Monday, August 8, 2016

{Mixed Bag} :: Summer 2016 + Planning


I was fortunate to have been able to attend AmblesideOnline's Deep in the Heart of AO Conference this past May and be blessed by inspirational sessions with AO Advisory (like Donna-Jean's referenced here. Purchase a copy of all uploaded plenaries here!) ... as well as by a few chats with new, real-life friends. 

with Amy
with Dawn & Jen

One realization that hit me hard was that these people with kids my children's ages seemed to be much better about not only spreading a tasty educational feast before them, but also much more practical in the use of their time on lessons. During this term, I felt we were on a downward spiral, headed toward a catastrophic crash and burn. I realized I was trying to do too much, but didn't know how to cut back. I needed to spend some time focusing on this issue and be ok with not doing it all.

The Monday following the conference I was needed in completing a project here at camp by the end of the week that required lots of my time and effort. Enter "Bare Bones Schooling". I had no time to pre-read lessons or prep printed schedules. (It was that crazy!) Thus I began writing assignments in personal spiral notebooks on a day-to-day basis, which the kids said they actually liked better! Basically I assigned two readings, math, copywork, free reading, piano practice, a cleaning chore and outside play during this season.


Summer camping season was officially underway and my husband's work schedule, as usual, changes drastically so his "weekends" were days like Tuesday-Wednesday or the like, therefore affecting when we did lessons. In addition, Alice participated in volleyball camp:

Royal's 10th birthday was this month:

And there were a few planned activities with friends. My goal of finishing up the term by the end of the month was effectively pushed back. (I think all these outside events was God telling me to chill out and be more flexible!)


We were able to get away for 3 days (a rarity in summer!) during the 4th of July.

In addition, Royal attended a basketball camp, all kids enjoyed a week of Vacation Bible School, the two oldest went to RA and GA Camp (here at our facility) AND I went through a week-and-a-half of Lifeguard/CPR/First Aid/AED certification.

It's been a long time since I have had to attend class, study and take tests. I am exhausted!

We did finally finish our term on July 16 and I have seriously been re-grouping and re-evaluating how I schedule and organize lessons and general daily routines. I have appreciated Kathy Livingston's posts here, here and here (there are more if you want to rummage around in her organization posts) on how she works through her scheduling. I have taken that basic idea and translated it into something workable for our family. Basically I went through the entire term's selections and broke them into daily, manageable readings. (Each "O" is a reading session, taking anywhere from 10-20 minutes each, including oral narrations)

**Keep in mind we school 4 days per week to leave a day for Nature Study, Spanish class with friends and piano lessons.

Royal's Year 4, Term 3:
Royal has no more than 12 independent readings per week. I did a tiny bit of shuffling to ensure he stays at (or under) 3 independent readings per day.
At the end of each day we select one of the "Reading Rotation with Mom" listings.

Alice's Year 2, Term 3:
Alice has no more than 9 readings per week. She still depends on me to read everything to her.
A small amount of shuffling ensures she stays at (or under) 3 readings per day.

I also was initially inspired on including Morning Basket work from Jennifer and Celeste. The idea is beautiful. It brings us all together to learn as a family and is also a great way to help schedule for peace and unity. I am going to try Morning Basket in two separate sessions next term: 

Morning Basket I:
Utilizing "Loop/Rotation" readings and activities, we should stay at 6-7 per day during this Morning Basket block.
I imagine the poetry reading will get included with our Snack Time most likely.

To make it a bit easier in prepping for the next Spanish lessons/themes, I prepared a chart that I have printed to jot down ideas for various components of the language learning process (vocabulary, series, videos, stories, songs, activities and then copywork selections).

Morning Basket II:
This is the looping portion of our Morning Basket.
Combining Parables from Nature, Trial & Triumph and a Shakespeare play (to be done Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays on a rotation),
I can include Alice's Term 2 Parables we didn't get to and also begin to work on Shakespeare together instead of separately.

Finally, I have taken Brandy's and Celeste's Average Day Chart helps and referred to them as templates in coming up with one for our family. At this point in time, I would LOVE an Average Day!!! I long for this, but perhaps God wanted to turn me upside down and shake all the un-necessary junk out of my pockets so we could get back to a more meaningful, less burdensome educational journey.

And to finish out the month:

A little pickling using our garden produce...

...and a trip to the aquarium.

Now to finalized preparations for our upcoming family vacation.

Friday, June 17, 2016

[Nature Study} :: Deepening my Observation

I have just started digging into "The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling". Right from the beginning, several gems caught my attention...techniques to help my journaling and to share as fun and easy skills to pass along to my children.

I am going to share the results of how Mr. Laws helped me to observe in ways I had never considered before...and it is exciting! These are prompts from the Curiosity section of the book (pages 6-7). 

Prompts to deepen observation:
I notice...
I wonder...
It reminds me of...

My Nature Journal Pages
I notice...
Just take some moments to observe, examine, and see your subject-matter from various perspectives.

I wonder...
Come up with questions about your subject that you are curious about.

It reminds me of...
Anything goes here! (I thought this was fun) ...anything from a previous experience, a factoid or a physical object that may not even have anything to do with the subject-matter.

At the core of all science are insatiable curiosity and deep observation,
qualities that lead to the best kind of learning:
learning motivated by your intrinsic wonder, hunger to understand, and ability to observe.
-John Muir Laws


Monday, April 11, 2016

{EXAMS} :: Year 2, Term 1

A few days ago I posted our Year 4, Term 1, exam and I mentioned how Alice (age 7) is a September baby. I was not quite sure that she would be ready right away to jump into a more rigorous lesson schedule so decided a year or so ago to give her a few weeks of being 6 before jumping into Year 1, which is why we have been using an October/November start date. It was a bit rocky for the First Term that year and I had to slow down a little, but we managed to work her back up to getting on pace with her older brother in terms of which week of school I was scheduling in following the Ambleside Online curriculum.

At this point, she is doing fairly well and she has improved on her attention span. Understanding the readings is still a factor sometimes. History (names & following the happenings) seems to bog her down; however, I have tried to work on laying a better groundwork for her before we jump into the readings that give her trouble.

All that said, I am really impressed with her progress. 

On another note, reading skill: Some books she has read with just a little help from me are posted here. I believe she is doing great! 

Exam Questions (taken from AO's website with a few adjustments):
A sampling of her answers are in purple.

Bible (same as her older brother since we read together from the Year 4 listings). By the way, she did much better on her answers in this category than she did last term. Yay!
1. Tell how the people of Israel took Jericho.
2. Tell about John the Baptist and how he baptized Jesus.
3. Tell how Christ fed the hungry crowds. One day there was this boy that had a basket that only had 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread and there was like thousands of people and two fish and five loaves of bread couldn’t feed all of them so Jesus took the baskets and showed them to heaven and then there was a bunch of food in the baskets and the whole crowd was fed.


1. Tell about William the Conqueror and how he came to be kind of England. One day in his boat he went to England and fought and then all of them pretended like they were running away and then Wm gave them a warning to turn back and kill everyone so they did this and then England was surprised. Then all of them were killed.
2. Tell the story of the White Ship.

1. Tell about little 'Lias.
2. Tell about two things Christian saw in the House of the Interpreter, or about Mr. Worldly Wiseman. When Christian got hisself out of the swamp this guy came and his name was Worldly Wiseman. And then he showed him a way to a hill and he said that that would take his burden off so Christian went this way but then when he got to the foot of the hill he saw flames of fire and so he went back and went the other way. Oh but before that this guy came up and said why did you go this way? He said because Worldly Wiseman came and told me to go this way and he was like you don’t need to listen to Worldly Wiseman because he tells the wrong things.

1. What is a butte? Can you describe one? Or tell everything you know about the plains.
2. Describe a compass. What does it tell us?

Natural History & General Science
1. Tell what you know about a squirrel or a beaver.
2. Describe a favorite nature walk, and tell about something you found. One day we were on a walk and we saw these little flowers while we were resting. The name of the flowers are called little bluets. They have purple petals. And we saw a skunk.
3. Talk about the Afghan Pine or about a bird we learned about at the Nature Center. Owls turn their heads around because their eyes can’t move and because so they can look at danger all around them. I like the Great Horned Owl the best.


Picture Study: Albrecht Dürer
Describe your favorite work we studied this term.

Free Reading/Read-Aloud:
Choose one to illustrate and talk about.
     By the Shores of Silver Lake
     Pinocchio (audio book)
By the Shores of Silver Lake
1. Sing Juan 3:16 or Zaqueo
2. La caminata: Say what we do on a nature walk in Spanish

1. The Oak, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
2. Colossians 1:15-17
3. Recite one of your Sunday School verses

Sing your favorite folksong and hymn from this term.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

{EXAMS} :: Year 4, Term 1

A couple of weeks ago was Term 1 exam week in our home. We tend to begin our Year-to-Year transition with Ambleside Online's schedule in late fall, initially due to Alice having turned 6 in September, consequently allowing a few weeks before beginning her in Year 1. Thus with a start date of October/November, I am able to keep her and Royal on the same weeks of lessons around the year. So far, so good!

I always use AO's exam questions as a basis for our exams, but end up adjusting here and there for various reasons.

As we have just begun Year 4, exam responses were mainly oral so as Royal narrates, I type directly into the computer.

Following are the questions and prompts. I have included a sampling of his responses (in green). Some of my thoughts and comments are in red.

1. Tell how the people of Israel took Jericho.
2. Tell about John the Baptist and about how he baptized Jesus.
3. Tell how Christ fed the hungry crowds. How does he feed us today? He gives us jobs. He provides animals for us to kill. He helps farmers’ plants grow.

Royal chose to memorize Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" this term. I was a bit surprised he was okay with such a lengthy poem, but he did great! And, BONUS, a mini-history and geography lesson was involved.

Dictation (unprepared)
I was a bit unsure of how this was supposed to work. I couldn't find any how-tos on UN-prepared dictation, but did see a small number of posts over at the forum about the plausible reasons why it was included on student exams in Miss Mason's day. One that sticks out to me is that it could be a good indicator of the child's progress in spelling and focus on the details of sentences/phrases, etc.
That said, I decided to take AO's Tennyson selection (from "In Memoriam") and cut it down to just three lines, then allow Royal about 2-3 minutes to look it over for spelling, punctuation, etc.
Then I dictated:

If anyone has suggestions as to how they do unprepared dictation, please share!

1. Describe your favorite scene or character from the Shakespeare play: The Taming of the Shrew
Petrucchio is my favorite. He is funny. He can be funny whenever he’s talking to Katherine. He’s real stubborn with Katherine because he’s taming her. It’s a good thing that he’s stubborn because if he wasn’t, she would be a bully all the time. Whenever she wants something, he fights with her and says no, that he will not have it. And anything that she doesn’t want, he’ll give it to her.
2. Narrate one of these stories: Apollo & Daphne, Pyramus & Thisbe, Cephalic & Procris, or Diana & Actaeon.

English Grammar

U.S. History
1. What do you know about King Philip's War?
2. From reading Poor Richard, talk about the relationship America had with the French in trying to gain their independence from Britain. What role did Benjamin Franklin play in this relationship? The French and Americans liked each other. The French would give them supplies and the French really loved Benjamin Franklin and they were sad when he had to leave France. He (BF) started writing letters to the French to give them supplies.
3. Tell about the witches of Salem or how New Amsterdam became New York.
4. What do you know about Lord Baltimore or William Penn?

1. What do you know about Lake Itasca? Or what do you know about the Falls of St. Anthony's? (Locate it on a map and tell what's around it)
2. "The river is a museum." Explain.
3. Describe the earth's surface. (water and land forms)

Natural History & General Science
1. What are earthquakes? What causes them?
2. Talk about silk and about Epeira's Bridge.
3. Talk about the Afghan Pine or about a bird we learned about at the Nature Center. Red-tailed hawk: Their wing-span is 4 feet. They have big talons, about 2 inches long. It has spots on its chest. It has a curved yellow beak. It has a red tail. It has 3 eyelids, one on the side of its eye that is used to protect its eyes and is also see-through and one on the top of its eye and one on the bottom.

Citizenship/Government (Plutarch): Publicola
On AO's exam page, there were no questions for Publicola, so I took this quote from Anne White's study guide compilation of Publicola from Lesson Three's Narration and Discussion section. (As we are taking Plutarch at about half-pace right now ... and REALLY soaking it all in, I might add! ... this was a great question for us as we ended the term on Lesson Six (of Twelve total)

Talk about Brutus. Who was he? He was a commander in the army
"But that ancient Brutus was of a severe and inflexible nature, like steel of too hard a temper, and having never had his character softened by study and thought, he let himself be so far transported with his rage and hatred against tyrants, that, for conspiring with them, he proceeded to the execution even of his own sons." -Tell the story. He found out that his sons had turned to King Tarquin’s side and he took them before him with a bunch of other Tarquins and put them to trial and then cut their heads off.
Later we read of this same rage on the battlefield. Talk about this.
He was so mad at the tyrants that he let his anger control him, which was not good because he got killed in the battle. It is good not to let your hatred control you. Then the Romans made camp in the woods and all the sudden while they were in their tents, they heard a whispering voice that said, “You have won by one person.” And then they all yelled and it scared the Tuscans and most of them ran away and hid in the woods, but then the Romans came and captured the rest.


Picture Study
Describe your favorite Dürer work from this term.

Free Reading/Read-Aloud
Choose one to illustrate and talk about:
     By the Shores of Silver Lake
     The Sign of the Beaver
By the Shores of Silver Lake


1. Sing Juan 3:16 or Zaqueo
2. La caminata: Say what we do on a nature walk

1. The Charge of the Light Brigade, Alfred, Lord Tennyson
2. Colossians 1:15-17
3. Recite one of your Sunday School verses

Sing your favorite folksong and hymn from this term.

Monday, February 22, 2016

{Mixed Bag} :: What We've Been up to Lately

Lots of happenings over here in Beracá Valley the past couple of months...

~Royal got his much-anticipated puppy. He has been wanting a dog for some time, and his grandparents surprised him at Christmas. It's a Blue Lacy, the State Dog of Texas. Read about this impressive breed here and here if you're interested!


~My littlest munchkin is growing up! We celebrated 'Manzo's 4th birthday at the end of January with a blueberry muffin breakfast and Star Wars light saber cake later that evening with family :-)


~As we were working one afternoon at the dining table, a cardinal crashed into our window. Royal went out to inspect and determine the bird's state. The cardinal must have been pretty dazed because he was statuesque for a good 5 minutes, just blinking his eyes and slightly turning his head. Notice our dog sitting so close as well!


~Alice had received a cornhusk doll kit for Christmas. We worked on putting this project together a couple of afternoons. She turned out really cute for our first attempt!


~We have been reading Madam How and Lady Why in our Year4 lessons. It has been interesting all the connections to nature we are making: chines/ravines...glens/valleys, metals, etc.

Little "chines"

We figured this clump of dirt/clay has iron in it due to the rusty colored layers


~One Saturday we attended a Feather Fest event, which included making pinecone bird feeders, native plant seed balls, observing birds through the park's new bird blind, and learning more about raptors.


~And a wet walk this past weekend. It has been unseasonably warm here this winter in Texas, with very little rain; however, this Sunday was wonderfully wet! We went on a family hike at our favorite state park and just reveled in the warm showers, getting completely soaked in the process! I was reminded of how Charlotte Mason encouraged us to get outdoors even in "imperfect" weather conditions and found this wonderful quote of hers on the subject:
A mere time and distance tramp is sufficiently joyous for a wet day, for, taken good-humouredly, the beating rain itself is exhilarating.
-Vol 1, p88 

~And I leave you with another fun, rainy-day image... 

My Valentine and I were blessed with an afternoon kid-free, so we were able to enjoy the last day of the Caillebotte exhibit at our art museum.


Thanks for stopping by for a visit.
I hope your New Year has gotten off to a good start as well!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Raising the Bar :: Year 4 Narrations

As my children get older and mature in their lessons and abilities to narrate, I've got to keep up too! I found that by Year 3's end, my oldest was quite capable (and good!) at giving oral narrations of his readings. At the beginning of Year 4 (we are in our First Term now), I realized the necessity to push his narration capacities a bit ... to stretch his compositions. 

This last year I attended a homeschool conference where Sonya Shafer was one of the speakers. She gave a talk on narration, along with a handout of narration ideas. A nice list of ideas she presented is here.

She asked the question, "Is narration enough for high school?"

Answer: "Yes, IF you continue to raise the bar."

So here is a general guideline for narration "bar-raising" she gave:

Years 1-3 :: narrative
Years 4-6 :: narrative PLUS expository
Years 7-9 :: narrative, expository PLUS descriptive
Years 10+:: narrative, expository, descriptive PLUS persuasive

You can find a more in-depth explanation of the above in this article.

........................................... is not a bad test of education to be able to give the points of a description,
the sequence of a series of incidents, the links in a chain of argument... tabulate and classify series; to trace cause to consequence and consequence to cause;
to discern character and perceive how character and circumstance interact...

-Vol 3, p180


What is expository writing? (It is called writing, although at this point ... Year 4 ... the majority of the "writing" is still oral). I viewed a helpful YouTube video here to outline the basics for me. The following are my notes:

Expository writing's purpose is to inform or describe. This is in contrast to just re-telling the plot in the early elementary years.

The 5 techniques are:
1) descriptive (use of the five senses; location, etc.)
2) process/sequence (how-to; order of events)
3) comparison (2 or more ideas)
4) cause & effect (seek to answer "why" and "what"; this technique is useful for science and anything occurring in nature or with inanimate objects)
5) problem & solution (seek to answer "what was the problem" and "what did people do to solve it"; is used only when people are involved)


I have this list of techniques posted near my desk where I plan lessons for quick reference as I pre-read Royal's upcoming chapters. After reading the assigned pages, I grab a Post-It, jot down one or two narration prompts, then stick it at the end of Royal's reading for him to ponder until I can hear his oral composition. (Alternatively, SimplyCharlotteMason also offers some free narration bookmarks with general narration prompts printed on them).

The teacher's part is, in the first place, to see what is to be done, to look over the work of the day in advance and see what mental discipline, as well as what vital knowledge, this and that lesson afford; and then to set such questions and such tasks as shall give full scope to his pupils' mental activity.

-Vol 3, p180

The following are a few questions I have posed for him:

Trial & Triumph : The Two Margarets
     * According to King Charles II, what was the "problem" with the Covenanters?
     * What did they do to solve their "problem"?
     * How did the two Margarets handle the situation?

Madam How & Lady Why: The Glen (reading pages 14-18)
     * Why does the water run along the top of the clay near the New Forest? What is the resulting effect in nature?

Fun to find our own little "wash-out" due to water running atop layers of clay.

Storybook of Science : 
"The Age of Trees" (Ch 9)
     * Describe one of the oldest trees. Where is it? What is special about it? Did anything interesting or unique happen to it?

"The Length of Animal Life" (Ch 10)
     * Explain how the length of animal life differs from that of human life.
     * How do you think the jobs of each animal affect how long they live?

"The Kettle" (Ch 11)
     * Describe the process of mining copper.
     * How is copper fashioned (or made) into useful tools or kitchen items?

This Country of Ours : 
"The Witches of Salem" (Ch 34)
     * Pretend you are a reporter on the news. Report the story of the witches of Salem.

"How New Amsterdam became New York" (Ch 36)
     *How were the Dutch patroons like the feudal lords of old time?


"...'In all labour there is profit,' ... and the labour of thought is what his book must induce in the child.
He must generalise, classify, infer, judge, visualise, discriminate, labour in one way or another,
with that capable mind of his..."

-Vol 3, p179