Virtue of the Little Bit

I made eight Memory Work packets for us for this school year (you’ll find them in the sidebar if you’d like to use them also). I’m planned that we will do one set of Memory Work a month for four months, and then we’ll take a month off for Christmas before we do four more.

But here is the part that may surprise you: I don’t care if we finish it all.

You see, I decided how much I think we can do, but I might be wrong. I can’t foresee illness, emergency, or things just taking longer than I expect. But if we accomplished only one packet all the way, we will have learned a new poem, a new folk song, a new hymn, and a new section of the Book of Philippians. Those little bits are worth the work even if we don’t accomplish more than that.

You see, if you learn one hymn a term (whether you have two or three or four terms), you’ll know more hymns at the end of the year than you do now. If you learn one poem a year, you’ll graduate with more poetry furnishing your mind than most of the population. If I look at one painting a week for thirty weeks, that is thirty paintings. But if I look at one painting every week for thirty weeks every year for 12 years, that is 360 paintings stored in my memory for later.

We aren’t called at all to do everything perfectly. We simply expected to work faithfully. If we want to learn these things with our sons and daughters so that their minds and ours are well-furnished, we just need to try. Perfection isn’t required or even expected. We just have to do the next right thing.

Wonder

Wonder drives learning. Nothing else really works. Ambition doesn’t drive education at all. It just compels the learner to think more of herself than she ought. I am completely fascinated about how passion and beauty drive education, but really, all of that boils down to the ability to wonder. God fascinates me, and the amount of talent and effort that people spend in worship of Him is amazing.

“General curiosity, imagination in forming hypotheses, and method in testing them, then, mark the classical spirit of inquiry. This bent of mind allows the educated man to go on educating himself or extending the realms of knowledge for his fellows” (Hicks, Norms and Nobility 18).

If I wonder at something – the turn of a phrase in a poem or a hymn, a scientific fact, a historical event – my children usually will wonder with me. If we are walking in the neighborhood and I marvel at a mushroom, they will take note of it also, whether they comment on it or not.

I wish I could get them out in real nature more. I wish we had a travel trailer and could easily camp in as many National Parks as possible, but I can’t make that happen right now. But we find plenty to wonder at in our own yard, in city parks and gardens, and on friends’ farms.

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On Habit and Routine:

As you can see, our Council meeting runs on routine. While we plan to start at 8am this year, I don’t tie our mornings closely to a clock. We’ve tried that, it is frustrates me because we are constantly behind. Instead, we tie our activities to each other, and we continue through the tasks in a particular order.
Chores are done before breakfast. Council meeting is followed by Algebra for Micah and kitchen cleanup for the younger boys. 

Micah will continue through his own work while I help the younger boys. I’ll read aloud before math. After math, they are off to a reading assignment, and I station myself at the kitchen table where I have a view of the living room and the kitchen to work on my own tasks until someone has a question. Gideon and Josiah come back to the table for narration and copywork (from Foundations memory work), then go read something else. They return to the table for narration and Essentials work. After that, it is time for either IEW work or lunch preparation.

We have lunch sometime between 12:30 and 1pm. Micah eats with us, and they listen to a non-school audio book or watch a thirty minute show while I eat by myself in another room. (That is an Introvert’s survival technique.)  

If Gideon and Josiah have been diligent with their other work, then IEW can be done before lunch and the rest of the day is theirs. If we had orchestra practice in the morning, if I need to go to a class at lunchtime, or if people lolly-gagged around instead of working, they work on their IEW projects after lunch.

The routine means that everyone knows what to expect. If we practice the habits of attention, obedience, and best effort, we are rewarded with time for masterly inactivity.

What does a Council of Oaks Meeting look like?

Have you been wondering what a Council of Oaks Meeting (our Morning Time) looks like? It really isn’t complicated, and being prepared makes it less complicated.

We sit around the table with our memory work notebooks and my iPad or computer. Any other books we need are handy on my school cart. We start our hour with eating breakfast and listening together to the day’s scripture reading and a read-aloud that everyone is listening to (Trial and Triumph, This Country of Ours, Plutarch, or Charlotte Mason’s Ourselves). That takes about twenty minutes. Since most of us aren’t really ready to talk yet, this works just fine. When the listening portion is over, we carry our dishes to the kitchen and come right back.

If all goes as planned, we open up our memory work notebooks and start on the day’s memory work, which includes some recitation and a lot of singing. We work through the daily tab, the even or the odd tab (according to the date), the day of the week tab, and one numerical tab. (We don’t do the date for that. We just do the next one, and I mark the next day’s with a post-it. That’s because we have stuff in 24 tabs, and we want to make sure we hit them all regularly. This gets us through all our review work once every six weeks.) Working through just the memory work takes about twenty-five minutes, so this brings our total time invested to forty-five minutes, give or take.

We use  Spanish and German resources from Cherrydale Press and Latin resources from Classical Conversations and Visual Latin. Reviewing those series is incorporated into the memory work binder. We’ve done 2/3 of the Spanish book, and we are starting the German book. If students in Europe can learn three languages at a time, I guess we can too. (I teach Latin, have a degree in Spanish and study German also. I love linguistics and am passing that on to my children. It is more normal in the US to learn one language at a time. Charlotte Mason’s students were mostly English speaking. They started French at age 6, German at age 8, and Latin at age 10. We are running a few years late on the German, and we swapped in Spanish instead of French because we hear it around here. In England, French was the most important language for Charlotte’s students to know. In Oklahoma, Spanish is definitely more often used than French is, so this swap is logical. This takes about ten minutes a day, bringing the total time to fifty-five minutes so far.

After memory work, we look at some beautiful things. Most of the material for this is on the Resources page for the Memory Work Pack we are working on. I read a poem aloud from the month’s poet. One day of the week, we’ll look at work from the Artist of the Month. Another day, we will listen to a snippet of the month’s composer. I might read a little of a biography of one or the other. One day we will listen to or watch a scene from Shakespeare or read from Shakespeare. The fourth day, we usually skip this portion for music lessons or orchestra practice, or our twice monthly meeting with other Charlotte Mason families. This beautiful portion takes about ten minutes, so now we are up to sixty-five minutes.

Last, but not least, this year in our Council meeting we will do a cursive handwriting lesson, because this needs more attention in our house. Micah is working on speed and endurance, and Josiah and Gideon need practice forming letters and stringing them together smoothly. This brings our total meeting time to about an hour and fifteen minutes. I’d like to shave it down to an hour, but I don’t know what to cut.

It seemed like a good idea at the time

I thought I was going to start school at our house yesterday, but I was wrong. I have all the plans made. I looked at the calendar and realized that I kind of needed to start to get all the plans done when on time.

But then I looked at my desk and despaired. There was a giant pile of printed papers that needs to be spiral bound. And I never printed the second side of some of those papers, and I never sorted them properly. Plus, the meal planning and grocery shopping has to be done. Never mind the fact that I have some Challenge director things to do before tomorrow.

So, we’ll start school next week.

I came upon an Improv Drama Camp that an acquaintance is running this week. She is good. The boys will have fun, and I can have a couple of hours a day in which to think and work without interruption. That is just what the doctor ordered for this post-Expo week. I need some space and some grace and rest.

Next week, we will find our rhythm, and all the things will be ready to go. I’ll have the school carts cleaned out, and the pencil boxes organized and ready. I’ll finish a meal plan for the month, and we’ll do this month’s big grocery shop and put away the food. I will have my new computer fully functional and a plan for getting my own studying done. I’ll answer emails that are languishing in the inbox, write a couple of blog posts that are squirming around in my head.

And when Sunday evening gets here, we’ll be ready and have a game plan that should hold up.

Teaching by Example

Life is easier when we model the behavior we want to see in our children. Reading becomes what we do in our house if our kids see us reading. Writing becomes just something that happens if our kids see us writing. Likewise, if they see us take time to figure out calculations on paper, they learn that everyone uses math, but if we just grab a smartphone and do the math on the calculator, they don’t see us do math at all because there was nothing to see.
But our kids do as we do a whole lot better than they do as we say.
Evidence: Jon and I both read quite a bit. He listens to audiobooks as he commutes to his day job. We are both frequently found with a book, and we both have books sprinkled throughout the house near our spots (in the bathroom, on our  nightstands, by our spots in the living room, on our desks….).  Our kids have added their own books to the rooms of our house. There is a fixer-upper manual with Jon’s theology read because Jon and Micah like the same chair in the living room, a Ranger’s Apprentice book that Gideon is enjoying is on top of the my novel in the living room because if I sit down in my spot, he snuggles up next to me with his book.
Further evidence: We own a publishing company. My husband has several books published. I write quite often, though all my thoughts are published on blogs instead of books. My 15 year old is writing a series of short stories. Guess what my younger boys decided to do? For the past few days, they have been laying on the floor in my office handwriting or typing their own stories.
That is not to say that we don’t play games, watch TV, exercise, play on the computer and do all sorts of other things. But no matter what we are doing, our kids are watching. While they also have their own interests, they gravitate toward what they see us doing.

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What to Memorize

“In terms of education, this means that the best way to communicate morality is not thorough endless dry lists of what should and should not be done, but once again through the imagination — through stories , drama, and living examples capable of engaging the will and the emotions and thus inspiring us to be better people” (Caldecott, Beauty in the Word 87).

These “living examples” are found in scripture, hymns, poetry, and folk songs, written by men and reflecting on their experiences.  We learn to be better humans by meditating on the words of those who have gone before us. The captured emotion and carefully chosen words convey ideas in such a way that they are easily brought to mind later.


Scripture: Hiding God’s word in your heart (and in your kids’ hearts) is a way to always have it with you

Poetry: A storehouse of beautiful words beautifully said makes a better reader and a better writer. This storehouse challenges what words sound good and challenges the owner to choose his words carefully when speaking or writing.

Hymns: Great hymns of the church, whether they are ancient or recent, tend to declare Biblical truths in a memorable and accessible way.

Folk Songs: Folk songs connect us to the past through music. These songs typically tell stories that are timeless and not to be forgotten, fleshing out entries on a timeline or stories in a history book into a retelling of real life.

Other things to consider memorizing:

  • Classical Conversations Foundations memory work
  • Speeches from famous leaders
  • Multiplication facts
  • Spelling and Punctuation Rules
  • Foreign language vocabulary or grammar rules

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Why Memory Work?

 

One afternoon, I rode behind my husband on an ATV up a mountain path. We wove through shadows, around trees, and past wildflowers until we burst into sunshine and this vista spread out before us. A song memorized long ago sprang from my lips, “To God be the glory, great things He has done!” In my childhood, this was our music minister’s favorite hymn. He’s roll the R on the “great” as if he were singing in his native Spanish. That is still how I hear it in my head.

On another afternoon, a few years before, I sat next to Isaac’s bed in the PICU with no words of my own. In my desperation to cling to hope in spite of the prognosis we’d just received, I clung to other long-ago memorized words, “Even as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me. Your Rod and your Staff, they comfort me.”

Repeatedly, when I have no words of my own, it is phrases written by others, but stored in my mind, that come forth to express hope or faith or even desperation. These experiences are what convince me that it is necessary to hide words of Truth and Beauty in the hearts of my children as well as in my own heart. These words provide a link to the past, a reminder that we aren’t alone in our experiences… that others before us have felt like we do, have had similar thoughts, and written similar stories. These words remembered, whether light verse or heavy hymn, remind us that God is. That He, mighty and sovereign, lovingly holds His creations in His hands, while His Word moves mountains for our good and His glory.

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How and When and Where to Memorize

We each have a memory work notebook, and we just work through the day’s stuff together. Each day we will visit the daily tab, even or odd according to the date, the day of the week, and the date. This isn’t my original idea, but I morphed Sonya Shafer’s plan for a memory work box into this notebook.

It takes about twenty-five minutes if we all keep our happy hearts and just do the job. If I take a phone call or answer a text, the routine is broken and everyone is cranky. If we follow the rails of habit we have created, all is well, and we move on to the Loop of Beautiful Things and then our individual studies.

Even though each boy has a notebook and turns pages to keep on track with where we are, only one of the three strictly follows each line and reads every word aloud until he doesn’t need to anymore.  That’s the one who remembers what he SEES (like I do). Another remembers what he HEARS, and he mostly listens and recites along, looking down at his page as he stumbles. The third is constantly moving as we work through the material… tapping or bouncing as he recites. He isn’t distracting, but he isn’t still. It is the movement that helps him remember.

Keep in mind that my youngest is ten years old. I’ve been using the same methods for morning time for the last four years, and for most of that time all of my boys have been readers. If I were going to memorize as a group with children who could not yet read fluently, I’d have to change my methods. There was a time when I was the only one with a notebook. Then, I would read a line or sentence, and they would recite it back to me. Or we would sing together, and the songs would quickly become familiar. We accomplished less material in a year, only switching up poems, hymns, scripture and songs every twelve weeks or so.

But there is a lot of progress that is made in those little bits. Every line learned makes the next easier and adds to the storehouse of language in the mind – new images, vocabulary, phrases.
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The Must Haves for homeschooling

I was scrolling through Facebook this morning, and I saw, once again, five different homeschool moms asking “what are your must-have’s for homeschooling?”

Here are the Must Haves that I see: 

1. The Belief that parents are the best teachers for their children: You have to believe that the fact that your child is yours makes you the best teacher for him or her. This is the force that will keep you going.
2. Time:  You have to be willing to make teaching your children a priority in your day, laying aside your own desires for a time in order to invest in your children.

3. Determination: You have to consistently determine that the best thing for your family is for you to pass on knowledge that you have to your children. And once you need to pass on knowledge that you don’t have, you have to be willing to learn that information yourself or connect your child with someone who already knows it.

Whether you homeschool with hundreds of dollars worth of curricula and co-ops or the 1970s Saxon texts ($2 used), a library card, and paper and pencil, these are the three things that you Must Have.  

Everything else is ice cream.