Thursday, October 20, 2011

Book of Centuries

History is the story of the way in which man has learned, and is still learning, how to live: of how through long centuries he has sought to satisfy the practical needs of his body, the questioning of his mind, and the searching of his spirit. It is the story of the greatest adventure in the world, this story of how man, from very small beginnings, has progressed in body, mind, and spirit. ~ Dorothy Mills

When I was in school, history was not "the greatest adventure in the world." It was downright boring. History was my least favorite subject in school, and, over time, much of what I memorized for the test flew out of my head. Textbooks had all the adventure squeezed out of them to make room for dates, facts, and other "important" things. I learned only what was required to get an A. What I had to regurgitate was just factoids that went in one ear and out the other once I turned in the textbook for good. History was history after graduation.

I fell in love with history as an adult, reading and discussing living books, usually written for the young, with my children. I enjoy reading nonfiction history, historical fiction, biographies, etc. especially those written by people with a passion for their subject. Thanks to reading wide and varied living books, I remember more history now than I ever did before. And, I don't even study! I want to know more because history really is a great adventure, when well told.

I learn interesting tidbits all the time. Do you know that Wisconsin is nicknamed the Badger State, but not because of the animal? Or, that President James Garfield came up with an original proof of the Pythagorean theorem? I get to follow people in their personal quests and journeys: facing dangers in the Lewis and Clark expedition, winding through twists and turns to invent the telephone, helping family and friends survive an epidemic to which the protagonist have immunity, and finding a new home after seeing your old village burned down to the ground. I sometimes find myself taking a peeking ahead after a particularly exciting chapter. Sometimes, I even stay up until the wee hours of the morning to read straight through to the end.

The most challenging aspect of teaching this way is finding books that are living without being moralizing. Not much has changed in the century and a half since Mason wrote, "There is nothing which calls for more delicate tact and understanding sympathy with the children than this apparently simple matter of choosing their lesson-books, and especially, perhaps, their lesson-books in history."

Charlotte Mason imagined the mind as a beautiful home which we fill with ideas found in storehouses (living books). She found it better to get to know a time and place through the life of one person or event instead of a timeline or chart of the entire history of that period listing all the important facts that somebody things children ought to know. Forming a relationship with someone in the context of their time, whether they are famous or otherwise, will teach children far more about that time than a list of dates that are just as confusing as times tables to the young. A history book that reads like an encyclopedia article has sucked the life of history. She favored books with a story that "moves on a few broad, simple lines" (Page 281).
They purl along pleasantly as a forest brook, tell you 'all about it,' stir your heart with the story of a great event, amuse you with pageants and shows, make you intimate with the great people, and friendly with the lowly. They are just the right thing for the children whose eager souls want to get at the living people behind the words of the history book, caring nothing at all about progress, or statutes, or about anything but the persons, for whose action history is, to the child's mind, no more than a convenient stage (Page 282).
"The writer has chosen such stories as he thought would amuse and please his readers, and give them at the same time some knowledge of the lives and thoughts of their forefathers. To this end he has not written solely of great folk––kings and queens and generals––but also of plain people and children, ay, and birds and beasts too." Mr. York Powell  (Page 288)
Other characteristics of living history are:
  • A single voice chronicling history in a way that was "succinct, yet often warm with life; business-like, and yet childlike in its tone; at once practical and spiritual, simply just, and the work of a true scholar, breathing love to God and man" (Page 283).
  • Firsthand accounts, those based upon eye witness testimony whenever possible, and contemporaries.
  • The heroic age, or "the echoes of some dim, rich past" (Page 284) before recorded history began because "these were giants in the land in those days, and the child wants to know about them"  (Page 284).
  • "Graphic details concerning events and persons upon which imagination goes to work" (Page 288).
  • "Replete with interest, sparkling with episode, and full of dramatic incident" (Page 291).

But the bottomline is what happens to the child when given a living history book:
  • "The child's imagination is aglow, his mind is teeming with ideas" (Page 284).
  • "A child's individuality plays about what he enjoys, and the story comes from his lips, not precisely as the author tells it, but with a certain spirit and colouring which express the narrator"  (Page 289).
  • "A narration should be original as it comes from the child––that is, his own mind should have acted upon the matter it has received" (Page 289).
  • "They love, too, to make illustrations" (Page 292).
  • "They play at history lessons, dress up, make tableaux, act scenes; or they have a stage, and their dolls act, while they paint the scenery and speak the speeches" (Page 294).
  • "The child will live out in detail a thousand scenes of which he only gets the merest hint" (Page 295).
This sounds vague until you see it in real life. When my son was little, he ran back to his room to get the "perfect prop" before we started a reading. He built triremes out of legos and pitted the Greeks against the Persians on Pamela's blue blanket. He built the seven wonders of the ancient world in legos too. A friend recently shared that her youngest has traded Leif the Lucky for Batman. Pamela peeks ahead after every Plutarch and Shakespeare lesson to figure out how long it will be until the Ides of March. When she reads aloud, her voice betrays her emotions: she is a bit worried that two different characters are about to lose their beloved horses, another faced a dramatic grizzly bear attack, a cable broke and sidelined an important project, and Aleck Bell never seems to have enough money or time to invent the telephone.

Younger children keep the order of heroes straight by century through a very large timeline, setup by centuries, in which children wrote the names of people in their proper chronology. The table of centuries provided a graphic panorama to things in their time order and exact dates becomes information overload. An article in Charlotte Mason's periodical provides greater detail if you are really interested. AmblesideOnline has another example here.

Older children (those ready for writing their narrations, or about upper elementary) keep a book of centuries. It started out as a place to record illustrations for a book written about the British Museum.

Pamela has tried keeping one off and on, but it has never quite gelled for her. So many things are coming together for her this year, so I thought I'd try again. What is a book of centuries? Well, my good friend Laurie Bestvater has scored the Charlotte Mason's archives for information to supplement what we find in her six volumes and describes her research here. Laurie sums it up her thoughts in a FAQ and is now offering a beautiful, high-quality volume that will last a child many years.

Stone Age Pages

43rd Century B.C. Page

Map Pages

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mono Monarch Mania

So, there we were minding our own business, doing nature study. As planned, we were drawing the young Southern magnolia in our backyard in watercolor pencil. Suddenly, pandemonium erupted!

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bright orange flash. It wasn't the red, wobbly flight of a cardinal. Nor was it an orange leaf drifting to the ground. It glided more gracefully. My heart pounded when I realized a monarch butterfly had gently landed in the butterfly bushes in front of my beloved camellia.

I scampered frantically into the house and grabbed my cheap camera, which was set to four-shot sequences. The butterfly must have realized I was stalking it because I scared it, and it too frantically fluttered around trying to avoid that crazy woman. I pointed the camera at random spots and came up with a couple of cool shots (out of a bunch of duds) that I couldn't have planned better.

The monarch finally settled down, as did my heart and I took a couple of pictures of it drinking nectar.

Then, I drew Pamela into the scene and we watched the butterfly until it left. Tomorrow, we will draw pictures in our nature notebooks! When we returned to the house, I went to the regional checklist for my county at Butterflies and Moths of North America. Alas! The monarch, a migrant for our area, is not listed, so I submitted a sighting as a monarch butterfly. It lacks the black line on the hind wings, which its copycat the viceroy butterfly sports. And, ladies and gentleman, we have a confirmed monarch, and BAMONA now includes in the listing of butterflies for our county!

Beautiful in Its Time

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God. Ecclesiastes 3:11-13

Today (er, Monday, but I'll pretend I posted two nights ago) should have been a disaster. Steve came home for an extremely short visit over the weekend, leaving us bummed at how little we see him. Pamela and I began the weekend about a half a day behind schedule. In the name of masterly inactivity, we took Friday afternoon off, hoping to catch up here and there over the weekend. We did knock out some books, but we started Monday a tad behind.

I meant to wake up early to start promptly at eight o'clock. I didn't roll out of bed until eight after dreaming about accidentally putting my nature notebook in the washing machine. On top of that, I had a headache and we had to go on an errand that required an hour of driving plus an hour of running around.

We started late, already "behind." Since I don't obsess over schedules, I figured we would do what we could do with delight and no more. Pamela did her best to supply the delight. She picks the order of what we do: some days she is methodical. She usually walks her favorite route and selects books in chronological order (from ancient to modern and vice versa). Sometimes, she picks her favorite route backwards or takes a completely new one. Lately, she has preferred reading books in random order.

Today, random didn't add enough joy, so Pamela invented her own game. For every book, she covered her eyes and told me, "Pick a random one." She giggled while I picked a book out of the crate and laughed when she saw what I picked. I improvised on her game and gave her clues while she had her eyes covered. I would hum the tune of a train song when I picked a book on that topic or "Hail to the Chief" when I picked one on the presidents. Then, she really laughed uproariously. Selecting the next book was a hilarious game that melted my headache.

Mother Nature had a lovely surprise when we headed out to study the magnolia tree. The creamy peach fruit, a fascinating study in its own right, popped out cheery red seeds, something we had never noticed before. We collected three different colors of leaves and recorded all of our finds in our nature notebooks. Then, we headed to the computer to classify the tree with the help of the Clemson Extension biological key. Pamela wrote down the name in English (Southern magnolia) and Latin (Magnolia grandiflora). Pamela has enough Spanish under her belt to translate the Latin word grandiflora. Without any help, she figured out right away that it meant "big flower".

Pamela found joy in mathematics too. She was looking at the relationship between the circumference of a circle and the diameter, calculating the ratio of the former to the latter. When the book asked her "How many times does the diameter fit around the circumference?" Even though she wrote an equation based upon the ratio (C = 3.1 x D), Pamela did not think to solve for D (D = .34 x C). I think the decimal was throwing her off. Since she enjoys playing with numbers, I showed her how to plug numbers into her calculator to figure it out.

I encouraged Pamela to guess a starting number, any number. She guessed three and plugged it into an equation based on an actual data point (a cookie cutter tin): 14.3 x _____ = 4.5. Her guess (3) yielded a number much too high, so she tried and discarded 2 and 1 (too high) and 0 (too low).
14.3 x 3 = 42.9
14.3 x 2 = 28.6
14.3 x 1 = 14.3
14.3 x 0 = 0

With a upper boundary (1, which was too high) and a bottom boundary (0, which was too low), I guided her through the search: the point half-way between 1 and 0. She plugged in .5 found it too high.
14.3 x .5 = 7.15

Then, she tried and rejected .4 (too high) and .3 and .2 (too low):
14.3 x .4 = 5.72
14.3 x .3 = 4.29
14.3 x .2 = 2.86

Every time we tried a new number, Pamela grew more and more delighted as the product got closer and closer to 4.5. She squealed with joy! Then, I asked her to try "Point three what?": .3__.

She tried .35 and squealed at getting even closer: 5.005! More joy with .34 (4.862), .33 (4.719),  and finally .32 (4.576)!

As always, we spent our time in the car wisely, doing our audio work (Spanish, recitation, a few audio books, music), and waiting for assistance in various offices, doing written work. I smiled at Pamela's misspellings in her studied dictation: how can you not see the logic of writing introducted? I smiled at her choice quote for her commonplace book, "Care for him as for the apple of your eye." She started her narration about gorillas in her science notebook and added two drawings of ancient sculptures to the drawings of those we have found in town.

Another delightful study is on the telegraph. I created five audio files (one per day) of a message in Morse Code. I picked quotations and lines Pamela might recognize from her reading to practice decoding using a tree. The file was not too difficult to create: I used Audacity to create series of 1,000 Hertz tones lasting 1/4 of a second for a dot and 1 second for a dash. Today's message was the title of a hymn we learned last year: Open Our Eyes, Lord. Watching Pamela's face light up anytime she makes a discovery is another source of joy.

Last June, I bought a calendar of firsts from Red Mountain Community School, but it has taken some time to wrap my head around it. How do you know a first is a first? God clued me in on Saturday when the camellia that always blooms in October revealed its blossoms right on schedule. The second issue for a math geek like me is that the book has 86 pages, each of which has four columns, which equates to 344 days of entry. A leap year, which has 366 days, would skip 22 days. That meant we needed to have two days per column, twice, in ten of the months and two days per column, once, in ten of the months. I made a command decision to set up January 1 through 27 on single columns, put 28/29 together, and 30/31 together. We will apply the same logic to the last four days of every month until we hit November and December, which will only be the last two days of the month. You can see why I have put off making any decisions because I can't even follow my reckoning here. Since we had plenty of spare time, Pamela started setting up her calendar and made it half of the way through February. Because Pamela loves calendars, she enjoyed this immensely.

They find that, in Bacon's phrase, "Studies serve for delight"; this delight being not in the lessons or the personality of the teacher, but purely in their 'lovely books,' 'glorious books.' ~ Charlotte Mason