Archive for the ‘Curriculum’ Category

Things to Buy Instead of Curriculum

August 6, 2008 @ 7:32 am | Filed under: Art, Curriculum, Fun Learning Stuff, Games, Homeschooling, Science, Unschooling

Particularly Cool Stuff My Kids and I Have Learned a Ton From or Just Plain Had a Good Time With:

Settlers of Catan, the board game. Jane got this for Christmas last year. We’ve been obsessed ever since. Except when our friends hijack it and keep it for weeks because it is that great a game.

Signing Time DVDs. Catchy songs, immensely useful vocabulary in American Sign Language. I trumpet these wherever I go. We talk about Rachel like she’s one of the family.

Prismacolor colored pencils. Indispensable. I was amused to see that Jane mentioned them in the first line of her “I Am From” poem. She’s right; they have helped color the picture of her life.

Uncle Josh’s Outline Map CD-Rom. Because maps are cool, and maps you can color (with Prismacolor pencils, hey!) are even cooler. The kids are constantly asking me to print out a map of somewhere or other. You can find other outline maps available online (for free), but I like Josh’s for clarity. And once when I had a problem opening a particular map (it’s a PDF file), I called the help number and it was Uncle Josh himself, a most amiable gentleman, who quickly solved my problem.

The Global Puzzle. Big! Very big! Will take over your dinner table! (So clear off that laundry.)

Set. It may annoy you that your eight-year-old will be quicker at spotting the patterns in this card game than you will. There’s a free daily online version as well.

Quiddler. Like Scrabble, only with cards. This, too, can be played online.

Babble. Like Boggle, only online and free.

Chronology, the game. Like Trivial Pursuit, only with history.

Speaking of online games: the BBC History Game site is awfully fun.

And Jane was fairly addicted to Absurd Math for a while there. Need more free math puzzles? Nick’s got a bunch.

A Case of Red Herrings and Mind Benders. Logic and problem-solving puzzles: a fun way to pass the time on long car trips or in waiting rooms.

Zoombinis Logical Journey computer game and sequels. Stretch your brain trying to get the little Zoombinis to a village where they can bounce in peace.

Oregon Trail. The game that launched a massive wagon trail rabbit trail for my kids a couple of years ago—and they still aren’t tired of the game. (Now there’s a Wii version, too!)

Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots : Gardening Together with Children. Plant a sunflower house! Up-end a Giant Bucket of Potatoes and dig through the dirt for your rewards! Grow lettuce in rainboots! Boots! With lettuce growing in them!

Wild Goose Science Kits. Fun experiments with a low mess factor. Note to self: remember the Wild Goose Crime Kit come Christmastime. (Sadly, these are no longer available. Wild Science offers similar kits.)

A microscope. Sonlight sells a nifty set of prepared slides with paramecium and other fun stuff for the kids to peer at.

If the scope sparks an interest in dissection, there’s a way to do it online with no actual innards involved: Froguts! The site has a couple of free demos to occupy you while you save up for the full version. (Which I haven’t seen yet, but it does look cool.) HT: Karen Edmisten.

Klutz Books. Over the years, we’ve explored: knitting, embroidery, origami, magic, Sculpey, paper collage, paper dolls, beadlings, and foam shapes. Look under any piece of furniture in my house and you will find remnants of all of the above.

Which reminds me: Sculpey polymer clay. Is it possible to get through a day without some? My children think not.

Usborne’s calligraphy book and a set of markers.

But while I’m on Usborne, my kids also love and use at least weekly: Usborne Science Experiments Volumes 1, 2, and 3.

Muse magazine. The highlight of Jane’s month. From the publishers of Cricket. We also like Odyssey, Click, and Ask.

Classical Kids CDs. Beanie’s favorite is Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery.

Refrigerator poetry magnets. I gave Scott the Shakespearean set a couple of Christmases ago. Note to self: You are not as brilliant as you think! You were an English major, for Pete’s sake, with a minor in drama. Thou knowest full well old William was a bawdy fellow. If you don’t want your little ones writing poems about codpieces, stick to the basic version. But oh how I enjoy the messages Scott leaves for me to find and then pretends he doesn’t know who wrote them:

I am
so
in love
with my
delicate
wench.

And of course of course of course, Jim Weiss story CDs. I rave about these every chance I get because they have added such riches to my children’s imaginations. For years, they have listened to Jim’s stories after lights-out. Greek myths, Sherlock Holmes, Shakespeare, folk and fairy tales, the Arabian Nights, the Jungle Book: of such stuff are dreams woven.

Check out my Giant List of Book Recommendations too!

Why I Am -Inspired

May 14, 2007 @ 2:02 pm | Filed under: Charlotte Mason, Curriculum, Homeschooling, Methods of Home Education, Unschooling

Jane wrote:

I love your approach, Lissa. Why stick to one way of teaching and learning?

You know, I can see an argument in favor of adopting one consistent methodology and sticking to it. Actually, Charlotte Mason herself makes that argument in my beloved Volume 6:

“The reader will say with truth,—’I knew all this before and have always acted more or less on these principles’; and I can only point to the unusual results we obtain through adhering, not ‘more or less,’ but strictly to the principles and practices I have indicated. I suppose the difficulties are of the sort that Lister had to contend with; every surgeon knew that his instruments and appurtenances should be kept clean, but the saving of millions of lives has resulted from the adoption of the great surgeon’s antiseptic treatment; that is, from the substitution of exact principles scrupulously applied, for the rather casual ‘more or less’ methods of earlier days.”

I admit to having sometimes read these words with a wince, feeling a pang of guilt over not having scrupulously applied any one set of principles. I am an adapter, a tweaker, a “take what works and leave the rest” sort. And here we see Miss Mason herself tsk-tsking the “casual” manner in which I have applied her ideas to my children’s education.

(It isn’t really “casual.” I’m just not going 100% by her book.)

After the wince I always remember that I am working with real people here, and real circumstances quite unlike any Miss Mason might have envisioned when designing her curriculum. She can’t have imagined a mother trying to hear narrations while a hard-of-hearing toddler chatters loudly in the background, like an old man with an ear trumpet unaware that he’s shouting, and a winsome baby steals the pupils’ attention by threatening to take her first walk across the carpet when (gasp, not permitted!) Daddy isn’t home. I doubt she envisioned her method being put to work in homes in which the bulk of the day consists of one adult having full responsibility for the care and education of multiple children, AND meal preparation, AND basic housekeeping. And our “ands” could go on, couldn’t they? AND having paid work to do, AND having to spend a lot of time traveling to doctors’ appointments, AND etc etc etc.

Which is not to say one CAN’T home-educate in complete accordance with Charlotte Mason’s principles. Many people do (check out the Ambleside webring), beautifully, happily, and with great success.

I’m just saying that for me, my family, our tastes and circumstances, CM-inspired works better than full-on CM.

Really Good Books, Right There on Your Screen

September 6, 2006 @ 12:17 pm | Filed under: Books, Curriculum, Fun Learning Stuff, Homeschooling

This morning, before a well-intentioned realtor played a game of Psych! with my day, I was raving to a friend about the fabulous, wonderful, incredible resource that is The Baldwin Project, and I realized I haven’t raved about it HERE nearly enough. I’ve linked to it several times, but I haven’t taaaaalllllked about it. And that’s what I do, talktalktalk about the Delightful Resources we use for the Cultivation of Mind and Spirit. (My more dignified and hyper-capitalized way of saying "fun learning stuff.")

So. The Baldwin Project. Do you all know about this? It’s books. Books that volunteers have generously devoted their time to scanning in or typing in or I don’t know how they get them IN, but they’re IN THERE, just waiting for you to read them to your kids. Print them out, download them, whatever you want. If you want a nice papery-smelling actual hard copy to hold in your bookloving hands, you can buy those at the project’s publishing arm, Yesterday’s Classics. At quite reasonable prices, I might add.

These are old books, books that went out of print or fell into the public domain. Lovely old books like Famous Men of Greece, Famous Men of Rome, The Blue Fairy Book, Among the Pond People, Tanglewood Tales, Wild Animals I Have Known, and oh how the list goes on. There are treasures here, rich books, living books, stories to make a mind soar and a heart grow.

If you’re an Ambleside Online user, you probably already know about the Baldwin Project. If it’s new to you, prepare to lose an afternoon—and gain aeons.

Homeschooling Curriculum: My Plans

August 11, 2006 @ 8:32 am | Filed under: Classical Education, Curriculum, Fun Learning Stuff, Geography, Homeschooling, Joy of Learning, Methods of Home Education, Unschooling

Thanks to all of you who are sharing your homeschooling plans in yesterday’s open thread. Keep ’em coming!

As for my plans, here they are. But I warn you: this post is going to be one giant oxymoron. First I’m going to tell you how we are pretty much unschooling this year, with the exception of Latin, and then I’m going to hit you with a big long list of curriculum and stuff. And then, just to confuse you even more, I’m going to link up to a bunch more Charlotte Mason posts. And you’re going to say, But Lissa, didn’t Charlotte Mason lay out a highly structured programme? You keep calling yourself an unschooler, and I’m going to say Isn’t it interesting how “programme” is so much classier a word than “program”?, and you’re going to say Sort of, but you haven’t answered the question.

So now that we all know our lines, I’ll begin. With Scott out in California already and the rest of us still here in Virginia waiting for the person who will walk into this house and say People have been so happy here! I want to live in this house and be happy too! I will buy it! Immediately! Here’s a check! Happy trails to you!, it is obvious that this fall is not likely to be a time of consistency and routine for us. Sometime in the next few months (we hope), I will be piling this horde of children into the minivan and we’ll embark on the most hands-on of geography unit studies, which shall be called “Wow, Mom, Kansas Really DOES Go on Forever.”

(Which reminds me. I’m assembling a list of books on tape we might listen to on the trip. By the Great Horn Spoon, On to Oregon, Little House on the Prairie (natch), I forget what else. Got any suggestions?)

Anyway, because of all this flux in our lives, I’m not really making Big Educational Plans for this fall. Before Scott’s job offer appeared, I was leaning toward a Latin-Centered Curriculum approach with (as always) a great deal of Charlotte Mason influence and our usual Real Learning flavor. In light of our big changes, I’m dialing back a bit but the elements are the same.

Latin will be our most disciplined, regular subject. The arguments put forth in Tracy Lee Simmons’s Climbing Parnassus and Drew Campbell’s The Latin-Centered Curriculum (excerpted here and supporting articles here) have sold me on Latin’s benefits. Rose is using Prima Latina because I like its simple format with manageable lesson size, and I love that it includes Latin prayers. We are using the book and CD only, not the DVD.

Jane completed Prima Latina a couple of years ago, and has resumed her studies with the highly engaging Latin for Children (ecclesiatical pronunciation—although the DVD seems to use only classical pronunciation—V is pronounced like W, for example—and when we watch the DVD we have to remind ourselves to adjust the pronunciation. The chant CD, which we use more than the DVD, offers both forms). All of us are enjoying the chant CD and I’ve written before about how delightful it is to hear five-year-old Beanie running around chanting declensions.

Jane especially likes the LfC activity book, which is heavy on puzzles, crosswords, and such. Puzzle = perfect, in Jane’s opinion. We also scored an ancient, battered copy of Using Latin: Book One for a few
bucks, and Jane is really enjoying it as a supplement to Latin for
Children. It has you diving right in to real paragraphs in translation, and for both of us beginners, that has been a thrill.

Another Latin program I’ve heard great things about (for starters, Becky uses it, and her taste is impeccable) is Minimus. Does anyone care to weigh in with a review? I have to say, it looks extremely fun. I mean:

Minimus: Starting out in Latin is a unique course for 7-10 year olds, providing a lively introduction to the Latin language and the culture of Roman Britain with a highly illustrated mix of comic strips, stories and myths….The course centres on a real family who lived at Vindolanda in 100AD: Flavius, the fort commander,
his wife Lepidina, their three children, assorted household slaves, their cat Vibrissa—and Minimus the mouse! It features many of the artefacts and writing tablets from the Vindolanda excavations.

Comic strips! A mouse! A fort commander! Wish I’d heard of it before I spent my whole Latin budget last spring.

Greek. Rose’s interest in this language continues unabated. She is really enjoying Hey Andrew, Teach Me Some Greek, but I make that recommendation with one caveat, and I truly hope this does not cause offense. I am extremely sympathetic toward people with speech impediments. Bear in mind that my own son has, at this point, only two consonants. But as a consumer I must make note of the fact that the woman who narrates the Hey Andrew pronunciation CD has a strong lisp, so that instead of “sigma” she says “thigma,” and so on. Since correct pronunciation is one of a student’s goals in studying a language, I do find this to be a fairly serious flaw in the Hey Andrew materials. Rose loves the workbooks, however, and I like the gentle and gradual progression. Since the whole ancient Greek thing was totally Rose’s idea, I’m just running with her interest and supplying her with the materials she enjoys.

Math. We do math in spurts of intensive activity, with long relaxed lulls in between. Plus, you know, lots of what I call “accidental math”—the kind that comes up all the time in the course of daily life. If there are sixty-four Skittles in a bag, how many do each of us get, bearing in mind that Mom gets twice as many as everyone else, that sort of thing. (Scott is reading this now and going WHAT??? I’m gone for three weeks and you’re feeding them SKITTLES??? Have you completely abandoned our principles? And haven’t you read about the dead bugs in those things? Don’t worry, honey. I was only kidding. I get THREE times as many as everyone else.)

What we do use, when we’re using (heh heh, we’re math junkies, get it), is Math-U-See. And I have been singing the praises of this program so loud and for so many years that its creator, Steve Demme, really should be giving me a commission. Heck, we even named our son after him.* But he isn’t. He’s never heard of me. But his Virginia distributor has. That woman’s got to LOVE me. Big huge order every year since we moved here.

*I’m joking. Of course that isn’t true. We named him after Steve from Blue’s Clues.

Rose is still working on the Beta level, and Jane, my little math addict, is about ready for the Algebra 1 program. I find myself in the bizarre position of having to scold her about going through her Math-U-See materials too quickly. It’s like when she was a toddler (pre-chemo days, which totally changed her eating habits, as in eradicated them for a couple of years) and I used to have to say “No more broccoli until you’ve eaten something else.”

The reasons MUS works so well for us are:

1) The DVD lessons, which aren’t fancy but are funny and pleasant. Steve Demme’s corny sense of humor really suits our taste.

2) The explanation of concepts. He doesn’t just show you what to do, he tells you why it works. I always did fine in math class at school, but even so, I find that when I watch the lessons alongside my kids, light bulbs are going off right and left. OH, so THAT’S why you flip-and-multiply to divide a fraction! I knew HOW to do it, but I never got why it WORKS before. Demme’s explanations are clear and simple and fun.

3) The manipulatives. Hands-on learning works best for my kids.

4) No prep time required. Let’s face it, I’m a busy woman. (Aren’t we all?) Right Start Math and Miquon both required too much advance work on my part. I like to spend my time doing things WITH the children, not preparing things for them to do.

All right, moving on. After Latin and math, there’s the whole wide world. I’m not being glib. We’ll encounter big ideas and events in all the other topic areas—history, science, literature, geography, civics, and so forth—through books, books, books. Read-alouds and read-alones. Picture books (I’ve got a big post on that in the works) and historical fiction, biographies and science books. Also: maps, puzzles, games, food and the homeschoogler’s best friend. (See the unschooling links post for specifics.)

We’ll continue to steep ourselves in the arts through Charlotte Mason-style composer and artist studies, assisted by the generous volunteers at 4Real (art, music) and Ambleside (art, music)—not to mention Higher Up’s cool artist-study Flickr badges. Charlotte’s ideas on habit-training and character formation will aid us in purposeful and harmonious living, especially in the midst of upheaval.

Sherry Early’s Picture Book Preschool and Elizabeth Foss‘s awesome Booklist will lend inspiration for connecting with nature, the seasons, and what our pal Betsy Ray calls the Great World. When I talk about picture books, I’m thinking primarily of five-year-old Beanie, but illustrated books speak volumes (so to speak) to older kids as well, so as is our wont, everyone listens in.

This all sounds lovely, you’re saying (okay, I don’t know what you’re saying, but the voices in my head think it sounds lovely), but what about language arts? Well, in this area too we are informal and experiential. We have drawn many ideas for sparking fun writing experiences from Julie Bogart’s The Writer’s Jungle. If you’re a regular reader of Bonny Glen and The Lilting House, you know I am a staunch believer in the benefits of reading aloud and in narration a la Charlotte Mason. Jane does several written narrations a week—sometimes on paper, sometimes on a private blog she has set up for her friends. Rose has one, too, and she’s beginning to do more and more writing on that. I noticed this morning that she was correctly spelling a couple of words that she had to holler for help with last week. The more she writes, the more she improves. And of course our Latin studies teach us a lot about grammar.

I doubt we’ll do much in the way of art and handcrafts this fall. I can’t deal with all those little scraps of paper and ribbon, not while we’re showing the house. Everything’s being packed up, anyway. Time enough for creative messes when we get settled in our new place. In the meantime, we’ve got the whole country to explore.

*UPDATED! I forgot American Sign Language! Pursuits continue apace!

The Long-Promised Charlotte Mason Curriculum Post

July 19, 2006 @ 11:13 am | Filed under: Charlotte Mason, Curriculum, Homeschooling, Methods of Home Education

All righty. When I started the curriculum series I had no idea my hubby was about to be offered a job on the other side of the country. Naturally my post on Charlotte Mason curricula got shoved  to the back burner when we decided to up-end our entire lives. But I haven’t forgotten. So let’s talk about Miss Mason.

Perhaps you’ve read her amazing books. (Her writing is dense, not easy, but worth the effort. Take her slow. Read a passage a day and take time to ponder.)

(Oh! Oh! I just had the best idea. Someone should do a Charlotte Mason blog. Like the Blog of Henry David Thoreau, which offers a selection from Thoreau’s journal almost every day. All of Charlotte Mason’s works are online*, in the public domain. Some devoted blogger out there could choose a passage every day and post it for the enjoyment and edification of all the rest of us. I am tempted, tempted…but no. Really, very much no. PLATE ALREADY FULL. :::tells self sternly::: Overflowing, even. So: brilliant idea up for grabs.) *Updated to add: Ask and ye shall receive. Or I shall, at least.  The Blog of Charlotte Mason has begun!

*Enormous thanks to the diligent folks who volunteered their time to type out CM’s books for all of us to enjoy!

This post is not a primer on Charlotte Mason education. Much excellent material has been written in that vein already. This is simply a look at some of the places you can go to find materials to support your efforts to educate your children a la Miss Mason.

There are two free Charlotte Mason-inspired programs of study available at a click of your mouse: Ambleside Online and Mater Amabilis. Both websites offer thorough and detailed schedules for a curriculum steeped in literature, history, narration, geography, and nature study. Many of the books recommended for use in both programs are available as free online texts.

Ambleside is Protestant in orientation; Mater Amabilis is Catholic. Both sites contain a wealth of useful articles in addition to the schedules and booklists. Each has its own email discussion groups where you can ask questions and get advice from real parents using the programs. It is truly amazing that such comprehensive resources are being offered at no cost whatsoever; the women behind the two programs (in the case of Ambleside, a collaborative board of homeschooling parents, and for Mater Amabilis, homeschooling mothers Michele Quigley and Kathryn Faulkner) have poured hours of effort into these curricula purely out of a desire to share their knowledge of Charlotte Mason’s methods with others.

For more schedules and syllabi, see the Simply Charlotte Mason link below.

And then! There are the 4Real Learning discussion boards, home of naturalist MacBeth Derham and  Elizabeth Foss where hundreds of mothers (and a few fathers) share ideas, books, and philosophical questions connected to home education. See especially the artist study and composer study threads—generous volunteers have already assembled links to many months’ worth of paintings.

Other websites of interest:

UPDATED to add: Charlotte’s Daughters, Learning from Charlotte Mason and the Parents’ National Education Union, a compilation of syllabi from several Parents’ Union School terms.

Simply Charlotte Mason: or, as I like to call it, “Simply Crammed with Material.” Sample schedules, booklists, narration helps, nifty bookmarks, and much, much more.

Mozart and Mudpies: See how one mother applies Charlotte Mason methods in her peaceful home. (Broken link now fixed.) Want more glimpses into CM households? Visit the many inspiring blogs in the Ambleside Online/House of Education webring. Some of my favorites are Higher Up and Further In and Dewey’s Treehouse.

Looking for many of the living books treasured by CM devotees? Try the Baldwin Project for free downloadable texts (with illustrations), or inexpensive hard copies.

Charlotte Mason Research & Supply Company: the website of well-known author Karen Andreola (The Charlotte Mason Companion, Pocketful of Pinecones). Not much practical info here; Karen’s put all that in her books. (I dip into my CM Companion at least once a month for refreshment of spirit, and found I was lending it out so often that several years back I bought a second copy just to circulate among my friends.) The website contains information about Karen’s books and the Original Charlotte Mason Series.

Author Penny Gardner‘s site does contain several interesting articles in addition to ordering info for her useful book, The Charlotte Mason Study Guide, and her highly recommended italic handwriting and recorder instructional materials.

If you did not already click on the links embedded in the “not a primer” paragraph above, you’ll want to check them out:

Charlotte Mason 101.

The Deputy Headmistress’s Charlotte Mason tutorial.

I have many more links to add here (you should see my list: nature study, picture study, Shakespeare, other stuff, all these lovely bookmarks begging to be cut and pasted), but this is enough to get you started. I’ll post a notice whenever I update, and do be sure to share your favorite CM resources with me.

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