Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dryer Sheet Stretching

The other day I was reading in All You Magazine and came across an article on streamlining the laundry chores.  According to All You, you can cut your dryer sheets in half and they will still keep your clothes just as fresh and static free.  I took my box of Bounce dryer sheets and cut them right down the middle!  Now instead of 120 loads, that box gives me 240 loads!  Oh and I used my half sheets all day today and they worked like a charm. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Preschool at Our House

Timmy will be four in a couple of months and with his impending birthday, plans for preschool are swirling around in my head. I am actually excited to return to the early grammar stage. With Jeffrey heading to high school and Christian in middle school, I have missed those early learning years much more than I thought I would. While in the trenches of teaching my older boys how to read I was tearfully convinced that I might not make it through but thankfully a few veteran homeschool moms loaned me an ear and sometimes a shoulder. They were right! My boys did learn to read! Hopefully I will be able to pass their encouragement forward to others.

This year I've experimented with some of the methods of Classical Christian homeschooling with Timothy and have been very excited to report, great results. Just the other night while I was putting an alphabet puzzle back together, he was able to tell me almost every sound. I haven't fed him phonics and we haven't bought into the "Teach your baby to read" programs! We have read stories and looked at picture books every day for as long as I can remember and I do give him tons of opportunities to practice and learn about the letters of the alphabet and their sounds. I am also very particular with the toys we choose for him. Lauri Puzzles and Melissa and Doug Toys rank at the top of my list!

Every day we wake up and spend a few minutes cuddling on the sofa or in momma's bed. Then he helps me wake his brothers and completes his morning high five. (Get dressed, make bed, eat breakfast, kitchen job, and brush teeth). Timothy watches "Tad" on Leapfrog's The Letter Factory DVD (yes the same video every day) while Christian, Jeffrey and I go over the days requirements at our command central bulletin board in the kitchen! Christian and I can usually work through the new concept in his math lesson or complete a dictation sentence while Timmy finishes his movie. After watching "Tad" he joins us in the kitchen where he heads to his activity boxes. This idea came from several "work box" blog posts.  I repurposed a plastic Sterilite brand tower with 4 narrow drawers and 3 wide drawers. Here he finds various activities to work through. I am looking for a different container for next fall but for now this one works well. 

Every drawer has a single activity that he should enjoy. Tomorrow's drawers are packed and ready to go!

The first drawer holds a simple coloring book and a box of crayons.  The pages have slightly raised edges to help kids stay in the lines.  Timothy and I colored this page together.  I used red and he used green! 

The second drawer holds sandpaper and yarn. We had fun making our letters and shapes today and for tomorrow I added pipe cleaners to this drawer.  We have a lot of fun making pipe cleaner animals and then counting the legs! 

The third drawer this week holds safety scissors, a hole punch and the cards that magazines insert into the center to solicit subscriptions.  

The fourth drawer has a selection of easy puzzles.  and a home made Humpty Dumpty that velcros back together. 
This Crayola Dry Erase board stays in the drawer or on top of the tower most of the time.  I place mazes, and coloring sheets inside this board and he loves to use the built in markers and eraser.  This was around fifteen dollars at Wal-Mart.  The fish mat is from a box of laminated easy draw and trace mats that I purchased through Scholastics during their Dollar Days sale! 
This deep drawer holds our peg board and pegs.  When he plays with this toy especially I like to direct clean up by saying things like "pick up all the blue pegs."

This is our bead stringing drawer! 
These drawers and the toys inside are his to use.  There isn't a specific order or amount of time spent on each drawer.  Sometimes a single drawer may occupy him for ten minutes, sometimes for ten seconds.  Sometimes my older boys will pick a drawer and help him complete the activity.  Often one will play with Timmy while I am working with the other.

We try to make sure we spend time outside every day.  He loves the trampoline, his sandbox and chasing the dog.  On days we stay home we head outside morning and afternoon.  We also read stories all day long, in the morning, before our nap and before we go to sleep.   He loves his books and is at the stage where he wants to help me read it!  He has his favorite books memorized verbatim!  There is so many other things we do throughout the day.  But we stick to our routine and are very repetitious in our activities.  We watch the same videos, play the same games, count the same pegs. This I will continue into this next school year as Timothy continues to learn and grow.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Why We Chose Classical Christian Education

Recently, I was asked to serve on a discussion panel for the local homeschool support group, BCHE. Representing the Classical Christian Method I sat beside 4 other mothers each representing their chosen method of home centered education. I over prepared. We were asked by email to give an overview of our style, talk about the vendors who sell it, show some of the specific materials we use, and tell us why this works for our family. It seemed the other ladies simply shared but of course I had notes to follow to the letter. For several days afterwards I kicked myself around mentally because I should have put down my research and spoke from my heart!

As I listened to moms that use Sonlight, Charlotte Mason, Delight Directed, and Unit Studies I realized Classical Christian Methodology fits with every single one of these styles. Yes, your eyes did not play tricks just now, you read that correctly. How in the world? Classical is rigid and academically strenuous not fun and certainly not directed by the student! Classical has a bad rap in my opinion, but it's really not its fault. We as products of our education look at teaching from our own reference point, and although we want better for our own children and do our best to be innovative and fresh in our approach, we still focus on subjects. Take unit studies for instance, even though everything revolves around a particular theme, we as parents still must make sure we have included math, science, English, writing, reading, etc…. These subjects we teach through the theme.

Classical Christian Home Centered education is not based on subjects, but on teaching the three basic skills of the trivium. The trivium is a Latin word which simply means the three ways or roads. Of course the trivium was completely foreign to me in the beginning as my personal public education and university training was focused on attaining a certain outcome known only to the political forces that drive our public school systems. I was a model robot, programmed to teach students to be model robots but never to think for themselves. That is because we were taught subjects and if you continued into the profession of teaching you were taught how to teach those subjects to your students. I remember taking upper level classes called Teaching Math and Teaching Social Studies in the Classroom. Did these subjects ever cross over? Never, and in fact I remember being frustrated because when subjects did cross the boundary lines I didn't know where to place them in the teacher's lesson plan book. Furthermore, when I finished with my degree, I could teach every subject from kindergarten through eighth grade and somehow managed to do this without ever taking a college level math course! And I was licensed to teach your child!

Teaching the Trivium opens the doors of learning like nothing else can. Dorothy Sayers, a colleague of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien wrote a famous essay in which she states:

For the tools of learning are the same, in any and every subject; and the person who knows how to use them will, at any age, get the mastery of a new subject in half the time and with a quarter of the effort expended by the person who has not the tools at his command. To learn six subjects without remembering how they were learnt does nothing to ease the approach to a seventh; to have learnt and remembered the art of learning makes the approach to every subject an open door.

Because I understand that teaching the skills of learning enables them to learn any subject to full understanding, I want to teach them not the subject but the skills necessary for them to master that subject. These skills begin with teaching grammar. Not the isolated grammar of my education but the skill of grammar. The grammar of a subject is in fact the unique vocabulary of that subject. It blends beautifully with the elementary years and where children are developmentally. At this stage I am filling their little heads with KNOWLEDGE. I am teaching them facts. I am hanging little knowledge pegs all over their brains.

Teaching students the skill "Dialectic" is to teach them to use logic, think critically, and analyze the pegs of knowledge through the lens of a Biblical worldview. The students have been given the "who, which, and what" of the chosen knowledge and now with this skill are answering the questions "how and why." They are coming into the stage of UNDERSTANDING.

Building on the skill of grammar and dialectic, the skill of rhetoric takes their knowledge and understanding of the subject and teaches them to present and publically defend their understanding with WISDOM. Can you see the correspondence of the historical skills of the trivium to the Biblical prescription for education? Over and over again the scriptures show us the way to teach our children. Successful organizations such as AWANA understand this concept as they focus on Bible memorization through the elementary years. Proverbs 24:3-4 says, "Through wisdom is a house built; and by understanding it is established: And by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches." This is a true picture of how God enables us as parents to teach our children to know Him and make Him known, which is the true reason for education in the first place.

Often the verses in Deuteronomy 6 are used for parenting. Here God lays out His plan for us to teach our children.

Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Aren't these verses a great illustration of the purest form of education? Imagine parents who are able to talk about the commandments of the Lord, to their children because they have the knowledge, the understanding and the rhetorical skills necessary to accomplish this within their families. They KNOW, they UNDERSTAND, and they use WISDOM to make sure their children Love the Lord with all their heart, mind, soul and strength.

This is the big picture for educating my children. This is why in our home we homeschool with Classical Christian methodology. We want to show our children how everything they study ultimately points them to God. That subjects aren't divided into neat little compartments taught separate from each other, but they are to be integrated so as to point back to the God of the Universe.