Friday 30 May 2014

Book Substitutions When Using Ambleside Online - Some Considerations

About eighteen months ago I modified Ambleside OnlineYear 9 for my 16 year old son, Nougat. He'd previously done AO Year 8 as is, with a couple of exceptions, but Year 9 is heavy on American History so I decided to change things to suit our Australian situation.

It's not until you try to make large adjustments to the Ambleside Curriculum that you realise how much work went into its preparation in the first place, so where possible I'd much prefer to follow it as written.
Year 9 covers the time period 1688 to 1815 which fits well with early Australian History so I made the decision to use this year to focus on that.
What I was concerned about most in making changes to AO (besides the amount of time, effort and research involved!) was:

1) Keeping the page counts of the books I used as substitutes as close as possible to the original count.
2) Keeping the chronological order and flow of the time period that Year 9 covers.
3) Choosing appropriate living books as substitutes.

The following are some thoughts and ideas related to the three concerns above that were helpful to me as I made these adjustments:

1) Comparing the amount of pages that Charlotte Mason had her students read at different levels. I wanted to make sure my son wasn't going to be short changed by my choices and that he was suitably challenged. This page on the AO website addresses this.

2) Churchill's History (Age of Revolution) used as scheduled for Year 9 helped me keep a sense of continuity. Written by a British author, this series of books scheduled throughout AO's upper years, is suitable for any country that was or is part of the Commonwealth. This comparative chronology - which I found online at helped me in places where I needed to substitute a book and keep the chronological flow intact.

3) Living books is a term that's widely used and I've seen all sorts of books given this label by people from many different educational slants. Seeing that it was Charlotte Mason who coined the term, it makes sense to know what her opinion was. The quotes are taken from her Home Education Series volumes 2 & 6 unless otherwise noted:

The books shouldn't be twaddle (worthless, tedious, trivial, feeble).
They should be written with literary power.
They should contain 'mind stuff,' both quality and quantity.
They should not be watered down and drained of literary flavour.

The book should enable the child to receive,
'impressions new and vivid from some other mind which is immediately receiving these impressions; not after they have been made stale and dull by a process of filtering through many intermediate minds, and at last find their way into a text-book.' Vol 2: pg. 278

It must be, 
'living, vital, of a nature to invite the living Intellect of the universe.'

They must have the best,
'...children must have books, living books; the best are not too good for them; anything less than the best is not good.'

A.W. Tozer said something similar, although he was not talking only about children:
'Since what we read in a real sense enters the soul, it is vitally important that we read the best and nothing but the best.'

The books should require mental labour. A Parent's Review article said that some books,
'give children the minimum of mental labour and the result is much the same as that left on older persons by the reading of a magazine. We find on the other hand that in working through a considerable book the interest of boys and girls is well sustained to the end.

The boys and girls gain knowledge as they dig for it; labour prepares the way for assimilation, that mental process which converts information into knowledge...'

Sir Walter Scott, an author admired by Charlotte Mason, wrote:
'Children derive impulses of a powerful kind in hearing things which they cannot entirely comprehend, and therefore to write down to children's understanding is a mistake.'

I like to know something of an author's background when I read anything they've written for the first time. Knowing something of the author's history and character may help determine whether the writing has a living quality or not. This quote from a Parent's Review article is an insightful thought on the 'living' author. The whole article is well worth reading:

'... good literature is the natural result of that sane outlook which only comes from a share in the active life of humanity and a living conviction of the significance of daily toil, of words and deeds and human relationships, and, above all, of the beauty of the world, and from a living faith too in God, and the triumph of Good over Evil. As soon as men cease themselves to live, and only write, the effect is evident in a certain lack of virility in their outlook.'

The book should not be just informative:

'For the mind is capable of dealing with only one kind of food; it lives, grows and is nourished upon ideas only; mere information is to it as a meal of sawdust to the body.

'... it seems to be necessary to present ideas with a great deal of padding, as they reach us in a novel or poem or history book written with literary power. A child cannot in mind or body live upon tabloids however scientifically prepared; out of a whole big book he may not get more than half a dozen of those ideas upon which his spirit thrives...'
Vol. 6 chpt. VI

Other considerations:

Two (or more) heads are better than one. Being a part of a community such as the Ambleside Online Forum provides access to a wide range of other home educators with various gifts, abilities and experience in home education and using CM's ideas. Tapping into these resources can save a lot of time and bring to light something we might have neglected to consider. Discussing ideas on the forum may also help someone further down the track who encounters the same need to modify the curriculum to suit the circumstances they are in.

I posted a weekly schedule for the first twelve weeks of the year here using the adjustments I made.

This post shows the Australian History & Geography selections I found for Year 9. He didn't use every single one of them but these were some I thought would work. I also tried to find books that were available free online or were easily obtained from an Australian library.

This post shows the breakdown of books in each subject area.

Nougat completed the year and I used his studies to give him a Year 10 equivalent certificate. He received a credit for every subject he covered fully for the year and to gain the certificate he was required to have 12 credits. For example, completing Saxon Algebra 1 was worth one credit, as was completing the assigned history readings for the year, as was doing his double bass practice, orchestra involvement and having weekly music lessons and so on.
To obtain a percentage for the grade level, I either averaged his test marks (maths) or based it on the quality of his written narrations, the completion of books scheduled for various subjects, pages done in his science notebook etc.
This is basically how I structured it:

With both Nougat and his older brother, Hoggy, we've had to produce something that employers can relate to as they didn't have 'official' documents. We were asked if I they had had any 'formal' education and our answer was, "Yes, but not at an institution."
Large training companies often have a compulsory entrance exam and both boys were able to do these and get good marks but we first had to put together comprehensive resumes/portfolios to show that they had the required academic ability and skills before we even got in the door. In some ways this was harder than navigating the university path for their three older siblings.

Monday 26 May 2014

Nature Study - Outdoor Hour Challenge

I've noticed many people have trouble knowing how to get started using The Handbook of Nature Study. I found Barb's Getting Started section on her blog helpful and even though we live in the Southern Hemisphere many of the challenges she has put together on the blog can be used in our location, just at different times of the year.
We did the cat challenge in the mammal section this month which was fun because our kids love this great slug of a creature regardless of the fact that he's not very affectionate most of the time. It's amazing how much there is to learn about such a common animal and how much you take for granted just because it is so familiar.
He's three years old, sleeps most of the day and likes to find a cosy place where he can fall into a coma for a few hours between feeds. He squeezed into this box my Mother's Day present came in...

 He's made himself comfortable in a suitcase my husband had half unpacked after a trip overseas and one morning I found him curled up in an empty fruit bowl. He wouldn't condescend to sit on anyone's lap but does give the first one or two people he sees in the morning an affectionate nuzzle.
A few months ago he disappeared for a day or two and our neighbour found him curled up under bushes and brought him home. We noticed he had difficulty moving his back legs and was very docile, which is out of character for him, and we guessed he had a paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus). So off to the vet he went. One of the boys now checks him regularly for ticks when he's in his sleepy phase. If you can get them before they burrow into the skin they can be removed fairly easily. Once they burrow under the skin and symptoms start they need to be treated with tick anti-serum.

Poem and journal page by Moozle aged 9 years:

A close up of his whiskers

This month we tried to find an easier track to the bike trail we went on last month. We didn't find it but we had a good walk along a different trail that eventually led us back to where we first began our walk.
These days we don't take our notebooks as we're doing a decent walk and no one wants to carry anything. I take my mobile phone for photos and on this walk we tried out the compass app which I only just discovered I had on my phone.
We sometimes get confused where we are because the gum trees blot out a large part of the sky at times so we used the compass to help us to go in the general direction of the bike trail. We could also tell we were going in the right direction from certain landmarks but the bush was too rugged in places for us to go off the beaten track. Maybe next time...

Our local blue gum forest

Tree Ferns


Pieces from the Fungi Above

Notebook page by 14 year old Bengy

I've put some pages from our Nature Notebooks on Pinterest.

Fruit of the Pittosporum (Wild Daphne) opened by the birds

Friday 23 May 2014

Volcano Adventure by Willard Price

When my eldest son was about ten I found a book in the children's section of the library I thought looked promising and brought it home. When my husband saw it he recognised the author and said he'd loved his books when we was a boy.

Willard Price (1887-1983) wrote fourteen books in his Adventure series for children starting with Amazon Adventure in 1949 and finishing with Arctic Adventure in 1980, in addition to authoring a number of travel books for adults.

Hal and Roger, the nineteen and fourteen year old sons of the famous naturalist and animal collector, John Hunt, have been given a year off from their studies to gain practical experience on scientific expeditions.

In Volcano Adventure, written in 1956, the two boys are working under the supervision of a world famous volcanologist and the book begins with them half way up an exploding Japanese volcano in the middle of the night.
Hair-raising and highly improbable adventures occur in rapid succession; geological discussions and facts scattered throughout provide the young reader with a wealth of information.

The author knew his natural history and had the ability to pass this on to children through his books and this was brought home to me when I was reading A Child's Geography: Explore His Earth by Ann Voskamp to 9 year old Moozle.

I was going through the section on earthquakes and volcanoes and she'd stop me and say, "I read about that in Hal and Roger..." and then proceed to tell me about what happened in Volcano Adventure. I was quite surprised at the amount of stuff she had picked up reading this book. Of course, some of the information is outdated now, but he wrote out of his personal experience and interest and that pervades his writing.

Volcano Adventure describes events that actually happened: the Tin Can Islands were evacuated during an eruption, divers discovered the submerged Falcon Island, a bell containing observers did actually descend 1,250 feet into the boiling crater of Mihara in Japan.

The author visited all the scenes described in the book and in order to gain information on volcanoes he climbed Mauna Loa, Asama, Aso, Mihara, Kilauea, Paricutin and Vesuvius and flew over Stromboli, Etna, Popocatepetl, Pelee, Momotombo, Izalco, Uracus and Apo!

We have all fourteen books - accrued since we found the first one 13 years ago - and they have been devoured by one and all. They were a wonderful series for my late reader, giving him enough action and interesting information at the same time as being a not too difficult read.

There are some minor elements of evolution that occur in some of the books but Volcano Adventure is free from any mention of it.

I recommend them for children around the ages of about 9 years to encourage an interest in the natural world and also for older boys who struggle with reading and love an adventure.

Sunday 18 May 2014

Notebooks for Nature Study, Science, Bible, Poetry & Hymn Study

Nature notebook

I've been sorting through my older children's homeschooling work and came across nature notebooks belonging to two of them, so I thought I'd share some of what we've done with various notebooks over the past 15 years. Two of the boys aren't represented here - I still haven't finished my sorting out yet.
The pages below are from my eldest daughter, JJ's nature notebook when she was between 10 and 12 years of age. She's 25 years old now.


These pages are from Zana's Nature notebook when she was 10 years old. She turned 21 years of age earlier this year.

A page from her Bible notebook:

Below is a page from Hoggy's science notebook when he was about 15 after reading about Galileo. He turned 19 years of age a couple of months ago.  On the right is a psalm from his Scripture Notebook. They started keeping these for recording the verses they'd memorised. He was about 7 years old when he did this page.

Poetry & hymn notebooks (above) - they wrote out their poems as we were memorising them and also some of the hymns we learnt. These were done when Hoggy was about 13 years old.
From his Bible notebook when he was 9 years old:

This is an oral narration from Bengy which I typed up for him and he illustrated when he was 7. The three younger boys each did a Bible notebook where they did narrations on each major event in the Old Testament. They all started off with oral narrations and then progressed to writing them themselves. They enjoyed going back over their 'book' of Bible History and I enjoyed looking through them again.

Science notebook pages which were done after reading I Am Joe's Body along with Fearfully and Wonderfully Made by Paul Brand:


And finally, some nature pages from Moozle the youngest. The first one was done last year after she'd pressed some flowers. They were a little mangled in the process but I think they turned out fairly well. The second was one she did this month.

G.K.Chesterton: Jane Austen

"... I fancy that Jane Austen was stronger, sharper and shrewder than Charlotte Bronte; I am quite sure that she was stronger, sharper and shrewder than George Eliot. She could do one thing neither of them could do: she could coolly and sensibly describe a man. ..." 

"No woman later has captured the complete common sense of Jane Austen. She could keep her head, while all the after women went looking for their brains. She could describe a man coolly; which neither George Eliot nor Charlotte Bronte could do. She knew what she knew, like a sound dogmatist: she did not know what she did not know--like a sound agnostic. But she belongs to a vanished world before the great progressive age of which I write..."

Saturday 17 May 2014

How to be Your Own Selfish Pig...and Other Ways You've Been Brainwashed by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

I pre-viewed this book about two and a half years ago before giving it to my 15 and 17 year old sons to read. At the time it was one of Ambleside Online's possible suggestions for their unofficial Year 12 but it has since been scheduled for AO Year 7.
The book has 12 chapters plus a short introduction and is a very accessible introduction to Christian apologetics.

Susan Macaulay has very ably tackled some difficult concepts and made them understandable & like her other books, this one is full of common sense and uses real life examples from situations she encountered while ministering at L'Abri.
There are ample sidebar quotes from people as diverse as Woody Allan, C.S. Lewis, Bertrand Russell and G.K. Chesterton. Many 'problem topics' are covered, not in a graphic way, but in such a fashion as to make the reader think about how our basic beliefs have consequences.
One example she gives is that of the Marquis de Sade, who 200 years ago concluded that ours was a chance universe and so it was logical that there aren't any things we 'ought' to do as human beings.
She discusses aspects of the book Brave New World, the claims of other religions, the value of life, euthanasia, abortion, promiscuity and other topics, making it a good introduction for the student who needs an apologetic 'primer.'
It has the added advantage (unlike many other apologetic books) of being very practical and readable and her conversational approach with real life examples really helps students to understand how their worldview beliefs outwork in daily life.

Why do you think that the Bible's view is truth?
Does this key fit the keyhole of reality?
Mentally, I checked whether the Bible's key fit.
"Ah, yes, it explains the order & complexity of the universe.
It explains why persons are unique, experiencing love, choice, beauty, right and wrong........."
In my mind, I bent over the pile of keys that claimed to be possible answers to life.  
"Ah, here is the key of the Eastern philosophies and religions. Very clever, but it doesn't fit the world the way it is....."

I think it would be wise to give it a quick preview (especially Chapter 6) if you're planning to give it to your child to read on their own.
I assigned my boys a chapter a week and after each reading they came and talked with me about it. We had some great discussions but they were older than the average student in Year 7 and we'd already broached many of these issues in the past.