Sunday 27 July 2014

Nature Notebook: July

The highlight of this month's nature study was a trip down the south coast of New South Wales with my three youngest children so Nougat could complete his driving hours. I have a friend who lives down that way whom I hadn't seen for over 15 years and she invited us to stay overnight. We had a beach walk and a tour of the town the next day with my friend and then drove home again, stopping off at some picturesque little towns along the way.


 Moruya Beach

A biting wind and icy cold water didn't stop them having a bit of a splash

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.

From Sea Fever by John Masefield 

 Moozle gathered some shells and drew some in her nature notebook when we were home:

I gathered shells upon the sand,
Each shell a little perfect thing,
So frail, yet potent to withstand
The mountain-waves' wild buffeting.

Through storms no ship could dare to brave
The little shells float lightly, save
All that they might have lost of fine
Shape and soft colour crystalline.

Yet I amid the world's wild surge
Doubt if my soul can face the strife,
The waves of circumstance that urge
That slight ship on the rocks of life.

O soul, be brave, for He who saves
The frail shell in the giant waves,
Will bring thy puny bark to land
Safe in the hollow of His hand.

Seashells by Edith Nesbit (1858-1924)

We used some Australian based books do do some more research on shells. The Wonderland of Nature by Nuri Mass has a good section and is very good for younger children. I have an old hardback copy I picked up for a song. You can still find a copy occasionally secondhand but it has been reprinted by Homeschooling Downunder.

I found the book below at one of my regular outings to the Lifeline book sales and it had lots of extra information.

Cloud formations are probably one of the easiest subjects for nature study. Every Friday in the late afternoon after swimming lessons, we go outside to go home and observe the sky. It's always interesting and sometimes spectacular.  We've used some suggestions from the Handbook of Nature Study Blog for this. If you click on Cloud Types it will take you to an excellent squidoo lens which has a comprehensive look at different cloud types plus other information.

This was our 'snow capped mountain range' cloud:

We saw some interesting cloud formations while on our trip down the coast:

Cloud Study by John Constable, 1822

Zana, our 21 year old in her final year of university, spent last week in country NSW as part of Beyond the Line which she thoroughly enjoyed. One of the local teachers organised some time on their family farm and she leant how to shear a sheep - and a very obstinate one it was so she tells us.

Friday 25 July 2014

Charlotte Mason: How to Use Books

In Chapter 16 of School Education, Charlotte Mason gives us some hints about using good books in educating our children, while stressing that we should be careful not to let the devices we use
'come between the children and that which is the soul of the book, the living thought it contains.'

Putting aside a straight forward narration (the child or the teacher reads a given passage and then the child tells back what he has read or heard read) what other ways may be used to get a child to labour in thought over the ideas presented to him via a living book?

How do we get our children to
'generalise, classify, infer, judge, visualise, discriminate, labour in one way or another, with that capable mind of his, until the substance of his book is assimilated or rejected, according as he shall determine'?

I've had to learn much of this myself as I went along, filling in the gaping chasms left by my own interrupted schooling; picking up ideas along the way and putting them into practice with my own children; learning with them; challenging myself to read more widely.

Charlotte Mason mentions a variety of ways we can use books:

Give the points of a description;
Give the sequence of a series of incidents; 
Give the links in a chain of argument; 
Enumerate the statements in a given paragraph or chapter; 
Analyse a chapter, divide it into paragraphs under proper headings, tabulate and classify series; 
Trace cause to consequence and consequence to cause; 
Discern character and perceive how character and circumstance interact; 
Get lessons of life and conduct; 
Let the pupil write for himself half a dozen questions which cover the passage studied.

'...until they have begun to use books for themselves in such ways, they can hardly be said to have begun their education.'

I'm often asked if I have a teaching background mainly because I've home schooled all the way through high school. I don't but I've found a few 'teacher's helps' along the way that have given me ideas and helped me to get my children to labour with their minds without destroying the enjoyment of learning.
Here are some of them:

A Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason

This was the first book in the series that I read and I can't praise it enough. If you're starting out with older children this book is the one to read. Go to The Curriculum, Chapter 10 and there you'll find a variety of examples of writing by the students of CM's time. I was really inspired after reading this and gleaned some ideas which went really well with my 17 year old at the time.


I've used Rod and Staff Grammar to teach outlining. Following the Plan (English 5) covers it thoroughly. After they are comfortable with the process I get them to outline the chapters from a book or take notes during a sermon on a Sunday and then write an outline for it at the beginning of the week.
Knowing the basics of outlining will help a student develop the ability to use the first five ways that CM suggests above. 

 I think my eldest was about 13 years of age when she did this after taking notes from a sermon:


A simple less formal outline from 10 yr old girl:

Some books lend themselves well to using this tool, for example, How Should we Then Live by Francis Schaeffer (around the age of 15 years and up) and A Young Woman After God's Own Heart (good for girls about 13 years of age and older). After a chapter is read they write an outline or summary.

Plutarch Guides by Anne White

I couldn't come up with these questions for the life of me and they've been the catalyst for some interesting conversations and opportunities to write as Anne often suggests topics for narrations.


Some Shakespeare guides are often too explicit in their sidebar comments so I generally don't give them to my children to use but they have some good ideas for writing and I can always find them cheaply second hand. We're currently reading through The Winter's Tale and the other week my 14 year old used a suggestion from the Oxford School Shakespeare:

'Archidamus is most appreciative of the reception and entertainment offered to Polixenes in Sicilia, and he reports the details back to Bohemia. Write his report, either in a letter to his family and friends; or in an article for the national newspaper.'

Other guides I've seen that offer writing ideas are the Cambridge School Shakespeare and the Heinemann Shakespeare.

The Brightest Heaven of Invention by Peter J. Leithart explores six of Shakespeare's plays and suggests writing topics for each one. This was one of my daughters' favourite books. An excerpt of the book is here.

Another book by the same author and done in a similar manner is Miniatures and Morals: The Christian Novels of Jane Austen. Thoughtful questions which present opportunities for writing topics are included and an excerpt of the first chapter, Real Men Read Austen, is here. I found this when my second daughter was about 15 years old & she enjoyed it thoroughly. The boys have surreptitiously watched the BBC Pride and Prejudice and secretly enjoyed it and I said they had to read Northanger Abbey because it was an AO Year 9 free read. They did but that's about the extent of their Jane Austen immersion.


Writing a poetic narration using the rhyme scheme of a poem they know
Choosing a ballad poem and changing it to story form
Writing about a subject using alliteration
Writing acrostic poems


When I first started homeschooling my three older children (now 25, 23 & 21 years of age) I hadn't read any of Charlotte Mason's books but used what I'd gleaned from Susan Schaeffer Macaulay's book For The Children's Sake, and what I could source for a reasonable price here in Australia. I found the two books below and they worked well for us. The Creative Writing course can be adapted to make it CM friendly and the second book works well as is and for those with large families it's well priced, uncomplicated & non-consumable. I have the 1992 & 1996 editions respectively although they've been revised since.

Wordsmith - A Creative Writing Course for Young People by Janie B. Cheaney

The author states that creative writing is basically 'expressing oneself' and the book is designed to sharpen language skills and then apply them. It comes with a Teacher's Guide, is written to the student and is designed for about Grade 7 and up. 90 pages.

There are three parts to the course:

Part 1 - concentrates on word usage with a brief overview of grammar, choosing words, pronouns and antecedents. I like how the author connects good grammar with writing and shows its effects.

Part 2 - active and passive voice, sentence structure.

Part 3 - figures of speech, story structure, writing assignments, revision, proofreading.

The teacher's guide has a suggested plan of study which covers 36 weeks and a short section called 'Writing all over the Curriculum' which I like and have gleaned ideas from. I used this for two of the girls who loved writing and they breezed through it. They published a newsletter with another home schooled friend for many years and wrote stories, poems and a variety of other newsworthy material, sending it out to family members scattered across the country and to others who asked for a copy, about 4 or 5 times a year. Although the writing assignments in the book could be substituted with others of your own making to make it more usable in a CM context, it is probably better only to use it with a child who loves writing.

Inspired after listening to Mozart's Sleighride:

Wordsmith Craftsman

This was written as a self-directed programme for Grade 10 and up. The book has suggested schedules for students starting in Year 9, 10, 11 or 12 and also has three parts.

Part 1 - writing every day: note taking, outlining, letters, summaries

Part 2 - paragraphs, writing techniques

Part 3 - the essay: structure, brainstorming, the topic, thesis statement. I think it walks through the essay writing process in a clearer way than some other books I've seen.

A short appendix contains a note taking form, a summary writing form, summaries of the steps used in the four types of essay writing and a list of common fallacies of argument with brief descriptions and examples.
93 pages.

Inspired by Ten Fingers for God: The Life and Work of Dr Paul Brand by Dorothy Clarke Wilson:

Thursday 24 July 2014

Balto, the Brave Dog; Gratitude and a Humble Moment

Our church has been offering English classes to new Australians for about 14 years and a few months ago I was asked if I could help out. I didn't really want another regular commitment but agreed to teach a class once a fortnight as they were short of teachers.
I've had Iranians, Chinese and South Koreans in my class who are past the very beginner stage and can speak a little English. My most regular student is Mr S from Iran. He and his wife both come to English classes but her English is better so she's in the next class up.  Mr S has a university degree and is well qualified but he works as a builder's labourer because of his lack English skills. He starts work at 7 am and gets home at 7pm, has a quick shower and then he and his wife arrive faithfully at English classes every week at 7.30 pm usually having skipped dinner.
I was rostered on to teach this week but it was the last thing I wanted to do. I'd had a full day, it was cold & miserable outside, the fire was on and everyone else at home was cozy and I wasn't well prepared for the lesson. I rushed off, running late as usual, muttering to myself that I shouldn't have taken this on.
I'd been using some Charlotte Mason methods in my teaching - mainly oral narration and picture study and this night I took along a story my children enjoyed when they were younger, Balto, a Step into Reading book (after finding it at the last minute before I had to leave) and had Mr S read it aloud to me while I helped with pronunciation and vocabulary. 

Balto is a true story set in Alaska in 1925 during one of their worst snow storms. An outbreak of diphtheria occurred in Nome and the medicine had to be brought from Anchorage 800 miles away. It was sent via train but 100 miles into the journey the train became stuck by snow and in desperation a call went out for a dog-sled relay to transport the medicine. Balto and his master, Gunnar, were part of the relay but when they had completed their part of the journey there was no one to relieve them and they had to continue to the end. They'd staggered into Nome exhausted after having travelled 53 miles for 20 hours straight, and delivered the life-saving medicine to the town. Balto was declared a hero and a statue of him was erected in Central Park, New York, a year later.

When Mr. S got to the end he was pleased he'd been able to read the whole book through and said, 
'I understand.'
A pause while he thought.
'You are a hero,' he said. 'You come out in the cold to teach English. You could stay at home and be warm. I am very grateful.'

I felt a little stunned and humbled.

Wednesday 16 July 2014

Ideas for Hymn Study - A Mighty Fortress is Our God by Martin Luther

A Mighty Fortress

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

'Martin Luther described Jesus as "Lord Sabaoth." That's a Hebrew word that means "armies ready for war." The idea behind this name of Jesus is that He is Captain of the Lord's army and He us ready to go to battle for us and defend us.'
Seasons of Praise by Rebecca Hayford Bauer

See here for some historical background to this hymn

Thunderstorm in the Church by Louise A. Vernon is a fictionalised account of the life of Martin Luther told through the eyes of his son, Hans. The author travelled throughout England and Germany to find out her information firsthand before writing the book and she tells an engaging story for children around 6 to 12 years of age. It's a good family read aloud if you have younger children and is an excellent introduction to the life of Martin Luther and the times in which he lived.

Queen of the Reformation by Charles Ludwig is centred around Martin Luther's wife, Katie and the events that led to their marriage and their life together. Born in 1499, Katherine von Bora lost her mother when she was a child and was rejected by her stepmother. At the age of 16 years she made her vows and entered the convent at Nimbshen in Germany. Eight years later she fled the convent with a group of fellow nuns and at the age of 26 years she married Luther who was 16 years her senior.

The book is a well-researched fictionalised story of Katie and her life with Martin Luther. There is much historical information intertwined with an interesting and lively account of their relationship and the tumultuous times in which they lived and of the inspiration behind Luther's famous hymn which was later declared to be "The Marseillaise of the Reformation." 
The Peasant Revolt, the plague and the threat of Suleiman the Magnificent come to life within its pages and Luther is portrayed realistically as a great man who struggled with his own share of human foibles and frailty. Towards the end of his life Luther was living under immense strain and suffered greatly from kidney stones, depression and other afflictions and Katie was heartsick over the changes she saw in him.

That spirit of generosity was now leaving him. His quill, always sharp, became a surgeon's scalpel. In 1545 he denounced the Roman church in the darkest words that seeped into his mind.
He also carved a few Protestants, especially those who disagreed with him about the presence of Christ in the communion bread and wine.
These statements, which have caused Luther's enemies to gloat, were viewed by Katie with more understanding eyes. She knew her husband better than anyone else, and she knew his heart was right even though his speech and writing smoked with brimstone.

I don't think that there are many books that portray Luther's other half (for children at least) and I was pleased to find this one. The author has also included a few maps (something I always appreciate in books with historical settings) and short extracts of letters and documents. There are one or two very brief comments on some of the atrocities that occurred during the Peasant Revolt, but otherwise the book is suited to around the ages of 12 to 15 years.
224 pages.

This website has some information on Katharina von Bora and other people such as the artist Lucas Cranach who were involved in her life.