Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Book Share

I was recently able to visit my favorite bookish corner, Books Bloom, at a homeschool conference and collect a few titles for the library. After I shared my findings on Periscope, some friends asked for a blog post with the books listed. Here are a few of the books, but remember to look for others from the same author or in the same series!

Musician Biographies by Opal Wheeler

Science and Nature books written or illustrated by Olive L. Earle

Science and Nature Books written and illustrated by Robert M. McClung

Astronomy Books by H.A. Rey they are "so easy even an adult can understand it!"

ANY book written or illustrated by Kate Seredy.
Remember to check out Purple House Press for reprints of great living books.

The We Were There Series
for History and Biography

The My Book House 12 Volume Set

Historical Fiction and Fiction books by Enid LaMonte Meadowcroft

Fairy Tales by George MacDonald
(My favorite author, I mostly enjoy his historical fiction edited by M. Phillips)

Happy Reading!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

For the Birds

This is just a quick note on a few of our favorite resources to go along with learning about birds.  We 'officially' scheduled bird study last year, and one year before when my children were younger, but because I am a little bit of a crazy bird lady we are forever watching and learning about birds.

When we are doing a scheduled study of birds, we use The Burgess Bird Book as a spine. I could read that book over and over. The narrative writing is such a fun and entertaining way to learn about birds. The story is based on the social life of Peter Rabbit. As he visits his feathered friends we learn about their nesting habits, diet, and description. The book is full of facts and information, but presented in a story form. We don't read that a Wren is brown, we read a conversation between Jenny Wren and Peter Rabbit...

"How do you like my new suit Peter?" Jenny bobbed and twisted  and turned to show it off.
It was plain to see she was very proud of it.
"Very much" replied Peter "I am very fond of brown. Brown and grey are my favorite colors."
You know, Peter's own coat is brown and grey.
"That's the most sensible thing I have heard you say" chattered Jenny Wren "The more
I see of bright colors, the better I like brown. It always is in good taste. It goes well with almost everything. It is neat and it is useful. If there is need of getting out of sight in a hurry, you can do it if you wear brown. But if you wear bright colors, it isn't so easy.....

Every time a bird is introduced, their 'clothes' are described. What a fun way to learn about the colors and markings of birds!  There are many other living books we have found and use for learning about birds. But in this post I want to focus more on general resources about many birds, and the ones we use the most. Sometimes I will refer back to a chapter in The Burgess Bird Book and read selections to the children when we see our bird friends at the feeders. So this book has become a 'general resource' book on birds for us. 

At some point I was pointed in the direction of a wonderful Blog, My Soul Doth Delight. This wonderful blogger has put together a very useful list of resources to go along with The Burgess Bird Book.  We printed the PDF of the original illustrations from the book and laminated them to keep in our nature basket in the school room. They have been a delight to use! To view these resources follow this link.

One of my favorite resources for overall nature study, is The Handbook of Nature Study as a general resource.  Sometimes I used the lessons for my students, and many times I am reading them for my own enjoyment and to help me learn about a topic before we go exploring on our own. 

I am a book person. I really am! But by far the most used resource we have for bird study is an app. It is named Merlin ID and it is part of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I have used this for bird identification, for learning bird songs, for checking bird migrations. I use it several times a week. And every time we see a 'new to us' bird, we make sure to document that on the app. When we do that, our bird watching counts for more than our own benefit! We are helping Cornell with their bird counts. Another tool for learning the songs and calls of birds is the Peterson's Field Guide Birding by Ear CD.  I think you can get this digitally now, but we already own these so we use them. We recently began listening to these while we are working on the bird entries of our nature journal.

Here are a few of our other favorite general bird resources:

Sibley's Backyard Birding Flashcards are absolutely beautiful! We keep a rubber band around the cards for the birds we have spotted in our yard so they are easily found when we are looking through the school room window and watching our daily bird visitors and looking for new ones.

 We rarely use coloring sheets because we have learned the importance of the blank page, but we are very fond of Audubon's art and the pages in Audubon's Birds of America Coloring Book are so beautiful and fun to color.

And because we enjoy Audubon's illustrations so much, we have a copy of Audubon's Birds of America. But we don't have just any copy, we have the 'Baby Elephant' copy! 

And what that means, is this book is HUGE. I placed a pencil in the photo to show the size of the pages.  This is one of my most prized books.  I was blessed to find it for two dollars at a local Friends of the Library sale. We have spent hours looking over the beautiful pages.

We keep up with the birds we spot in our Science and Nature Journals, of course. But our birds are not all together in one place, but spread out throughout our Science and Nature journals, plus we include birds we haven't actually seen, but have been reading about. I found this book at the thrift store and have been using it for myself to record when I spot a bird, and the children help me remember to use it. This is also my travel journal, so if I spot a new-to-me bird when traveling I can take note of it here and have the details to transfer into my Nature Journal when I get home. 

And the younger children use this journal just because it is similar to my large one.  And because the stickers are accurate and this encourages them to keep looking out for the birds they are missing.

The last resource I want to mention is coffee table books, or any sturdy books with fabulous photographs. This is just our newest we have collected.  There are many to choose from on Amazon, this just happened to be one of the least expensive (and it is GORGEOUS), or the thrift stores. There is just something engaging about big books with fabulous photographs! And the children feel ownership over these books that are at arms reach anytime of the day.  I switch out the books on the coffee table with the flow and ebb of the children's interest.  

Most of these resources are kept in a nature study basket in the school room where the children can get to them anytime. The Baby Elephant and the Handbook of Nature Study are kept elsewhere.  We also have a few living books about birds that we enjoy, but that will be for another 'For the Birds' post! 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

School Days at PCA

Nature Study has always been a part of our home since I was introduced to the Charlotte Mason education several years ago. It hasn't always looked like this, though. And it will continue to change for the better, because it is my desire to continue with my own education long after my youngest student graduates. But I think we are finally in a place that is close to what Charlotte intended nature study to be. And I have to say, I am reaping the benefits as much as my students (if not more sometimes!)

Last year we read the Burgess Bird Book, for the second time. The first was a few years ago with my own children, this time I was reading to my grandchildren. And as usual with Living Books, they just keep getting better.  We finished the book, but our bird study did not end there. My grandson shares my passion for bird watching, so our nature journal this year is continuing to fill up with our feathered friends. Today we did a second entry of the fat and friendly little Dark-Eyed Junco.

Even though there are several of these little guys right outside our window, and we have collectively spent hours observing him, we have learned that sketching a moving creature is not practical for detailed journal entries. So we find a clear and simple Google image that reflects what we see in our own observations and do our sketching from that image. I do carry a travel journal for sketching when on group nature walks, but I am usually to engrossed in observing and enjoying to sit down and sketch. I have realized that I do most of my 'field sketching' when I am on a solitary jaunt. 

And today I had one of those "aha!" moments. I have been wanting to make time for listening to our Peterson's Guide to Birding by Ear together, and decided why not combine these two activities. Why oh why have I not thought of this before? I am quite sure we experienced the birth of a nature journal entry tradition today.

Our mediums are pencil and Prisma Color Pencils for him and pencil, Micron pens, Prisma Watercolor Pencils for me. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

School Days at PCA

We have been a Charlotte Mason homeschool family, in spirit if not in actuality, for 16 years.  And the note-booking, or Keeping, aspect of a Charlotte Mason education did not become alive for me until I read The Living Page.  So this year I made a commitment to fully embrace, in small steps, the habit of Keeping.

When learning geography, history, or science the Charlotte Mason way, the child begins where he is (geographically and chronologically) and learns 'by the way'.

But the mother... will find a hundred opportunities to teach geography by the way...

Geography, geology, the course of the sun, the behavior of the clouds, weather signs, all that the 'open' has to offer, are made of us in these walks; but all is incidental, easy and things are noticed as they occur.

Our knowledge of time precedes not from the past into the future, but the present is our starting point-- time as directly known to us proceeds from the past, it is necessary, by repeated acts of the imagination, to work arduously backwards from present, till a secure pathway has been trodden out, and safe landmarks and finger-posts erected. 

It takes years for a person to develop a true to life concept of space and time. Although it excites me, I still struggle with the idea of the vastness of the universe, and the centuries of the past and future. A small child will usually not be able to fully understand 'decades' until they have lived one or two themselves! A person will understand geography without embarking on a world tour, but they must build on ideas one at a time.

If learning geography is to begin where we are, and branch outward from there to give us a foundation for understanding the concept of space,  does that mean we ignore the rest of the world? Of course not. We get there a little bit at a time, and make connections with travel, personal accounts, and living books. When we read The Glorious Flight the idea of The English Channel took a strong root in our minds. (I say we, because I am learning right along with the children). I knew there was such a place as The English Channel, but I declare it didn't come alive 'in my mind's eye' until I read that picture book to the children! Since then I have seen those chalky white cliffs in numerous movies or shows, (I watch a lot of BBC) and have really seen them while reading books that reference them like never before.

Our planned geography lesson:
Last week we did an activity that has been on my mind to do since I first began to truly understand how a person learns geography from where they are right now.  Karter and I made a map of my home, his school. He was the genius behind the activity, he decided what rooms should go where. I set him up for success by opening our science journals, giving him a square punch and paper, and stating "we will put the downstairs on this page, and the upstairs on the opposite page" and suggesting we begin at the front door, because our school table where we were seated just happens to be beside the front door!

Karter working on the layout of his map.
I worked along beside him making my map at his direction, helping him with spelling when needed, and discussing any obstacle that came along such as '"the hallway is connected to this room, but is it connected to that room?"

This is our completed map, we decided to add the stairs because they are one of the most fun parts of our old rambling home, and to add the porches since they are almost like extra 'rooms' in the house because we spend so much time enjoying them. I remember doing this same beginning geography activity with my own older children, but I didn't understand the 
why as much as I do now. 
Our next mapping adventure we will spread out of the house and record the few surrounding blocks that make up our straight-from-the-front-door nature walk paths.

The first ideas of geography, the lessons on place, which should make a child observant of local geography, of the features of his own neighbourhood, its heights and hollows, and level lands, its streams and ponds, should be gained, as we have seen, out of doors, and should prepare him for a certain amount of generalisation....

As I reflect on my childhood and my own growing understanding of geography, I realize that 'by the way' is exactly how I learned anything about geography to the point of truly knowing. Our frequent trips from North Carolina to Maine and back again helped me know the East Coast of America. I never truly understood the rest of America's geography and am now (yes, still! I am surely the most directionally challenged person on the planet) learning along with my children. Remembering in order to answer the questions on a test is not learning, for me anyway, because although I was an above average student in public school, most of what I digested was mere information and left my mind as soon as the test was over.

Most of us have gone through a good deal of drudgery in the way of 'geography' lessons, but how much do we remember?
Mason, Home Education p. 273

The distinction between knowledge and information is, I think, fundamental. Information is the record of facts, experiences, appearances, etc., whether in books or in the verbal memory of the individual; knowledge, it seems to me. implies the result of the voluntary and delightful action of the mind upon the material presented to it.
Mason, School Education p. 224

How something planned can turn into something magical:
This planned mapping activity sparked an idea in Karter's mind. So I dropped the rest of the day's plans and let his idea take root. He wanted to keep cutting out shapes and make a 'pirate treasure map'. I pulled out a sheet of poster board, and grabbed a placemat with the world map out of the same drawer.  I asked if he wanted to use my circle punch along with the square punch. (Part of the excitement for him in this activity was using the punch. He said it was a machine and he needed to wear his work safety glasses when using it, hence the Nerf goggles on his head!) When I collected the circle punch, I saw my crinkle paper making tool (I don't know what that gadget is actually called!) and thought he would like using that 'machine' and I was right. He thought it was the coolest thing ever. (I just love schooling with boys!!) Then I left him alone for a while and busied myself in the next room. When I returned he was making a map of the world, placing shapes on his poster board that reflected what he saw on the map placemat. I asked him to explain his map, and he had a great visual concept of what he wanted to create. We have discussed continents before when looking at our wall map finding wherever our latest literary or history character traveled, so the idea is forming in his mind.  I reminded him of the continent names and simply pointed out where they were on the placemat map, he cut out the shape that he wanted and placed them onto the poster board. I volunteered to write the names of the continents for him because his hands were tired but he wanted to finish. (Then I proceeded to spell Asia wrong, because I just do silly stuff like that sometimes) He was very impressed with Greenland, he has a connection to that place because of the Vikings we have been reading about, and wanted to have that land included on his map, that is the green stocking shape!

Karter's World Map

After this he made his treasure island, named it "Karter's Island", and pasted it above the compass. Then he drew a pirate ship above Australia, and then drew pirates onto slips of cut up index cards. I drew two pirates for him. Only because he likes for me to work along beside him and it was just so fun to be welcomed into his world of imagination! He asked for me to "Google how to draw a pirate easy" and we did and found a super simple image to use as inspiration for our pirates. After which he spent a good half an hour imagining all sorts of adventures for them.

I will always remember this afternoon of connecting with geography, and I bet he will too. I know he will because he recorded it thoughtfully in his science journal notebook and will be visited often. It is such a joy to be on this learning journey with my grandson.