Tuesday, September 06, 2011

A Day in the Life of a Mason Homeschool

Every year I learn something new about Pamela and I learn how to arrange her education in ways to make it more living and more enjoyable. A couple of little organizational nuances helped: as always, I burn our weekly audio work (music, Spanish, audio books--to help Pamela develop an ear for other speakers, etc.) onto a CD but this time I put the selections in order of what we use most frequently to lessen the time forwarding to the right spot. In addition to putting page tabs in the books we are reading, I put them in the notebook of pages I keep in the reading notebook (passages for studied dictation, music pages, recitation poem, two books we don't have in hard copy, etc.). As always, I had the weekly schedule on hand and Pamela highlighted tasks as we completed him, which gives her a little thrill to see the column for Tuesday slowly turn from white to pink and yellow.

We spent 3 1/2 hours doing our thing in the morning and 1 1/2 hours in the afternoon, leaving time for me to shower and tidy up before our Charlotte Mason study group meeting. Today was especially meaningful to me because the first ever public school (charter) in North America opened its doors for class. Families, teachers, and those who love Mason's ideas of a relational education have worked so hard behind the scenes to make this school a reality.

I decided to give you a peek into a day. Some "exhibits"(the titles of specific books) are closed because they involve the design team developing a Mason curriculum for homeschools, private schools like Red Mountain Community School and Willow Tree Community School, and Gillingham Charter School. However, what I can show you is the process, which is what a relational education is all about.

Living Books
One thing struck me as we read very short passages, limited by Pamela's aphasia and frequent need for new horizons, from seventeen different books. Everything is so connected, but not by careful planning. The beauty of a living books approach is that the best books simply come together without special orchestration. This morning was rainy and misty, perfectly tuned into one literature book, which opens with children waiting for the fog to clear before they pick nuts, and the poem I chose for recitation is about fog. We read a poem by Kipling, which Pamela adored because it mentioned Caesar, whom we are reading about in Plutarch and slowly working through the play by Shakespeare. Our history spine touched on one president, while two books on inventions touched on two other presidents. Pamela gets a kick out of seeing all the unintentional connections between stories.

Language Arts
Pamela is doing copywork of sayings by Benjamin Franklin and studied dictation (which works on spelling, punctuation, and other mechanics of writing). This year, she advanced in her studied dictation: she studies a whole paragraph, but I only dictate one sentence to her. We added a new notebook on the menu: the commonplace book, which is a place to store copywork that has special significance to you. At first, I worried about how to spotlight this for Pamela. When we read today, the right moment emerged and I seized it. When we read the Kipling poem and Pamela's face lit up at the mention of Caesar, I shifted to her commonplace book after the reading. I told her how happy she looked when we read that verse of the poem, so that verse belongs in her commonplace book. I explained that it is like Maria and her favorite things. It is for those special passages that make her smile.

It is very helpful to read with a commonplace book or reading-diary, in which to put down any striking thought in your author, or your own impression of the work, or of any part of it; but not summaries of facts. Such a diary, carefully kept through life, should be exceedingly interesting as containing the intellectual history of the writer (Page 260).

Instead of textbooks, we read living books for science about inventions and animals, rounding about by observing and doing. Today, we spent 10 minutes shredding material to make a worm bin. Pamela painted a watercolor of the clouds (which she will do for a few weeks) to observe them and learn their names. A gray blanket of stratus clouds cloaked us for most of the day. For nature study, we made entries of an egg sac made by a garden spider who inconveniently placed it near the doorbell at the front door of our house. I absolutely love what Pamela wrote and drew today.

Even though history is the pivot of a Mason curriculum, I will touch on that another day as I eagerly await the arrival of what I hope will be a keepsake in the years to come: a beautifully bound book of centuries. Rest assured, Pamela did bask in plenty of history: a snippet on Stone Age people (as we test drive an ancient history book), the death of Abraham's beloved wife Sarah, Caesar's fumble, two different British monarchs, an Indian girl near the Great Lakes, former slaves in Mississippi, and three different presidents from three different books. I cannot wait to learn what big ideas Pamela finds vital enough for her book of centuries.

Potpourri of Things
We listened to our classical music, listened to more Spanish stories (and will spent another year learning this language by ear before trying to read) and sang a song in Spanish, and Pamela sewed a decorative edge on her knitting needle case. We walked and talked about directions while we enjoyed fresh air and exercise. We will spend a few weeks reviewing what we learned about architecture, art, and sculpture by finding features in our town. Today, Pamela drew an arched window from a physical therapy practice near our home.

Last, but NOT Least Math
I love the math program we use but, as always, the vocabulary challenges Pamela. I have decided to spend the first two days of the work previewing new words with homemade activities and sheets and doing only three lessons per week (four if things go smoothly). Pamela enjoyed classifying angles and triangles and the introduction to new words, which I made as concrete and meaningful as possible for her (internal, external, adjacent, and nonadjacent). I allotted a full fifty minutes to this subject, and Pamela finished it in forty!


Phyllis said...

It is amazing how well she is doing! Your school is lovely full. I think you should write a weekly wrap-up each week!

Autismland Penny said...

This was fantastic!! Thanks so much for sharing and Madison still talks about that spider by your door. She will love hearing that it laid an egg sac. Logan thinks you are the coolest for letting it live there. :)

walking said...

I'm glad someone appreciates it Penny. I'm sure some visitors are scared off. :0)

Anonymous said...

I love your organized approach, and the way you incorporate so much depth and richness into Pamela's curriculum.
There was a small error in the rectangle calculation: 1 x 1/2 is 1/2 not 3/2, so the overall answer is 5 1/4 not 6 1/4.

walking said...

You raise a good point. Pamela made an error, and the next day's effort in multiplying fractions showed me it was carelessness, not process. Mason believed that wrong is wrong and going back and fixing mistakes is an exercise in frustration. Had she made a similar mistake on Wednesday, I would have stepped back and done some concrete work like we did last year to help her understand the process. She multiplied it perfectly, so I knew the issue was carelessness:

Pronounce a sum wrong, or right––it cannot be something between the two. That which is wrong must remain wrong: the child must not be let run away with the notion that wrong can be mended into right. The future is before him: he may get the next sum right, and the wise teacher will make it her business to see that he does, and that he starts with new hope. But the wrong sum must just be let alone. (Pages 260-261).

This way of doing things takes frustration out of math. The best tip I ever received was to assign half of the problems (if it's a typical math textbooks). If the child gets some wrong, analyze the errors and address the issue (whether it be a habit like neat handwriting or misunderstanding like how to multiply fractions). Then assign only problems related to the error. The child has a natural consequence of having more free time when she works hard to understand and practices careful habits.