Memory, Hither Come: Memory Work in our Homeschool

“Memory, hither come,

And tune your merry notes;

And, while upon the wind

Your music floats,

I’ll pore upon the stream,

Where sighing lovers dream

And fish for fancies as they pass

Within the watery glass.”

~William Blake

When I first began homeschooling, we were using a popular neoclassical curriculum that involved a lot of rote memorization of facts and lists. At first we had fun with chants and songs and games to help us both remember these random tidbits of information. I was told that all these names and dates were pegs on which my son would later be able to hang more complex ideas. However, we both quickly became disillusioned and frustrated with the disconnected, seemingly meaningless nature of all these facts and figures. As I began researching the Charlotte Mason method, I realized that we needed to approach home education very differently, and we stopped using that particular curriculum.

At the same time, though, I was learning that memorization in and of itself is a beneficial exercise for the brain. (If you have not heard Andrew Pudewa speak on this subject, save this link to go back and listen to this podcast series as soon as you can. It is so fascinating!) So if I didn’t want to be teaching my son dry, disconnected factoids for the sake memorizing something, what should we be memorizing? My new knowledge of Charlotte Mason education led me to believe that I should be filling my child’s mind with ideas: true, good and beautiful ideas. So I set out furnish our minds with rich ideas through memorizing Scripture, hymns, poetry, a catechism, mottos/quotes, and folksongs.

How we go about this is as follows:
Each 6-week term we start new memory work, with the exception of hymns and folksongs, which are on a monthly rotation. I create and print pages to fit in a small binder for each of us, containing all the memory work we will be doing that term. At the opening of our Morning Time each day, we say our prayers, then sing our hymn, having a daily devotion, and then go over our memory work together. We simply read (expressively) through everything together daily. By the end of the term, without any further drilling or tricks, my son can almost always recite the selections from memory without help. But I do not press this. My goal is more to expose my children to worthy examples of beautiful language and have them become familiar with a wide variety of Scripture, poetry and song so that they will recognize and enjoy them better later on in life.

I sat down last night to catalogue a list of all the things we have memorized just over the past 18-24 months, and I was amazed at how much we have done! To think how many beautiful ideas with which we will have furnished our minds if we continue doing this for the durations of my son’s school years is simply overwhelming! The one thing I have yet to figure out and implement is a good method for reviewing some of the ground we have covered. I have heard of a few ways other families use, but I have not tried them for myself yet. That is something I want to improve on in the coming school year.

If you are curious to know what we have memorized or need some ideas for starting out your young students with memory work, I have created a new page containing our Memory Work Index with categorized lists of all the passages, poems, etc. we have worked on so far. I am looking forward to seeing how this list grows in the years to come!

Heart Work: Letting God Perform Spiritual Surgery

Has God ever invited you to undergo spiritual surgery? Maybe you were listening to a sermon on an average Sunday morning, when a certain word or phrase the pastor spoke struck you. Then later on you read something in a book or on a blog that addressed the same idea and kept you thinking about it the rest of the day. A few days later, you were driving around listening to a favorite podcast, when the guest mentioned dealing with the same thing that you have been mulling over all week. I am sure I am not the only one who has experiences like this, when it becomes abundantly clear that the Lord is speaking to you about a specific issue or area of your life. The question is, what do we do when we feel the Lord prompting us to listen?

I have had some recent experience like this, and as tempting as it is to just say, “Oh, yes, Lord, I know I need to think about that, but I’m pretty busy right now,” I know that cannot be my response. God has been speaking to me about some deeply significant heart issues that need healing and transformation. If I want true change, I am going to have to do the work alongside Him. I need to deal with the sin, the pain, and the ugliness so that I can experience the sanctification, the healing, and the joy on the other side.

The thing is, it is hard to open up, even to my loving God, and let Him shine the light on my darkest parts. It would be easier to just put a spiritual bandaid on it and pretend I’m doing fine. Listen to some upbeat worship music, commit to more Bible memory or more service at church, any busy work to keep from dealing with what is really wrong. But then the cancer of my sin and Satan’s lies are just going to keep growing and taking deeper root. No, I can’t let that happen. Not this time. The Lord has been speaking to me, and I am going to take the time to listen, to seek His will. It will hurt, I know, but I am willing to let Him do some serious spiritual surgery. I need His Truth to cut through those lies that have taken up residence in my mind and heart. I need the water of the Word to wash my heart and refresh my weary soul. I am ready for Him to do some deep heart work so I can experience deep healing. How about you?

A Year in the Books: Reviewing our First Year with Ambleside Online

book stack

Last week marked a big milestone in our homeschool, but it passed by pretty quietly and uneventfully. We finished our Ambleside Online Year One work, closing the books and bidding farewell (for now) to beloved friends such as Jenny Wren and Peter Rabbit, King Harald Halfdanson, and Paddle-to-the-Sea. In less than two short months, we will pick back up where we left off with some of these characters, and add new acquaintances and adventures to our happy little homeschool bookshelf! I am already quite excited about the books we will be reading in Year Two. But before I get too carried away with plans for 2018, I felt I should recap the year we just finished. Doing a little homeschool audit a la Mystie Winkler was helpful in celebrating our successes and recognizing our strengths as well as acknowledging areas that are weak and need shoring up. So, let’s dig in, shall we?

What Our Year Looked Like:

First of all, I consider it a huge success that we actually finished our Ambleside Year 1 work on schedule after a long, drawn out moving process. I did not know if we could really do it. But we did. And I am proud of myself and my son for pulling up our bootstraps and sticking it out.

Ambleside Online divides the year’s work up into three terms, ideally with exams at the end of each term. They also have a rotation for Artist and Composer study to coincide with each term, as well as monthly hymns and folk songs. Our daily “Morning Time” included these hymns and folk songs daily, as well as memory work, prayers and our “loop subjects.” The loop subjects were the ones we needed to get to weekly, rather than daily: art study, composer study, geography, handicrafts, solfa, nature study and poetry reading. I changed out our memory work by month or by term, depending on how long we needed to work on things. I could go more into detail about how I set up our Morning Time binders and memory work in another post. Suffice to say, it works pretty well for us.

After we did our morning time binder work and loop subjects, we started into math. We have been using MEP math, and I really am happy with what a solid curriculum it is. My son has a much better grasp of how numbers work and how to solve problems than he had before we started using MEP, even though he is a naturally math-y person. I do want to add in more fun math activities outside of MEP, and during our “Yuletide Term” (again, deserving of its own separate post), we are really enjoying reading Bedtime Math together.

After math, we did our Ambleside Online readings and narrations. Some books were more challenging for my son to grasp and retell the stories, but they were all well-worth the reading. I think the easiest and best narrations he gave this year were from Aesop’s Fables. I think he really enjoyed hearing the fairy tales from Lang’s Blue Fairy Book, but they were harder for him to tell back to me. He also loves all things written by Thonton W. Burgess, so the Burgess Bird Book was always a favorite. Our most recent favorite has been Viking Tales. It probably helps that it is a very manly book, and he is at an age where that is becoming more appealing. Plus, I love this one because with my own Scandinavian heritage and personal visit to Norway and Sweden, I have a lot of love for the Vikings, in spite of the burning and pillaging and all! Interspersed between reading and narration, we had copyworb (currently using a cursive writing practice workbook from a Beka), Swedish Drill practice, and Spanish lessons.

Some Successes and Some Room for Improvement:

I am pretty pleased with my son’s progress in his cursive handwriting over the past year. Now we need to work on getting him fluent enough that he will write in cursive when he is not doing school. He still prints (self-taught) when he is copying things or trying to spell things for his own personal projects outside of school time. Swedish Drill is hit or miss. Sometimes I don’t feel like doing it. Sometimes he flops and flails around instead of actual trying to do the right motions. Sometimes the toddler gets underfoot too much. But we keep trying to be more consistent and keep it fun and accurate at the same time. Spanish was a bit random because I did not have a curriculum. I know enough vocabulary and phrases to get my kids started with speaking, but I lack the direction to be consistent in my approach. We did watch Salsa episodes, which was really fun and may have given me a little direction in what vocab to work on, but it was not enough to really plan around. I am seriously considering buying a Spanish curriculum to give me the planning help and direction I need to make a consistent effort. I want my kids to really be pretty proficient in Spanish, and I am not doing well at pursuing this goal on my own.

I feel like in most areas we have improved and learned a lot. I know my son is making connections with things we have studied, and he is learning to care about nature and stories, which is pleasing to see. He used part of his 7th birthday money to buy a bird feeder and bird seed so that we can watch and learn more about our local feathered friends, all of his own accord. When reading some assorted poetry selections last week, he was excited to see one of the poems was by William Shakespeare. I guess he didn’t know the Bard also wrote poetry, not just slightly odd plays, hee-hee! And when tonight’s read aloud mentioned a print of Whistler’s Mother hanging over the mantle piece, he looked at me with wide, knowing eyes. I love that we are learning all sorts of new folk songs together, and even more that the 2 year old is getting exposed to the great hymns of the faith at such a young age. She really picks up on things surprisingly quickly! It is hard having a very busy but needy toddler wanting to be right in the middle of everything in our school day, but it is also a blessing.

All in all, I am very proud of my son and his accomplishments and hard work over the past year. And I am very thankful for Ambleside Online for providing the structure and direction to keep us on the path pursuing truth, goodness and beauty. Now we take a break for a more relaxed, paired down Yuletide Term. But I am truly anticipating great things when we begin Year 2 in January!

PS–If you want to know more about Mystie’s Homeschool Audit, click here. Even better, check out her Art of Homeschool e-course!

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The Reading Report, Vol. 6: Picture Book Edition

Happy Almost Thanksgiving, readers! I am excited to be entering into this holiday season in a new place this year! My parents and my brother and sister-in-law will be coming in for Thanksgiving, and we are looking forward to their visit. In light of the beginning of a busy season for most families, I thought I had better go ahead and get this month’s Reading Report written up so that it isn’t lost in the holiday shuffle. Besides, as promised last time, this edition is chalk full of favorite picture books, all of which would make great gifts for the children on your list! Keep in mind, this is not an exhaustive list, just the most recent favorites the kids and I have been enjoying together. Many are classics, but some are newer books. All are well-worth a spot on a child’s bookshelf!

Picture books we’ve been loving:

            

                     

             

    

     

What I’ve Finished Reading:

I can’t publish this month’s Reading Report without mentioning a few of my own books, of course. I certainly cannot skip over my thoughts on finishing GileadI turned its final page just a couple nights ago, and I have still been thinking about the book ever since. It did take a while to get into, and I will admit that for a while it seemed to move so slowly and quietly that it nearly put me to sleep a couple of times. However, the pace of the storyline and tension between characters picked up later on, and the ending was very moving to me. I actually honestly cried big fat tears at the end. The book had so many themes woven through it: grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, family relationship, generational heritage, aging, youth, beauty of creation, small town life…I could go on! It is more of a fictionalized memoire than a plot-driven book, which may not be for everyone. I seemed to me very much a chronicle of a man coming to peace with himself and his fellow man near the end of his life. And I loved it.

Also, if you are looking for a fun fantasy sort of book to read with your kids, Edith Nesbit’s Five Children and It is a great read aloud or audible choice! The kids and I listened to it on our car rides recently, and we fell in love with these ordinary children who have extraordinary adventures (and learn some good lessons) thanks to finding an unusual mythical creature who can grant their wishes!

What I’m Reading Next:

The Penderwicks: I saw this one while browsing at the library today and decided to pick it up for my own light reading. If I think it is appropriate, I may read it aloud to my son once I am finished.

I also just started in on Last Child in the Woods. This book has been on my radar for a long time, but I never had a chance to actually sit down and read it. Seeking to spend more time outdoors is always a goal I have for myself and my kids, and I know this book is just going to drive home the point. But so far I am finding the statistics and other information in the first few chapters very interesting.

The next Close Reads podcast pick is Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. My son and I just read the E. Nesbit synopsis version in Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare, so I am looking forward to reading and watching the play next!

What I Shelved:

The Explosive Child: Since I mentioned this book in the last Reading Report, I thought I should let you all know I ended up returning this title to the library after only reading the first few chapters. There was just too much emphasis on the psychological and developmental theories from a secular point of view, not taking into account the sin nature of the child. I do not know if I would have found some helpful tips later on in the book, but I decided it was not a book for me right now.

And that is probably enough from me for now! Happy Reading, friends!

Exhausting Expectations and the Gospel of Grace

Last week I hit a wall emotionally, mentally and physically. My husband was out of town for 4 days on business, and even though this is nothing new for our family, it was a long 4 days. I took the kids to a new homeschool group outing, which was a good experience, but very draining. And we were trying really hard to finish up the school week on schedule so that we could start our holiday-themed fun school books and projects this week. I had not had any good quality adult conversation in a while, and the time zone difference between my husband’s location in California and ours in Tennessee made daily calls with him challenging. Nothing traumatic happened all week, and I even managed not to completely lose my cool with the kids during that time. But by the weekend, I was completely worn out. I felt depleted and depressed.

My husband knew I was struggling. He and I had a long conversation, and I cried a lot. It took me a long time to talk through all the things I was upset about, all the hard things that were dragging me down, but at the end, it all boiled down to this: I had been setting my expectations for myself too high again, and I was exhausted from trying and failing to measure up. You see, as a perfectionist, I have unreasonably high standards for myself and my performance. And when I do not meet my own standards, I often beat myself up for being such a big, fat failure. I walk around in defeat because I know I can never be good enough. But the ridiculous part is that no-one else has these outrageous expectations for me. My kids don’t. My husband doesn’t. My friends don’t. And most importantly, God doesn’t.

That is the hardest one to wrap my mind around. God does not expect perfection from me. He does not demand that I perform to a certain set of unattainable standards. He knows I am human. He expects me to make mistakes, to fail the test, to sin. And yet He still loves me. How can it be that this Holy God who is himself infinitely good and perfect still love me when I fall so far short of perfection time and time again? Because of GRACE. Because of Christ’s work on the cross. Because He has taken my sin as far as the east is from the west and left it there to be seen no more. When God the Father looks at me, He does not see my sin and my failure. All He sees is Christ in me, a new creation, beautiful and blameless.

This is so hard for me to get through my head and sink into my heart. But it is the Gospel. It is the Truth. And it is what I need to hear and read and speak and believe day in and day out. I need to eat, drink, sleep and breathe the grace of God. Because when I don’t, I live in a place of defeat, irritability and depression. I am open to the attacks of the enemy. And I am not a very pleasant person to be around. When I am living in the light of grace, on the other hand, I can have peace and joy, knowing that my value as a person does not depend on my performance. I can go through each day without guilt about unfinished tasks, admitting my faults without beating myself up. I can repent and ask God for the strength and help to do better tomorrow, knowing that He does not love me any less when I fall. He just picks me back up and dusts me off, hugs me and sets me back on the path, holding my hand as I go. I have a long road to travel to learn to give myself grace in my imperfection. Thank the Lord that He will be with me all the way!

Weary Wanderer: An Introvert’s Reflections on Finding Friendship

I knew this would be challenging, moving to a new place and having to start all over again finding friends. But maybe I was not prepared for just how difficult it would be this time. You see, in past moves, I have always had some form of built-in community. When my husband and I first married and moved to Texas, I got a job right away and made acquaintances at work. When we moved to Illinois, it was for a church job, so right away I was in the middle of the busy life of the church and made new acquaintances there. I could have worked harder at finding friendship and being more outgoing elsewhere, and eventually, I did start branching out after having children. But I didn’t have to, at least not at the beginning.

This time, that is all different. I don’t work outside the home. And I don’t have a church I can call home yet. There is no predetermined community for me to settle into. Finding friends for me and my kids…it is all on me this time. I have made contacts here and there, gone out of my comfort zone and met new people and taken the kids to homeschool outings and such. We have visited more churches than I care to count, and I think we have decided to stick with one for the time being until my husband is called to lead the worship ministry someplace. But, here’s the thing. All this going here and there and putting myself out there to meet new people every week—it is EXHAUSTING! My little introvert self is completely worn out at the end of every Sunday morning, drained by the constant need to introduce myself and make some form of small talk. It takes all the energy I can muster just to get the kids out the door to go to yet another homeschool park meet-up, knowing that I may or may not actually have meaningful conversation with another mom in between pushing my toddler on the swings.

And there’s the heart of the matter. I crave meaningful connection, true community, not just surface conversations about where I’m from or what grade my kid is in. I long to be known and to be accepted and loved. As an introvert, I am wearied by all that superficial stuff, not to mention large group gathering. But when I have a heart to heart talk with someone and feel like we understood each other and really connected? That gives me life and makes me feel energized. It makes me feel that all the work and energy it takes to get out of the house and be around people is really worth the effort. So, here I am, lonely and longing for real, deep friendship. I know that it will take time, energy, and sacrifice on my part. I also know that if I keep trying, it will be worth it. So, here’s to another day of getting out of my comfort zone and meeting new people, because maybe one of them is a weary wanderer, just like me. And maybe we need each other to put out that effort one more time.

 

Podcast Round-up: Encouragement for Moms Edition

Welcome to the final installment of the Tuning Hearts Podcast Round-up! I hope you have enjoyed this series and that you have found some great new listening material! Up today we have a great collection of podcasts for all the moms out there.

The last two posts in this series were specifically for homeschooling moms, but not so this time! I have compiled my favorites for when your momma heart just needs some solid encouragement in the day to day. Most of these are faith-based, but not all. Many feature interviews with bloggers, authors and speakers who’s stories will make you laugh or think or pray. All of these podcast have been an encouragement to me in my journey as a mom, and I hope you will find some hope for your journey as well. If you give any of these ladies a listen and find a new favorite, please let me know in the comments at the end of this post! 

At Home with Sally with Sally Clarkson and Kristen Kill

Read-Aloud Revival with Sarah MacKenzie

The Busy Mom with Heidi St. John
Feathers: Faith in Flight with Amy Bennett

God-Centered Mom with Heather Mac Fadyen

Mom Struggling Well with Emily Thomas
The Masterpiece Mom with Amanda Bacon and Anne-Renee Gumley

If you missed the first 2 posts in this series, you can check them out here:

Podcast Round-up: Homeschool Mom Edition

Podcast Round-up: Classical Charlotte Mason Education Edition

The Life-giving Habit of Mother Culture

Mother culture

There is no sadder sight in life than a mother, who has so used herself up in her children’s childhood, that she has nothing to give them in their youth.

from “Mother Culture” by “A.” in The Parents’ Review, vol. 3, no. 2, pgs. 92-95

I had never heard the term “mother culture” until about two years ago when I was listening to Leah Boden talk about it in one of her Periscope broadcasts. At the time, I was knee deep in the duties of caring for a young infant—diapering, nursing, feeding, bathing, soothing, and all the rest. I was also in the infant stages of homeschooling our son, and that in itself felt like a full time job. The rest of life did not stop, either, just because I had many demands at home. There were outside commitments snd situations that also depleted my physical and emotional energy. I was definitely feeling “used up” in those days!

Thankfully, since I had so much time to sit while nursing a baby, I started to read during those many hours each day. I don’t remember how intentional I was about it at first, but I knew I needed to give my mind something more nourishing to chew on than Facebook, Instagram and random blogs. I am not sure I had read Brandy Vencel’s wonderful post on Mother Culture then, but if not then, I know I read it sometime not too much later. She does a great job of pulling the meat from that article in the PR magazine from which I quoted earlier and distilling it down to give us a good working definition of this thing called “mother culture.”

Basically, mother culture is another way of saying that we as home educators, and arguably, even parents who do not keep their children home for their schooling, must continue to education ourselves even as we teach our children. If we do not, our minds will certainly stagnate, and lapse into unhealthy patterns of thinking. I do wonder if I had developed this habit of mother culture when my first child was born, perhaps I would have lessened the degree of my postpartum depression. We will never know, I guess, but I certainly believe it helped keep me out of the doldrums with my second baby! And now that my children are older and learning and growing in their education, wide reading and other habits of self-education are important for me to continue feeding my mind and growing as I pour out to teach and train them. Perhaps this will become even more crucial as they enter the high school years and are encountering books and ideas that I never had the chance to explore in my own formal education (Latin, for example).

There is no education but self-education.

Self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a child’s nature.

Charlotte Mason

If the above statement about self-education are true for our children, how much more so are they true for us as adults, when we are no longer under a formal course of study? It seems that as mothers we must form habits of tending our own minds and hearts as much as we help tend to those of our children. Also, even though the original article on Mother Culture only mentions wide reading, I do think that these habits of self-education extend to other areas of study. I have found for myself that it is equally life-giving to practice handwriting, drawing, nature study, and watercolor as to read a book. It is refreshing to my soul when I listen with attention to an opera or symphony, when I knit or crochet or do needlework, and when I commonplace quotes from my own reading. The important thing is to do something which is expanding my mind and my skills, not mention my own habit of attention, so that I do not stagnate or drain myself dry.

So now I want to encourage you, whether you are in the toddler years, or the teen years, do something that gives life to your mind and soul. Read a stretching book to challenge you to think deeply. Learn a new skill to do with your hands. Take in a piece of art or music, paying close attention to the beauty in its details. Walk out in nature and take notes on what you find. Whatever small habits you can begin to cultivate your own education, I do believe that developing your own mother culture will be well worth the effort! What will you do to fill yourself up today?

What Do I Need? #fiveminutefriday

Thinking about “needs” today, I was struck by how many things I think I need on a daily, or at least a regular basis:

I need quiet.
I need personal space.
I need my morning tea.
I need to write.
I need to read.
I need to create.
I need to connect with my husband.
I need to connect with my kids.
I need time outside in nature.
I need water.
I need wholesome food.
I need to feel understood.
I need prayer.
I need a plan.
I need a to-do list.
I need sleep.
I need structure.
I need flexibility.
I need peace.
I need a clean house.
I need the internet.

Most of all, though, I need the grace of God to get me through the day.

Some of my needs are healthy things. Others may be less than healthy. Some are things that are easy to get on a daily basis. Others are more challenging for me to get right now. Some of my needs are filled by means of self-discipline. Others are filled as a simple matter of habit. And still others are actually out of my control. All my needs, in the end, are ultimately fulfilled by God’s provision, either directly or indirectly. And to Him I offer thanks and praise at the end of the day for giving me what I truly needed.

And my God will supply all your need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19 (NASB)

This post is part of Five Minute Fridays. To read my other FMF posts, click the tag #fiveminutefriday at the bottom of the page. 

Podcast Round-Up: Classical Charlotte Mason Education Edition

Here we are back at last with the second post in my Podcast Round-up series! If you are a podcast addict like me, you are always looking for new listening material. And if you are anywhere on the classical homeschooling spectrum, you are going to love this list!

If you missed the first post in my Podcast Round-up series, it was focussed on some of my favorite podcasts for homeschool mom encouragement. This time around, I am narrowing that focus even more to podcasts specifically geared toward the subject of Classical, Charlotte Mason style home education. Some of these are more for the purpose of the mother’s education (I’m looking at you, Close Reads and Scholé Sisters!), while others are a bit more in the vein of how to actually teach using a classical or Charlotte Mason approach. In the end, though, that’s all educational for the homeschooling mom, no? I highly encourage you to give these folks a listen and let me know which ones are your favorites!

 
Circe Institute Podcast: Close Reads with David Kern, Angelina Stanford and Tim MacIntosh

The Classical Homeschool with Jennifer Dow and Ashley Woleben
The Delectable Education Podcast with Emily Kaiser, Nicole Williams, Liz Cotrill
The Simply Convivial Audio Blog with Mystie Winkler
AfterCast, an AfterThoughts audio blog with Brandy Vencel
Scholé Sisters with Brandy Vencel, Pam Barnhill and Mystie Winkler

It’s your turn! What are your podcast recommendations for mother’s education or classical Charlotte Mason homeschool helps? Did I miss any? Please leave me a comment and let me know!