12 Apr 2012

Do as I say

I suppose you've all heard John Seldon's self-deprecating phrase, 'Do as I say, not as I do.' (Tabletalk, 1654). I'm afraid it is a phrase that applies to what I have to say in this post, and for that I am sorry, because I would like to say that I comply with the advice I want to give more closely than I do.

It relates to two questions that I've received recently, both from Mums using Charlotte Mason's methods and Ambleside Online. I'm going to answer both them here, but again, as I say, I don't do either of these things very well, so you can take my advice with a grain of salt. (You can find the origin of that worthy saying here.)

Sarah writes: I was wondering if you would write a blog about all the books you ask Jemimah to read from the AO lists! And when you would recommend children to read their own literature!

The reason I must admit to not doing very well with this area of AO is elucidated in this post where I explain that my love of reading aloud has prevented me passing on to Jemimah the responsibility of reading her own books. The quotation I used to illustrate that post is the reason why I say not to do as I do:

The most common and the monstrous defect in the education of the day is that children fail to acquire the habit of reading. Knowledge is conveyed to them by lessons and talk, but the studious habit of using books as a means of interest and delight is not acquired. This habit should be begun early; so soon as the child can read at all, he should read for himself, and to himself, history, legends, fairy tales, and other suitable matter. He should be trained from the first to think that one reading of any lesson is enough to enable him to narrate what he has read, and will thus get the habit of slow, careful reading, intelligent even when it is silent, because he reads with an eye to the full meaning of every clause......

It is a delight to older people to read aloud to children, but this should be only an occasional treat and indulgence, allowed before bedtime, for example. We must remember the natural inertness of a child's mind; give him the habit of being read to, and he will steadily shirk the labour of reading for himself; indeed, we all like to be spoon-fed with our intellectual meat, or we should read and think more for ourselves and be less eager to run after lectures.

Charlotte Mason Home Education p 227 (emphasis mine)
Now I would be perfectly happy to ignore this advice - and to suggest that you do the same - except that I'm afraid that I can see that Miss Mason is right. As always. I do want Jemimah to take the responsibility of reading for herself, and possibly more importantly given her difficulty with spelling, I want her to read the words on the page and visualise their form and their spelling.

So, that said, in the first two years of AO I read almost all of Jemimah's school books to her, selecting alternative titles for her to read to me. These I selected using their Lexile measure, and gauging that to her current reading level. The post where I explain this - and include a list of the Lexile levels for a list of appropriate books is here. I also find this page showing the expected Lexile measure band for each grade useful as well.

These are the books from AO that Jemimah did, in fact, read herself. All of the books were read aloud until AO4, when she started reading them to herself and coming to me to narrate afterwards. I preread all of her books.

AO1: At this level she read aloud the I Can Read books, as well as The Victorian Reader Book 1.
Fifty Famous Stories

AO2: At this level she read aloud a graded reader daily, as well as selections from The Victorian Reader Book 2.
Little House on the Prairie
Farmer Boy
Along Came a Dog

AO3: At this level she read aloud a Free read or equivalent book daily.
On the Banks of Plum Creek
The Wheel on the School

The Saturdays series

AO4: At this level she read the Genevieve Foster book daily, and aloud from a free read daily.
George Washington's World
Storybook of Science

Elizabeth Enright's books
Justin Morgan had a Horse
Chronicles of Narnia

AO5 Term 1: At this level she read the Genevieve Foster book daily, aloud from a free read daily, and silently from a core book daily: Isaac Newton; our Australian Natural History book, Red Emperor by C K Thompson; or The Age of Fable. Weekly and together, we read a scene from our Shakespeare play. Next term I will have her read A Child's Geography of the World silently as well, narrating to me when she finishes.

Abraham Lincoln's World
Isaac Newton Inventor Scientist and Teacher
The Prince and the Pauper

Anne of Green Gables and sequels
The Treasure Seekers

In addition to this school reading, Jemimah is a voracious reader, and reads a variety of books in her spare time. If she did not do this, I would set a book for her to read, but I have not found this necessary.

I am really happy with how Jemimah's reading is progressing. For me it is really a matter of weighing up the benefits of her reading her books herself as Miss Mason recommends, with the benefits we both gain from me reading them to her. I realise that one day our read aloud sessions will need to cease, but not today. Not today.

I would have children taught to read before they learn the mechanical arts of reading and writing; and they learn delightfully; they give perfect attention to paragraph or page read to them and are able to relate the matter point by point, in their own words; but they demand classical English and cannot learn to read in this sense upon anything less. They begin their 'schooling' in 'letters' at six, and begin at the same time to learn mechanical reading and writing. A child does not lose by spending a couple of years in acquiring these because he is meanwhile 'reading' the Bible, history, geography, tales, with close attention and a remarkable power of reproduction, or rather, of translation into his own language; he is acquiring a copious vocabulary and the habit of consecutive speech. In a word, he is an educated child from the first, and his power of dealing with books, with several books in the course of a morning's 'school,' increases with his age.

Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education p30
So to the second part of the question as to when I would recommend children read their own books, I would say that this should happen as soon as they are capable of doing so. A child with reading difficulties will do this later than a child without; often boys read fluently later than girls. To me it is more important that children read books that are the right level for them to be able to read without being frustrated (5 difficult words per page) and that they gain the knowledge from other books (as Miss Mason explains above) by listening them being read, than it is to have them stumble through books on their own. I do not believe that a child will acquire for himself a love of reading this way.

And so that, Sarah, is my long winded answer to your question. I hope it helps.

Joyfulmum writes: Jeanne, I've been wondering about Apologia for my daughter for next year when she does AO3. It seems like AO doesn't cover enough science - I get a bit nervous about the Board of Studies and their expectations I guess - which is why I've been thinking about Apologia for next year. I had a look at one of them a year or so ago and it seemed like the content did not lend itself to narration very well, it seemed too dry for a child to narrate. What do you think? Do you think it's interesting enough to narrate back? I also thought it looked too dense and if I were to do it I'd probably go at a very slow pace too! hmmm....still trying to work it all out:) Someone on AO recently said that they used the AO selections and Apologia as a reference book. I am wondering if I should do the same:)

Okay, this then is the second question. I think, Joyfulmum, that the short answer to this question is that Miss Mason taught Primary science using nature study, and that done well, this medium will provide all the science a child of our girls' ages will need.

To explore further, firstly, there is the AO Nature Study Rotation providing huge scope:

Summer/Fall Term - reptiles
Winter Term - flowerless plants/crops
Spring Term - fish and amphibians

I think focusing nature study around these areas would be wonderful with a couple of good field guides at hand. In addition, using nature notebooks well really develops a child's power of observation, as well as teaching the skills of painting. She draws what she sees.

Ambleside Oline also schedules a number of living books that cover the various areas of science: Christian Liberty Nature Reader 5; The Story of Inventions; Storybook of Science; Pagoo; It Couldn't Just Happen; Madam How and Lady Why; the wonderful books by Friedhoffer. In AO3 there is Secrets of the Woods by William Long, as well as Science Lab in a Supermarket by Robert Friedhoffer, which we thought was fantastic. We also wrote up the experiments using correct scientific notation when we did them. If you add in a few Aussie books like I did - we used Animals of Australia in Colour by Lyla Stevens and Little Dragons of the Never Never by Ella McFadyen I think you will find that that is plenty of science to satisfy the Board of Studies.

I personally believe that this option is far and above the option that Apologia provides. If you do chose to use it, then please be selective, and please, please, supplement with lots of nature study and time outside.

And so, that is what I think. Like I say, do as I say, not as I do. I am not good at nature study. I do not get outside as much as we should. We have not done nature notebooks regularly now for a year. I must say, though, that writing this has strengthened my resolve to do better next term.

I think that for me it is important to trust the process. I firmly believe that Charlotte Mason was an educator ahead of her time. I believe that her systems work. All that I need to do is to implement her processes regularly enough to see the results. I really believe that.

Do you?


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  2. awww, thank you so much Jeanne! yes, I get that nature study is the best at this age but I unfortunately feel we don't do enough it! But you're right, there is a lot of science in those other books you mentioned and I'm sure Rebekah is learning a lot of science already. I just need to relax a bit lol! I will take your advice though and continue to aim for lots of time outside and nature study whichever route we go. She has already developed a love for nature for which I am so thankful...I just got to keep on keeping on!

  3. I think I have to disagree with Charlotte on the issue of reading aloud. I attribute m own love of reading to the time m mom spent reading to me. And I'm seeing the results of lots of read aloud time with m own kids. Plus, reading aloud allows our child access to books above their reading level.

    As for the science, a good selection of living natural science books (such as Blink Bill), access to a zoo, pets, local wildlife, nature reserves, etc. are all one needs. I ma use Apologia as a spine, but it will just serve as a jumping off point. B the wa, I love that phrase "jumping off point" as it applies to the place of a spine book. Think of the diver poised on the edge of the dock, the lake spread out in ever direction around him. The diver is the student. The dock is the spine. And the lake is everthing that surrounds. If the diver stas on the dock, what might he never discover?

  4. Thanks for the post. You have many great reminders here and I'm looking forward to getting into those books on science!

  5. Hah, BfB, your Y- less comment was funny!

    Re read alouds, don't forget that Jemimah is older than Dorothy. Most of the books I'm reading to her are at her reading level, not above it. I will read aloud as long as I can, but I will try to stop reading her school books very soon. I'm afraid Miss Mason's comments are very perspicacious.

  6. Thank you Jeanne for expressing your thoughts. You really have just confirmed what I think, and I am at peace to just keep doing what I am doing. I don't want to force my children when they are not ready which will only leave a resentment towards reading, but I do want them to read their own literature as soon as they are able to. xxx


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