Saturday, November 29, 2008

Christmas in the air...

Christmas cards this week. Hopefully they will be winging their way into a letterbox near you quite soon, bearing good tidings of great joy and shiny happiness.

Brought to you by:

The Domestic Goddess - templates, bow tying and wielding the glue gun.
Rosy - cutting out, and wielding the glue stick.
Posy - sticking on gold stars and cheerful rendering of 'Gloooooooria in Extember’s day, oh' (yes, that is the chorus to 'Angels We Have Heard on High', and Extember is the name of all the months from September to December. Apparently).

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Guide

This book is the reason that I have not gone entirely insane as a homeschooling parent. I am a person with endless creative ideas. Unfortunately, I get bored really, really quickly and never finish anything. When I was younger I had millions of bright ideas, tried tham all, and never finished any of them. Now I am older and wiser I have millions of bright ideas, restrain myself to try a tiny percentage of them, and still never finish any of them. But at least my life is calmer this way.

You can imagine the chaos that was once my homeschooling life. I read everything I could lay my hands on. I read John Holt, we tried unschooling. I read Charlotte Mason, we read Living Books continuously (nothing different there), but it all fell apart when it came to the rest of her method. I read Montessori, and completely rearranged the house into little self-directed work stations. The children pulled everything out at once and built towers and cubby houses out of all the educational materials. I read at another dozen educational writers every year, and tried all their suggestions, and when all else failed, desperately emailed my dear sister-in-law and teacher extraordinaire, Aly. I really should have paid more attention to her sensible suggestions at the time, but I was busy not finishing other things…

Enter The Well-Trained Mind and the half-dozen parent friendly texts that go with it. Here was a basic framework for a literature-based curriculum, that I could use all my favourite books with. Books that when I am feeling brain-dead I can just read out loud and have the children write down narrations, or answer questions, but when I am feeling creative, we can all branch out into illustrations, research projects and craft extravaganzas. How easy is this? A book that looks like a doorstop is a bit intimidating at first, but it just bursts with every kind of information on how to craft a curriculum for every age, and is so inspiring it makes you think you could be SuperHomeschoolingMum. With a cape.
The theory behind the curriculum is that developing children learn in different ways throughout their school years, but that you can cover the same kind of material over the different stages, in more detail each time, and with more expertise. The three stages are:

The Grammar Stage
Grades 1-4: This is the age where children can effortlessly memorise anything, and frequently do, including the names and powers of 5000 different pokemon characters. Harnessing these powers for good by introducing them to all the cool stories of history, plus spelling rules, names of planets and all the small bones of the foot seems a snap in comparison. These are the years where the patterns for the rest of the years of education are laid down, but fairly uncritically, and with broad brush strokes. The tools of learning are introduced…reading, writing, arithmetic. Children follow a four year journey through history, learning the stories and myths of history, from Ancient Times through to the present. Greek myths, Aztec stories, Columbus sailing across the ocean blue, the many wives of Henry the Eighth, Mozart the child prodigy, Captain Cook, Simpson and his donkey, Anne Frank hidden away behind a secret cupboard…

The Logic Stage
Grades 5-8: Here children practice the skills they learnt in the Grammar stage, learning how to compose a piece of prose, how to summarize, and write reports. At this stage, children ask ‘Why?’ (well, let’s face it, children ask ‘why?’ from the age of three on, and routinely drive us all crazy. At three, though, they want a quick and concrete answer. At ten, they really want to know, and can appreciate abstract reasoning). At this stage, they journey through history again, this time exploring subjects in more detail, and finding out why things happened as they did. They study the ‘why’ of science and learn how to apply the scientific method to their experiments, and they study the basics of logic.

The Rhetoric Stage
Grades 8-12: We have teenagers. They have opinions. Using the tools of learning that they have honed throughout their childhoods, and building on the knowledge base that they have accrued, these young people can now write with flair and persuasion, and start to develop their own arguments in relation to the material they study. They begin to specialize in their chosen fields. They take another stroll through history, this time delving in to original sources, and tackling more difficult texts – but with confidence, because they have seen all this material before.

What I love about this theory of education? It is coherent; there is a plan. Everything, you may have noted, hinges on history. Students study science, art, literature according to the historical period they are studying. They learn about astronomy with the ancient Greeks, Gallileo, and the Victorian gentleman scientists. Students can follow their own interests (science, art, cooking, whatever) and get a sense of how these disciplines developed throughout history. The other thing I love about it? This curriculum was developed by an immensely articulate and enthusiastic homeschooler, who also teaches writing and literature, and who was also homeschooled herself in the 1970’s by her mother, who co-authors the book. Nothing like a bit of success to inspire confidence!

Now, if anyone is still awake, an excellent article by Susan Wise Bauer herself, on homeschooling the highschool student. And, barring any really interesting late night television, soon, another review, this time on the Well-Trained Mind history texts, Story of the World.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Noble Deeds

Earlier this week I bought a packet of lollies and announced that I would be handing them out for the performance of noble deeds. Luckily my children resemble rather poorly trained performing seals in many ways, and will do anything for lollies. My original reason for attempting this barefaced bribery was Posy's perceived need to have me standing absolutely right next to her every. single. time she went to the toilet. This is one child who feels the need to have an audience for everything she does in life. And if I did not hurry along and utter appropriate noises of admiration and encouragement she would stand and scream and scream until I complied. Obviously, something had to be done. And, as so often when faced with a child's behavioural dilemma I turned to bribery, thinly disguised as a random virtue.

I declared that when one is four, going to the toilet all by one's self is absolutely a noble virtue, and that when one is eight, cleaning up one's room all by one's self, also very noble. The twelve year old proved her virtue by finishing off a pesky piece of writing she was getting sick of, turning a Greek myth into a play. Further virtue will be demonstrated via the editing and final copy process. And me? My noble deed this week was cleaning the bathroom and mopping the floor. Extraordinary.

I find that though the 'spoonful of sugar' principle seems rather disturbingly Pavlovian to add to the modern, enlightened parenting toolkit, it just works. Sometimes, when there is medicine to be got down, we need something just a bit more enticing, and a bit more concrete than moral satisfaction to help us along to our goals (especially when they are my goals, and nothing that the children would find intrinsically rewarding). And, thanks to my mother, I have found a far more satisfying way to label bribery - extrinsic motivation - in other words, lollies.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Grandma's Christmas Cake

This has been Christmas Cake week. My recipe is inherited from my darling Granny, and really does take about a week from beginning to end. I have been baking this cake for around twelve years now, ever since we have been having Christmas at home as a family, and not sponging off relatives – it marks the official beginning of the Christmas season for us. First there is the trip to the wholefood store for dried fruit, then a night for the fruit to soak. Next, a morning of measuring, sifting and mixing. Everyone gets to stir the mixture and make a Christmas wish. Then baking for a whole afternoon. After that the cake sits on the kitchen table for three days under a tea towel, becoming more fragrant each day as we add more brandy, then finally it is lovingly wrapped and put to bed until Christmas Eve.

Grandma’s Christmas Cake

1lb currants
1lb sultanas
8oz chopped raisins
4oz glace cherries
grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
4oz chopped peel
4 tblsp sherry

Place fruit, lemon juice and rind in a bowl. Pour over sherry and stand overnight. Stir once or twice.

Add peel next day.

10oz butter
10oz dark brown sugar
6-8 eggs
120z plain flour
½ tsp salt
2tsp mixed spice

Cream butter and sugar. Sift dry ings, add eggs one at a time and stir in fruit.
Line 24cmx24cmx7cm tin with greaseproof paper. Pour in mixture, then cover cake with more greaseproof paper.

Bake at 140 C 3 ½ hours, then remove paper and bake another ½ hour.
When cold, drizzle brandy over the top – just cover – repeat same for 2 more days, then remove from tin, wrap in greaseproof paper, then foil. Store in a dark place until Christmas Eve…when it is imperative to leave out a slice for Santa.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Spring Joy

A garden full of roses. A bouquet of spring joy on the mantlepiece.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Leatherwood Books

Several years ago I started a darling little on-line bookshop, and filled it with my favourite children’s books. My reasons for doing this were: I like to read. I like to write. I like to connect people with lovely books which will make them happy (one of my best moments was when a dear woman cried when I managed to track down a favourite book from her childhood. She couldn’t remember the title or the author, so had never been able to find it again). And I really love opening packages of books from the publisher and inhaling that new books smell. Unfortunately, as it turns out, running a bookshop involves rather a lot of paperwork, and book keeping. And Being Organised. Who would have thought that writing dozens of Notes to Self on sticky notes and filing them on random flat surfaces doesn’t count as Being Organised?

Luckily for me, and my customers, my dear sister-in-law Aly has taken over the practicalities of running the business. Aly is immensely organised. Even her pencils pay attention to her, and stay in their little pencil holders, so she always has one to hand when she wants one. I think she may have special powers. Anyway, she is doing remarkable things with her new little business. It may even qualify as a business soon, and possibly make a profit. The Man used to refer to it as ‘Jo’s expensive hobby.’ And wonder why I didn’t just buy shoes instead, like a normal person. Ha. Well, hon, now I can. I still write the occasional book review, and now I have a blog, I can promote all my favourite books in my most favourite bookshop shamelessly, to the oh, one person who has currently read said blog so far.