Sunday, November 11, 2012

What We're Reading

My husband's schedule has changed, and for the first time since before the kids were born, he now has Sundays off. He's worked doubles (16 hours) every Sunday for so long, that having him with us at church, and at home afterwards, has been wonderful. But our schooling schedule has gone through quite a change as well, and we are still trying to adjust.

So now Saturday to us is actually a real Saturday, instead of being just another day for lessons and housework. Now we school Tuesdays through Fridays, with light days Saturday and Monday. A light day for us includes instrument practice, scripture memory, reading (they choose), and writing letters. Dorothy (that is my daughter's name. I've decided to leave off with the Pippi, Tommy thing) has quite a few ladies with whom she regularly corresponds, and we've been so busy lately that she has quite a few unanswered letters. So Saturday will be the day to catch up on our letter writing, and for me that will cover blogging, which is after all a form of correspondence. I'm hoping my grandmother will become a regular reader.

So there you have it, yet another promise from me to do better at checking in here regularly.

I guess I'll start out with giving you a peek at what our homeschooling entails. It might surprise some of my original readers to know that my unschooling notions have now been almost entirely pushed aside. The more I learn, the more I assert that yes there are things I do believe are valuable for children and adults to learn. A main premise of unschooling is that children should be allowed to pick what they choose to learn. I also hold this to be true. We've spent countless hours reading Japanese inspired books, listening to Japanese folk music, even learning Hirigana and Katakana because that is what Dorothy was mad about. But there are subjects that I believe are valuable for study, and not studying them is not an option for the children.

Mathematics. Scripture. History. Language. Penmanship.

Plain PrincessAnd we read lots and lots of books, mostly living books with a smattering of twaddle thrown in for giggles. We just finished reading The Plain Princess by Phyllis McGinley, which is not a book that Dorothy would have chosen on her own. We've had it for months and she's never once picked it up, or shown even a smidgen of interest in it. But once I began reading it, the kids couldn't get enough. I paced our readings, only reading a few pages in a sitting, and each time I closed the book and put it aside, Dorothy picked it up and began reading ahead. She was enchanted.

The Complete Adventures of Blinky BillWe've also begun reading Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall. A few weeks ago one of my favorite bloggers, Jeanne, posted this, a glimpse of her bookshelves. These are always my favorite kinds of posts. Too rarely, I visit a person who loves books as much as I do, and the shelves just draw me in. And Jeanne's shelves, while not being the packed from floor to ceiling, wall to wall, are full of only the best of the best, and I'm ashamed to admit how much time I spent looking at those gorgeous spines. And right there in the middle of the third picture was a copy of Blinky Bill, formerly unheard of to me, but I filed the title away in my brain along with all the other goodies I was trying not to covet. Then low and behold, just a few days later, I found my very own copy in a secondhand bookshop. Squee!

Blinky is an often naughty, squeezable looking Koala who lives at the top of a gum tree with Mrs. and Mr. Koala (Mr. K meets a grizzly death at the hands of a hunter in the second chapter, quite a shock to Dorothy and I). After reading about the Koalas' friends (and enemies) we spent quite a lot of time on YouTube, watching videos of Kookabura's, Wallabies, Kangas, and Magpies.

Redwall (Redwall, Book 1)

We are also reading the first book in the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. I can't quite bring myself to call this a living book. It is certainly entertaining, gripping in fact. And I've come to love the characters just as much as much as do my kids. But something is lacking. Not quite sure what. And the language is a bit rough at times, a little too slangy for my taste. But the kids love it. They spend hours acting out the stories, dashing up and down the stairs, in and out of the house, an orange playsilk knotted through a belt loop (a fox tail), and a blue playsilk draped over the shoulders (Cornflowers dress.) I've learned that anything can and will become a sword in the absence of an actually sword.

The Book of Dragons   [BK OF DRAGONS] [Hardcover]We've also recently read several stories from Nesbit's Book of Dragons. This is our introduction to Edith Nesbit, and I know that we will often return to her for fresh inspiration. What the Redwalls of the literature world lack, Nesbit makes up for in spades. The language is so rich, with words like foretold, infallible, zoological, and teetotum, the distinctly British syntax tugging my tongue unbidden into a cheap imitation of a Londonish accent. We especially loved the story, The Defenders of Their Country. I read from an edition with original illustrations by H.R. Miller, while Dorothy read along with a lovely picture book edition illustrated by Lizabeth Zwerger.

For my solo reading, I'm reading over and over Deuteronomy and Leviticus. It doesn't matter what book we are studying, my Sunday School teacher invariably takes us back to these two OT books, and so much does he stress the importance of understanding the law (which is a revelation of the character of God, is it not?) and how it relates to every book of the Bible, I figured that more than a sprint through these two books was in order. Try reading Deuteronomy about ten times - slowly and methodically. And then read Ruth. Or John. Especially John.

I'm also reading The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim. Edersheim's bio alone is fascinating. He was a Jew, born into a family of scholarly Jews in the 1800's. He was himself a Jewish scholar, learned of Torah and Talmud, as well as secular philosophy. Then, I believe in his twenties, while living in Scotland he was befriended by a Christian. And the rest is history, as they say. He went on to write numerous books about the time in which Jesus lived, and all of his knowledge of Jewish law and lore, and all of his knowledge of philosophy , come into play, opening up that ancient world until I feel like I am there, in the midst of that motley mix of peoples wondering at the teachings and authority of this strange man, this man not from the city of scribes and rabbis, but from the sticks, so to speak, the country, a man of an unlearned family, a carpenter by trade. And I'm finally beginning to understand why Jesus' teachings were so explosive.

I've become quite fascinated by anything Jewish. Our pastor is an unabashed Zionist who encourages his congregation to learn all they can about Israel - past and present - and all they can about the Jewish people. I just reread The Chosen, by Chaim Potok. It is a novel about a young man from an Orthodox Jewish home who befriends a young man from a Hasidic Jewish home. In the book, Potok explores the Zionism of the 1950's which followed on the heels of the holocaust. He also delves into the relationships between secular, orthodox, and more conservative Jews. And betwen fathers and sons.

I'm also reading One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I keep trying to walk away from this one, but I keep picking it up again. After many years of reading nothing but Bible, Dickens, and Austen, the sensuousness of this one shocks me. But the writing is so well done. And it being my first taste of magic realism, I'm utterly undone, helpless even. One sentence, with words that almost smell dark like rich, black earth, can stay with me for a day. And the chapter in which the whole village is stricken with the Insomnia plague . . . I could read just that one chapter over and over again. But so much of it simply embarrasses me. I decided long ago that I was through with novels of the twentieth century. And here I am again. What to do?

Didn't I mention letting you see how we homeschool? I did, didn't?

Besides reading, reading, reading, we are listening to great music every day. No music study, as Charlotte would have suggested, but we are listening. One day, we'll listen to Telemann all day. The next day will be devoted to the softer side of Rachmaninoff. The next day it will be Billie Holliday and Dave Brubeck.

We're also studying Hebrew, as I mentioned in a previous post. We've progressed to reading short sentences. I'm constantly resisting the impulse to rush on ahead. This crawling pace which is ideal for Dorothy, to me is stifling. But it being the only subject where we are true equals, I stay with her.

We read from Scripture every day. We just finished Genesis a few weeks ago, and have begun in Exodus. Brian is loving the narrative. We work on scripture memory every day as well. Dorothy is working in John. She has memorized the first thirty-four verses of the first chapter. The first twenty verses she can recite beautifully. With the rest, she often needs the first word of a verse to prompt here. We are working now on smoothing the transitions between verses. This is hard hard work, my friends. I'm working on Deuteronomy. I'm able to recite the first fifteen verses, none of it beautifully. Dorothy checks me, I check her. So in the process, she's also learning Deuteronomy and I'm learning John.

I hardly ever make her read aloud. She does it on her own now, often reading to Brian after lights out. We do no phonics work and it shows in her spelling. But there will be time for that later. She's becoming such a strong and enthusiastic reader I don't want to slow her down with the mechanics just yet.

Math has been a process of trial and error, and I'm afraid on this one subject alone, I've become a curriculum hopper. My new (and I think the final) math passion is Life of Fred. It fits so well with how we learn everything else, through story and real life application. I was using Singapore, and while I like how thorough it was on arithmetic and Dorothy was doing quite well with it, I felt that it was lacking something. It wasn't until I read about LOF that I realized just how much it was lacking. I've made a wishlist of living math books, mostly culled from LivingMath, to supplement Life of Fred, and we still work on learning facts. But instead of filling up worksheets, we play endless number games. Another thing I love about this approach to math is that it's very easy to encourage little ones to participate as well. Brian, who is now four, loves Fred, and while Dorothy is puzzling a problem, Brian counts all the remaining manipulativs on the table. He loves to count.

For American History, we are reading Stories of Great Americans by Eggleston. Brian especially likes the chapters about Daniel Boone (something about that long rifle), and Dorothy has loved learning about how great people learn (by asking lots of questions and reading lots of books).

And whether I'm done or not, I need to wind up this windy post. My mother is almost through giving Brian his first knitting lesson (Do men knit, too? he asked me before he'd allow her to put the needles in his hands) and I have a feeling he'll be all over my lap when they're finished. Sorry about the density of this post, but I did warn you, didn't I?

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