Archive | May, 2010

Morning Prayer at Home

21 May

I grew up going to a very unique, old-style Episcopal school.  Every morning after first period, all first- through twelfth-grade students would file into the church for Morning Prayer.  Our headmaster was a cantor, so we heard and sang the psalms in Gregorian chant.  We used the King James Bible, the 1928 Prayer Book, and the 1940 Hymnal, stuff almost no other Episcopal churches still used.

Needless to say, as a first-grader I didn’t understand the words we were using, much less what exactly we were doing, but year after year of going to Chapel day in and day out taught me.  Over time, I came to know what those words meant, to know what the Bible said, and to understand that we came there to start out our morning praising God together.  On one level, of course, I was too cool for all that and desperately wished I could go to “normal school” where I wouldn’t have to go to Chapel.  On another, more lasting level, I became steeped in that tradition and came to realize what a beautiful way it is to lift your heart up to God.

One thing Chapel did for me was to give me what I’ll call a vocabulary of worship.  It modeled the words to explain some very complex things I was to truly understand only later.  Words like grace.  Repentance.  Mercy.  Phrases like “the company of Heaven,” “all we like sheep have gone astray,” and others that so aptly describe in such a variety of ways the real relationship between God and the Church.  It connected me to a whole lot of Christians in other times and places who had a very good grasp on that relationship, too, and had me singing the same songs they had written or sung for many years before me.  It poured all those lines from the psalms into my heart, and sometimes, even today, when I need them, they just come tumbling out.

Too many people today cast aside the “old” in favor of something new and innovative.  In a way, I understand this.  Worship stated in a language so different from our everyday speech is, I guess, an acquired taste.  Perhaps people feel like it’s stilted and not coming from the heart.  It was a great gift for me to have been taught to understand that mode of worship, and that’s a gift I want to pass on to Mustard Seed.

Unfortunately, Morning Prayer is not offered where we live, but I plan to recreate Chapel here at home to start off our day.  I’ve been looking over the Order for Morning Prayer in my handy-dandy Book of Common Prayer and noticing that it’s a bit longish for first-grader.  (Then again, I lived through it.)  I’m not sure whether the best thing is to do abbreviated Morning Prayer and gradually add parts to it or perhaps to do something more like the Family Prayers for morning, but add a psalm, a Bible story and a hymn.  I’d really like to limit this part of our day to 15 minutes or so.

Don’t even get me started on the hymns.  If you ask me, music is the way to get a message into someone’s heart.  It will get them to learn words they don’t know, even languages they don’t speak.  Amazing Grace is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to great hymns.  What about Golden Harps are Sounding, St. Patrick’s hymn, I Bind Myself to Thee This Day, I Sing a Song of the Saints of God, or the very simple and sweet Day by Day?  Don’t tell me kids can’t understand or love these, because I can point to a good many who hold these hymns and those moments at Chapel as some of the dearest and most comforting of their lives.

I wish I were an accomplished pianist (or could at least read sight read well enough to sing a tune from paper), but alas, I’m going to have to rely heavily on recorded music to give Mustard Seed an idea of how these songs and psalms are really supposed to sound.  Which brings me to another point:  Lately I’ve really been feeling a call to turn off the radio in the car.  You can say I’m sheltering my child if you want, but I am not interested in my child beginning to ask to hear a Lady Gaga song or knowing who Miley Cyrus is.  Not because I think they are bad (that’s a different question), but because I don’t know how I feel about her attaching star status to anyone, especially at such a tender age, and crooning about love, heartbreak and partying in imitation of them.  These things are perfectly acceptable topics for a grown-up, but might they not give a young child a skewed idea of what the world is about or what she’s supposed to be focusing on?

Yes, I know, I seem like the mean, puritanical mom.  Perhaps I will turn us into Ned Flanders’ family before I’m through, but I’m thinking maybe some nice hymns or praise songs (as long as they sound good) might be a nice alternative for the car, as well as for use in Chapel.  I’ve been scouring Amazon to find some simple arrangements of the Te Deum or the Benedictus in Gregorian chant.  I’ve found some beautiful stuff from Tallis and Purcell, but those are, to say the least, a bit difficult to actually sing along with.  I did find a very nice CD, Gregorian Chant for Kids, but unfortunately, it doesn’t contain anything from the Order of Morning Prayer.  So the search continues.

It may be that we end up doing something much more relaxed than a church service recreated in our home.  Maybe I’ll just get a copy of the hymnal and teach Mustard Seed those old songs I love when she seems open to them.  Maybe I’ll be happy if she understands to pray to God with whatever words you have, rather than insisting that she know the psalms precisely.  Part of this journey for me is learning to rely on God for strength (or discipline) that I don’t have.  Another part is, instead of forcing things to conform to my idea of what they should look like, learning to let go and let God show me what He wants this to look like.  What does “Chapel” look like at your house?


What to Do with Wiggly Willies

13 May

Are you in your kindergarten or first-grade year with your child?  Then I’m sure you’ve noticed a certain physical law: namely, that it is impossible for anyone under, say, 6 to be in one place at any time!  They are born to wiggle and jiggle and turn upside down, and it is impossible to curtail such acrobatics for more than a short period without a natural disaster and/or tears (mother’s or child’s) resulting.

What a blessing that we, as homeschooling moms, don’t have to look at this as an evil!  We can relax and know that, although it’s not always easy to tell what their purpose is, the Wiggles (the phase, not the musical group) are doing something in our children that they need.  God has hard-wired them to be very active at this stage, and this in turn, is developing their gross and fine motor skills, helping them discover the world through experience—and these are the skills we want them to develop so they can apply them to more, er…stationary learning later.

It is so hard for me not to want to tape Mustard Seed’s little behind to a seat sometimes and try to get her to focus! for a moment.  It’s times like these when I need to step back and realize that this is a sign that she is not ready, with regard to attention span, for whatever activity I’ve planned, no matter—and this is the part that’s difficult to understand—no matter how intellectually ready she is.  I may know she knows the answer to a math problem.  She may have done it just yesterday.  But if she’s not doing it today because of lack of focus or “forgetting” or whatever, well, it’s just not happening.

The big lesson for me has been to realize that I have not lost a battle of wills in letting her get up and take a break, in approaching the lesson from a more kinesthetic perspective, or even with a less in-depth level.  So Lesson #1 is that Wiggly Willy behavior at this tender age can be a signal from your child that says, “I’m just not ready for this in all the prerequisite developmental areas.”  Heck, I remember that even my fifth grade teacher instituted a daily stretching time and had us sing Pharaoh, Pharaoh and Father Abraham with the body movements each afternoon.  Perhaps she had a good grasp on the concept that little minds need exercise to do brainwork.

Lesson #2 is that it is not a cop-out to make things cutesy, fun and movement-oriented at this age.  There will come a day when our children will have to understand that there are things you just have to trudge through.  Like Macroeconomics.  It will come closer to the time they are growing underarm hair, applying for their first driver’s license or trying out for intramural badminton.  If moving around is how young kids’ brains work, I say meet them there.

Once Mustard Seed was bravely trying to read some words and sentences in a pretty meat-and-potatoes, no-pictures reading book.  She kept trying to bounce a ball against the wall instead.  Finally, I gave up the struggle to stop her and decided to make it work in my favor.  I told her if she read a sentence, she got to bounce the ball 10 times.  She loved it and came back eager to read each time.  She actually did a better job of it than before, too.

So if you’re feeling frustrated or guilty, either because you’re trying to get your young one to settle down for a lesson and it’s not working or because you’ve given up trying and school doesn’t look like what you think it ought to, here are eight ways to get a Wiggly Willy learning without banging your head against the wall.

  1. Skywriting.  If your little one doesn’t yet have the fine motor skills or attention span to practice penmanship for very long, ditch the pencil and paper and try tracing those letters in the air.  He or she will still be getting the order of the movements down and become familiar with the letters’ shapes, but won’t be trapped in proper writing posture for longer than he thinks he can bear it.
  2. 2. Scavenger Hunts. These are very adaptable to many activities.  Say you’ve been trying to teach what owls eat.  After reading a story book or non-fiction science book about owls, place around the house different pictures, or plastic figures if you have them, of things an owl would eat, along with some things it wouldn’t.  Have your child run off to bring back only the things the owl would eat.  Are you studying a foreign language?  Perhaps you’ve studied colors.  Have your child go around the house pointing out red, blue, and green objects, but make sure he says “rojo”, “azul” and “verde” out loud when he points them out.
  3. 3. Play Pretend. Equip your child with knowledge about a topic through a book, poem, or song.  Then make a pretend game about it.  Perhaps the two of you could make a rabbit hole under the coffee table, such as Peter Rabbit lived in.  Or your living room could double as a miniature solar system, and you could fly in your spaceship from planet to planet as you name them.  The possibilities are endless.  By the way, dads are great at turning old refrigerator boxes into spaceships and airplanes!
  4. 4. Relays. Want your child to burn some energy while getting in some math practice?  Place objects around your yard (old plastic Easter eggs, candy, stuffed animals, or outdoor toys work well), hidden or not.  Start the timer and have her try to find as many as possible and count them as she goes.  If she doesn’t find them all, you can make a problem out of it: “You found 4 and 6 are still hidden.  How many things did I hide?”  (Then let her find the rest and see if she was right!)  Or if you have a good collection of plastic animal figures (everyone should), tell her to bring you all the reptiles, all the mammals, all the birds, etc. to work on recognizing classification.
  5. 5. Reading Hopscotch. Got sidewalk chalk?  Or, for winter, a marker and pages from your recycling bin will work (on carpet only, for safety’s sake).  Write down a simple sentence with a blank for one of the words.  Draw a hopscotch court, but instead of numbers, write the missing word and other similar words in the squares.  Have your child try to toss her rock onto the right word and/or hop to it.  Then she can read the sentence out loud with the right word.  You can also use this by filling the squares in with diagraphs or blends and asking your child to hop to the letter pair that makes the sound /i/ or /f/, for example.
  6. 6. Bathtub Math. You know they love to take an eternity in the bathtub anyway.  Why not make it productive by tossing a set of measuring cups or spoons in the water with them?  Supply them with some plastic cups as well and point out that if they put 3 of the 1/3 cups into one plastic cup, the water level will be the same as if they put 1 cup into the plastic cup.  If you’re planning on scrubbing your tub soon anyway, invest in a set of bath crayons and get them to do some simple addition or work on their penmanship as well.
  7. 7. Pizza Parlor Fractions. Show me the small kid who doesn’t love pizza or birthday cake.  A paper plate, some crayons and a pair of scissors are all you need to put this fact to work for you.  Have your child decorate his own pizza and birthday cake.  For starters, the pizza can demonstrate quarters and the cake thirds.  When he’s through coloring, help him cut the pizza into four pieces and the cake into three neatly.  Discuss that the pieces are all the same size.  Ask him how much pizza he wants and then show him what fraction that is.  Ask him how much each of you should get to be fair.  Make up stories about him and his friends eating pizza together, and ask him what fraction of the pizza they ate.  Compare whether a third of the cake or a quarter of the pizza is bigger.  Begin to use the terms numerator and denominator with him and show him how to build fractions (i.e., number of pieces eaten/total number of pieces).  He’ll be adding and subtracting fractions and comparing the sizes of fractions with different denominators in no time.
  8. The Turn-Around Game. This is a simple way to teach the commutative property of addition that we got out of the back of a book called Adding Puppies and Kittens, which uses gratuitous cuteness to hook kids on adding.  For example, I’ll say 4+3=7, and Mustard Seed turns around as she says 3+4=7, thus teaching her that it doesn’t matter which order they are in; the answer is the same.  This has become useful to her now that she’s seeing problems like 51+5 in Horizons’ kindergarten math book: Whereas, 55+1 would be a no-brainer for her, 51+5 is a little tougher.  But since she realizes 5+1 would be the same as 1+5, she is able to figure it out.  And because of our kinesthetic game, this “property” (even if she doesn’t know it’s called that) has stuck in her head.

A final note on Wiggly Willy activities:  It’s tempting for us relatively sedentary grown-ups to think in terms of time spent on an activity to true knowledge gained and perhaps decide that such activities do not provide enough bang for our buck (chronological buck, that is).  It may seem like a lot of time to spend 15 minutes on an “owl food scavenger hunt” when we could just tell our kids “Owls eat mice, bats and insects” and expect them to learn it.  That’s true, but I would argue that the whole point is they don’t usually absorb things very well when we simply talk at them.  So I would suggest that the most helpful way of looking at it is a ratio of time spent to knowledge actually retained and understood.  In homeschool, you can do what it takes to ensure your child has mastered what you consider essential material.  If the going is slower than we’d like, I think it behooves us to remember that there is no cause for guilt in that and to relax and have fun with the seemingly round-about methods our young pupils learn by.

Got any great Wiggly Willy tricks of your own?  Leave a comment.  I’d love to hear about them!

Hello my name is…

11 May

Thanks for stopping by!  Homeschooling One is the latest and greatest of my many projects.  The idea is to chronicle our family’s days homeschooling a little someone who I’ll call Mustard Seed (since that’s one of her favorite fairies—and mine to, if you know your Shakespeare).  To tell you a little about us, my name is Michelle.  I’m the wife of the Headmaster and Mustard Seed’s mom.  She’s our only child for the time being (hence the blog title, ahem).

We are just capping off our first true year of homeschooling, which was kindergarten.  It has been a big learning curve for both Mustard Seed and me.  Learning to be disciplined—but not too disciplined.  Really learning what the meaning of that word “patience” is.  Learning that five-year-olds still very much want and need to bounce around.  Learning about our likes and dislikes.  Learning to pounce on those teachable moments and phases.  But it’s been fun, and I think it’s about to get a whole lot more fun.

Next year, I plan to follow Tapestry of Grace and, for the subjects not covered by that, to mostly go with the Well Trained Mind suggestions.  Having attended a school a school which I now recognize as very classical, though I didn’t know it at the time, I am so looking forward to sharing all these subjects with Mustard Seed, and I’m excited to get to do it from a basis of relationship.  We are a bilingual family, and raising a truly bilingual, bicultural child is very important to us and is a big part of why we are choosing to homeschool.  Another factor, which grows for me every day, is desiring to weave faith and God into every aspect of our day, from history to housework.  Here too, we have a dual heritage as I am Anglican and the Headmaster is Catholic.  It is important to us that Mustard Seed be steeped in the Bible, in Church tradition, in the Catechism, and most importantly, in a Christ-centered environment.

In addition to being a homeschooling mom, I am also a freelance translator and editor.  I feel blessed/guided to have chosen a profession that I enjoy and which gives me the potential to work out of a home office and limit my hours if I choose to, so that I can dedicate myself to my daughter’s education, which I feel is a calling.  Juggling everything I ought to do is not always easy, and I don’t always succeed, a fact which is teaching me to rely on God and forget the idea that I can actually accomplish something on my own.  Ha!

I hope you’ll come back again and be entertained (or at least intrigued and perplexed) by the everyday stuff of life that makes this journey such a challenge and such a time of wonder.