Friday, February 29, 2008

Leap Year: Then and Now

Pamela has been anticipating today for a very long time. Not long after the last February 29 (in 2004), Pamela fell in love with calendars. Her interest started with figuring out Roman numerals because movie credits always list the year that way. How did she figure it out? She googled it, of course! Before long, Pamela began googling calendars and became interested in the fourteen kinds of calendars: seven common years and seven leap years, each starting on a different day of the week. Then, she began googling the Chinese astrological signs and memorized the years that go with the twelve animals. She often carries around a Beanie Babie rat because 2008 is the year of the rat!

Then, I began thinking about how far Pamela has come since the last leap year!
  • In 2004, Pamela was working her way through Making Math Meaningful Level 3, and now she is halfway through Level 6. I recently discovered she can multiply a single-digit times a double digit in her head.
  • We did nature studies by watching the birds and animals at a local lake in Minnesota and now we watch critters in our backyard here in Carolina.
  • In 2004, we were heavily involved in a wonderful homeschooling co-op, but I floundered how to implement Navigating the Social World, which was too behavioristic for our needs. Today, we have been happily making strides in applying a lone ranger version of Relationship Development Intervention.
  • In 2004, we were stalled in our program for language therapy because the computer died and were still practicing the repetitive sentences and questions (page 9), which was at the beginning of the second unit of language. Pamela had learned (in a nutshell, six basic sentences and questions with no action verbs). Now, we are at the beginning of the third unit of language and Pamela can communicate her thoughts very well!
  • Most conversations centered around very repetitive, high-interest topics in 2004. Now, Pamela still falls back on old favorites but can also converse about a variety of things.

    Sample Conversation from 2004
    Pamela: What does Lady have?
    Me: Lady has some spaghetti. What does Tramp have?
    Pamela: Tramp has some water. Where is Tramp?
    Me: Tramp is at Lady's house. What color collar does Tramp have?
    Pamela: Tramp has a red collar.

    Sample Conversation from Today
    Me: "What are we celebrating today?"
    Pamela: "Today we are celebrating leap year."
    Me: "What are we going to do?"
    Pamela: "We are going to a Mexican restaurant in Sumter."
    Me: "How many people are going?"
    Pamela: "Five people are going because Baby Alive is coming."

    Pardon the quick rabbit trail, but this picture of Baby Alive and Tiptoe shows off a BEAUTIFUL dress that a fellow RDI/CM friend and blogger gave to Pamela for Valentine's Day. Penny's very talented mother sewed this adorable dress! Pamela did some Snoopy dancing and victory lapping when she opened the envelope with this dress.
  • Pamela kept a journal in which she used very simple, repetitive language in 2004. She made many grammatical and syntactical errors in her writing. To show the difference in her writing, I went through her old journal and discovered something startling! Unbeknownst to me, she has gone back through her old journal to make corrections! Talk about owning your learning!
    This example shows how much Pamela has progressed in personal pronouns. When speaking, she occasionally talks in the third person--she always talked in the third person back in 2004. Notice how she corrected "We" to "I" because the card game she is talking about is Solitaire on her Dad's work laptop! If you click the picture, you will see a larger version and should see other corrections she has made to the original.You can see how Pamela inserted missing words with proper editing marks! I also see signs of erasing.Pamela made major revisions here--look carefully for the gray smudges. She fixed everything from past tense to noun-verb agreement, incorrect pronouns to spelling errors.
  • In 2004, Pamela could not do typed narrations of a book one chapter at a time. I will close with what she wrote about Chapter 2 of Miracles on Maple Hill. I made no corrections, so this piece, written at a fourth grade level, is pure Pamela:
Mr. Chris is wearing some overalls, pants, and, sweater. He is riding an orange tractor. Mrs Chris is wearing a white apron and the shoes. She has a house. The house has some trees, grass, mailbox, front porch, and porch. Marley has a broken car. Mr. Chris sees an orange tractor. Mr. Chris and Marley are driving an orange tractor. They feel happy. They are eating and washing. Marly, Mr. Chris, Mrs Chris, and Joe are in the kitchen. They are eating some food. They are washing some dishes. Sugar camp has some syrups, trees, snow, and cabins. Mr. Chris is going to sugar camp. Marly is going to Grandma’s house. Marly sees Grandma’s house. The house looks old. Marly feels sad. Marley is going home. They feel happy. Grandma’s house has some trees, grass, broken porch, and small house.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Preparing for Literacy

I am so excited I feel a victory lap coming on! This is the last post about Chapter 2 of Awakening Children's Minds. Plus, I have finished half of my first presentation for the Charlotte Mason Conference from June 11-14, 2008. Boiling Springs or bust! Be there or be square!

I prepared my children for literacy without even thinking about it or trying. My children saw my husband and I reading, typing on the computer, writing Christmas cards, etc. I took a label maker and made labels for everything in Pamela's room. I did not actively teach her to read them but thought it educational to have them there. We always had plenty of books in the house for adults and children, supplemented by trips to the library. I read aloud picture books to the children before bedtime. Both of them taught themselves to sight read in very different ways!

Pamela has always loved videos. We put them up in the closet so that she would have to tell us which one she wanted. That caused major tantrums sometimes, but she did pick up words that way. In fact, she picked up sight words that way, unbeknownst to me. One day, when she was five years old, I noticed her matching video cassettes to video cassette boxes. What surprised me was that she could match the right video to the right box, even if the video cassette featured only words. So, I wrote down the names of different video titles on a piece of paper and she read them to me! This was my very language-deficient, autistic child reading, and I did not lift a finger.

When David was two years old, we bought him a wooden alphabet puzzle for Christmas. He taught himself his alphabet by holding up a piece and asking, "Wha' dis?" I began homeschooling Pamela when David was three-years old. Since he was so young and wiggly and active, I let him be a la masterly inactivity and focused my efforts on Pamela. Again, unbeknownst to me, while I was working with Pamela, he sometimes stayed busy typing Dr. Seuss books into computer software that highlighted each word and read it aloud. By the time he turned four, he was reading simple picture books, and I did not lift a finger.

So, when I read the following quote by Laura Berk, my response was, "Well, DUH!"
Children can become competent readers and writers without being trained, pushed, or goaded into literacy learning in early childhood . . . Young children are enthusiastic and self-confident about learning and who achieve at their best in the early grades have acquired literacy-relevant knowledge informally--through exposure to books and other reading materials at home, in preschoool, and in child-care environments; through observing adults reading and writing in everyday life; and especially through narrative conversation (page 62).
Here are three points Charlotte Mason made about emerging literacy that dovetail nicely:
  • "Reading presents itself first amongst the lessons to be used as instruments of education, although it is open to discussion whether the child should acquire the art unconsciously, from his infancy upwards, or whether the effort should be deferred until he is, say, six or seven, and then made with vigour" (Page 199).
  • "But, as a matter of fact, few of us can recollect how or when we learned to read: for all we know, it came by nature, like the art of running; and not only so, but often mothers of the educated classes do not know how their children learned to read. 'Oh, he taught himself,' is all the account his mother can give of little Dick's proficiency" (Page 200).
  • "Let the child alone, and he will learn the alphabet for himself: but few mothers can resist the pleasure of teaching it; and there is no reason why they should, for this kind of learning is no more than play to the child, and if the alphabet be taught to the little student, his appreciation of both form and sound will be cultivated. When should he begin? Whenever his box of letters begins to interest him. The baby of two will often be able to name half a dozen letters; and there is nothing against it so long as the finding and naming of letters is a game to him" (Page 201-202).
Clearly, children do reach an age in which educators will begin reading instruction for those who have not already picked it up. Charlotte Mason recommends not earlier than six years old. However, drilling very young children who are not in the zone for literacy destroys interest in reading.

I have found many parallels between the writings of Laura Berk and Charlotte Mason, but the section on dialogic reading with preschool- and Kindergarten-aged children contains major differences! Laura recommends that the adult select picture books with limited text to allow the child to become the storyteller. Charlotte Mason did not require any narrations of a child that young but listened to any freely offered. She preferred literature with "tales of the imagination, scenes laid in other langs and other times, heroic adventures, hairbreadth escapes, delicious fairy tales" (page 152). Laura believes that "adult behavior--warmth, dramatic quality, and attempts to get the child to participate actively" (page 63) fosters attention, while Charlotte believed that living books read in short lessons captured attention. In fact, she warned against the "dangers of personal magnetism" in a Kindergarten teacher:
No other personality out of book, picture, or song, no not even that of Nature herself, can get at the childeren without the mediation of the teacher. No room is left for spontaneity or personal initiation on their part (page 188).
On which side of the issue do I fall? I end up doing both, based upon my objectives. When Pamela reads living books for the purpose of comprehension, learning, and narration, I go with a Charlotte Mason perspective, "We narrate, and then we know." However, when we are working on our relationship objectives or the association method for her language issues, we follow the dialogic reading described by Laura Berk.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Winter Jam

This is not a post about the latest GF/CF recipe for berries. And, it is not about an ice storm hitting our small town, causing a massive traffic jam. Last night, Pamela headed to the most unlikely of places you might meet an autistic teen: a very loud rock concert! Last week, the youth pastor had asked me to chaperon a trip to Winter Jam in Columbia. I had sense enough NOT to ask Pamela if she wanted to go because of her highly sensitive hearing. I made plans for her to stay with my parents across the street until Steve came home from work. Pamela made other plans.

Yesterday morning, Pamela announced she wanted to go to the concert. I explained to her that rock music is very loud, and I was worried about her ears. She still wanted to go. I frantically ran around town, hitting the local hardware and sporting goods stores for ear protection. My dad loaned me his headphones for his tinnitus. Then, I emailed some of my Christian friends to pray that Pamela would enjoy herself before we headed out the door.

At first, I was worried. We had a small crowd: four boys and a lone girl (Pamela). Other kids we knew were going to the concert on their own. We got a little turned around in Columbia but only lost about 15 minutes to driving around the industrial part of town cluelessly. We stopped at Wendy's for dinner. The line was so long that the boys balked to a nearby Subway, but Pamela was adamant--she was not budging! We faced another huge line, waiting to get in at the Colonial Center. The boys again balked to another entrance. Pamela again stay committed to the line in which she stood. Having cell phones allowed us to split up. Then, it took us forever to find seats. The place was packed with 15,000 in attendance! The picture above is Pamela's expression as we were walking into the arena. Here is what we saw when we walked into the upper level of seating:

We arrived late and did not catch much of Mandisa. Since we have never watched even one episode of American Idol, we were not all that disappointed. As we enjoy listening to WMHK, we were already familiar with Newsong. You can see in the picture above that Pamela smiled her way through Newsong!

Then came the act that was nearly a show-stopper for me, Skillet. I have never listened to metal. I have never liked metal, even if it is full armor of God metal. They were true headbangers, screeching, raspy, ULTRA-LOUD. After one song, I figured out why they named their band Skillet: after one song, you feel like you hit your head with a skillet. I came up with some more names for the band: Tylenol, Motrin, Ibuprofin, Aspirin. To top that, a young teeny bopper behind me let loose a piercing, shrill, tea-kettle scream that went right through my teeth about once a minute. And, as you can see in the picture below, the band had plenty of EVEN-LOUDER pyrotechnics to wow the audience even more. I posted a picture of Skillet's drummerette because my dear husband Steve bought a set of drums for Christmas, beating everything from rock to Mariachi music.

How did Pamela handle Skillet? Pictures speak louder than words! I offered her the ear protection, but she preferred the organic kind, her fingers. In spite of the loud music, she decided to stay through the entire thing, pyrotechnics and all. So, *I* donned the ear plugs and tolerated Skillet much better after that!

Pamela did not leave the arena during the intermission. She did give her fingers a break, but they did go back to work with BarlowGirl, whom she enjoyed with her bright smile. In spite of their metal-like moments, I like BarlowGirl! The three sisters have beautiful voices that blend well with sibling resonance. Even when the drums are crashing and the guitars are throbbing, they still sing in their sweet, haunting voices. In the very last song, the female guitar playing from Skillet joined them on stage, but I tolerated it because their vocals carry the day!

My absolute favorite act was MercyMe. Until the concert, I had no idea how many quality MercyMe songs I really like. I took this picture of Pamela during her favorite song from the concert, "I Can Only Imagine." My favorite moments in the concert were when the lead singer led the audience in singing I Love You Lord by Laurie Klein a cappella and let the audience repeat it on their own to end it. They closed the concert with "I Can Only Imagine" which was quiet enough in the last chorus to hear the entire audience singing along. In fact, MercyMe felt like a sing along because the audience joined the band on nearly every single song. You can see from the picture of Mercy Me below that we did not have the greatest seats, but the sound definitely carried.

Pamela told us today that she wants to attend other concerts. And, she mentioned she has a headache, too. It sounds like she is suffering from Skilletitus.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Formation of Character

If I am to present on the principles of Lev Vygotsky in just under four months, I better get cracking on the book Awakening Children's Minds by Dr. Laura Berk. Let me see . . . I can finish Chapter 2 this week and knock out the remaining five chapters by doing two a month. All I need to do is stick to that schedule. BAH-HA-HA-HA! I might need a little gentle chiding to keep me from doing what I do best: procrastinate!

What Charlotte Mason called the formation of character, Laura Berk calls acquiring cultural beliefs and values in Chapter 2 of her book. According to Vygotsky's theory, parents and teachers pass on values most effectively through dialogues with children and share real and fictional stories that carry important life lessons. Research shows that Chinese children have the most self-control because narrative, fortified by the family's lifestyle, is a crucial element of the Chinese parenting style. Walking the walk AND talking the talk has more impact on a child than direct and imperative ways of teaching moral lessons. (It sounds like Jewish carpenter that I know). Laura concludes,
The most important lesson we can take from Miller's provocative findings is that when parents and teachers take time to construct narratives with and about the young child, they create a "zone" that spurs children to weave moral and social rules into their self-definitions and to behave accordingly (page 59).
She also recommends the best contexts for such dialogues are everyday routines and duties and mealtime conversations. One of my favorite books for illustrating this concept is Big House in the Little Woods, which I believe is a primer for doing Charlotte Mason with children under the age of six. Pa and Ma involved the girls to the best of their abilities in household routines. At a young age, the girls learned to work alongside Pa and Ma. Even with challenging tasks, like making lead bullets, Pa would ask the girls to watch him carefully to see if he made any mistakes. When Laura was naughty on a Sunday afternoon, he told her a riotous story about how her grandfather got into even worse trouble when he sneaked out of the house for a sled ride on a Sunday afternoon. Mealtime conversations are vital, especially for parents who work outside the home with children who spend their days at school. Laura Berk points out that children who eat at least one meal a day with a parent have "early childhood mental development, no matter what the child's socioeconomic or ethnic background" (page 66).

One thing that does not promote the formation of character is unlimited television viewing. I know that viewing television can help autistic children pick up language and even conquer fears (Pamela started riding elevators after a ten-year sabbatical thanks to Toy Story 2). Wait! Before if you have a sudden urge to channel surf to another blog, read how one mom planned and survived a one-week video vacation with her autistic son without going stark raving mad! (Breathe! Deep cleansing breaths!) You do not have to throw out the one-eyed monster. According to Laura,
Parent-child co-viewing creates conditions in which adults can raise questions about the realism of televised information, assist children in making sense of the story line, and express disapproval of negative on-screen behavior and commercial messages, thereby teaching children to evaluate TV content rather than to accept it uncritically (page 68).
Charlotte Mason considered the development of character as the main work of education! She recommended very similar strategies when forming a child's character. Since she loved providing a narrative to explain her points, I shall attempt to do the same. Some children in the autism spectrum are perfectionists: suppose Jeff explodes into tantrums every time he makes a mistake. Such behavior interferes with loving relationships and makes learning more difficult since all humans err. The key is for Mother and Father to focus on a new habit with the zeal of nursing him through the flu.

During daily routines, Mother models how she reacts to mistakes in full view of Jeff. She accidentally puts salt into her coffee (but avoids the silliness of Mrs. Peterkin) and brightly announces, "How silly! Jeff, can you believe I just put salt in my coffee? I wonder what I should do." She looks at him expectantly and hopefully to see if he has an idea. If not, she solves her problem out loud and gets a new cup of coffee. Whenever anyone in the family makes a mistake, rather than crying out with dismay, Mother comes up with different strategies for handling mistakes: start again, fix the problem, laugh gently and tactfully, tell a story about the silly things she did as a child, recall a similar situation from a book, etc.

The trickiest strategy is to do her absolute best to prevent any more outbursts from Jeff. He usually blows up over having to erase a mistake during copywork because he ends up erasing a hole into the paper. Mother scaffolds him by sitting next to him with an eraser. She says excitedly, "Hey, I have a great idea! How about you be the writer and I be the eraser!" Then, whenever he makes a mistake, Mother says, "Awesome! Now it's my turn!" Jeff spills his milk on the floor at breakfast, and, before he can pitch a fit, Dad says, "I was just going to give Kitty some milk. You just saved me the trouble of getting out a bowl. Here, Kitty, Kitty." He usually gets frustrated at folding his chore of folding clothes because he spends so much time fretting until each every T-shirt looks perfect. Dad finds instructions for building a T-shirt folding machine online, and they spend an hour together building and test driving it. Jeff and Mother are making pancakes when he drops a cup into the bowl of flour, sprays them both with flour in the face. Before Jeff starts crying out, Mother laughs and says, "Do you remember when Almanzo sprayed soot all over the parlor? I am so glad this is not soot!"

Before long, they survive an entire week without outbursts. Mother remains persistent and vigilant in tantrum prevention because she still needs to transfer the ability to control outbursts to Jeff. She assigned him the book Anne of Green Gables to give him perspective on blunders because her scrapes were far worse than his were. When the pastor preached about Martha and Mary in his sermon, the family talked about it around the lunch table. They agreed that Jesus preferred spending time with Martha and Mary to having everything done perfectly because relationships matter more! Mother and Father make the most out of every little life lesson in helping Jeff to view mistake-making in a new light.

Finally, Jeff seems ready to take control of his behavior. Father and Jeff reminisce about their favorite books while fishing. He mentions Pollyanna, and Father follows up on that cue by asking, "Do you remember the being glad game?"

Jeff: "Yes, Pollyanna was so good at that game!"

Dad: "Mrs. Snow was so grumpy before she started playing the game."

Jeff: "It helped Aunt Polly, too!"

Dad: "I was thinking about how this game could help you. Do you remember how angry you used to get about making mistakes?"

Jeff: "Yes, I haven't done that in awhile."

Dad: "Well, Mom and I have been trying to help you to stay calm, but I think you are ready to try it all by yourself."

Jeff: "I think I could! I could play the being glad game. Or maybe, a new game. . . The keep cool game!"

Dad: "I like that name! You have always been clever with word games."

They go back to fishing and, thanks to the keep cool game, outbursts over mistakes became a thing of the past.

In case you want to dig more deeply in the Charlotte Mason's writings, she spent an entire book outlining how to form character. She understood how to handle kids who have meltdowns, low attention span, perfectionism, moody, trouble with telling the truth, and more. She entrusted older children with their own self-management by devoting an entire book to them about recognizing their own strengths and weaknesses and how to govern themselves. She carried a variety of tools in her toolbox to address these issues: habit training, masterly inactivity, living books, the way of the will, and the way of reason, everyday routines and duties, and dinner conversations:
  • Habits - "Character is the result not merely of the great ideas which are given to us, but of the habits which we labour to form upon those ideas" (Volume 3, page 99).
  • Masterly Inactivity - "We shall give children space to develop on the lines of their own characters in all right ways, and shall know how to intervene effectually to prevent those errors which, also, are proper to their individual characters" (Volume 3, page 35).
  • Living Books - "Students can use living books to "discern character and perceive how character and circumstance interact" and "get lessons of life and conduct" (Volume 3, page 180).
  • The Way of Will - "The one achievement possible and necessary for every man is character; and character is as finely wrought metal beaten into shape and beauty by the repeated and accustomed action of will" (Volume 6, page 129).
  • The Way of Reason - "Therefore children should be taught as they become mature enough to understand such teaching that the chief responsibility which rests upon then: as persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas presented to them. To help them in this choice we should afford them principles of conduct and a wide range of fitting knowledge" (Volume 6, page 139).
  • Everyday Routines and Duties - "In the home a thousand such opportunities occur; if only in such trifles as the straightening of a tablecloth or of a picture, the hanging of a towel, the packing of a parcel––every thoughtful mother invents a thousand ways of training in her child a just eye and a faithful hand" (Volume 1, page 180).
  • Dinner Conversations - "The career of many a young person has turned upon some chance remark made at the home table. Do but watch the eagerness with which the young catch up every remark made by their elders on public affairs, books, men, and you will see they are really trying to construct a chart to steer by; they want to know what to do, it is true, but they also want to know what to think about everything" (Volume 5, page 228).

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fourth Annual Charlotte Mason Conference Alert!

Child Light USA posted the first teasers for this year's conference from June 11-14, 2008. Dr. Milton Uecker will cover upper elementary and lower middle school math manipulatives at the preconference, while the theme of the conference is "From Rewards to Relationships"--a perfect theme for parents autistic children moving from behaviorism to relationships. Almost everything you need to know about fees, logistics, lodging, weather, time and dates, etc. is here. I have two important reminders: (1) BRING LINENS--I did not the first year and (2) REGISTER EARLY--you save money by registering before April 30, 2008. I plan to register after they post the online registration form (due on or about March 1), but, if you are just itching to mail yours in now, you can find the mail-in registration here. You can find a quick list of the presentations here.

This year, the conference will include a book club discussion on two books by Alfie Kohn: Unconditional Parenting and What to Look for in a Classroom. Jack Beckman, one of the contributors to When Children Love to Learn, will host the discussion. Last year, I had read only half of the book and did not get much out of it as I could have. So, to quote Pamela, "You must be 18 years or older to order. Call now!"

I will be presenting again and again and again! As a Navy brat of seventeen years and Navy officer of fourteen years, you would think I should had mastered the acronoym, NAVY = Never Again Volunteer Yourself. But no, I plan to speak three times : "Moving from Behaviorism to Relationship," "How Vygotsky’s Work Parallels Mason’s Work," and "Scaffolding with Special Needs Children."

I usually only speak on two topics, but I think God intended otherwise. It all came to a head last month! Carroll Smith's wife, Andy, called me one day to talk about using Excel to store and manipulate registration data. She asked about Pamela, and I blithely ran my big mouth about this new relationship therapy for Pamela. Andy was very intrigued by relational ways of addressing autism, so I described some of the methods from Awakening Children's Minds by Dr. Laura Berk. Andy got very quiet and suddenly asked, "Are you talking about scaffolding?" Then, she zapped me an email with Carroll's article on scaffolding and narration. She told me that they have been looking for a speaker to present two plenary sessions on the work of Vygotsky (who is featured in Dr. Berk's book). GULP!

When I recovered from the shock, Andy and I both realized that this was a cool God moment. About a year ago today, I began exploring Relationship Development Intervention, and last October, I narrowed my focus on Vygotsky in my reading and blogging. Traveling on parallel tracks, Carroll was writing his article on Vygotsky and narration, hoping someone could discuss Vygotsky from a Charlotte Mason point of view at the conference. Then, Andy and I realized the connection during a phone call about Excel spreadsheets!

ChildLightUSA also just launched a blog with weekly posts and have a total of four free audio files posted from last year's conference! And, they just gave their website a new overhaul.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Value of Nature Study

Nature study accomplishes many educational goals: in addition to building a foundation for science, carefully studying nature builds the habit of attention and hones observational skills. You start asking questions about what you see and begin looking up information to answer your questions. You become more resourceful about figuring out what you see by going beyond appearance: sounds, location, behaviors, patterns, movement, etc. You get exercise and fresh air, especially if your nature study involves a hike. You learn to appreciate the design, order, imagination, and beauty of God's handiwork!

When you start exploring nearby parks, you add to your knowledge of geography and history. For example, a nice park up the road from us is Poinsett State Park, which has interesting geographic features like sand hills and swamps and mountain laurels festooned with Spanish moss. The Civilian Conservation Corps built a coquina bathhouse in the 1930s as part of FDR's New Deal. The park's name honors Joel Roberts Poinsett, our first ambassador to Mexico, who introduced the poinsetta plant to the United States. When you participate in formal programs like the upcoming Owl Prowl, you build relationships with other naturalists, scientists, and artists.

Keeping nature notebooks involves art, language arts, and science, all rolled into one. You add words to your vocabulary as you learn to express yourself orally and in writing. Because you date your entries, you become intimate time, seasons, weather, and calendars. You may even dabble with some poetry or Bible reading as you search for the write quote to go with a sketch.

Materials are quite inexpensive: a sketchbook with 80 pound paper, watercolor pencils, watercolors, and brushes. If you are unsure of how to get started, you could find information online about dry brush and other techniques. My biggest tip--be very sparing with water--I ruin most of my pictures with too much water! A seventh grader from the Perimeter School in Duluth, Georgia described the process extremely well in the Spring 2007 issue of The Review (page 27). Teachers describe how they teach first and second graders nature study in the Winter 2007 issue of The Review (pages 29-31). Charlotte Mason herself spent a good portion of her first book describing nature study and the outdoor life for young children.

Do not be afraid to use a little technology in your nature study. At the 2006 Charlotte Mason Conference, Amber Benton gave a great talk about how to take advantage of technology in this philosophy of education. David and I learned this lesson on Saturday. We were filming inside a thicket next to our house and thought we heard a cardinal. We did not see a thing, but our camcorder caught a flash of a cardinal quietly waiting for us to get lost. We did not see it until we reviewed the recording. We are able to make better drawings of shy critters by pausing the recording and soaking up every detail. The picture on the television is a chipping sparrow we drew.

Nature study involves nearly all of your senses: beyond seeing, you listen for sounds and pay attention to smells. If you can tame a chickadee or chipmunk, you incorporate touch. At the 2007 Charlotte Mason Conference, Carroll Smith pointed out how nature study involves many areas of the brain (check out the diagram of the brain in his slide show)! Nature study done right involves the frontal lobe because it requires executive function (thinking, organizing, planning, and problem solving). It involves the motor cortex (movement), sensory cortex (sensory processing), occipital lobe (vision), and cerebellum (balance). It tasks the parietal lobe in making sense of the world (and spelling) and the temporal lobe for memory, understanding, and language. Carroll wrote, "Memory is frequently increased by using multiple pathways of the brain," and nature study provides great scope for making memories.

Nature study provides wonderful and exciting opportunities for RDI therapy. While filming four chipping sparrows in a hydrangea bush yesterday, Pamela and I took turns speaking declaratively about what we observed. I captured several minutes of digital recordings of the sparrows, searching for food. Even though we maintained our distance from these shy guys, I zoomed in on one of the birds. Imagine our delight when we reviewed the footage on television today and noticed that the sparrow was pecking at a pecan from our very own tree.

I framed Pamela's nature notebook entry for two objectives: (1) paying attention to color and (2) using more descriptive language. We paused the recording to freeze the bird and allow time for careful observation. At first, Pamela made the beak and legs black. When she finished drawing her sparrow, I pointed to the television asked her what color the beak and legs were. She told me yellow, so we erased the beak and legs and she redid them in bright yellow. I pointed to the tail and asked her if her bird had a tail. She grabbed some pencils and added a tail. I pointed under the beak and said, "This is called the bib. What color is it?" She said it was white, so I erased the gray bib and she colored it white.

On Friday, Pamela had written a very sparse description of two crows, completely lacking in adjectives with very little action:
The crows say, "caw." It has some feathers. It has some feet. It has some beaks. It has some eyes. It has some wings. It can fly outside. I saw some crows. The crows are sitting on the tree.
I did not want to dominate the writing of her entry about the chipping sparrow, so we talked about ways of improving the crow entry but made no corrections. First, we read her story, adding adjectives as we went. She said, "It has some black feathers," while I said, "It has some shiny feathers." Then, we talked about the actions of a crow: "The crow is flying high in the sky," or "The crow is walking on the ground." Because I wanted to see how much she took in from our dialog, I left the room while she wrote the following, delightful entry:
It can stand under the bush. It can eat a nut. It can sit on the ground. It has a yellow beak. It has some sharp feet. It has some brown and black feathers. It has a white, black, and grey head. It has some black wings. I saw a chipping sparrow.
As you can see, there is no end to the value both educator and children receive from nature study.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Mother Culture (A Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival Post)

Simply Charlotte Mason is hosting a blog carnival on the topic of mother culture.

Charlotte Mason believed that the secret of motherhood was making time to keep growing and exploring. In Volume III, no. 2 1892-93 of The Parents' Review, Pages 92-95, the writer does not accept the excuse of having no time:
Is there not some need for "mother culture"? But how is the state of things to be altered? So many mothers say, "I simply have no time for myself!" "I never read a book!" Or else, "I don't think it is right to think of myself!" They not only starve their minds, but they do it deliberately, and with a sense of self-sacrifice which seems to supply ample justification.
Do you feel overworked and overwrought some days? Charlotte Mason recommended that mothers give themselves permission to play. Do you understand? YES, YOU HAVE PERMISSION TO GO OUT AND PLAY! Those messy days when everything falls apart are often the perfect times for mother culture! What happens to me is that I come home refreshed and ready to face a new day after a good dose of mother culture.
If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play! If she would only have courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense, and just take a day, or half a day, out in the fields, or with a favourite book, or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures, or in bed, without the children, life would go on far more happily for both children and parents. The mother would be able to hold herself in 'wise passiveness,' and would not fret her children by continual interference, even of hand or eye––she would let them be. (Pages 33-34)
Here are seven things that I do for mother culture:

Living Books - Because I have a high schooler, I am forced to read high level living books and I am enjoying every single minute of it. David and I have some wonderful "grand conversations" flowing from the books we are reading. Beyond that, I do keep other books going for my own sake, falling back upon the wisdom of a mother quoted in the article on mother culture: "I always keep three books going--a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel, and I always take up the one I feel fit for!" I am starting my moderately easy book, Home Education, with a group of mothers on my email list CMinSC this week while I am still plowing through my stiff book, Awakening Children's Minds, and my novel, Green Dolphin Street.

Singing - One of the gifts God has given me is a singing voice. There is nothing I love more than to immerse myself in a new song, hone and mold the dynamics and style until it is uniquely my own, and share it with others. Singing along with Handel's Messiah while I do the dishes or practicing a new piece with an accompaniment track or rehearsing with my church trio almost always makes my heart sing with joy. I sing in the shower, in the car, in the church choir, at the kitchen sink, whenever the mood strikes.

Blogging - Blogging forces me to think deeply about whatever topics come to mind. I dig more deeply into the lessons God is trying to teach me about parenting, education, autism, and life when I try to explain it to someone else. The camaraderie between fellow bloggers is wonderful when we try to raise each other up as we share glimpses of daily life. I have met some ladies who truly live Paul's advice to the Thessalonians, "Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing."

Bible Study - Right now, I am doing my fifth Beth Moore Bible study, Daniel. We are doing Session 4 tomorrow, and, as always, I learn so much about God's Word. I also find resources like Crosswalk and OnePlace helpful when not in the middle of a formal Bible study. David and I are working our way through Desiring God, another great living book recommended by Ambleside Online!

Kindred Spirits - I do not have many kindred spirits in my town where behaviorism rules supreme. As far as I know, I may be the only Charlotte Mason homeschooler in the county. Every year, I attend the Charlotte Mason conference put on by ChildLightUSA, where I can talk to people about Charlotte Mason without seeing that glazed over look in people's eyes. I have met fellow bloggers like Bonnie, Amber, Dawn, and Leslie and non-bloggers like my roomie from last year (Jeannette) and fellow special needs mom Cheri. Yesterday, CMinSC held its first ever monthly meeting, so I will be enjoying fellowship on a more regular basis until the June conference. One of these years, I hope to meet fellow CM_RDI moms like Queen Mum, Sonya, Jen, the King's wife, and non-blogger moms at the CM conference.

Movies - I love watching inspirational movies that make me think, laugh, cry, or all of the above: I Am David, End of the Spear, Amazing Grace, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Pride and Prejudice, Bleak House, Miss Potter, and The Lord of the Rings.

Nature Study - When I first started homeschooling, I knew next to nothing about nature and all I could draw was stick figures. Before I got into Charlotte Mason, the kids and I started taking baby steps in the world of drawing. Books like Drawing with Children and Draw Squad helped me get over my fear of drawing. When we moved to Colorado, we lived in a nature study paradise with birds, critters, wildflowers, and other neat stuff. For three years, I lacked the courage to draw anything from nature. For the past five years, the kids and I have been keeping nature notebooks rather sporadically. We get inspired and then slack off when we get busy with other things. I have my first efforts buried in some boxes somewhere in the homeschooling room. Even though I will never be talented in art like my siblings, I am slowly improving. I can see progress from one year to the next and I think you may see it too:

July 2003

August 2003

February 2006


Are you starving your mind?

If you cannot name seven things you are doing for mother culture, how about three?

It is okay if you do nothing. You have to start somewhere!

What are you waiting for?

Go out and play . . .

Friday, February 15, 2008

Great Backyard Bird Count

Today is the first day of the Great Backyard Bird Count. Don't worry if you missed today . . . there's always tomorrow . . . or next year. Don't worry if you cannot tell the difference between a robin and a cardinal! Back in 1999, when I first got interested in Charlotte Mason, I had no clue about bird identification. Slowly, over time, figuring out birds became easier and easier--although, I do not think I will ever be able to tell the little brown blobs (sparrows and finches) apart!

If you are a sequential thinker like me, the first step is preparation. I gathered my bird books, watercolor pencils, nature notebooks, cameras, etc. I took a quick walk before we started to see what kind of birds I could look up in advance (uh, we have not done much birdwatching in our new old house). I decided to spend 15 minutes with each child so that I could devote my full attention to Pamela. We filmed each walk: one person was the spotter and the other one shot footage. Even when we did not capture a bird digitally, we could hear the running dialog of what we observed. After the walk, we recorded our observations in the nature notebooks.

Things did not go as smoothly as we would have liked. David complained about the sun in his eyes, so next time we will wear ball caps. The camera disc wigged out on me and I cannot transfer the recording to the computer! We did watch the recording on television, which allowed us to pause and get a more accurate count. Maybe tomorrow I can share some footage. Here is David recording his observations and drawing a northern mockingbird.

If you have never identified birds, here are some tips:
  • Rule out birds that are out of season.
  • Rule out birds that are not in your habitat: no waterfowl or marsh birds in my backyard.
  • Enjoy what you see and mark the ones you do not recognize as "unidentified."
  • Look for behaviors: some birds forage on the ground, some birds travel in flocks, some fly in a choppy manner.
  • Study the silhouette.
  • Listen to their calls: the camera was a great tool in recognizing birds by their call.
  • If you see something soaring, try to get the flight profile and pay attention to numbers (a group versus lone rangers).
  • Try to be declarative in taking turns telling what you see.
  • Don't fret if your autistic child stims on the word Mufasa and says, "Let's get outta here" near the end.
Tammy's Crow

If you are new to drawing, here are some tips:
  • You are recording a memory: perfection is optional.
  • If you mess up, try to add in something to cover it (that branch in my picture was a black blob that escaped from the crow's tail).
  • Use 80 lb. watercolor paper if you are doing water colors.
  • Outline the item in yellow before painting it.
  • Never use the greens provided--make your own greens and layer different shades of it.
  • Paint with a very dry brush with the hairs smoothed to a point.
  • Keep it as dry as possible.
  • Don't worry if you make a mess of things. I always flub something!

David's Walk: 11:41 AM to 11:56 AM
The first thing David and I spied was a northern mockingbird foraging on the ground. We saw the silhouette of an American robin in a tree. We spotted about twenty common grackles also foraging on the ground. We think we heard two common grackles, hidden in two trees across the street from each other, calling back and forth. David and I saw a lone black thing soaring way off in the distance behind the house and thought it might be a turkey vulture because of the solitary nature of that species. Later, we saw seven black vultures soaring high above the house. The elegant swirling flight of these birds fascinated David. We did not identify thirteen birds in flight or sitting high up in trees.

David's Northern Mockingbird

Pamela's Walk 11:58 AM to 12:13 PM
Pamela and I saw about six unidentified birds. We hit the jackpot when we spotted a huge flock of common grackles in a tree in my parents' backyard. Pamela estimated thousands of them in her count, but I think there were fifty maximum. I recognized this very noisy gang by their loud squeaky gate hinge squawks. We walked to the back porch and sat down to draw when two American crows landed in the pecan tree near the carport. Their classic "caw-caw" gave them away. Crows are much larger than grackles, but not as large as the ravens we watched in Alaska and Colorado.

Pamela's Crows

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Kick-Start Your Nature Study

The flu bludgeoned every single one of us in the Glaser household, and I think 30 Day Sit Spot Challenge will renew our dizzy, light-headed spirits. Even Steve aka Whirlwind spent three days in bed! I have not found the energy to do much, not even blog. My head gets fuzzy and weak when I think too hard. Maybe if I can just sit and enjoy God's creation, my creative juices might start flowing again. . .

Rain (or snow), or shine, night or day, blindfolded or sighted, go to that beautiful place and the sky's the limit. Do a sense meditation. Stalk up on the black cat that stalks the winter wrens. Dance. Build a fire. Whatever it is that you do when you go there, just do it! Even if you're traveling, sit somewhere each day.

I figure if I announce our intentions on the blog it will inspire us to (a) stick with it and (b) get back into blogging after this flu-induced hiatus. What do you have to do?

(1) DO NOT PROCRASTINATE!!!!! The challenge starts tomorrow, going from February 15, 2008 to March 15, 2008.

(2) Pick a secret spot. I'm going to make it easy. Ours will be our backyard. We have three rockers on the back porch so we can sit AND rock! Our yard is full of all kinds of possibilities: cats wandering in our yard, squirrels, cardinals, robins, little brown blobs (sparrows and finches), tons of purple martins, blooming camellia bushes (that now look like trees), falling pecans big and small plonking on the metal roof and rolling down to the ground, . . . What is a secret spot?
A Sit Spot (also known as a Secret Spot) is simply a place to go in the woods, or even your back porch, and sit. It doesn’t have to be all that special to start with. You make it special, and secret, by sitting in it – time after time. Find one place in your natural world that you visit all the time and get to know it as your best friend. Let this be a place where you learn to sit still – alone, often, and quietly -- as well as playfully explore beyond. This will become your place of intimate connection with nature.

(3) Send an email to the challenge folks so the Wilderness Awareness School can put you on the challenge map. It looks like we are the ONLY people in Carolina to join! WOW! We are ambassadors!

(4) Get out your nature study materials: bird books, nature notebooks, drawing things, cameras (if you are not artistically inclined), magnifying lens, binoculars, etc. We keep ours in a backpack for hikes in the woods.

(5) Share your experiences. Blog it! Email it! Post it! I would love to read about what you do.

(6) For a great way to kick it off, join the Great Backyard Bird Count, which goes from February 15 to February 18. To quote my friend Queen Mum, "If you can't find 15 minutes to sit and watch the birds. . . you are MUCH to busy!!!"

Why is nature study an important element of education? Check out how nature study affects the brain in Carroll Smith's slide show from last year's conference which is now available as a free audio file. He saved the best for last in this wonderful presentation: the Redemptive Nature of Nature Study.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Aut-2B-Home in Bed!

On Sunday, David started getting sick. He spent a good part of Monday and Tuesday, sleeping and feverish. Because David is not the kind of teen who sleeps in until noon on Saturdays, I knew he was not pulling a Ferris Bueller on me.

I had my miserable turn on Thursday. I spent all day in bed, sleeping. Every inch of my body ached: head, throat, muscles, joints, face, teeth, gums. I alternated between sweating and chills. About every hour, I woke up, grabbed some water, went to the bathroom with my head spinning, and headed right back to bed. I slept around the clock and ate practically nothing! Friday, I slept about two-thirds of the day and managed to get down some sherbet and fruit popsicles; yesterday, I took it easy and ate about half the amount of food I normally do. If that was not the flu, then it was a pretty nasty imitation of it.

Unfortunately, Pamela is taking her turn today. This morning, she wrapped herself in a blanket like a burrito and told me, "I feel bad. I need to go to the hospital." She never expresses any desire to see a doctor for any reason. Pamela is the most stoic person when it comes to being sick. She normally exclaims, "I'm not ill," while her sneezing and coughing give her away. I touched her burning forehead and knew exactly how horrible she felt. While I was at church, she threw up and sat on the back porch rocking. When Steve came home from his run, she told him, "I threw up on the bed." Then, she laid on the floor of the back porch soaking up some deliciously warm sunshine before heading back to bed.

What did we do to treat our symptoms? Nothing. I'm one of those oddities who believes that, assuming you have a healthy immune system, the best thing you can do is help your body fight it. Drink lots of water. Rest. Drink more water. Rest. Drink juice if you tolerate it. Did I say rest? When you can finally eat again, have some chicken soup or fruit popsicles for that sore throat. Yes, it is tough and painful, but we have not had problems with bronchitis, lingering congestion, or pneumonia since we started doing this. (We do not have a history of asthma or immune system issues that would preclude the no-pain, no-gain school of treating the flu.) I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on television.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

CM and RDI Worlds Collide!

For the past year, I blogged the similarities between the Charlotte Mason and Relationship Development Intervention. I have covered in great detail the parallels between Charlotte Mason and one of the books on the RDI hot list (Awakening Children's Minds). The Winter 2007 issue of The Review published by ChildLightUSA, an organization dedicated to the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education, confirms exactly what I have been thinking for a long time. If you read any article from the free, online magazine, check out "Is Sequencing and Ordering the Curriculum Important for Scaffolding Learning?" by Carroll Smith. His insightful article covers the following topics:
  • The Sequenced General Curriculum
  • The Scaffolded Curriculum
  • Prior Knowledge
  • Vygotsky: Thought and Language
  • Vygotsky: Social Interaction
  • Vygotsky: Zone of Proximal Development and Scaffolding
  • Inside a Mason Context
  • Daily Scaffolded Learning through Narration
  • Six Steps of the Narration Sequence
  • Store of Common Information

Does it sound familiar?!?!?!?

Snoopy Dancing and Victory Lapping in Carolina!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

FUN with Essays (Yes, FUN)

My revised introduction to essays plan worked like a charm! David enjoyed it immensely. Here is what we did last week:

Day One:
I printed out three things:
I explained the importance of being able to write an essay (namely, the SAT and college). Then, we worked together to read the sample essay and circle and/or discuss the twenty elements. I told him he would have quizzes on the definitions and flow chart from Essay Architect later in the week.

Day Two:
Day One's essay was somewhat informal to ease David into the topic, so I printed out an academic essay comparing the writing styles of Stephen King and Edgar Allen Poe. I guided David through the process of identifying the elements of an essay.

Day Three:
I printed out two easy essays for David to try one his own. The first essay tries to convince the read that cats are man's best friend (HA!), while the second one was David Kees' vent, dripping with irony, about the pitfalls of the five-paragraph essay. The latter was written poorly on purpose to mock badly written essays turned in by high schoolers. David laughed the entire time while he identified the elements and listed the missing elements. He snickered at figuring out the writer had cut and pasted the thesis statement from the introduction into the conclusion.

Day Four:
I printed out a blank flow chart (the first quiz), and David filled it out perfectly! I gave him two essays from 2007's SAT: one with a score of one and another with the maximum score of six. We discussed the stark contrast between the two essays. Again, the poorly written essay made David chuckle and gave him insight about what to avoid: misspell words, give no details, follow no structure, vaguely ramble on about your point, etc.

Day Five:
I gave David the blank definition sheet and assigned him copywork for the elements of an essay. The quiz requires him to match the elements with their definitions. Now, that he has a working knowledge of the elements, the wording is more likely to stick. Then, I gave him the quiz and he passed with flying colors!

I want to make a point here about the difference between oral lessons and Charlotte Mason style teaching. While I like the graphic organizers in Essay Architect, I find the lessons plans typical of mind-numbing oral lessons eschewed by Charlotte. My rational was to give David a working knowledge of the twenty elements by applying them to real essays. Having to reproduce his understanding of these elements is a form of narration. Our discussions about the various essays and their elements was also narrating what we knew. I did not have him copy any definitions until he had a working knowledge of essays and their elements because he needed prior knowledge to make more solid and lasting connections. He did not study at all for either quiz, and he aced them both! Why? We narrate and then we know!