Reflections on the various dimensions of feminine vocation from liturgical homemaking and child rearing to education and the spiritual life.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Keeping it Kinetic

I've discovered an essential key to keeping our homeschooling efforts from languishing in static boredom and ineffectiveness. Without it, Katherine would tire and lose focus and motivation. Without it, Jude would go ballistic sabotaging all our seat work. And it's as simple as "Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake."

After morning prayers, before we begin any other subjects or seat work, we sing one or two songs with movement to get energized, focused, and ready to go. We sing and move to another song or two after each 15 to 30 minutes of seat-work. This allows me to "feed the meter" on Jude's attention and active-toddler needs and also allows Katherine to get out her wiggles and mix things up. If I skip the music and movement, getting Katherine to engage in seat-work (a.k.a. penmanship, spelling, and reading) feels like pulling teeth. With the kinetic breaks, she is a whole lot more cooperative.

And, well, music and movement time is just plan fun, not to mention educational in its own right! Some of the songs also really get the heart pumping for a healthy mini-workout.

Some of our favorite songs with movement so far are the following:
  • I'm a Little Tea Pot
  • Pat-a-Cake, Pat-a-Cake, Baker's Man
  • Head and Shoulders
  • Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed (We actually jump on the bed for this one, which makes it a favorite of favorites.)
  • Open and Shut Them
  • Ring-a-Ring-a-Rosie
  • Father Abraham
  • I'm in the Lord's Army
  • See How I'm Jumping
  • If You're Happy and You Know It
  • Praise Ye the Lord, Alleluia (We crouch down and then pop up like a Jack-in-the-box for one or other of the refrains.)

And sometimes we just play a fast song on the computer-stereo and dance like crazy people around the apartment. A kinetic round of Simon Says also works.

What are some other good movement and music songs? Which ones do you like to sing with your little people? Do share.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

How Education Paves the Road to Faith

The Bible tells us that what is required to enter the Kingdom of God is the simple faith of a child. So why should Christians pursue an academic education?

Because such an education is, in an important way, a means for us to come to have the simple faith of a child, says Jim Kushiner, the executive director of the Fellowship of St. James, publisher of Touchstone and Salvo magazines.

In the last five to ten minutes of his interview from last November on Ancient Faith Radio's "In the World" podcast, Kushiner explains his dynamic view of a Christian education. Because the culture has perceptibly and imperceptibly pervaded our habits of thinking, feeling, and acting, we need a thorough education to rid ourselves of false beliefs and come to knowledge of the truth.

An integrated education in philosophy, theology, the humanities, and the sciences, "gives people the tools to reclaim the Christian mind," to "detoxify and cleanse the mind," to "see the world through the eyes of Christ" rather than be "conformed to the world's mind." An education also allows us to "harvest the fruit" of the riches of the Christian tradition, the Fathers, the liturgy, and the hymnography of the Church. And because the world is created good, it is worthy of study and leads to greater knowledge of the Creator. Studying the glories of creation properly leads to a deep sense of wonder, "the workshop of worship."

This dynamic pairing of wonder and piety, prayer and scholarship, love and knowledge, this is the goal I seek as I educate my children (and continue to re-educate myself in the process).

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Penmanship Lifesavers

Remembering to pull these bad boys out of my homeschool supply kit saved our penmanship lesson attempts in our first week of Kindergarten instruction.

The Pencil Grip Crossover is THE BEST pencil grip out there, as far as I can tell. Until I got ours out for my daughter, she was unable to keep her three writing fingers in the correct position and kept pinching and crossing her top two fingers—thumb and pointer—above the pen rather than keeping them on the sides of the pen.

I had thought that the triangle-shaped pen we were using might provide sufficient guidance and support on its own, but I was mistaken, at least for little four-year-old hands. The Pencil Grip Crossover has a special wall and cover that makes it impossible to cross or pinch the top two fingers. Older kids starting penmanship later might not need it, but I'm loving how these grips give my daughter the ability to let her fingers keep better pace with her aspirations.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Using Pens for Penmanship: Why Pencils Are Evil

Okay, pencils are not evil. But they are not the best choice for children to use when writing for school work, as Andrew Pudewa (Institute for Excellence in Writing) deftly argues in his article, "Convert . . . to Pens!"

I am so glad I read his article before beginning penmanship with Katherine. While he applies his argument mostly to the use of pens for writing composition, his points about avoiding erasing, increasing visibility, and ergonomic concerns apply at least equally well to introductory penmanship lessons. Read for yourself and be converted!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Susan Wise Bauer on the Campatibility between Classical Education and Charlotte Mason Approaches

I like how Susan finds compatibility between the two approaches. I'm not sure all Classical education proponents are as balanced as she is, however. Just as there are different interpretations and contemporary applications of Charlotte Mason's ideas, so are there different interpretations and applications of Classical education.

And why is a short essay by Dorothy Sayers THE foundation for contemporary classical educators? I myself think we would all be better off if we went straight to Jacques Maritain for our philosophy of education. There would be no need to quarrel over the different emphases between Mason and Sayers schools of thought.

Certainly there will always be a multiplicity of applications, but that is all good when rooted in a unified vision grounded in solid principles.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Review of Primary Arts of Language (PAL) from IEW

The new Primary Arts of Language (PAL) curriculum set from the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) provides a dynamic package for K-1 students to learn phonics, reading, and writing. With multi-sensory activities and visual aids to facilitate and reinforce learning, PAL appeals to students of a variety of learning modalities and preferences.

Written by Jill Pike, the multifaceted PAL curriculum is divided into two packages—reading and writing, respectively—that are designed to be used simultaneously but can be used separately. The PAL program is based on Anna Ingham's Blended Sound-Sight Program of Learning (BSSP) and incorporates both phonics and whole-word approaches to teaching reading.

Apparently, the relationship between IEW and Anna Ingham's family goes way back. Ingham's nephew, Dr. James B. Webster, founded the Structure and Style method of teaching writing. Webster, Ingham, and Ingham's daughter, Shirley George, worked together to develop and field-test the teaching approaches used in the BSSP, including the spelling rules and jingles that are presented so helpfully in IEW's Phonetic Zoo. (See the pdf "Teacher's Notes" for a sample/intro. The Spelling program is so effective, IEW offers a full money-back guarantee.)

Some highlights from the "Brief History . . ." included in the Phonetic Zoo Teacher's Notes (pdf link above) give insight into Anna Ingham, how she developed the BSSP, and why it has been successful, especially in public schools in Canada and elsewhere:
Anna Ingham began her career as a school teacher in 1935 [. . .] 
After many years in the rural [one-room schoolhouse] schools, Mrs. Ingham moved into a single-grade city classroom where she had the opportunity to focus on first grade students. The most monumental hurdle for Mrs. Ingham in this school was reintroducing phonics into an educational system enamored with the "Look and Say" method. Teachers were encouraged to use words to teach letter sounds and focus on the whole over the parts. Mrs. Ingham discovered that this method did not work. [. . .] Creating all her own materials, she began to develop her Sound City where both individual letters and letter combinations lived and talked. She did not go back to the archaic method of letter and blend drills completely divorced from words. Instead, she used poetry, pantomimes, and play to integrate phonics and words. [. . .] Mrs. Ingham blended the critical phonetic sounds with the whole word sight method, the Blended Sound-Sight Method [. . .]
The key to the success of the Blended Sound-Sight system, however, was not Mrs. Ingham's teaching tools, but her choice to begin with the Golden Rule. [. . .] Anna's dedication to giving each student what he needed by providing him with clear, incremental goals coupled with consistency and firm love produced phenomenal results. [. . .]
Ingham is undoubtedly a dynamic and effective teacher who has creatively met the needs of countless students through her innovation and enthusiasm. According to her website, the BSSP approach was developed largely through "trial and error," and later supported by field research, ostensibly her own and that of the family and teachers she's worked with and trained. While no research citations are given online, the BSSP site claims that the method is "proven by research." I imagine her hefty BSSP book mostly likely contains references to other educational research that might support different aspects of her method. (The trends in education have swung from phonics to whole words and back again to phonics, and some of the current research in support of phonemic development and phonics instruction is summarized in Evidence-based reading instruction: Putting the National Reading Panel Report into practice, which advocates "that systematic phonics instruction is more effective than alternative programs." The article authors provide ideas on creatively implementing phonemic and phonics learning programs in engaging ways suggesting that pure phonics instruction need not be "archaic" or "completely divorced from words". If you email me, I can email you the pdf.)

The sound-sight blend is evident in the PAL curriculum from the first lesson; single letters, multi-letter phonemes, and site words are all introduced on the first day.

There are so many facets of the PAL program that I cannot adequately discuss them all here. Here, however, is a brief run-down of the first lesson flow as suggested in the Teacher's Manual:

The lesson begins with the teacher reading and discussing a poem with the student(s). The same poem will be used repeatedly over several days and used in various ways to make connections with the various letters, phonemes, and site words.

The teacher then introduces lower-case letter symbols c, o, and a, along with the primary sound for each (short vowel sounds for o and a only) using a "letter story." Personified letters are portrayed in a drawing while the teacher tells the letter's "story" to create a mnemonic hook for the student to learn the letter shape and associated sound. For those doing the writing/penmanship component, the story also includes instructions for writing the letter. For example, the letter story script for c reads "C is the happy letter. Start at the top, circle around, but don't close it up! This is the happy cookie because somebody took a big bite! |c|, |c|, cookie." For the letter "a" the script reads as follows: "a is the angry letter. Start with a c, close it up, and continue the line straight down. Curve it a little at the bottom to make a little ponytail. a is the angry letter because the boys often pull her hair and make her say |ă|." The creative mnemonic hooks like the "letter stories" for learning phonemes and later spelling rules may be seen as either a help or a distraction, depending on your perspective. Later in the program, after all letters have been learned, this portion is replaced by other activities such as "discovery" (decoding) and "library."

Printing, Journaling, and Story Time
If students are doing the PAL Writing component along with the Reading, they would learn how to print the three lower-case letters and would journal (with mom writing for them until later lessons when they have gained the ability to write by themselves) and have story time.

Phonics Game(s)
The teacher then introduces a game to reinforce the association of each of the three newly-learned letter symbols with the respective primary sound.

Multi-Letter Phonemes with Site Words
The multi-letter phonemes "ee" and "ow" are then introduced along with the corresponding site words "green" and "yellow." (The phoneme "ow" is introduced at this time with only one of it's sounds: long "o" rather than "ow" as in "cow.") "Stories are again used to correlate the letter symbols with the sounds. For example, teachers can tell students that when two "e"s get together, they like to squeal, |ē|!" Phoneme index cards are created and stored and another reinforcement game is played. The teacher then introduces the "Phonetic Farm," a full-color, laminated poster that comes with phoneme stickers to attach in designated areas about the farm as the phonemes are learned, in order to organize and associate like-sounding phonemes with one another and increase mastery. The Phonetic Farm is an engaging and visually appealing learning tool (and can be purchased separately).

Independent Work
Next, the student works independently to complete a lesson from the student workbook and "another item or two of your choosing: color a picture, listen to a book on tape, complete a chore, watch an educational program, or anything that your child can do independently" (Teacher's Manual p. 12).

Spelling Test
Finally, if students are completing the Writing component, they are given an informal "spelling test" on the whiteboard and prompted with letter sounds to write the letters of the day: c, o, and a.

The lessons require quite a bit of both instructional time (1 hour and 45 minutes minimum for the lesson described above, which the author suggests breaking up with other subjects, activities, or rests) and also teacher involvement, especially during the first several weeks when students are first learning all their letters. There is also a fair bit of prep work in getting acquainted with the program, gathering and setting up materials, and constructing the game pieces. If you are doing the complete PAL program, you will need two teacher's manuals and DVDs, a Phonetics Games book, student workbooks, as well as the Phonetic Farm pack. The All About Spelling Teacher's Manual, Student Packet, and DVD, cards, letter tiles and magnets pack is also recommended. The combo of complete PAL Reading and Writing packages (includes All About Spelling) is sold for $158 ($69 + $89) on the IEW website. Teachers also need to purchase supplies including index cards, markers, glue, tape, scissors, and at least 35 manila file folders for constructing the games. If you are looking for a ready-made, ready-to-go curriculum, this is not the one for you. A fair bit of cutting, gluing, and assembling is required to set up the games.

While some may prefer a more systematic presentation of phonemes or prefer a more traditional or pure phonics approach, the PAL curriculum pack is a dynamic option for those seeking a creative and comprehensive language arts program for K-1. The greatest strengths of the program seem to be the central place given to poetry and literature, the early introduction of the habit of journaling, the colorful Phonetic Farm poster board for organizing and comparing the various multi-letter phonemes, and the use of games to keep it fun. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Unanticipated Benefits of Learning the Greek Alphabet

. . . It helps with teaching English literacy. Which is quite natural since so much of our English vocabulary comes from Greek roots.

I often find myself explaining to Katherine that "in this word, the 'a' sounds like an alpha." Just now, she sounded out the word "Christmas" wherein "the 'ch' sounds like the Greek letter chi."

Saturday, February 5, 2011

ASL for Babies: What Would I Do Without It?

At one-year old and counting, my son can communicate so much more to me with signs than he can with verbal cues. Put the two—signs and sounds—together in context, and he and I can communicate smoothly almost all the time. Helps reduce frustration on both ends and heads of tantrums. Love it!

Here's a great kit for starting sign with your babies: SIGN with your BABY - Baby Sign Language (ASL) Kit: Includes Book, How-to DVD, Quick Reference Guide.

SIGN with your BABY - Baby Sign Language (ASL) Kit: Includes Book, How-to DVD, Quick Reference Guide

It includes an instructional DVD for parents, a book with sign dictionary, and a laminated quick-reference sign sheet (which is handy to share with sitters).

I also highly, highly recommend the Signing Time DVD series for toddlers and preschoolers. My kids love it! (My husband and I don't mind them either, although we think Rachel, the hostess/teacher, becomes more confidant and polished as the series goes on.)

There are two seasons with multiple volumes per each. There is a third series, Baby Signing Time, but I don't like showing babies a lot of DVDs and I like the toddler/preschool ones better. Here's season 1, volume 1 as well as a couple package options to get you started.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Start the Greek EARLY

It's never too early to start learning the Greek alphabet.

Here's a handsome board book we use in our house starting with newborns and on up: Little Bitty Baby Learns Greek.

Little Bitty Baby Learns Greek

You can also start them on Hebrew with the parallel book in the set: Little Bitty Baby Learns Hebrew.

Little Bitty Baby Learns Hebrew

Monday, January 3, 2011

Fr. Thomas Hopko's 40 Maxims for Christian Living

In the spirit of new year's resolutions, the following 40 maxims were included with our church bulletin this past Sunday. I found them very inspiring and convicting; I hope you do too.
  • Be always with Christ and trust God in everything.
  • Go to Church, confession and communion regularly.
  • Read the Scriptures regularly.
  • Spend some time in silence each day.
  • Pray as you can and not as you want.
  • Keep a rule of prayer.
  • Say the Lord’s Prayer several times a day.
  • Do some prostrations when you pray.
  • Have a short prayer (like the Jesus Prayer) that you constantly repeat when your mind is not occupied with other things.
  • Cultivate communion with the saints.
  • Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice.
  • Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
  • Eat good foods in moderation. Fast as the Church teaches.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Read good books a little at a time.
  • Face reality. Don’t get lost in imagination and fantasy.
  • Be totally honest, first of all with yourself.
  • Do your work.
  • Do the most difficult and painful things first.
  • Be faithful in little things.
  • Do acts of mercy and compassion secretly.
  • Be grateful in all things.
  • Be cheerful.
  • Be simple, hidden and quiet. Never draw attention to yourself.
  • Be awake and attentive, fully present where you are.
  • Be polite with everyone.
  • Listen carefully when people speak to you.
  • When speaking, speak simply, clearly, firmly and directly.
  • Don’t complain, grumble, murmur or whine.
  • Accept criticism gratefully and test it carefully.
  • Don’t defend or justify yourself.
  • Don’t seek or expect either pity or praise from others.
  • Be strict with yourself and merciful with others.
  • Don’t compare yourself with anyone else.
  • Don’t judge anyone for anything.
  • Give advice only when asked or obligated to do so.
  • Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
  • Endure the trial of yourself and your own faults and sins serenely, knowing that God’s mercy is greater than your wretchedness.
  • Get help when you need it, without fear or shame.
  • When you fall, get up immediately and start over.