Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent I: A truth too simple for us to grasp

(Reposted from August 2006)

"Two Quotes"

"But let their zeal be according to knowledge. Lay the foundations of their faith....Put earnest, intellectual works into their hands. Let them feel the necessity of bracing up every power of mind they have to gain comprehension of the breadth and the depth of the truths they are called to believe. Let them not grow up with the notion that Christian literature consists of emotional appeals, but that intellect, mind, is on the other side. Supply them with books of calibre to give the intellect something to grapple with––an important consideration, for the danger is, that young people in whom the spiritual life is not yet awakened should feel themselves superior to the vaunted simplicity of Christianity."--Charlotte Mason, Studies in the Formation of Character

"True spirituality covers all of reality. There are things the Bible tells us as absolutes which are sinful--which do not conform to the character of God. But aside from these the Lordship of Christ covers all of life and all of life equally. In this sense there is nothing concerning reality that is not spiritual.

"Related to this, it seems to me, is the fact that many Christians do not mean what I mean when I say Christianity is true, or Truth. They are Christians and they believe in, let us say, the truth of creation, the truth of the virgin birth, the truth of Christ's miracles, Christ's substitutionary death, and His coming again. But they stop there with these and other individual truths.

"When I say Christianity is true I mean it is true to total reality--the total of what is, beginning with the central reality, the objective existence of the personal-infinite God. Christianity is not just a series of truths but Truth--Truth about all of reality. And the holding of that Truth intellectually--and then in some poor way living upon the truth, the Truth of what is--brings forth not only certain personal results, but also governmental and legal [and educational] results."--Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto.

(Both quoted in For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay.)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

"The weight of too much liberty"

I've been working on the same post for days and can't seem to finish it properly. Maybe this is one of those interactive things that needs your comments to be "done."
"During a furlough in North America, one of [the] children said at a family reunion potluck, 'I sure will be glad to get back to Africa where we just have to eat manioc.'"--The More With Less Cookbook
"One year the only material I had to make costumes was from a pile of old black Navy uniforms. I told the children they could be anything they wanted to be as long as it was something black."--Amy Dacyczyn, The Tightwad Gazette
Jennifer Duenes (Life from the Roof) wrote a guest-blog post last week on Money-Saving Mom. (Her blog is about "her insights from life in Uzbekistan and tips on making the most of your resources in high-cost urban areas.")

This is the part that struck me:

"....when I returned for the first time to the US after my initial 2 years in Uzbekistan. I went into Wal-Mart to buy shampoo, and ended up just standing there for a few minutes staring at an entire aisle of shampoo.

"I was so overwhelmed, I ended up just turning around and walking out without buying anything. While it was hard at times to be deprived of access to certain products in Uzbekistan, I now understood what Wordsworth commented on in his poem Nuns Fret Not at their Convent’s Narrow Room. Instead of being limited by what we cannot buy, perhaps sometimes we should look at having too many liberties as a weight, and at our limitations as true freedom."

What homeschooler hasn't had a similar reaction in a conference vendor hall, or when confronted with one of those telephone-book-sized American curriculum catalogues? (The Big Book of Home Learning was called that for a reason.) I feel the same way in those 100-variety coffee shops: I just ask for their "regular coffee." (Side note: don't ask for that in the donut shop, though, unless you want coffee with cream and sugar. I once really messed with a Tim's cashier's head by asking for a "regular coffee without anything in it.") (For a 2008 look at a Yikes shopping trip, read Black Friday on Beck's Bounty. Photos, too.)

Recently I finished reading Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede, a novel about Benedictine nuns set during the 1960's, when their lifestyle became less cloistered and their veils were updated with front hair showing. ("Who knew that Sister X had red hair??") The older nuns who refused to go along with the modern "dishtowel" veils had their reasons: the completely-covered habit kept them from having to spend any time at all worrying about what their hair looked like. Another point made in the book is that 19th-century English nuns had to fight in the first place to be allowed to be cloistered; it was seen as a privilege.

And what more can I add? The theme for our first week of Advent will be Simplicity--an attempt to keep from buckling under the weight of too many choices...too much liberty.

Your turn...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Grade Two Exam Questions, Fall Term

This is my first draft of Crayons' exam questions that we'll begin tomorrow. I may change/shorten them between now and then. (I borrowed some of the questions from Jeanne's Year One exams.)


1. In your own words, tell as much as you can remember about King Saul.
2. What is special about Matthew's gospel (the story of Jesus that Matthew wrote)?
3. Tell the Parable of the Sower (the man who planted seeds).


1. Recite Psalm 23 to Dad.
2. Tell me your address and phone number.


1. Print the alphabet in lower case letters in your very best printing.
2. Print this verse:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5
I caught a fish alive
6, 7, 8, 9, 10
I let it go again.

3. Write for five minutes about playing in the snow.


1. Read to Dad for 5 minutes from Dangerous Journey.
2. Read for 5 minutes from a book I will give you.

Canadian Studies

1. What do you know about David Thompson? How did he become interested in mapmaking?
2. Tell me what three of these Canadian things (or people) are: loon, lacrosse, Lillooet, lumberjack, Arctic, Bluenose, caribou, Terry Fox
3. Tell the story of the picture on the Canadian ten-dollar bill.
4. Sing O Canada.

British History

1. Draw me a picture about life in a castle.
2. Tell all you remember about the battle between King Harold and William of Normandy. (Our Island Story)
3. Tell about how Duke Richard of Normandy escaped from King Louis' castle. (The Little Duke)
4. Who was Robin Hood? (Our Island Story)


1. Show me where we live on the map of Canada. Show me where your cousin lives. Where is Hudson Bay? Where are the prairies? Which way is North?

Natural History

1. What are some things that the children have learned this fall in Miss Adams' class? (Through the Year)
2. Pretend you are an animal (any animal) that stays awake at night and sleeps during the day. Write in your diary all the things you did tonight.
3. Owls in the Family: How did the boy in the story get his pet owls? What happened at the end of the book?


1. Tell the story of “The Paradise of Children” (Pandora's Box) or “The Golden Touch” (King Midas).
2. What did Betsy do to celebrate her birthday? Tell as much of what happened to her that day as you can.
3. Pilgrim's Progress: Draw a map of Christian's journey so far. Try to include as many important places as you can remember (I will help you label them if you like). Make sure you include a starting place, at least one good place, one scary place, and the place where Christian wants to go.

Canadian stories

1. Tell the story of one of the following (Stories for Canada's Birthday):

a. "Talking Birchbark for Ne Tannis"
b. The girl who was "Lost in the Woods" OR
c. "The Stepfather" (Mr. Tupper).


1. Complete the sheets I will give you.
2. Count backwards from 100 to 0 in fives.
3. Draw one of each of these: a rectangle, a triangle, a trapezoid, a hexagon.
4. Go through some of the clock flashcards with Dad (I will pick them out).
5. If an orange rod is called "one," what is a yellow rod called? If a red rod is called "one," show me "two" and "four." If a blue rod is called "one," what rod must be one-third?


1. Can you tell me some colours in French? Point to things that are those colours as you say the words.
2. Sing "Tourne tourne mon moulin" for Daddy.
3. Show me these parts of your body: le nez, la bouche, les dents, la tête.
4. Draw a picture of "un gateau" with "bougies." Draw as many "bougies" as you can count, and count them out loud. Then show me how you would "souffle" them.

Picture Study (Canadian painters)

1. What is the name of one of the artists we studied this term?
2. Describe your favourite picture from this term's picture study.
3. Can you think of any others?

Composer study

1. What is the name of the composer we have been studying for most of this term? How was his ballet music different from what others had composed?
2. Make up a dance to one of his pieces of music. Perform it for one of your sisters.

What's for supper?

Dinner menus for this week.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Last day of the term: school plans for Friday

Winding things up! Next week is exam week...then we'll do three weeks of Term 2 before our Christmas break.

O Canada

Fall songs--review some of the things we've sung this term

Bible stories from 1 Sam. 19 & 20

Practice Bible memory passage

French: finish Denise and Alain's birthday


Pilgrim's Progress, 5 pages

Play Perfection and name as many shapes as you can

Poems 260 (When Icicles Hang By the Wall) and 25 (I Sing of a Maiden) from Come Hither (choir version) (UPDATED--I'm not sure why I had the Yule poem in there)

Composer: finish Stravinsky

Spelling test

Finish The Little Duke


Thursday, November 20, 2008

What a doll

Crayons' doll in her new nightgown (made to match Crayons').

(Created in Paint by Crayons, November 2008)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Cuckoo Clock (book review)

Crayons and I are reading The Cuckoo Clock, by Mary Stolz. It's the type of European-village fairy tale that reminds me of Tolkien's Smith of Wootton Major or maybe Walter Wangerin Jr.'s Elisabeth and the Water Troll (which we also just finished reading). It's also the kind of magical story that I can't imagine writing--at least, not going through all the "normal" drafting and editing processes. It seems, like some of Rumer Godden's stories, to have sprung to life complete and whole, like the wooden cuckoo bird itself that begins to sing all the songs of the forest.

You can find short descriptions of the plot anywhere, so I won't go into it much. A needy young boy, Erich, manages to connect with the one kindred spirit in town: the elderly clockmaker, who begins to train him as an assistant and allows him to help carve his final masterpiece. When the clock is finished, the clockmaker dies--shattering the small security Erich has found with him, but leaving him a fiddle and his carving tools. That's only the first half of the story: the rest of the adventure is Erich's.

I found this description on the Amazon site:
"Stolz' delicate ironies and precise writing style save her story from sentimentality, enabling it to teach an interesting and rigorous lesson about the liability of the self-involved to understand the true beauty of the world. Original, wise, and thoughtful. Christine Behrmann, New York Public Lib. (Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
And that's very true; the abused-orphan story has been done to death, and Stolz herself pokes fun at this tradition: "Boys even younger would leave unhappy homes and go into the wide world seeking their fortunes, which, according to the stories, they always found." It would be easy for this story to become forced and overdrawn. But in the hands of a master craftsman, even such a plain stick of wood can become something beautiful.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

School plans this week (last week of the term)

What are our goals this week? (Mama Squirrel's homework is to write exam questions for next week.)

Hymns and songs: The Ambleside Online hymn for November is "Jesus Shall Reign," and we've been singing that. We haven't been doing the term's folk song, but we've been singing several of our own choosing.

Bible: the plan is to read 1 Samuel through chapter 20, and we're almost there; and Matthew through chapter 15. Maybe we can build in a bit of review this week as well.

Math: we're caught up on the Miquon pages I planned for this term, but there are lots of things we can work on before exams. This term we've worked on addition, subtraction, multiplication AND started some work in fractions--so I'll try to figure out some fun things we can do this week to review. (Practice in time telling, shapes and money also falls under Math.)

Language workbook: we should probably review again what synonyms and antonyms are. I planned to do a few "thinking"-type pages this week as well.

Memory work: we should be putting a bit of a push on to finish learning Matthew 2:1-12, but if she gets even half of it learned without a hitch by the end of the week, I'll be happy, and we can keep working on it between now and Christmas. Crayons is also supposed to be memorizing a poem, but she keeps changing her mind about what to memorize. I think I'll give her one short thing to work on this week.

Copywork: Not Crayons' favourite thing by any means, but we are keeping up with it.

Spelling: going very well, I've posted about that before.

Among the Forest People: we have a story this week about a Little Bat, and I know that bats interest Crayons, so I'll try to add in a bit of extra nature reading about bats.

Through the Year: I give this to Crayons to read to herself, but it's almost too easy, she whips through the pages and wants to read the rest of the book. This week's three pages about starting bulbs won't take us too long--Coffeemamma loaned us Linnea's Windowsill Garden, so I'll check and see if Linnea can offer any further advice on starting our own.

French: we're supposed to get through Denise and Alain's birthday, count their candles, talk about their clothes, and sing a birthday song.

Composer: we need to finish up Stravinsky.

Artist: we've read through William Kurelek's Prairie Boy's Summer; I think we need to review our 3 K's: Paul Kane, Cornelius Krieghoff, and William Kurelek. I might download some paintings and have Crayons play a guessing game--who painted what?

Poems: I have a few picked out to read this week.

Canada Eh to Zed: L is for Loon, Lacrosse, Lillooet, and Lumberjack. If we get to the library, I'll get out a copy of William Kurelek's book Lumberjack.

Canadian studies: Review David Thompson (briefly). Start reading Barbara Greenwood's A Pioneer Christmas.

An Island Story: the first chapter on Richard the Lionheart.

Child's History of the World: chapter on the Crusades.

Other reading: Mr. Popper's Penguins, The Little Duke.

Pilgrim's Progress: the copy we're using is divided into chapters, so I want to be done Chapter IV; that is, just before Christian meets Faithful. Chapter IV ends with Christian singing:

"Yea, snares, and pits, and traps, and nets did lie
My path about, that worthless, silly I
Might have been catched, entangled, and cast down;
But, since I live, let Jesus wear the crown."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Must have been those Vegetarians again

One Squirreling to another (watching the Christmas parade go by in the rain): Look at all those elves!

Second Squirreling: Those aren't elves, those are people from the war.

(Well, they did have sort of pointy hats. Actually it was the Cadets (Armed Forces youth).)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Crocheted Snowflake

I found this pattern online and had to look twice to see if it was tatted or crocheted (relief, I can't tat). The plastic ring in the centre gives it more depth than most crocheted snowflakes--reminds me of old-fashioned blind pulls.

I enjoy making small trims like this--they're a good way to dress up holiday food gifts or other small packages. Also, after you figure out the first one, you can easily make several more! (It's always the first time through a pattern that I mess up.)

[Update: I've made several of these and they work out quite well, once you've figured out the math of centering the loops. I think the edges need a little bit of Stiffy or something like that, so that they don't flop over.]

Crayons: Things to Do Today

Sing some songs from Canada Is for Kids Volume 2. Here's an (old?) video of Au Chant de l'Alouette.

Talk about World Kindness Day. (Crayola's Kindness Castle mailbox?--we already have a cardboard castle we could use.)

Do some fractions with Mom.

Have a French lesson (review what Denise and her family are wearing)

Read a chapter from A Child's History of the World.

Do your spelling test on Spelling City.

Do ten dancing twirls.

Clean up your laundry.

Listen to some Stravinsky. (maybe while cleaning up your laundry?)

Read The Little Duke with Mom. Narrate to Mom.

Printing page.

Practice memory work.

Read to yourself pages 44-53 from Through the Year. Narrate to Mom.

Help bake something for the weekend.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thanks to all our brave vegetarians

Crayons, trying to read the label on a wreath while watching the national Remembrance Day ceremony on T.V.:

"What's that say? Vegetarians of Canada?"

Monday, November 10, 2008

Why are we doing spelling, again?

This is supposed to be a Charlotte Mason-inspired blog, right?

And Charlotte Mason homeschoolers don't do word lists and weekly spelling lessons. Children learn correct spelling through their reading, through copywork, and through studied dictation.

Well, for our oldest Squirreling that worked well--she was an intuitive speller and just seemed to know how most words should be spelled.

For our others--it works better to be more systematic about it. They just seem to need that extra boost, especially in the early years of school.

So I'm using the grade one/two spelling words from Kathryn Stout's Natural Speller, and plugging ten of those a week into the Spelling City website. Crayons can practice, play games, and then do a final test using whatever words we choose. Not everything on the site works perfectly (there are some problems with the crosswords), and I still haven't found the button that's supposed to let you create handwriting sheets with your spelling words. But overall it's been a big help, and using the keyboard is easier for Crayons than having to print the words with a pencil.

And that's why we're doing spelling.

Crayons' School Week: The Home Stretch

We are in Week 11 of a 12-week term, so we're close to finishing a lot of our fall books. Some things will go on through the year.

If you've looked at previous schedules, you'll have an idea of some of our "regular" stuff, so I'll just say that the daily work includes Bible reading, language (copywork/printing book, spelling lessons, some language "enrichment), memory work, Miquon Math, French, singing, and poems.

We're also reading Mr. Popper's Penguins when we remember to, and just finished the first Dr. Dolittle book. Unanimous approval for that one--Mama Squirrel thought it was very funny.


"Social Studies"--we're going to look through Linda Granfield's book The Unknown Soldier. This just arrived for our homeschool group's library and I thought it would be useful for Remembrance Day.
Composer: Stravinsky
The Little Duke

Tuesday (which also happens to be Martinmas):

Pilgrim's Progress
Canada Eh to Zed
Artist: William Kurelek, A Prairie Boy's Summer
Watch the national Remembrance Day ceremony on T.V.


Among the Forest People: "The Biggest Little Rabbit"
Finish the David Thompson activity book (geography)


A Wonder Book: "The Paradise of Children" (Pandora retelling)
An Island Story--continue the story of Henry II
Artist (continue)


Child's History of the World: "A Pirate's Great-Grandson, 1066"
(also look at some of our castle-times books again)
Through The Year, pages 44-53--How the days grow shorter

Sunday, November 09, 2008

What do CM exams look like?

Crayons will be having an exam week at the end of this month, so I appreciated Jeanne's post about her own family's Charlotte Mason-style exams.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Crayons' narration of Thomas à Becket

Dictated by Crayons after a reading from An Island Story

There was a man called Thomas à Becket. He was great friends with King Henry II. Thomas was the chancellor.

But one day King Henry II quarreled with Thomas à Becket. It was because the king wanted Thomas to become Archbishop.

So Thomas said, “But then we won’t be able to play and stuff anymore. I won’t be free anymore. I won’t be able to play like we used to.” But the king said, “I’ll make you Archbishop anyway.”

But all of a sudden the Pope came up, and he said, "I want to choose some bishops." But the King said, “No, Thomas is supposed to do that. And I am supposed to do that.” But Thomas agreed with the Pope. So the king and Thomas quarreled even more. They quarreled and quarreled and quarreled. The king said “Isn’t there anybody can take this guy away from me?”

One night the people went to Thomas, and they said, “You agree with the King, or we’ll come back for you.” And Thomas said, “I will be right here waiting for you.” With that, all the bishops and everything began to shake and worry. “Oh, come into the cathedral,” they said to him. “No, I have promised to remain here,” Thomas said.

So that night there was church. So he said, “All right—but I won’t stay in the church. I said I’d be waiting here for them.” But he walked along so slowly, because those bishops they kept pulling him along and pushing him, push pull push pull. Pull pull pull, push push push.

So while he was reading the sermon in the church, four knights rushed in. But Thomas motioned the priests to turn off the lights. And the people ran out of the church to their homes. And the knights were like, “Hey, where did you go?” But it only echoed back to them for a little while. And then Thomas said, “I am right here.” So they went over to him and tried to grab him. “Agree with our King or die,” they said. But it was very very unallowed to kill somebody in a cathedral. So Thomas caught hold of one of the pillars and held fast when they tried to drag him out. And the cross-bearer caught hold of his arm to protect him, and all four of the knights swung their swords and they broke the cross-bearer’s arm.

And then while the cross-bearer was rubbing his arm because it felt sore, they took a swing at Thomas’s head. They got him. “I die in a holy place,” said Thomas, and no more words were heard from him. Quickly the four knights crept out of the church and the bishops and priests began to weep over the dead body of Thomas à Becket.

Monday, November 03, 2008

What we did today (homeschooling)

Old Testament: Samuel anoints David

Singing: Donkey Riding, Flunky Jim, I'se the B'y

Memory work: Working on Matthew 2:1-12

French: Head, eyes, nose, mouth, teeth, ears, hair; singing verses of Alouette about parts of the face

Parts of a dollar and quickly counting coins: using our old flashcards for review


Spelling: Word search and practice test on

Language: Two pages about "context clues" (filling in the blanks in a sentence logically), done orally with me

Math: Two Miquon pages of adding and multiplying

Keyboard lesson: 5-minute lesson

A Wonder Book: started The Paradise of Children (retelling of Pandora's Box)

Canada Eh to Zed: Jasper, Juno (award), Jack Pine, (Blue) Jay (the bird, not the team)

Picture study: Browsed through a book about Cornelius Krieghoff and noted which of his paintings "look like Krieghoff" and which ones are outside of his usual subject matter and style. Crayons spent the next little while working on a new picture, "The Submerged Tepee."

After lunch we worked on a few geography pages in the David Thompson activity book (looking for differences in a picture, measuring the length of his trip down the Columbia river); finished the last chapter of More All of a Kind Family, and then Crayons, being Crayons, created a new person with cardboard tubes while I cleaned out a cupboard.

Crayons says her favourite thing was finishing More All of a Kind Family. "But I hated the end of the last chapter. Because it's the end of the book!" Her favourite character is Charlotte.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

How 7-year-olds think

Walking through the toy department, already stocked for Christmas:

Mom: Most of these dolls are pretty junky.

Crayons: (In a most adult tone) Oh yes, I know... (wistful pause) But they can be very pretty.

Those pink boxes go right to a girl's heart, don't they?

Artisanal puppets anyone? (Holiday grace)

Marsha at Hot Water Bath echoes something we've said here before in her post Plus ça change :
"Who among us wants to be the one who tells a working-two-minimum-wage-jobs mom that she needs to be getting online (digital divide, anyone?) and ordering artisanal puppets for her children because that's better for the environment....Or that she should kitting up to make those puppets, with the required expenses of fabric and glue gun and needle because that's what moms of yesteryear would have done....Meanwhile, the dollar store has adorable puppets in a range of styles that are deemed by a privileged class to be less-than because of where they were made or how much energy they required to get here. Well, that's not a conversation that I am willing to have."
Last Christmas we did make a lot of our gifts (more, more, more). It was just that kind of a year. I posted some frugal thoughts about it afterwards.

But other years we have depended heavily on the dollar store.

And we have occasionally bemoaned the trend to artisanal-and-homemade (anybody else getting tired of that word artisanal?) that's so artisanal-and-homemade that even regular-old-homemade doesn't cut it.

But, as one woman put it in a Canadian Living article several years ago--Christmas "isn't about the flippin' wrapping paper." Or the flippin' cookies. Or where the flippin' hand puppets come from, although it's true enough that how we shop or where we shop for holidays does say something about our worldview (and that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown).

Christmas is about grace.

(As an update on that last link...when I read Shepherds Abiding last Christmas, I hadn't read any of the later (or earlier) books in the Mitford series. I didn't know that the character "hammering down on a cashew"--the one who unexpectedly points out the need for grace--would die in the next book. But somehow it adds even more poignancy to his words.)