09 10

26 April 2017

Japanese Grammar Memory Work

In reading from our new Latin books, I found this in the preface to the teacher's manual:

The modern approach to language study is the reading method, in which students are required to read text prior to instruction in the necessary grammar and vocabulary. Although this approach can be successful in certain limited circumstances, it is often very similar to teaching reading without phonics.

This really resonates with me regarding our Japanese study for a couple of reasons. One is that, although my kids have been picking up a fair amount of Japanese from what we're doing, I've been feeling like the grammar that I studied while I was in college laid a really useful foundation for me, and that when I reached a point recently where both the grammar and my vocabulary hit a critical point, and my ability to understand both written and spoken Japanese has been really expanding the past few months -- but I'm also aware that my kids are not getting any explicit grammar instruction right now, and I think that needs to change. We have a number of grammar resources I've purchased, but nothing that's really kid-oriented, so I think I'm going to break down the information we've got into bite-sized pieces for them. Hopefully, this will be a pretty straight-forward process!

Looking at the way that the Latin course is organized has inspired me to take some of the grammar materials that we've got and try organizing it into something that is somewhat similar, so that my kids can have a better grasp on the grammar of our new language. We're going to use some vocabulary that they're already somewhat familiar with, but expand the ways that they can do conjugations and declensions. The Latin book has the kids doing small, discrete units: a collection of forms for a single verb makes a set. I'm going to follow that example with these present tense verbs and adjectives:

To be - inanimate objects:
ある、 ない、 あります、 あるません、 あって

To be - animate objects:
いる、 いない、 います、 いません、 いて

To eat:
たべる、 たべない、 たべます、 たべません、 たべて

To sleep:
ねる、ねない、 ねます、 ねません、 ねて
To drink:
のむ、 のまない、 のみます、 のみません、 のんで

To read:
よむ、 よまない、 よみます、 よみません、 よんで

おおきい、 おおきくない、 おおきいです、 おおきないです、おおきくて

 ちいさい、 ちさくない、 ちさいです、 ちさくないです、 ちさくて

おいしい、 おいしくない、 おいしいです、 おいしくないです、 おいしくて

かわいい、 かわいくない、 かわいいです、 かわいくないです、 かわいくて

こわい、 こわくない、 こわいです、 こわくないです、 こわくて

25 April 2017

Daily Bible Jigsaw {Crew Review}

Daily Bible Jigsaw by Planet 316
For this review, we have been playing with puzzles in a cute Daily Bible Jigsaw from Planet 316. It comes on a variety of platforms, but I play on my iPhone. 

One of the things that I like to do in our home is to create multiple points of contact with scripture in our day. This means that, even if we miss one of the regular places where the kids and I typically interact with the Word, it really has to be an off day before we make it all the way through without any scripture at all. While this is a very minor point of contact, it's still contact, and it's fun. My kids think it's great. The puzzles are cute. They only come in one size, which is big enough to be fun, but small enough to do in just a couple of minutes and then be done. There's a free puzzle every day, and you can spend coins in order to do past puzzles. The daily puzzles are organized into a puzzle calendar that you slowly assemble as you complete them, which is kind of fun. It also makes it really easy to see which ones you've done, and which are still waiting.

A review of the Daily Bible Jigsaw puzzle app from Planet 316.

There's a couple of tools that you can use to help you get your puzzle done; most of them do cost a couple of coins. You can earn coins, (very) slowly, in the gameplay, or you can buy coins with real money, or you can earn coins by watching short commercials; the ones I saw were for other game apps. Unfortunately, as you use the coins, there's no warning messages or anything: they're just gone. Which is how my six-year old used up about 350 coins in a half hour or so the first day that I had the app... without him ever even realizing that they exist, much less that he was using them. So if you buy coins, do be aware to teach your children how they get used, and when they can do it: I would have been very frustrated, had that been $30 of coins that I'd bought, rather than just coins that I was given for the review! In addition to the other features, you can also log in through Facebook and play with friends, which could be a fun feature if you enjoy playing that way.

A review of the Daily Bible Jigsaw puzzle app from Planet 316.

The pictures used in the puzzles are uniformly lovely. I'm not sure what version of the Bible they're using, besides that it's not the King James, but the verses they picked for all the puzzles that we did are uplifting and encouraging. However, you don't build a gallery of completed puzzles or anything like that, so you see the verses once and then they're gone, which limits the usefulness of the app as a tool to gently increase your familiarity, or an aid to "ponderizing" your scriptures, or anything like that. It's a nice puzzle app, but I think that the scripture to game balance is too far to the game side of thing for this to be a meaningful addition to study. However, it could be a fun way to get a gentle exposure as you play the puzzles, especially if you're good at puzzles; I'm pretty slow, so it's probably 15-20 minutes to complete one, unless I use some coins. Used mindfully, the app could possibly be a way to find new verses to study or memorize, but it lacks that kind of tools to do it in the app.

A review of the Daily Bible Jigsaw puzzle app from Planet 316.

Hero(10) had this to say about it: "I just think it's great." 

Dragon(6) said: "I love it! It challenges my brain."

To read more reviews on this app, and to see how other families used it in their homeschool, please click the link below:

Click to read Crew Reviews

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24 April 2017

Dala Horses

So we did this art project from ArtAchieve (there's a review coming at the first of May), and it went really well, particularly considering that they were a little reluctant to do it at first! The kids, particularly Dragon, are learning a whole bunch of things with this style of art, and they're making some really nice art. The project has you do a line drawing first:

Top: Dragon, Hero. Bottom: Peanut, Mom

Then you paint it. They give several examples, and tell what's traditional, mention that you don't have to do that if you don't want to, then turn the kids loose to make their own designs.

Top: Dragon, Mom. Bottom: Peanut, Hero.

And they did.

In fact, the next day, they wanted to do more. It was pretty cool. I made them do their regular school work; told them that this time the horses were an "after school activity". Which was fine with them.  They set and did them after their regular work was done.

Peanut did one, then the boys came and joined her and they all started the lesson over, but their impromptu art class got interrupted: Daddy got home and horses weren't very important any more. Right then, at least. So Peanut was the only one with a completed work from that batch.

I was pretty impressed with her. These lessons are intended for kids who are much older than she is, and she had very little help with this one, since I was trying to get some dinner made before we all went to Scouts for the evening. I tried to persuade her to do watercolor, but since we'd used acrylics the first time, she wanted those same paints the second time. A lot of her cute details got obscured when she painted, as a result.

The art lesson has a lot of extras, so we checked some of them out. There's a flyover of Sweden, Norway, and Finland. That was fun; we have ancestors that lived in those places, but especially in Sweden and Norway.

They've got some information about a Smörgåsbord - I had no idea those were Swedish - and while I think that I'm not going to be making anything nearly as fancy as what their article describes, when I searched for Smörgåsbord on Pinterest, I did find this recipe for these cookies. I have no idea how authentic they are, but they were yummy! 

We also looked at a factory, where they make Dala Horses. That was pretty interesting. Hero likes whittling. So far, he's only used his pocket knife on sticks from the yard, and a few bars of soap, but we're in the market for better projects for him, and he was all over the little tips they mentioned, like to pay attention to the grain of the wood. I think it would be pretty awesome if we could arrange for him to make a real wooden one, rather than just a painting, but we haven't made that happen. Yet. It's remarkable to me how much they're doing with such a basic knife. I thought carving required much more specialized tools.

Because we have some Swedish ancestry, I also looked up where our people were, and compared it to where these horses were made, but it looks like it's far enough away that these were probably not a thing that our ancestors were involved in: the 3 hour drive is not a big deal today, but in those days, that was a long distance. Still, it was fun to look it up, and to look at some of the designs. Even if the horses weren't a thing in Uppsala, where our people were, it's probable that they had very similar traditional designs. It's always fun to look up that kind of thing and make even a tenuous personal connection.

21 April 2017

5 Days of Books: Feed the Teacher, Too

Mother Culture is a type of self-care that helps us to be our best for ourselves and our families; it is *not* selfish to care for yourself. Mindful reading habits and a commonplace book can do wonders for our continuing education, very inexpensively.

There is so much that, as moms, we are responsible for - whether we homeschool or not. It's easy to become immersed in the day-to-day ordinary stuff of parenting, and forget that our children's minds are not the only ones that need to be fed! But it is every bit as important to feed our own minds and spirits as it is to feed our bodies. This sort of self-care is not selfish; it helps prevent burn-out and the depression that so often accompanies that used-up feeling. We are children of God; we do not stop needing to grow ourselves, just because we take on the responsibility of mothering!

It's the concept of "breathing" that I refer to. The biggest challenge to the mentor is to breathe, is to inhale, because the mentor, the teacher is always exhaling. And, if they never take the time to inhale, if they never take the time to feed themselves, that's the biggest challenge. Because we're always concerned about giving, about teaching, about leading, guiding, mentoring, doing things: output. And if we neglect the input, that can be harmful. 
-Quiddity #69: Why Mentorship Matters

Happily, it's a relatively simple matter to continue our own education, and thanks to the ready availability of books and technology, there's a number of easy ways to do it, many of them very inexpensive, and a number of them able to be done while we do necessary, but uninteresting, chores that are so much a part of life.

One traditional -and very cost-efficient- method of feeding ourselves is to keep a commonplace book. I've written about commonplacing a couple of times, but basically, what it is is a notebook. I use a regular spiral notebook, one of the tougher kind that has a plastic cover so it will last as I fill it over a period of months or years, including dragging it around in my backpack sometimes. In the notebook I copy out passages from my reading that strike me as being particularly good, true, or beautiful. Sometimes it's passages from scripture, sometimes it's from the fiction that I read either by myself or with the kids' school, and sometimes it's from nonfiction. Occasionally I'll add something from blogs or whatever else I read. The commonplace book has been all but forgotten, but it was once a pillar of self-education in both America (especially among women) and in Europe. Charlotte Mason kept one, which you can see at Afterthoughts. The Library of Congress has images from Thomas Jefferson's various notebooks. I can say that, having kept one for several years now, it's a powerful tool for self-education. All you really need is a notebook and something to read, and you can become more educated than you are right now.

There's lots of places that will help you find worthy things to read. The 1000 Good Books list and a host of other lists of classic works are great places to start. If you want to learn more about the Founders, then this list looks likely. I will be working on works from the Ambleside Online recommendations for a long while, I'm thinking, and I've been fortunate to be a part of a Mother's Education Group for many years now, which has helped me find other good books.

In addition to traditional paper books, there's audiobooks - Librivox has a great selection of classics that my kids and I enjoy. Audiobooks are great for making things like laundry go more quickly and pleasantly. And there's podcasts on every topic, and in a host of languages, so you can use them to support the language you learned in school, or that you're working to learn now. Even if you don't understand everything, listening to native speakers speak is hugely valuable to language study.

The reality is, we won't have energy for something big and meaty and deep every day. And that's ok. We do what we can, with what we have, and that includes our time and energy. I thought that this was some really great practical advice for moms who have to live in the real world, where good intentions meet day-to-day reality:

The wisest woman I ever knew--the best wife, the best mother, the best mistress, the best friend--told me once, when I asked her how, with her weak health and many calls upon her time, she managed to read so much, "I always keep three books going--a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel, and I always take up the one I feel fit for!" That is the secret; always have something "going" to grow by.
-Mother Culture, Parents' Review Archives

All this week, I'm posting about books. Stop by again to read about:

The 5 Days of Books series is part of the Homeschool Review Crew Annual Blog Hop: 5 Days of Homeschooling. Click this graphic or browse the linky below to see what other Crew members are writing about.

5 Days of Homeschool Annual Blog Hop - 2017

20 April 2017

5 Days of Books: A Feast of Ideas

The written word is really pretty miraculous. It allow us to communicate over not only vast distances in space, but also through time: Hero(10) and I are reading Robinson Crusoe as part of his school work right now, and in a very real way we are having a conversation, albeit a bit one-sided, with Daniel Defoe. This is really quite remarkable, since Mr. Defoe died in 1731, just shy of 300 years ago. But, through the miracle of books, we can consider the ideas that he thought were important enough to write down. One of the major themes we've encountered is that of God's love, and we get to see how Crusoe finally turns to the Bible in order to turn to God. It's a beautiful thing.

Mormon theology holds that writing, rather than being an invention of man, is actually a gift from God, originally given by inspiration, and that Adam and his children kept records, including records of God's dealings with and commandments to man. The Biblical account in Genesis gives us the highlights, preserved in those early records and recorded and passed to us by the prophet Moses, of some of the most important events and ideas of human history.

It is this ability to transmit the ideas and events of the past to future generations that makes the written word such an amazing thing: we don't have to start fresh every generation, ignorant of the things that have been learned by those who have gone before us. Books give us access to the "Great Conversation" that has been going on through the ages. And they give us the opportunity to bring that heritage, and its character-shaping power, to our children.

Some ideas can be found by the senses, but many ideas, especially those influencing character and behavior, travel from one mind to another. Of these, some are certainly passed by word of mouth or family traditions. But just as providing three proper meals a day requires planning, Charlotte [Mason] urges us to focus on quality and intentionally put our children in touch with ideas the best minds, which can be found in living books.
-Amy Hines, A Rich Feast of Ideas

Today over lunch, I read aloud from Pinocchio, who learned the folly of being a picky eater. The book has really captivated the kids' attention, and after reading about his antics they're not sure if they like Pinocchio or not. He, through his own bad behavior, goes without supper, and when Geppetto sacrifices his own breakfast for him my kids were appalled that Pinocchio would refuse to eat a part of it, then complain that he was still hungry. It was particularly timely, as my own picky eater left a small pile of green peppers on his plate. He prefers them raw, not cooked, but I could see the wheels turning. After that we got out our poetry for the day. I've been mulling over Hero's first poem from Wordsworth off and on all afternoon; there's a lot in there. Reading over lunch and throughout our day allows us to feed our minds as well as our bodies.

The life of the mind is sustained upon ideas... the best thought in the world is stored in books; we must open books to children, the best books; our own concern is abundant provision and orderly serving. 
-Charlotte Mason 6:25-26

We want the best books because we want the best, most ennobling ideas for our children -- and for ourselves, too. When we plan our education, we need to spread a generous feast.

All this week, I'm posting about books. Stop by again to read about:

The 5 Days of Books series is part of the Homeschool Review Crew Annual Blog Hop: 5 Days of Homeschooling. Click this graphic or browse the linky below to see what other Crew members are writing about.

5 Days of Homeschool Annual Blog Hop - 2017

19 April 2017

5 Days of Books: Second Language Literacy

Foreign language learning is a challenge. Lots of people take classes in one or more new languages; a relatively small number of people actually make the leap into meaningful fluency in their second language. Fortunately, a number of the people who have made that leap have talked about what they do. I've spent a fair amount of time over the past two or three years reading about what adult learners who have successfully become fluent in a second language say, and also lurking in groups of parents who are passing heritage languages to their children, and there are some striking similarities between what the two groups say and recommend, and it has profoundly impacted how I go about working with our family's second language.

The biggest takeaway that I've had from reading what these people say is that you have to make room for your new language in your life. The language that stays in the classroom, and never gets integrated into your daily routine, is probably not going to be a language where you ever become comfortable. Both adult learners and people who pass along heritage language talk about the mass of time that's necessary to attain fluency: they recommend aiming for exposure to the second language (L2) for roughly a third of the day. This includes conversation, obviously, but things like the music you listen to, the talk radio in the background, and yes, the books you read, count as well. The exposure adds up, and when combined with active study, becomes a powerful boost to your L2 skills.

Don't wait to buy books until you've already become fluent. Get the books now. Literacy follows books; it doesn't precede them. It doesn't matter that you can't read them yet. Buy them, and work on them a little at a time, and you will grow into them. 

Literacy follows books in English; it works the same way in your L2. The same things that support literacy in your child's first language will support and facilitate it in the new one. Get picture books. Board books. Bilingual books. It's ok if they're "too young". They won't feel too young, because the work of figuring out the unfamiliar words will make them challenging. Amazon has an amazing variety of books in foreign languages. I've been able to find books in Japanese and Welsh without having to delve into Amazon.jp or anything crazy like that. I've even been able to sometimes get Japanese books at the local Half-Price Books. Buy the books. Flip through them. Look for words that you recognize. Then, get cozy and play around with your dictionary. If you get stuck, you can take a picture of the page and ask what's happening on the HiNative app - they've been very helpful for me when that's happened. Every book will grow your vocabulary. The first one is hard. The second one, too. But it does get better; you will start to find words that you know already.

Preschoolers are famous for latching onto a certain book and demanding that we read it again and again. There are reasons for why they do this crazy thing: they are learning from all that repetition. We can learn from our youngest language learners, and imitate the things they do naturally when they are learning their first language to help us acquire our second.

Research about reading to children has repeatedly demonstrated this phenomenon, although researchers are not sure why some children develop such strong attachments to particular books. What seems clear, though, is that children’s preferences drive learning, and repeated exposure to a story can deliver benefits in several developmental domains, including vocabulary and motor areas.
-Repeat After Me

I have for several years been slowly building a library of picture books in Japanese, and it is remarkable how many times I need to read a book for it to feel reasonably fluent to read it to myself. And reading it to my kids reasonably well requires still more practice. One of the results of this is that investing in a picture book - even very simple board books - gives a great return on the investment: the books last as vehicles of active learning far longer than I expected them to when I started building our L2 library. There is a surprisingly large amount of language used in simple picture books and toddler songs about colors and numbers! These things build our base in the same way that they build our munchkins' base in their native language.

Sometimes, you luck out, and you find a classic that has been translated. The Very Hungry Caterpillar has been translated into a host of languages. Not only did we find the book, but we later found that someone had set it to music, which is extra exciting: we then had the correct pronunciation of every word in the book, which was immensely helpful.

Figuring out search terms and specific titles can be challenging, but if you can find them, poems in your L2, something along the lines of Mother Goose, would be a great asset. Each language plays just a little bit differently, and the poetry that they teach their children is an introductory course in that play. They also form a body of common knowledge that most speakers of the language share, so if you can break into that, then you are adding depth to your L2 experience.

One place that I always recommend turning to for L2 text as soon as possible is to scripture. The Church has the Bible and other scripture (as well as other materials) in a host of languages. For some of them, there is audio available in the regular Gospel Library app. You can also get Bible text and audio through Faith Comes By Hearing, which has the Bible in more languages than I had realized existed! There is something special about scripture (obviously), and even if you stumble along a single verse or a single sentence at a time at first, it is well worth the effort of making the attempt: I find that it brings the Holy Spirit into the whole effort, and boosts the whole project in a way that nothing else ever can come close to.

All this week, I'm going to be posting about books. Stop by again to read about:

The 5 Days of Books series is part of the Homeschool Review Crew Annual Blog Hop: 5 Days of Homeschooling. Click this graphic to see what other Crew members are writing about.

5 Days of Homeschool Annual Blog Hop - 2017

18 April 2017

5 Days of Books: Supporting New Readers

In order to learn to read, new readers must internalize a number of skills. They have to recognize that letters represent sounds, and master about 44 sounds which are represented by a mix of individual letters and letter groups. As they learn to recognize which letters make the various sounds, they need to have enough practice to gain fluency with those words - research into how kids learn to read tells us that most kids need between 4 and 14 instances of seeing a new word before recognizing it becomes automatic. Give then number of words that kids need to learn to be able to read well, it is clear that they are going to need a lot of practice. Teaching kids systematic phonics helps them to progress through the various letters and letter combinations in an easier-to-harder order, and it also assists the teacher in knowing what kinds of words they know, so that we can find them books that are suited to their reading level. We want to consistently provide good books that are not too hard, not too easy, but just right.

At first, kids need books that are written with a limited vocabulary. I am a fan of the Bob Books because the first book requires only 4 letters to read successfully: kids are able to read a real book very early in the teaching process.  We use a combination of Happy Phonics and The Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading, and I have adapted the little stories in TOPGTR into little books that I made up for my kids. These homemade books are great because they continue with the limited set of sounds that the kids have already learned, and finding ready-made phonetic readers is difficult. Fortunately, they're not hard to make, and kids are not demanding as far as the pictures go: no amazing art skills are needed. Stick figures will do.

After that, I get out our box of "easy books". These are leveled readers, which I usually pick up at Half-Price Books. Because we're getting them used, they're not expensive, and that means that we can make sure that there are books in our box that are interesting enough to be worth the effort of reading. The jump from phonetic readers into Step 1 books has been a big leap for my kids. I will sit next to my kids and help them read these, but I do not read books from the Easy Box. I will help, and I will read our regular picture books, and we consistently keep a chapter-book read-aloud going, as well as various LibriVox titles that the kids ask for, but I do not read books from the Easy Box. If they want to know those stories, they have to do the work themselves. This incentivizes them to make that jump -- I am careful to make sure that there are books in our box that are worth their effort to read! For Hero, this meant that I located easy books about superheroes: nothing else was worth it. Dragon is much less demanding. 

It's tempting to stop at this point, and consider the child a reader when they can read the leveled readers and start to branch out into the regular picture book collection. However, until they are reading chapter books fluently and voluntarily, they still need support and encouragement, as well as books that have a somewhat limited vocabulary and syntax. 

Early chapter books sometimes get a bad rap as being twaddle, but I think that's overly harsh. I consider them a bridge. They are not literature, exactly, but neither are Bob Books. To me, books like Magic Treehouse , or D.C. Heroes that Hero loved when he was learning, are an extension of the same concept of the Step 1 readers: books written with deliberately limited vocabulary and syntax in order to facilitate early reading. For Hero, we had an additional step between the stepped readers and easy chapter books: graphic novels. Those helped him get used to a book-length work, and they have a larger word count than picture books, too. 

None of them, Bob Books, Step readers, graphic novels, or easy chapter books are fantastic literature. But I won't call them twaddle, either. I looked much less at the style, syntax, or vocabulary used, and more at the type of story. He wanted heroes; I wanted stories that had a clear good vs. evil, where the good guys were square jawed heroes, and the bad guys were bad -- none of this grey, likable villain garbage. I wanted to see the heroes winning; justice being done. I liked to see ordinary people doing heroic things; I really like the older versions of Batman, and the kids' versions: he's a normal guy that works hard, thinks hard (oh, and he's filthy stinking rich), and that work, and his mind, those are what make him special. In the older Batman stories, and the kids' stories, then you see him when it's not so dark and gritty -- they haven't made him almost a bad guy himself, and he's much more relatable than some of the super heroes that are mutants. I think that, in a lot of ways, the superhero tales we have are the modern answer to fairy tale quests, and we have encouraged both superheroes and fairy tales. Superheroes were the only thing that Hero found to be worth the considerable effort of reading, there for a while. Now, Dragon is reading the hero books that I bought for his big brother, and they're helping him bridge into the more difficult literature that I've got in store for him.

An emerging reader needs support. Some take to reading quickly and easily. Others are more reluctant readers and they need works that help them. Building fluency can take time, and it plain old isn't fun to struggle through a book that's too hard. We want reading to be a pleasant activity that they do voluntarily, and giving kids books that are appropriate to their skill level, even as they move into chapter books, is an important support. For some, it's critical. Hero was a very reluctant reader for a long time. If I had not been willing to give him books that had a somewhat limited vocabulary and syntax and that he found interesting, he may have never made it over that hump. This is not to say that we put just any old thing into his hands; I still didn't give him books that are based on rude humor or other twaddle. Meanwhile, the feast on real literature continues in our read-alouds, same as always.

For my kids, I aim to get them reading well. Fluently and voluntarily. Without tearing apart the groundwork we lay in hundreds of hours of snugly stories from birth, establishing reading as a pleasant thing, a great leisure activity, I want to make that transition to voluntary reading, which means that my emerging readers chan have limited vocabulary & syntax for a time if they need that kind of support for a little while. 

All this week, I'm going to be posting about books. Stop by again to read about:

The 5 Days of Books series is part of the Homeschool Review Crew Annual Blog Hop: 5 Days of Homeschooling. Click this graphic to see what other Crew members are writing about.

5 Days of Homeschool Annual Blog Hop - 2017

17 April 2017

5 Days of Books: Literature or Twaddle?

 So, having determined that it's important to choose good books, the next task is to figure out how to identify them. There's a lot of names for the good books. Sometimes they're simply called literature. Sometimes these books called living books. Colleen Manning describes living books as "whole books, firsthand sources, classics, books that display imagination, originality, and the 'human touch.'" Charlotte Mason describes this kind of books this way:

For the children? They must grow up upon the best. There must never be a period in their lives when they are allowed to read or listen to twaddle or reading-made-easy. There is never a time when they are unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told. Let Blake's 'Songs of Innocence' represent their standard in poetry; De Foe and Stevenson, in prose; and we shall train a race of readers who will demand literature––that is, the fit and beautiful expression of inspiring ideas and pictures of life.
-Charlotte Mason, 2:263

Whatever we call this sort of reading material (though these standards really apply to all the media we consume), we're looking for material that is ennobling, that develops style and taste, that encourages the reader to aspire to become something more than he is. Character is the true aim of education, and we need to choose books that lead us to be more than we are at present.

As with companions so with books. We may choose those which will make us better, more intelligent, more appreciative of the good and the beautiful in the world, or we may choose the trashy, the vulgar, the obscene, which will make us feel as though we’ve been ‘wallowing in the mire.
-David O. McKay, quoted in Our Refined Heavenly Home

This is not to say that every book needs to be a big, heavy, difficult book. It's important to balance work and wholesome recreation in life, and this is true in our reading as well. It's ok to read simple, easy books, too.

A book may be long or short, old or new, easy or hard, written by a great man or a lesser man, and yet be the living book which finds its way to the mind of a young reader. … The master must have it in him to distinguish between twaddle and simplicity, and between vivacity and life.
-Charlotte Mason, quoted in Myth: Twaddle and light reading are the same thing

But what is "twaddle"? Before I started talking to homeschooling moms who study Charlotte Mason's methods, I'd never heard the word. It quickly became clear that twaddle is a pejorative, and these books are of inferior quality, and ought to be avoided. The word twaddle means "foolish speech or nonsense; talk or write in a trivial or foolish way." But it's used in a somewhat broader sense in Charlotte Mason circles: it also means works that are poorly written, or that talk down to the reader. It's fluff, like cotton candy: it looks inviting, but there's nothing to it. Books that are dumbed down, full of diluted knowledge -- and that includes altogether too many text books, which are frequently poorly written and engaging. Brandy Vincel has a great discussion of what twaddle is on her blog, and she says this: 

Light reading might call for a minimum of mental effort, but it still requires something of the reader. Twaddle leaves the mind stupefied and in need of recovery. To use a dietary analogy, light reading is a bowl of fruit. It has a necessary place within a balanced diet, nourishing the body when used in moderation. Twaddle is more like a box of Junior mints. The effects last beyond immediate gratification, and require time to efficiently work out of your system. They might taste grand, but when the pleasure is past you ache a bit, your moods are not quite under your control and your teeth hurt. Your mind might be capable of withstanding the effects of twaddle, but twaddle is never good for it.
-Brandy Vencel, Myth: Twaddle and light reading are the same thing

I really like the comparison I've seen to moving towards whole foods. As we've done that, we've done much better with adding more whole foods, more vegetables, and less chemicals when I've done it gradually. The times I've tried to make the switch, cold turkey, it falls apart quickly - and we often have a period of lost ground when stress hits and I fall back to the easiest of the familiar. The best, most lasting of our dietary changes begin with browsing Pinterest, looking for ingredient-specific, delicious recipes. And I add those in, one or two at a time, and they start to replace the old recipes.

I deal with my books in much the same way, focusing primarily on what is coming in, and how to select and use high-quality books moving forward. I don't worry so much about what's already here; we'll naturally outgrow the other: I'm finding that even my treat food is gradually getting healthier, and the same thing happens with reading materials as our minds grow.

But where do you find this kind of books? I have a couple of resources that I love to look at first when I'm looking at what to read. One of them is the Ambelside Online curriculum. In addition to the great materials they recommend for the actual school books for each year, each year also has a lengthy list of suggestions for "free reads". The more that I look at these lists (Hero is using the Year 4 list this year), the more that I appreciate the quality of the books they have selected.

The 1000 Good Books list is another fantastic resource for high quality literature. Created by a group of homeschool moms, it's broken down by age level, starting with picture books and going through many of the great classic titles, including The Scarlet Letter, Pride and Prejudice, Up From Slavery, and a host of others.We have been using this list for years, and I have yet to read one of their books that wasn't excellent.

All this week, I'm going to be posting about books. Stop by again to read about:

The 5 Days of Books series is part of the Homeschool Review Crew Annual Blog Hop: 5 Days of Homeschooling. Click this graphic to see what other Crew members are writing about.

5 Days of Homeschool Annual Blog Hop - 2017


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