Saturday, October 25, 2014

Embracing Charlotte Mason & Our 2014 School Room

Embracing CM & Our 2014 School Room
As I mentioned in my previous post, I am trying to fully embrace Charlotte Mason methodology into our homeschool.  Over a year ago I came across an article on Charlotte Mason methods that really resonated with me and so, I started to research.  The more I read and learned about Charlotte and her methods, the more I fell in love with it.  I love the rich, liberal education that I will be providing my children.  I love that the focus is on creating a deep love for learning.  I love how it effortlessly ties in rich literature... much of which I was never exposed to myself while growing up.  (SO many wonderful works that I'm excited about reading to and with my children).  I love how it pushes and stretches me more (in areas like nature study).  And I love the focus on showing what they DO know rather than making it a focus of showing what they don't know.  There is just so much to love about CM methods but, I can't list it all here. 
Early on, I joined the forum board at Simply Charlotte Mason and for a while, I just read all of the posts.  There is such an awesome community of Charlotte Masoners on the forum and such a huge wealth of information.  Seriously, if you are pondering the CM method even a little bit, spend some time perusing through the forum posts.  It's also a wonderful way to see that every homeschool family has their own unique way of implementing the CM methods, which takes a lot of stress off.  At least for me it does.  I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist so if I think it HAS to be perfected, I will spend a great deal of time and energy trying to achieve that perfection.  (I'm working on it but, it's pretty much how I'm driven).  But, as Catherine Levison said in her book More Charlotte Mason Education, Charlotte won't be in your home to monitor what you use and don't use from her methods so you can adapt her philosophies as needed.  In other words, don't worry about making your homeschool look just like another families homeschool, make it your own.  (And this can be quite the challenge for me... making it my own and not comparing to what everyone else is doing but, I'm learning.)
Speaking of which, I recently finished reading Levison's 2 books Charlotte Mason Education and More Charlotte Mason Education.  I highly recommend them!  She makes the CM Method so easy to understand and they are fairly short and easy reads.  A wonderful introduction to CM.  Currently, I am working my way through the Original Homeschool Series by Charlotte Mason (I was fortunate enough to find it at my Library) but, Levinson's books were a wonderful way to be able to jump right in.
I was going to share more about how I planned out our year and what we are using for each of our subjects but, I'm still doing a lot of tweaking and fine-tuning in this area and still trying to get into a good groove.  So, until then... here are some snippets of our school room (which is also the children's playroom)...
The Desk, Marker Board & Math Lab
Miss M enjoys doing some things at the desk, especially Math and handwriting.  But, she often ends up on the couch or kneeling at the coffee table for a good part of the day.  Whatever works right?  The desk is definitely her place of choice when little Mr. L is roaming free.  Haha! (She caught me taking a picture of her and just had to pose for the camera…my silly little ham).
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I LOVE our marker board!  It’s a weathered wooden frame with glass.  I previously tried to save money by getting a frame with plastic.  TRUST me on this one, go with the glass!  When I tried a different brand dry erase on the plastic, it permanently stained it and in the end, I had to spend more money on the frame with glass.  Dry-erase writes perfectly on glass and comes off like a breeze.  If you wanted bolder colors, you could use sharpies too and remove it with alcohol.  I do this with a small frame that I like to write scriptures or little positive reminders for myself on. I love using a frame because it’s so customizable and looks so much nicer than a chalk or white board.  On ours I have a place devoted to our Character Quality verse of the week (more on that in a bit), a place with handwriting lines which is helpful if I need to write a copywork entry for her.  There is also a color copy of the math journal page I created .  (She has a spiral book made with black and white copies that she fills in each day which covers the date, a daily number pattern, coin cup, time, and yesterday, today and tomorrow.)  And there is a calendar and finally an empty space used as a white board.  I placed a colorful fabric behind everything to make it bright and cheery.  And what I love most is that again, it’s customizable.  So I can change it up whenever I feel the need to do so.  Ideally, I would have arranged and hung it horizontally but, with the addition of our math lab, I had to make it vertical.  But, it still works great!
This year I decided to combine 2 different math curriculums and we are LOVING it.  I will elaborate more on that in a different post.  I have seen on Pinterest so many great ideas for learning spaces, such as a writing center, a nature or science station, an entire room of learning centers.  So. Many. Ideas!  But, so little space in our home.  One of the curricula we are using is all about creating a “Math Lab” for children to be able to freely experiment and explore, much like one would do in a science lab.  Since Miss M clearly has a love for all things math, I decided this is what I should focus on working into our school room.  And we already had all of these manipulatives on hand (as well as the cotton rope baskets I scored on clearance at Target) but, they were either stored in a closet or placed in random areas such as the book shelves, the toy cabinet, etc.  You know the saying, “out of sight, out of mind”.  Clearly, this set up was not going to work for a “Math Lab” environment.  So, I got the bars and hooks from Ikea (very affordable and very easy to put up) and they worked perfectly with the baskets handles.  I installed the bars right above the school desk so that the most used manipulitives are front and center and easy for her to access but out of the toddlers reach.  I keep the abacus, the balancing scales, the coin cups and the place value cards (a free printable I found online and laminated) right on the desk.  All of the other math stuff we have is stored in one spot in the toy cabinet where she can easily access it but, again, out of the tot’s reach.  And the cabinet has a glass window so it’s not out of sight either.  Of course, I’m always willing to answer her questions and help her when she does not understand something but generally, a gentle reminder to use her math lab and to be a math investigator is all she needs in order to figure it out on her own.  It’s been working wonderfully for us thus far.
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I am, I can, I Ought, I will
I LOVE the Charlotte Mason quote "I am, I can, I ought, I will" so, after looking at different variations online I created my own wall hangings, further elaborating on each part of the quote and backing it up with scripture.  It's one of my favorite parts of the room and I will probably work them into copywork and memory work later down the road.  But for now, they are simply lovely to look at on the wall and use as gentle reminders.  For the sake of keeping it REALLY simple and cheap, that’s just cardstock taped to the wall.  I used the 100 LB. cardstock.  I thought about gluing them to cardboard or foam and then cutting them out to make them more sturdy but, again I was going for super simple and really, if they are just hanging out on the wall, how sturdy do they need to be?  I love them and that’s all that matters.  UPDATE:  For a FREE Printable version of this go HERE!
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Morning Basket
Leading up to planning out my year someone started a thread about Morning Basket routines in the forum at Simply Charlotte Mason which really peaked my interested.  So naturally, I followed the thread, looked at MANY other blogs where they shared tidbits of their Morning Basket etc.  I was completely in love with the idea and decided to implement that as part of our plans as well.  It's not really supposed to be anything extra, but more rather, a way of organizing certain subjects differently (primarily all of the family study subjects such as history, Bible, picture/artist study and composer study etc.) and keeping them at the forefront of the day so that they don't get pushed aside and forgotten because we were "too busy" with the "core" subjects.  Currently our basket contains A Bible, A Childs Garden of Verses, Favorite Children’s Poems Old & New, 3 different Shakespeare books for children, The Children’s Book of Virtues, Christian Liberty Nature Readers, a book on manners and etiquette, Hymns for a Childs Heart, Little House in the Big Woods (our current literature pick) and a small memory work binder (to briefly review Bible verses, poems, math facts and spelling).  As lovely as the basket looks sitting all alone on the shelf, I fill the empty space up with library books on the artist and composer we are focusing on and other things like nature field guides.  I guess I needed a bigger basket.  ha!  To learn more about Morning Basket routines, check out this thread (and some of the great links mentioned within).  I’m still trying to get into the right groove with our own Morning Basket routine and a friend of mine had a wonderful suggestion to pull the basket out each morning and ask Miss M what she wants to focus on for the day rather than having it all scheduled and then feeling like I failed if we didn’t cover something I planned.  I really love this idea and I plan to try it out this week.  (See…still making changes!  haha!)
Character Qualities
Next to the desk I have 2 clip boards I created out of cardboard, scrapbook paper and oversized clothes pins.  One is used for displaying Latin words or phrases of the week (though we have not done a lesson in quite sometime.  It keeps getting pushed on the back burner) and the other is for our Character Quality of the week.  These were created by Rachel Carmen and she shares them on her blog, His Sunflower.  I have printed about half of them out (she has added new ones since, which I plan to print soon).  I print them full sheet size and placed them in sheet protectors and then into a binder.  So when I hang them, I leave them right in the sheet protector and they easily go back into the binder.  She has a little lesson/devotional to go with each one so I printed those and store them in the binder behind each Character Quality (CQ).  So about one per week I will hang a new CQ and then write out the corresponding verse on the board.  And we will focus on it throughout the week (sometimes longer, depending on how long it takes for her to memorize the verse).  I work it into copywork by having her copy the CQ one day and the verse on another day and then I may or may not read from the devotional.  She also provides matching coloring sheets which I may start using with Mr. L sometime soon.  This keeps wonderful character traits that I want to instill in not only my children, by myself as well (we all have room for growth and improvement) on the forefront of our minds.  Sometimes, if there is a trait that I feel needs more attention, I will leave it up longer.  And currently, as we go through our bible lessons, we are making note of the character traits of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.  I thought, what better place to hang these than right below our CQ of the week.
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Visits to Africa
Currently, we are using Module 1 from Simply Charlotte Mason to cover our Bible, history, geography & social studies.  As part of the curriculum, we are using their Visits to Africa book which includes mapping of the countries and more.  (I will elaborate more on the curriculum in a later post since I’m still tweaking things with it).  Anyways, I found this coloring map of Africa and used the poster printing feature in Adobe to make a large version.  I created a “chalkboard” sign for it and added a Bible verse at the top.  Miss M enjoys coloring in the different countries as we go along and whenever I pull out a new picture from The Stuff They Left Behind portfolio, I hang it up above the map so that she can see it all the time.
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Wall of Literature
Last but not least, is the wall of literature.  This is another favorite project of mine that I think turned out really cute.  I spent hours collecting book cover images of children’s literature that we already own and that I eventually want to add to our collection.  Some we have already read or begun reading and the rest, we will definitely get to.  If we already owned the book, then I would look for the exact same image.  Others I chose based on my favorite illustrators such as Tasha Tudor and Inga Moore or simply the version I liked best.  This was an easy and inexpensive project to do.  I had them printed at the office supply store since I’d probably pay more money replacing my ink cartridges at home and since there were 2 per page, it really did not cost vey much at all.  The only other things I purchased were the hooks and the mini clothes pins.  I already had the jute string on hand.  When Miss M came in from playing and saw it she got really excited about many of the books that we will be reading in the future and she is already making plans about which order she wants to read them in.  Love for reading? Check! (and yes, I totally tidied up that table before snapping a picture.  It was a mess!  haha!)
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That’s all folks!  :)