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I am presenting our plan for February Nature Study in retrospect, so you can see what we actually did, and not just what I hoped to do. :)


Getting Outside


February is cold here, and I don't even try to spend hours outside everyday! Though I do make a point of getting the kids out at least once a day (if they're not sick). We've had a fair amount of snow, and that makes it easier. Snow is fun! They've been sledding down our little front hill and building various forts. They are spending an average of half an hour outside mid-morning, and some afternoons they go out to play again. I confess to letting our  morning school schedule slide on days we've had a good snowfall and they want to stay out. I figure an hour outside on a winter's day is just as good for them as anything else on the schedule! Some days I'll make up the time in the afternoon while the littlest one has her nap.

I personally have not done a stellar job of "taking them out." I probably make it out 2-4 times a week right now, usually for 10-15 minutes. Once a week I am making an effort to go out for longer to play with them, lay in the snow, or walk around the yard making observations. I'm not scheduling that in, because it really is weather dependent.


Nature Journal

This month I determined to get myself in the habit of daily nature journalling. I've been studying up a little bit on Charlotte Mason's method of nature study and journalling. Right now I am focusing more on keeping a written diary of observations and occurrences. Jotting something down is easy! Drawing or painting takes a bit more time and thought, which means I often don't get around to it.

Perhaps it's ambitious to try to implement this in the middle of winter, when we have fewer opportunities for extended outdoor time, but I figure, why not give it a try?! I planned 2 things to help us all get into the habit of more regular journaling.

1. Bird feeder



I bought more birdseed! So easy yet so rewarding. The bird feeder is right outside our dining room window. I had the kids make a page for February Birds, and they have been writing down every bird we see this month, whether at the feeder or elsewhere in our travels. It's making us more attentive to the birds in general. I keep the binoculars and the bird book handy beside the window.

2. February Moon Chart
Our "special studies" this term is astronomy. I saw an idea somewhere about keeping a moon chart, and thought that would be a great way to observe the night sky and also have something to enter daily. We made a calendar-like grid spread over 2 pages, one box for each day. Most days we are looking outside after supper. Somedays we actually go out to look, and some days we are just looking out a window. In each box, the kids are recording their observations, including:

  • The shape of the moon (drawn)
  • Location of the moon (direction it is rising, or which window we see it from)
  • Other notes about weather and temperature 
If there is no moon, or it's overcast, we're recording that too. If we miss a day, we simply write "unobserved" and pick up where we left off. Some evenings the kids make their entries then and there. Other days we've left it till the next morning. (To be honest, there have been days when I've only remembered about the moon after they are all ready for or even in bed. Those days I've got them up to look out the window, then we record in the morning. It doesn't have to be perfect to be valuable!) 

I'm not sure what we'll do for March to keep things going on an almost daily basis. Any ideas?!?! 


Special Studies: Astronomy

We are using two books right now to go along with our astronomy theme. (We generally follow AmblesideOnline's nature study schedule.) We are focusing mainly on the moon and stars, though we are also getting an overview of space in general and our place in the universe.





Exploring the Night Sky by Terence Dickinson


Scheduled once a week. While this book is slightly dated (Pluto is still a planet, for example), we've been enjoying it. We're not attempting to do the whole book. We average a page or two a day, skipping around where I see fit. 


Find the Constellations (2nd Ed.) by H. A. Rey 


Scheduled once a week. We are moving more slowly than I had anticipated (quite a few sick days this month!), but it's still good. This is the one the kids ask for. The layout is simple. I had envisioned the kids drawing the constellations right into their nature journals, but for some reason they were resistant to that. 

So instead, we've done a few other things. We've made the constellations by poking holes with needles into a piece of black construction paper. That was fun! The kids also asked for a special book to put their astronomy related things in. I had some basic exercise books, so I gave them each one of those. They've been drawing some of the constellations in there, and other things from the books. I'm not really requiring anything in particular, but just letting them put in what interests them.

We'll keep going with astronomy as a special study till the end of March. 


Nature in Community

So far this term we've gotten together twice with another homeschooling family to do some activities related to our special study. (They are following the AO schedule as well.) We picked a few out of this book:



It was a lot of fun to get the kids together and share in our astronomy study. I loved when they were all sitting around the table after our activities drawing and writing in their nature journals. Seeing others' nature journals inspires them in new ways too!


All in all, February was a good month for nature study. The kids got sick toward the end of the month, and some of this fell to the wayside. Many days of the moon journal were missed. But we picked up where we left off. It doesn't have to be perfect to be worthwhile, I tell myself, when things don't go as planned.
Nature study is doable, and fun, even in February!
~ Lindsey
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In March
the clouds break
for half an hour or so
spilling bright blue ink over pale snow

In March
the creeks begin to run
melt and mud and mess
down old man winter’s tin shed roof

In March
the children rush
laughter echoing the sun’s
into water higher than their boots




~ Lindsey Gallant

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Maybe it was the sun shining after so many days of cloud and storm, but today felt like a good school day. There was nothing particularly special about it, and we didn't even get to everything on "the list." But we took life as it came to us and made the most of the learning opportunities around us.

First off, with the sun breaking through the clouds, the girls got started with their morning paper...


For school this morning, we brought out the Cuisenaire rods (part of our regular math program) and Base 10 blocks to build number bond towers, increasing in height with every level. I got the idea from this video. Jack got his all the way up from 1 to 10!

Meanwhile, Ivy worked happily on puzzles while Arden did her geography reading and map drills. (She made her own tower later.) It was just a peaceful yet productive time.








This afternoon, during Ivy's nap, Arden and Jack and I went outside. After a lovely snowy January, we just had a big rainfall. I have mixed feelings about these January thaws, since they seem so out of place. And yet, they uncover some of that world waiting for spring.

We checked what the swollen river washed up after the rain and thaw, and took a general walkabout to see what we could see. As always, the little details bring the most joy - green ground cover that smells like a field of ripe summer grasses, tiny larch cones, and taking time to stop and smell the oak leaves...













Every single time I make time to go outdoors, I am glad I did. Every single time we make the time to observe and delight in nature, I am glad we did. I can't help thinking it's worth reordering our lives (and even school schedules) to make sure these connections with creation are being made.
~lg
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We got off to a late start this year, but for all the best reasons. For most of September we were travelling and visiting family in the Northwest Territories! Our first day of school was actually Thanksgiving Monday.

Here are some shots of our first few weeks.


First Day Excitement
The littlest scholar!

Grade 3

Excited for Grade 1!

Nature Study
Learning about mushrooms



I love this picture - Kids running off with the school bus in the background!

Autumn tree study nature journalling 

Of course, she needs her own nature journal!

Afternoon nature walk



An ordinary day
Colouring along with natural history

Practicing handwriting!

"My math!!"

Note the missing teeth!

Pumpkin Day!We experimented with whether pumpkins sink or float (and why), studied the cross section and seed pattern of both big and small pumpkins, did drawings, baked seeds, and baked the fruit.






Of course, there was carving too! This year the kids went with a starry night theme.




All lit up...








We're off to a great start!

This year, we're trying something a little different. Instead of following/modifying Ambleside Online, we are trying out another Charlotte Mason curriculum, A Gentle Feast. This program combines more subjects for the kids, and I liked the idea of doing our main work together as a family. We'll be journeying through early Canadian history this year. It will be interesting to compare to AO as we go along. There are some aspects of the new curriculum that really fit our current season of life and make things a little easier for me, but I also still feel like an Amblesider at heart!

Whatever the curriculum, I'm looking forward to our shared learning, exploring great books and ideas, and experiencing our big wonderful world!
~ Lindsey
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From Charlotte Mason's The Original Home Schooling Series, Parents and Children (Vol. 2)

Chapter 7: The Parent as Schoolmaster

Here is my narration of Chapter 7, and some of my thoughts. (Read my thoughts on Chapter 6 here.) Charlotte Mason continues to talk about the responsibilities and role of parents.

Get a Backbone!

Mason begins this chapter by talking about the expectation that the "schoolmaster," or teacher, will make children "sit up" once they get to school. There are parents who believe, for a number of well-intentioned reasons, that children should be allowed what amounts to free reign until the time comes for a teacher to make them behave in a school setting.

However, Mason challenges this idea, wondering how on earth the teacher is supposed to make the child "sit up," or behave, "after a good deal of mental and moral sprawling about at home" (pg. 60).

The success (and pleasure) a teacher has with a child at school, depends in large part on the self-management the child has learned in the home. She uses the example of a backbone to illustrate, rather humorously, the point.

"No suasion will make you 'sit up' if you are an oyster; no, nor even if you are a cod. You must have a backbone, and your backbone must have learned its work before sitting up is possible to you. No doubt the human oyster may grow a backbone, and the human cod may get into the way of sitting up, and some day, perhaps, we shall know of the heroic endeavours made by schoolmaster and mistress to prop up, and haul up, and draw up, and anyhow keep alert and sitting up, creatures whose way it is to sprawl." (pg. 61-62)

In the end, Mason believes it is the parents' role to develop this backbone from the beginning. Otherwise the teacher is left with remedial work, which will be far less satisfying and far less successful.

Mason also notes a difference between mechanical habits and earlier "vital" habits. A school may give a child a certain structure, and certain habits, but these are merely social props, and will only be of use as long as the child is in school. Without the social props, children will revert back to earlier habits. No, she argues, children need to be "put under discipline from infancy" (pg. 62).


Don't Be Like This Guy

She then uses the example of Edward Waverley from Scott's novel Waverley as an example of "mental sprawling."

Waverley acquired knowledge "in a slight, flimsy, and inadequate manner." He was not moved to knowledge by natural curiosity, but needed strong gratification. He had neither alertness of mind nor self-restraint. "He does nothing to carve out a way for himself, and he does everything to his own hindrance out of the pure want of the power of self-direction" (pg. 63).

I really like how Mason puts the crux of the matter. Waverley was brilliant, "but 'I ought' had waited upon 'I like' from his earliest days."Ouch.

Waverley was spoiled. The failure in his personal life was a result of the failure in his education.


Parents Can't Pass the Buck

Mason is adamant that parents cannot leave it to others to bring their children up properly.   Parents must "give their children the discipline which results in self-compelling power" (pg. 64). What is more, there is a limited window of time to learn this power of self-direction and self-mastery! If the child hasn't grown a backbone by the time they get to school, they won't likely grow one there either.

The early years are not the time to leave children to "nature," and trust time to turn everything out alright in the end. Discipline begins at the beginning. The kingdom of nature is not enough. All children have an inheritance in the kingdom of grace, which implies training in virtue. Parents must plant and foster the fruits of this second kingdom.

That is what discipline is.


Education is a Discipline

Mason says the first function of parents is that of discipline. This responsibility cannot be fobbed off on teachers.

Mason also says education is a discipline. And what is discipline? Certainly it is not penal punishment, which is "the last resort of the feeble." Such punishment is only a tiny part of the picture, and shouldn't even be necessary if we are doing the rest of discipline right. (There's a convicting thought.)

A clear definition of education is key.

Education is not the acquiring of knowledge. Rather, education should "deal curatively and methodically with every flaw in character" (p.g 66). Education is essentially the cultivation of character. And this cannot be left to chance, to life circumstances, or to a schoolmaster. It's the job of the parent.


Defining Discipline

Discipline is not punishment.

Discipline is a state of being - a state of following, learning, imitating. And God has ordered the world so that children are first of all disciples of their parents. Now, all good disciple makers should have a plan for instilling certain principles in their disciples. There should be "steady progress on a careful plan" (67).

Disciples aren't made by force. There are 3 ways disciples are "lured" (haha, love the word):
1. By the attraction of the doctrine
2. By the persuasion of the presentation
3. By the enthusiasm of the (other?) disciples

So, "the parent has teachings of the perfect life which he knows how to present continually with winning force until the children are quickened with such zeal for virtue and holiness as carries them forward with leaps and bounds" (67).

Well, that sounds nice, doesn't it? Simple? Sure, no problem...

All you have to do to make your little sweetie a partaker of the Divine nature is there in the summary of 2 Peter 1:5-7. Just cultivate faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, kindness and love, systematically!

BUT HOW???

Ah yes, Mason says, that's too big of a topic for this chapter! (No kidding.)

Well then. Read on.

She does offer a little gem of wisdom at the end, in reminding parents that "every quality has its defect, every defect has its quality" (67). She encourages parents to examine their children, and see which high places need to be lowered, and which valleys need to be raised. She talks about this sort of examination earlier in the chapter, where if a certain character defect is noted in a child turning 5, the parent should put a plan in place to deal with this by the child's next birthday (and not assume the child will simply grow out of it).

It's a good reminder to be paying attention to our children's progress in their life of discipleship. We need to be mindful, and intentional. One of the driving thoughts of this chapter is that disciples don't make themselves. Discipline must be purposeful and continual.

~~~

So, if I could sum this chapter up for me in a few memorable statements, I might say:

Give your child a backbone.
Education is the cultivation of character.
Parents need to be purposeful disciple-makers.

But this disciple-making task really does seem huge when I think of it. Education is not a part time pastime. It's not something we check off for the day when we put the school books away. It encompasses all of life. All of parenting. All of family culture. Education is cultivating and curating virtuous character. And that is no small thing. (I suppose that's why there are 6 volumes to this whole home education series??)

The ultimate goal of Christian disciple making is participation in the Divine nature. I went back to 2 Peter 1 (which Mason doesn't actually reference directly, assuming her readers will know the passage she is referring to) for some context around those verses. That is also where the phrase "a partaker of the Divine nature" that she references on pg. 67 comes from. What was most encouraging to me at this moment, however,  was found in verse 3.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.

It's not my power that will accomplish this. Yes, God has given me the task, and I need to be purposeful and faithful. But the power comes from Him! That is a good thought to rest in when it all seems too big for me.
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Here's our littlest winter lover. She only cries when she has to come in


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I'm going to try writing out some of my thoughts from Charlotte Mason's book Parents and Children, which is Volume 6 of The Original Home Schooling Series. I am reading this right now along with our Charlotte Mason study/support group. We began the volume last September, and are slow reading our way through it at a rate of one chapter a month. I'm hoping this "narration" will help cement the ideas in the long term storage section of my brain!

Chapter 6: Parents as Inspirers - Primal ideas derived from parents



This is the fourth and final chapter dealing with the role parents as inspirers. To review:

Chapter 3: Parents as Inspirers - Children must be born again into the Life of Intelligence
Chapter 4: Parents as Inspirers - The Life of the Mind grows upon Ideas
Chapter 5: Parents as Inspirers - The Things of the Spirit

Mason states throughout these chapters that the highest role of parents is as revealers of God to their children. In the previous chapter, Mason outlined some of the things we shouldn't be doing as parents, especially in regard to fortifying them against doubt. (Review of what not to do: leave them to time and chance, or fortify them with proofs and evidences in such a way that their faith and the truth rests on these. What we need to do instead is give them both a hold of vital truth and an outlook on current thought, so they are equipped to navigate the doubts when they arise.)

"To bring the human race, family by family, child by child, out of the savage and inhuman desolation where He is not, into the light and warmth and comfort of the presence of God, is, no doubt, the chief thing we have to do in the world." (pg. 50)

This is our chief work, our most momentous work, our highest function as parents. Parents are the primary agents of God's work in the world.

We do this work through the instrumentality of ideas. (Mason is big on the power of the idea, almost as a living thing. When she says that "education is a life," she means primarily the life of ideas. It is ideas which set the course for thought and action.) Knowing this, we must be careful both in our choice of ideas (the what), and the conveyance of ideas (the how).

As an example, she takes a popular idea of her day - that the Bible should be read to children first as a human book, to be read as history, poetry, hero stories, etc., and then slowly move up from this human take to a divine understanding. She thinks this is a mistake however, and that the Bible should be presented from the beginning as divine and therefore authoritative.

Next she goes on to talk about the limits of reason and the importance of primary ideas. Basically, if children get the wrong primal idea about something from the start, they will go on and follow that idea to its "reasonable" and "logical" conclusion. Mason then gives an excursus on how just this thing happened with the crucifixion of Jesus. It was perfectly "reasonable" for the Jews to put Jesus to death, given their system of thought, and the ideas that they had grown up with as children. The error did not come in to play in the crucifixion, rather, the error lay in the primal idea that religion was to serve the nation. This shows how "reason," once it seizes upon an idea, will carry that on to its inevitable and "logical" conclusion. The crucifixion was perfectly "reasonable," and indeed seemed "right" to the Jews, given the ideas that fed into that action.

"The Crucifixion was the logical and necessary outcome of ideas imbibed from their cradles by the persecuting Jews. So of every persecution; none is born of the occasion and the hour, but comes out of the habit of thought of a lifetime." (pg. 54)

All this to say, that it is of vital importance to get the primal ideas right in the first place! (And though she doesn't refer again to the earlier "current" approach to Scripture, we can infer that she rejects it on this basis. If Scripture really is divine and authoritative, it should be presented that way from the start.)

And where do these primal ideas mainly come from? Why, parents of course! (Only in our day and age, that may not be largely the case. Which is a whole other discussion.)

"It is the primal impulse to habits of thought which children must owe to their parents; and, as a man's thought and action Godward is 'The very pulse of the machine,' the introduction of such primal ideas as shall impel the soul to God is the first duty and highest privilege of parents." (pg. 54)

There is great power in these ideas that are formed from the cradle, where they actually become part of the atmosphere of the child's early life. Parents are educating their children in the ways of God right from the start with atmosphere, discipline of habit, and the life of ideas.

Mason then goes on to talk about some of first approaches to God in a child's life. She talks about the importance of:

1. Regular morning and evening prayer. "Nothing could be more suitable and more beautiful than these morning and evening approaches to God, the little children brought to him by their mothers." (pg. 55)

2. Parents praying out loud in front of children throughout the day. Mason thinks more can be done by a mother communing out loud with God, "so that the children might grow up in the sense of the presence of God" which would lead to "glad and natural living in the recognized presence of God." (pg. 55)

3. Outspoken gratitude. In particular, voicing our thanksgiving is a powerful practice that children will pick up from parents. If we speak out our joys and gratitude, children will too.

4. Using endearing terms in prayer. Mason believes children should use familiar, endearing language in their prayers, so that we don't put up a barrier between them and God. She suggests using "Dear God" as an address. "Let children grow up aware of the constant, immediate, joy-giving, joy-taking Presence in the midst of them." (pg. 57) Knowing God intimately as a loving Father will protect them against many temptations of "infidelity."

5. The "Shout of a King."  By this she means children growing up with a sense of God as King in their midst. Even in her time, she laments the loss of this concept in modern civilization. (How much more is this true in our day.) I would classify this as one of the "primal ideas" that Mason talks about. From this idea flows a host of other ideas and attitudes -

"There are, in this poor stuff we call human nature, founts of loyalty, worship, passionate devotion, glad service, which have, alas! to be unsealed in the earth-laden older heart, but only ask place to flow from the child's. There is no safeguard and no joy like that of being under orders, being possessed, controlled, continually in the service of One whom it is gladness to obey.  ... [A] king, a leader, implies warfare, a foe, victory - possible defeat and disgrace. And this is the conception of life which cannot too soon be brought before children." (pg. 57)

She then goes on to talk about how children know what it means to be in this fight of light vs. darkness, good vs. evil, Christ vs. the devil. Children have a keen sense of their sin and their need. Their little hearts need healing as much as ours. In light of this, "they should live in the instant healing, in the dear Name, of the Saviour of the World." (pg. 59)

~~~


A few things stand out to me in this chapter. Namely,

1) the parents' role in cultivating an ongoing atmosphere of the presence of God in the home,

2) and the importance of the primal idea of the "shout of the king."

The first presupposes that the mother is practicing the presence of God herself, and then opens this reality to invite her children in with her. These things are "caught" just as much as "taught." The presence of God is THE foundational atmosphere and underlying reality for all Christian education.

The second is definitely an unusual concept in our day and age. I'm sure the language would make many, even Christians, uncomfortable. It is inspiring to me though. I've experienced this in my own life. I'd like to be more intentional somehow about this in our home. I know part of it is atmosphere, and atmosphere comes from the primal idea. So this is probably something I need to contemplate more in my own life, and it will ooze out from there.
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