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Sunday, September 23, 2012

The atmosphere of learning

There has been a lively discussion going on at Generation Cedar all about getting away from boxed-in thinking when it comes to education.

This was a novel idea to me, about 24 years ago. Today, it is second-nature. Our family has been so far removed from "schoolism" that it seems foreign to us.

For one thing, we don't grade any work. There is only one standard for anything that we do--it's either our best, or it is unacceptable. This is not the same as perfectionism. Some of endeavors are not perfect, but they are still our best effort, and so that makes them "A+" work. Actually, we simply consider that "anything that is worth doing is worth doing right."

High school around here looks very different from the normal course followed in schools. My children are learning most things at a college level, not because I have decided that I want them to be over-achievers or gain a place at Harvard, but because they have been given a chance to specialize in their areas of gifts and interests.

This day was an example.

After our time of Bible study, lively discussion, and singing with Daddy, we all emerged from our large master bedroom into a workshop of ideas. While we were serving and eating our meal, 10-year-old Olivia and I discussed the book, The World in Your Lunchbox which I had checked out for her from the library. Before I had finished eating, Ryan was showing me photos of Art Nouveau glass work, comparing Tiffany (American) with  Galle (European), and telling me about how Tiffany has changed over the years.

Meanwhile Ellie was waiting to discuss with me the differences between Mucha and Klimt, two other artists from the Art Nouveau era. Then Ryan, Sarah, Ellie and I all had a round-table about how this same era included the Arts and Crafts Movement, and how they were intertwined. Along the way we discussed the hypocrisy of how "distortion" is called art, while realism is called "illustration," which was snobbery against realists such as N. C. Wyeth, whom my children adore.



N. C. Wyeth

Immediately afterwards, Sarah came rushing excitedly from the loft office where Joshua had been researching Indian wars in America, and specifically in Colorado. We all rushed to the computer where we studied a map of all of the Indian wars in North America, and tallied them by state. It was interesting to note that California only had one, Texas not much more, but Arizona had the most!

My older children are used to learning things on their own, because we have all enjoyed learning for its own sake for many, many years. Reading, writing and arithmetic are often addressed separately, but only in small doses. The rest of our time we deeply imbibe the sweet waters of exploration and discovery.

I've graduated enough children to know that this method is the best. The fear is that they will not be prepared for "real jobs", but just the opposite has been true. Not only have they been capable of holding down regular jobs, but our emphasis on chores and other duties around the house has helped them to become the most faithful and best employees everywhere they have worked. They have also gone on to land jobs for which their years of specialization at home have made them more qualified than those who had PhD's in their areas of expertise.

Most folks may start out with this philosophy, but then have their children "buckle down" and study the regular high school choices in the end, mostly because we are intimidated by what is "expected". I just don't have the heart to shut down the real, enthusiastic learning that goes on here everyday.

This blog, which I understand is written by an ivy-league college professor, gives further insight into such matters (not necessarily written from a Christian standpoint).

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Creation Science: Small beginnings

It was a laboratory, that sidewalk that stretched in front of the vacant lot by our house. I didn't dress in a white lab coat, and I certainly didn't carry a clipboard, but I was a scientist, nonetheless.  

Day after day of my childhood was spent staring at the tiny creatures that lived under the concrete; sometimes spreading crumbs so I could watch the ants as they struggled to break them down into small bits and drag them into the labyrinth that was their home. Other days I would stomp them like a huge, malevolent giant, and then watch hoards and hoards of their comrades scurry around after them, amazed at how they could communicate without making a sound. 

Thankfully, children don't need to be introduced to nature study. Even in the most urban setting, they are immersed in it--it's all around them. If they can see the sky, watch the birds fly by their windows, or notice the crawling things that abound, they can learn about the Lord God's wonderful creation. All we have to do is to encourage their natural curiosity and channel it. 

One perfect way to boost interest is to read living books aloud. One of our favorites is Nature Readers: Seaside and Wayside, by Julia McNair Wright, which you can download and print out (I have a tutorial here) so that you won't have to be tied to a computer in order to enjoy it. It just happens to contain a number of chapters on ants, written in a very descriptive narrative style that grabs the interest of a child and then draws him in.
Two of my girls exploring in our front yard.
Whenever I notice one of my own youngsters staring at some ants, I get involved. I've been known to tip over a rock or two so they could see the nursery underneath, or put a few specimens into a Ziploc bag and grab a magnifying glass so that we could look more closely at some "bug anatomy." Of course, I've also been known to give them a cracker to crumble, and even to play the a malevolent giant! 

Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest (Proverbs 6:6-8)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Announcing my new book!

McGuffey's Primer Flashcards, Helps & Hints

A Practical Guide to Understanding the 19th Century Mind McGuffey's Primer Flashcards, Helps & Hints: A Practical Guide to Understanding the 19th Century Mind (9781479148455): Sherry K. Hayes, David M. Hayes: BooksAuthor Sherry K. Hayes,
Edited by David M. Hayes 

No program can give us a 100% guarantee that our children will learn to read no matter what they advertise, and none of us can precisely explain or predict how each child will react or what he or she will need in order to learn to read for themselves.

I have utilized just about every type of methodology ever dreamed of, and all with varying degrees of success. Children are each individual persons and for that reason quite unique.

Since I now only have three out of my 15 children remaining that I will need to teach to read (one of these is almost already reading independently), I have been turning my attention to ways I can pass along what I have learned over these 25 years to my adult children so that they will have an easier time of it when they go to teach their own children. That is why I have been led to create reading guides to aid them in their homeschooling journey, and, in turn, I felt it would be nice to offer some of these materials to my dear readers.

After many weeks of careful consideration and work, I have finally created a collection of McGuffey flashcards, advice, and other helps to assist in the instruction of beginning reading and writing.

This has truly been a labor of love, as I set out to create an heirloom for my family by using original artwork, drawn mostly by myself, but also with several contributions from my dear son, Ryan (16). I had so much enjoyment with this project, sitting with clipboard and pen, consulting with my children as I sketched-I haven't made the time for such an artistic endeavor for many years!

I tried to put myself in the place of someone who was starting completely from scratch, and this was my focus. I also tried to make things as user-friendly and simple to reproduce as possible, especially since I know that many mothers have a number of small children to care for as well as home-school.

I also determined to keep in mind those things I have gleaned from many of the courageous predecessors who have mentored and influenced me, and so you will find that, while I have included the technical, I have also encouraged the joy of the process, considering the child not only as a student, but also a person, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Here is a list of the things that I have included in this collection:

An introduction to McGuffey's works and how to use them.
A portion from "The Manual of Methods" which gives an overview of different teaching styles, etc. (intended for use with the McGuffey's).

Booklet templates (instead of workbooks) to teach basic writing and comprehension skills.

Tips pages using little snippets of information which can be read easily and quickly for busy mothers.
Bookmarks with suggestions for games that can be played with the different lessons.

Phonics flashcards (with original artwork) of the basic 26 letter sounds, plus the long vowel sounds and "ch", "sh", and "th."

A short vowels and syllable practice charts (respectively).
Penmanship practice sheets.

12 copy work sheets to get started on creating your own.
Flashcards for every lesson (except for the review lessons) in the primer! 

McGuffey's Primer Flashcards, Helps & Hints
Publication Date: Aug 17 2012
ISBN/EAN13: 1479148458 / 9781479148455
Page Count: 104
Binding Type: US Trade Paper
Trim Size: 8.5" x 11"
Language: English
Color: Black and White
Related Categories: Education / Teaching Methods & Materials / Reading

Monday, September 10, 2012

Relaxed motherhood

The other day I looked down from my reading and noticed my toddler taking a pair of kiddie scissors and cutting her hair. She didn't even seem to mind that I was watching her as she was doing it. 

If this had happened years ago, I probably would have been mortified. I would have had to scold and correct, and then I would have worried about how I would fix the mess she created, what others would think, and on and on...
My precious Anna at the age of 20.

But these days are different. I've been to a lot of places with my children and have dealt with more childishness than I sometimes like to recall. It was 20 years ago when my three-year-old Gracie decided to take my sewing scissors and play "beauty shop" with her two-year-old sister. Anna had such gorgeous blonde hair, and I hadn't touched her wispy baby curls. Gracie had decided to crop her hair off in the back, gouge a few clumps on top, and leave the sides alone. I almost cried when I saw the results! 

But we lived through it, and Anna recovered to become a lovely young woman. 

It was the perspective of 29 years of mothering that helped me when I gathered up my little Patience and took her into the bathroom. As I was taking some hair scissors and evening things up, I questioned her as to her motives for trying to become her own barber.
Patience before her haircut.

"It was because I didn't want my hair in my face," she said, and I couldn't help but acknowledge that it made sense; her golden locks had grown evenly long all over, and I had been putting it out of her face with barrettes, but sometimes these fell out, and she was constantly pulling her hair back from her eyes. Of course I dutifully chided her, saying that cutting one's hair was not a smart thing to do, since she was bound to do a bad job of it. She seemed to understand, said she was sorry, and life went on. 

If you are a mother with young children, there is a lesson here for you. Some things you should really, really pay attention to, and other things you should not stress over. All children will try you; they will put objects up their noses and flush toys down the toilet. They will try to defy the laws of physics and cause your heart to race straight into your throat. 

If you are wise, you will look past the crisis, and into their souls. You will hold them in your heart with grace, and look for the best in them. Although some days it may seem as though you are chasing down one disaster after another, you must never allow yourself to lose perspective. 

If you are dealing with a child who is constantly causing problems, do this; wait until he is asleep at night and go to his bed and stare in wonder at his beauty. Remember his tiny newborn sounds, how soft his skin was, and how you would have moved heaven-and-earth just to be near him. Then bend down on your knees and pray for him. Pray for his safety, for his education, but mostly for his soul. Ask God for the grace to forgive him, as well as the grace to forgive yourself for the times when you over reacted in all of the wrong ways. 

And as often as you can, ask God, the Parent of parents, for insight, wisdom, renewed love and admiration, just as God rejoices and delights over all of His children:
The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)