Saturday, 29 September 2007

Weekly Report #2

This week Joshua worked really hard on his penmanship letters and words for each day. I have started giving him a short sentence to read that includes the new word, familiar words and some common words that I haven't yet taught him how to decode, which I help him with as he goes through the sentence. He decoded a newe word, traced the new word, then read the sentence below. This worked well to inspire him to keep going. I don't think he even realised how much more he was reading than last week. His last sentence for the week had nine words! Rat ran from cat and hid in big bin.
This is such an achievement for him and for me, because at the beginning of this year he could only recognise J, o, s, h, M and sometimes D, and he couldn't read anything at all.

I am still reading The House on Pooh Corner to them all, although I have been a bit slack this week. This morning Abigail fell asleep half way through a chapter, but the other two could answer my basic comprehension questions at the end, so they must have been listening, or at least looking carefully at the pictures. They did sit very still on the arms of my reading chair, while Samuel played next to us in his playpen. Special thanks to "Cousin Jennifer" who read a chapter to them all on Monday evening when she came to visit with "Cousin Kevin". It was a real pleasure to see them both at the wedding of our mutual cousin Alison on Sunday.

Also on Sunday our second guinea pig died. He was missing when we got up in the morning, presumed escaped to freedom, but had come back sometime in the morning and was most unfortunately eaten by (we assume) a cat while we were out. Jeff found the dismembered remains on our lawn and kindly buried them without the rest of us having to see them. It was a sad end to Skittery-Scamper. I think I was saddest. I feel like such a pathetic pet owner. We started with two guinea pigs, Skitter and Scamper, only a few months ago and Scamper had already fallen prey to a mysterious sudden-onset illness and had to be put down by the vet. Hence Skitter being renamed Skittery-Scamper. The kids don't seem to upset by the whole thing, though, and Jeff's take on it all is at least they get to understand that death comes to us all before they have to face it in aperson they love.

To end on a positive note, our other major accomplishment this week was the Nature Study walk. Some of them actually relished the opportunity to get close up to nature:
I think they are beginning to understand that we smell flowers with our noses by bending over them and sniffing them, not by ripping them out of the ground and bringing them up to our faces to sniff!

A lovely photo of the three biggest kids posing by those gorgeous pink flowers:

And here's what they did right after that photo was taken:
Chase the ducks and come for cuddles ... gotta love homeschooling!

Friday, 28 September 2007

"Happy Love Day"

Last night was my weekly shopping night and I bought a whole hap of fresh fruit, so this morning as I cut some up for breakfast for the kids, I tried to think of some reason why we should be having a Special Breakfast today. In the end, I decided we were having a Special Breakfast because we were celebrating our "Love Day".

When Jeff came out for breakfast, the kids and I sang "Happy Love Day to You" and we all gathered in for a family cuddle before eating together. It was a lovely start to the day, and despite the usual annoyances throughout the day, it has been at the back of my mind that this is "Love Day" and I should be trying hard to be loving with my kids. It was also our turn for date night (we went out for dinner and then a drive around some of the wealthier suburbs nearby admiring their imposing houses) and in two days we will be celebrating our wedding anniversary for the seventh time.

Our first "Love Day" has been lovely and gentle, and I might just try it again some time when we need another family-building pick-me-up.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Nature Study 101

We have just come back from Yellagonga Regional Park (see also here), where we went for our first Nature Study walk. I told the kids as we were getting in the car that we were going to the "bush", and they were quite excited. I have been trying for a while to get motivated to take us all out of the house and in to a more natural environment, and spring has given me the needed impetus. The photo collage below shows the results of our stroll, but first I wanted to give you a glimpse of the first thing we saw (and heard) as we opened the car doors:

Er, yes. That is a giant wood chipping machine you can see in the background there. Obviously one of the trees was dropping too many branches, as happens frequently with eaucalypts. I was so relieved when Joshua commented "Can we go see what different types of birds we can find now, Mummy?"We saw the usual suspects, birdwise; ducks and a Willie Wagtail. At one stage I turned around to see a small flock of ducks following a few metres behind us up the path. It wasn't until later that I realised they were probably collecting the crumbs of milk arrowroot biscuit that Samuel was so kindly dropping for them.

The flowers were also a hit with the kids. When I asked Anna which was her favourite, she replied in her three-year-old way, "the pink ones and the white ones and the yellow ones and ... all of them!"

Another special moment occurred when Joshua spied a butterfly and began to sing "Alive! Alive! Alive forevermore! My Jesus is alive!" The kids watch their Cedarmont Kids DVD called Sunday School Songs quite often and this is the first song on it. The opening shots show a butterfly of the same type developing and emerging from its chrysallis. I love the way I have tuned in my kids' minds to always thinking of Jesus - even when I haven't been trying to!

So I guess we'll be scheduling Nature Study regularly from now on.

Quotable quote

From the jungle of words out there, an argument agains post-modern hyper criticism:

"Language is collaborative: words mean what most of us think they mean."
- Barbara Wallraff Your Own Words

Of course, when we are reading works written in another historical age, another language, or within another culture, we need to factor this into our thinking. As the OED attests, our words have held very different meanings in onther times and places.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Romans 13:1-7

This week my BSF class studied Romans 13:1-7, where Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome about how live with proper submission, respect, honour and obedience to authorities. Paul argues that all authority was established by God and as a consequence we should submit to those in authority as an expression of our submission to God.

Paul goes on to comment that authorities will commend those who do right and also act on behalf of God when they punish those who do wrong. Thus rulers are not to be feared by those who act rightly. (Paul confidently acted upon his own teaching when he appealed to Caesar, as recorded in Acts 25:10-11.)

As a mother, I have a God-given position of authority over my children's lives. It is a very important position. Re-reading this passage has reminded me of my responsibility to not only rebuke my children for their misdeeds, but also to train them in good deeds. Now I already knew this (I take my mothering seriously) but I am challenged as to whether I "commend" my children often enough when they "do what is right" [Rom 13:3]. This week, I have been encouraged to praise and reward my children for righteousness.

Now, I am off to look for an opportunity to commend my kids!

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Family Day Out @ Perth Zoo

On Saturday Jeff & I took the kids to the Perth Zoo, which they always love. We started with the Asian rainforest animals (Abigail asked to see the monkeys and elephants) and then made our way past the African savannah animals (my personal favourites are the rhinos). We enjoyed the orangutans (Anna's favourites) and then while I loitered feeding Samuel by the Galapagos tortoises in the South American section, Jeff took the kids to see the bats and insects (Joshua's choice). The funniest part of the day was checking out the meerkats and realising that two of them were hard at work making meerkat babies.

We try and go to the zoo several times throughout the year and often time it for visits from the kids' grandparents. This was our most successful visit so far because for the first time Abigail was able to walk around the zoo for the entire trip and not hae to be pushed in the pram. It probably helped that we went up the steepest hill early on and the rest of the day wandered back down. Still, walking for 4 hours is a big ask for a girl who is only 2 and a half.

The kids all fell asleep in the car on the way home - no big surprise - and Jeff and I had big smiles over our faces. It was a splendid day.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Weekly Report #1

I am adding penmanship to Joshua's reading program, Grapho-Phonix, and some days he traces his list of five or six words quickly and neatly while other days he whinges and complains. Diligence at his tasks is something we are working on in all areas of life, not just homeschool. Then some days he comes up with absolute gems. At the end of last week, I gave him his penmanship on the magnetic Megasketcher and he loved it: Then yesterday morning I woke up to "Mummy, Mummy, look what I've done!" and a piece of paper shoved in my face:

Joshua had pulled out our alphabet poster (which we still haven't stuck up anywhere 9 months after we started homeschool Kindergarten) and copied the upper case letters very carefully all by himself. Many of these letters we haven't studied yet, because the reading program I use introduces a selection of letters from the basic code and then words with those letters, before introducing other letters. The K that he had trouble with and the Q that he wrote perfectly both fall into this category. I was very pleased when I saw his careful efforts, especially because it was completely self-motivated 'work'.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Today's Table Time

Each school day we have a scheduled 'table time' when the kids sit at the dining table and exercise their fine motor skills along with developing their concentration and attention span. Diligence at the task is usually rewarded with a snack for morning tea. We do colouring and free drawing with a variety of media (pencils, crayons, textas) and I also plan activities that aren't centred around having the correct pencil grip. Earlier this week we did a variety of jigsaws (Abigail works on fitting wooden puzzle shapes into their holes and Anna and Joshua are both able to complete cardboard puzzles carefully) and also spent time enjoying the delights of play-dough.

Today the kids worked on beading, making necklaces from penne pasta dyed with food colouring and some cheap wooden beads. Later in the day I was flicking through a kids' craft book and found a suggestion to cut up plastic drinking straws to make beads of varying sizes as another method. This would be a little harder than with the pasta because straws are flimsy and have a smaller diameter, so I think it might be the next step up for this fine motor skill activity.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Hiding His Word in their hearts

According to the neo-classical view of the child, my children are all in the 'grammar' stage of learning. This means their brains are, at present, wired for absorbing information. They soak it up like sponges: my 4yo son knows the names of each of the trains in the Thomas the Tank Engine books by Rev W Audry, my 3yo daughter can recite Luke 18:15-17 without fault, my 2yo is rapidly increasing her repertoire of nursery rhymes and kids' songs and my baby ... well, he's busy learning to wave and say "mama" as well as "dada". In all of this list of achievements, the only one that would be considered unusual would be reciting Bible verses. Yet this is one thing that I consider very important, because I see the value of hiding God's Word in my children's hearts.

We practise reciting our Bible memory verses together as a family each day at either breakfast or lunchtime. Often, the two older kids have the verse memorised before Jeff or I, because they are so good at taking things in. We use the Scripture Memory System described at Simply CM, reciting new verses each day until they are memorised and then practising them regularly to keep them fresh. We are working on some verses I chose because they support the major Christian doctrines with regard to who God is, how we know about Him, who Jesus is, what He did, sin and salvation. Occasionally I add in another verse I have come across it in my own private study that has really struck me, and we also plan to memorise such things as the order of books of the Bible.

Recently, my mother watched Anna recite Colossians 1:16 - For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. She warned me to be cautious, and on reflection I think she was very astute. It is essential that our children memorise the correct words of Scripture, and do not memorise mistakenly. When they are older and are relying upon their memory of certain verses, we do not want that memory to be faulty in what it tells them about God's Word.

It is also important that they understand what they are saying: that while the memorisation is indeed by rote, it is not forming knowledge without understanding. When we were learning Colossians 1:16, we discussed "authority" and its trappings. We also read aloud the picture book Possum Magic by Mem Fox (in which the possum Hush is first turned invisible and then visible again by Grandma Poss) and used this to explain what was meant by "visible" and "invisible". We explained that "created" means "made" and reminded the children of other verses that speak of God as the Creator, such as Gen1:1 and John1:1-4.

Another caution appeared to me from Exploring the History and Philosophy of Christian Education. "Bible memory games ... are important ... but they should never be seen as the end. They are simply the means to the end of balanced spiritual formation. ... Meaningful understanding and practical application must precede memorisation or we are guilty of creating modern day Pharisees." I want my children to be able to act upon what they know, so I need to train them to exercise their knowledge in their daily lives. So when Joshua came home a while ago to tell me "Our next door neighbour doesn't want Jesus to be his King. He says God didn't make the world, it was evolution." I reminded him that God has told us the truth in His Word, and we can be sure that He is the Creator, because Colossians 1:16 (and other verses) tell us this. Then we prayed together that Joshua could share the truth about God and His Son Jesus with our neighbour.

This is what it means to have His Word in their hearts.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

The curriculum was in the mail

I was just beginning to think it wasn't coming and it is finally here. My curriculum framework from the Curriculum Council of Western Australia, that is. It's big, but possibly not as big as I was expecting: 324 A4-size pages and they have stuff on the inside covers as well. Not exactly bedtime reading. At least with my background as an ex-teacher I should be able to interpret most of the educationalese.

A quick flick through it, however, has me interested to read more. It has a basic scope and sequence for each of the 8 official learning areas. Given that I have already planned and plotted my own curriculum sequence based largely on the ideas of classical education, with a little Charlotte Mason pedagogy thrown in, it should be interesting to see what overlap exists, if any.

I am particularly interested in the portions related to the early years. Of course, all my kids are under five so that has something to do with it. Having been a high school teacher gives me confidence at that level but I am sometimes at a loss to know what the 'basics' that we are meant to be getting back to actually consist of. This could be largely due to the great gaping holes in my own early education, of course. I didn't learn my times tables properly until I was teaching maths to high school students - and that was after I got my BSc with a minor in mathematics. My knowledge of grammar is below miserable. I have real and honest difficulty with anything beyond article, noun, adjective and verb. It is truly a blessing to be given the opportunity to learn along with my children!

Monday, 17 September 2007

Our homeschool goal

After much thought, my ultimate goal for the process of homeschooling our children is this: To equip our children to do the good works which God has prepared in advance for them to do. [Ephesians 2:10]

I want our children to be equipped to complete the tasks that God has appointed to them through His good purpose for them. I want them to be able to please Him, because they will be both willing and able to do His will. I want them to grow more like Jesus Christ, so that they might bring Him glory.

I know these are high and lofty goals. But my God is a high and mighty God!