, it's explicitly stated (in the Living Water passage) that the dragon couldn't kill George because God was controlling the outcome."

It is beautiful, isn't it?  (Spenser's symbolism, that is.  Not my writing.  I have two preschoolers and 1-month old and this draft has been sitting in my "drafts" pile since mid-February.)  A servant-leader battles against (as Chesterton put it) "limitless terrors," placing his confidence not in his own strength, but in the grace and sovereignty of God.  Sometimes he has to fight what appears to be the same battle all day long, just to wake up the next morning and fight again.  But ultimately, good does triumph over evil.  It's a gorgeous story.

We all have battles to fight.  Maybe not in shiny armor and pointy swords, but that doesn't make them any less real.  Our adversaries may not look like dragons -  right now one of mine (laziness) happens to look like a pile of dirty dishes.  (Speaking of battles that have to be fought day after day after day . . .)  But just because they don't look terrible doesn't mean they aren't dangerous.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,  and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. - Ephesians 6:10-20, ESV
This is what I want for my kids.  I want them to stand firm in the face of evil, secure in the knowledge of who God is and who they are in relationship to Him.

Now (ahem) . . . I have an appointment with the kitchen sink.