Sunday, November 29, 2015

Autumn Schole

Hands-on experience at the critical time, not systematic knowledge, is what counts in the making of a naturalist. Better to be an untutored savage for a while, not to know the names or anatomical detail. Better to spend stretches of time just searching and dreaming. 
Edward O. Wilson, Naturalist - from Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth.

I love these words because it takes the pressure off. Too easily, I get caught up in the belief that my children must learn every detail of what we observe in nature and know every aspect of what we draw in our ongoing nature journals. When this feeling starts creeping up on me, I return to the lovely book quoted above. Please humor me as I share our Autumn Schole and more quotes from Keeping a Nature Journal, my favorite nature journaling resource.

The purpose of nature journaling is to study
where you live and how you relate to it. Season by season, habitat by habitat.

Don't judge your drawing. You are not an artist yet. You are a scientist, simply recording what you see, in this moment in time.

Simply put, nature journaling is the regular recording of observations, perceptions, and feelings about the natural world around you.

Remind yourself that you are keeping the journal to learn, to observe, record, and fully appreciate. This is not an art exercise or any kind of test. You are doing this for yourself, and your own enjoyment.


Keeping and sharing nature journals with members of our immediate families or extended families helps all of us develop our observational skills, and is fun as well. It offers a chance to learn about each other's perspectives, values, and interests.  For children, this process is a great way to develop a wide range of skills, since journaling is truly multidisciplinary. Keeping a nature journal over time will reveal the young journalist's gradual learning and skills development.

 We owe ourselves these moments of connection, reflection, understanding, and calm. Nature is there for all of us to experience no matter where we live, no matter how joyous or distressed we may be - the sky overhead, the trees out our window, the bird that flies, the rain that falls.

  By setting aside a bit of time each day to become absorbed in just being - in the present moment, alone with yourself in nature - you will find yourself refreshed, refocused, and better able to approach the rest of your day. As one eight-year-old said after an outdoor session of nature journaling, "Boy, I have seen the day."

I hope that I've encouraged you to see the day.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

For the Love of Grammar

I love English Grammar. I love reading about it, learning about it, and teaching it. Two books in particular have piqued this interest. In Denise Eide's book, Uncovering the Logic of English, she explains and gives examples of the numerous grammar and phonetic rules, how to use them, and how to teach them. Once I realized how language and its usage all fit together, I discovered that the exceptions to these rules are actually rare. I also use her curriculum in our homeschool as one of several resources I pull from. The other book that has intrigued me enough to read it several times is King Alfred's English by Laurie J. White. This book is a fascinating, entertaining, and an informative telling of history, the development of the English language, and linguistics. In fact, I'm planning to read it again over the holidays.

Since enthusiasm is contagious, English Grammar is a favorite subject in our home. My own homeschool children, M and G, have caught the bug and I work hard to keep that bug alive. We like to play games. Since I'm the Essentials tutor in our local Classical Conversations homeschooling community, I've not only learned a vast amount of English Grammar, I've also created numerous games to use in class. Review time can become a drag unless the teacher/parent makes an effort to spice it up a bit. Games make learning fun and do an excellent job of reinforcing concepts. Over the holiday season, I'm slowing our homeschool down and not introducing any new material; just taking time to solidify what we've been studying for the past 12 weeks.

One of the games we play in class at the end of each twelve weeks is Wipe-Out. I write the grammar terms introduced so far on a white board. The students split into two teams, and taking turns, either give definitions or examples of each one. The words are erased from the board when answered correctly. At home, I'm planning to blindfold my child,(M), turn her around a couple of times, and let her stick a post-it note onto the board. Then she can tell me what she knows about the term she lands on and wipe it off. A Hershey's kiss goes a long way as a reward. Awww... keeping it simple!

Jenga is popular at our house. I taped different English Grammar questions on the blocks and then we play as usual, stopping to answer the questions. I'm always astounded by how much she knows. (I'm also amazed by how much I know thanks to the last four years of Essentials class and I'm blown away by how much her sister knows after graduating from three years of Essentials.)

Of course, Bingo is an easy game to put together. I printed a blank bingo card and wrote the answers to questions related to our IEW writing curriculum, Teaching Writing, Structure, and Style. I like to call it VINCO (I conquer) just to throw in some Latin. 

Another fun game is Preposition Bingo. As I call out the different prepositions, I also give some other parts of speech for M to identify. I try to be tricky and use words like some, somehow, forward, farther; words that we haven't used in example sentences yet. She may not initially know what parts of speech these are, but she should know that they're not prepositions because she has those memorized. (Thanks to CC Foundation's English Grammar memory work.)

We review the parts of speech while also working on writing skills by narrating, or telling back, a short section of something she's reading. It can be anything. Eventually, I will have M write out her narration, but for now I type it up as she is retelling the story. I have her identify different parts of speech. Using different colors to highlight makes it fun. I sometimes present it as a scavenger hunt - find ten nouns, circle five subjects, underline six verbs, highlight four adverbs, etc. Then she adds quality adjectives and -ly adverbs. 

One of the ways we study sentence patterns is by choosing one of our favorite photos and writing sentences incorporating the first four patterns that we are learning. I print them out and then she parses, diagrams, and writes down the pattern. This is fun and I'll find some holiday related pictures to use these next couple of months.

We also play with sentence patterns by writing sentences in different patterns about whatever  book she is reading. This is a higher thinking skill because she not only has to recognize the pattern, she has to take what she has learned and put it into practice. As you can see, she doesn't always get them correct. But she's learning! We'll do this again using different sentence patterns.

I'm a staunch believer that in order to develop excellent writing skills, excellent literature needs to be read.   By becoming familiar with different great authors and various genres,  vocabulary increases, and different writing styles and techniques are recognized. I'm all about using what we read as the jumping off point for writing assignments. 

I also take every opportunity to mix in picture study. Pick-a-Stick lets M create unique sentences about a particular work of art. I've found numerous sites where famous artworks are available to download for free. The sticks have prompts written on them to guide the sentence creations. I love this game; it may be my favorite.

I like to teach punctuation as we read. I think it makes much more sense when seen in the context of a book. Project Gutenberg has all the old classics available to download making it possible to print sections of books. I look up some literature that we are reading and print out a favorite selection. We read it, look and circle all the punctuation; discussing punctuation rules as we go. I then print it again, removing all the punctuation. We work together to replace all of it. I let her do the ones she knows on her own; always adding a new one following IEW's Andrew Pudewa's EZ+1 motto. 

Writing an original story by using three pictures is a wonderful way to spark creativity while practicing not only handwriting, but also writing a keyword outline, constructing sentences of different structures and patterns, using the correct parts of speech, and adding stylistic techniques. That's more than enough concepts for M to manipulate. Talking about them together while creating a fun story makes this assignment very doable. I like to pick pictures from favorite books that we own. We've used illustrations from Good Dog Carl . Next up is Roses for Harry.

We couldn't function without a whiteboard. I often write the word usage labels across the top and she adds in the appropriate parts of speech. She then changes one word to its antonym, one to a synonym, and makes one complete word change. This is an activity presented in Shurley Grammar, another extremely helpful resource. I use the level 7 book and adapt it to our needs. M has fun diagramming but then again, don't we all?

I love how the Classical model invites me to be creative and taylor the curriculum to meet my individual child's needs. I enjoy thinking of ways to make learning English grammar and writing a natural part of each day. Lately, I've been keeping track of what we do over on Pinterest. There, I've posted a document of fun and inspiring Christmas sentences created by a fellow Essentials tutor to parse and diagram as we countdown to Christmas. Feel free to check it out and... enjoy the holidays.

Blessings to all of you during this holy season,

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Let's Talk Math

When my husband and I initially began to contemplate homeschooling our girls, I was introduced to the classical method of education. I'm a reader and for the last six years I've gone through quite a few books on this subject. Recently, I've landed on a book by Diane Lockman. Her book, Trivium Mastery - The Intersection of Three Roads, discusses classical concepts in a down-to-earth manner that resonates with me. Her writing is helping me organize our curriculum and set tangible goals while also giving me tons of new ideas that will lead the girls to mastery of the trivium skills: grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric or (more easily understood) reading, thinking, and speaking.

Today, in preparation for our 12-week evaluation, I want to talk Math.

We do math... every day.  We love Saxon Math. I was pointed to Saxon on homeschooling day one and I couldn't be more pleased. This curriculum teaches new concepts while methodically reinforcing what has been previously learned. 

It's presented in the mindset of Andrew Pudewa's EZ+1 rule.(IEW) Continue with the old stuff until it's relatively easy and then introduce something new. The child doesn't even realize that she's learning something brand new. It's incredible. 

Math teaches critical thinking skills. I don't want our children to only memorize information, I want them to know what to do with that information. 

Simply possessing information won't make your homeschool child intelligent. He needs to learn how to analyze, organize, evaluate, and apply information so that he can make intelligent decisions about daily life. Trivium Mastery by Diane Lockman. 

In other words we 
1. gather
2. evaluate
3. conclude
with the goal of developing critical thinking skills.

We complete several Saxon 5/4 lessons a week. Each lesson involves a math fact page, a review section, a new concept, and problems that span all the concepts learned to date. I usually read through the lesson with her, but sometimes I just let her figure it out herself. By allowing her to gather, evaluate, and conclude on her own, she is developing independence and self-confidence. She reads the lesson, figures out the steps necessary to solve the problems, and then verbally explains the process to me. In this manner, she is concurrently working toward mastery of all three stages of the trivium: grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric.

Mathematics reveals its secrets only to those who approach it with pure love, for its own beauty. ~ Archimedes

I must admit (blush) that my critical thinking skills are lacking. But the wonderful fact is that my learning days are not over yet! We love Mindbenders by Critical Thinking Press. We spend time with these puzzles every week. Honestly, I have to chew on a couple of them before I get my brain thinking logically. As we work through them, I actually feel my thought process changing.

Now for the fun part. We play math games. Because I am the Essentials tutor of our local Classical Conversations homeschooling community, I've discovered the beauty, effectiveness, and just plain joy of learning through games. Testing the games I use in class has led me to incorporate a few of them into our weekly routine.

Shut the Box
Spunky Spiral

N2K or Board Slam

Board-slam-battleship - so much fun!

Multiplication Headbandz
Math Mania - Math facts in one minute.

I appreciate the fact that homeschooling allows our children to grow and learn in whatever manner works best for their individual personalities. And a side benefit is that I get to experience all of it right along with them. All I can say is - thank you.


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

...I have only slipped away to the next room...

Ten years and one week ago I celebrated my 50th birthday. Life was good. One week later, I was mourning the death of my first born. And life was changed.

I've been told numerous times that "life can change in a second."  Life is always changing. That's a given. But a child's death is something of a different nature - something unnatural - something out of order.

Today, ten years later and ten years older, I remember her 

~ as an adorable first baby born to two inexperienced and undeserving people. 

~ with tons of crazy hair and startling blue eyes.

~ "perfect" nursery room until after that first night at home!

precious smiles.

~ anxiously running to her room after preschool, grabbing her blankie, and sticking her thumb in her mouth.

~ loving spirit and remarkable positive attitude.

~ beams of joy when her superior work ethic was recognized at her 6th grade awards banquet.

~ sweet face as I slowly woke her in the early morning to catch the school bus.

~ as she lost her temper when her little brothers tried to secretly video her in her room. (That was funny!)

~ unfailing love for those ornery brothers no matter what they did. And I remember how much they loved her.

~ giggles of joy and unblemished happiness.

~ last tender good night kiss.

The experts say that it takes seven years to refocus after the death of a child; that it takes seven years to stop crying everyday. 

 All I can say is, "Oh, how I miss you, my sweet girl".

Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference in your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
there is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?

I am waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.

All is well.

Nothing is past; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before only better, infinitely happier and forever we will all be one together with Christ.

Henry Scott Holland