Learning Notes

Learning Notes

Family portrait outtakes.

1.Music Appreciation

Listening to my Beethoven playlist as I was cooking dinner Thursday night. Ben came in and stood on the stool next to me.
Ben: “This music gets soft and then loud. It must be Beethoven.”

I’m just blown away and so very, very impressed.That boy is so much quieter than his sisters. I never know when he’s listening or what he’s absorbing. But then I get these little glimpses. Still waters run deep.

I know his observation came from something I was discussing with Bella– in one of the books we’d read or maybe on the cd we were listening to? But Ben was paying attention. And understood it. And absorbed and remembered it. And then applied it. And he was listening to the music I was playing and thinking about it.

Four kids on a swing–their idea.

2. Current read alouds

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
My personal favorite book from childhood. Still one of my favorite novels ever. If you asked me what literary character I most identify with it would hands down be Sarah Crewe.

Reading this favorite aloud to Sophie and Bella is a treat. I’ve read it so many, many times and yet I feel like it’s got new life now. I’ve never before read it out loud and that’s such a different experience. Sophie likes that Sarah speaks French. They both like the doll, Emily. Bella likes Sarah’s stories.

Saint Francis of the Seven Seas by Albert F. Nevins

This story about St Francis Xavier is one of Bella’s current favorites. We’re in India now, very exciting. I’ve been hoping to do a bit more exploring in India this year and have been looking for good books to take us there. We’ve already read about Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. I’d love to find a book about St Thomas the Apostle and the Syro-Malabar Catholics in India. Is there such a thing for children?

The Story of the World: The Middle Ages: From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of the Renaissance (Vol. 2) by Susan Wise Bauer

Bella wasn’t all that eager to move on the the next book in her history series until the Activity Book came. I didn’t get the activity book last fall because I wasn’t sure it would be worth the money and because I wasn’t sure I’d have the energy to do more that just read the chapters to her. It worked out fine, but now that I’m looking at the activity book for volume 2, I’m kind of wondering if we missed out on some great opportunities. Bella, Sophie, and Ben spent the afternoon poring over the activity book and couldn’t wait to get started on the new volume. Friday afternoon found them coloring a Roman eagle, laurel wreaths, and a barbarian as well as a map of the Roman Empire. I can see that the activities will be a definite hook to get Sophie and Ben interested in history. Bella doesn’t need them because she just loves history for its own sake. I’m not sure Sophie is going to be quite so easily hooked. Though you never know. She may grow into it.

I had an interesting discussion with Bella, talking about my plans for history in the big scheme of her education. I explained my idea of going through the four volumes of Story of the World and then starting again back at the beginning and then she can go deeper and read more books while Sophie and Ben and Anthony read the books she’s already read. She seemed to be just as excited as I am at the idea that we’ll be able to go back to Greece and Rome and Egypt again in a few years.

The Children’s Plutarch: Tales of the Greeks by F. J. Gould

This caught my eye on line and I decided to go ahead and get it, even though we finished our Greece study a while back. The nice thing about history is that you can always go deeper and add to your knowledge of it and once you’ve got the basic outline I don’t think it’s confusing to read more about something you’ve already covered generally. Since Bella loves history, this seemed a natural choice. And I was right. We’ve read the first two chapters and she enjoyed them very much.

The Golden Fleece: And the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles

After we finished The Children’s Homer, we dived into this retelling of the stories of the heroes before Troy, also by Padraic Colum. This is not really a children’s book. At least I think most children would probably have been bored long before now. I might even have given up on it. But Bella loves it, requests it. The language is rich, the imagery is rich. I can’t keep the huge cast of characters straight.

I made Sophie’s day when I whipped up a batch of hummus for her lunch.

3. Math

Bella is loving Miquon Math. She took her math book to the library on Wednesday and worked on it there. Almost forgot to pick up any books to check out.

Sophie is still loving Saxon. And I’m getting better at going with the flow, adapting lessons for her needs. I can see that when Lucy is this age I’ll be so much more at ease and able to wing it with math. I’m realizing the textbooks are really training wheels for me as I learn how to teach math. I never really struggled with math in school. I wrestled a bit with geometry, mainly because the teacher and I just didn’t see eye to eye and he didn’t know how to teach to the way I needed to learn. But it wasn’t until calculus that I really hit a wall. Still, math is not a native language to me. I don’t notice math as I go about my daily life and so I don’t notice ways of making it come alive for my kids. I need this training in mathematical ways of seeing and thinking.

Lucia loves currants.

4. Collecting seeds

Bella has been eagerly collecting seeds in our garden. Right now we have a plastic bag full of lupine seeds and another of cosmos. I hope to collect morning glory, zinnia, marigold and sunflower too. We’ll have plenty to plant a garden next year and maybe to share as well. I’ve been gently introducing some botany lessons here and there. We’re learning to identify leaf shapes and flower shapes, to group plants into families. It’s a fun adventure for both of us. My late season garden has been a great blessing. All of us have enjoyed it so much and still in October it’s a bright spot of color with cosmos, zinnias, marigolds and even a few sunflowers, batchelor’s buttons, and coreposis?

And more Lucia, because who could get enough of the cute?

5. Roman Catacombs

Today Bella and Sophie are looking at pictures of art from the Roman catacombs. And we found a little You Tube video someone had posted, sounds like it’s a lecture for an art history class. You can classify this time as history, art appreciation, or catechism. It’s a bit of all of the above. Of course, Bella always recognizes the Bible stories. I don’t have to identify Jonah or the three youths in the fiery furnace. And in fact she reminded me of the story of Samson and the lion he killed only to come back and find the carcass was inhabited by bees– and it occurred to me as she was telling me the story that the dead lion’s carcass with the beehive in it is a Eucharistic type. Jesus is the Lion of Judah, from his dead body comes the sweetest food. Oh isn’t that lovely? I’d never noticed it before.

Dom has a new photo editing program that automatically makes an animated gif out of any series of photos with a fairly static background. We’ve been having fun with it.

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  • I had a question for you about how you use SOTW: Do you study all the chapters in the book and do you study them in order?

    As you know, I’ve been trying to tweak our homeschooling approach, curriculum, etc. and I like SOTW but sometimes I feel like it bounces around too much and might it be easier to focus on one country/continent at a time or would that be too confusing? The girls don’t want me to make any changes this year (Felicity got upset at the idea of dropping *her* history book and only doing *Cecilia’s*) but since its on my brain, I’m trying to think ahead to next year when I can easily shift them both to the same book and I’m unsure how it will work to study for two different grades (next year it will be 4th and 2nd) for every chapter.

    I hope that made sense.

    • My basic plan is unplanning.Let me elaborate. I don’t do lesson plans ahead of time. My plan is to read about a chapter a week, though last year with pregnancy and new baby and all I would sometimes read two or three chapters in a week and then not read any for several weeks. I do read them in order, even though it bounces around that suits my approach.

      If I read the chapter and she seems to get it I’m happy. If there is something in the chapter that seems to catch her imagination or that interests me, that I think might be worth pursuing, then I go look for more resources. So if I know a bit about Cretan art (remembering the bull murals and snake goddess statues from my art and architecture classes at UD) then I might go online and look for some photographs we can examine, maybe a video to watch.

      For the ancient world I knew I wanted to mainly focus on Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome. So for each of those I went to the library and pulled a bunch of books off the shelf in the history section and grabbed the half dozen that looked most interesting and age appropriate. Then I stuck them into our library basket at home and we read those during story time. Bella is curious enough and interested enough in history for its own sake that she will latch onto a book and ask Dom or I to read it. She’s much better at follow through than I am because I’d often forget. There were some books that didn’t catch her eye but I thought she’d like and so I’d force her to sit through the first few pages and usually by then she’d be caught. There were a few books we didn’t finish and that was ok by me.

      I got interested in the China stuff, mainly because I remember my friend Jen Ambrose in Beijing blogging about the Great Wall and the terracotta warriors and so I got some books about that. I wanted to learn more and so it was easy for Bella to catch my enthusiasm. I’d have liked to do a bit more about India but our library didn’t have much and I never really followed through.

      With the supplemental reading I did kind of focus on one area at a time. We first read the Egypt books, then we read the Greek books, then we did the Chinese, then the Roman. I tried to do our museum trips after we’d done our supplemental reading so that she could apply what we’d read about to what we were seeing, have a context for the art and really appreciate it more.

      I also knew I wanted to cover Greek mythology and introduce the story of the Odyssey and Iliad just because I love them so and they are so foundational to Western culture. So I made reading those part of my literature plan for the year.

      With volume II I know I’m going to want to do a children’s Beowulf, probably selections from Chaucer, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, King Arthur. I might read her some medieval poetry too since I have those books on hand. I know she’s going to want to do another focus on ancient Japan since that’s a trail we’ve followed before. We’ll definitely do a lot with medieval art. Tapestries, icons, religious art. I love that stuff and know it pretty well so its easy for me to do.

      With Volume 3 I anticipate reading some Shakespeare. Looking at a lot of Renaissance art.

      I figure my goal in the early elementary school years isn’t for them to have a solid timeline understanding of history, but a general overview, a sense of the scope of history, a feeling of the flavor of different cultures, an appreciation of the art, a bit of a sense of daily life in ancient times. I’m thinking at some point we’ll put together a timeline but that might not be until we revisit Book I when Bella is in 5th grade.

      I think if I had to do what you are doing now with two books I’d subtly emphasize the supplemental stuff more with Cecilia’s book and just do less with Felicity’s unless she seems to really be seeking it out. The nice thing about doing history on a cyclical plan is that knowing I’ll get a chance to come back to it on the next go round makes it easy to not sweat having gaps here and there. If I don’t cover it well now, well I’ll just try to make sure that the next time I cover it I really get into it more thoroughly.

      But as far as having children at two different grade levels doing the same work next year, I wouldn’t necessarily have them do very different stuff. Maybe let Cecilia pick up more books to read on her own or write a slightly longer paragraph or something, but there’s not a huge difference between 2nd and 4th grade in terms of how much they’ll cover, is there?

  • +JMJ+

    It’s wonderful to hear about Bella loving her maths activities! =)

    A Little Princess was also a childhood favourite of mine. Everyone else I knew preferred Mary Lennox of The Secret Garden to Sarah Crewe, but my identification with Sarah was instant and total. Sometimes I think that A Little Princess also served as “training wheels” for my all-time favourite novel, Jane Eyre!

    • Sarah is bookish, a devourer of books. How could I not love her? And she’s kind and gentle and compassionate from the start. Mary begins as rather disagreeable and becomes lovely as she find love. I appreciate Mary Lennox and her transformation more now, but to the child-me she wasn’t very approachable, not loveable and identifiable in the same way that Sarah is. Though it was also a book I read and re-read. I never really liked the beginning of The Secret Garden. It wasn’t really until it got to Dickon that I warmed up to its charms.

  • Dearest Melanie,

    I love reading your blog and staying in touch with you in a remote way through technology. I hate to complain. I actually really like your moving gifs. They are like movies, but less memory hungry. However, I wanted to ask if you would consider putting moving gifs or auto-starting videos either at the end or at the beginning of a blog entry instead of intermittent in the text.

    I found it very difficult to read the text in this entry as my eyes were continually distracted by the moving pictures. It was actually a bit disorienting.

    In all love and charity.


  • How awesome is it that I don’t have your blog bookmarked on my phone, and discovered that you are the 4th link on a Google search? That’s pretty cool.