Thursday, September 27, 2012

Not Your Average Nature Day in the South

In the middle of all this...

Was all this and more...
We even got an insect "study" in for the Outdoor Challenge!
JJ really wanted to pet them.
Lily said, "Sorry about your babies, Jemima Puddle Duck!"
We took our lunch outdoors...
And then we visited a local petting zoo on our way home.
This is the point Lily decided a pet bunny is a much better idea than a guinea pig.

Interested in visiting the zoo pictured above? Visit Creation Kingdom Zoo for more information. Our family highly recommends it!

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Arts

Another exciting part of our CM education is the feast of arts that we will have before us. An appreciation for good music and beautiful art is something that was never offered to me in my public education. I look forward to introducing all of the wonderful composers and artists of the past to our children.

Girls at the Piano ~ Renoir
While we are not engaging in formal picture study in these early years, I am doing an artist introduction following the Ambleside Online (AO) schedule of artists. For example, for the first 12 weeks of our school year I will alternate six different paintings from Pierre-Auguste Renoir. My presentation in these early years is to merely display the artwork for two weeks on our kitchen table in a frame and telling them the name of the work of art. We are also enjoying looking at available children's literature about the artist.
As far as our own actual artwork, I have a craft area where the children have sometime to do free art. In that area we have markers, crayons, pencils, paint, construction paper, scissors, glue, and other art supplies the children can use with some liberty. They love to paint and I'm often not up to the mess...but I try to accommodate their desire to be artistic.
I, too, am exploring my own artistic side. With the hopes of one day going through the lessons with each of the children, I am working through Mona Brooks' Drawing with Children. The hope is that one day we can all present our art more realistically. My original vision was for this to be more help with our nature journals, but I am really enjoying working through the book and Brooks has some wonderful thoughts on how drawing can help in other areas of learning.
It is also very CM to do a composer study much like that of the artist/picture study. While we have not integrated this into our day with a specific composer, we have not completely abandoned the idea. While the children play daily, there is ongoing classical music played in the background in our family room. What it is...I have no idea unless I look at the TV. Each morning after breakfast I turn our TV to the classical music channel and close the entertainment center for the day. I love to have it playing lightly in the background as we work and play.
And that, my friends, is how we "do" the arts in the early years in our southern home.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Nature Study

"Never be indoors when you can rightly be without." ~ Charlotte Mason

Nature study is one of the most exciting aspects of a CM education for me. I adore being outdoors. I adore my children being outdoors. We love to watch bugs, catch frogs, and observe the changes of all the plants and trees around our house. Nature study is only hard for me when I try to narrow it down to a specific area to focus on.

Being only observant, I have not taken the time to know the plants, birds, and insects that I see around me. Just this summer, I spent more time becoming familiar with the birds in our neighborhood. I actually enjoyed sitting out with a mockingbird that perched on the corner of our house each morning. It is true, when you know more about the “thing” you are observing, once it has a name and you know it’s habits, you feel like you know it and are acquainted with it.

I have always been very attentive to nature and I believe our children have naturally picked up on this. Nature “study” does add some aspects to what we have always done while just enjoying the outdoors. Nature journaling and sketching what we see is very new to us. While sketching can be very intimidating, I have managed to make a best effort and found it really isn’t that terrible. My favorite part of nature journaling is the idea that one day after the habit has been formed that we will have these personal recordings of what we see with scripture or poems attached to supplement the relationships we are making with nature.

What will nature study look like in these early years in our home?

After doing some sketching on loose-leaf copy paper, I invested in some sketchbooks for Lily and myself. In our sketchbooks, we simply use Crayola colored pencils and a regular lead pencil to record what we see, feel, hear, and smell. (The idea is that as the children get older they can explore with more artistic ways to record their observations, such as with watercolors. Since we are both only beginning, I was not ready to invest in this pursuit at this time.)

We have recently begun participating in the Outdoor Hour Challenge. This month we are observing insects. The blog that hosts this challenge is also aiding me in learning to use The Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Bradford Comstock. I’ve created a Nature Study binder to go along with our sketchbooks.

Our binder includes:

  1. The Outdoor Hour Challenge: The Getting Started E-book
  2. Seasonal scavenger hunt lists from Hearts and Trees
  3. A copy of the Monthly Outdoor Challenge Grid (another copy is on our fridge)
  4. Sketches we have completed in sheet protectors.
One of my main objectives right now is to not get in the way of the children experiencing nature for their selves. I don’t want to talk to them too much or lecture them about what I’m learning but merely give the information they are looking for right now. They are so very young; I believe this is the time for them to just establish the habits of observation and appreciation. I have a strong desire to learn all I can and must monitor how much information I let them have right now.

Now, hopefully next time I have a Nature Study post it will be more specific about the wonderful things we are exploring!

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Godly Education

I explained a couple of posts ago what intrigued me about Ms. Mason’s philosophy of education. One of the most important aspects, that I didn’t mention, was her belief in God, the Creator of all. A CM education will implement the Bible into the studies with Old and New Testament readings throughout the week along with the children giving narrations. Scripture was also encouraged to be used as copywork by Ms. Mason.

While my little ones aren’t ready for copywork or Bible narration of Old Testament stories, Nate and I have found it important to teach them early about the God of our home. I have gone through seasons where I will read them a Psalm a day or a chapter of Proverbs a day. We’ve toyed with different Bible storybooks. We currently have Kenneth Taylor’s Devotions for the Children’s Hour and Catherine Vos’s The Child’s Story Bible. Vos’s book seemed a little much for my little ones for now, so it has been put up on the shelf for later use.

For quite sometime now, we have implemented SCM’s scripture memory box in the morning along with the Westminster Catechism. Lily recently moved into the Shorter Catechism book, while JJ remains in The Catechism for Young Children. Another good supplement we have found for these is Judy Roger’s CD Why Can’t I See God? We were able to check it out from our local living books library and the children were very upset to return it.

A CM education will also implement a monthly hymn study. I hope to some day move to a hymn study, but for the time being we have decided singing psalms would be a good benefit for our family. We both come from a Baptist background so the psalms sung in the Presbyterian Church are very new to us. We currently enjoy doing a Psalm a month from Psalms of Praise. The acapella style of this CD is perfect for learning the psalms.

I look forward to seeing our children grow in the Lord through their education. We may set a time aside for learning about God’s Word, but we  also hope that our children will see God’s hand in each subject they encounter.
Check out THIS cute video of Lily a few years!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Handicrafts: Fingerknit Flowers


Not being very crafty myself, handicrafts have been a bit intimidating. My sweet girl loves to "sew" and paint and work with her hands. Ms. Mason said handicrafts should be something useful and something the child could carry on into adulthood. We borrowed this idea from Hearts and Trees and completed some fingerknit flowers. (Look along her left sidebar for a list of youtube videos.) Lily thoroughly enjoyed knitting these sweet little flowers! I have to say, I even made some myself. I hope to ignite a passion for some handicrafts of my own to allow the children to follow suit.

"The points to be borne in mind in children's handicrafts are: (a) that they should not be employed in making futilities such as pea and stick work, paper mats, and the like; (b) that they should be taught slowly and carefully what they are to do; (c) that slipshod work should not be allowed; (d) and that, therefore, the children's work should be kept well within their compass.

Again we know that the human hand is a wonderful and exquisite instrument to be used in a hundred movements exacting delicacy, direction and force; every such movement is a cause of joy as it leads to the pleasure of execution and the triumph of success. We begin to understand this and make some efforts to train the young in the deft handling of tools and the practice of handicrafts. Some day perhaps, we shall see apprenticeship to trades revived and good and beautiful work enforced. In so far, we are laying ourselves out to secure that each shall "live his life"; and that, not at his neighbor's expense; because, so wonderful is the economy of the world that when a man really lives his life he benefits his neighbor as well as himself; we all thrive in the well being of each." Charlotte Mason
These have made a lovely centerpiece for our table!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Why Charlotte Mason? An Introduction

I am really not sure where or how I was introduced to Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education. Gradually over the last year or two, I have tried to familiarize myself with all I could about this approach to home education. I knew I didn’t want to buy a curriculum and just bring school into the home. I wanted the education we would provide for our children to be different. I wanted them to truly experience and truly learn the information put before them. I wanted them to be excited about their education and not just go through the motions.

To me, this is what is so intriguing about Ms. Mason’s approach to education. She truly knew children. She understood their development, their needs, and how they could most effectively learn. And when you get into the particulars of what the PNEU schools provided for children, you will see how simple and beautiful a Charlotte Mason education can be. (PNEU is Parent's National Education Union. These were schools started to use Ms. Mason's philosophy of education.)

Ms. Mason believed in not dumbing-down information for children. She said away with the twaddle and in with a feast of ideas for the children. Give the children beautiful environments and good literature and they will know how to form relationships with all that is presented before them. She insisted the teacher not get in the way with lectures and talks, but to allow the child to experience the information and make their own relationship with all they are learning.

After my research, I found this approach to education to be the most gentle. While I’m sure it will be rigorous at times as we move into higher years, the gentle approach to learning for these early years we are in is the most appealing. Ms. Mason believed in letting the children alone for the first six years of life. The main objectives are to create good habits and get the children outdoors to experience God’s creation. She even suggested six hours a day of outdoor time a day!

With all of my children being in these early years, what do we desire for our day to look like? We have basically sided with Ms. Mason and said away with the lessons! While we do try to incorporate some learning from life and what God places before our eyes, we do not have the typical school schedule. This, by the way, goes very much against my personality and desires. However, as I incorporate more of Ms. Mason’s ideas, I truly see growth and the innate curiosity my children have for all the things around them.

My eldest has recently turned five and we are attempting to implement what most schools would call the “extras.” We would be in what Ambleside Online would call Year 0. So, we spend time outdoors, trying to do some form of nature study during the week. Recently, I have implemented some handicrafts and an introduction to artist study. We work on habits and we read really good books. (Even though this goes against Ms. Mason’s suggestions, "Away with books, and 'reading to'--for the first five or six years of life. The endless succession of story-books, scenes, shifting like a panorama before the child's vision, is a mental and moral dissipation; he gets nothing to grow upon, or is allowed no leisure to digest what he gets." (Vol 5, p 216))

I hope over the coming weeks to expound a bit more on each of the things we are making a conscious effort to do this year. Until then, I leave you with a quote and a link to an old blog post of mine that sums up the early years greatly...

A mother's chief responsibility for the first six years is to secure for her children "Quiet growing time--and free growing time--the freedom of real play (not lessons that look like play) and of ordering one's own life.”

(Visit here to learn more about a CM education.)

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Making of a Charlotte Mason Education

Everything about Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education gives me amazing visions of our future. I see classically trained children full of knowledge of good books, amazing music, beautiful art, and good habits. I envision attentive children amazed by God’s creation and eager to learn more about the beauty He has given us. When I read Miss Mason’s original writings, next to the Bible, it is one of the only sets of writings to, without fail, make me want to be a better person.

 And then reality hits me... usually about the time I get to “tea time.” That’s where life in the rural south gets in the way for me. My cultural background doesn’t leave much room for fancy, daily teas.  Honestly, the only thing I think about tea is "sweet" and "cold". There have been moments when the Victorian fashion of Miss Mason’s philosophy of education has made me want to throw in the towel. But I always come back to this...

 “...we hold that all education is divine, that every good gift of knowledge and insight comes from above, that the Lord the Holy Spirit is the supreme educator of mankind, and that the culmination of all education (which may, at the same time, be reached by a little child) is that personal knowledge of and intimacy with God in which our being finds its fullest perfection.” (Vol 3 p 95)

To me, this is the pinnacle of a Charlotte Mason Education. The core is that education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life... and doesn’t the very reliance on the Supreme Educator in all things cover each of these three?

So, this is my journey of how I will make it work. I will make it work with a love for bluegrass and barbeque. I will make it work with a husband that ‘seng hunts (ginseng), cut baccer (tobacco) when he was young, and "ain't gonna" change. His favorite apparel is cowboy boots and Carhartts. I will make it work...

We’ll spend our summers fishing on the lake and catching crawdads. We’ll drink cold, sweet iced tea. And we’ll also get a feast of good ideas. When we’re not listening to bluegrass, we will listen to Mozart. The Impressionists will continue to be rotated and placed on the kitchen table. We will refuse worksheets, busy work, and long lessons. We will learn through life and living books. And in all we do we will seek to glorify the One who makes it all possible.

Hope you will come along on this journey with us.