I made a delightful discovery a week or so ago while riffling through some boxes in the basement – a tote bag stocked with three pretty notebooks and several pencils. These notebooks were our nature journals from two years ago! I have some sweet memories of walking along trails with my girls, examining wildflowers and pinecones, sketching, and searching field guides to determine what our treasures were. A year and a half ago these books were packed up for our move, and then put into storage while we spent a year in our (quite small) temporary home. I’ve had some fun finding things I had been searching for or things forgotten, but these were the most exciting yet!
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What a perfect time to find these journals too – I had recently purchased Anna Botsford Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study and have been gearing up to put it to use while enjoying the beautiful spring weather.
It’s so lovely to look back on Big Sister’s drawings and notes, written two years ago – she’s come a long way! Little Sister had a journal as well, but at two years of age she had filled hers with scribbles. I’m looking forward to seeing what she comes up with now at the age of four!
Mama has a notebook too! My drawings aren’t skilled, but my printing is neat 😉
So far this week we have made journal entries for dandelions (which have invaded our backyard) and the American robin. We have been watching the robins in our neighbourhood and looking up at the trees for their nests (we haven’t spotted any). I’m sure we will be seeing the young robins soon!
How do you include nature studies in your homeschool? Do you keep a nature journal?
My oldest daughter has been drawing quite passionately since our last lesson – she will sit at the table for an hour or more at a time with her sketch book and work away on her pictures. One day last week I invited her to join me with our books and a pile of Eric Carle books for inspiration. I even found myself having fun with it! One of the pictures we found inspiration in was this duck from Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
I love how Big Sister thought to add cattails to her picture, I wish I had thought of that! We both thought it looked like mama duck was looking over her shoulder at her babies so we drew in some ducklings.
Next up for our lessons from Drawing With Children is Lesson 3: Drawing from a Still Life! I reviewed this chapter several times knowing that it was going to be a more difficult one. Although this lesson is for learning to draw from a still life, the author takes the reader through the lesson of drawing a picture of a still life. This is necessary because she walks you step by step through the process needs to be able to refer to specific, predetermined objects. After completing the lesson, we can make the transition to drawing real objects and constructing our own arrangements.
The photo of the still life is an arrangement of a teapot, vase, cup of kitchen utensils, and an abacus on a placemat. I decided we would only do Level 1, which is only the teapot and the vase. We discussed choosing where to start, placement and drew preliminary sketches before starting the lesson.
Like the previous lessons, step-by-step directions are given for drawing the objects. Big Sister had a much harder time with this lesson than the two previous. She made many mistakes (although the book discusses that there are no mistakes!) and we talked about how to adjust/cover them up. When the time came to add detail to her picture, and therefore incorporate some of the things she was displeased with into patterns etc. she had lost interest in her picture and wanted to be done. The next day, however, she was willing to give it another try and did a much better job of it. I think this week we might have some fun setting up our own arrangements from household objects and, now that it is spring, we should be able to get lots of practice in using our nature notebooks as well.
The next lesson will cover much more advanced concepts such as volume drawing, positive and negative space, and lighting. I think we will stop here though, it’s getting pretty tough and I think we will revisit this after we have had some time to practice (and mature!). Instead, we will go back and do the second level lessons for lessons 1-3 which should keep us busy for some time.
While the sample pictures of children’s work in the book is quite impressive, I do think it is a bit much to expect that a non-art experienced parent teaching their children at home will have similar results as those who have received the same instructions provided in formal lessons by a skilled artist. I really wish this book had more of the early level instructional lessons because this has been a lot of fun and I’d like to keep the momentum going!
This post is fourth in a series reviewing our experiences using Mona Brookes’ book Drawing With Children:
Here’s a “normal” day in the life of this homeschooling mama of three girls aged 9 months-7years. I’ve been calling my homeschooling style “Classically Eclectic Slacker” or something like that.
It’s 6:40 am and Baby Girl wakes up. She was up at 2:00 am and 4:30 am, but now she is up for the day. Daddy goes to get her and leaves this tired mama to get a few more winks. He drops her off in bed with me at 7:00 am as usual so he can get his shower and get ready for work. I nurse the baby in bed and pretend I don’t have to get up soon. It’s not long before I’m having my turn in the shower. I’m interrupted in the shower by my oldest daughter who has been reading an animal encyclopedia and feels she just has to tell me the funniest thing! Something about a fish that changes from female to male after migrating upstream to the ocean or something. I fein interest while trying to wake myself up. I then get dressed and check to see if the girls have started their morning routine. Their unmade beds and laundry on the floor indicate that as usual, the morning may not go as smoothly as mama would like.
8:00 am and I am making breakfast. Daddy has left for work. Big Sister (7) and Little Sister (4) have emptied the dishwasher. Actually, Big Sister and Snow White did, but I send Snow White back upstairs to change before breakfast. Big Sister is now cleaning the bathroom sinks and counters. Little Sister has requested blueberries in the Cream of Wheat this morning, but as soon as it is cooked she’s crying that she doesn’t want it/doesn’t like it. Big sister is annoyed because she wanted mangoes in it. It’s shaping up to be a fabulous day! Big sister has her nose in a book at the breakfast table as usual, this time it is about volcanos. We review our memory verses using the Memory Box System from Simply Charlotte Mason. We try to do this at each meal, and it is a great system and is working even for the four year old. Table is cleared, teeth are brushed and we are ready to start our day!
9:00 am Circle Time! We are making good time today, and have time to have a little circle time together before starting our morning learning. If we are running late and Baby Sister needs her nap already, we have to skip it. Baby sister typically takes only 30 minute naps so I need to do any one on one teaching while she is asleep in case it’s our only opportunity for the day. So we do some stretches, action songs, and try to get the wiggles out before settling down for our Bible Time. I read from The Jesus Storybook Bible, about Zaccheus, and then play the song “Zaccheus Was a Wee Little Man” for fun. Then we move on to Our 24 Family Ways which we have been working through off and on for about a year. This week we are working on “We take initiative to do all our own work without being told”. We discussed AGAIN making beds, getting dressed, clearing dishes etc without being reminded by mama. Hopefully it will stick one of these days! We finish up by praying together.
9:30 am Table Time. It’s time for Baby Girl to take a nap, so I set the girls up with quiet and independent activities. Big Sister does Math while little sister works on puzzles. Baby Girl is asleep by 9:45 am and I have just enough time to do a quick writing lesson (Writing With Ease Level 2) and get our white board set up for spelling (All About Spelling Level 1) when Baby Girl wakes up. Total nap time less than 30 minutes! She does make our days challenging! We continue on with spelling while she crawls around.
10:45 am I start lunch prep (quiche) with the help of Little Sister while Big Sister works on Science (Apologia’s Exploring Creation with Astronomy). Then she runs off to play Barbies with her sister and I change a diaper and sit down to nurse.
12:00 I realize that I forgot to take the chicken out to thaw for supper. Oups. I start trying to think of an alternate plan. Big Sister is reading and Little Sister is listening to Robert Munsch audiobooks. I sneak some leftovers for my own lunch so I don’t have to eat while the baby yells at me from her highchair. One bite for baby, one bite for mama is not fast enough for her.
12:20 Lunch My girls ate 3/4 of a Quiche all by themselves. It’s their absolute favorite lunch.
1:30 Quiet Time! I managed to get the kitchen cleaned up before bringing the baby up for her nap so I’ll have this time to myself 🙂 The big girls are listening to stories on tablets while playing quietly. Big Sister is listening to a Jim Weiss audiobook in my room and Little Sister is listening to a Paws & Tales podcast in hers. I’ve got my cup of tea, laptop, a book and a chocolate bar. All is quiet and mama is happy! Baby Sister wakes up 40 min into her nap, but she is still tired and nurses and then allows me to put her back to bed for a change. The big girls don’t want to leave their playing and stories until around 3:00 pm and by then I have their valentine card crafts set up on the table for them to assemble. Big Sister spends a good hour arranging everything just so and glueing but Little Sister gets tired of her project after about 5 minutes and just starts cutting scrap papers to shreds for fun.
3:25 pm I’ve got a new plan for supper. We’ll do our usual Friday night pizza and have the chicken tomorrow instead. I start the dough in the Kitchenaid. Supper must be eaten early tonight as Big Sister has piano lessons with Daddy at 5:40 and it’s a good 20 minute drive away. By 4:00 pm I’m nursing a sucky baby and trying to grate cheese/roll dough/assemble the pizza.
5:00 pm Supper is started without Daddy who hasn’t arrived from work yet. By 5:20 pm he’s come, eaten, and gone with Big Sister. Little Sister and I clear the table, and start baking Daddy’s birthday cake.
6:30 It’s bath for Baby Sister and then I set Little Sister up with a snack and Leap Frog’s Letter Factory. She watches and eats while I nurse the baby and put her to bed. Big Sister and Daddy return home from piano, and then it’s pj’s, teeth, stories and bed for the big girls too. We read some Beatrix Potter, and everyone is tucked in by 8:10 pm.
And then I spend most of the evening on the couch as usual. I finish assembling Little Sister’s Valentines and then pack up the cards for our Valentine’s party with our little homeschool group tomorrow. I’m usually in bed between 9:30 and 10:30 but Daddy had a particularly unpleasant day at work so we chat and he vents. We end up staying up until almost midnight. Yawn.
So that’s a somewhat typical day around here. We don’t make cards and cakes everyday. Sometimes we have tea parties, meet with our homeschool club, have a co-op French class or a library visit. Once in a while we take a field trip with friends. But this is how we roll 75% of our time when we have days entirely at home. And I like it!
When we began our first-grade spelling lessons last year, it took me a little while to figure out that what we were doing wasn’t working for my daughter. Did she protest when I brought out her spelling book? No. Did she drag her heels and take forever to complete her work? No. Was she enjoying her lessons? Yes, she was. So what could possibly be the problem? While I want my children to enjoy their learning, a smiling face isn’t always the best indication of a successful learning experience. You see, learning has to actually happen!
When choosing and planning our studies, I always consult my trusty copy of The Well Trained Mind. I’ve already mentioned that I love this book and it has greatly influenced my educational philosophy and material selection. I lean heavily toward the classical camp of homeschooling, but I also appreciate many of the other approaches especially Charlotte Mason. Anyways, I think that the WTM really misses the boat on this one. My copy, the newest edition available, recommends Spelling Workout. The problem we had using Spelling Workout was that there didn’t appear to be much rhyme or reason to how it was teaching spelling. And that it wasn’t really TEACHING anything actually. It seems to be your standard workbook and might work well for some kids who are already good spellers. But it failed to teach my daughter ANY spelling rules and suffice it to say that my daughter had zero retention of any of the material covered. I would hazard a guess that if the WTM is ever revised a fourth time it will recommend All About Spelling.
I must say that I was totally wrong in believing that a child who reads well, loves books and is exposed to quality literature will automatically spell well.
So after our SWO flop last winter, I started looking into other options. There is a lot of buzz in homeschool circles about All About Spelling. Everywhere I looked people were recommending it and All About Learning Press’ reading curriculum All About Reading. I hesitated in purchasing the curriculum though, for two reasons: the first being that I had never seen or handled the curriculum myself; and second that it is a very costly program. Spelling Workout A can be purchased for $18, and each subsequent workbook is approximately the same cost. To get started with AAS in comparison, you need to plunk down $29 for a starter kit and then $38 for Level 1. Subsequent levels are in the ballpark of $50 each! And then you have to factor in shipping from a curriculum supplier as it is not available on Amazon.
So I spent the winter trying to do spelling on my own. I have zero knowledge of spelling rules and am myself not a great speller. There are graded spelling lists available online, and these I taught in the method commonly in use in public schools (according to a friend who is both a parent of young elementary children and a public school teacher). At the start of the week, I would do a pretest. My daughter would get approximately 5-7 out of 10 words correct. On day two she would copy the words. On day three she would alphabetize the list. On day four she would build the words with letter tiles. I was trying to add some multi-sensory experience to our learning a la AAS 😉 I used these tiles. On the final day, I would re-test her. And this is where it got interesting – she would get the same or almost the same score as she had on the first day BUT SHE DIDN’T ALWAYS SPELL THE SAME WORDS WRONG! She was often spelling words incorrectly that she had previously gotten right. And vice versa.
So after several months, we quit spelling altogether and I just kept thinking about AAS.
This fall I had the opportunity to purchase the AAS Basic Interactive Kit (starter kit) and Level 1 used. So I jumped on it and we have been enjoying it. And most importantly, my daughter is LEARNING from it. So am I, and that my friends, is what this learning mama is all about! We have cruised through Level 1 which I think is about a first-grade level, and are one lesson away from being finished. So without further ado, I will show you how we have been using our All About Spelling Level 1:
We begin each lesson by reviewing our Phonogram Cards, Sound Cards, and Key Cards. Then we review 10 spelling words from our cards in the “mastered” section. I try to shuffle them well so there is a good mix of all the recent rules we have learned.
Next, I demonstrate the new teaching using the letter tiles. The letter tiles are really great – read all about why they are so great on the All About Learning Press Blog. Then my daughter practices a few words using the tiles. The instructor’s guide specifies that the student is to spell all 10 words in the list using the tiles before moving on to writing them by hand. Since my daughter is finding the words really easy and doesn’t like using the tiles very much, I allow her to move along quite quickly to writing. She loves the dry erase markers!
The last step in each lesson is dictation. At this point I dictate to her a few of the phrases, she repeats it back to me and then writes them down. This is working really well for her as we have just begun dictation in both our writing and grammar programs. And when we are all done, my daughter enjoys making a picture out of the words! She decorates the board to her heart’s content and then little sister has the fun of erasing the whole thing.And just in time, look what came in the mail this week! Level 2 & 3 which I ordered from The Learning House:Here is the whole Level 2, complete with all the cards I get to separate and assemble into my review box. I didn’t get to do that last time as the previous owner had done it for me. My daughter is curious what the “jail” is for. Is it for words she keeps spelling wrong? Or is for words that break the spelling rules? We will soon find out!
And it is worth noting that this curriculum is quite popular and holds it’s value well so I should be able to resell it when we are done. It is almost completely non-consumable as well, with the exception of the progress charts and certificates, which we don’t use anyway. So the cost of the program will be spread out between my three girls. I would have had to re-purchase SWO workbooks for each child, so in the end, this one might actually be cheaper, and re-sellable!
Update: I’ve now been using AAS for several years and am midway through Level 4 with my oldest (fourth grade) and preparing to start my first grader. It’s an excellent program — and it is now included in the recommended resources for the fourth edition of The Well-Trained Mind.