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29 September 2014

My Commonplace Book

I got asked, today, how I organize my commonplace book, so I'm sharing my system. This is the same system I've used for years; this notebook is more than1/2 full, and I have another two like it stashed. 

The notebook itself is pretty ordinary. I do sping for the plastic cover, since that's more durable. It's a 5-subject notebook, and I like the big ones because they last. I'm not very good about going through old ones and reviewing what I learned, so I like a big sturdy one that lasts. 
One of the challenges, with a book like this, is organizing it. I decided that, in the top right corner of each page, I'd write the topic and the date. When I run out of room on the back of this page, I turn to the next clean page and label it, and continue as if there was no interruption -- even if there is a huge distance between the pages. Since I tend to have several books going at once, and often other projects as well that get tucked into my notebook, this system seems to work out well.

Figuring out what to put in my book was a bit of a challenge, at first. I learned about it when I was reading The Well-Trained Mind, and then later read this online:

"Commonplacing is the practice of entering literary excerpts and personal comments into a private journal, that is, into a commonplace book or, to use a 17th century synonym, a silva rerum ("a forest of things"). Typically the excerpts were regarded as exceptionally insightful or beautiful or as applicable to a variety of situations, and so as such they are often especially quotable. . . . The practice of commonplacing can be traced back in the European tradition to the 5th century B.C.E. and the Sophist, Protagoras.
-Norman Elliott Anderson, quoted by Lucia Knoles

My own personal style is a blend of literary excerpts, note-taking, essays I write for my blog, and even lists for long-term projects and goals. Since the notebook is large enough to last for several years, it has been a particularly effective place to lists of house and yard projects. It's not, classically speaking, something that belongs in a commonplace book, but it sure works well for me, so I keep it there. It's actually really nice to periodically review what commonplacing is, at its core, about. For whatever reason, the literary excerpts and quotes are easy to let fall by the wayside somewhat. Reading this reminded me that I need to do more of that again.

Here are some pictures of several different pages from my current notebook:

The quote in the box I actually copied from a friend's facebook post, explaining how formality/humility works in Japanese. I'd been studying this for years, and she made it all come into focus in about 3 sentences.  (Ah, the advantages she has for that sort of thing, living in Japan!)

This page is a segment of an essay that I wrote a while back, 7 Lessons From the Bad Guys. That post grew out of noticing a several month pattern in what the Spirit pointed out to me, and then several weeks of trying to coax it into words. I wanted to remember it, even if the blog disappeared.

This one is actually an excerpt and commentary. My sister and her husband gave me a lecture series, The Great Debate, a while back, and because I can't just listen to it, I have to read every single extra reading they list, and that slows down the process greatly. It's slooow... but I'm such a happy camper.

 Several times, in doing the work for The Great Debate, I found that I needed to know more about the geography of the early States. (No fancy markers; I'm pretty sure I just used the kids' crayolas from their art box.) This time, I drew a picture. I found that I couldn't write on the back of the page, and that bothered me, so next time...

I printed and glued in maps. This has some plusses, but also some drawbacks. I may do both techniques again. (Don't you love the Angry Birds Star Wars sticker? It was a gift from my seven year old, who asked that I put it in my notebook.)

This page has both a quote, and a practice art for my scripture journal, with which I get a lot more fussy about the artsy elements.

I love my notebook. I read more deliberately, and remember more consistently since I started using it, and I highly recommend the practice. I don't have too many rules for myself. If it strikes me (and I have time), it goes in. Sometimes I make a point of practicing writing, particularly with the literary excerpts, in a particular style, and in that way I've developed a couple of options for beautiful handwriting. And sometimes I just use everyday printing, or even occasionally all caps. It's very mood-driven. I'm a pen snob (my husband teases me about an over-fondness of the office supplies isle), and so the pens around the house tend to be ones that write well, but other than the pen has to be pleasant to write with, I use whatever pen comes to hand.

Hopefully that helps. Enjoy your own commonplace journal journey!

P.S. I'm so glad you stopped by to read about the adventures at our house! If you want more, "Like" my blog on Facebook to get posts (and the articles n things I wish I had time to blog about) in your feed. Wanna see all the projects and ideas that I may or may not get around to? Follow me on Pinterest. Thanks for stopping by!

18 September 2014

I Have GOT to do This Craft!

Oh, how cool is that!! They are melting crayons, and making "villages" out of the drips! I'd post a picture, but we haven't done it yet, and I don't have the patience to write and ask if I can borrow one of hers. But this is going to be our art project. Soon. Like before it gets serious about being cold, because this craft wouldn't be fun in the cold. But it is crazy cool. My boys are (I hope) going to love it. Maybe we can find some buddies to play with us. More kids, yes, but more grownups too, and more fun. I am so excited!!

17 September 2014

Educating LDS Children

When we first decided to homeschool, Hero was tiny. Religion wasn't one of the reasons; we were more concerned about things like protecting our son from the bullying. We both also spent quite a lot of wasted time, bored in school but unable to do much about it. It would be years before religion rose very high up my list of reasons why we homeschool, and a couple more after that before the integration of religion into education would reach the top of the list and become the number one thing I love about homeschooling.

Religion matters. And it matters in education. I believe this is especially true for LDS children: they have more light available to them, so the powers of darkness will be working overtime to neutralize them.

As I suspect that anyone reading this blog is already aware, parents have a solemn duty to teach our children the Gospel. We are commanded to bring up our children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4)." We understand that, should we fail in our duty to teach, their sins may very well be on our heads; their suffering would be our responsibility (D&C 68:25). But, I wonder how many of us consider these commands when we are deciding how to educate our children? When I dreamed of becoming a mother, I planned to teach my children, but it never occurred to me to educate them! When we made our decision to homeschool, it was not with these things in mind. We knew we felt lead by the Spirit down this strange, new path, but I wasn't thinking about the Gospel, I was thinking about academics, about education. And one of the subtle lessons taught in the public schools is that education is entirely separate from faith. It was a lesson I absorbed very well. It was years after the decision to homeschool before I started to get the tiniest glimpse of what a difference the decision to homeschool was going to make in terms of gospel teaching.

By law, public education and religion are separate. For our own protection -- after all, we don't want someone else's religion being taught to our children. For this protection for strange teachings, we have given up much. Not only have we given up teacher-lead prayer, we have created a taboo, if not yet a law, banning all prayer. We generally no longer study the Bible in schools as literature, much less as the Word of God. He is no longer welcome in our textbooks; the barest mention will get a whole book banned - particularly a science book. It is no longer uncommon to read news articles about students being forbidden to bring their Bibles to school, or in trouble for wearing tshirts with verses printed on them. Regardless of the fact that the Constitution guarantees our God-given right to a free exercise of religion for us and for our children, the courts rulings have repeatedly confused freedom of religion with freedom from religion. The result is that the education in our public schools is godless. It matters little what the beliefs of the teacher are; in her classroom, she is silenced, and the teaching is, by law, atheistic.

What has happened to our schools? ... What has become of the teaching of values? We are told that educators must be neutral in these matters. Neutrality in the teaching of values can only lead to an absence of values.  
President Gordon B. Hinckley
Speech given at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Salt Lake City, Utah, September 25, 1998

The absence of Christian values in our children's education is of grave concern. Then too, we must look at the teachers. Many of the teachers are wonderful people, and this is not an attack on teachers or the teaching profession. However, the scriptures tell us about the qualifications of teachers, and we must examine teachers in the light of scriptural standards:

And also trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister, except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments (Mosiah 23:14).

Again I say, hearken ye elders of my church, whom I have appointed: Ye are not sent forth to be taught, but to teach ... And ye are to be taught from on high. Sanctify yourselves and ye shall be endowed with power, that ye may give even as I have spoken (D&C 43:15-16).

And this one is a personal favorite that I've long applied to teaching at church, but more recently realized that the verse offers no such limitation in its scope:

And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.
(D&C 42:14)

In case those leave room for doubt, the Brethren have elaborated.

“And then we want to study also the principles of education, and to get the very best teachers we can to teach our children; see that they are men and women who fear God and keep his commandments. We do not want men or women to teach the children of the Latter-day Saints who are not Latter-day Saints themselves. Hear it, you Elders of Israel?”
-John Taylor
(Journal of Discourses 20:179,General Conference April 1879)

There are tons of wonderful men and women teaching in our schools. But they are not permitted to teach fully, least they "contaminate" the teaching with belief in God and offend someone. The teaching these good people give in the public schools, in many cases, bears little resemblance to the teaching they would offer, were they free to express their real thoughts and beliefs. They many not do it; they will loose their jobs if they teach from a perspective of faith. Even if one of our child's teacher's happens to be LDS, in the public schools it makes little difference, because they cannot teach in a distinctly LDS way; it's forbidden. Yes, they do the best they can, but is it good enough to fulfill the mandate for the instruction of the LDS children?

A glance over the conditions of mankind in this our day with its misery, discontent, and corruption, and disintegration of the social, religious, and philosophic fabrics, shows that this generation has been put into the balance and has been found wanting. A following, therefore, in the old grooves, would simply lead to the same results, and that is what the Lord has designed shall be avoided in Zion. President Brigham Young felt it in his heart that an educational system ought to be inaugurated in Zion in which, as he put it in his terse way of saying things, neither the alphabet nor the multiplication table should be taught without the Spirit of God.
-Karl G. Maeser, quoted in Educating Zion, p2, emphasis added

This standard cannot possibly be met in the public schools, not with the restrictions that teachers presently labor under. In the early days of the church, the Brethren worked hard to persuade the Saints to create a system of parochial schools for Mormon children (that effort was the forerunner of the current Church Education System), but the Saints were not responsive to the call of the prophet, and we do not have the advantage of parochial schools at this time. Many of us do, however, have the option of homeschooling. Though it is not always an easy choice, it is do-able, and the Lord will be there to assist, every step of the way.

When reading the scriptures about teaching, I'd always thought of the teaching they were talking about was gospel teaching. But what is gospel teaching? What topics ought we to be learning and teaching to our children. Obviously, we have to teach about Christ, with all that entails. But is that all?

Knowledge of truth, combined with proper regard for it, and its faithful observance, constitutes true education. The mere stuffing of the mind with a knowledge of facts is not education. The mind must not only possess a knowledge of truth, but the soul must revere it, cherish it, love it as a priceless gem.
-Joseph F. Smith

 How will our children come to revere and cherish truth, if they are educated in an environment that, at best, disregards the most precious of Truth, and at worst denigrates and mocks it? And, as parents, can we feel confident that we will be able to detect and correct all the wrong teaching? What about most of it? How do we even know? When my kids come back from Sharing Time, I can seldom get them to effectively tell me what they did, even if the primary teachers have already told me and I ask leading questions. In an environment where schools are increasingly unwilling to let parents look at textbooks or have a meaningful role in the classroom, how would we even know?

Here's another thought:

“In many places it is literally not safe physically for youngsters to go to school.  And in many schools – and it’s becoming almost generally true – it is spiritually unsafe to attend public schools.  Look back over the history of education to the turn of the century and the beginning of the educational philosophies, pragmatism and humanism were the early ones, and they branched out into a number of other philosophies which have led us now into a circumstance where our schools are producing the problems that we face.”
-Boyd K. Packer (emphasis added)(full speech)

"It is spiritually unsafe to attend public schools." President Packer said that in 1996. Since then, things have hardly gotten any better. Contrast that with the sort of education we ought to be securing for our children:

"Our children should be indoctrinated in the principles of the Gospel from their earliest childhood. They should be made familiar with the contents of the Bible, the Book of Mormon and the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. These should be their chief text books, and everything should be done to establish and promote in their hearts genuine faith in God, in His Gospel and its ordinances, and in His works."
-Wilford Woodruff (source)

Since finding this quote, I have given a great deal of thought about what it means for the scriptures to be a "chief text book" in our education. Here are some of the ideas that I have come up with for carrying out that mandate: When we study history, we integrate sacred history into secular history. We often use scripture to practice penmanship. Our grammar program draws heavily on the Bible for examples for the kids to work with as they learn the conventions of the English language. One of the ladies on Facebook mentioned that she's using scripture to generate spelling lists. What an advantage it would be for the missionary who read the scriptures in what would become his mission language while he studied in school! As I've thought about it, I've realized that, while we have many books that come and go in our kids' education, scripture is and will remain a constant.

And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom. Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;
Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—
That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.

Things in heaven and earth; that's life sciences and earth sciences, as well as astronomy. Things which have been; that's history. Which are; that's current events. Things which are at home and abroad; that's social studies and citizenship, and more current events. Probably geography. The wars and perplexities of nations, and knowledge about countries and kingdoms. That's civics and citizenship, geography, and history, again. Languages and cultures. Literature. Those aren't "gospel teaching," not as you usually think of it, anyway. That's education - the school kind of education. But the Lord charges parents with teaching, and this is one of the lists He wants taught. And He wants them taught with the Spirit so that we, and our children, will be prepared to fulfill our missions, to do our life's work. I do not think that this teaching can reach its full potential in an environment that is lacking any reference to Creation's God.

“I am opposed to free education as much as I am opposed to taking away property from one man and giving it to another… Would I encourage free schools by taxation? No!”
-Brigham Young
(Journal of Discourses, vol. 18 p. 357, General Conference 1877)

The question of how to educate our children is a most serious matter, and should be given the most careful, prayerful consideration. It is my experience that these particular teachings of the prophets are not well known. Certainly I did not know about them when we made our decision to homeschool! Now that I do know about them, I think that I do my friends a disservice if I keep the knowledge to myself. I want to be clear that I am only trying to share what I have learned, so that we can all grow together. I consider what you do with this information to be, really, none of my business, and when someone asks for my input, I encourage them to pray over the question and get a testimony of what they chose. I am happy to share what works for us in our homeschooling journey; that's one of the primary purposes of this blog, actually. May the Spirit of the Lord guide you in deciding what is right for your family.

P.S. I'm so glad you stopped by to read about the adventures at our house! If you want more, "Like" my blog on Facebook to get posts (and the articles n things I wish I had time to blog about) in your feed. Wanna see all the projects and ideas that I may or may not get around to? Follow me on Pinterest. Thanks for stopping by!

08 September 2014

New Folksong: Johnny Appleseed

Our first folksong was Polly Wolly Doodle, and now I've got all my kids singing it. It was easy to teach; I just sang it around the house. It's a fun one, and soon the kids were singing it too. We worked on it for several weeks, and by the end of the time, Hero(7) had asked me to write it down for him to play on the violin. I'm really looking forward to seeing what his teacher thinks when she hears it!

For our new song, I want to do this Johnny Appleseed song. It's so pretty, and it's got a lovely message. I'm thinking that we'll do this one just a little bit more formally, and so I've picked out a YouTube to show the kids. The lyrics are just a little bit different from the ones that I printed out, and this I'm pleased about. It's going to give me a chance to chat with them about how there are often many verses and versions of a folk song, and that's ok.

I've deliberately picked a song that's done by just a regular guy, and not a professional recording. So many times, people say, "Oh, I can't sing," because they compare themselves to purchased recordings, and they never realize that those recordings have had heavy "photoshopping" done to them; they're no more real than the pictures in magazines. Nobody sounds like that - not even the famous artists we pay for their music! I want my kids to have exposure to regular music from regular people, so they are used to the sound of it, and not afraid to let people hear them make their music. And this recording is so pleasant.

Want to include some folk songs in your school, but not sure where to start? I enjoyed looking through Ambleside's folk song suggestions. Down toward the bottom of the page they also have a nice discussion of why you might choose to include this kind of music in your children's education. There's some good thoughts there.

04 September 2014

Making Progress

I said that I wanted to have some printables up in a few days, and start using my calendar by the first of the month. You know, 3 days ago. I'm not there. Life is, as always, more interesting than I anticipate. But we are making progress, and that means we're getting closer to doing our Japanese calendar time. And that, in my book, is success, even if it is slower success than I had originally hoped. (I should have known better; that goal was set 4 days before my youngest brother married his high school sweet heart and we had tons of family in for a while, and then Tigress got bronchitis. We're not doing too bad.)

So. We're finally at the point of assembling the various pieces of the calendar that I've been making and assembling. Turns out that building a Japanese calendar is a little tricky. First, we had to find an actual calendar. One that fits the trifold board I got (we have no wall space; this way I can put it away), and that has no English on it. I ended up finding one that had small labels for the days of the week, I cut off the labels, and decided to reattach the decorative border. A little contact paper over the whole thing, and you almost can't tell that it's been adapted. I made a label: カレンダー, which will be vertical, next to the calendar. Partly because it fits there, partly because in Japanese vertical writing is common.

The little ones are pretty interested in the whole process, particularly after I got out the screaming yellow board I'm mounting it on. Which is all good in my book: the more curious they are, the more excited they'll be when it's finally time to get started using it. I have owls for the days of the month. I think I'm going to just hand-write the numbers on them. I might have made a printable, but the owls were cute... and easy. I'm also working on building a Thing for a week's worth of weather. This has turned out to be more drama than I had bargained for, but it's making progress. That, I do have a partly ready printable, but it's still got a little more that I need to get done. We'll also be working on a song, probably starting with this one because the kids ask for it all.the.time. Even Tigress says, "shu-shu. shu-shu." My kids love the "go-shu-shu song." And hey, brushing teeth is a good thing in any language!

At this point, I want to start doing at least a very bare-bones version of this in the next day or two. Doing less than my goal will be annoying, and will remind me that I need to figure out what I'm doing with the rest of the calendar and get that made up.

 That's what we're up to!


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