A peaceful day

Phillipians 4:4-8

For with Thee is the fountain of life; in Thy light shall we see light. Psalm 36:9

The Bard's birthday

Posted by Jeanne

Which is your favourite Shakespeare play?


Living a Charlotte Mason lifestyle

Posted by Jeanne

In 1906, a young woman applied to be accepted as a student teacher at Charlotte Mason’s training college, Scale How. In the pages of Essex Cholmondeley’s The Story of Charlotte Mason, we read:

On my arrival at Ambleside I was interviewed by Miss Mason who asked me for what purpose I had come. I replied: “I have come to learn to teach.” Then Miss Mason said: “My dear, you have come here to learn to live.” I have never forgotten those precious words which have helped me with my children.

For the last couple of weeks we’ve been on term holidays, but if you’d been a fly on my wall, I wonder whether you would have known.

In the mornings, you could still Jemimah cuddled into her bed reading her Bible and doing her devotions.  She continued her reading of The Minnipins, and rereading her beloved James Herriot vet stories.

We weren’t studying a particular composer, or learning a new folksong, but throughout our home you would have heard the strains of Thomas Tallis and William Byrd as we indulged in our recent passion for Tudor Renaissance music, the beautiful tenor of Kenneth McKellar, and the large group singing of the Kobe Reformed Presbyterian Church singing the Psalms in Japanese.  There is always music in our home.

We weren’t studying Latin, or working through our language text books, but French, Arabic and Indonesian words pepper our every day speech, and our Japanese study has continued on regardless of breaks.  We like it, you see.

You wouldn’t have seen much formal maths, but you could have spied Jemimah converting British Pounds into Australian Dollars to discover how much the birthday cheque from her Grandfather was really worth, or multiplying the pounds and ounces in our old Imperial recipes into kilos and grams so that she could weigh them on our metric scales.  You can’t really get through the days without maths, can you?

Our scheduled readings had stopped, true, but this only allowed time for some books on the Blue Mountains, our holiday destination, and for the latest Anzac Day picture books.  It is a good job we had a break for those.  I don’t know how we would have got through them otherwise.  We still had read alouds – the third of John Christopher’s Tripod series, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The White Company, the second book of The Lord of the Rings, even a Harry Potter book (yes, we’re reading the series for the first time, now that Jemimah’s twelve and old enough to discuss them).  Why would we stop reading aloud just because it is the holidays?

We didn’t go out on official nature walks, but we spent time driving a horse drawn caravan with my brother’s family, and Jemimah spent the night camping in the bush.  We ate damper hot from the fire, and good hot beef stew from the Dutch Oven.  Marshmallows were toasted, and eaten with steaming mugs of hot chocolate (or good red wine, depending on your age). We went on a road trip to the Blue Mountains and went horseback riding, wildlife spotting and foraging for mushrooms.  We saw wombats, kangaroos, wallaroos, wallabies, added to out bird lists, and even trekked to a cave filled with New South Wales Glow Worms.  Incredible.  Jemimah made drawing after drawing in her nature notebook, and presented many others as gifts to the staff of our hotel.

For the last two weeks we have been on term break, but our learning hasn’t stopped at all.  Learning never stops once Charlotte Mason has taught you to how to live.

Recently, I’ve seen Charlotte Mason’s philosophy described as a Method, not a Curriculum.  It has become a sort of catchphrase in some CM groups I think.  But this is not a line that I can subscribe to at all.  For us, Charlotte Mason’s philosophy is not a Method  – it’s a Lifestyle. 

The PNEU school motto said “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.”  Education is a discipline means that children learn from the real world, not one that is artificially contrived.  Education is a life means that education applies to all of a child.  We are fed on ideas, and so a child needs lots of them – a liberal and generous curriculum, a broad room to stand in.

When my beloved and I discovered Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, and chose to homeschool our daughter, we subscribed to a Charlotte Mason life.  We chose to remove twaddle not only from our bookshelves, but from our television viewing and music listening as well.  We chose to visit art galleries more often, to see Shakespeare performed and opera sung.  We carved time out for family bush walks and times in God’s creation.  Even our holidays changed, and we looked for venues that would educate not just Jemimah, but all three of us.

When you start looking at education as a lifestyle rather than a method, your whole outlook changes.  It frees you to add in a book or two because they’re important to your family, or because they’re relevant to a special occasion or your upcoming holiday and to compensate by leaving others out.  It allows you to stop worrying so much about gaps.  If I can still be learning at 50, does it really matter if my daughter has gaps at 18?  Education as a lifestyle makes you jealous for free time out of school.  I love the short days of our Charlotte Mason styled Ambleside Online curriculum, because it gives us plenty of time outside of school to read what we want to read, and do what we want to do.  The skills that we learn in school apply to every day life, and make it richer and more fulfilling.  We learn to really listen, and telling back helps us to remember what we’ve heard.  We form connections and delight in them.

In July we’re going to be heading overseas for several weeks in Europe and Japan.  Our AO school year will be significantly shorter than 39 weeks this year.  But that doesn’t worry me at all.  During those three months or so that we’re away, Jemimah will continue learning.  We all will.  We’ll polish up our French and Japanese.  We’ll be exploring the history of the Reformation through the lives of the Scottish Covenanters.  We’re attending a week-long Bible conference, and will spend time worshiping with Reformed Presbyterians throughout the world. We’ll see great art at the world’s best art galleries, and even see Shakespeare performed at The Globe.  We’ll spend time with family and friends, and Jemimah will form stronger links with her Aunt, Grandparents and cousins.  Somehow, finishing every hour of those 39 AO weeks doesn’t seem so important, does it?

Every day is a learning day when you make Charlotte Mason’s philosophy a lifestyle not a method.  And a rich and fulfilling life it is indeed.  I am so glad that we started on this journey that is Charlotte Mason.  I’ve learned so much, and I am a better person for the knowledge.  My daughter started living the Charlotte Mason lifestyle before she was four.  Her world is so much larger that mine was; the room she stands in is so much broader. Already.

I’m excited to see what we will all learn tomorrow, and next week, and next year, and what new and exciting connections we will make.  It is such an amazing journey, this life that we're given, isn't it?


More science notebooks

Posted by Jeanne

I thought it might inspire you to see some more science notebooks.

The top two photos are from my extremely talented husband's book.  He would have been about 17 or 18, I guess, when he drew those.  Sorry the photos are a bit dark, but you can still see the incredible neatness.  This book is quite beautiful, I think.

The rest of the photos are from my notebook.  I would have been 14 or 15, I guess.  They're not nearly as good as my beloved's, but I'm guessing they're far more approachable for those of you toying with the idea of starting a notebook of your own.

I'm so glad we didn't ever throw these away.

Sorry to those of you that have already seen these on FaceBook.


The science notebook

Posted by Jeanne

We don't know much about Charlotte Mason style science notebooks.  I'm inclined to think that a lot of what we call science today would have fitted into the general nature notebook with a more serious study of science topics integrated with general nature observations, but we don't really know.

 In her book on note booking, The Living Page, Laurie Bestvater mentions seeing science notebooks in the Mason archive, so at least we know that they are not contrary to her philosophy:

There are science notebooks present in the Mason archive wherein House of Education students recorded notes on all different science topics within one cover, simply dating the page and adding the appropriate headings, "Botany," "Astronomy," and even "Architecture," and presumably these teachers in training would have set up their upper year students in the same integrated manner.
Laurie Bestvater, The Living Page, p 26
What I do know, is that if I try something and it works, the likelihood is that Mason has been there before me. For us, science notebooking works.

Here she goes again, I hear you mutter.  One student, only one term into secondary school, and she already knows it all.  Well, I don't, of course, but Jemimah's science study has been one of the great successes of this year so far, and a lot of that is due to her science notebook.  And so, even though I most certainly do not profess to be an expert, I thought you might like to see it and hear a little bit about how it's working.

Okay, here are a few pages.  As you can see, they're an eclectic mix, because we have been doing the type of integrated science that Laurie describes Mason's students doing.  All-in-one science of this type is the norm in Australia, and the UK, where our schools do not follow the US system of one science per year. This past term we covered introductory classical genetics, the botany of carrot plants, astronomy, the history of immunology, the physics of light and how you see, Linnaean classification, and much more.  Pages from all these subjects appear in the notebook, all in the chronological order in which they were studied.

Each entry comes from a living science book, and I'll tell you about those in another post. Jemimah reads a chapter or so of her assigned text, narrates orally, and then makes a notebook entry.  What she chooses to illustrate is up to her, but the task is not optional.  We study science most days, so she makes four or five entries per week. Mostly, she enjoys this part of her day very much.  I must say, I enjoy seeing what she comes up with as well.

She is expected to date the entry.  Some of the examples here cover more than one page, and the date is earlier; on other pages she has just forgotten.  I can live with that.  Illustrations also must be explained.  It is the written explanation that shows me that she understands what she has drawn.

Mason valued neatness and perfect execution highly.  Sadly, you will not always see Jemimah's best work in these examples.  What I did discover, though, is that the neater the drawing, the more time she invested in the work, the higher the accuracy of the illustration, the better her retention during her end of term exams, and the more scientifically correct was her answer. We will remember that next term.

Science note booking takes a long time, and reduces the number of pages of science pages that can be covered in a term.  When you add to that the requirement to perform experiments wherever possible, the low page count that we see in Mason science programmes makes more sense.  I must say, though, that we did do a few more pages this term than Mason's students did.

Science in total takes about half an hour a day.  This includes special studies, which are also illustrated in the science notebook, but does not include a longer weekly nature walk.  A couple of times Jemimah also illustrated a reading from her natural history text in her science notebook, but most weeks she found that they fitted more readily into her normal nature notebook.  That choice I left to her, and for the most part it has worked well.

So there you are.  Our first term of science note booking the Charlotte Mason way.  I have noticed heightened accuracy and retention using this method, and I am really impressed with how it is going.  We'll be working on neatness next term, but otherwise we'll continue on just as we are.  It has been great.

You can see some much neater science notebooks in this post of Nancy's. She keeps me humble.



Posted by Jeanne

Look what I just found - my old Autograph Book. Did you keep one? I had two: this one, which was for special people - celebrities and overseas relations mainly; and an every day one for school friends. That ones's still AWOL.

Autograph books were really popular in my youth. Nowadays you really only see those Disneyland ones for collecting character signatures and photos. Not quite the same thing, really, are they.

When I was young, I was most proud of the famous people:

Harry M Corbett and Wilfred Brambell - Steptoe and Son

Paul Cronin - The Sullivans

And the controversial ones:

Junie Morosi

Gloria Krope

Nowadays, though, it's pages like these that are the most special of all:

My Grandmother...

...and my Mum.



A look back at MEP Primary

Posted by Jeanne

One of the big disadvantages of having only one child is that I only get one chance to get it right.  I will only ever do AO1 once; I will only ever do one AO7.  I will never be an Über-homeschool Mum, with twenty years under her belt and another two kids of ten yet to graduate.  I have one go through and then it's quits.

All of this means that just as I've finally got the hang of MEP Primary, Jemimah has moved into Secondary, and I'm having to learn all over again.  Poor guinea pig of a kid.  Actually, it was starting MEP7 that helped consolidate it all for me, and since it is all too late for Jemimah, I thought I could at least share my new found cleverness with some of you.  Sound good?

The thing I want to talk about most, is how much of each lesson you should get through.  Through the last six years, I tried most permutations and combinations with my guinea pig daughter, and only now do I think I have it right. Now that we're finished and mucking up Secondary.  So here is my wisdom, such as it is.

First, let's look at a few different statements from the MEP website:
  • Challenges or extension work set for able students…no one is inactive. (a)
  • The 5th lesson each week is for practice and revision. (b)
  • The first few weeks provide introductory activities to help you assess the capabilities of your class and to bring them together at a suitable starting point for the systematic treatment which follows. (b)
So, what do these statements say?  First - that some of the work is for more able students.  Second - the fifth lessons are for revision and practice.  Revision.  If your child totally understands the work on these sheets he does not need to do the fifth lessons.  In that case, these sheets would be mere busywork.  On the other hand, we all know that practice makes perfect.  If your child needs more practice, then do use these sheets - that's what they're for. Third - If your child is new to MEP then the introductory revision lessons at the beginning of each year will give you a pretty good idea of what gaps your child might have in coming to MEP from a different programme.  Do the lessons and observe your child closely.  If, however, your child has been doing MEP right through, then he probably doesn't need to do these lessons.

Okay.  In one paragraph we've tossed out about 30 percent of the year's work.  What do we do with the extra time?  Just this - we use it where we need it.  Some MEP lessons are really quick and easy (if they're too easy, then just skip them); there are other MEP lessons that are not easy at all.  In fact, they're downright difficult.  If your child struggles in a lesson, split it in two.  If your child needs more revision in a concept, then revise for a few days.  Go on, you have the time.

Which brings me to my next point.  Don't slow MEP down too much.  It's spiral.  The material will be covered again.  Over and over again. If your child really doesn't get it, then it probably doesn't matter.  For some reason, Jemimah really struggled to learn to tell the time.  The lessons moved much too fast for her.  She needed practice on 12 o'clock and half past two, not 2335 and 1342 on the 24 hour clock. When we reviewed Time last week in MEP7, however, she did fine with all the work.  She has jumped her road block and moved forward easily.  It was not worth beating her over the head with the kitchen clock in MEP2 after all, and it has probably left her indelibly scarred for life and up for thousands in counselling bills.  Poor child.  Anyway, I say aim to get one year's worth on MEP work done within a a year.  If you split a lesson in two, the you need to skip a 5th lesson to make up.  A MEP year is 35 weeks; aim to be done in 36 or 40 or whatever your school year is.  You may even get done more quickly, although sometimes you run into trouble if you reach something like long division too early before your child is developmentally ready for it.  Then you'll need to take a break. (Been there; done that - we did SCM's Business maths for a term just to slow down for long division and to renew Jemimah's love for maths.)

Moving right along.  Next, have a look at the lesson plans, and at the top you'll find something that says something like this:

R: Place value
C: Extending numbers to 10 000; counting, reading, writing, ordering
E: Vocabulary

This is from MEP4 Lesson Plan 31, and what it tells me is that in this lesson we hope to revise place value, cover numbers to 10 000 as our core work, and if the work is done in time, then we can learn some new vocabulary.  In my own case, Jemimah finds maths fairly easy, and so we almost always looked at the extension work.  On the other hand, she rarely needed the revision work. If I was unsure, I set her a few questions to check.  You know your child.  Does he struggle?  Would he benefit with lots of review of earlier work?  Perhaps he is more average.  Some things he does really well, and would benefit from some further extension, other work needs lots of reviewing.  Or perhaps you, too, have a Jemimah. When you only have a class of one, you should at least ensure that you are tailoring the work to that child's level, yes?

Looking again at Lesson 31, I would consider Activity 1 to be introductory and for all students.  It is good, because it is visual. Question 2, I would consider to be revision, and Activity 3 to be extension (although it looks pretty easy, in fact). Q1 of the Practice Book is Revision also, and I would at most set one for an average student to ensure he remembered how to do them. If the student gets it right, move on; if he gets it wrong he does some more. Question 2 is revision too.  For an able student, leave it out.  Also leave it out for students with a pencil allergy.  Have those kids do it orally instead. Have them sort them into increasing order, though, if they needs that.

That leaves Q3 and Q4.  Set half of the exercises.  Alternate questions works well, because often they get harder as you go through.  If he gets them all right then he is done.  If he needs more practice, he does the rest.

Pronounce a sum wrong, or right––it cannot be something between the two. That which is wrong must remain wrong: the child must not be let run away with the notion that wrong can be mended into right. The future is before him: he may get the next sum right, and the wise teacher will make it her business to see that he does, and that he starts with new hope. But the wrong sum must just be let alone. Therefore his progress must be carefully graduated; but there is no subject in which the teacher has a more delightful consciousness of drawing out from day to day new power in the child.
Charlotte Mason Home Education pp 260-261

Miss Mason reminds us to set problems that are within the child's grasp.  He is not to be frustrated by question after question that he already knows, but similarly, he is not to get answer after answer wrong. By setting every second question, then the child has an opportunity to demonstrate that he either knows the work…or he doesn't.  If he gets them all correct then maths is done.  If he gets one wrong, then set him another one.  Only this time sit over him and make sure he gets this one right! A child that struggles may need to do all the examples, but this is not a punishment, and shouldn't feel like one.  It is just more practice. Reassure, encourage, give positive feedback.

Over and over again I hear that MEP is too long, or too complicated.  I hear that mums take hours over each lesson, or that they split each lesson in two and do one year's work over two.  I say don't!  Look at the lesson plans - be prepared, and Know Thy Child.  Does he need revision?  Is he average?  Is he advanced?  Is this just busywork, or does he need more practice and to linger over a particular concept?  Is the thing he doesn't understand part of the core work that he will need to advance, like knowing numbers to 10 000, or is it something he can learn next time - like the 24 hour clock, or Roman numerals.  Is there something that particularly interests him, or he would understand better with some concrete examples and some manipulatives? Could you make up some play $10 000 notes and play shop and buy a house or something?

MEP is a fantastic tool, but it is a programme designed for a classroom of students all of different abilities and skills.  Your classroom consists of one, or at most two students in a level.  Mould the lesson plans, make them fit your child. Use them for your purposes.  Don't make your child fit into a classroom that doesn't even exist.

Recently, a friend was telling me about her daughter who was struggling with maths.  I listened, but then I asked my friend who she was comparing her daughter to.  A classroom?  The fact is, that young lady is absolutely average for her Year 8 class, because she is the only student in it.  There is nobody worse than her, but equally, there is nobody doing better, either. When you use MEP,  remember that you are not teaching a UK curriculum; you are teaching your own precious son or daughter.  And then make the curriculum work for you.  Chances are, MEP will work just how you always dreamed a maths programme could work for your child.  It did for mine.

Even if I did make lots of mistakes along the way.


Idylls of the King

Posted by Jeanne


Our reading of The Iliad last year has created a monster. Or rather, it has created a great love of epic poetry in my daughter and me. It that the same thing? Last term we devoured Beowulf and The Green Knight. This term, to our great delight we have started Tennyson's Idylls of the King.

The photos here are a bit of a fraud ( it is April Fool's Day, after all), since my book of poetry abridged the Idylls, and so we're reading off a kindle version, which is far more practical, but produces somewhat less atmospheric photographs. In our kindle version, we need to read five pages per day to get through the poem in a term, and so we just read to there, and then look for a sensible place to end. This poem is such a delight, that we're finding it hard to stop, but it is early days as yet.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, is the scheduled AO poet for this term, AO7 Term 2. He was probably the most important poet of the Victorian period, and his works include some of the finest poetry in the English language. It is exciting to be studying him together with Jemimah. The Idylls of the King is one of his best-known compositions and it is a delightful read aloud.

One of the things I love about CM homeschooling is the opportunity to continue my own education. Despite having studied English literature in the upper forms, I had never read epic poems, and I just adore them. I'm so glad Jemimah has a chance to know and love them too.

Maybe next term we'll read Keats' Endymion!


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