Mix Structure with Freedom

What Works! 

Homeschooling, like all things in family life, requires balance.

Some folks love the carefree and loosey-goosey approach to homeschooling, while others perfect a strict routine and discipline with a school-at-home approach. Some folk wake and start school early, while others flow lazily into a relaxed, informal day.  Some families work in a classroom environment, while others love to learn everywhere, anytime.

Whatever your homeschooling approach is right now, it should fit your family lifestyle. I encourage you to find the way that works for you and your children in this season of your life.

If you’re a mom with lots of young children, then I encourage you to create a simple  predictable routine for their day.  Mix in free time for unstructured play and exploration.

Here are some of the main family events that should follow some form of predictable routine ~

  • Morning wake up, washing & dressing
  • Making beds
  • Breakfast
  • Start homeschool time – circle time or Bible story, songs & prayer
  • Short, sweet seat work lessons
  • Tea time and short outdoors play time
  • Core and read alouds and other schooling or learning
  • Lunch time
  • After lunch nap or quiet play
  • Free afternoons
  • Clean up & pack away toys from the day’s play
  • Bath time
  • Supper
  • Bedtime

Habit-training is a vital part of creating an easy, stress-free day.  Work on your routine, focusing on one aspect at a time for several weeks until this is established. (Start with the routine that causes you the most stress and frustration in your family.)  Once your children can cope with that routine, move on to focus on the next area that causes you the most stress.

Many new homeschool moms have very high ideals and expectations.  Most new homeschool moms struggle to maintain a formal, strict regimen every day, and they can easily burnout.  May I suggest that your homeschooling plays a minor role in your day when you are teaching young toddlers, pre-schoolers.  If you are working with multiple ages, focus on the most needy first and then focus on the rest.

Truth be told, you can’t do everything with every child every day!

Especially when children seem bored, frustrated or aimless, look to switching the rhythm and approach of your homeschooling.

  • Change the routine and start with subjects that you normally do later in the day.
  • Change your homeschool room or learn somewhere new/ outside/ at a library
  • Change your approach and make things fun
  • Switch to a new activity such as a lapbook or project instead of reading a read aloud that just doesn’t “fit” you or your kids.
  • Do drills or physical movements instead of seat work.  This works really well if a child is struggling with a subject like maths or spelling!  Rather do jumping or skipping or ball tossing or jump on a rebounder while doing skip-counting or times tables, spelling,  etc.
  • Leave the workbooks and find hands-on activities instead.

Charlotte Mason perfected this switch of rhythm with her principles ~

Structure and discipline (Seat work lessons)

  • Short, sweet lessons
  • Perfect / excellent quality work
  • Attentiveness and discipline
  • Memory work and copywork

Informal and unstructured approach (while still requiring focus and attention)

  • Narrations
  • Fine Arts
  • Poetry
  • Nature Study

I found that having one FREE DAY worked for our family.  Although I say “Free” it was rather an INFORMAL day where we focused on Fabulous Fine Arts Fridays.  These days made the rest of the week feel better and help prevent burnout and stress.

What works for your family?  Please share in the comments below.

Blessings as you find what works for your family, Nadene

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Narration Ideas Booklet

A Charlotte Mason Education is largely centered on a learning method called narration, or the “telling back” in the child’s own words what they have just heard or read.  

I have created a Narrations Ideas Booklet filled with over 100 narration ideas to encourage dynamic and varied narrations.  This booklet offers a list of over 100 creative options, alternative suggestions, tips, outlines and templates for every age and learning style.  (Free sample at the end of this post for 5 lucky readers who comment!)

What is Narration?

When a parent reads a short story, or a passage or chapter the child listens attentively.  Then the child retells the story or passage in his own words.  This skill, although seemingly simple and fairly natural, requires concentrated focus and attention from the child, and requires a complex range of learning skills.  

To form a narration a child needs to consider what he has heard, thinking how it applies to other ideas he already knows.  He then puts his thoughts into order, recalls details, mixes it with his opinion, and then forms those thoughts into coherent sentences and tells them to someone else – when real learning takes place.  Charlotte Mason called this The Act of Knowing.

Narrations are therefore complex activities, but amazingly can be practiced by pre-schoolers all the way to high school students.

Here are examples of some of the templates and ideas you can find in the FULL Narrations Ideas Booklet available on my Packages Page ~

Free sample booklet of Narration Ideas  for 5 lucky readers who comment! Fill in your comment and I will email you your download if your name is drawn.

Pop over to my Packages Page to purchase the complete booklet.

Wishing you many creative and dynamic narrations with your children.

Blessings, Nadene
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3 things NOT to do when planning

“Help me!  I always over-plan, over-buy and become overwhelmed when planning my new year!  What should I do?”Reader's Question logo

In answering this  reader’s question, I remembered my early years and the terrible stress, anxiety and fear that consumed me when planning a new year.  After years of homeschooling and finding what works for us , here is my simple encouragement ~

Don’t over do it.

  • You don’t need to cover every . single . subject . for . each . child.  
  • Combine your kids for all the Bible, Core studies, Read Alouds and Fine Arts wherever possible.
  • Start with a good Maths, Spelling & Dictation, and a Reading/ Phonics program for each child.  Then add a family centered Core.
  • Gently add all the extra subjects such as Fine Arts and Nature Walks once your kids manage the basics.

Don’t spend money on curriculum or supplies you are not sure you will use.

  • Don’t buy under pressure that you “should” or “must” do programs, or  purchase programs all the other moms are using.
  • Put those orders on a wish list and let them wait there a while until you have peace and rest in your heart.
  • Find FREE downloads instead.  You can download stacks of my Free Pages to cover Handwriting, Copywork, Nature Study, Biographies and a full Famous Artist & Musician studies.
  • There are so many free Lapbooks and Unit Studies out there, but, again, don’t download and print out too much!  See #1.

Don’t make a rigid schedule.

  • When I tried to follow an over-full schedule, I felt overwhelmed, especially when we “fell behind”.  
  • Create a wide margin of time to explore, discover, follow other tangents and pause and reflect on the subject matter.
  • Give your children options.  They don’t have to everything!
  • View the schedule as your guide and not your strict task master.
  • Follow the 4-Day Week schedule and give yourselves one “free” day for fun and Fine Arts.
  • STRETCH out  the curriculum over 18 months instead of 12 months.  It really doesn’t matter what “grade” your child is following each year so long as they are working on their level and working consistently.

I hope that this encouragement helps settle those nerves and make your planning seem simpler and easier.

Blessings as you plan, Nadene

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Nature Copywork Pages

Don’t your just love a bargain?  When an advert declares,

“And that’s not all … there’s more!  Included in this special offer we also give you …..  But, wait!  There is more …. you will also receive this amazing bonus of ….”

Well that’s how I felt when I discovered Charlotte Mason‘s Copywork.  Although her approach seems deceptively simple, it is power-packed with skills and range of difficulty that will teach, reinforce, strengthen and develop your child’s handwriting, spelling, vocabulary, grammar and writing style, all the way from Grade 1 to  high school graduation!

Charlotte Mason approached copywork in 3 stages ~

Copywork

Transcription

Dictation

Gently moving from one stage to the next as the child is ready, the child will very naturally learn beautiful handwriting, develop grammar and improve spelling, increase vocabulary, and seamlessly imitate good writing style.

Copywork (Grades 1-2) is simply copying a passage

  • Once a child has learnt to write each letter using my laminated handwriting charts, beginners begin to copy each sentence, done slowly and gently, with an emphasis on quality not quantity.
  • Careful copywork gives a child the opportunity to practice beautiful handwriting in context.
  • Copywork reinforces the habits of observation, best effort, and attention.
  • Lessons are kept short (5–10 minutes) and the goal is beautiful work.

Copywork leads to Transcription. (Grades 2-3) copying from memory ~

  • Once the student has mastered the mechanics of handwriting, he can start concentrating on the spelling of the passages he is copying. 
  • At this stage he looks at/ studies the word in the passage, then writes it from memory, and double checking his spelling right away.
  • Rather than copying letter for letter, he begins to write whole words from memory, working his way through the passage.

Dictation (Grades 4–12) is an advanced skill of writing out the prepared passage as the parent or teacher dictates it to him ~  

  • The child studies the passage ahead of time making sure he knows how to spell every word in it, taking note of the punctuation and capitalization.
  • Parents dictate the passage phrase by phrase.
  • Dictation cultivates the habit of looking at how words are spelled, reinforces correct punctuation and capitalization; sharpens listening comprehension; increases vocabulary through context; reinforces correct sentence structure; reinforces the habits of observation and attention. 

I have created a series of copywork pages, and updated my popular Nature Quotes with both print and cursive options.   The print version has new,  considerably shorter and easier quotes. These pages also include creative writing or interpretive writing prompts, offering you a power-packed application if you follow Ms Mason’s 3 methods.

Here are your free copywork pages ~

Pop over to my Copywork Pages for all my other free downloads.

I love Charlotte Mason’s simple, yet highly effective approach!

Blessings, Nadene
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How to Join Cursive Font Letters

For years I have used ABC Cursive Plain Font for our Handwriting and Copywork pages, but I never knew how to adjust the font so that the letters join each other, until a reader kindly gave me this tip ~

“You can get the letters to join if you choose “Advanced” and then turn the “Kerning option” on!”

With a little Google search, I found very simple instructions and, once I followed the easy steps, each cursive letter smoothly joined the next letter!  Here’s a pdf. of the instructions ~ Joining letters ABC Cursive Plain Font

In MSWord ~

You can apply these kerning settings to any font which will narrow the space between letters, and with cursive fonts, the starting and finishing strokes will meet to form a seamless line.

Oh, my heart flutters with joy to see the  smooth, joined, flowing cursive lines!  I just LOVE the Internet and my kind readers who helps me learn more!

References:

Blessings, Nadene
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Narration shows what your child knows

A new homeschool parent recently asked on Facebook,

How do you know what your child knows?

Charlotte Mason has a very simple method  that reveals what a child knows = narrations.

So how do you start with narrations?

Toddlers naturally retell their stories and nursery rhymes with accurate details.  Think of how they easily tell dad about their latest story or what they saw on their nature walk.  This is a narration.  Oral narrations are natural and, when practiced, form the basis for written narrations.
How then do you develop oral telling-back to written narrations?

Most young children find writing challenging and difficult.  Transition to dictated narrations where Mom writes or types out word-for-word what the child tells.  You act as their scribe.  Young children can illustrate a narration instead of “telling back”.   By and by, your preschooler will have a wonderful collection of dictated narrations in their own notebook.

Develop dictated narrations by writing out their narration using a light pencil, and ask your child to carefully trace over their narration.  Copywork is slow and difficult for children new to writing. Often they will grow weary after tracing over a few lines.  But, gradually, they can neatly copy their narration.

Older children enjoy typing on the computer as the spell check can highlight errors and they can type quicker than handwriting with a neat printout.

Use notebook pages ~

Little House Booklet notebook pages

These are printed pages with lines to assist young children space their handwriting.  Some notebook pages are decorated with borders, clip-art, headings and place for illustrations.  These pages give an incentive to write as the page provides some inspiration.  Young children find that the few sentences they write will quickly ‘fill up’ the lined area and they are less daunted by this than a large blank page.  Studies show that color and illustrations help with memory recall and the clip-art and photos or other visual layout on notebook pages assist them in remembering the information.

Pop over to download my free notebook and copywork pages.

Narrations inspire and expand a child’s vocabulary and instill good grammar without formal lessons. Narrations are far easier activities than fill-in-blanks lessons in workbooks, or memorizing facts from textbooks, or writing out tedious, long notes.  No more boring lessons!

Narrations are unique to each child.  Narrations reveal what each child personally connected with and remembered, and then expressed in their own style and individual character, while still remaining true to the original.

So using Charlotte Mason’s approach, your children will soon deliver the most accurate, detailed oral narrations.  Young children will tell back their story with interesting detail and imitation.  Their vocabulary and writing skills will naturally develop, and as they mature, your children will eventually fill their notebook pages revealing their amazing knowledge, writing skill and creativity.  Just take it slowly, encouraging your child to grow their skills.

With narrations you will easily know what your child knows!

Blessings, Nadene

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Smash This Nature Journal #3

Brand new download ~ Smash This Nature Journal #3 with a free sample download!

Welcome to some brand new fun & adventure nature  journal ideas!

Be warned ~ you and your Nature Journal may get dirty or wet, but you should have some real creative fun!

There is something wonderfully liberating being instructed to tear, crumple, stain, wet and mess in a nature journal.  This fresh approach will liven any nature walk and appeals to young and old, boys and girls.

Use mud, squashed berries, colored stones, or puddles to paint and color pages.  Smear, scratch, knot and paste things on the page.  Look closely and examine minute details, and also view large landscapes, skies and trees.  Draw, illustrate, tape down or record your experiences.

Here are some examples of the nature prompts ~

Instructions ~

  • Pop over to my Packages Page to order your download/s.
  • Print out the Smash This Nature Journal into A5 folded notebooks.
  • Take this journal with you every time you go on a nature walk.
  • You can complete any activity, in any order.
  • Be original! Use your own ideas or adapt any here to suit your situation.
  • Photograph some of your destructive results and collect them in here to show off!
  • Have fun!

Last year I created 2 Smash This Nature Journals.  Pop back to the original post for photos, reviews and details of these exciting Nature Journals. 

Pop over to my Packages Page to order your downloads.  And when your children have completed their pages, please email them to me to share here on the blog!

Here’s your free sample download ~ Sample Smash This Nature Journal #3

Blessings, Nadene

Quick Practical Pages Survey

My dear Reader,

I would love to continue posting relevant and encouraging posts, practical advice, free pages and downloads. Please would you take a few minutes to complete this short survey to help me focus on what you need here on Practical Pages.

If you are reading this post via email then would you please go to the post online for the survey.

Thank you so much!

Blessings, Nadene

First days back 2 school

Many moms around the world worry about the first days of school.  Homeschool moms worry about starting homeschool too.  And new homeschool moms worry even more.

May I offer some gentle advice?

  • Just start slowly.
  • Don’t try do the complete schedule.
  • Ease into your schooling.
  • Go gently.

Just remember that the professional teachers spend much of their first weeks of school doing orientation; they hand out new books, explain note-taking, give an overview.  They don’t jump straight in with the full program.

Here’s some tips that I still use after all these years ~

Set up your school area the night before (I like to do this as a surprise for the kids!)

  • Put tables, stationary and books/workboxes/or files in order.
  • Write a welcome note on the whiteboard or prayerfully write to each child and place a personal note on each child’s place.
  • Arrange the CD and music player ready with your song or praise and worship for circle time.
  • Get into a simple “Early to bed & early to rise” routine.  Chat and pray with each child before bedtime.

On your first day ~

  • Wake half an hour earlier than the family, make yourself a cup of tea, have your quiet time and pray.  Commit your plans to the Lord and surrender all to Him.
  • Gently wake the kids and get them into their morning routine and chores.  (I like to have a “test-run” a day before school and start the school morning routine a day earlier than the actual day.)
  • Have a simple but nutritious breakfast, or go ahead and make it something special!
  • At the agreed starting time, start school.
  • I like to start each year in a circle or on the couches.  Start with a chat about the year, the themes, some planned highlights and goals.  Let the kids talk about what they expect, what they are afraid of, what they look forward to.
  • Then pray about all these things.
  • Sing and learn a memory verse for the week.  Make it fun!  Chose something really simple and easy.
  • Now chose what you will do the first week.  Either just do some basics3Rs (Maths, Reading and Handwriting) or just do your Core (History, Literature study)for the first week.  Tell them that next week you’ll add the rest of the subjects, but this week they must just do their very best with the easy schedule.  (They may beg you to do it all!  If they seem relaxed and the work done was excellent, then, by all means, do your full plan.)  If things are really awful and stressed, just cuddle and read a story together.
  • Include a lovely tea break with some healthy snacks.
  • Plan some fast fun & games for in between lessons if children get fidgety.

Create precious memories from these moments ~

  • Take some “First Day” photos of each child.
  • Prepare a special breakfast.
  • Ask Dad to give a “Welcome To School” speech. (My hubby is our homeschool “Principal”!)
  • Give each child a small gift – some stationary/ stickers/ new hair accessories for their first day.

I trust this encourages you.

Blessings as you prepare and plunge back in, Nadene

Freedom to play

Charlotte Mason’s approach is so liberating!  She listed some Rights of Children and said, “Children should be free in their play.”  So what does this freedom to play look like?

Most parents these days feel that store-bought toys and screen games are the answer, but the real freedom comes from open-ended, child-led activities.

Lara colecting flowers

Collecting flowers

I like to think of this recipe = Present some natural elements, add a sprinkle of inspiration, mix well for a few minutes and bake with fun = freedom!

She advised that parents don’t crowd out their free time.  She ensured that daily lessons were kept short so that the children would remain attentive.  She gave them full afternoon time with freedom to play and explore outdoors.

I have watched my younger girls play with creativity and vigor and enthusiasm whenever they have free time.  They often use the subject we are reading in their games.  They love to re-enact our core stories, or our family favorites DVDs such as Jane Austen’s “Emma”  or “Little Women”.

Kate picking wild flowers

picking wild flowers

Make believe

Make believe

They love dress up clothes and I make an outfit for them each season.  They have endless games wearing a bonnet and pinafore, or an American Indian squaw dress, or a corset and long skirt.  Boys love capes, a bow and quiver with arrows, a cowboy hat and chaps, or belts with swords.

Young children need to play outside.  They love to play with sand and water.  Offer plastic animals and encourage them to create their own farms or zoos or parks.  They will add stones, twigs and shells to their sand boxes, creating mini-worlds.  Encourage collections.  Let them collect insects, flowers, leaves, shells, pebbles etc. and store these in boxes or baskets on a shelf at their height.  They love to play with these elements!  A large sheet or blanket can provide wonderful opportunities for forts, tents or make-believe homes.  A big box can provide hours of fun as a space rocket, or car or ship!  Such simple things that provide wonderful opportunities.

We give our children such a precious gift when we let them play without too many rules, expectations, or parental pressure for performance.  This doesn’t mean that they are left unsupervised, but rather that they understand safety and safe-play boundaries and play within those rules (such as staying in the yard/ not going near the swimming pool/or into the street, or not throwing … at others).  Mom should stay nearby, keeping her eye on their play, smile and nod, but try not interfere with their games and interactions.

Most children withdraw when they know they are being watched while playing fantasy games.  Let them be free to create, imitate and act out their game without feeling self-conscious.  Don’t feel the need to instruct or praise your children while they play.  If they want your involvement, rather ask questions and make specific observational comments like, “I see you have all your animals … in groups,” or “Wow, look at all those different colored flowers …,” or “I wonder what will happen if you put …. in the water?”  “I see that you and your sister have made such a big ….(describing their fort/ block castle etc.)  “What can you do with this ….?” (and offer a new/ another item).

Enjoy your children’s natural love to play.  Their childhood and innocence is a precious gift. Thank you Charlotte Mason for instructing us in such a precious balanced approach!

Blessings, Nadene