Sunday, 28 October 2012

Ambleside Online Year 1 - A Review

I started AO year 1 with my youngest daughter (aka Moozle) at the beginning of this year just before she turned 7 years of age.
This has been the first time in about 19 years of homeschooling that I've actually followed a set curriculum - I basically stuck to the weekly schedule and added some extras.

My planning is very simple. I have the page below as a Word document and each week I go to the weekly AO schedule & copy & paste the books & chapters from there onto this page, add in Composer, Artist Study and whatever other areas I want to cover and print it out. As each item gets done it gets ticked. If we miss something one week I just carry it over to the next one.

When we first began she had just clicked with reading but it was hard work for her. If I'd read a book to her she would peruse it afterwards but put it aside quickly. She would have been happy to sit beside me all day and have me read aloud to her and she would narrate almost word perfect when I asked her about anything I'd read aloud.

One day after we'd been reading Peter Pan she snuggled up in a chair with this book and stayed there most of the afternoon. From that point on her reading ability took off. I think it was a combination of readiness and access to a book clothed in literary language.

Here are some of the things that this year has included:


A Little Princess by Francis Hodgson Burnett (Free Librivox recording narrated very nicely by Karen Savage) 

Focus on the Family Audio dramas - very well done:

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett - 2 hours long
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery - 4 hours long

Winnie the Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner and A Party for Pooh - BBC Radio Collection read by Alan Bennett; abridged but done very well)

Wulf the Saxon by G.A. Henty; read by Jim Weiss (8hrs long)

Shakespeare for Children (A Midsummer Night’s Dream & The Taming of the Shrew) by Jim Weiss (about 1 hour long)

Farmer Boy & On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder; read by Cherry Jones

Free Reading

Childhood of Famous Americans: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Thomas A. Edison, Betsy Ross, Daniel Boone. 

Milly-Molly-Mandy series of books by Joyce Lankester  Brisely

The Box Car Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

The Sarah Whitcher Story by Elizabeth Yates
An inspiring story based on a true incident. A little girl becomes lost in a forest and a search begins. The searchers grow desperate and hopeless but her father's trust in God doesn't waver.

Madeline Takes Command by Ethel Brill
Based on fact, this is a stirring tale of a 14 year French Canadian girl who is left in charge of her younger brothers in her parent's absence. When their settlement is threatened by the Iroquois she takes charge.

Winding Valley Farm: Annie's Story by Anna Pellowski

Based on the experiences of the author's mother, this is the story of Annie, a girl growing up on a Wisconsin farm in the early 1900's. The author has also written three other books about different members of her family.

The Martha Years by Melissa Wiley

Melissa Wiley has written a series of books based on Laura Ingalls Wilder's great grandmother. We have the unabridged hardback volumes but they're hard to find so grab them if you do find them. Here's a list of them in chronological order.
They've been reprinted in abridged paperback editions.

Composer & Artist Study (Read Alouds)

 The Young Brahms by Sybil Deucher

Joseph Haydn, The Merry Little Peasant & Franz Schubert and His Merry Friends by Opal Wheeler & Sybil Deucher

Benjamin West & his Cat Grimalkin by Marguerite Henry

At the age of seven, Benjamin, a Quaker boy in 18th Century America who had never seen an actual picture himself, suddenly developed an urge and a gift for drawing pictures. He learnt from his Indian friends how to dig colours from the earth and his cat, Grimalkin, provided the hairs for Benjamin’s paintbrushes. A lovely, humorous story, well-illustrated with line drawings.

Harmony Fine Arts Grade 1 – I started this about 18 months ago because Moozle loves drawing & any sort of art & the suggestions and schedule here helped me to do this on a regular basis.

A picture study narration - the painting was observed closely for about five minutes and then a drawing was done from memory.

Some drawing practice from Drawing with Children by Mona Brookes. Moozle loves this book but I haven't started going through it properly yet, something I plan to do soon.


A First Book of Knitting by Gosse & Allerton

I bought this book because it use rhymes to teach the different stitches & also I thought the patterns might be useful for me as they are fairly basic! There are instructions in the book on how to makes wooden knitting needles which one of the boys made for his little sister. So far we've done casting on & plain stitch. I've also taught her to do basic chain stitch in crotchet.

Beaded gecko key rings - made with wire (instead of ribbon as pattern says) & pony beads.  Pattern here.

Marguerite Makes a Book by Kathryn Hewitt

 Marguerite is the daughter of a famous manuscript illuminator who has been commissioned to make a book for a great lady. Set in medieval Paris the book shows the craftsmanship that went into the making of these beautiful works and how Marguerite becomes involved in her father's work.
The lovely illustrations inspired Moozle to try her hand at 'illumination.'

Narrating Beautiful Stories From Shakespeare with paper dolls

Favourite AO books this year:
Peter Pan, Beautiful Stories From Shakespeare, Burgess Bird Book & Viking Tales.

A family game we have all enjoyed is Articulate. It's a great game for a wide range of ages - played in teams, you get a card, and the idea is to describe as many words as possible on the card to your team mates in just 30 seconds without saying "sounds like" or rhymes with" and it can be hilarious.

The other day when a group of us played, Moozle got the word Valhalla on her card so her clue was, "This was heaven for the Vikings." We'd been reading Viking Tales in previous weeks so she knew what the word meant. The game is meant to be played with a 30 second timer but we don't always use it and sometimes we just use the cards & play when we are on a long drive.



Anne of Green Gables
The Sound of Music
Mary Poppins
Tin Tin & The Secret of the Unicorn - We watched this as a family when we were on holiday & it was fun.


Rosetta Stone, which we've had for years and Skoldo Elementary by Lucy Montgomery. We have the book & CD but we've only used the CD at this stage which has 15 songs included.

Science & Nature Study

Chick & Chickens by Gail Gibbons.
One day I might write about our chicken saga but for now I'll tell you we have four of them - Princess, Tinkerbell, Black Beauty & Cinderella. The last two replaced Amy & Snow White who died/disappeared much to Moozle's distress as they are her charges. Anyhow, this book helped me to answer her questions as I've had no prior experience with chooks at all. Well illustrated with a good amount of information.

Living with Wildlife by Eva Murray is a book I picked up at a library sale. It's a 'comprehensive guide to encounters with our native animals.' It's been most helpful at times as we do have regular encounters with the natives. The author was forced to take more of an interest in wildlife when she had problems with possums, snakes, lizards, injured birds and what not in and around her own home so her book is practical and born of her own experience.

Exploring Creation with Astronomy
I read sections of this aloud, mainly the parts about the earth, sun & moon.

We've been using the Outdoor Hour Challenge for nature study and regular nature walks in conjunction with Australian field guides and bird books. Even though we don't see the birds in the Burgess Bird Book here it is still one of Moozle's favourite books.


We completed A Beka Year 1 earlier this year and went on to year 2 but it's not going very well. A Beka does tend to go quickly so I also did some Rod & Staff Year 2. This is basically what we've done with all 7 of our children in the first couple of years mainly because it was all that was available when we first started homeschooling & it worked well for all of them up until now.
I think I'll use Everyday Number Stories for a while. (update- my free kindle version was woeful with missing bits everywhere so I've downloaded the the PDF. For Aussie users you will need to go to the archive section and click on the third row down to do this.)

Update 2: we've just got back into lessons after a couple of weeks holiday week and I've been trying out some ideas on teaching Maths from Volume 1 of Charlotte Mason, a book I've been slowly reading over the last couple of months. I'm also using the 100 charts and addition charts from Donna Young.

In conclusion, Ambelside Online Year 1 seems like it was custom built for my daughter. Even the couple of books that she said she found difficult or wordy (Parables of Nature & Just So Stories) were worthwhile and did engage her at times. I think if you had a child that struggled to pay attention some of the books might be better left until later but I think it's good to give them a try as sometimes a child can surprise you and what we think won't interest them just might. I wouldn't have chosen Peter Pan and in fact a couple of times my daughter said she didn't understand what I'd read but by the time I was half way through it she was hooked (pardon the pun).
Also, the AO curriculum is a bit like, 'How do you eat an elephant?' - 'One bite at a time,' and once I made a start it fell into place fairly quickly.

If you would like to add some Australian living books to the Ambleside curriculum you will find some great suggestions here and here. See also my page: 'Towards an Australian Charlotte Mason Curriculum.' 

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Craft Projects

Jeanne at A Peaceful Day posted on her current knitting project - which looks very complicated to me but she inspired me to get out my knitting needles. I think my knitting failures in the past were because I was too ambitious. A scarf may be more manageable especially as my downfall seems to occur in the decreasing for sleeves type of instructions.

My current/long term projects are two quilts using the English paper piecing method. What I like about this method of patchwork is its portability. We just had a week's holiday away and I was able to get quite a bit of sewing done in the car trip there and back. The down side is any recipients of my handiwork end up waiting years for the end product.

The first quilt in process is squares of different sizes, sewn into blocks with plain sashing in between each block. I use a square paper template and tack the square of material in large stitches around the paper, then match up the colour scheme I want and then each square is joined to the next with an over hand stitch. When the whole block is complete I remove the paper template.

 This is the Grandmother's Garden pattern. I bought the paper templates - easier than cutting out heaps of same size hexagons -  but I re-use them. When I complete one (it uses 7 hexagons) I take out the centre piece and can use it again right away. Eventually all the paper will be removed. The material I'm using includes leftover material from dresses I've made the three girls over the years.

I made this little quilt out of scraps for my youngest girl for her dolls and she had fun tacking the material onto paper squares to help me out.

I've always tried to have some sort of creative work going even if I only get to it for short bursts of time - cross stitch, crotchet and patchwork mainly. So much of what I do doesn't leave any visible manifestation. Dinner gets eaten, clothes get dirty again, the house needs continual cleaning. I like to look around and see some evidence that I do have creative juices flowing in my veins.

Friday, 12 October 2012

October Nature Notebook

The Outdoor Hour Blog Challenge has been focused on trees this month.
Here are two trees we've observed around here:

This one is a large gum tree with a bees' nest in it - you can see three of them up towards the top of the hole.

A termite nest in a tree you can from one of our windows. They are very common around here and other areas where sandstone rock is predominant.


We've recently returned from a week away on the coast about 3 hours north of us where we had a look at the largest tree in New South Wales. It's a flooded gum and is known as the Grandis. It's cordoned off so we didn't get to try & join arms around its base. We weren't able get a great picture either, unfortunately.

This is a close up of one of the trees nearby - a type of palm, we thought.

Our biggest nature adventure while we were away was exploring the lake and beach area where we were staying. It was a great opportunity to read  Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome to our 7 year old.

Sea Fever

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

 By John Masefield

White-headed Pigeons (Columba leucomela)

I'd been trying all week to get a photo of the two kingfishers in a dead gum tree and just managed to snap this one. I think it is either a Sacred Kingfisher or a Collared Kingfisher.

        New Holland Honeyeater ( Phylidonyris novaehollaniae)

When we left for our week away we had one rose on our one and only rose bush which is in a pot. When we returned it was flush with flowers. I can't remember what the name of it is but it has the most beautiful fragrance and I've managed to keep it alive over about 10 years of neglect.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Australian Impressionists - Tom Roberts

Tom Roberts (1856-1931), one of Australia's most important painters, was born in England but emigrated to Australia when he was thirteen years old.

After a study tour abroad he adopted the idea of "plein-air" (open-air) Impressionistic painting and applied its theories of light and colour to the depiction of the Australian landscape.

Along with three other artists, Arthur Streeton, Frederick McCubbin and Charles Conder, he established what was later to become known as the Heidelberg School or Australian Impressionism. The artists set up camp at Box Hill, Mentone, and later Heidelberg in Victoria in order to practice the new Impressionistic techniques out-of-doors.

We've covered the following paintings for our artist study. All images are taken from The Athenaeum. The paintings became a little blurred when I enlarged them here, unfortunately, but I gave up trying to reduce them as I kept messing up the titles and couldn't get them matched up to the actual paintings. Technology is not my strong point.
Information on Tom Roberts: Handbook of Art by Graham Hopwood and Great Australian Paintings - a Landsdowne publication.

 Bailed Up, 1895

Break Away! 1891


 'A' Battery Field Artillery, NSW.  1896

 Wood Splitters, 1886

 Holiday Sketch at Coogee,  1888

In a Corner of the Macintyre, 1895

Monday, 1 October 2012

Reading for Mother Culture

I've been making an effort to stretch myself in my own reading for a while now and I was very encouraged lately to read Lindafay's  article on Mother Culture and decided to write about some books and authors I've been coming into contact with in the past year in particular.

Charlotte Mason (1842-1923)

Although I would have said that I was using a Charlotte Mason approach to home education all along, there were aspects of Charlotte Mason's educational philosophy that I didn't agree with at first, one of them being the slow reading over a period of time of many different books.

I'd gleaned most of my Charlotte Mason ideas second hand over the years but earlier this year I began to read her Original Home Schooling Series, beginning with Volume 6,  A Philosphy of Education, and then Volume 1, Home Education.
Reading her own words has helped me understand the how and why of her methods and has given me the confidence to adjust my thinking and practice. I've seen the benefits in both my children and myself.

 One of the beauties of a CM education is that it is not elitist. I love this quote from volume 6:

'Let me add that that the appeal of these principles and this method is not to the clever child only but to the average and even to the 'backward' child........Just as we all partake of that banquet which is 'Shakespeare' according to our needs and desires, so do the children behave at the ample board set before them; there is enough to satisfy the keenest intelligence while the dullest child is sustained through his own willing effort.'

A CM education is not sissy and only for girls who like tea parties and fairies. At one time I was veering away from CM - before I started reading her own words - because I have 4 boys and the idea of a gentle art of learning just didn't mesh; however I've found that her idea of education was actually rigorous and rather mind boggling.

These words from volume 6 struck me especially when I think of the number of mothers I've heard say that they find it hard to motivate and direct their teenage sons' education and think that maybe school would be the better option:

'Now a fact not generally recognised is that offences of the kind which most distress parents and teachers are bred in the mind and in an empty mind at that..........the abundant leisure afforded by home teaching offers that empty chamber swept and garnished which invites sins that can be committed in thought and in solitude. Our schools err, too, in not giving anything like enough work of the kind that from its absorbing interest compels reflection and tends to secure a mind continually and wholesomely occupied.'

I've always found that boys, especially as they get into their teenage growing stages, really need regular physical activity (ie.enough to make them feel tired!) and we've always made provision for that in different ways but the words above motivate me to make sure their minds are also getting a good work out.

This is what she has to say about Kindergarten and young children - how different to the voices we hear today declaring the benefits of early social interaction in the form of pre-schools and kindergartens:

'The clash and sparkle of our equals now and then stirs us up to health; but for everyday life, the mixed society of elders, juniors and equals which we get in a family, gives at the same time the most repose and the most room for individual development. We have all wondered at the good sense, reasonableness, fun and resourcefulness shown by a child in his own home as compared with the same child in school life.'

Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957)

Sayers was one of the first women to be awarded a degree from Oxford University, Christian apologist, and one of the greatest mystery writers of the 20th Century. Lord Peter Wimsey is the detective hero in her books and I have to say he annoyed me at first but after reading Strong Poison & Gaudy Night, I had a greater empathy for the character, and have grown to like him. In the novel, Strong Poison, Lord Peter defends Harriet Vane after she is accused of murder. He loves her but she is emotionally detached as he pursues her through both books.
In Gaudy Night Harriet reluctantly returns to Oxford for a reunion (the Gaudy) and becomes embroiled in finding out the perpetrator of a rash of scurrilous pranks upon the the university, including poison-pen letters addressed to herself. 
Harriet eventually asks Lord Peter for his assistance and in the process comes to know and understand him, eventually agreeing to marry him. I love how Sayers deals with their complicated love story and the unfolding of the various characters in the novel. There was no actual murder but the intensity and psychological nature of the story was enough to keep me on my toes.
Sayers novels are an education in themselves as she includes so much detail and inside knowledge about the lives and work of her characters.

Daphne duMaurier (1907-89)

DuMaurier was educated at home in London and then Paris. Rebecca was the first of her books that I read. This is an unusual book - written in the first person but nowhere in the story are we told the narrator's name. By writing exclusively in the first person, we are only given one perspective on the events occurring during the story. This means that while it engages the reader in the story, it also denies closure to a certain extent. Because the narrator herself does not know the truth of events, neither do we as the readers. So you get an engaging book that has a slightly frustrating ending. Rebecca is an incredibly well-written and clever book. It's particularly interesting for the fact that when you think about the story line and content, you are left wondering why exactly it was so engaging. That in itself is testament to how good a writer she was.

'I am glad it cannot happen twice, the fever of first love. For it is a fever, and a burden, too, whatever the poets may say. They are not brave, the days when we are twenty-one. They are full of little cowardices, little fears without foundation, and one is so easily bruised, so swiftly wounded, one falls to the first barbed word. Today, wrapped in the complacent armour of approaching middle age, the infinitesimal pricks of day by day brush one lightly and are soon forgotten, but then - how a careless word would linger, becoming a fiery stigma, and how a look, a glance over the shoulder, branded themselves as things eternal.'

Ravi Zacharias (1946 - Chennai, India)

Walking from East to West  - I initially read this book as an introduction to the author, who usually writes on philosophical themes, with a view to eventually tackling his more challenging apologetic  works - I haven't got to those yet.....
He was asked to tell his life story in simple terms 'wearing his heart on his sleeves' which I think he has done in a very engaging manner.
I especially enjoyed reading about his intellectual awakening when he became a Christian in his teens after years of being unmotivated and dull-minded. He credits authors such as G.K Chesterton with furnishing him with the ability to think radially 'like the spokes of a wheel.'

`Apologetics is not just giving answers to questions – it is questioning people's answers, and even questioning their questions…..If you are predictable in your approach – if your listeners know where you are going – they will turn you off…..The task is to find the means to stretch their thinking in unpredictable ways, to take them in directions they are not expecting to go……you've got to take them in a radius of directions, like the spokes of a wheel. That is an Easterner's natural way of thinking, while the typical Westerner's way is more linear.'

 G.K. Chesterton (1894-1936)

This was my first introduction to Chesterton and writing about the book a day before his death he stated:

'It was not intended to describe the real world as it was, or as I thought it was, even when my thoughts were considerably less settled than they are now. It was intended to describe the world of wild doubt and despair which the pessimists were generally describing at that date; with just a gleam of hope in some double meaning of the doubt, which even the pessimists felt in some fitful fashion.'

I had no idea where this book was going and even after finishing it, I'm still not sure! It was the sort of book that you read and end up admitting that you didn't necessarily understand it but it was definitely a good read and worth the time.

John Buchan (1875-1940)

Buchan is one of my favourite authors. The Richard Hannay series are his most well known books: The 39 Steps, Mr. Standfast, Greenmantle, The Three Hostages & The Island of Sheep are suspenseful and centred around espionage.
Witch Wood is different from his other fiction books. This book is set in Scotland in the mid 1600's and portrays an idealistic young minister struggling to live and work in a community exemplified by intolerant and harsh religious extremism.

'He told two pillars of the Kirk and a congregation of the devout that they had all failed utterly to interpret God's Word; that they were Pharisees faithful to an ill-understood letter and heedless of the spirit; that they were fools bemused with Jewish rites which they did not comprehend and Jewish names which they could not properly pronounce. "It's nothing but a bairn's ploy," he cried, "but it's a cruel ploy, for it has spilt muckle good blood in Scotland. If yet take the bloodthirstiness and the hewing in pieces and the thrawness of the auld Jews and entitle to shape yourselves on their pattern, what for do ye no gang further?.......Ye canna pick and choose in the Word. If one thing is to be zealously copied, wherefore not all?......Ye muckle weans that play at being ancient Israelites!"

This book made me really think about legalism and its outward show that can be assumed to represent true Christianity, and our ability to be deceived. It's not particularly easy to read as he uses a good amount of old Scots in the dialogues but there is a glossary which is very helpful.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Our Mutual Friend is Dickens' last novel and one of his best.  The book revolves around a presumed death and an inheritance that link together multiple people from all types of backgrounds in a sweeping epic that is at once both a murder mystery, a romance and a social commentary. I thought it had a different feel from many of his other books and I'd say it is probably my favourite Dickens' book.

Bleak House and Hard Times are two others that I've read more recently.
The BBC version of Bleak House on dvd is very good and follows the story line well.
The BBC also has an unabridged audio of Hard Times narrated by Martin Jarvis who really does credit to Dickens, and I used this with a couple of my Dickens-reluctant boys when we were driving. They didn't admit as much, but I think they did actually enjoy it.