Tuesday 13 June 2017

Notes from the 2017 Newcastle Mum Heart Conference

This is a post to address some questions that came up during my Charlotte Mason Workshop and also in personal conversations over the weekend.


* Older children can start their work independently so you may spend time with the youngest ones.
The subjects that worked best for us with this were Maths, Copywork, Music Practice & regular jobs e.g. emptying the dishwasher or bringing down the washing.

* Keep lessons short but don't let them waste time.

* If I don't cover some things during a week, I schedule them first thing the next day/week. This way we get to cover everything & don't send the message that some areas are less important than others. It seems to be the more 'unpractical' things that miss out otherwise. Poetry, picture study etc are not extras that we tack on if we have enough time.

* Alternate the type of lessons so there is a natural 'rest' between lessons. 'When Children Love to Learn' edited by Elaine Cooper (see pg. 215) divides subjects into Inspirational and Disciplinary subjects. By alternating subjects between the two groups we provide this rest:

Inspirational Subjects  
Composer Study
Nature Study
Picture Study
Read Aloud

Disciplinary Subjects

Physical Education


The question came up regarding finding the time to listen to multiple narrations.
Some ideas if you have a few children & they all have to narrate:

*   Combine some books & they take turns narrating

*   If you follow Ambleside Online there can be around 4 or 5 readings per day, depending on how you schedule your week.  If they’re older one of those re-tellings could be a written narration, another a science notebook entry (write up an experiment/draw what happened etc); an entry on their history timeline; an oral narration; a picture narration; a diagram. They could also record their own narration (Voxer is something I’ve heard others talk about but have never used myself).

*  I made out a weekly schedule for everyone & allowed them to choose what they wanted to do from that & checked during the week to see that they were getting through it. My older ones would often tell me before they were going to do a reading then I knew that around 15 or 20 mins later they would be ready to narrate. If I read aloud to them I got them to narrate as soon as I’d finished.

*  I found with my older children, that their oral narrations were usually short and to the point, so it didn't require a great deal of time to listen to them. My younger ones tended to be more verbose.

*  An older child could listen to a younger one's oral narration & write it out. You check it later. Multiple children could act out a scene from a book or a Shakespeare play. We had a few historical battles acted out...

*  I had them do most of their oral narrations in the morning when I had less distractions, then after lunch we had a time all together where we did devotions, read aloud, poetry & maybe something else I chose such as picture study or composer.

*  If you have a child who is a good writer & enjoys it, you can increase their written work & not have as many oral narrations. I’d only do this if they had spent a few years honing their oral narration.

*  Late readers – oral narrations will prepare them for written work when they do learn to read; read aloud good quality literature; use audio books & have them follow along with the book.

*  If you don’t get to hear an oral narration for some reason, before you read the next chapter in the book, ask them what happened in the previous chapter. I usually do this anyhow.

* Children need a rich & varied background of reading to be able to express themselves. If they can’t narrate a book it’s often a sign that the book isn’t ‘living.’

* Children don’t have to completely understand everything for a book to have done its work. My daughter has just finished reading The Mystery of the Periodic Table (AO Year 6). A couple of times when she came to narrate what she'd read she'd say, "I didn't really understand that." So I asked her to tell me something about what she had understood. There was always something she could tell me. Charlotte Mason used the analogy of a bountiful feast, a tantalizing smorgasborg, that we spread before our children - they won't be able to eat everything on the table but they will come away satisfied.

*  Written narration with boys - teach them how to touch type & let them use the computer if they are hampered by the physical act of writing. Some of our boy's narrations improved dramatically when we did this. Typing narrations was also helpful for my youngest daughter who had poor spelling but loved writing.

As they get more confident, make the requirements a bit higher. In the earlier years they start with a straight re-telling. Progress to different forms of writing e.g.creative narrations – write a poem, illustrate part of the story, draw a picture, write a newspaper article, write a letter.
Turn a poem into prose; re-write (paraphrase) a passage from a book in your own words – good for short essays; write a summary – eg a battle or historical event.

* In Volume 6 Charlotte Mason writes:  ‘Forms V and VI. (Grades 10-12) In these Forms some definite teaching in the art of composition is advisable, but not too much, lest the young scholars be saddled with a stilted style which may encumber them for life.’

I've used Wordsmith Craftman or Jensen's Format Writing at this stage to cover essay writing.
Try googling 'Expository writing' if you want some free resources to help with this. 
Transitioning from written narrations to essays:
I posted some ideas for written narrations here.


There is a tension between requiring children to work hard versus not requiring enough of them. The temptation is to give children less work if they’re struggling, but often they don't need less but just different. They need a broad curriculum with enough of a challenge to give them a push without overwhelming them. One of my children was very advanced for her age & I was talking to an older lady I knew about how to work with this. She suggested to go broader rather than pushing her ahead. I did this and it certainly didn't hinder her in any way.

One thing is certain in homeschooling whether you have a large family family or not - the only constant is change! At least that's what I've experienced. Children grow and develop, the mix of ages and stages change. We change. Life changes.

Some things to remember:

'The Lord is my Shepherd' - Psalm 23. He doesn't drive me, He leads me.

'He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young. - Isaiah 40:11

'Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.' Matthew 11:28



Wednesday 7 June 2017

Cancer Ward by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1966)

Russian author and Nobel Prize winner, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, completed his book Cancer Ward in 1966. English translations were published in 1968, and although book was banned in the Soviet Union, unauthorized Russian copies were distributed in samizdat.
The story takes place in a male cancer ward of a Soviet hospital in the mid-1950's and revolves around a number of characters, the central one being Oleg Kostoglotov. Kostoglotov's life mirrors that of Solzhenitsyn in that he was imprisoned for his criticism of Stalin, and after being diagnosed with stomach cancer, was transferred from the concentration camp to a cancer ward. And like Solzhenitsyn, he later recovered.
I was totally absorbed by this book's 570 pages and despite the fact that Russian literature is often notoriously hard to read, this book definitely wasn't.
The most fascinating aspect of Cancer Ward for me wasn't so much the allegorical links to the Communist regime and the descriptions of life in a dictatorship. As interesting as they were, there have been other books I've read that addressed this, one of them also written by Solzhenitsyn. (See One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich)
What was so interesting to me was the medical treatment of cancer and the attitude of the medical staff to patients and treatment.
Kostoglotov believed that he had the right to choose what form and how much treatment he should have. The medical profession believed that information should be withheld from patients, 'for their own good.' They didn't understand the technicalities and should leave the decisions to those who do. This is really no different to what used to happen in Australia, for instance. It wasn't uncommon to leave a patient ignorant of their impending doom. Relatives could make the call on whether to let a member of their family know that their disease was terminal. Even now, to question the standard method of treatment for something like cancer is to bring down the ire of the establishment upon yourself, as a friend of mine recently found out when she decided not to undergo chemotherapy after her cancer surgery.
The medical staff in that Russian hospital were conscientious and sincere and believed they were doing the right thing by Kostoglotov. They were tight-lipped about the hormonal therapy he was receiving and its long-term effect of impotency, but he didn't want to be saved 'at any price.'
Kostoglotov also did some of his own research and discovered that concern was beginning to surface in medical circles regarding the long term effects of radiotherapy.

The gist of it was that X-ray cures, which had been safely, successfully, even brilliantly accomplished ten or fifteen years ago through heavy doses of radiation, were now resulting in unexpected damage or mutilation of the irradiated parts.

...ten, fifteen or eighteen years ago when the term 'radiation sickness' did not exist, X-ray radiation had seemed such a straightforward, reliable and foolproof method, such a magnificent achievement of modern medical technique, that it was considered retrograde, almost sabotage of public health, to refuse to use it and to look for other, parallel or round-about methods.

Solzhenitsyn explores the relationship between doctors and patients and between fellow cancer sufferers as they go through their various forms of treatment.
There are numerous Translator's notes throughout the book that explain some of the historical background needed to understand the context of the author's writing, such as this:

Khrushchev had just become Party leader. He believed that wide cultivation of maize in the north of Russia would solve grain and fodder problems. He called upon Young Communists to fight those who didn't believe maize could be grown there. His scheme, however, was defeated by the climate.

Although Solzhenitsyn insisted that his book was simply about cancer, there are seemingly allegorical statements that contradict this:

A man dies from a tumour, so how can a country survive with growths like labour camps and exiles?

I highly recommend this book, especially if you have some sort of  medical background. Solzhenitsyn was perceptive and prophetic and his insights into human nature were superb.

Some favourite passages:

It is not our level of prosperity that makes for happiness but the kinship of heart to heart and the way we look at the world. Both attitudes lie within our power, so that a man is happy so long as he chooses to be happy, and no one can stop him.

Nowadays we don't think much of a man's love for an animal; we laugh at people who are attached to cats. But if we stop loving animals, aren't we bound to stop loving humans too?

Soon it will be summer, and this summer I want to sleep on a camp-bed under the stars, to wake up at night and know by the positions of Cygnus and Pegasus what time it is, to live just this one summer and see the stars without their being blotted out by camp searchlights- then afterwards I would be quite content never to wake again.

As the two-thousand-year-old saying goes, you can have eyes and still not see.
But a hard life improves the vision. There were some in the wing who immediately recognized each other for what they were...It was as if they bore some luminous sign on their foreheads, or stigmata on their feet and palms...The Uzbeks and the Karakalpaks had no difficulty in recognising their own people in the clinic, nor did those who had once lived in the shadow of the barbed wire.

The Penguin translation I read was first published by The Bodley Head in 1968.

Linking to Back to the Classics 2017: Classic in Translation; The Classics Club and Books You Loved