My approach to reading comprehension

A living-books curriculum is rich in content- but what does that look like? What does that look like when your 9 year old needs reading help?

"A living-books curriculum uses the content areas-science and history-as the framework upon which learning is built. Language Arts are taught in the context of content-history, science, religion, and literature. Needless to say, these courses of study move well beyond "neighborhood helpers" and "why we need the rain forest". They also move beyond the facts. Literature reaches the heart of the child. It inspires him. It engenders enthusiasm for learning and a desire for discovery. ...Well-written literature offers both content and context. Together, both the parent educator and the pupil ponder deeply truth and fallacy. They consider God's hand on the world as it was and as it is. And they are moved to consider His call regarding how it should be."
-Elizabeth Foss, Real learning: education in the heart of the home

I love to read, I am always reading several books at once. My children love to read- we have a library basket that typically hold 30 books from 2 libraries, continually.

But, as a homeschooler- I was faced with some decisions to make when I began to suspect that my 9 year old was reading quickly and voraciously..but did not seem to be understanding or remembering what she had read.

Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education is what I agree with, whole-heartedly way down in my bones. But, when side-swiped by a hole in our learning...I usually run by instinct to a textbook type workbook. Why? I suppose because that is what I grew up with, and because it satisfies this panic in me that " I must actively do something to fix this". So, I did check out the workbooks my local bookstore had to offer and also seriously pondered ordering a series of old fashioned Christian readers I saw in a catalog that boasted of comprehension and spelling work right in the reader...hey, more bang for my buck!

Mid panic, I checked myself though-and decided to try something much simpler, much more pleasant, easier on my pocket-book, and above all- delight driven; I simply picked up a much loved story from my own childhood and sat down and read with my daughter. I took the approach of team reading: I read the first page out loud and my daughter read the next. This approach drew her into the story, made it less labor intensive for her, had the bonus merit of allowing me to see just what problems she was encountering in her reading, and allowed me to ask comprehension questions naturally as we read. I discovered right off that she liked to read quickly and would skip over words she had difficulty with, either guessing them half-read or skipping them all together. The result was poor comprehension of the flow of the story and half-guesses at the meaning. Ah-ha! Diagnosed with one page of reading, with no tears, diagnostic tests, boredom or money spent.

The book I chose for this reading work was "No flying in the House" by Betty Brock, a cute story I remembered reading at about the same age, that I had stumbled upon on ebay. - about a girl who discovers she might be a fairy...who could resist?

We are currently starting comprehension review again with the same daughter, since yearly testing is looming on the horizon here. My living book of choice this time is
"Little House in the Highlands" by Melissa Wiley. A series about the great-grandmother of Laura Ingalls, written by a homeschool mom who loves her subject and researched it very thoroughly.

"...A child forms relationships with the content because his education is integrated; he spends unhurried time interacting with the subject matter, reading it, writing about it, discussing it. This approach is a stark contrast to the conveyor belt education that is the norm in the United States today. The scope and sequence chart in a typical textbook looks impressive. There are a lot of facts mentioned there and it looks like the child will learn a great deal. In reality, he will survey a great deal and look at nothing in detail. Education is an art; it is not a science. There is no perfect method, perfectly applied, which will result in perfectly educated children. There is constant evaluation and adjustment."
-Elizabeth Foss, Real Learning: education in the heart of the home pg. 88

I will let you all know how it is going...

Short lessons

The thought of ample time for our kids to play, imagine, create, read, or just "hang out" and think made homeschooling very attractive to us. We wanted afternoons free from yet more schoolwork for the kids to just be kids and enjoy their childhood. For the non-homeschoolers around us though, this concept is somewhat mystifying. "How will they know how to do homework?", and "How can you get through your school day so quickly, shouldn't you have lessons until 3:00 like the school does?" are questions often put to us.

Jeannie Fulbright shares some thoughts on studies regarding actual instruction time in public schools here.

One of the aspects of Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education that I found intriguing is her emphasis on short lessons, with afternoons free.

"The method consists of short morning lessons with a large variety of subjects. Charlotte says it is the hours the children spend working, not the quantity of subjects, that fatigues them. Their minds are invigorated by switching to different subjects as often as every fifteen to twenty minutes when the children are in younger grades...They have all afternoon and evening free to enjoy being a child, to pursue hobbies, and to read. They are not assigned homework...they are not allowed to dawdle during lessons." -Catherine Levison, "A Charlotte Mason education" pg.8

..."In the first place, never let the child dawdle over copy-book or sum, sit dreaming with his book before him. When a child grows stupid over a lesson, it is time to put it away. Let him do another lesson as unlike the last as possible, and then go back with freshened wits to his unfinished task." -Charlotte Mason, "Home Education vol.1 pg141

"This idea of definite work to be finished in a given time is valuable to the child, not only as training him in habits of order, but in diligence; he learns that one time is not 'as good as another'; that there is no right time left for what is not done in its own time; and this knowledge alone does a great deal to secure the child's attention to his work. Again, the lessons are short, seldom more than twenty minutes in length for children under eight;..."-ibid, pg. 142

There is no need of homework for the elementary aged child because using this philosophy, the child immediately handles the lesson or book by narrating it orally or on paper, proving his mastery. Homework would be less effective than this immediate opportunity for reinforcement.
Short readings from several different living books, spread out throughout the week has the added advantage of supplying to our children "something to think about". Charlotte Mason proposed that we insure that each day our children have-

  • someone or something to love
  • something to do
  • something to think about

more on those thoughts in a later post...

From my reading and thinking

thoughts I am pondering from my reading...

From The Organized Home Schooler:
"...If we're too busy to consider the consequences of how we spend our time, then we're too busy.
There's a time to be busy, and there's a time to be still. Being still is required before being busy. "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10). Without the stillness, we don't know how to be busy, when or where to be busy, or with what to be busy. When we're not still, we can't hear God or know His will. When we're too busy, we're about our own business and not His." page 51

From Real Learning: education in the heart of the home:
"A nature notebook, filled with drawings and descriptions of discoveries becomes a personal diary of growth for a child. Looking back upon what he has encountered, what he has learned, and what touched him, he begins to understand himself a little better and he is drawn ever closer to his Creator.
...Don't look on nature study as something to cross off your "to do" list, look at it as food for your soul-and your child's...A nature walk will offer you endless opportunities for lively discussion and equal opportunities for reverent silence." page 97

From A Charlotte Mason Companion:
..." I think Charlotte was very clever to encourage a child's further study into the things he naturally "takes to". Most children want to learn more about the world around them. The best way to do this is to give them opportunities for direct contact with nature where they live.
...As Charlotte said, "There is no kind of knowledge to be had in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves, of the world they live in, let them at once get into touch with nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We are all meant to be naturalists, each to his own degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things." page 255

Charlotte Mason lifestyle of learning

These past few weeks I have done much thinking about our homeschool in practice and in relation to my philosophies and goals. My thoughts drove me to a long-time favorite book
A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola, and towards a new purchase of mine;
Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss.

I often find myself just trying to "do" school, trying to make sure we cover important learning matters, trying to plod through the workbooks I purchased during fits of panic that I might be missing something or feeling like I am not doing enough or not doing what I should be doing. My philosophy and desire of what homeschooling should be does not fit into this thing our homeschool has become. Time to get back to the basics of my convictions, I finally decided.

This week has been a nice one. Not a major over-hall of direction or course of study...just a subtle, gentle adding in of what I believe is essential, what I believe truly does work best if I would just commit myself fully and consistently to the practice of.

I added in regular narration-for all 3 students, and introduced written narration to my two oldest students. We have done narration off and on in a casual, once in a while-way. Since we have not been in the habit of regular narrations, I choose a book with short stories. Fifty Famous Stories retold by James Baldwin. It is in the Ambleside Online curriculum list. The stories are short and a gentle way to introduce narration or in our case, stepping up narration. The stories are of legendary tales of well-known heroes or histories of people that are the subjects of frequent allusions in poetry and prose. Stories and references that I feel a well-educated person should know. Brianna finds writing laborious and I have been guilty of not requiring much of her in this department. She surprised me by happily working on the narration, giving me a page and a half of written narration and an illustration. I was shocked at how pleased she was to work on it.

The next subject I added in that had fallen by the wayside was regular poetry reading. We do read poetry, but not regularly every week. I tied poetry to lunch time, reading out loud to the children while they ate their lunch outside on the front porch. We really had a lovely time. Our poem for today was "All the world's a stage" by Shakespeare from the play As you like it. This was the first piece in the book I am using, but I had skipped it thinking it would be over the kid's heads. Reading it really caught my imagination, and while I don't think the kids actually 'got it', I think the exposure and the rhythm were beneficial to them. It was a good discussion starter for the older girls, and gave them something to think about.

We have done much bird watching lately, after spying an exciting newcomer to our birdfeeder. I am going to add our nature journaling back into our routine. A practice we used to keep, but one that has fallen away the past few years.

I found a Charlotte Mason discussion group in my area, and was able to attend a meeting last night. I had such a wonderful time, and was so inspired by these knowledgeable but very real homeschool moms. I am so pleased to be working back towards a lifestyle of learning environment.

"It was Miss Mason's belief that children are educated by their intimacies...The goal of such an education is to surround the child with noble people and books and other things with which to form relationships. For a {Christian} parent, the first intimacy we want for our children is a true and personal friendship with the Lord. All our educating is directed to that end.
We also recognize that the child living in a home that is also his "school" will form very close relationships with his parents and siblings. It is these relationships that we pray about unceasingly. We endeavor to be good examples and mentors. We want strong, loving bonds between siblings...
The child will also have intimacies with literature and nature and music and art. With an eye toward the ultimate goal, only the finest of these are set before the child. Children need the time and space to meet fine ideas and to make them their own. The atmosphere of the home and, indeed, of the child's entire environment can be ordered toward the purpose of presenting living ideas." Elizabeth Foss, Real Learning: education in the heart of the home

"We, as persons, are not enlightened by means of multiple-choice tests or grades, but rather by the other people in our lives that we come to know, admire, and love. We are educated by our friendships and by our intimacies...Whether it be gardening, keeping house, or governing a state, love of work-like love of people-teaches things that no school, no system, can. Children are inspired by relationships, and this helps form their personalities. And so, throughout their educational life, we put them in touch with persons, places, and things." Karen Andreola-A Charlotte Mason Companion pg. 23

I really can't believe how adding these little things has made this week such a good one.