Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Autumnal News and a Book

I want to recommend a book I recently discovered that is full of whimsy and charm.  In fact, my dd(15) keeps taking it up to her room to read and I keep asking her to bring it back down.  More on that in a second.

Exciting news for Living Education Lessons!  First, there is now open registration for a new Season 2 that begins mid-October.  I always like to begin new studies in unison with my children's new studies. It's an autumn thing. Second, the LEL community has grown and I am excited to share a new website for members.  It will be a quiet place on the web where we can concentrate and encourage one another without the distractions and noise so often found on social media. It will be ready in time for this new class coming up. Visit the LEL page to read more or to sign up for the email notice list.

Also, I presented a new pin design with a little talk on the history of the original P.U.S. badges this past weekend at the Delightful Living Seminar in Menahaga, MN.   This one doesn't have "Living Education Retreat" on it and is smaller. These pins will be available for purchase soon and I will certainly let you know.  Here's a peek:

Finally, on October 1st and 2nd, I will be at the Weekend of Living Ideas in Okoboji, Iowa. The trees should be gorgeous!  This is a small, quiet gathering with big ideas and inspiration.   I will be presenting 4 sessions, including a new talk on habits, Getting Rid of Weeds and Fostering Flowers: The Vital Role of Habits. Sign up soon if it works for you to join me!

Okay, so back to this sweet book I wanted to share with you*. "It's my job with a picture book to slow children down, " said Shirley Hughes in this article. I love that.  I have a small collection of her picture books.(Every child should read Dogger.) While I was at Loganberry Books last month, this title tumbled into my hands and didn't leave - Year Round Things to Do.

For each month of the year, there is a lovely title page with a poem and then:
  • About
  • Bird
  • Flower
  • Pet
  • Out of Doors (games)
  • Indoors (games and crafts)
  • Cooking
  • Gardening
  • Games
  • Saints
...and other categories all specific to that month. September brought us Conkers and Acorns, Quarter Day, and Budgerigars. Very British. And the best part is that right now you can see them on Amazon for about 15 cents. Woot!

I hope your new school year is flowing along nicely.


*Year Round Things to Do was first published in 1966 as Something to Do. My copy follows the 1975 printing. While not compiled by Shirley, she did the illustrations in 1966.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Planning post 2016! Should You Have Your Child Reread Books?

Occasionally, I hear from a mother who wonders if she should have her student reread a book by assigning the same book again the following school year or having him reread it during his free time. Usually,  the parent feels like her student didn't "get it" and the concern is that there may be a gap or a lack of understanding if the child just moves on to the next book. I understand this, as I am fairly certain that there have been a few of these situations with my own children when a book didn't seem to be really understood by the student.

My response is to not redo any book. Let me explain.

First, do make sure you are scaffolding the child into the book properly.  This could be a simple introduction to what he is reading and maybe the why behind it, as opposed to handing the student a book and just telling him to read it without the proper scaffolding, narrating, and subsequent exam.

Second, does having a child reread a book respect his personhood?  Do we not think that he won't take from it exactly what he needs at this point in his life?  How would you feel if you read a book, did the work (narrating),  and  took a few thoughts away from it just to have someone say you didn't get the things out of it that the teacher thought you should have? Could this be an example of not cooperating with the Holy Spirit as He educates your child?

Thirdly, if the feast is rich and vast, moving on will ensure fresh thoughts and ideas will come his way that might inspire him to dig deeper into subjects and books they have previously been acquainted with.  If they choose to reread on their own time, that is a different and wonderful thing than assigning it as a school book or even assigning it as a  free read.

Two years ago, I assigned my daughter Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time, a book that explores how a modern day Inspector from Scotland Yard becomes obsessed with a portrait of Richard III.   No scaffolding or anything, just handed it to her. (It was a rough year for many reasons.)  She didn't like it, didn't understand it and hasn't picked it up since.  Fast forward to this year as I am preparing Richard III for our Shakespeare play this term. She notices the picture of Richard III I have on my planning sheet, mentions some book she  read that had something to do with this, finds it on my shelf and states that she needs to reread it, as it didn't make much sense to her before. (Silent "YES!" from mom!)

Large room, big banquet, rich feast.  CM knew what she was doing.

Here we have Miss Mason talking about repeating lessons and how, if everything is in place, this should never be necessary if the student understands that the onus of the work is on him (the student), not us (the teacher). While books are not lessons, they are part and parcel of the lessons and ideas are ideas.
All school work should be conducted in such a manner that children are aware of the responsibility of learning; it is their business to know that which has been taught. To this end the subject matter should not be repeated. We ourselves do not attend to the matters in our daily paper which we know we shall meet with again in a weekly review, nor to that if there is a monthly review in prospect; these repeated aids result in our being persons of wandering attention and feeble memory. To allow repetition of a lesson is to shift the responsibility for it from the shoulders of the pupil to those of the teacher who says, in effect,––"I'll see that you know it," so his pupils make no effort of attention. Thus the same stale stuff is repeated again and again and the children get bored and restive, ready for   pranks by way of a change. - Volume 6, p. 75
So move on and keep the frequent changes of books happening in your household.  If you need a reason, Miss Mason gives you one here:
"One more thing is of vital importance; children must have books, living books; the best are not too good for them; anything less than the best is not good enough; and if it is needful to exercise economy, let go everything that belongs to soft and luxurious living before letting go the duty of supplying the books, and the frequent changes of books, which are necessary for the constant stimulation of the child's intellectual life. We need not say one word about the necessity for living thought in the teacher; it is only so far as he is intellectually alive that he can be effective in the wonderful process which we glibly call 'education.' " - Volume 2, p. 279
And please don't overlook the fact that YOU need to be intellectually alive, too.


Here are some previous planning posts you might enjoy:

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Sense of Place - Baraboo, WI by Heather Suemnicht

I have the pleasure of sharing a guest post from a friend, Heather Suemnicht.  I first met Heather years ago at the Living Education Retreat where she immediately struck me as bright and magnanimous. As you will see, she lives in Baraboo (who wouldn't want to live in a place called "Baraboo"?), Wisconsin with her equally wonderful husband, Tyson, and their four progeny.

A Sense of Place by Heather Suemnicht

Connections are curious things. Two separate pieces come together at one providential moment and join to make a greater whole.  It’s exciting when connections are made, almost electric, when you can see the proverbial light bulb suddenly turning on.

I am a knitter. My fingers yearn for the feel of the wood and wool and the soothing rhythm of knitting together, connecting, the individual loops to make a united piece of fabric.  

People long for connections as well, relationships, a place, a sense of belonging.

Our hearts crave connection even more and this is no surprise as the Scripture tells us that it isn’t just our bodies but all creation that is groaning and eagerly awaiting that providential moment when our physical bodies will be redeemed and we’ll physically be united for all eternity with the Desire of our hearts (Rom 1:19-23, Ps. 42:2)

Connections have a way of, well, coming together. Sometimes they come together quickly. Sometimes they take a lifetime to form. Sometimes, connections can happen both slowly and suddenly, like the rain coming in.

Charlotte Mason shows us that education is the science of relations. We, as mothers and home educators, are filled with joy and awe and thanksgiving when we see those relations connecting in the minds and hearts of our children.

Little did I know, that ideas that have been planted and watered through my readings of Charlotte Mason’s works and through wonderful speakers at the Living Education Retreat (LER), would suddenly all come swirling together and connect in ways that I hadn’t imagined possible, to awaken within me both a desire for and knowledge of a “sense of place” for myself and my children.

At LER this summer, Jack Kelly entertained, encouraged and intrigued us with his plenary session on Biotic Citizenship. Awakened within me was a desire for a sense of place and the understanding of how vital language arts is to Environmental Education.  Even on the drive home, and still today, quotes he shared, like the one below,  are lingering in my mind:
                        “... a ditch somewhere – or a creek, meadow, woodlot, or marsh.... These are places of initiation, where the borders between ourselves and other creatures break down, where the earth gets under our nails and a sense of place gets under our skin.... Everybody has a ditch, or ought to. For only the ditches and the field, the woods, the ravines – can teach us to care enough for all the land.”
— Robert Michael Pyle, The Thunder Tree, 1993

I wanted to further develop my sense of place. And how could I help my children develop a sense of place for themselves? Not just for our own comfort and enjoyment, not just for educational purposes, but also to see our Creator and know Him on a deeper level and be better able and willing to care for the land and people around us.

My thoughts ran back to another LER retreat from the summer of 2014. I remember Nancy’s special announcement that in honor of 10th Anniversary of the Living Education Retreat, it would be held at a special location—the beautiful Villa Maria in Frontenac, MN. How had they discovered this beautiful retreat center? Her daughter had read about it in one of her Natural History books about Minnesota! How beautiful! 

The pieces started migrating together…maybe I could find a book about my area that would help me! Where, how, could I find such a book about little old Baraboo, WI? And would it be a living book? Well, Providence was already at work in this. Out of the blue, my children asked to go to the bookstore! How could I turn that down? So, we went downtown to our local Book World. I steered my way through the aisles to the section on local history and the book practically jumped out at me! There it was, not to be mistaken with the title “A SONG OF PLACE, A Natural History of the Baraboo Hills”. If that wasn’t the book I was looking for, I don’t know what was! Alas, it was far out of my budget. I didn’t leave however without quietly noting the title and author to add to my wish list for another day.

 Fast forward a few weeks and my husband and I found ourselves running some errands in the nearby city of Madison. Madison has a Half Price Bookstore (meaning-- books I can afford!!), and my dear husband without hesitation took me to look around while we had some time to kill before the next appointment.  Providence again was at work and led me, almost directly to the book at the top of my wish list…and it was a third of the price! I immediately snatched it up.

Later that day, I had a chance to begin reading. I opened up to the prologue (because, yes, I’m the kind of person who has to start at the beginning) and I just about jumped out of my seat with excitement.  He started by talking about none other than Gilbert White, the English curate and naturalist. I probably wouldn’t have known of him or even recognized his name if I hadn’t been at LER last summer (2015) and learned about Gilbert White through Sandra Rusby Bell’s delightful talk on making a field guide to your own yard.

The connections were coming together at lightning speed now as I soon found out dear friends of ours knew the author and his wife, Kenneth and Esther Lange, and that he leads nature hikes at Devil’s Lake State Park just outside of town, whose Bluffs we can see from our front windows.  

Another thumb through the book landed me at a photo of one of the nearby glens, which answered one of the nature questions that I’ve been wondering about for almost a year now. The horizontal white stripes on the maple trees that I keep noticing, that give the effect of light beams shining through the forest, or make it look like this is Tigger’s section of the Hundred Acre Wood, are in fact a type of lichenized fungus- Comma lichen Arthonia.

 I’m giddy with the excitement of the connections that have been made. I gleefully anticipate the many more connections that are sure to come as we dive further into the natural history of our area and cultivate this sense of place. …and hopefully join Mr. Lange on one of his hikes.

Lange ends his prologue by saying, “Evermore, I have come to appreciate the musings of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz: ‘If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with. Is that right?’ ”

Heather Suemnicht

Friday, August 5, 2016

How Far the Little Candle Throws His Beams: Resources for The Merchant of Venice

What Shakespeare play has the most spit flying?  Is the most controversial?  Is the most popular play in Israel? *

And that is how I greeted my students in our TBG Community at the beginning of last semester as we began the Merchant of Venice (MOV)!  It was the second time in 10 years that I would  teach it.
And let's face it, having another daughter embrace Portia and memorize the "Quality of Mercy" speech is ... priceless.
Lizzie as Portia

I decided that this time, our community was going to do something extra-special; we were going to write a book.  I assigned each and every scene of the play to a different student or mom (yes, the moms in our community fully participate!) Then, when we came together at our bimonthly meetings, whoever was assigned a scene from that week's readings would share their narration. At the end of the semester, all the narrations were gathered into a book by Lizzie and submitted to a book making company.  The wonderful result is this book:

It has everyone's narrations plus the photos from our Family Night presentation of the courtroom scene of Act IV, Scene 1.  The cover artwork was delightfully done by Kenneth Benson.

When I first taught this play, I ordered an edited version of the movie that stars Al Pacino as Shylock. It was a great investment and we enjoyed many clips of this beautiful production in our meetings. (The company was called Family Edited DVDs but I'm not sure they are around anymore.) The 1973 movie with Laurence Olivier looked more like Dark Shadows set in Victorian England than Shakespeare, so that wasn't an option for me.

Usury, ghettos, anti-Semitism, true Christianity - all these things made for rich conversations and a fuller understanding of life.  That's what Shakespeare does.

 Let me outline what we do for Shakespeare in our community. We meet for 6 times a semester, every other week.  So as the teacher, the schedule looks like this:

Meeting #1 - Introduce the play, pass out the books, cover sheet, cds. Give assignment for meeting #2 - read, listen, narrate Act 1 at home, make one commonplace entry.  Those with the special assignment of a scene narration should bring their narration to the next meeting to share.

Meeting #2 - everyone shares their commonplace entry. Short discussion of Act 1. Special assignments to be shared. Short activity (showing a clip of a scene for Act 1 or Act 2, sometimes a reading where everyone takes a part, etc.) Give assignment for meeting #3 - read/listen/narrate to Act 2, one cp entry, special narration assignments.

And so on!

In our TBG Community, we often distribute what I call a "cover sheet" when we begin a new play.  Below is my cover sheet for The Merchant of Venice.  Sometimes it is just a picture with the name, sometimes it has dates, and here you can see I included a character chart.

You can read more of my Shakespeare posts with helps here. Scroll down to the section "Shakespeare in our Community".

Are you doing a few Shakespeare plays this school year?  I hope so!


* from The Friendly Shakespeare by Epstein

The full quote from the title is a favorite - "How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world." - Portia