Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Nature Study at the Beach :: Pagoo!

We're currently reading Holling's Pagoo for our natural science studies, so one of the highlights of our recent time at the beach was finding a hermit crab.  We have seen them in tidepools and at aquariums, but this was a more personal encounter.

I actually stumbled across it (literally) while walking a fussy baby way down a deserted stretch of beach.  A dead hermit crab, lying belly up far above the water line.  I'm so glad I didn't actually step on it because although it was already dead, the crab hadn't yet been attacked by the birds or bugs, which meant that the body was still preserved.

At home, we carefully slid the last bit of his body from the shell and we were able to get a close look at his rubbery bottom, front claws, and hinged legs.

We compared the body to Holling's drawings, and added our own drawings to our nature journals.

My son hasn't stopped talking about what a wonderful coincidence it was that we found that hermit crab in the same term that we are reading that story.  I think so too. :)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Nature Study at the Beach :: A Series

We've so enjoyed taking week-at-the-coast trips the past few years, but this year with a newborn, it has been easier for us to take day trips to the beach instead.  So that's what we have been doing over the past couple months: twice a week, we've been at the beach, enjoying the sand, the sun--and the many, many nature study opportunities. 

The more often we go, the more attuned we are to the whats and whens of the landscape.

Pelicans flying north high overhead and then come back south low, in a neat line, just inches above the water.
Pods of dolphins passing by, fin tips gracefully peeking over the waves.
Otters fifty yards offshore, floating on their backs, then twirling and diving.
Sea lions bobbing between the surfers.

The amazing becomes familiar.  But with that growing familiarity comes not less interest but more, as I have found to be the case with all of our nature study.  More "friends" to greet each visit.  A deeper awareness of even the littlest changes.  An understanding of which features are season-specific, which are weather-specific, which are time-specific, which are location-specific, and which are just all-around unexpected.

And combined with that familiarity is a lesson the children and I have learned over the past few weeks: the beach is always new.  Of course that too is true about nature in general--our Calendar of Firsts has taught us that!  But at the shore, we see that newness play out day by day.  We'll drive to the same beach, park in the same spot, walk down the same trail, set up in the same spot...and the tide has changed the landscape in some way.  Something new always catches our eye.  The water washes away the castles made yesterday; the seaweed makes new patterns in the sand; the beached crabs have been picked up by the birds, and new ones have taken their place, brought in by the waves of the early morning.

Life on the coast--I could never tire of it.

I'm going to spend some time here and there over the next few weeks sharing some of the nature study opportunities we have had on our recent outings.  I hope you enjoy coming along to the California coast with us!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Third Grade in Our Home :: The Morning Basket, Term 1

Just as in the past, I use the term "Morning Basket" to refer to all the work we do together as a family, with the littles. But even though I call it Morning Basket for organizational purposes, it is really broken up into two parts: that which is done over breakfast, and that which is done at the end of our Naptime School block.
(Our Morning Basket is still very much the same as we did it last year, so if you'd like to read more specifics about how it works for us, feel free to click over to read more.)

A look at our Morning Basket plans for this Term 1 of this year... 

Over Breakfast

Calendar Work - in English and Italian (daily)

Poetry - a poem daily from our poet for the term, William Blake (daily)

Short Reading - from one of the following:
:: Thomas Tapper's Music Talks for Children (one chapter per week)
:: the Kirbys' The World at Home (two chapers per week)
:: Benson's A Child's Rule of Life (one page per week)
:: Benson's An Alphabet of Saints (one page per week)

I chose these for our Morning Basket work rather scheduling them during Naptime School for several reasons: they're all short readings, have general appeal, and are not narrated.

Read-Aloud - with any breakfast time I have left before the babies start fussing, I read from one of our scheduled read-alouds: The Water Babies or At the Back of the North Wind.

In the Afternoon

Memory Work (daily) - includes review of that day's items from our memory "notebook" as well as our current selections:
:: Hymns - "Come Holy Ghost" and "Ave Verum Corpus"
:: Folk Song - "Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night" and "Dixie"
:: Bible - Psalm 42 and The Last Gospel (John 1:1-14)
:: Prayers - Saint Michael prayer in Latin and the Confiteor
:: Poetry - William Blake's "The Fly," "The Blossom," "The Lamb," "The Shepherd," and "The Tyger"

:: Bird Calls - American Robin, California Towhee, House Finch

We move on to a new selection once we have the previous selection memorized rather than on a regular schedule, so our plans are just that--plans.  We may end up doing more than just these.  I'll update our Memory Work index with the ones we cover.

And this year, we're combining Memory Work and Movement--so while we're reviewing our previous selections, the kids are doing jumping jacks, situps, pushups, burpees, and dancing. :)  It's been a happy marriage of activities for us so far--and it keeps the littles busy.

Italian Memory Work (daily) - The older three and I cover new concepts, games, and conversation at a different time of the day, but we do our Italian memory work with the littles:
:: Rhymes - "Capra capretta" and "Bim bum ba" from Filastrocche Italiane
:: Songs - "Avena e grano crescono,"Saptete voi piantare i fiori," "Reginella campagnola" from Teach Me Everyday Italian
:: Series - "I go on a nature adventure" and "I do something every day"

Picture Study on Claude Monet (once weekly) - two weeks for each piece, alternating between observation/narration and a picture sketch
:: Terrace at St. Adresse, 1866
:: La Grenouillére, 1869
:: Impression: Sunrise, 1872
:: Woman with a Parasol, 1886
:: Thinking about Light with the Rouen Cathedral series and Haystacks series - Haystack: End of the Summer, Morning, 1891 and Rouen Cathedral: Sunset, 1894
:: The Waterlily Pond, 1899

Music Study on Johann Sebastian Bach (once weekly) - two weeks for each piece, including attentive listening and discussion
:: Air on the G String
:: Brandenburg Concerto No. 2
:: Toccata ad Fugue in D Minor
:: Goldberg Variations
:: Minuet in G
:: St. Matthew's Passion

Monday, August 18, 2014

Cate's Kindergarten

As I reorganized the bookshelves and school supplies before school began this year, I decided to collect little "surprises" into a special basket for my new kindergartener's school time.  Normally, I wouldn't plan any formal school period at all, but this girl begs to "do school" like her siblings and has been looking forward to some one-on-one Mommy time and to some new skills and books that are all hers.

Here's a peek at what I have in there:

Books - I gathered a variety to go through little by little over the first term: Leading Little Ones to MaryKindergarten Gems, Fr. Lord's The RosaryKindergarten Stories and Morning Talks, Neumann Press' Catechism for Young ChildrenWinnie-the-PoohA Very Little Child's Book of Stories.  We're just picking up whichever book appeals to us that day--no set schedule.  When we finish a book, I'll add another one to the basket.  There are so many wonderful ones for this age.

Right Start Level B - This is what I started with when my big kids were in kindergarten...now they're almost done with Level E and ready to move on to another program!  Time flies.  I'm happy to be starting to work through this program once again with my newest student.  She loves her abacus and tally sticks. :)

And a bunch of other fun little items:
folding and cutting workbooks
a notebook in which she keeps track of words she knows by sight (ala Bestvater's The Living Page)
colored chalk and a slate
some word cards for us to play matching games with
a little notebook and pen
bananagrams for reading lessons
her current set of Bob books
a few field guides
scissors and tape, for her Important Projects ;)

My goal for myself is to spend some one-on-one time with her each school day, maybe twenty minutes.  That twenty minutes definitely doesn't happen all at once--usually it's five minutes here, five minutes there.  During this time, we do a combination of activities: reading lesson; read-aloud; math lesson; copywork; or a special project, like folding, cutting, or a game.  I try to hit each of those categories three times a week.

The rest of her "schoolwork" consists of joining in on the big kids' lessons when she is interested--which is pretty much all the time. ;)  I don't encourage her to listen in on their readings or narrate, but I do encourage her to sit in on just about everything else:
picture study
memory work (though she doesn't have her own selections, she learns the big kids' with ease)
nature study and journaling
music study
morning basket - religious reading, calendar in English and Italian, poetry 
free readings done as read alouds

And during the rest of Naptime School session, while the littles are sleeping and I'm working with the big kids, she has a variety of activities available to her: lacing beads, pattern blocks, puzzles, paper dolls, and the usual craft supplies.

To give you an idea of how this all looks in action, here's how one day in our Charlotte Mason-style home kindergarten looks:

This morning after waking up, she went straight to her morning chores: got herself dressed, brushed her hair, and had her teeth brushed.  Then she spent a half hour playing with her little brothers and sisters and her dolly.  (There may or may not have been some squabbles during this time. ;))  

I called her to empty the dishwasher and then she helped set the breakfast table.  After morning prayers, she ate breakfast and took part in morning basket: our calendar in English and Italian, a Blake poem, a short chapter on bamboo from The World at Home, the page on St. Dominic from Benson's An Alphabet of Saints, and a couple pages from Thomas Tapper's Music Talks for Children.

She helped clear the breakfast table and then got herself and her younger sister dressed for outside play.  She played out there for a couple hours, making "soups" out of clover and crepe myrtle bark, taking care of her rock dolly, playing catch with her brothers, collecting leaves, hanging from the maple tree, and toting around baby sister.

She helped clean up the backyard and then washed up and changed herself and her little sister.  Then we read picture books: Pelle's New Suit and Madeline's Rescue.  When I left to handle the baby, she took over reading to the toddlers and did a couple she has memorized: Baby Loves and Jamberry.

While I got the little ones settled for nap, she got out her math materials, her slate and chalk, and her word book.  I needed to get a couple readings done with the big kids while the baby was still napping, so she curled up on the sofa with her dolly while I spent a half hour reading aloud and listening to narrations.  Halfway through, she took out a puzzle to do on the floor next to us.

Once we finished our readings, she joined us at the table for Italian: a few games of bingo with outdoor vocabulary, two songs, Simon Says to practice our body parts, and a Gouin series about going on a "nature adventure."  Then we looked at Monet's "Impression: Sunrise" together and the children made little sketches of the composition.  The big kids went in the other room to finish their math work, and she and I did a five-minute math lesson together (on partitioning ten using the abacus) and read a page about St. Dominic and the Rosary.  Then I wrote some words of her choice on her little chalkboard for her to copy below, and she added a word to her little notebook of words she knows by sight: into.  She spent the next half hour drawing with big sister while we listened to two chapters from On the Banks of Plum Creek.  Once the babies got up from nap, she danced and did jumping jacks with the rest of the kids while we went through our memory work, including folk song and hymn.

In the afternoon, she looked through the sand dollars we collected at the beach yesterday, helped fold laundry, ate dinner and helped with dinner chores, played games with Daddy, got out the towels and clothes for the evening bath, and read half a Bob book with Mommy.  Then bath, rosary, bedtime prayers, and lights out.

So as you can see, she is quite a busy girl!  I feel like we have a nice balance going of academics, time outdoors, chores, and play.  Her kindergarten year looks different from how her older siblings' looked, and I imagine our plans will change again for my son starting next year, and all the littles starting after that.  That's one of the great things about having a bunch of children--I have so many kindergartens ahead of me!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Third Grade in Our Home :: An Overview

We're now halfway through our first term of the new school year, and things are going so smoothly that I'm ready to share our plans here!

We draw very heavily from Ambleside Online's wonderful booklists--our history, natural history, and literature selections are almost entirely from their Year 3 programme.  (Their site has weekly break-downs for each of those books, so go take a look!)  I have marked the portions of our schedule that are directly from AO in blue.  The rest is my own plans.

BibleNew Testament - Schuster's Bible History (focusing on the teaching ministry of Jesus through the Ascension)
ReligionSaints - Lauren Ford's Life of Our Lady
Stories -  Marigold Hunt's A Book of Angels and Tan's Guardian Angels: Our Heavenly Companions
Mass - The Story of the Mass
Catechism - Mother Loyola's First Communion (continued from last year)
In our Morning Basket - Benson's An Alphabet of Saints and A Child's Rule of Life *NN
Other projects - review First Holy Communion catechism questions, practice using hand missal
The Renaissance and Reformation

World - Our Island Story and A Child's History of the World
National - This Country of Ours 

Catholic - The Catholic Faith Comes to the Americas, Vision books for St. Thomas More and St. Edmund Campion, Crossbows and Crucifixes, O'Neill's The World's Story
Stories - Diane Stanley's Michaelangelo, Diane Stanley's Bard of Avon, and Daugherty's Landing of the Pilgrims
Natural HistoryHolling's Pagoo
Long's Secrets of the Woods
Towle's Marco Polo
The Kirbys' The World at Home (in our Morning Basket) *NN
Weekly mapwork - charting figures from all studies on European and American maps, Marco Polo's voyage on world map, life and travels of Jesus on Holy Land map
Map drills - Holy Land, Eastern United states, countries of Europe
LiteratureStoutenberg's American Tall Tales
Lambs' Tales from Shakespeare
Kingsley's The Heroes
Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress
Macdonald's The Princess and the Goblin, Merryat's Children of the New Forest, Kipling's The Jungle Books

Scheduled Free Reads - Together: Kingsley's The Water Babies, MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind *NN
Scheduled Free Reads - Independent: Goudge's The Little White Horse, Pyle's Men of Iron *NN
PoetryWilliam Blake, Sara Teasdale, Hilda Conkling, Henry Longfellow
Music StudyBach (Term 1), Chopin (Term 2), Handel (Term 3)
Composer biographies - by Opal Wheeler and Anna Harwell Celenza *NN
Thomas Tapper's Music Talks for Children (in our Morning Basket) *NN
Art StudyMonet (Term 1), Georgia O'Keefe (Term 2), TBD (Term 3)
Art biographies - by Mike Venezia *NN
ArtWeekly drawing lesson using Mona Brooks' Drawing with Children - 
Volume Drawing (Term 1), Different Media (Term 2), Back to Still Lifes (Term 3)
Daily drawing drill from Donna Young's site
Weekly art project using various media
MusicWeekly piano lesson, daily practice
Nature Study
At the Shore (Term 1), At the Pond (Term 2), TBD (Term 3)
Weekly nature study outing
Weekly nature journal entry
Weekly lesson using Comstock's Handbook of Nature Study and Natural Science Through the Seasons: 100 Teaching Units
Monthly lesson using Headstrom's Adventures with a Hand Lens
ItalianDaily work and review; one unit each month, including lesson, conversation, songs, games, rhymes
HandicraftsSewing with felt, cooking, chores
CopyworkPrinting - copying selections of choice in copybook
Cursive - continued practice with Startwrite pages
Daily math drill - Wrap-ups or Challenging Word Problem or Timed Sheet
Daily lesson from the following:
RightStart Level E (finishing up)
Singapore 5A/B (finishing up)
RightStart Level G
Art of Problem Solving: Pre-Algebra
Challenge Math
Memory WorkBible - penitential psalms, parables, final Gospel
Poetry - from each term's poet
Hymns and Folk Songs - from music books
Shakespeare - selections from plays read
Prayers - Memorare to St. Joseph, Divine Mercy prayers, Nicene Creed in Latin

Some other notes about our third grade plans:

:: Some selections are noted as *NN, or "Not Narrated."  This is my way of adding books to our schedule without overloading my children.  (All regularly-scheduled books are narrated in some form.)

:: I'm putting a greater emphasis on mapwork this year.  My kids really enjoy geography concepts and stories, and they have very precise knowledge of the United States thanks to the simple map drills we have done over the past two years, but their knowledge of the locations we're reading about in history is fuzzy.  This year, I printed out a few blank maps for us to fill out over the course of the year, just plotting cities and countries that come up in our reading.  Before, I was pointing out locations on a map--but it wasn't sticking.  Their keeping physical track of the places is cementing the knowledge more effectively and encouraging connections across readings.  We're also going to do some map tracing.  They'll be doing this in addition to our regular map drills.

:: My kids gobble up their free reading books, but I'd like for some of them--particularly the more difficult or thematically richer ones--to be savored a bit more slowly.  So just as I did last year, I chose a few of the books from AO's free reading list to schedule out over the course of the year at a slower pace.  Some are for my children to do on their own; some we're reading together.

:: Thanks to reading Laurie Bestvater's The Living Page, I've decided to incorporate some new Keeping habits.  In addition to the binder timeline we have been doing all along, we'll also be doing a personal timeline this year as a special project--I'll share when it's completed!  I'm also having my children do their print copywork in a Poetry and Prose Copybook this year--both of them have been very excited to choose selections to include from the week's reading.  And they're narrating this year's Mass study in the form of copywork and drawings in a blank book dedicated to the project.  The way they choose to lay this out is entirely up to them, though I did have them look at Inos Biffi's work as an example.  It has been wonderful to see what they are choosing to highlight from each week's selection.

:: We're continuing our Italian learning with last year's method, still using the same format and resources.  It's going really well!  I also requested a few extra Italian CDs and books through our charter school--I'll review them when they arrive in a few months and I have a chance to see if they're a good fit for our studies.

:: Our math has been an adventure lately!  I've had some readers ask about our math plans so I'll share a bit: I have loved using RightStart Math for the last three years.  My son and I spent the past few months finishing up the long-ish geometry section of RS Level E alongside the sections from Singapore 5A/B that they don't cover in RS (some extra fractions/ration work, a discussion of volume, practice with order of operations, etc.).  And now we're moving on to something new!  RS also offers Level G, their geometry program, which they recommend using alongside a pre-algebra or algebra program over two or more years.  So once Gianna finishes up Level E, the two of them will be doing that together with me a couple times a week.  Alongside, they'll work at their own pace on Art of Problem Solving, a bit of Challenge Math, a bit of Singapore's New Elementary Mathematics...and I'm not sure what else!  We're going to have to see what ends up being a good fit for my accelerated math students.  Once we've done a thorough try of the program options, I'll let you know what we end up using.

:: In my post regarding this year's weekly schedule sheet, you can see the breakdown of their daily and weekly subjects.  My goal for my third graders this year is for them to take full responsibility for their daily work and their Keeping habits, with me only checking in with them weekly on those assignments.

:: Since we're studying the Renaissance and Reformation this year, I have been editing Our Island Story here and there, and I've added some Catholic reading to our history schedule so that my children get a true sense of the period.  I want to say a particular thank you to Amber, who suggested Crossbows and Crucifixes when I asked about children's books on the English marytrs.  We'll be reading it in Term 2 and I think it's going to be perfect.  We'll also be reading some saint biographies relevant to the time period in lieu of Trial and Triumph, one of the few books in the early years of AO that I strongly dislike and have always substituted for.

Whew!  Okay, so that's third grade here.  Next time: kindergarten!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Scheduling By Week

Now that we're more than a month into our first term and I've had a chance to "test drive" our plans, I'm going to do a few posts on what school looks in our home this year, with two third graders and a kindergartener.  (And, of course, four little ones too!  Since my preschool-aged kids outnumber my school-aged kids right now, our plans are influenced by them as well.)

First up: our weekly schedule sheet.

This is very much like the schedule format we have used for the last couple years, with a few small changes:

:: I added a column for my kindergartener's daily work.  She would be happy to "do school" every day, but my time is limited (and I'd prefer not to do much formal academics anyway).  So to make sure she gets the one-on-one time she wants, I aim for three days a week in each category.  (Obviously, she doesn't see this checklist.  It's to hold me accountable, not her.)

:: I organized our weekly assignments into various categories as part of moving my older two toward independence.  I don't plan on having them do all their own readings (though they have been and will continue to be doing a fair amount of them solo), but I do want them to start taking on more of their own scheduling.  So I have been creating lists for them that include all of the work they're meant to do independently for the week.  In the course of doing so, I reorganized my own schedule sheet so that I can simply copy certain boxes onto another page and print it for them. (More on that below.) 

:: I put two checkboxes next to each of their readings, one for having read it and one for having narrated it.   (I have added quite a few non-narrated items to our schedule; as you'll see, those only have one checkbox.)   This makes it easier for me to keep track of who has done what.

I use the back of the sheet to note people to add to our timelines, places to look up, and topics to discuss.

As I mentioned, our work for the week is broken into various categories:
daily tasks for each child, with four checkboxes next to each (we school four days a week)
weekly readings we do together
weekly readings they do independently
other work we do together
other work they do independently

I copy three of the boxes from my schedule (the "Independent Work" and "Independent Reading" boxes, along with their daily assignments) onto a new page to make the kids' checklists:

In the black space on the right, I have been writing their chores for that week, with checkboxes next to those as well.  They are training in new cleaning tasks this term; once those are formalized, they too will be pre-printed on their weekly sheet.

And a few other notes about scheduling:

:: I don't make a daily schedule; I much prefer working from the weekly one as it gives me more flexibility.  When we sit down to "do school" together, I pull out the weekly list, pick something, and start.  I don't have specific readings tied to specific days--it's all considered on a weekly basis.

:: I know there's a lot of e-conversations going on right now about scheduling based on a formal time table.  I don't schedule that way. ;)  So far, we have been able to manage short lessons and alternation just fine without a timed schedule.

:: We are still schooling in three main blocks (morning basket, naptime school, and independent work).  I occasionally move some of our more hands-on items (like drawing lesson or nature journaling) to the evening or weekend if Baby has been extra fussy that week.

:: In the past, I have had my two oldest come to me separately to narrate their independent reading.  But listening to their narrations was taking so much of my time--they are very detailed and talkative kids. And they're doing the same assignments, so I knew I should streamline that part of our schedule.  This year, we're doing it a bit differently: during their independent reading block, I encourage them to choose one narrated and one non-narrated book to read from that day.  I don't care which they choose as long as they read the same ones.  They trade off books, and then when both of them have finished, they come to me to narrate together.  This has helped me free up some time in a big way, and I also think they're benefiting from listening to each others' narrations even more often than they already were.

Next up: overviews of our third grade and kindergarten plans!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Nature Study :: Growing Butterflies

The start of a new school year seemed the perfect opportunity to finally order the caterpillars that came with the butterfly habitat we received in the spring.  This is something I have wanted to do for years, ever since reading Charlotte Mason's List of Attainments, but we have never had caterpillars in our own yard to observe.  So I was happy to find this kit as a second-best option.

Five caterpillars arrived a week later, and a few days later, we woke up to find two had molted into their pupas.

We were able to watch the other two pupate that morning at the breakfast table.  The last one was such fun to watch--wiggling off its molt, spinning faster and faster from its hook until it finally flung its last skin against the side of the cup and fell still.  We all squealed with excitement. 

And then the butterflies emerged much the same way, two overnight and two before our eyes: breaking through their chrysalises, wriggling out with their front legs, waiting for their wings and antennae to unfurl and dry, then fluttering around the cage.

They have been such a treat to observe.

We let them go this weekend.  I opened their habitat and waited for them to hurry away--but they didn't.  They stayed within, letting out their long tongues to dip into the flowers we dropped in there this week, flying up to the top but not quite out.  A couple hours later, all were finally gone but one.

It stuck around a little while, finding a favorite spot on Gianna's pant leg.  She stood motionless for several minutes, content to have it there, until it finally hopped off and onto a yellow clover for a quick snack, then into the hebe bush for another sip, and then over the fence and away.

I'm thinking this will be a once-a-year tradition for us.