Monday, March 27, 2017

Our Weekly Meeting

Last month, I explained how I do my Weekly Planning + Pre-Reading, all in one session before the week begins.  If you haven't read that post yet, head over and check that out first -- I'll be referencing some of my planning steps as I explain this second pillar of my weekly process.  (You can also take a look at this year's general scheduling notes here for context.)

Today I'm going to talk about the second of my two weekly checkpoints that keep our homeschool humming along: our Weekly Meeting.

During my Weekly Planning session, I prepare my whole week: my Year 5 kids' work, my Form I kids' work, and my own personal tasks and goals.  The Weekly Meeting, on the other hand, is really just for my Year 5 kids.  They are largely independent in their lessons at this point -- I do roughly one reading and one 15-minute skill-work session (grammar, Latin, etc.) with them each day.  We also do quite a bit of work as a family (Morning Basket, fine arts, foreign language), and I listen to lots and lots of narrations from them. ;)  Everything else they handle on their own, with my guidance.

In the past, I was correcting and looking over assignments as they were finished.  So multiple times a day, I was stopping what I was doing to have a conversation about their work.  For a while, that wasn't a problem to anyone but me and my own addled mind.  But once I added a fourth student and started spending quite a bit of my time juggling between those two Form I kids, the Year 5 kids were often coming to me while in the middle of a homeschool task with the younger ones.  This not only disrupted my train of thought and action but also my young students'.  I also couldn't fit in those conversations during naptime, which was now primarily dedicated to Form I read-alouds.  There is nothing that gets me more frustrated as a teacher than a older kid coming in an interrupting my reading with a new student-narrator.  I treat those sessions as fairly sacrosanct and it throws off my rhythm.  But it wasn't my kids' fault, because that was when our check-ins had happened in the past.

I also needed a better way of keeping up with the needs, attitudes, challenges, and questions of my older students.  As we moved closer and closer toward independence, I found that we had fewer daily needs but more weekly needs -- and those needs were likely to fall through the cracks since they weren't as pressing.  My fifth grader wasn't sitting next to me to do his copywork anymore, but he still needed me to look it over, to talk about technique.  Another example: he was often narrating in the car on the way to the beach or while I was making dinner.  I'm mentally ready to hear at those moments but not necessarily mentally ready to discuss -- but I didn't want that part of the narration process to fall by the wayside just when they began to need it most.  I needed a way to manage those to-dos, something on the calendar to make sure my Year 5 students and I were getting the time together we needed.  But I also needed it to not take up bunches of tiny bits in my everyday, when they felt like interruptions rather than opportunities.

That is the story behind the Weekly Meeting, which I have found to be a very powerful tool in our homeschool.  It is such a simple addition, but it has made a huge difference for me in striking that balance between staying connected to my independent students and keeping the variety of grades I'm schooling from taking over my life and mind. ;)

Here's how it works, in process form:

First, we started a new paperwork system to mimic our new plan: my Big Kids turn all work into my tray.  It's just a paper tray by my "command center" that has been made the landing spot for everything: grammar worksheets, math notebooks, drawings from my kindergartener, paper crafts from my origami lover.  Each day, I have a scheduled time when I make corrections to skill-based work.  Some gets sent back to my kids for correcting, and then gets turned in again.  Then I pop those papers as well as any work we need to discuss together (like written narrations) into my Weekly Meeting folder, which holds my planning sheet, notes from pre-reading, handouts, and all the other bits I need to go over.

Here's a zoom-in on that, just focused on that middle section:

On the left of the list are the items I need to complete before Weekly Meeting.  I like to do the actual correcting beforehand to use our hour meeting time more efficiently.  Year 5 keeping gets done usually on the weekend, when I do my pre-reading.  So these items get spread throughout the week prior, but I do a quick check to make sure they're complete before we meet.

My kids also collect items to bring to Weekly Meeting.  They have a list in their binders to make sure they arrive prepared:

On Friday afternoons when all schoolwork is done, the Big Kids and I sit down and go through our Weekly Meeting list:

:: We share our keeping for the week.  That means not only do I look over their century charts, maps, reading logs, and commonplace books, but I also show them mine.  My hope is that there is a shared sense of educational eagerness in our home, and this is one way I work toward that.

:: Either they or I read through their written narrations, usually aloud because they like to hear each other's.  They do two weekly, one for science and one for history, and this term they have an additional written narration for their chosen biography.  During this time, I have a chance to comment on content and correct grammatical and spelling errors, as well as note particular issues they are having so that I can consider those during dictation selection.  (Note: at this point, we do not edit their narrations to completion.  These are just quick notes and fixes.)

:: We also look through all their other written work: math, Latin, Italian, copywork, and so on.  They go through any lingering mistakes from the week, sometimes with my help and sometimes on their own depending on what it is.  But by the end of Weekly Meeting, all written work should be ready to turn in or put away.

:: I choose a few Big Questions from my own notes to discuss, and they share any that they have.  They also can ask other questions -- for example, they are both keeping presidential charts on their own, so they will ask me the name of a president's spouse or his year of death if it isn't mentioned in their readings for the week.  They can also bring concerns to me: maybe they're having trouble making capital Qs in cursive, or they are almost done memorizing their poem and need help choosing another.  They also let me know when they need refills of copywork paper or pencil lead or new supplies for a handicrafts project.  These are the kinds of questions and concerns that it's helpful to condense into meeting time.

:: They turn in last week's checklists and I give them their new ones.  We also go over any adjustments to the schedule and look over plans for the coming week: lessons, exercise, menu, and such.

Then everything gets shelved or filed and we can head into the weekend.  And I can head into my pre-reading session for the next week with a clean slate on Saturday.

A few more thoughts on the advantages I've seen:

Most weeks it looks like the process I outlined above.  But on weeks we are busy, we have the option of making this a correction-and-question session, then filing everything and moving on.  So ideally it stretches out to about an hour with chat and sharing, but it can also be a 20-minute affair when needed.

During our meeting, the kids handle any lingering assignments so we can put away the books for the weekend.  That's a relief for me because I don't like my schoolwork spilling into Saturday, which can sometimes happen if a student is dawdling over math corrections or something. Instead, we do timed correction sessions through the week and then I help the student during this "study hall" time.  And then it's done.

Another real benefit to our Weekly Meeting is that it meets my need to compartmentalize and mono-task (is that a word?). I tell the kids to bring all their questions (about our readings, about our calendar and upcoming events, about various to-dos or concerns they have) to Weekly Meeting.  So instead of getting hit with all kinds of random complaints and queries day by day, I can deal with them all at once.  (Ideally.  Some kids are better at this than others.)  I literally have them write these on their checklist.  They feel heard; I feel sane.  It's a win-win.

Obviously, a Weekly Meeting is essential for most families!  Like a Morning Basket or a Pre-Reading Session, it is one way to organize a chunk of your homeschooling tasks.  For us, with the particular students and schedule I have, it has been a great addition.

Do you do a weekly check-in with your older students?  This is new to me, but I know it isn't new to veteran mamas who have been doing similar daily or weekly check-ins for years.  I'm grateful for any ideas you'd like to share as I plan our format for next year!

Friday, March 24, 2017

CM West :: Conference in the Redwoods {Recap}

When Amber came to me last year asking about a CM West conference in Northern California, I was thrilled to join her in planning the event.  We booked a spot for February 2017, a year out, and in the meantime, hosted a Retreat at the Beach last spring, which was a blessing in itself and hinted at what was possible for CM community here in the West.

photo by stephanie douma -- we didn't quite get everyone, but almost

A few weeks ago, our Conference in the Redwoods finally took place!  I so enjoyed myself that weekend, and I hope our fellow conference attendees did also.  What is amazing to me is that Amber and I planned it all pretty much online -- we have only met in person a handful of times.  This event was the work of many Skype sessions, Evernote chats, and Voxer messages.  I am so grateful for the chance to work with her in this way even though we live hours apart!

photo by my friend Sarah

The conference began on a Thursday afternoon.  I'm not gonna lie: getting there was a challenge.  As most of you have probably heard, we have had record rainfall here in the Bay Area.  That has especially been true of the Santa Cruz Mountains, which experience difficult driving conditions even during mild winters but which have taken an absolute beating these past few months.  Mudslides, sink holes, road closures, hours in has been messy.  Our conference site was at the base of the mountains, just a few minutes out of Los Gatos proper, and not directly affected by the conditions, but it doesn't make getting around easy for those unfamiliar.

The staff assured us they hadn't had any access issues (and they hadn't) but they neglected to mention that there were "road closed" signs and cones blocking the road right off the freeway, which you had to ignore and drive around to reach the site.  Ha!  The road honestly was completely fine, but it's not easy to be calling attendees to assure them, "Yep, just go right around the cones, ignore the Road Closed signs, and head on up!" ;)  But we all made it eventually -- and almost everyone got there early, actually!  Unpacking in absolutely pouring rain, parking and re-parking cars.  And then we settled in for two days of learning and living.

Note: I can happily say the conference site was worth it.  Beautiful grounds, lovely meeting rooms, great food, charming cottages.  We would happily go back in future years, but VERY unfortunately, we found out last week that Presentation Center is closing in just a few months.  So we are back to reviewing potential meeting spots for next year's event.  If you have leads on a conference/retreat center (or large rental home) in Northern California, please let me know.

Thursday evening was registration, a used book sale hosted by my friend Sarah Kim, and then dinner and our first plenary.  Brandy opened the conference talks with her "Start Here: Charlotte Mason in One Hour," which you can purchase from her site.  I had heard the talk before but it is one I could listen to annually because it's such a great reminder to focus back on the Twenty Principles.  And hearing it in person was, of course, a treat!

On Friday morning, we began with breakfast and then launched into our first workshop slot: attendees could opt to join Amber for a talk on music study or Brandy for some tips on planning and implementing Circle Time. I listened in to Amber's because we have a pretty stable Morning Basket going on here already, but the attendance was almost exactly split.  It was for the other workshop slot and the main discussion as well, which we really could not have planned but was a very convenient surprise.

I hope Amber will post more about her music study research because I came away inspired and with a broader grasp of the scope of music study, from teasing out the layers of sound during a nature walk to inciting my students' interest in the composers, to considering what role music practice has to play in the overall scheme of appreciation.  Really good stuff.

Late morning through the afternoon was spent mostly with John Muir Laws. He gave a dynamic talk on leading nature study groups, and then we broke for lunch.  The day was lovely, so we headed outdoors for the last part of his visit, in which he led us on an immersion experience of an activity.  He played the parent/teacher and we played the students, and we spent an hour observing, journaling, and discussing.  It was several ladies' first time attempting a journal entry, but I think they would all agree that he makes the process seem very accessible.

Afterward we headed back indoors for our second workshop slot: I spoke on foreign language and Jenny Elias shared about science using living books and notebooks.  I had a ton of information I could have covered in this session.  I spent the week prior cutting and cutting and condensing and then cutting some more -- and I still was cutting on the fly!  I wish I could have worked in a lecture slot and then an immersion slot, but I don't think anyone would want to dedicate quite that amount of their conference time to foreign language. ;)

Before dinner, we offered two round table options: CM in the Upper Years or CM with Littles.  Amber, Brandy, and a local friend of mine managed the high school discussion -- I wish I could have listened in because I felt like there was really a wealth of knowledge in that room and I'm always looking ahead to the years to come.  But my friend Jenny joined me to chat about implementing Charlotte Mason's vision for education with young ones underfoot, which is a favorite topic of mine.

After dinner, we had two casual discussions to choose from.  We tried to model these sessions on the kinds of assignments Charlotte Mason gave to the mothers enrolled in her Mother's Education Course, so we called them the MEC Chats.  You can read a description of both the overall theme and the individual sessions here.

On Saturday we had breakfast, a panel on Learning in Community, and our last plenary, in which Brandy talked about using Atmosphere, Discipline, and Life to troubleshoot problems in the homeschool.  I am going to carry what Brandy shared in the latter with me all year -- lots of wisdom and practical tips for assessing trouble spots and searching out solutions.

For the former, we invited a few friends to join us in talking about the many ways learning in community might look for Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, including nature groups, Shakespeare sessions, full-fledged co-ops, and more.

We also handed out a set of questions the ladies could use to evaluate community opportunities. We wrote these up before the beach retreat last year, and I'm glad we were able to share it with a larger group because I personally have found them very helpful.

Some of my favorite parts of the weekend were the moms I met...

...and their babies...

...a nature walk with just Amber one morning (we got absolutely completely stuck in the mud but it was still a highlight!)...

...and staying up each night chatting with cottage-mates until 2am.  (No pictures of that, and I paid for it with complete exhaustion and bloodshot eyes on Saturday.  But really, it was much-needed fellowship and fun after a long first half of pregnancy and all the work that went into planning this event.

I spent a restful hour the evening I got home reviewing notes, looking over handouts, and brainstorming.  I had some action items I really wanted to take note of, and I also had some favorite bits to add to my commonplace.  I have reviewed that page in my conference notebook a couple times since then, and I'll definitely be pulling it out as we finish up our school year here in a few weeks.

This page is not a spread of ideas completely fleshed out -- it is a spread to remind me of themes that I want to revisit in my more thorough notes.  But in case you're curious, a few main take-aways for me, straight from my notebook:

Amber and I are already in planning mode for next year's event. (Which as I mentioned above, is giving us additional hurdles, so your prayers are appreciated!)  I'm excited for this tradition to take root in our region and feel grateful to be a part of it.

(Read more about the conference: Amber's take on her opening remarks, and the official Charlotte Mason West recap.  And registration for CM West :: Conference in Puget Sound will be opening soon!  I am not involved with that event, but the wonderful Nancy Kelly will be the main speaker and they have a great team heading it up in Seattle, so I'm sure it will be time well spent for all those that attend.)

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What We're Reading :: March

It has been a long while since I shared What We're Reading!  Here's a peek at the books on our desks and nightstands this month...

Rolvaag's Giants in the Earth (just finished for my local book club)
Evelyn Waugh's Helena (on its way to me via Amazon right now)
Hicks' Norms and Nobility (trying to keep up with the read-along on the AO forums)
Charlotte Mason's Volume 3 (for a local study group) and Volume 2 (for an online study group)
Bestvater's The Living Page (dipping back in here and there after writing this post)

As a Family:
Collodi's Pinocchio (from the Year 1 free read list -- we have one chapter left!)
Ransome's Peter Duck (from the Swallows and Amazons series on audio -- delightful)

Vincent, age 10:
Rifles for Watie (from the Year 5 free read list)
Stratemeyer's The Minute Boys of Bunker Hill (he goes back to these again and again)
Spalding's The Cave by the Beech Fork and The Sheriff of the Beech Fork (fun Civil War era reading!)

Gianna, age 10:
Fleischmann's Bull Run (she's on a historical fiction kick)
Enright's The Saturdays (revisiting this free read series from Year 4)
Dodge's Hans Brinker (from the Year 5 free read list -- just started and already engaged!)

Cate, age 8:
Giggling over Amelia Bedelia (again and again)
Milly-Molly-Mandy and More Milly Molly Mandy (she switches between the two, chapter by chapter)
Ichikawa's Nora's Duck (one of her birthday books that she adores for the sweet story and illustrations)

Unshelved by the Littles (ages 6, 5, 4, 2, 1) just this morning:

In the Mail:

Spryi's Mazli (by the author of Heidi -- out of print but easy to find used or on Kindle)
Saint Francis of the Seven Seas (for our Vision books collection -- in print in paperback)
The Harvest Feast (a Thanksgiving collection that we'll try out next year)
The Swiss Family Robinson (a prettier version that what we already have -- ready for Year 6!)
Chute's Shakespeare of London (I already have Stories from Shakespeare so am happy to add this one too)
Newman's Stories of the Great Operas and Their Composers and Cross' The New Complete Stories of the Great Operas (looking forward to adding these to Morning Basket at some point)

Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose (a gift from a friend)
Windham's Saints Upon a Time (a gift from another friend -- out of print, but re-published in various volumes)

A pretty harcover copy of Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales (one of our favorite Year 2 free reads!)

The Treasury of Saints and Martyrs (I love the pairing of summaries with classic works of art!)

Not my usual: 1001 Things to Spot Around Town (I bought it for $1 to use for Italian lessons!)

Burns' Bird Watching (another for our bulging non-fiction shelves)
Lubell's The Tall Grass Zoo (this is going to be a fun one for summer!)
O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins (oversized hardcover to replace the paperback we have)
Mickelthwait's I Spy Two Eyes: Numbers in Art (I like this series for littles)
Pick, Pull, Snap! (a great first nature study book)
Hoss' The How and Why Wonder Book of Stars (another for my collection of this series)

What are you reading lately?  I have so many TBRs on my list, but I'd still love to hear what you and your kids are enjoying this month.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

{This and That}

First up: I have been quiet here but not elsewhere!

I have a post up at Charlotte Mason Living about keeping, one of my very favorite topics.  I was aiming at something a bit philosophical, a bit personal, and a bit practical.

Head over to CML to read more.  I hope you find it helpful, whether you are a beginner or just need an extra boost in your long-standing notebooking habits.

Second, over on Instagram...

I'm pleased to join some other wonderful Charlotte Mason mamas as a curator/contributor to the new Charlotte Mason In Real Life.  We hope it will be an encouraging community showing how Charlotte Mason homeschooling might look in the daily lives of diverse families.  We'll have weekly themes where we round up practical-and-inspirational posts on Charlotte Mason methods or principles -- not just by us but by you too!  Even if you aren't on Instagram, you can click over to view photos shared by community members and those featured by the CMIRL collaborators.


Since I don't think I mentioned it here: our tiebreaker baby is a boy!

This will bring us to five boys, four girls -- with three boys in a row at the end (so far).  I keep thinking what our homeschool will look like five years from now, with three little boys in elementary school!  I imagine a bit different than it does now.  :)  Other good news: baby is measuring right on track despite my feeling gigantic.  I keep telling myself that this is my ninth baby, so my looking nine months pregnant at only six isn't a huge surprise.  And that, like last time, I hit my biggest point a bit earlier than normal and then just kind of hang out with that belly until the end.  (Right?  I hope so.)

He is moving quite a lot these days -- all the siblings have had a chance to feel his kicks from the outside.  Drew camps out at my side with his hand resting on my tummy, waiting for kicks!

Around the web...

The official conference recap is up at Charlotte Mason West.  I'll be posting my own recap here soon, but if you'd like the scoop on speakers and schedules, head over to read more!

Karen Glass has two fantastic posts lately that illuminate how principles and practices work together in a Charlotte Mason education: The Spirit and the Letter and The Quote and the Context.  Not to be missed!

I really appreciated Nancy Kelly's description of using Ekphrastic poetry with older students.  I actually think this could work quite well for my Form II kids with some small tweaks, and we just happen to be studying Winslow Homer this term.


Happy First Day of Spring!  After the wettest winter I can remember, spring has sprung in our area.  We are enjoying it immensely.  We have done a couple beach trips in the past couple weeks to take advantage of the sun.  It will be raining again here this week, but after a long stretch of lovely days, I can't complain.

dune wildflowers

close up of all that yellow on the hills: western wallflower



I've got a couple posts all ready to go this week: What We're Reading for March and the conference recap.  I'm excited to share them with you -- starting tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Keeping Company :: March 2017

Welcome to the link-up for March!

Starting the Discussion

John Muir was crazy, but he totally speaks my love language.

I mean "beauty-making love-beats of Nature's heart"?  Swoon.

His words here remind me of Madam How Lady Why, which is funny because I consider these two men to be total opposites in style and belief.  But they both claim an intentionality in Nature and see "disasters" as the world being formed and shaped -- whether by its own hand (Muir) or by the hand of something higher (Kingsley).  The two were living and writing at the same time, so the connections probably speak more to "modern" advancement and the intellectual climate of the time than to the men themselves, but it's still interesting.

Speaking of John Muir, there was a conversation over on AmblesideOnline's Facebook page and Yosemite tangentially came up.  I was born and raised (and still live) about three hours from Yosemite but have never been there.  This year we are reading both The Wild Muir (as part of our California history cycle) and Halliburton's Book of Marvels, in addition to covering the "discovery" of Yosemite Valley in our history readings.  Talk about getting an itch to visit!  Muir lived and breathed Yosemite, spending most of his adult life there doing all kinds of amazing exploration that no one else would consider. Halliburton relates an inspiring account of his own adventures there and paints a living portrait of the valley.  We have been marking some maps of the park as we read and I've got The Muir Ramble Route on my list to look through with the kids this summer.  (Muir's Trans-California trek on foot ran right through our town and he describes camping in our local county parks, which is a neat connection.)

And one sidenote: I love keeping maps.  I didn't think I would enjoy it so much, but I really do!  I haven't tried anything particularly lovely or exciting with them yet, but I know the possibilities are endless.  This is one aspect of keeping that is under-appreciated and under-mentioned, so expect to see more chat about it from me in the coming link-ups!

From Last Month

A collection from over on Instagram...

lylyfreshty - curatingknowledge
mariasugiyopranoto - adventureadaycm

catieredhead - vlcjrogers - angelaboord
aolander - oneripetomato - sarahjokim

ashleyweakley - tillberrytales - magistramama - convincedofwonders
brc_mackenzie - frannieruth19 - windymorning_3 - littledrops5
rjnsix - hazelnuthatch - obispo98 - raisinglittleshoots

tillberrytales - jeffsjessie - ruthjtd
sarah_jonna - - ladydusk
And to highlight a couple accounts in particular:

Bestvater's THE BIG THREE from athena_amidstthereeds: time tools, nature journals, and commonplace

LOTS OF VARIETY from amyofhearthridge: nature list, bible + book of centuries, calendar of firsts, and science journal

LOVELY LETTERING from happylhomemaker1
From the February link-up here on the blog:

Carol let us peek into the notebooks of her Year 6 student: science journal, nature notebook, poetry copywork.  These exemplify how in the Charlotte Mason vision for keeping, the notebooks are individual to the student.  You can see her daughter's stamp all over these and very inspiring.

Freely Learned has some fresh tips for nature journaling.

Amy quotes Faith Baldwin on finding hope and beauty in the midst of suffering.

Lots of projects for Lucy's family, including keeping in wood, with cloth, on paper, and more!

And now it's your turn!

The Link-Up

:: For bloggers: Click on the "Add my link" button below, and it will prompt you to include the information for your post.  Once you submit it, your link will be added to the list, and others will be able to click over and read what you have shared.
:: For Instagrammers: Tag related photos with #KeepingCompanyCM.

:: Remember to link to a specific post and not to your blog's homepage. 
:: Any posts about CM-style Keeping are welcome!  The prompt is optional.  Your post can be as simple as a photo of your commonplace book or your kids drawing.
:: Feel free to add more than one post.  The link-up will be open for a month, so you can come back and add more if you are so inclined.
:: You can grab the button over there on the sidebar if you'd like to add it to your post or site.