Monday, November 8, 2010


I've struggled for years in trying to teach the kids how to write. I've let the perfect become the enemy of the good enough.

This year, I enrolled my two oldest in Camille Golston's Lost Tools of Writing class through Memoria Press. My goals were two-fold. First, I wanted them to get the instruction that I just can't seem to give them. LTW is being worked on continually, by I didn't think I'd have time to figure it out for my two oldest. My second goal was to learn how to teach the program. I sit in each week (either with Judith or Benjamin) and take notes on both the content and Camille's teaching. I think this is going to be a huge help to me. I'd love to enroll in Andrew's apprenticeship program, but it's just not doable right now.

For the younger kids, I bit the bullet and bought a couple of Middle Ages themed writing programs. I'm tweaking them, but I must admit that I'm enjoying having things laid out for me. The kids are doing more writing and I can adjust the checklists and the 'rules' as we go; for example, instead of simply banning certain words, we discuss propriety in using them (I can't ban said - too many great writers use it too often to simply ban it and I've read too many modern novels that avoid it and they're just ridiculous).

Here's an example of nine-year old Eliza's latest efforts:

A certain fox requested a stork come and dine with him. The stork came and the fox, who was planning to play a practical joke on the stork, gave his guest soup, which was in a wide and shallow bowl. The fox enjoyed his meal, but the stork, who had an extended beak, left for home starved.

In return, the stork kindly invited the fox to dinner. The stork gave his visitor minced-meat, which he served in a tall jar with a narrow mouth. The stork had a pleasant meal and filled his stomach. But the fox, because of his short and big snout, could not fit his mouth into the jar. And the poor fox left for home on an empty stomach. As he drove home in his car, he confessed that he was given what he deserved.

Moral: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.


French Update

We've slowed down in working through Barbier from the plans I posted last time, but lots of learning is going on.

Little girls: We're parsing and construing our way through their homework assignments, one sentence at a time. This is slow going, but I really think it's going to give them the best foundation for continued learning. We work on only about five sentences each day, so each exercise takes about four days, but this gives us time to continue with French Phonics, Madeleine, and their paradigms.

Older girls: We've slowed down here, too, but as we work through each sentence, the girls' understanding is growing by leaps and bounds.

I type up each homework sentence in Pages on my iPad (one at a time, so I don't have to work ahead). Then we go through and discuss each word, its part of speech, its job in the sentence, the various elements of each word (person, number, tense, mood, and voice for verbs; person, number, and gender for nouns; number and gender for adjectives and articles). We also color-code each word as to its job in the sentence and adjectives match the color of the noun they modify, but in italics.

We haven't really done any English grammar in quite awhile, but they're learning so much that I think we'll be okay. Even though we're not really discussing English grammar as a separate discipline, we do discuss it lots in their composition assignments.

An additional help: I let the girls change the colors of the words in the iPad - they think that's pretty cool! The touch screen is still pretty new for them.


Thursday, October 28, 2010


I've been struggling to teach the girls French for quite awhile. I've tried traditional curriculum, not so traditional curriculum, and graded readers and just not been satisfied with any of it.

I enjoyed our literature approach, but making up assignments was slowing me down. I didn't have that much time to work on them and wasn't that satisfied with what I did come up with. And I wasn't sure the little girls were really getting anything, even if the older girls were getting a little. I wasn't keeping them challenged and interested.

Then a friend suggested that I read Roger Ascham's The Schoolmaster. Ascham was Queen Elizabeth I's tutor. I read the preface to The Schoolmaster and was very impressed.

He was at dinner with the Queen and the Privy Council (as the Prime Minister and the Cabinet were called).
'I had strange news brought me,' said Mr. Secretary, 'that diverse scholars of Eton have run away from the school for fear of beating.' Whereupon, Mr. Secretary took occasion to wish that some more discretion were in many schoolmasters in using correction than commonly there is, who many times punish rather the weakness of natuare, than the fault of the scholar. Whereby, many scholars that might else prove well be driven to hate learning before they know what learning is, and so are made willing to forsake their books and be glad to be put to any other kind of living.

Mr. Peter, as one somewhat severe of nature, said plainly that the rod only was the sword that must keep the school in obedience and the scholar in good order.

Mr. Wotton, a man mild of nature, with soft voice and few words, inclined to Mr. Secretary's judgement and said, 'In my opinion, the schoolhouse should be in deed as it is called by name, ludus, the house of play and pleasure, not of fear and bondage.'

I said that young children were sooner allured by love than driven by beating to attain good learning.
That was a good start and got my attention. I kept reading and soon found myself lost in the old spelling and vocabulary, but the parts I could understand intrigued me.

Time to turn to the dictionary to find out what he meant by 'construe' and 'parse' as he described his method for teaching Latin. I figured out that he suggests that the tutor (he was a tutor, not a classroom teacher as far as I can tell) should read through a Latin text and then explain to his student the grammar of each individual word, both in general and in that sentence in particular, and then translate it.

He adds an interesting reverse translation, where he has the student take his initial English translation of the Latin and, on another day, translate it back into Latin and then compare with the initial Latin excerpt. I wish I'd been taught French and Spanish this way!

In the meantime, I'd downloaded several older French books from Google Books to look over (there are no corresponding, old Spanish books!). Several of them were too Latin, approaching French as if it were Latin, but French isn't as inflected as Latin and I don't know enough Latin to pretend that it is. I narrowed it down to Paul Barbier's Elementary French for Beginners, pubished in 1883. It would mean a lot more writing for the girls (but less trying to come up with lessons for me). The language has changed a bit in the intervening 130 years, but I can deal with that.

I wasn't sure how they'd respond to it, but I thought I'd give it a try. (I also found a French composition book that looks very good as we get farther in.)

M. Barbier starts with definite articles, gender of nouns, and feminine and masculine agreement between nouns and adjectives. Imagine my shock (and delight) when they all did great on their assignments, and also told me how much they'd enjoyed them!

When we went through their independent work, we parsed and construed the sentences together. For the first time, 9-yo Eliza recognized an adjective and 11-yo Melody recognized direct objects (we'd been working on both in English for quite some time). After the little girls finished their initial French to English assignment, I had them translate their English back into French. They did great and when we went through their work together, they were able to pick out their own mistakes (and giggled all the while!).

The older girls went through two lessons and four exercises, but now that we're adding in reverse translations, we'll slow down a little.

We're also working slowly through a little French phonics book so they can learn proper pronunciation and how to read correctly. The younger girls are taking Madeleine one sentence at a time (construing and parsing one word at a time, and sometimes diagramming sentences), and the older girls are working on l'Histoire de Babar, in the same way.

I finally feel as though I have a solid French program and that the girls will learn French and so much more!

With the lack of Spanish texts on Google books, I translated the first lesson from French to Spanish (and have friends who can help me with my rusty grammar and vocabulary, as well as a great Spanish dictionary on my iPad). Judith and Benjamin are working on the Spanish exercises, along with some phonics exercises from my old high school Spanish text and reading through Huevos Verdes con Jamón.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010


We went rollerskating last night. I was hoping to do so once each week in my efforts to get us up and moving more, but the price has almost doubled since we went last summer--what I thought was going to cost $15 ended up being almost $30. That won't work on a weekly basis, so I need to re- think this.

It's almost cool enough to spend more time outside (100 degrees is still too hot for much exertion), but soon. In the meantime, I'm just not sure what to do. Physical education has never been a strong area, but I want to do better, for both the kids' and my own health. I don't want it to be drudgery, but it doesn't necessarily have to be a blast.

Thinking ... thinking ... thinking ...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Prodigal Returns

Life got crazy last year, especially through the summer, but things seem to be calming down now and we're getting off to our new school year, so I thought this would be a good time to begin to post some updates. (To see how I spend my summer, see my personal blog.)

One new thing we're doing this year for school is to learn the Psalms. I ordered a metrical Psalter from Crown and Covenant and downloaded three of the CD's they have that go along with the Psalter (the fourth, with all of Psalm 119 is due out soon). Many thanks to my friend, John Hodges, for the recommendation - I wanted something that wasn't too pop-musicuish and trendy, but that wasn't childish, either, and John came up with just the right thing.

We've been singing through about ten Psalms each day during Morning Time and we're all beginning to learn them. The harmonies are beautiful and I love that some have familiar tunes. We also enjoy the more ethnic tunes that some have been set to. It'll be awhile before we're able to obtain recordings of all the Psalms (they haven't been relased, yet), but we're well on our way.

I love that my kids are learning Scripture as they learn these songs, that the tunes are appropriate to the words, and that the kids are beginning to learn to sight-read when they sing. Our church uses an overhead with just the words during worship, so I've had to figure out a way to expose them to sight-reading as they sing. Learning the Psalms in this way definitely contributes to this.

We've also been reading the Psalms from the Sidney Psalter and the kids are beginning to be able to recognize them when they hear them (even though the words are slightly different and there's no tune to rely on).

We're studying Christendom this year, so this focus on the Psalms is appropriate, given the rise of monasticism that we're learning about (I've read that Benedictine monks sing through all the Psalms each week as they go through their daily offices). I'd love to incorporate more of the daily offices (the opus dei) and the monastic hours into our days, but it's tough alone at home and I don't know that I'm up to diving into it. A little at a time is probably a better approach.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

During our trivium time a few days ago, what one son affectionately calls 'Adventures in the Trivium', we parsed and diagramed the following sentence from The Wind in the Willows, which I'm reading aloud to the little girls:
Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way!
Today, we imitated that sentence together in preparation for the older four imitating it on their own. Here's what we came up with:
Spring! That was what they meant, that stirring zephyr, that scarlet crocus staining the snow, that robin heralding the break of winter's hold.
I'll post the kids' individual sentences when I get them.

We also began a little logic today, covering univocal terms. I only know a bit of logic, so we're taking it slowly, but I'm looking forward to adding this to our 'Adventures in the Trivium'!