Thursday, February 8, 2018

Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray...

Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray is a book I've waited years to read. It's on many favorite lists suggested for study of the Middle Ages. Over the last couple of weeks, I finally got my chance.

Adam of the Road tells the story of Adam, an 11-year old son of a traveling minstrel in 13th Century England. Throughout their travels, Adam and his father acquire a horse, named Bayard, and a dog, named Nick. However, after a short time, Adam's father loses Bayard gambling and eventually Nick is stolen. Then while searching for Nick, Adam is separated from his father. The second half of the story becomes Adam's quest to find Nick and his father. Throughout which, he learns a few life lessons. I won't give away the ending, but will suffice to say, Adam of the Road is a worthy read.

Gray's tale gives a wonderful overview of minstrel life during the 1200's. It also gives a glimpse of time after the signing of the Magna Charta as England was beginning to establish and build the foundation for their modern day government. The portrayal of medieval culture and society is in line historically. Gray was awarded the 1943 Newbery Medal for writing Adam of the Road.

As mentioned, Adam of the Road is a suggested read on several lists, including Beautiful Feet, Memoria Press, Sonlight, and TruthQuest History. Our entire family enjoyed it as an evening read aloud.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Reflections on Home Education - Part V, Post 4 - Natural Philosophy, Geography, and History....

Carrying on with the fourth installment of Part V in Vol. 1 of Home Education by Charlotte Mason, you can find the previous posts here, Post 1, Post 2, and Post 3.

Natural Philosophy

In Charlotte's day, Natural Philosophy was the study of nature and the universe. It began in the ancient world with Aristotle and continued throughout the 19th Century. It is considered the precursor to natural science, which can be divided into life science and physical science.  According to Oxford Dictionaries, Philosophy is the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline. And, natural is defined as existing in or caused by nature, not made or caused by humankind. So, in my mind, Natural Philosophy is the basic knowledge of all things created by God.

Charlotte wrote extensively earlier in Vol. 1, about the importance of children being out of doors in the younger years so that they can encounter and gain knowledge of Natural Philosophy by their own observations. At the beginning of this section, she reiterates and summarizes her position...
Of the teaching of Natural Philosophy, I will only remind the reader of what was said in an earlier chapter - that there is no part of the child's education more important than that he should lay, by his own observation, a wide basis of facts towards scientific knowledge in the future. He must live hours daily in the open air, and, as far as possible, in the country; must look and touch and listen; must be quick to note, consciously, every peculiarity of habit or structure, in beast, bird, or insect; the manner of growth and fructification of every plant. He must be accustomed to ask why - Why does the wind blow? Why does the river flow? Why is a leaf-bud sticky? And do not hurry to answer his questions for him; let him think his difficulties out so far as his small experience will carry him. Above all, when you come to the rescue, let it not be in the 'cut and dried' formula of some miserable little text-book; let him have all the insight available, and you will find that on many scientific questions the child may be brought at once to the level of modern thought. Do not embarrass him with too much scientific nomenclature. If he discover for himself (helped, perhaps, by a leading question or two), by comparing an oyster and his cat, that some animals have backbones and some have not, it is less important that he should learn the terms vertebrate and invertebrate than that he should class the animals he meets with according to this difference. (p. 264-265)
Charlotte goes on to recommend a couple of books for reinforcing her method of teaching Natural Philosophy. These being the Eyes and No-eyes series in Evenings at Home by John Aikin and his sister Anna Laetitia Barbauld and The Sciences by Holden. Regarding the use of books in education, Charlotte says,
The general plan of the book is to awaken the imagination; to convey useful knowledge; to open the doors towards wisdom. Its special aim is to stimulate observation and to excite a living and lasting interest in the world that lies about us. (p. 267)
Therein, lies an excellent definition of a 'living book'!

Geography is, to my mind, a subject of high educational value; though not because it affords the means of scientific training....But the peculiar value of geography lies in its fitness to nourish the mind with ideas, and to furnish the imagination with pictures. (p. 271-272)
Again, Charlotte recommends beginning geography through natural science and long hours in the out of doors. Keep in mind, Vol. 1 was recommended for the teaching of children under age nine. At this point, she does not recommend students learn the geography of any one particular country of continent, but rather places in their natural surroundings and ones they read about in their histories and well-written books on travel. She suggests children in Form I, between the ages of six and nine, have half a dozen well-chosen standard books of travel read to them.

In regard to maps, Charlotte states,
Maps must be carefully used in this kind of work, - a sketch-map following the traveller's progress, to be compared finally with a complete map of the region;.. (p. 275)
Once people and places have been introduced through a reading, Charlotte does recommend showing the child a big picture map and pointing out the location so they get a general idea of geography. However, this is only after the child learns the meaning of a map by drawing a floor plan of his bedroom or the school room or the neighborhood. This introduction of maps and their purpose serves as a base for later geographic knowledge.


I've written a great deal about the teaching of history in the past. Therefore, I will limit this section to a brief review and highlight any new quotes I've obtained here.
Much that has been said about the teaching of geography applies equally to that of history. Here, too, is a subject which should be to the child an inexhaustible storehouse of ideas, should enrich the chambers of his House Beautiful with a thousand tableaux, pathetic and heroic, and should form in him, insensibly, principles whereby he will hereafter judge of the behaviour of nations, and will rule his own conduct as one of a nation. (p. 279)
The study of history was used in moral teaching and to develop self-governance in children. The main method of teaching history was through the use of  living books. Charlotte used biographies, about noble characters in history, such as Alfred the Great, William the Conqueror, Richard the Lionhearted, and Henry V to name a few. She despised what she called, "outlines or a baby edition of the whole history." Charlotte also opposed history books written specifically for children as she felt they were watered down and without literary power. Charlotte further recommended early histories of a nation or older books written closer to the time period vs. modern books that didn't recognize the 'dignity of history'. She suggested chronicles, at the rate of one per year. Many of which are used in Ambleside Online today, like Bede's Ecclesiastical History of England, Chronicles of the Kings of England, and Asser's Alfred. Charlotte also purported teaching myths and legends, such as Tennyson's Idylls of the King. She called for original sources....
...wherever practicable, the child should get his first notions of a given period, not from the modern historian, the commentator and reviewer, but from the original sources of history, the writings of contemporaries. (p. 286)
She used books like Plutarch's Lives in preparation for the study of Grecian or of Roman history. In addition, she taught classic myths. Charlotte devoted several pages in this section writing about her ideal of history books and the importance of having the right books.

In addition, Charlotte mentioned the century chart that young children kept. It was a timeline of sorts, divided into twenty columns, each representing a century, where the child wrote names of people he encountered in history.  Charlotte also talked about the importance of children narrating each of their history readings, whether orally or by illustration. She closed this section mentioning the importance of playing at history when the child has been fed a healthy diet of living ideas.
The mistake we make is to suppose that imagination is fed by nature, or that it works on the insipid diet of children's story-books. Let the child have the meat he requires in his history readings, an in the literature which naturally gathers round this history, and imagination will bestir itself without any help of ours the child will live out in detail a thousand scenes of which he only gets the merest hint. (p. 295)
Here are a few more quotes on History and Geography taken from Charlotte's writings. Also, last January, I wrote a response to a blog post titled, "The Perils of Teaching History Through Literature" by John De Gree, of the Classical Historian, which you can find here.  I found Mr. De Gree's claims inaccurate in comparison to Charlotte Mason's teachings on the study of history. He used an exaggerated example to decry a method that works. I have been using living books for history teaching in our homeschool since day one, back in 2007. My kids are all very passionate about history and will tell you it's their favorite subject. Here is one area, I know Mason's methods work!

Friday, February 2, 2018

Book Bites - Marguerite de Angeli...

I am a self proclaimed bibliophile who’s built a home library containing a few thousand books. Anyone who enters our home can see we love books! However, I don’t love just any book as I admit to being a little bit of a book snob. To me, a book must be of high quality. I look for a story with excellent moral value. I want the characters to have character and depth. I tend to be partial to books written in the Golden Age of Children's Literature, which began in Europe in the mid 1800’s and continued into America until around the 1960’s. There was about 100 years, where children’s literature was at its peak. We have read widely in our home, but find the books written within that 100 year time period to be far superior.

Last Sept 2017, I gave a talk at the Journey: An Education for Life retreat in which I talked about Teaching Through Literature and Living Books. I received great feedback from families who wanted more information about the books I mentioned and their authors. This got me thinking about how best to present that information. As a result, I’ve decided to write blog posts that accompany Instagram Live discussions. The IG Live only remains for 24 hours, so the blog posts will serve as a more permanent record.

In these posts, I’ll be writing to showcase a variety of authors and their books. I will write about individual books, topical study books, series books, and authors. Today, I’m going to start with Marguerite de Angeli, who lived and wrote during that Golden Age of Children's Literature that I mentioned...

Marguerite was born in 1889 in Lapeer, MI, one of six children. Her father was an illustrator and photographer. In spite of living near poverty, Marguerite reported a happy childhood. She loved to draw and paint from a very early age. However, rather than drawing, she started her career as a professional singer after dropping out of high school to pursue voice lessons.

In 1910, Marguerite married a violinist, John Daily de Angeli. Together they had six children. Marguerite began drawing in earnest while her children were very small. Eventually, she showed some of her drawings to their neighbor, M.L. Brower, who was a well-known illustrator at that time. Brower encouraged Marguerite to continue drawing and within a year’s time, he sent some of her illustrations to his editor, of which, she received her first illustrating commission.

Marguerite continued to work diligently over the next few years illustrating stories, magazine articles and books for others. It wasn’t until 14 years later that she wrote her own first book, Henner’s Lydia, which is the story of a young Amish girl living near Lancaster, PA. Lydia is working on a hooking a small mat to take to the market. However, she is sidetracked daily by everything, but her work. Does Lydia finish her mat in time? I will let you read and find out.

Marguerite went on to write many more wonderful children’s books. She was one of the first authors to write about children of racial, regional, and religious minorities. Marguerite traveled and did on the spot research for her stories. Her book settings are very accurate. In addition, Marguerite's pencil illustrations are remarkable, just as good as the words she penned. I read that she used her own children as models for her illustrations, making them seem life like. Marguerite's books are wholesome as she believed children benefit from reading about happy homes. Her books are truly treasures and I would really encourage you to check them out from the library or to consider purchasing copies for your own home library.

I have collected a few of Marguerite de Angeli's books, but certainly don’t own them all. Many of Marguerite's titles were originally published in hardcover, but unfortunately, they are getting harder to find as they have become collectible and some of the prices are astronomical. Thankfully, many of the titles are being reprinted in softcover by publishers like Sonlight Curriculum, Herald Press, and Laudamus Press. The titles we've collected so far are as follows...

The Old Testament illustrated by de Angeli - This lovely rendition of the Old Testament is a delight for all ages to page through! 

Marguerite de Angeli's Book of Nursery and Mother Goose Rhymes - Again the wonderful illustrations, which alternate between black/white pencil drawings and color, make these nursery rhymes come to life and are extra sweet.

Copper-Toed Boots - an adventure story of a boy through a Michigan summer - I'll include some sample illustrations below. 

Henner's Lydia - story of a young Amish girl hooking a mat to sell at market

Yonie Wondernose - about a 7-year old boy who can't keep his nose out of trouble

Thee, Hannah! - 9-year old Quaker, living in Philadelphia just before the Civil War

Bright April - young black child growing up in Germantown, PA

The Skippack School - Eli immigrates to America and must attend the new school

The Door in the Wall - crippled boy who proves his courage, set in 13th Century England

Black Fox of Lorne - 10th Century Viking twin brothers, who vow to avenge their fathers death

The Lion in the Box - a beautiful Christmas tale, set around the turn of the century in New York City

The Door in the Wall and Black Fox of Lorne, both make an excellent addition to your Medieval History study. The first of which, is more common and readily available. However, the second is a do not miss in our opinion! The Amish and Quaker stories are great reads while studying Colonial History. And, of course, The Lion in the Box is a must read Christmas treasure. Below are some sample illustrations....

Copper-Toed Boots...

Little Bo Peep... 

Wee Willie Winkie.... 

Mary had a Little Lamb...

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Robin Hood by J. Walker McSpadden...

I finished reading aloud Robin Hood by J. Walker McSpadden. It was a suggested literature read for Ruben's IEW Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons. I initially thought about substituting The Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn Green, which is the suggested Beautiful Feet Intermediate Medieval History book and the version of Robin Hood Riley read. I want to say, I'm so glad I didn't, but without reading Green's book, that would be unfair. However, I will say, I am very pleased with McSpadden's work.

Robin Hood is a wonderful story. For those of you who don't know, Robin Hood is a hero to the poor in English folklore. He and his loyal circle of 'merry men' fight for the oppressed against the Sheriff of Nottingham and the king. Robin Hood lives in Sherwood Forest. He and his band dress in 'Lincoln green' and it is said, Robin takes from the rich and gives to the poor. There is speculation that Robin Hood may have been a real man. However, exact details are unknown and most certainly have been dramatized over the years.

One of the first known accounts of Robin Hood is in William Langland's Piers Plowman in 1377. The brief mention may indicate the tale was popular in the oral tradition. Although, it wasn't until 1883, when Howard Pyle published The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood as a children's version that Robin Hood became popular in literature. There have since been many renditions of Robin Hood. I really did love the edition, pictured above, written by J. (Joseph) Walker McSpadden. The rich language and alliteration are lovely and the inclusion of excerpts from other famous retellings such as Andrew Lang's Robin Hood and the Butcher were wonderful.  The Dover reprint pictured above was created as a replication of text originally published by World Publishing Company, New York, in 1923. The original McSpadden retelling was authored in 1891. You can read it online here or listen to the audio here.

The reading of McSpadden's Robin Hood was highly anticipated in our home each evening before bed. Steve and I loved it as much as the children. Ruben was disappointed when it ended. I can anticipate re-reading it in the future or at a minimum, reading other early versions of the work such as Pyle's, which we are blessed to have on the shelf. Whether you are studying the Middle Ages or not, I believe Robin Hood is a must read tale, simply for the discussion of character and virtue. Is it ever right to take something that's not yours if you are well meaning to give it to someone in need? I'll let you read and decide...

Monday, January 29, 2018

Reflections On A Life Well Lived...

We laid Orpha, my dear mother-in-law, to rest this weekend. It was bittersweet. Bitter for those of us left mourning our loss. Sweet for her, as she was one of the strongest Christian women I knew and I believe she has met her maker. I love the picture above of her and Steve at a family reunion in 2009.

Over the years, I have learned a great deal from Orpha. Her faith was her foundation in life. She lost her mother when she was five years old and her father when she was thirteen. Her older sister raised Orpha and her younger brother into adulthood and forever after became a surrogate mother. Though she didn't have a great deal of memories of her mother, Orpha talked ever so fondly of her father before his passing. His response to all things was prayer.

In 1950, Orpha married Philip, a Godly man and the love of her life. They went on to have nine children. One of which died at age two from a ruptured appendix after being sent home from the doctor with a stomach flu diagnosis and only a month before her baby number five was born. What a trying time that must have been! Yet, their faith remained steadfast. Something that really struck me on the day of her death, is when we were gathered at her bedside and one of her sons shared that in all his years, not once did his mother and father have a fight/disagreement/argument in front of the children. Amazingly, each child attested to it and had the same memory. Orpha and Philip loved and respected each other like no other.

During her years, Orpha never drove. She was dependent on Philip for a ride. He did most of the shopping so her outings consisted of church two times a week and family gatherings. Day in and day out, she lived on a very meager farmer's wife budget, cooking, baking, washing, and cleaning for their large family. And her children claim, she never worried. Orpha believed the Lord would provide and did he ever! They have story upon story of His provisions, especially through Philip's major illnesses. The children are adamant that she prayed daily for them and their safety because on a farm, there is plenty to get in to and they remained safe. They even talked about the pine boards upstairs in the farm house by her bed being worn from years of her kneeling knees. In spite of her days at home, she was never alone. Her God and family kept her company.

In 1999, the sister that acted as mother to Orpha died. Then Philip passed away in January of 2000. Orpha's been widowed for many years, but family and friends continued to stop by the farm, bringing in supplies and giving her rides to church, which was the highlight of her week. In April of 2005, just two days before our son, Ruben, was born, one of Orpha's daughter's lost her battle with cancer. She was no stranger to loss, but again her faith sustained her. Orpha spent hours with her bible, reading and underlining meaningful passages. She played piano at home and church up to about a year ago. Often times, when the kids would run across the field to visit grandma, she'd be at the piano playing hymns. They'd tell me how they'd sneak in and listen quietly to her beautiful tunes.

About three years ago, at age 91, Orpha moved off the farm and in with one of her daughters. The kids nearly didn't know what to do with themselves when they couldn't walk over to grandma's every day. Orpha was gentle, peaceful, and content. She and Philip opened their home to anyone in need. Even though they didn't have much, they knew with God, it was always enough. My cousins described her as a "storybook grandma". She showed a great love for her family, as well as the Lord, always sharing photos and telling stories of various family members and days gone by. And, she made the best wheat buns I've ever had in my life! We all missed her greatly when she left. But most of all, I missed her witnessing and testimony. She was a very intelligent lady with much wisdom and a tremendous inspiration to my faith.

On December 29, 2017, we spent our last Christmas with Orpha. On January 1, 2018, she went to the hospital with pneumonia, eventually congestive heart failure set in. On January 15th, she decided not to continue treatments because at 94-years old she was tired. Her daughter tried to bring her home on January 18th for hospice care, but when they started unhooking things, it was apparent she wouldn't make the ride and needed to stay just a few more hours at the hospital. Calls were made and all of her children, their spouses, and grandchildren, all but two, plus most of the great-grandchildren gathered at her bedside. What a testament to her love giving life!

One of Orpha's last wishes was that her family would read Scripture to her, particularly Psalm 23, when she no longer could. As the day went on, a couple of her sons took turns reading it, as well as other passages she had underlined in her Bible over the years. Her kids also played piano hymns by her ear from their cell phones. It seemed to calm her. Right about 6:30 p.m., that evening, one of the grand kids suggested we all sing Amazing Grace. While we sang, Orpha took her last breath. If death can be beautiful, this was it. It definitely lost its sting that day. It was so surreal, unlike anything I've seen and I have seen death more than once. A child finally meeting her Father after a life well lived for Him.

I'm still processing it all, but of all the things that stick out, none are stronger than Orpha's unwavering faith. It sustained her in life and death. Life surely gave Orpha her fair share of adversity, but she never let it get her down. She always found time to read her bible and allowed the Lord to see her through. Seeing her open her eyes at the end and take those last breaths during our singing of that hymn, has forever changed me.

I've since been reflecting on what matters most. What is it I want my kids to remember on my death bed? Morbid?, maybe, but really what is the end goal of life, including this whole home education thing. What will my legacy be? In the end, for Orpha, there was never a mention of any books they read, other than the bible, lesson plans or homework assignments. It was about her faith and the wisdom and love she bestowed upon her children because of it. 

One thing I know for sure is that every day is a cause for celebration. And, I hope when I'm having a bad day, I will reach for my bible. Plain and simple, put the other books away and get out my bible. Sing hymns and read the bible. Orpha lived a good life and made a huge impression on me because of her faith. Like I said, I'm still thinking about all of this as it is so fresh in my mind. Faith and family were key components in Orpha's life. She left a tremendous legacy for her children and I want that for my children as well. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

Otto of the Silver Hand by Howard Pyle....

Otto of the Silver Hand by Howard Pyle is a charming book, originally published in 1888, about a motherless boy who grew up in the safety of a monastery for the first twelve years of his life. It's set in Medieval Germany at a time of robber barons. Eventually, the boy's father comes back for him and takes him home in the hope of training him in warring. However, Otto has been taught up to that point in the way of the Lord, where kindness and mercy abound. Upon leaving the monastery, the reader quickly finds young Otto out of his element. There is definite evil, brute force, and cruelty in his father's world. However, good prevails as Otto manages to overcome.

Pyle's story is engaging, albeit simply written. Otto of the Silver Hand would be suitable for younger elementary students as a read aloud or older students as an independent read. Pyle's illustrations are fabulous and really compliment the story. We were slightly disappointed with Pyle's lack of character development, but the illustrations do help the story come alive. The book is pretty fast paced as there is a lot of action so it felt like you never really got to know the characters like in a book such as Black Fox of Lorne by de Angeli, which we finished reading before Otto. We liked the characters in Pyle's tale, but were left wanting to know more about them.

Overall, we enjoyed Otto of the Silver Hand. It was our first book written by Pyle. I look forward to reading his other books in the future.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

2017-2018 Mid Year Reflections...

We are at the half way point in our 2017-2018 academic year. Having completed Term One, we are now in the midst of Term Two. Last week we completed Week 18, out of our thirty-six week year. Thus far, this has been a very different kind of academic year in many ways.

Over the past couple of years, Riley Ann has been consistently gaining independence. I have since been working on assisting Ruben toward greater independence.  Because of his learning differences and dyslexia, he was a late bloomer in many academic areas. He will continue to need one on one teaching in key areas such as math and language arts, but is now able to read some of his books for himself. Also, over the past couple of years, we mastered an assignment notebook system that suits him, allowing him to see at a glance what needs to be done for the day and begin what he can. In addition, Ruben enjoys audio books and this has been a key piece in his puzzle of learning.

Middle school is a great time to make that transition to independent learning. I want my high schoolers to be motivated self-starters as they prepare for adulthood and life in the real world. This doesn't happen over night. It takes time and habit training. In addition, I've been thinking about Levi coming up. When he starts Year 1 in the fall, he will require complete dependence when he begins his formal lessons. It's important that the older kids have a great foundation and are able to work somewhat, if not totally, independently so as my time and effort can be primarily spent on Levi, the beginning student. The first half of this academic year has been trial and error, as Ruben tests the water toward greater independent learning.

In addition, both Riley and Ruben have jobs. Though they've both been working out of the home for a couple of years now, hours and phone calls for help have increased as they mature. It's been a balancing act on my part to coordinate their working life with their academic life. I feel they are both important areas as they are learning a great deal from their books, as well as working outside the home. I've been thinking a lot about what Cindy Rollins wrote in Mere Motherhood...
As homeschooling became more complicated with so many glitches, hardships, and moves, I started streamlining our days. I made sure that we were having Morning Time and that the boys were doing math, a written narration, and reading for two to three hours each day. Housework, farm chores, and the constant stream of farming neighbors who needed a 'boy' for the day helped all this add up to a decent education. (p. 62)
This is totally my world right now. Thank goodness, we are not moving, but have had a few other hiccups. I most relate with the last sentence regarding the housework, farm chores and constant stream of neighbors needing help. I have come to see that there's so much more to an education than book learning. I too am learning life lessons as I have been called upon for an extra job, though it's an unpaid position.

In July of 2016, we answered a phone call that would change our lives drastically. Our elderly neighbor had fallen and was injured, but refused medical treatment. Her son was trying to care for her, but knew she needed more help so called us to come in and aid. I had no idea what we were walking in to, but knew God called us to take care of the widows and children. It took me three days to talk her into seeking medical treatment, at which time we found her hip was severely broken and required surgery. Unfortunately, the surgery needed to be delayed for another week, because of her ill health from waiting so long to get proper medical help.

Long story short, after surgery, she went for rehab, which didn't go well. She ended up in a guardianship trial with the county courts, in which I was appointed her legal guardian for finance and medical. This undertaking has been much bigger than I could have ever imagined. There has been hours of phone calls and paperwork, filing forms and reporting to the county, in addition to her physical and medical care needs. Initially, we spent days driving to and from various assisted living facilities, until we settled on one that would best meet her needs. Since that time, I have been responsible for making and taking her to all her medical appointments, in addition to the paperwork and finance that comes as part of managing her farm. As part of my guardianship duties, I also have to maintain regular visits and welfare checks to ensure that she is receiving the best care and all her needs are being met. The time spent has definitely altered our home school! However, as Cindy said, I have learned to streamline our days.

This year, I actually brought back Morning Time, which has been a huge blessing. We are conquering many books and beautiful ideas together, that most likely would have other wise fallen by the wayside given our crazy schedule. Riley has continued with her Year 8 plan independently and is doing a great job! Ruben is working through his Year 7 plan and definitely making progress. Some days, it feels like we're schooling on the fly, but some how by the grace of God, it's all coming together. They are reading, writing, and doing math. All things considered, the year is going well.

I am so grateful for home education and the flexibility it allows our family. Over and above book learning, the kids are acquiring valuable life lessons, not only on the farm, but from working for others, and caring for our neighbor. I love that we can do this thing called life together!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Black Fox of Lorne by Marguerite de Angeli....

Black Fox of Lorne by Marguerite de Angeli was written in 1956 and went on to become the 1957 Newbery Honor Book. It is a fabulous historic tale of tenth-century Viking twins, Jan and Brus, who are shipwrecked with their father, Harold, on the Scottish coast. When Harold is killed, the boys vow to avenge his death. The problem being, one of them is captive to Harold's killer. Through a series of adventures, demonstrating their wit and wisdom, the boys overcome their captor and desire for revenge. Jan and Brus' story has a beautiful ending, which I will not divulge here.

Unfortunately, Black Fox of Lorne has been out of print for many years, making it harder to find, particularly in hardcover. After doing a bit of research, I see Hillside Education did recently begin reprinting this treasure in paperback. However, I am not familiar with their company and have not seen the reprint so I cannot comment on the quality.

Black Fox of Lorne is a much lesser known de Angeli title, than say, The Door in the Wall or Skippack School, but nevertheless, it is a wonderful read. And true to her fashion, de Angeli's beautifully charming illustrations are a delight. After each evening's reading, the kids would want to go back and spend time looking at the pictures. I read Black Fox of Lorne aloud to the entire family, including The Farmer, who enjoyed it just as much as the kids. If you have a chance to get your hands on a copy, we all highly recommend it!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Reflections on Home Education - Part V, Post 3 - Composing Thought, Bible Lessons, and Arithmetic...

This post will continue on in Part V of Vol. 1, Home Education by Charlotte Mason. You can view Part V, post one on the Kindergarten here, and post two on Teaching Reading here. Today's post will focus on the composition of thought through both narration and writing, as well as bible lessons and arithmetic for children age nine and under.

The Art of Narrating
Narrating is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there, in very child's mind, waiting to be discovered, and is not the result of any process of disciplinary education. (p. 231)
I have blogged on narration in the past, back in July of 2014 on The Art of Narration and in December of 2015 in Narration is Natural, while studying Charlotte's 20 Principles. Charlotte covers narration in Principles 14 and 15. I'm not going to go in depth on narration here, but if you are unfamiliar or want review, I would highly encourage you to read my other writings on the subject. Narration is a cornerstone of Charlotte's philosophy and I will go so far as to say, you can not implement a Charlotte Mason education without it. It's a method that works!

I can only offer a few hints on the teaching of writing, though much might be said. First, let the child accomplish something perfectly in every lesson - a stroke, a pothook, a letter. Let the writing lesson be short; it should not last more than five or ten minutes. Ease in writing comes by practice; but that must be secured later. In the meantime, the thing to be avoided is the habit of careless work...(p. 233-234)
I remember when RileyAnn was very young, most likely around age 5, and I was fairly new to home educating. I purchased a well known handwriting curricula, in which the child was expected to write a full page of the same letter each day. For example, they would write an entire page of the letter a, and then next day, an entire page of the letter b, and so on and so forth. I remember her focus and concentration on the first line of the letter. However, by the end of the page, her face began to contort in anxiety and frustration.

A few days in, I could see tears building in Riley's eyes. When I asked her what was wrong, the flood gates opened. She didn't want to tell me, but eventually, I coaxed out of her that all the writing was hurting her hand and she was worried that her last letters weren't as good as the first letters on the page. Riley is my Perfect Paula, who loves all things academic, and never complained. She'd take anything I gave her and then some. To see her so down trodden over her handwriting nearly broke my heart. At that point, a light went on for me.

I set that curricula aside and never thought twice about it. From that day on, I vowed to find a better way. Some where along the way, I read about this idea of copy work, where the parent/teacher begins by writing a letter and then the student imitates it a few times, maybe 3-4, giving best effort and then they're done for the day. Once letters are learned, you move on to words, then phrases, and then sentences, etc. It's a slow and steady process, but again, one that works. Charlotte writes in several places, "Do not hurry the child."

I learned quickly that handwriting curricula is not necessary and I haven't looked back since. Copy work, or transcription as described below, are excellent methods to teach not only penmanship, but to build a base for composition.


Transcription is more commonly referred to as copy work. It's a written or printed representation of something.
The earliest practice in writing proper for children of seven or eight should be, not letter-writing or dictation, but transcription, slow and beautiful work...
Transcription should be an introduction to spelling. Children should be encouraged to look at the word, see a picture of it with their eyes shut, and then write from memory. (p. 238)
According to Charlotte, children should be allowed to transcribe their favorite passages. I would add caution to be sure the child is presented with the best writing and quality books so when they are choosing passages to transcribe, they have a superb model. Transcription should last no more than 10-15 minutes per lesson in the early Forms. Charlotte also suggested using a black board, or we now have white boards, in writing lessons, by both teacher and student by way of model and practice. So the teacher would model writing the letters on the blackboard and students would copy, eventually transitioning to pencil/paper.

Spelling and Dictation
...the gift of spelling depends upon the power the eye possesses to 'take' (in a photographic sense) a detailed picture of a word; and this is a power and habit which must be cultivated in children from the first. (p. 241)
Charlotte believed spelling should be taught through transcription and dictation. The child would read passages, copy them perfectly, committing to memory a picture of each word. Then the teacher/parent would dictate the passage for the child to write from memory. Care must be given that the child never sees a misspelled word as that image could remain in the child's mind, causing them to misspell the word for life.

She suggested a child of 8 or 9 years prepare a paragraph from dictation, while older children, one to three pages. Charlotte gives specific steps to a dictation lesson on pages 241-243 of Home Education.
Spelling must not be lost sight of in the children's other studies, though they should not be teased to spell....The whole secret of spelling lies in the habit of visualising words from memory, and children must be trained to visualise in the course of their reading. They enjoy this way to learning to spell. (p. 243)

Herein lies a battle for many home educators. However, I believe if more parents followed the developmentally appropriate methods of teaching composition that Charlotte Mason proposed, it is a battle they would not have to fight. Charlotte writes,
For children under nine, the question of composition resolves itself into that of narration, varied by some such simple exercise as to write a part and narrate a part, or write the whole account of a walk they have taken, a lesson they have studied, or of some simple matter that they know. Before they are ten, children who have been in the habit of using books will write good, vigorous English with ease and freedom; that is, if they have not been hampered by instructions. It is well for them not even to learn rules for the placing of full stops and capitals until they notice how these things occur in their books. Our business is to provide children with material in their lessons, and, leave the handling of such material to themselves. If we would believe it, composition is as natural as jumping and running to children who have been allowed due use of books. They should narrate in the first place, and they will compose, later, readily enough; but they should not be taught 'composition.' (p. 247)
There you have it! Composition begins with great books or a nature walk, followed by narration. It's that simple. Children under age nine should be read to, and if able, be reading the best books. Then they should be required to narrate, beginning orally, making the transition to written narrations only after the mastery of oral, which is often around age ten.

Bible Lessons
Children between the ages of six and nine should get a considerable knowledge of the Bible text. By nine they should have read the simple (and suitable) narrative portions of the Old Testament, and, say, two of the gospels. (p. 248)
Bible lessons were significant in Charlotte's schools. She recommended the Old Testament be read aloud to children. She advised us not to use a paraphrase text and she suggested the child's Bible lessons should help them realize that knowledge of God is principle knowledge and, therefore, that their Bible lessons are their chief lessons.

Charlotte wrote we should read a few verses, covering an episode in one sitting. Then require the children of age six years and over to narrate. She also said Bible memorization and recitation should begin around age 6-7.

Of all his early studies, perhaps none is more important to the child as a means of education than that of arithmetic. (p. 253-254)
I remember back when I first read this quote from Charlotte. I was extremely overwhelmed with math teaching at that time and went in search of a better means to my madness. Initially, I was not comforted in the least by her statement. However, after years of math research, then reading and re-reading these words, I am only now beginning to understand what Charlotte meant by that statement. First, let's look at what follows the above sentence...
That he should do sums is of comparatively small importance; but the use of those functions which 'summing' calls into play is a great part of education; so much that the advocates of mathematics and of language as instruments of education have, until recently, divided the field pretty equally between them.
The practical value of arithmetic to persons of every class goes without remark. But the use of the study in practical life is the least of its uses. The chief value of arithmetic, like that of the higher mathematics, lies in the training  it affords to the reasoning powers, and in the habits of insight, readiness, accuracy, intellectual truthfulness it engenders. (p. 254 - bold mine)
Arithmetic is a means to truth. There is a right and wrong answer. Arithmetic, like mathematics, requires diligence. It depends upon the habits of attention and accuracy. As we read further into this section, we can see that Charlotte is not focused on drilling tables, when speaking of arithmetic. Instead, she's using it as a base for problem solving. She's concerned herself with mathematical reasoning. Further on, she writes...
Engage the child upon little problems within his comprehension from the first, rather than upon set sums....the child perceives what rules he must apply to get the required information....Care must be taken to give the child such problems as he can work, but yet which are difficult enough to cause him some little mental effort. (p. 254-255)
In arithmetic, strategies were taught and problems were given. The teacher was to then step aside and let the child work through the rules to find the answer. When instructing this way, Charlotte taught the why behind the how.

Manipulatives such as beans or buttons were always available and used. Again, pencil/paper wasn't introduced until much later in the process, once children understood the concepts or the why behind the problems. When the child began to think in terms of numbers rather than objects, they were ready to move on and begin mathematics.

Whether you're just beginning to home educate young children, are struggling with math, or want to try a new approach, I highly recommend reading pages 253-264 in Vol. 1, Home Education by Charlotte Mason, of which, you can find online at Ambleside Online by scrolling through this section. Read it slowly and carefully. Then you may even consider re-reading. There is much wisdom there. Another wonderful resource for math education is Mathematics: An Instrument for Teaching by Richele Baburina and Sonya Shafer of Simply Charlotte Mason.

In case you are wondering, Part V of Home Education shows Lessons as Instruments of Education broke down by subject that support Charlotte's philosophy in teaching young children. I intend to write at least one more post regarding Part V of Home Education in the near future. The next of which will cover natural philosophy, geography, and history.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table...

I recently finished reading King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green aloud to Ruben. Riley read it as well as part of her Beautiful Feet Intermediate Medieval History study. The BF guide suggests reading selected stories. However, Riley and I decided she would read the book in its entirety, as did Ruben and I.

I have heard of King Arthur in the past, but never read his tales until now. King Arthur is a legendary British leader, who according to medieval sources, defended Britain against the Saxons in medieval England. The tales of King Arthur are thought to be mainly composed of folklore and legend, as their authenticity has been disputed by historians throughout the ages. However, these narratives continue to shape literature, history, and cultural values of Europe and Western Civilization today.

According to the Beautiful Feet Medieval History guide...
King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table relates the story of the establishment of a code of chivalry that still influences British law and customs. The stories are an interesting mix of Christian references and pagan lore. Magic coincides with biblical stories, showing how European tribes mixed their ancient pagan beliefs with the newly arrived Christian faith. Nowadays we think of magic in terms of tricks and illusions. But in the days of Arthur people used it to explain things they did not understand. It also helped people distinguish good from evil - the dark arts were something to be feared and avoided at all costs. As you'll see in these stories, the element of magic is used to warn people of the dangers of evil and encourage right action. Good magic is often explained in terms of generosity, humility, courage, or honesty; whereas bad magic, or the dark arts, cause treachery, pride, greed, anger, murder, lust, and other moral failings. (p. 4)
In Book One, The Coming of Arthur, we learn of Arthur's beginning. He is an orphan of sorts, who is taken away by the wizard Merlin and raised by Sir Ector. At a time when the Saxons were taking over Britain, there was a gathering of knights in London, on Christmas Day. The Archbishop was performing a service in the abbey for these knights, when a "great square slab of marblestone" appeared in the churchyard. On the stone was "an anvil of iron, and set point downwards a great, shining sword of steel thrust deeply into the anvil." 

When the service ended, all went out to look at it. In gold letters on the great stone, was written:
Of course, all the men gathered tried to pull out the sword with none able. Therefore, a tournament was set for New Year's Day so that more could gather and try their hand at the sword to see who would be the king. No one was able to pull the sword, until Arthur tried and was successful. From there, he was crowned King Arthur.

The tales that follow tell the story of King Arthur's life, including how he gathered his knights of the Round Table. A physically round table so that there was no head and all would be equal. On the first day of the Round Table, the Order of Chivalry is laid down. It's a beautiful code, whereupon, each knight must return on the feast of Pentecost to swear the oath anew.

As the legends progress, there is much honor, courage and humility. As evil presents, we see the negative effects and how good overcomes. However, in the end when King Arthur and one of his knights succumb to their human desires rather than upholding the Code, we see the demise of the entire court. All is lost for lust.

Quite honestly, initially, I wasn't completely enthralled in King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. However, Book Four, clinched it. Once we finished, I totally saw the value in reading it. King Arthur's legend is a beautiful story of good vs. evil. It exemplifies character traits like courage, loyalty, and trust, as well as showing the negative side of war, revenge, greed, and lust.

Now that we've read Green's version, which I would liken to a beginner edition, I'd like to go back some day and read other versions, such as Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur or Alfred Tennyson's Idylls of the King. We started Idylls and The Once and Future King by T.H. White in Term One, but became bogged down for lack of understanding, and so quit. Green's narratives gave us a good base for understanding so we now have a foundation to build on in future years.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Reflecting On My 2017 Literary Accomplishments...

I've been looking back at the books I read in 2017. Most of my reading was books read aloud to the kids for academic purposes. I did manage a couple for Mother Culture, but not as many as I'd hoped. However, this seems to be a reoccurring theme over the past few years as it's the season I'm in. I am learning to adjust my reading habits and savor the slow reads. Here are the books I read in 2017....

School Reading

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Julius Caesar by Shakespeare
Alexander the Great by John Gunther
The Story of the Ancient World by H.A. Guerber, reprinted Christine Miller
Genesis: Finding Our Roots by Ruth Beechick
D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar D'Aulaire
The Golden Days of Greece by Olivia Coolidge
The Trojan War by Olivia Coolidge
Cleopatra by Diane Stanley
Augustus Caesar's World by Genevieve Foster
The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare
City by David Macaulay
Birds of the Air by Arabella Buckley
Plant Life in Field and Garden by Arabella Buckley
Galen and the Gateway to Medicine by Jeanne Bendick
An Illustrated Adventure in Human Anatomy by Kate Sweeney
Exploring the History of Medicine by John Hudson Tiner
How To Be Your Own Selfish Pig by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? by Richard Maybury
Beowulf by Micheal Morpurgo
One Thousand and One Arabian Nights by Geraldine McCaughrean
King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green
Black Fox of Lorne by Marguerite de Angeli
The Pied Piper of Hamlin by Robert Browning
Otto of the Silver Hand by Howard Pyle
Magna Carta by C. W. Hodges

Mother Culture

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
Consider This by Karen Glass
Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins
Home Education, Vol. 1 by Charlotte Mason - Though I read the majority in 2017, this will carry over to 2018

In addition, I read a passel of picture books throughout the year.

Overall, I enjoyed all of the Mother Culture titles immensely. My top five School Reading books were, in no particular order, Oliver Twist, Augustus Caesar's World, The Bronze Bow, Beowulf, and Black Fox of Lorne. I was a little disappointed with Genesis: Finding Our Roots. I'm a huge Ruth Beechick fan and had been looking forward to reading this book for some time. Though there were some interesting facts, the book felt long and drawn out. It wasn't as living as I expected. All in all, it was a good year. I look forward to the possibility of more Mother Culture in 2018!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Fall 2017-2018 - Term One Wrap-Up...

We finished Term One of the 2017-2018 academic year a few weeks back. Today, I'm going to share some thoughts as to how we fared.

Year 8

Bible - Riley's working through AO's Year 7 Bible Reading Plan. She also continues to copy the Book of Psalms using Do You Journible? This seems to be a good pairing for her.

History - Riley's been diligently working independently on her Intermediate Beautiful Feet Medieval History study. I posted a review of her first term with that program here. In addition, she's been reading The Story of the Middle Ages by H. A. Guerber and In the Days of Alfred the Great by Eva March Tappan. Both of which are going well. The second of which, she writes a narration after each reading. She's also keeping a Book of Centuries.

Literature - Riley started the year reading the following lit books:

The History of English Literature for Boys and Girls by H. E. Marshall
The Once and Future King by T.H. White
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

I am reading along with her independently so we are able to have discussion. Approximately four weeks into the term, around chapter nine, we mutually decided to scrap The Once and Future King. Neither of us were enjoying it and it seemed like overkill with our other King Arthur readings. We are continuing the other three books much to our delight.

Poetry - Riley read 2-3 poems per week from The Oxford Book of English Verse by Arthur Quiller-Couch. She then translated one poem per week of her choice into modern English. This was a difficult exercise in the start, but became much easier as the term went on. She will study a different poet in the second term.

Grammar - Last year, Riley picked up Easy Grammar 8 from our shelf, after Jensen's Grammar failed. She's continuing it this year until it's finished.

Spelling - Riley's continuing with IEW Phonetic Zoo. I am noticing correctly spelled words carrying over into her narrations!

Penmanship - Riley enjoyed Prescripts by Classical Conversations last year so she is completing another book this year on Poetry. The books offer a combination of cursive and drawing, both of which are lovely.

Math - Riley is taking Pre-Algebra online with Jann Perkins through My Homeschool Math Class. This is a win-win for both of us!! I can't tell you what a relief it is not to have tears and a battle over math. Riley has really taken the bull by the horns and is doing great with this online class.

Natural History - Riley's using AO Year 7 science this year. She has read and notebooked through the following books this term:

The Lay of the Land by Dallas Lore Sharp
Eric Sloane's Weather Book by Eric Sloane
Secrets of the Universe: Discovering the Universal Laws of Science by Paul Fleisher
The Wonder Book of Chemistry by Jean Henri Fabre
First Studies of Plant Life by George Francis Atkinson
Adventures with a Microscope by Richard Headstrom
Signs and Seasons: Understanding the Elements of Classical Astronomy by Jay Ryan and accompanying Field Journal
Great Astronomers by R.S. Ball

Riley's really enjoying Lay of the Land and Adventures with a Microscope. Signs and Seasons has been somewhat of a bust. She started the year by reading it aloud to Ruben and working jointly. However, that didn't go over as well as I'd hoped so she is now working independently, albeit, very loosely from the plan. I think if we are to use that book in earnest, I would need to take the lead, but I just haven't found time. It may very well be a title we set aside for now. 

Handicrafts - Riley is knitting a scarf. 

Year 7

Bible - Ruben's working through AO's Year 6 Bible Reading Plan. In addition, I have him copying random passages from Proverbs. 

History - I settled on reading Famous Men of the Middle Ages aloud to Ruben this term. I read a chapter each Monday and Wednesday. He then notebooks a page each Tuesday and Thursday. This seems to be a good fit for him. He is also listening independently to What in the World?, Vol. 2 by Diana Waring. You can read more about Ruben's history study here

Literature - Ruben's literature works in conjunction with his history study. We read the following books in Term One:

The Black Fox of Lorne by Marguerite de Angeli

All of which were hits. The Black Fox of Lorne, I ended up reading aloud in the evenings to the entire family. It's a fabulous book if you can get your hands on a copy!

Ruben is also reading Watership Down by Richard Adams and Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott along with Riley and I. 

Penmanship - In addition to Ruben's Bible copy work, he's also working through Let's Write and Spell by Mary R. Johnson and Warren T. Johnson two days per week. 

Composition - Ruben's using IEW's Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons this year. He worked through the first eleven lessons in Term One. I'll be doing a separate post on the status of this program.

Natural History - Ruben read Whitetail and Major: The Story of a Black Bear, both by Robert McClung, which he greatly enjoyed. He tried Secrets of the Woods and School of the Woods, both by Long unsuccessfully. As noted above, Signs and Seasons didn't work for him either. We're still working through how to go about science for the second term. 

Math - We began term one, with Strayer-Upton Primary Arithmetics. Then switched to RightStart Mathematics the last week of the term. Given the games, I think RS is a better fit. We'll see how Ruben progresses in the second term. 

Life Skills - Ruben learned how to run the chain saw this fall. 

Morning Time

I posted a 6-week reflection on our Morning Time here. We are still progressing and nothing has changed since that time.


I haven't done much in the way of formal lessons with Levi up to this point. Most days, he listens in on Morning Time. We've read picture books, harvested the garden, picked apples, baked pies, canned, and made sauerkraut. He began writing his name and a few random letters. We worked on memorizing The Pledge of Allegiance and the 4-H Pledge, as he's a Cloverbud this year. We've looked at various art prints and listened to a few classical music pieces. I did start reading Egermeier's Bible Story Book aloud to him. He also has a coloring book with Bible story pictures that he likes to color while I read. We've went on nature walks and he participated in a local Kitchen Chemistry Class, where he learned about cohesion/adhesion, physical/chemical change, acids/bases, and density through a variety of hands on activities and experiments. He might tell you this was the highlight of his term. Overall, his first term of Kindergarten has been pretty relaxed as far as formal academics are concerned. 

There you have it!...Our first term reflections. Truth be told, I've been feeling very guilty about Levi's education or the lack thereof. It seems I did so much more with the older kids when they were his age. However, in putting together this post, I was reminded of all the wonderful hands on activities he's participated in over the past twelve weeks. The photos show just a smattering of the totality. What seemed lost in the day to day, turned into a beautiful collage of living and learning experiences. I have come to see, this post has a whole lot of God's grace written all over it!