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Monday, November 23, 2015

Delight-Directed Learning and Charlotte Mason

When we started homeschooling, we started preschool with a Charlotte Mason environment.  It was relaxed, enriching and exciting.  As the kids got older, we have dabbled with various aspects of Charlotte Mason, but we've also remained relaxed, and we definitely fall under the umbrella of Delight-Directed Learning.

What is Delight-Directed Learning?
Delight-directed learning begins with following the needs and interests of the child.  I recognize that my children are individuals who have unique interests and goals, and distinct learning styles.  I've learned that I have to take their learning styles, their curriculum requests, their passions, and their unique gifts and talents into consideration when choosing the direction of our studies.  Well, I don't have to, but it makes for a more personal and pleasant learning experience for everyone involved.

It means if my son wants to spend longer learning about a particular historical figure, we'll check out another biography.  It means when my other son is interested in learning more about insects, I'll get him extra nature study tools and real insects to study.  It doesn't mean we don't do structured or systematic learning, but we do it with their best interests in mind.

Charlotte Mason purists will tell me something along the lines of "Charlotte Mason would have said delight-directed studies should take place after formal studies, during the child's free time."  Sorry Charlotte, but I take offense to this idea because it undermines my child's intelligence.  If children are born persons and are capable of their own thoughts and ideas, and we are not to use adverse strategies (fear, authority, power of suggestion, etc) to force a child to learn . . . then how can I possibly discount the merits of a delight-directed path?

Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments--the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas.

I understand the idea of wanting to expose them to a variety of topics and ideas, the buffet so to speak, but children are naturally curious and most will eagerly explore what interests them, continuously following rabbit trails.  The more they go off the beaten path, the more their interests will broaden, thus continuing the cycle of exploration and learning.  They need more than "free time" to do this, though.  They don't need to be told (forced, bribed, etc) to follow a contrived scope and sequence or a list of pre-selected books, but they do need encouragement and facilitation.

How do I Incorporate Charlotte Mason Methods into a Delight-Directed Homeschool?
I see the beauty in several educational philosophies, but as with many other eclectic homeschoolers, I take what works from each one and apply it in a natural way, to do what is best for my family.

In other words: I take what works, and leave the rest at the door.

Although Charlotte Mason and Delight-Directed learning may seem at odds, I still embrace many aspects of the Charlotte Mason philosophy, and have found that applying her methods to delight-directed learning is not only possible, but leads to an enriching experience.

Education is an atmosphere.  That means I look for natural opportunities in our environment to teach.  We learn through everyday life--intelligent conversation with adults, learning life skills, observing the beauty in nature as we walk through the woods.  These instances should not be set aside for artificial lessons and reading selections.  We should take time to embrace these moments for what they are--fleeting opportunities to educate in a loving and nurturing way.

Living Books.  Although educating naturally is important, when my kids have a special interest or request, I look for living books so that we can read well-written, interesting material together and expand our knowledge.

Narrations.  Narrating what they have learned allows them to assimilate the information in a way that makes sense to them.  I ask open-ended questions, and I also model my own narrations so they learn how to present their thoughts in more detail.  This is also when they are likely to ask more questions, opening up new discussion and research opportunities.

Short and varied lessons.  For our structured activities, I want the boys to be fresh and attentive, so rotating activities quickly and efficiently is key.  Even in delight-directed approaches, trying to hyper-focus and study one thing for too long will cause them to grow weary.  Short lessons means more time for play, creativity, exploration, free time and thinking . . . which often leads to more questions and more interests to pursue!

Copywork.  I weave their interests right into their copywork.  I really like All About Spelling, but the dictation sentences can be a little simple and dull.  Sometimes I change up a lesson by turning them into copywork and adding complexity, but I also alter them to reflect their life and personal interests.  It's a touch of fun that often adds a smile to their face.

Nature study is also easy to implement in a delight-directed manner.  When we are outside, I make sure they have plenty of time to explore, examine, wonder, question and observe -- all on their own.  We do engage in formal nature study as well, but I let them take the lead there too.  I may suggest the topic, but I let them choose the actual specimen to study.  I let them choose what goes into their nature journals as well.  I want them to take ownership of the material, and form their own relationship with the natural world.

Fine Arts.  I admit, I have been guilty of neglecting music and art in pursuit of "everything else that needs to get finished first," which is a shame.  So lately I've been harnessing their love of audio books and using the Stories in Music from Maestro Classics to springboard into famous tales, history, composer studies and music appreciation.  Art can lead us to biographies of artists, historical events that affected artistic movements and so much more.  Just watching what excites them gives me so many ideas to help them discover more about the topic, and when I was focusing on "getting it all done" I was neglecting my responsibility to give them more living ideas.

What Does This Mean for Our Homeschool?
Well it means that we're going to switch gears for awhile.  Things were getting a little rocky in the afternoons, and I had several discussions with my boys.  One wants to change things up, and specifically requested more ART, and the other requested more nature study, and they want more projects and hands-on activities.  This is why I felt the need to hash out my thoughts on delight-directed learning.  I need to remind myself sometimes to just let go and let the kids lead.

While I love what we were doing, it's not working during this current stage of our homeschool.  We may, or may not, come back to it.  A love of learning is important to me.  No curriculum, no matter how good, how beloved by the masses, should take precedence over my child's happiness and desire to learn.

"We need not labour to get children to learn their lessons; that, if we would believe it, is a matter which nature takes care of. Let the lessons be of the right sort and children will learn them with delight." (Charlotte Mason, Volume 6, pg 99)

Right now, we're taking a break and enjoying our holiday studies--I'm planning a lot of art, cooking and handicrafts to go along with it!  After the holidays, I'm looking towards a very hands-on, project oriented history program, that I would flesh out myself with living books of my choice.  Each lesson lasts 1-3 days, giving us a day off for co-op and much more time for art and nature study.

My hope is that by taking their requests into consideration, choosing programs that meet their learning styles even more, and focusing on what interests them, they will continue to find delight and joy and take ownership over their learning.

Thoughts from Others about Delight-Directed Learning
Child Led & Delight Directed Learning from Creative Jumble
What I've Learned about Curriculum and Charlotte Mason's Philosophies form The Unplugged Family
31 Days of Delight-Directed Learning from Ben and Me

What homeschooling method do you use?  Do you find that you also piece together elements from different philosophies to do what works for each individual child?

This post is part of the Blogging through the Alphabet series.  D is for Delight-Directed Learning.

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Baby Food: The Amazing Make-Ahead Baby Food Book

I'm a mommy to four kids, and with one of them still being under a year old, I've made a lot of baby food over the last several years.  Commercial baby food has its place in a pinch, but I've found that making my own is more economical, healthier, tastier, and offers more natural textures to transition into real food.  Recently I was given the opportunity to review the book The Amazing Make-Ahead Baby Food Book by Lisa Barrangou, PhD, and I was interested to see what I could learn from it.

The author has previously worked as a food scientist for three different food companies, and she knew that processed food was not fresh, flavorful, or as nutritious as food should be.  She developed a system of preparing her babies a variety of healthy food options in minimal time, and soon branched out into a business, preparing the food and a menu plan for clients.

The Amazing Make-Ahead Baby Food Book was written to help parents implement her plan at home.  It is a plan that can help parents create a "well-balanced, diverse selection of whole food purees and freshly ground grains to feed your baby for up to three months, and to do it within three one-hour blocks of time."

Everything you would need to begin preparing homemade baby food is included in this book.
  • A shopping guide
  • Instructions for three cooking sessions
  • three months of menus (with the 3+ day rule factored in)
  • Information about mix-ins like cheese, yogurt, eggs, herbs, spices, etc
  • Flavor compatibility guide
  • Simple recipes for basic purees
  • Recipes that combine purees
  • Finger foods and advanced meals (many are appropriate for a full meal for the family!)
There's really a lot more information than that, but that's the essentials.  

I'm to the point now where I rarely make baby food ahead of time to freeze, just because I've mastered the art of tweaking what the family eats for the baby.  Dice a banana into oatmeal at breakfast, hard-boil an extra egg, bake an extra sweet potato, smash the steamed veggies . . . you get the point.  I do freeze some things for when we're not eating something baby-friendly (extra-spicy, pizza, etc) but after four kids, I've figured out how to do that based around what I'm already cooking, and I personally don't need marathon baby-food-cooking sessions.

That being said . . . I think this book is a fabulous resource for those new to making baby food, as well as those who need a system to maximize their time in the kitchen.  I would find the schedule very helpful if I still worked full-time outside of the home, and wanted to send wholesome baby food to childcare.  It's very informational, packed full of science and nutrition, but it's written in a very conversational manner and easy to read.  It would be a cute gift for the new mom when paired with some of the supplies needed for baby food (storage containers, spoons, bibs, etc) to give her the confidence to make her own food.  It goes a long way too, with the suggestions for older babies/toddlers.  I sometimes flip through for ideas for advanced meals, as my daughter is now an older baby and prefers "table food" with lots of textures and flavors, so it's nice to get some fresh ideas for the kids.

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

FIAR: The Giraffe that Walked to Paris

I've mentioned before, I like to let the boys help direct their studies.  Elliott was interested in The Giraffe that Walked to Paris after he learned it's based on a true story, so that was the reasoning behind choosing the book when we did.

The Giraffe That Walked to Paris by Nancy Milton is the story of a giraffe being gifted from Egypt to the King of France, and her journey to Paris.  This book is fairly long for a picture book, and the boys weren't interested in multiple readings, but they enjoyed learning the actual history behind the story.

Social Studies
Geography; Political Relationships
We learned a little about Egypt and The Mediterranean Sea and the boys mapped the giraffe's voyage.  Elliott and I discussed some of the actual history behind the giraffe, and how the gift was a political strategy.

Notebooking Pages
Where in the World?
Egypt Country Card
Mediterranean Sea region

Supplemental Books
Children Just Like Me (Egypt)
Children's World Atlas (Africa)
Totally Wild Animal Atlas (such a fun book)
I Wonder Why Pyramids Were Built - and other questions about ancient Egypt
The River that went to the Sky:  Twelve Tales by African Storytellers  (we read tale from Egypt)

We decided to place our story disk on Egypt, since that's where the story starts, and I knew we'd have other stories from France.

Language Arts
We discussed the meaning of setting, and of course the setting of this story.  Then we talked about how our own stories can have unique settings.  The boys both gave me several settings--some being more general and realistic such as California or Mexico, and some more unique and specific--like Teen Titan's Tower and a shark submarine.  We're going to go back and use these settings for writing our own stories later.  ;-)

Additional Literature
The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me by Roald Dahl

I didn't have a good non-fiction book about giraffes (and they weren't given much coverage in our animal encyclopedia) so without a library trip, we made do with internet research.  We read about Giraffes and completed the Animal Fact File.

Emory, attempting to draw a giraffe from the Draw Write Now book.

Math & Art
I kind of linked this all with the giraffe lessons.

We did the Mathematics lesson when we learned about the characteristics of giraffes.  We measured out the height of baby giraffes, and compared the boys' heights.  Elliott also calculated the differences.

It was very easy to include Eleanor in this row, with the giraffe theme.  We talked about how each giraffe has unique spots, and when I found this giraffe craft, I knew we could adapt it and use our unique fingerprints to make spots on our giraffes.  Eleanor loved this project, although she refused to use her fingers for the spots.  Emory insisted on a green giraffe (pick your battles, right?) and Elliott . . . well, he tolerated the craft, but he's outgrowing these kinds of activities.  As cute as the printout is, it was very tedious to cut out, so keep that in mind if you try it with multiple kids!

This is one of those $1 puzzles from Target from when the boys were little.  She's really enjoying puzzles lately, and does well with them.

 This safari animal puzzle is too easy for her now, but the chunky pieces are obviously good for imaginative play and storytelling.

This was another light row, just focusing on the elements of interest to us.  Eleanor enjoyed participating with us, and the boys learned about a unique historical event.  We haven't done another row since Giraffe, as the boys wanted a Minecraft week {I just pulled various freebies from around the web} and then we've transitioned into relaxed holiday studies.

©2011-2015 Mom’s Heart.  All rights reserved.  All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.