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18 August 2017

Morning Lessons and Long Afternoons

I've seen people talk about having mornings reserved for lessons, and long afternoons for kids to enjoy their own pursuits... and I've often wondered how people get all the work done in the morning! For a long time, I thought that maybe it was our odd schedule -- my husband's previous work was on a second shift schedule, and he held that position for over a decade, so we had very short mornings and late nights, in order to facilitate the maximum "daddy time", and allow him to participate in our bedtime routine. Had we been doing public school during those years, the kids would have only seen their dad on the weekends, which was not an acceptable alternative! So we had this odd, late schedule. And while it's been more than a year since he changed jobs and schedules, it's proving difficult to fix the schedule that the kids and I keep. So I assumed that part of the problem with our inability to get all our school work done in the mornings was lingering schedule issues. And probably some of it is.


I was reading the Introduction to A Philosophy of Education today. I've read a fair amount of this volume before, but I typically skip introductions, so I missed this last time. This is what Miss Mason says:

This scheme is carried out in less time than ordinary school work on the same subjects. There are no revisions, no evening lessons, no cramming or "getting up" of subjects; therefore there is much time whether for vocational work or interests or hobbies. All intellectual work is done in the hours of morning school, and the afternoons are given to field nature studies, drawing, handicrafts, etc. Notwithstanding these limitations the children produce a surprising amount of good intellectual work. No homework is required. 
-Charlotte Mason, 6:9

I turns out that Miss Mason and I define "academic work" very differently, and that's part of the "problem" that I've been puzzling over: she appears to be dividing the students' work in to academic and non-academic work... and I haven't been: it's all school work to me. Miss Mason includes Nature Study in non-academic work, done in the afternoon. I like to go out in the morning; the weather is typically better. We also need to travel to our Nature Study area -- not far, it's just a local park -- but the need to travel to get there means that we don't do a little bit every day, we tend instead to do it once a week, and use about three quarters of our school day on it when we go out. Drawing and art work in general is another thing that I tend to do at less frequent intervals for larger chunks of time because that works better for our family.

Additionally, I love this idea:

When a child grows stupid over a lesson, it is time to put it away. Let him do another lesson as unlike the last as possible, and then go back with freshened wits to his unfinished task. 
-Charlotte Mason 1:141

The idea of arranging the day so that we typically move to a lesson that is unlike what we are currently doing is very appealing to me. In practice, what I actually do is put all our lessons on a markerboard, and let the kids choose what they want to work on next. It doesn't actually matter to me what order they do them in the majority of the time, so long as they are done at the end of the day, and the kids relish the opportunity to make those small choices. The distinction between lessons with Mom and independent lessons is, practically speaking, far more important in our day that Miss Mason's divisions of academic vs. nonacademic work. Independent work tends to be what we finish before lunch, simply because they don't have to wait turns to do it. Interestingly, when left to chose their own order, the kids nearly always order their days so that the next lesson is quite unlike the one just finished.

So it's really instructive to see what, exactly, Miss Mason is including in her afternoon work, because it makes me aware that the largest reason that we're "unsuccessful" at doing our lessons in the morning is because I don't make that kind of academic/nonacademic distinction, and in fact, leaving "nonacademic" projects for the afternoon would not work well for our situation for a variety of reasons. I am inclined to think that changing up the categories of lessons is not a critical alteration to the method: things like solid habits of attention and narration, the broad feast being spread, the respect of the individual student, and attention to the development of student character all strike me as being far more central to the classical education methods and philosophy that Miss Mason was teaching. While the specifics of our schedule doesn't exactly match hers, the principles that underlie: making sure that the important, but less academic, perhaps less obviously "educational" schedule items get adequate time, that is something that we both have in common on schedules that work for our specific situations.

Makes me glad that I read from her volumes; it's easy to start to worry that I'm somehow doing it wrong. But Miss Mason's ways are so gentle and lovely, it's well worth the effort of reading them yourself.

11 August 2017

Bilingual Calendering Update

I realized tonight that it's been almost exactly three years since we started to do a calendar "circle time" in Japanese. I was pretty frightened to even try, but my friend Mrs. C. was right: it's been much more do-able than I thought, back then. And all of us have grown as a result. We started pretty straight forward: just a calendar for "Today is the 11th of July." Actually, we often just count our way through the calendar, since there is some specific jargon for counting days of the month in Japanese. I need to work on helping the kids learn to say, "Yesterday was the 10th. Today is the 11th. Tomorrow is the 12th."

We've learned several songs in the process of doing this calendar stuff. Our toothbrushing song is in Japanese, and the kids know the Wise Man and the Foolish Man, among a few others. We're reinforcing place value -- and Japanese doesn't have the irregular and confusing "teen" numbers: numbers to 100 are completely regular in every way and make place value simple, which is nice. We can count to 1000, and sort of tell time. It's tough teaching and learning time on an analog clock in a new language, but they're getting there!

After starting to work with Latin Christiana, I decided to adopt some of their methods in our Japanese -- specifically, we're practicing some of our verb conjugations by chanting them. It's working so well for the Latin, that I thought I'd try it here, and it seems to be working here as well. It's a nice easy introduction to grammar, which I've been feeling the need to do. I plan to continue to introduce new grammar and vocabulary in this way, starting with the most common and most regular verbs.

For three years of work, it doesn't sound like much. But then I realize that we've done that much in spite of the fact that calendar time is one of the things that we miss as much as we hit. And my own ability to deal with these parts of the language has been greatly enhanced by working on them these past three years. And that's all to the good, because where I improve, I can help my kids more effectively.

We still don't have anybody but each other to speak to, and I'm still not fluent. But I do see marked improvement in all of our skills. Showing the kids what I have learned, in spite of not being fluent, doesn't freak me out anymore. We know more words, we use them more frequently in our daily lives. We just started watching the Netflix cartoon "Troll Hunters" -- in Japanese. And we have several regular channels for watching Minecraft videos in Japanese. It's amazing how much my kids have learned -- and use naturally and fluently -- from watching Minecraft videos on YouTube. I wish that I was able to sit down and watch it with them more often; we all learn more when I can come and do some dictionary work to help expand our vocabulary.

I really can't say enough good about the HiNative app. It lets me ask natives how to say the various things we want to say, so that we're learning real Japanese, checked over by real native speakers, and not a pseudo-Japanese imposter that we make up thinking that we're speaking Japanese. That's a real lifesaver, because I have yet to locate a book that will teach us household Japanese. But we keep asking for the sentences that we want to learn, and it's slowly adding up.

Progress, including slow progress, is success.

I'm glad that I didn't let not knowing scare me off. This is fun.

07 August 2017

A Narration from Fifty Famous Stories Retold

One of Dragon's favorite things in school is when he gets to listen to Aesop's Fables and Fifty Famous Stories Retold. We're following the Ambleside Online schedule for these books, so they will last for quite a while. Which he both loves and hates. He'd like to just gobble them up, but I'm doling them out slowly, so that he has time to think over each story, and really let them settle into his mind -- and hopefully his heart, as these are all stories that can give him something to think about, and encourage his character to grow in good ways.

There is something very special about spending a really long time on a book. And please note, I don’t think all books are worth doing this with, for sure. Not every book needs to be studied. I would only do this with school books — I’m not out to schedule and slow down my children’s free reading books. But these books that are worth meditating on and thinking about are proven so much more instructive when they are lingered over.
If each chapter had a powerful central idea, and I read three chapters without stopping, I consumed one idea after another, and had no time in between for my soul to be instructed by each individual idea.
-Brandy Vincel, Why Slow Reading Matters More Than You'd Expect

So he listened, and then he told me that he'd like to do a movie of his narration today, and I thought I'd share it with you.

Just for fun, after we'd listened to the story, we also listened to the William Tell Overture. He liked that, too.

02 August 2017

Commonplace Book: July

A sample from my commonplace book, and brief instructions for how to keep one.

A commonplace is a traditional self-education tool: as you read, grab a notebook. Write down things that embody Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Write down notable quotes, with or without your own thoughts about them. Write down the questions you have as a result of the text you are reading. You will find the book becomes a record of your own growth, and it becomes a touchstone for memory of things you have studied in the past. These are a selection of the passages that I've included in my commonplace book this month:

The best dividends on labor invested have invariably come from seeking more knowledge rather than more power.
-Orville & Wilbur Wright, quoted in The Wright Brothers by McCullough, 125

Darkness cannot persist in the presence of light. I do not know, I do not know anybody who does know, how to put darkness into a room to make light vanish.
-Boyd K. Packer, quoted on Instagram

Madam How is never idle for an instant. Nothing is too great or too small for her; and she keeps her work before her eye in the same moment, and makes every separate bit of it help every other bit. She will keep the sun and the stars in order, while she looks after poor old Mrs. Daddy-long-legs there and her eggs. She will spend thousands of years in building up a mountain, and thousands of years grinding it down again; and then carefully polish every grain of sand which falls from that mountain, and put it in its right place, where it will be wanted thousands of years hence; and she will take just as much trouble about that one grain of sand as she did about the whole mountain... Most patient indeed is Madam How. She does not mind the least seeing her work destroyed; she knows that it must be destroyed. There is a spell upon her, and a fate, that everything she makes she must unmake again; and yet, good an wise woman as she is, she never frets, nor tires, nor fudges her work, as we say in school... Madam  How is wiser than that. She knows that it will come to something.
-Madam How and Lady Why, 9-10

If no other knowledge deserves to be called useful but that which helps to enlarge our possessions or to raise our station in society, then mythology has no claim no the appellation. But if that which tends to make us happier and better can be called useful then we claim the epithet for our subject. For mythology is the handmaid of literature; and literature is one of the best allies of virtue and promoters of happiness.
-Bullfinch, Age of Fable, vii\

Perspective is to painting what the bridle is to the horse, the rudder to a ship... There are three aspects to perspective. The first has to do with how size of objects seems to diminish according to distance; the second, the manner in which colors change the further away they are from the eye; the third defines how objects ought to be finished less carefully the farther away they are.
-attributed to Leonardo DaVinci

... we must continue to understand and educate ourselves if we wish to have success in educating our children.
-Dean & Karen Andreola, Introduction to the Original Homeschooling Series, Charlotte Mason, 6:iv

We fail to recognize that as the body requires wholesome food and cannot nourish itself upon ANY substance so the mind too requires meat after its kind. If the war [WWI]  taught nothing else it taught us that men are spirits, and that the spirit, mind, of a man is more than his flesh, that his spirit IS the man, that for the thoughts of his heart he gives the breath of his body. As a consequence of this recognition of our spiritual nature, the lesson for us at the moment is that great thoughts, great events, great considerations, which form the background of our national thought, shall be the content education we pass on.
-Charlotte Mason, 6:5

01 August 2017

In the Reign of Terror Audio Drama {Crew Review}

In the Reign of Terror

For this review, we were listened to In the Reign of Terror, and audio drama by Heirloom Audio Productions on CD, which is an adaptation of G.A. Henty's book In the Reign of Terrorm, and the downloadable study guide that goes with it.

The story is gripping. I didn't realize it at first, but this is not our first story from G.A. Henty. So far, I've really enjoyed all of his works -- and making it an audio drama, where they've gone a step further than just reading the story, and given it a sound track and audio effects, just really enhances the story. The characters, each portrayed by a different actor or actress, really come to life. The English sound English, and the French characters sound French. That actually made us work at understanding, particularly at first, because the French accent has always been one that's a little bit difficult for me to follow, and it's pretty thick at times. But our ears adapted, and we were able to follow without serious issues. The story is about 16 year old Harry Sandwith, who in the months just prior to the reign of terror, is engaged to be a companion to the five children of the Marquis de St Caux, and live with them in their country home some miles outside of Paris. Harry's family feels that, even if there is unrest due to the revolutionaries, it is unlikely to touch the home of the Marquis, but of course the revolution becomes both more widespread and more violent than anybody predicted, and Harry gets caught up in quite the adventure.

The recording is beautiful. The sound track is lovely -- both the music and also the various noises that they use to bring it to life. You can see the kind of attention to detail they put into sounds of all sorts in the clip they include on their "Who We Are" page, where they show how they collect the authentic sound of a door handle in a church for another title, In Freedom's Cause. In the Reign of Terror sounds like it's had that same attention to detail and high level of excellence as well.

I don't want to give away too much of the story, because I think you're going to love it, but of course things turn far more violent than the Marquis or anybody else anticipated at the outset. Harry has just enough time to learn some French and get comfortable with the family, and then things get crazy as the revolution picks up its pace. There are mobs, the Marquis rushes off to fight for the king. There is heroism in many places, betrayal, rescue -- at one point Harry even ends up briefly working as Robespierre's personal secretary!

Henty has included in his story a number of points of commentary that bring out the substantial differences between the French Revolution and the American Revolution, which I really appreciated because it made it really easy to have a series of conversations about the differences, and while, while the one was a noble thing that actually brought freedom to a nation, the other used noble verbage but descended into worse tyranny than what the existing rulers had exercised. As one character puts it, "It is not égalité, equality, the canaille -- that is, the common people, desire, but a reversal of roles." In the Reign of Terror starts with a bit of an introduction, where these ideas are given voice by Henty himself: "The difference was in their hearts. The difference was their attitude toward God."

In addition to the audio drama itself, we were also given a study guide, which is beautiful and extensive: 43 pages. The study guide is available through their Live The Adventure site. It starts out with some interesting background on G.A. Henty, and on a few of the key players in the French Revolution.

The study guide includes a lot of comprehension questions -- they have some for every chapter, if you are so inclined. We listened to this the way that we would a read aloud: no comprehension questions, and I didn't ask for narrations, but just let the discussion happen organically, which it did. If we had used it as a school book, I would have spread it out over a number of weeks, perhaps even a month or two, and we would have made greater use of the extension activities in the study guide. It's full of extra information: definitions of French words, and information boxes that help to paint a more complete picture of what it was like in France in that time, and the sharp contrast between the privilege and privation that existed.

There are two sets of questions for each chapter. The first are just basic comprehension questions, covering the sorts of things that we usually cover in narrations. But the second are really thought-provoking questions that could be discussion topics, or a jumping off point for writing papers for older students.

One thing that I particularly appreciate is that the questions both encourage the student to consider the story in relation to scripture and the gospel, but they are worded in a way nearly completely nondenominational, and while a one or two questions do suggest a total depravity/original sin perspective, it would be a very simple thing to adapt these questions to reflect the LDS understanding of the nature of man, which rejects original sin or holding children responsible for the crimes of parents, and embraces the inherent goodness that is implied by the Biblical assertion that we are the children of God. The study guide also encourages students to consider some of the great questions in government, relating to the purposes of government, what good governance looks like, and highlights the way that pretty rhetoric can disguise ugly intentions and deeds.

We had enough other stuff use of all the resources, but there is a lot of good stuff in the study guide, and you could use In the Reign of Terror and its study guide to do a really in-depth study of the differences between the American Revolution (which the introduction suggests shouldn't even really be called a revolution, but instead ought to be thought of as a "War for Independence") and the French Revolution, and a stepping stone to some great conversations about a host of important topics. And the study guide is written in a way that encourages you to consider things in light of what scripture teaches on the matter.

The story itself is great, and the study materials are outstanding. My first grader enjoyed the story, my fifth grader and I had some good conversations, and you could probably use this study guide with high schoolers for papers and discussions on a wide variety of important topics.

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