Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Living Page :: Time Tools


(I'm sharing my thoughts here as I read Laurie Bestvater's The Living Page.  So far, I've discussed the place of Keeping in Charlotte Mason's vision for education, nature journals, and copybooks.  Today I'm hitting the last section of Chapter 2, which focuses on history notebooks.)  

I admit: I nodded wholeheartedly when at the beginning of this chapter, Bestvater asks whether my own history education was scattered, un-living, and (as a result) nearly completely forgotten.  Yes, yes, and yes.  I know this is a lament for many who were taught in traditional ways in traditional schools.  Most homeschooling mothers I know seem to think that more hands-on projects or crafty supplements are the answer, but Miss Mason recommends something different, which should come as no surprise for those familiar with her work.  Of course, living books and narration are the hallmarks of her approach to history.  But (just as we see in every other discipline) alongside those methods are various kinds of notebooks that prepare the mind, scaffold learning, and work as another form of narration.  These records--or "time tools," as Bestvater calls them--are a key to the student's successful historical understanding, and the ways they were conceived of and used in her schools was precise and, as with everything else in a Charlotte Mason education, carefully considered.

Jen summed up this chapter so nicely, explaining the key forms, when they were used, and what they were meant to look like.  I'm going to focus just a few thoughts here on the types of historical Keeping meant to be used with young students--or in other words, the types I'm planning to put into practice right away with my own young ones!

The notebooks suitable to the earliest years (Form I and early in Form II) are unique in that, unlike the Book of Centuries, they are meant to be kept for only a short time.  The Book of Centuries is meant to be a lifelong activity, beginning about halfway through the child's school education and continuing throughout life. These early formats were planned to prepare younger students for that kind of culling and mapping of time to come.

The Child's Own History

This is not something I have read about in the past, so I'm looking forward to trying it with my two Form I students soon.  The idea is to chart with the child the years of his life, starting from the present and working backward as far as the child can remember and to his birth.  Included for each year would be the child's age, the ages of his siblings, and other important events he might remember, starting from personal events, then including public events, and then national events--a special trip, the observation of a holiday, a memorable news event, and so on.  These can be written onto the chart or symbolically represented.  The goal is to work with the child to create a visual representation of his own history, which serves to prepare him to understand his own century, and then the vast stretch of history.

And since I'm always concerned with the format Keeping takes, I'll add that Bestvater is very clear on that point: "Something framed in the way of a sampler is suggested ... there are probably many ways to create such a cherished record for the child that awakens interest and is highly personalized just so long as it is not enclosed in a book.  The chart needs to be highly visible, a type of wall art" (46).  So this is intended to be a visual record, something worthy of display.  My children aren't up for a sampler (ha!), but I'm sure they would love to create this in a more artistic way than just a paper chart.  Any ideas?  Bestvater suggests the final project be something special, a keepsake.  I'm not a particularly crafty mommy, but I think working in a different medium might make this a fun summer project.  Maybe they could paint on a small canvas?  Collage onto a wooden box?  Something out of clay or wood?  Fabric arts?  Pastels or watercolors?  If you have any ideas (or if you have done this project already in your own home), please do share.

Table of History
In order to give definiteness to what may soon become a pretty wide knowledge of history--mount a sheet of cartridge paper and divide it into twenty columns, letting the first century of the Christian era come in the middle, and let each remaining column represent a century BC or AD as the case may be.  Then let the child himself write or print, as he is able, the names of the people he comes upon in due order, in their proper century.  We need not trouble ourselves at present with more exact dates, but this simple table of the centuries will suggest a graphic panorama to the child's mind, and he will see events in their time order. (quoted in Bestvater, 39-40)
According to Bestvater, this quite Table of History was probably introduced toward the end of Form I.  We actually began something quite similar when my children started Year 1, and I have found it invaluable in encouraging my children to make connections across their studies.  Ours doesn't quite fit Bestvater's reading of what was being used in Miss Mason's schools, but I'll share it here and then point out the differences between what she describes and ours:

My children each have a personal binder timeline that they add to weekly--they choose what to include and how often, but it's usually one or two entries a week.  Most of the entries are just the names of historical figures, but there are events in there occasionally as well (they both just added "The War of the Roses" last week, for example).  They choose what to include.  It is set up in columns just as described here, and the children just make simple lists in the appropriate century's column without considering the exact date.  Ours is not visual in the sense of being hung on the wall--and that's a big difference, since Bestvater sees this as an essential feature of this table.  I find that the binder timeline is still reminiscent of a "graphic panorama" in that it has a simple graphic layout and is accessible to the children whenever they like, so it suits our purposes for now.  The other reason I went with a binder version is the size, which is another difference between ours and the one described here.  Our columns are a couple inches wide, making the whole timeline much longer than the recommended one-page spread.  I can't quite wrap my head around how lists of names could be written by children in the narrow columns prescribed here, so the larger format is suited to our needs.  (Bestvater has the names written vertically in her model--was this perhaps what was intended?  It doesn't seem all that useful to me, but perhaps I'm missing something.)  I have been pleased with this format so far in that it does encourage the children to start to "see events in their time order" and to understand the relative passage of time through the simplicity of the design, and they have taken ownership of it.  They refer to it several times a week, just flipping through and making connections: So Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven all lived at the same time! and Laura Ingalls Wilder was writing in America when Rudyard Kipling was writing in England!  and so forth.  And when in a couple years they are ready to begin their Book of Centuries, they will have already begun to grasp the abstraction of time through these concrete methods.

~~~

Speaking of the Book of Centuries, I'll admit: this section made me really happy that my children aren't yet at the age to have started one quite yet.  As Bestvater herself describes in this chapter, a much fuller understanding of the precise form and methods of these time tools has developed over the last few years thanks to the accessibility of PNEU documents, and I feel fortunate to be able to put this fuller understanding to use in my home teaching.  And I also have to say--I so appreciate Bestvater's insistence on going to the source and on presenting as precisely as possible how these tools were conceived of by Miss Mason and used in her schools.  There will be times I need to adapt her suggestions to suit my own family, but I just love an author that makes the purist case and allows me to consider the practical side of things for myself.
Some have argued that there is no use in being a Mason purist, and I take the point.  Likely any timeline is better than no timeline, but if Mason and the PNEU gave careful thought to scaffolding the child's growing time sense, are not some important principles at stake if we depart for the sake of convenience or personal preference for a less considered activity?  For example, if the figures and dates are pre-printed or already selected for the child's insertion on a ready-made timeline, hasn't some mind other than the child's really done the connecting, selecting, and most of the sorting?  It seems likely that there will be less attention and interest paid to this sort of timeline than to the personalized one Mason has envisioned, and hence less connection and retention.  With a pre-printed or parent-chosen model, at best the child uses his scissor skills and finds the appropriate century to insert the cutout.  Likewise, a classroom-sized timeline tracing the circumference of the room, while it upholds the mandate to keep the timeline a visible reference point, loses its condensed map-like impact.  If a timeline only covers the history being studied in that year in that particular classroom (taking part of the role of the history chart), it is a helpful tool but still manages to be less effective than what it seems the PNEU proposes.  I am not suggesting we follow this rather involved trail just because it is the path Charlotte Mason trod; I hope I am presenting enough evidence to instigate a closer look at all her various practices in a search for the very good reasons underpinning them. (49-50)
I am grateful to her for presenting this evidence and taking this closer look, and I'll certainly be considering our current and future practices in light of it all.  It's an exciting time to be starting out as a Charlotte Mason homeschooler.

22 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed hearing how you're adapting the Table of History. I actually never had my older students (when they were younger) use these other history tools, so I'm excited to be reading about them now and to mull them over so I can use them with my younger children. You're so right - it's really a wonderful time to be homeschooling with Charlotte Mason!

    I do have to say that I like the idea of a visually presented panorama in this particular tool. It does make sense to me. My challenge is that I am strapped for wall-space, but I do want to spend some time brainstorming the idea a bit more. And like you, I find the space divisions on one 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper rather inhibiting for a young child. I have a few ideas bouncing around in my head...but nothing concrete yet. So, I really enjoyed seeing your sample and hearing about your choices.

    And...I'll add that I truly can't believe the reception our (new/reformatted) Book of Centuries has received from my 8th grade son (who had already begun a BOC in our adapted version) and much prefers the CM structured BOC! It's been refreshing to see his response! Having given him a couple of other History Tools (a Century Chart being one of them) I wondered if he might find it redundant or not useful, but quite the opposite - he really enjoys the Century Chart! What a delight to have made the shift!

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    1. Yes, the visual panorama makes sense to me too--I can definitely see how the "at a glance" aspect would be helpful here. I just can't seem to figure out how to be able to keep it within the suggested size (to fit my kids' writing, it would have to stretch the length of a wall, which she specifically cautions against!) and how to carve out that kind of wall space. If you do come up with an alternative, I'd love to hear what it looks like! My next student won't start this kind of timeline for a couple more years, so I have time to figure something out. ;)

      I'm really excited to hear about your son's reaction to the new BOC. So encouraging!

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    2. I'm thinking of using a half sheet of poster board for this, Celeste and Jen. Divided into 20 sections, landscape, that would still allow for some normal 2nd-3rd grade writing across each section. I think. Much more than an 8 1/2 by 11, but not too big to hang on the wall and view at a glance.

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    3. Thank you for mentioning this, Amanda--it reminds me that Joyful Shepherdess mentioned something similar, which is where I first got the inspiration for mine:
      http://joyfulshepherdess.blogspot.com/2012/08/a-charlotte-mason-timeline-for-early.html
      It's a bit longer than what you're thinking of (and definitely longer than Bestvater's), but like you said--it keeps the at-a-glance feature while still leaving room to write.

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    4. The half sheet of poster board is a good idea, Amanda. And I think it is probably more in line with what Bestvater is talking about. I noticed that in the end notes she mentions that cartridge paper used was probably approx. 23"x33". That seems much more doable for a younger child's handwriting. Now to figure out where to put such a thing!

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    5. I'm glad y'all liked the idea. I'm just getting around to starting to put ours together. I think I'll do the divisions and headings to start, and make one for both my 9.5 (4th grade, Form II) and just turned 8 year old (2nd grade, Form I) to start. We have wall space in the hall outside our open game room which serves as our library school room, so I think I'll put them one on top of the other, and it won't take up too much space. I can see the issue when the twin 5 year olds add theirs next year as they begin Form I. I hope they won't feel left out for now. I think I may let them start on the Child's Own History, though, maybe using Jen's form, actually for each of all four of them, maybe frame each without glass and let them pick the color. Nicer than just a piece of paper, but not too complex to get started on.

      Any thoughts? Do you think writing in the headings is okay for the Table of History, or does it need to start as a blank space?

      Oh, and don't forget Michele's lovely Book of Centuries, Mapping History, that she made available last Fall in her store, http://michelequigley.com/store/ . It will be opening again soon - I really like ours.

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    6. Your plan sounds great, Amanda. I think it would be fine to write in the headings if it's easier (honestly, that's what I'd probably do), but if the kids could do it, even better. I know she mentions having them do it, and I've read elsewhere (or maybe it was here too, can't remember) about adding the headings as they come up in the readings. The key, I think, is the simple format, the graphic/visual quality and the child's choosing what to include and doing the entries himself. So I think multiple approaches to labeling could work.

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  2. I'm still mulling over how (and what) I'm going to implement in Bestvater's suggestions. I have half a blog post written, but then got a little derailed by a stomach bug as well as my lack of decision making in this regard. I had the same reaction to the Table of History - it seems like a great idea, but I'm trying to figure out how much a child could actually write there if it was a regular sized piece of paper.

    And that last quote you mentioned was one that made me blush... last fall my daughter was using one of those timelines where all the formatting and selection is already done for you - and I noticed she was blithely cutting and pasting while listening to an audiobook. Oh yes, lots of good connections being made there! *sigh* I sometimes pick things and make decisions based on fun fun fun rather than joyful learning, and every time I regret it. At some point you'd think I'd learn...

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    1. Haha--yes, I think Bestvater was laughing at her younger self there when she talked about the cut-and-paste timelines. It made me appreciate her perspective all the more. And you know, the things usually billed as "fun" end up actually not being all that fun in the end--the kids like them for a little while maybe, but then they see it as busy work too. I noticed that about any preschool-ish activity I tried out with my littles a few years ago. Too funny.

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    2. My kids are exactly the same way about the various "fun" cut and paste activities out there. I wonder what that is... is there something I'm doing differently, or is it something in their personality?

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    3. Well, I know CM (and Bestvater) would say that it's in their nature to reject mind-food that isn't idea-rich. ;) But there's something you're doing differently too, because children who are used to pabulum start not to mind (and unfortunately--because their brain thus isn't growing). So I think it's a good sign if they toss it aside. :)

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    4. I think it is a good sign too! I had forgotten the other part of the equation - that children who are used to pabulum start not to mind it. Now if I could just get myself to not try these sorts of things to begin with... and re-educate myself to consistently recognize the difference between the pabulum and the worthwhile!

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  3. I was really inspired by this beautiful keepsake of a child's life - maybe an option that is easier than a sampler? You can find scrapbook-page (12x12) frames at craft stores: http://wheretheblacktopends.weebly.com/home/a-new-page-in-history

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    1. Yes, Jessie, I saw that one too, and I love Bobby Jo's blog! Hers seemed to be laid out as a century chart, but I'm hoping to just record the first ten-ish years of the child's life per The Living Page... I actually have a project in the works using photos of my kids' choice in an Instagram-esque layout and framed. I'm hoping to get it finished by the holidays and will share here when we do! :)

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    2. Celeste, did you end up sharing this photo record of the children's life? Thanks.

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    3. Hi Meghan -- No, it's not finished yet! LOL I have the frames ready and the kids have chosen some of the photos, but I think this is going to be a summer project instead of a Christmas one. ;) I will be sure to share when we're done!

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  4. Thanks for the reply. I'll look forward to it this summer ... or whenever :) Thanks!

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  5. I'm just reading the Living Page right now and am interested in the Child's Own History project. Did you end up coming up with anything? I think it would be perfect to do with my 8 yo. just thinking of how to do it.

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    1. Hi there! Yes, I have come up with something, but we're not finished with it yet. It's a summer project--I hope! ;) I had my kids choose a few photos from each year of their lives, and I'm having them printed as square stickers that we'll then apply to a backing and frame for their bedrooms. Pictures have been chosen, frames have been bought, but putting it together hasn't happened yet. When we do finish it off, I will certainly share here!

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    2. I look forward to seeing it!

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