Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Summer Vacation...with a Charlotte Mason Flair!

Year round homeschooling.

What image does that phrase invoke for you?   Perhaps a negative one...a not so glorious summer spent with your children sitting at the kitchen table reluctantly toiling over workbooks and textbooks for several hours a days while all their friends and the neighbor kids play outdoors, go biking and swimming and just hang out.

No thanks, you say.  Not interested in that at all whatsoever.

Sure, it would be nice to have a little extra flexibility throughout the traditional school year.  Start a little later and enjoy the rest of the summer season.  Take a little bit more time off around the holidays. Longer breaks just because.  More freedom. More flexibility. More time to breathe. Time to simply be.

But then there's the reality of it all...after the busy school year, you really need to just be done.

Well, you can have your summer vacation AND homeschool year round too.  Just shift your perspective and revamp your summer vacation with a little Charlotte Mason flair!

Choose some interesting whole and living books to read aloud (at bedtime, tea time, or during lunch) or listen to an audio book on your car rides.  Pick from those beloved books and stories that you remember from your childhood that gave you the warm fuzzies or find something new to explore together. Snuggle up on the couch for a bit on a hot afternoon or sprawl outside on the grass or picnic blanket and lose yourselves for a while in another world.

Start a weekly tea time tradition with your children.  Enjoy some sweet tea or ice cold lemonade. Have a variety of yummy snacks available - perhaps even take the time beforehand to make something special together.  Then grab a good book and enjoy coming together and reconnecting while you eat, drink and read.  What better time to enjoy reading some of those living books!

Engage in Charlotte Mason's practice of narration...informally known as the "art of talking".   Listen to your children and what they have to say.  What was their favorite part in the book you're reading or the movie you just watched?  Share yours!  What exactly should you do with all those tree frog tadpoles rescued from your pool's cover?   Which is better to use to build your house in Minecraft...wood or cobblestone?  Why?Narration need not be formal to be effective.  In fact, I would argue it's far *more* effective when it flows out naturally from simply living interesting, involved lives together.  Wonder, question, ponder, discuss!

Venture out on some nature walks with friends and start a family nature study project.  Plant a butterfly garden, go frogging on a rainy night, grow some giant sunflowers, raise a few caterpillars or tadpoles, start a baby snail nursery or toad habitat.  Live with your project over the whole season.  Explore, observe, connect, discover...get messy.

And certainly don't forget all those real life, hands on experiences. Trips & travel, summer camps, fairs & festivals, museums, re-enactments.  Do something new together.  Try something out.  Go someplace different. Make your children's world just a little bit bigger.

Homeschooling year round with the Charlotte Mason method can be just as flexible as you need it to be.  It's not about a particular curriculum or "doing school".  It doesn't have to start in August and end in May and there are no required hours or subjects. Instead, the focus is on your children and on providing a wide variety of meaningful, real-life learning experiences. It's about emphasizing connections and relationships and exposing them to new and interesting people, places and ideas.  And the reality of this approach is that whether this learning takes place during the official school year or during summer vacation, every second of it counts as "school".

So go ahead! The summer season is a perfect time to implement some of Charlotte Mason's lovely ideas into your family's learning lifestyle.  Enjoy your summer vacation...with a Charlotte Mason flair. :)

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Unschooling Charlotte Mason: Narration

There are many areas of the Charlotte Mason method that I've found easy to incorporate into our family's lifestyle of learning.  The use of a variety of whole and living books, nature study adventures, handicrafts, and a steady diet of new and interesting ideas and experiences have been such a natural fit for us.  When my children were younger and I first read what Charlotte Mason had to say about narration, I felt an immediate connection and knew that this too would be another area that would be a perfect fit for our unschooling nature.

As I continued to read and learn however, the more I saw this wonderful tool being used and encouraged by others in a way that wasn't such a good fit for us.  It seemed that like so many other aspects of the Charlotte Mason method, narration was something that could be turned into just as "school at home" as a technique as anything else.   An assignment.  Something to check off the to-do list.  Forced, artificial, contrived.


Formal is not something our family does very well. :)

We do better with the informal.  The flexible, the real, the natural, the authentic.  And to be truthful, when I look at much of what Charlotte Mason had to say about narration through my unschooling lens, she seemed to believe in this as well.

Narrating is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there, in every child's mind, waiting to be discovered, and is not the result of any process of disciplinary education.  A creative fiat calls it forth. 'Let him narrate'; and the child narrates, fluently, copiously, in ordered sequence, with fit and graphic details, with a just choice of words, without verbosity or tautology, so soon as he can speak with ease.  This amazing gift with which normal children are born is allowed to lie fallow in their education.  Bobbie will come home with a heroic narrative of a fight he has seen between 'Duke' and a dog in the street. It is wonderful! He has seen everything, and he tells everything with splendid vigou in the true epic vein; but so ingrained is our contempt for children that we see nothing of this but Bobbie's foolish childish way!  Whereas here, if we have eyes to see and grace to build, is the ground-plan of his education." - Volume 1, page 231

Many years later, narration continues to be a valued component in our learning.  Sometimes I even wish there was perhaps a little less of it going on.  But the one thing I have been very intentional in avoiding is any kind or sense of formality. 

When narration is at its best and most effective, it flows naturally. Within a family oriented lifestyle of learning, narration is the art of talking - abundant conversation, open discussion, good spirited debate. Questions are asked, answers found, opinions shared, stories are told, details given, funny moments relayed, perspectives pondered and widened.  Informal conversation is the key - hearing it, participating in it, reading it and eventually writing it down.

Once you get to the true heart and spirit of it, this is indeed what narration is all about.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Unschooling Shakespeare: Everybody Dies

My oldest daughter (15) and I have been delving into a little bit of Shakespeare (dragging my 13 year old daughter along for the ride - quite possibly against her will).  It started out on her part as a desire to familiarize herself with some of the plays, know just a bit more about them...primarily so she could mock the new Romeo and Juliet movie that was coming out.  Really, could there be a more noble reason to study Shakespeare?

So with familiarization for the end goal of mockery and sarcasm, we began...

We started with Romeo and Juliet from Edith Nesbit's Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare and then moved on to Baz Lurhmann's quirky interpretation of Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Daines. This particular version of Romeo and Juliet takes place in a modern day setting but with all of the original dialogue in place.  It's Baz Luhrmann.  It's really weird.

We didn't get very far into the movie and already my sarcastic and snarky, totally non-romantic, basketball obsessed, *what you see is what you get*, 15 1/2  year old daughter was covering her eyes and groaning in emotional agony at all the "I love you more than life itself and shall die if I can't be with you forever and ever and ever and ever" dialogue and swooning.


And here, to ease her frustration and reassure her that all is right in the world, I clued her in on a little something I was sure would make her feel better.

It's Shakespeare.  In the end...everybody dies.

This did please her.  Immensely.  Perhaps a little too much.   But with the abundance of fighting and death scenes we made it through to the end of the movie.  And as promised, Romeo and Juliet met their untimely death.  Together.  Forever. And ever. And ever.  My daughter's under the breath mutterings were something along the lines of how they deserved it for being so stupid.


Next up was the play, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), that was being put on by one of our local colleges.   3 actors, 99 minutes and a synopsis of EVERY Shakespeare play written!  It was an irreverent, slap stick, at times delightfully inappropriate and utterly hilarious production.  Imagine Hamlet performed no less than three times in 30 Star Wars costumes - one of those times done in reverse.  I'm not sure if the Bard would have been insulted and offended -or- flattered and amused.  The girls and I, however, were most definitely amused.

In the week following the play, we watched Shakespeare in Love.  Again, there's all that icky romance and much to my daughter's disappointment, everybody didn't die in the end.  The lovers *were* separated for all time though, so she'll have to take what she can get.

At this point, we are pondering future plans for our little Shakespearean rabbit trail.

Joss Wedon's Much Ado About Nothing followed up with the Kenneth Branagh version Much Ado About Nothing (1993) might be just the thing to get an appreciation of one of William Shakespeare's comedies.
Perhaps after that we'll watch O.  As a more modern day interpretation of Othello (similar to Ten Things I Hate About You's modern take on The Taming of the Shrew), the girls should both be pleased with the epic series of misunderstandings and how tragically things turn out.  Eventually, we'll tackle Hamlet. Mel Gibson version...? Hamlet (1990) Or the BBC version I've heard about with Doctor Who's David Tennant...? Hamlet (2009)  Choices, choices.  When in doubt, go with anything or anyone related to Doctor Who.

During this process of getting to know William Shakespeare a bit better, I'll continue to keep my eyes open for any more local productions we can check out.  For starters, A Midsummer Night's Dream is being performed locally in February and Kiss Me Kate in April! (A Theatre Season of Shakespeare at IU South Bend)

Admittedly, our approach to Shakespeare isn't all neat and tidy.  It's not a "unit".  There's no textbook.  No assignments. No real beginning and no definitive end in sight.  Great scholars of Shakespeare we will not be.  But of three things I am certain.

#1.  Mocking aside, after venturing down this particular little rabbit trail, my daughters and I will have a better cultural understanding and appreciation for dear William Shakespeare and his plays.

#2.  If any well-intentioned boy ever tries to woo my lovely teenage daughter with the romance and complexities of Shakespeare's words and poetry, she will most likely shank him.

#3.  It's Shakespeare.  When it's at its best, in the end, everybody dies.

If William Shakespeare Had Written Star Wars

Monday, November 18, 2013

If You Give a Boy a Video Game: Learning to Spell

I don't consider spelling to be a "subject" so much.  At least not all sad and lonely, isolated by its poor little self.

Instead I consider learning to spell to be a naturally integrated part of reading and writing.  As children grow in their skills as young readers and writers, their spelling skills grow as well.  Now, this process may take more time and may not be nearly as flashy looking as it is for those kids using a formal program - consistently over many years from a very young age - but it is far more organic.  There is connection and meaning and purpose in natural learning that is often lacking in other approaches.  And I've got to tell you, it is a glorious thing to witness.

Over the years my children have done lapbooks and notebooks, kept journals (personal and shared), done freewriting, copywork from favorite books, letters, notes, cards, emails, and lots of messaging with friends and family.  At a couple different points in time, my two older girls (now 15 and 13) have requested spelling programs and for a short season or two have somewhat consistently worked their way through them.  But honestly, that's not when they feel that they've experienced the most growth.   Real, purposeful writing driven by interest, purpose and need, combined with an abundance of time has generally been just right.

They read. They write. They ask questions. I answer. They grow.

My youngest (9) has at various times also enjoyed making lapbooks, keeping a journal and writing notes and cards to friends and family.  Sometimes.  Not a lot though.

He is just now this year making huge leaps and bounds in becoming a fluent reader, and in this process has been noticing many patterns and spelling quirks in various words that he comes across.  But writing in general and learning to spell things on his own has not been a big focus for him.

Until about a month ago...

The catalyst? The game changer?  Video games.

If you give a boy a video game, he'll build towns, and cities and entire worlds.  He'll make houses, castles, gardens, lava pits, barns and beautiful sky walks made entirely from glass.

And as he's building, he'll want to make signs to label everything, everywhere.

So he'll ask questions - lots of questions. All.The.Time. And then he'll label everything, everywhere.

If you give a boy a video game, he'll want to look up and watch some videos on how others build things, beat certain levels, make it past checkpoints, create portals.  And when he finds some he thinks are awesome, he'll want to comment and tell the other kid just how great their video was, how much it helped him.

If you give a boy a video game, he'll soon find that there are like minded friends to play online with.  And he'll want to to know how to message them.

And again, he'll ask more questions - lots of questions.  So many questions.  All.The.Time.

The little voice is constant.  "How do you spell...(fill in the blank)?" -and-  "Is this how you spell...(fill in the blank)?" -and- "Is this right?"

I find scraps of paper everywhere with names and lists and ideas written on them. The two of us make up lists of words he uses and doesn't want to have to keep asking me for help on. We talk about patterns and the quirky way things are sometimes spelled. He wonders about "silent" letters and certain combinations and questions who came up with all this spelling stuff - who decided how everything should be spelled. We talk and we look things up and sometimes we just shake our heads in amusement at how some things just don't make sense. He continues to ask question after question after question.

And I see growth.

If you give a boy a video game, he'll play, create, conquer, discover, and make some new friends.

And chances are, if you give a boy a video game...somewhere along the way, he'll learn how to spell.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Army, Legos, Video Games...and a Fashion Show?

Picking out materials at our
Unschooler Craft Shindig.
A few weeks back, my children and I were at one of our Unschooler Craft Shindigs at a friend's house. In the midst of the rather messy festivities, my middle daughter and some of her friends all headed downstairs to check out the area in the basement where the fashion show they were all participating in was going to be held.  As they disappeared, my 9 year old son (continuing to work side by side with me on his WWII army boat made out of recyclable materials) very quietly and without looking at me, muttered, "I'm going to tell you something but don't say anything so that anyone else can hear you."   Say what??  He repeated himself - quietly and once again without looking at me.  "I'm going to tell you something but don't say anything so that anyone else can hear you."   Alrighty.  My curiosity was piqued.
WWII army boat built out of
recyclable materials!

"I kind of want to be in the fashion show.  But don't say anything out loud so anyone can hear you."

Now, my 9 year old son is into a great many things.  Playing army, WWII and all things military, natural disasters, video games, football, hockey, basketball, legos, legos and more name a few.   Fashion shows are not something that had ever come up before.  And being that he's generally on the shy, *don't look at me or draw any kind of attention to me in any way* side, I will admit to being a teeny tiny bit surprised by his murmured confession.   But after an awkwardly whispered conversation, we headed down the stairs to see if there might be a chance he could join in on upcoming fashion show.

It didn't seem to bother the girls that my son wished to participate.  We received our little tour of the to-be runway, etc., and got instructions about what outfits he'd need (hipster, fancy and summer).  Mind you, this boy of mine pretty much maintained a mostly disinterested look on his face the ENTIRE TIME.  No big deal.  Whatever. (Don't look at me.)

Yep, I thought, it's gonna be interesting to see how this turns out.

About a week before the show, we made a trip to a local consignment store to pick out the hipster and fancy outfits and accessories.  The lady at the counter pointed us in the right direction and then inquired if we were shopping for Halloween costumes.   Not wanting to embarrass my son, I distractedly murmured something about a fashion show and nodded in the direction of my 12 year old daughter and then moved on.  Shortly after though, my shy guy asked if I had told her he was in a fashion show.  I reassured him I hadn't said anything about him.   There was a pause.   He then asked me if I was going to.  He then asked when I was going to.  He then asked if I had yet.  Over the course of the hour we were there shopping, he asked me no less than 5 times when I was going to tell her that he was in a fashion show.

Modeling his hipster look.
Not so subtle hint received.

As we were paying (and after one more whispered, "are you going to tell her I'm in a fashion show?"), I let the lady know that this handsome young man next to me who had helped pick out these funky and fancy outfits was going to be in a fashion show next week.  She oooh'd and aaah'd and asked curious questions and generally looked sufficiently impressed - enough to please this 9 year old boy of mine (even though he barely cracked a smile throughout the whole conversation).

All dressed up.
Flash forward to the fashion show:  my turn to be impressed.  Who'd have thought? Certainly not me.  My son came out and totally worked the "runway".  He paused for the description of each outfit, posed for pics and generally had sass and attitude.  He rocked it!  And I was surprised.  Thrilled and impressed...but admittedly, surprised.

In retrospect, I guess I really shouldn't have been so shocked.  I mean seriously, he does have two older sisters and a mom who watch shows like What Not to Wear, Say Yes to the Dress, Project Runway and Dancing with the Stars.  I also seem to remember a brief snippet in time (long, long ago) where he was very much into putting on little dance routines in our living room...complete with blaring music, an Indiana Jones fedora, mid-routine stripped off shirt a la Dancing with the Stars, and an impressive flashlight light show courtesy of an older sister.
Camo themed "summer look". 

On the ride home after our exciting Fashion Show Extravaganza, my handsome little modeling dude critiqued everyone else's performances.  Who paused the right amount time, who went too fast, how you needed to give the announcer time to read the description of your outfit and to hold a pose long enough so the audience could take pictures.

My my, one fashion show under his belt and already he's quite the expert.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Hearts for Home Blog Hop #40

Welcome to this week's Hearts for Home Blog Hop.  The Hearts for Home Blog Hop is all about sharing encouraging and inspiring posts that show your heart is for your home and family.  Family friendly topics are welcome and include homeschooling, homemaking, cooking/recipes, parenting, marriage, faith, family, crafts, and the like.

The most clicked on post from last week was from First Comes Love: 

I had THREE favorites from last week.  Just couldn't narrow it down to one or two! 

I personally have a passion for living books and am also a rabid Harry Potter fan.  I loved the perspective that Don't Forget the Avocados shared: "Recently, a friend asked me why I think it is O.K. for kids to read Harry Potter.  This is the kind of conversation that can go in many directions, but is ultimately less about the specifics of J.K. Rowling's work and is more about the proper role of literature in a Christian child's upbringing.  For me, it is also a discussion that highlights the philosophy of classical education."

This Woman Writes shares her feelings on being a Christian and celebrating Halloween: "Halloween is one of the many subjects about which good people disagree, and as a person who comes out swinging with very little provocation, I have to admit that it's hard to keep my mouth shut when someone tells another person how wicked she is for dressing her child up as a pink bunny and escorting her from door to door with a hollow orange plastic orange plastic pumpkin."

And last but not least, some yummy goodness from This Woman Writes - a recipe for Peanut Butter Muffins.  On my to-do list for this coming week! 

If you were featured this week, congratulations (!) & please grab the button below to place on your sidebar or in your post!

Hearts for Home Blog Hop
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Now go ahead and link up your family friendly blog post for this week's Blog Hop below!  And please link back to this blog or share the Hearts for Home button in your post or on your blog's sidebar.

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Hearts for Home Blog Hop #39

Welcome to this week's Hearts for Home Blog Hop.  The Hearts for Home Blog Hop is all about sharing encouraging and inspiring posts that show your heart is for your home and family.  Family friendly topics are welcome and include homeschooling, homemaking, cooking/recipes, parenting, marriage, faith, family, crafts, and the like.

The most clicked on post from last week was from Mom's Mustard Seeds: 

My favorite post from last week is again from The Measured Mom who shares a guest post about how much our children learn from being involved in the kitchen: "When you think of places where kids learn, schools and classrooms are probably the first places that come to mind. While kids do achieve much of their learning from inside a classroom, there's another learning-conducive area that kids have access to on a daily basis: the kitchen."

If you were featured this week, congratulations (!) & please grab the button below to place on your sidebar or in your post!

Hearts for Home Blog Hop
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Now go ahead and link up your family friendly blog post for this week's Blog Hop below!  And please link back to this blog or share the Hearts for Home button in your post or on your blog's sidebar.

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