My thoughts on Among the Forest People… and free narration pages. 💛

Let me start off by whispering an admission that I hope every Charlotte Mason, living book loving, nature studying person won’t hate me for.

I really don’t like Burgess.

There. I said it.

I tried.

I really, really did.

But when I noticed my own kiddo’s interest dissipating, despite my attempts to enliven the words with pleasant readings, I knew it wasn’t just me.

I believe it was C.S. Lewis that said “a children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

So for us, as a daily inclusion to our studies… it was not a good fit. For them, or for me.

(If you and yours love Burgess, PLEASE. CONTINUE. But if you don’t… here’s your permission slip to stop trying. 😂)

Meanwhile, I must say the Among the ______ Stories are, well, a different story. They are delightful (SHORT) reads that pass along curiosity and information about the habitat and creatures… as well as a bit of character training without being annoyingly didactic.

Because I’m starting afresh with my newest little formal learner, I went ahead and created some low-key narration pages for my buddy this time around. We all know worksheets are NOT a requirement… but some students do better with a visual and something for their hands to do that connect directly with what they are hearing.

So, here we are. 🙂

I’d love for you to be able to use and benefit from these sheets as well. They have a banner for the student to copy the title on to, and a handful of lines for you or your kiddo to jot down a brief narration. Some pages are just for coloring… others have a prompt or two. I deliberately choose black and white for ease of printing at home and cost effectiveness. (It adds up, doesn’t it, friend?)

If you like what you see, I’d love for you to check out my other Charlotte Mason-inspired studies and guides over on Etsy. Just click here!

Now… here’s your free Among the Forest People sheets! 🐿

Adapting for your kiddos… and free narration pages 💛

So my firstborn: she loves drawing. While I would read our stories, she’d draw away, creating portraits of her favorite characters and scenes.

My buddy joined us this year in formal studies… and he needs his hands busy. I’m totally fine with him doing his mad matter and blocks to listen, but he wants to “make a book” like his older sister (this “book” is a folder of all her drawings). I will welcome any and all drawings he decides to do, but in the meantime, I’ve made a way to capture his narrations and allow him to have his “book,” too.

The moral of the story: what works for one kiddo might not work in the same way for all of them. Their age, stage, and giftings might require some reconfiguring. But isn’t that the absolute beauty of learning alongside your children? 💛


Also, fellow #agentlefeast families, these sheets work with the history readings for cycle 3, term 1, form 1. You have the plans and will know what to do.

https://www.canva.com/design/DAFJ0ZoHxEI/Ims2b4kPMxJxi6IKV1I6wQ/view?utm_content=DAFJ0ZoHxEI&utm_campaign=designshare&utm_medium=link&utm_source=homepage_design_menu

Two Bad Ants: fun activities and the Big 4

Spring and summer is the perfect time to bring out those bug books and studies… considering we can observe them all around us again. (Guess we’ll be doing a mosquito study soon. Sheesh!)

It was on our agenda a couple of weeks ago to study ants… and as I was perusing the library shelves for some fun reads to include, I came across Two Bad Ants. What a delightful little read, and it led to really great learning and play… and curiosity! Win win win!

If you have read other learning posts of mine, you know I’ve been a classroom teacher for years– and that time has shaped how I wanted to teach my own kiddos at home. We are Charlotte Mason/Classical-based (eclectic a bit) in general, but something that I find really shapes learning time well– inside and outside of the classroom– is remembering the Big Four: imagine, encourage, educate, and enjoy. (Note: Charlotte Mason herself was not a huge fan of “lesson plans” as she believed the best education–even only education– was self-education. I don’t disagree. Think of The Big 4 as a framework to hang principles on, not a lesson plan to stick to rigidly or you fail, okay?)

With that said, let’s walk through the Big 4 with this book, shall we?


Imagine

What’s so amazing about fun, living books is that they foster imagination in and of themselves! We don’t have to “try” to make the imagination come alive. Children are born with curiosity and imagination; our biggest challenge is to not get in the way! Two Bad Ants is SO fun in this department. It forsakes familiar words with descriptive language in a way that can made the book a series of riddles for the kids to mentally answer (especially younger ones!), and the perspective of the pictures make the book so fun to “enter” in. As your kiddos are listening to the story, don’t be afraid to pause and let them get curious! My kids asked some really great questions here, like “why do the ants call the grass a forest?” and “how do we know they landed in sugar?” and “why did the ants fly through the black slits in the wall?” What great opportunities to ask them questions back and get them thinking to answer their own questions! You can even take time here to “imagine” being ants or seeing how height and angles change perspective. Crawl on the floor and observe what you see differently, now that you are lower than normal. How about standing on a stool or chair? What do you see now?  

Another way to incorporate imagination is to basically allow them to get creative.

Do they want to make up their own story about the ant?

Put on a play?

Design their own ant playground… which makes me think of Honey I Shrunk the Kids…

Draw an ant? Great! Let them! This book made my 9 year old want to grab our Natural History book and check out all the ants there before deciding to draw her favorite. Awesome!

encourage

When it comes to this principle, I take it different ways at different times. The main way I try to think of incorporating encouragement is seeing what the Bible has to say about what we are learning/observing. What does it tell us about the object we are discussing, or the character we see in the story?

The Bible actually does talk about the ants and what we can learn from them. It tells us to consider the ants and be like them. Why? (Ask your kiddos!) Because they work hard and prepare well. What are some ways we can do that? That question led to a lot of good responses, and their answers included some things that we do as a family and some that we can improve on.

Another way that I like to think about encouragement is making sure that I’m seeing where my kids are growing and improving and making a point to encourage them in that. This isn’t lesson specific, per se. But even as we doing some activities with the book, and the kiddos were asking questions, I make a point to use positive feedback: “What a great question! Let’s see what we can learn about that!” Or “That’s a good observation; you looked really closely to see that!” I want to encourage their effort without making it about me and my “pride” or happiness in it– although I am both proud and happy when they are giving great attention and adding to their own learning!

Educate

Of course, “education” is something that can happen anytime, anywhere. We don’t have to plan or force it to happen. But in the “educate” category in my head is about me figuring what tools I need to give them and what goals I have for them. Basically, it’s asking myself what plates, napkins, silverware, and ingredients are needed for the “feast” that day. And just like every “feast”/buffet doesn’t have every single cuisine represented, I don’t think we need to feel the burden/obligation of making sure every. single.learning.moment has every single type of academic “food.” In other words– if I want to focus on science/nature during that time, I totally can without including fine arts and all the other things. 🙂

Here’s what I did after reading this book: I got out salt, sugar, and our little magnifying glasses. When my buddy asked how we knew the ants landed in salt, we used the book to answer that question for us– but then we decided to take a closer look at salt and sugar itself. It’s looks pretty similar when we look at it our “normal” way– but what if we take a closer look? At closer inspection, we can definitely see that salt and sugar AREN’T the same. We talked about the differences we could see with a little magnification– which ants would have naturally, being smaller and much closer and with different kinds of eyeballs!

We also did a taste test and observed those differences, too. 😉

Later that night for dinner, when we chatted about what we learned with daddy (hello, extra narration!), the kiddos were so excited to share what they learned– all on their own!

Meanwhile, I had plenty to jot down in my planner that day under “science.”

Enjoy

As I’m sure you can see, there were so many things that were “enjoyable” about what we had done so far that this “box” basically checked itself! Crawling around on the floor, tasting and seeing salt and sugar up close, and reading a fun book all felt and were enjoyable to my kiddos! However, you can always bump this up even more by pulling out any bug games you might have! We actually played a dice game called People Vs. the Ants. We played two variations of this: doubles and odds & evens.

We divided a paper in half and labeled one side People and the other Ants. The idea behind the game was that we are at a picnic and the ants are coming. If we win, we don’t have to move to a new picnic spot; and if the ants win, that means they took over our picnic and could eat all of our food. (Hello there again, Imagination!) Any time we rolled a double, we had to add them together, and that score was added to the ants side. Anytime it wasn’t a double, we added the score together and put it on the people side. Whoever got to 50 first, won! (We won, because we didn’t roll a lot of big doubles.)

We played it again with odds and evens. If the numbers rolled added up to evens, it was put in the People column, and if it added to an odd number, it was an ant score. (This game worked on head addition for my early elementary student, and my kinder boy is learning odds and evens, so he got to work on that, too!)

The kids got an extra dose of “enjoyment” because they love any kind of game… and I got something extra in the “math” section of the day.


Well friends, that’s it! That’s how I took this book and applied the Big 4 to it. If you are wanting to read Two Bad Ants and plug these ideas in, I hope you find your experience with them enchanting and delightful to your family… but more than that, I hope you see how the Big 4 are ideas that can be applied to any book and any day! They definitely help me to create an atmosphere of education in our home. 🙂



***
If you want to read more about the Big Four, go here, or watch this video that I recently did about it. 🙂


A little note: the amazon links in this post are affiliate links, which means you don’t pay any extra pennies if your buy through them, but I might. Maybe. 😉

The Big 4: my education (and life) essentials

If you go back over some of my education-themed posts (in the essential learning section), you’ll notice “the Big 4” pop up here and there. As a recap, my essentials— a checklist, if you will— that I try to incorporate while we learn together at home are: imagination, encouragement, education, and enjoyment.

In this new video, I chat more about what each of those look like during my day, give an example about how I used a living book to weave the 4 together, and most importantly, the big picture as to *why* I try to place each one purposefully in our day.

If you want some sort of structure to your learning time that leaves room for wonder, try using these 4 in your own home. I trust you will find them a beautiful way to think about and shape your time together. 💛

A fun game and a video hack: ways homeschooling has been easier this week

If you have been here for a while, you’ve heard me talk about “the Big 4” that I try to place within each homelearning day (or each lesson plan I create when I teach). Those big four include: imagination, encouragement, education (the actually content of the lesson), and enjoyment.

Instead of going through what that has looked like for us so far this week, I want to share with you how I’ve “repurposed” some ideas to keep things fresh– and therefore, fun– for my kiddos this week.

Last week, I introduced a scouting game for my kiddos, incorporating fox walking with stalking/tracking. The basic premise is this: someone stands in the middle of a yard/space with a blindfold (or promise of keeping their eyes closed <<good luck with that one, ha!>>) while the other players spread out several feet away from both each other AND the person in the middle (who is the animal being observed/stalked). The observers must quietly walk closer and closer to the person in the middle, and the first one to read and tap the person wins.

However… if the person in the middle hears a sound but can’t identify WHAT they heard, they turn towards the location of the sound, and people in that area have to freeze. If they make a sound while they are supposed to be frozen, they have to go back to their original location. Once the person in the middle hasn’t heard anything for a few seconds, they turn back around. If the person in the middle hears a sound and CAN identify it, they turn towards the sound, and say exactly what they heard (a stick break, a nose sniff, whatever), and the person has to go back to their original spot.

I played this with my kids as a part of their nature study last week and they LOVED it! We played it several times, and whoever tagged the middle person got to take their place. Since we played it, they have asked SEVERAL times to play it again.

That led me to thinking… how can this game be used in other ways?

Right now, we are concentrating on the Revolutionary War in history and have recently studied Francis Marion– aka “the Swamp Fox.” If you are familiar with the warfare of the South during that time, you know that it was not the traditional “line up in a battlefield nicely and all agree to start marching and maiming each other at the same time” kind of warfare that had been popular up until that point. The Southern Theater did NOT have the manpower or resources that the British in the area had… so they got creative.

I think you might be able to guess how this game evolved from science to history.

Yesterday, we went out into the yard… but the center player wasn’t an animal being stalked. It was the British in a swamp in the South, hoping not to be bombarded by the rumored Swamp Fox. The “stalkers” were now Continental militia… sneaking up for a surprise attack.

This picture is one of a series of murals done about Francis Marion. To read more, visit here.

The kiddos LOVED the variation… and it made incorporating enjoyment into the day easier to be able to tweak a game their already knew instead of finding a new activity to introduce and have them learn from scratch. (More time playing + less time explaining = more fun.)

(Bonus: the game can be played practically anywhere with no equipment. )

The second thing that I started doing a few weeks ago and did again this week was not be afraid to make my own videos to simplify our routine. We absorb a lot of literature and also believe in the benefit of committing things to our memories. In an ideal day, we’d be able to cover the memory work altogether with the original books… but that’s not the way things are sometimes. Instead, I make playlists on youtube and also in Amazon music that I can connect via bluteooth in the car or can pull up to play/review while waiting somewhere.

In making playlists, I’ve realized something. A pet peeve of mine is not being able to find brief recordings that make playlist making easy. I don’t want someone speaking for 10 minutes about a poem before getting to the recitation of it. And I also don’t want someone reading the poem in a flat voice, as I want my children to love the listening of it.

Recently, I’ve found some poems and info harder to find… so I’ve made them myself. These videos are completely amateur. No fancy movies or graphics. Just me, sometimes only me, reading. Sometimes, I’ve drawn little pictures to go along with my words. The key for me right now is for them to accomplish the purpose I have for them without taking a lot of time.

This is hard for me, friends.

Because when I want to do something, I want it to be my absolute best. I do.

And these videos that I make just aren’t.

BUT they serve the purpose, and they are a tool that I can actually use– versus waiting on all the time and energy it would take to do them “right.”

Maybe I’m beginning to see (and agree) with G.K. Chesterton more, the older I become: that “if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”

Meanwhile, if you are looking for a short little poem for your young children to memorize and just need a simply reading of it, feel free to use this 30 second version of A Child’s Song.

It won’t win any production awards, but it might just help you get the “job done.” 😉

storytelling: ideas to help our students narrate well

If you have come across Charlotte Mason at all in your research about homeschooling– or if you would describe your own homelearning style as Mason-leaning– the term “narration” is probably one you are familiar with.

There are a lot more articles and even books that go into a lot more detail about what narration is and why it is important, and I’m not going to re-invent the wheel here.

The point of this post isn’t to take the time to define what it IS, but to remember what it is NOT. Narration isn’t just a regurgitation of the facts or plot-line of the story. It isn’t just us getting to see what the student knows–or doesn’t. I mean, it CAN (and probably should) include both of those purposes. But that is not all it is.

The purpose of narration is an invitation– and invitation for the student to make the information, the story and the lessons and impacts of it… his or her own.

Because there are ALL types of learners, it stands to reason that there will be all types of storytellers and all kinds of ownership.

A danger that we can fall into when we ask our kids to narrate is to accept– and maybe even encourage, because of time, energy, etc– that we get the “easiest” version of narration from them: basically, a simple retelling. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a retelling… but sometimes, some learners own stories in different ways.

I have found that my oldest isn’t a fan of simply retelling– she wants to create something. She will use figurines, peg dolls, playdough, etc. to create scenes. She wants to put on little skits and give lines to her smaller siblings (bless their hearts, ha!). A simple re-telling? No thanks.

I think it is hard for us as parent-teachers to come up with narration ideas on the fly if our kiddos are being a bit… hesitant. Sometimes all our children need is a germ of an idea and the freedom to run with it.

So, I’ve made up some bookmarks to print out and place in your books and read-alouds. Your child can choose off of the list or you can have a fresh idea rotation, come narration time! Several of the ideas I tweaked from the following post by Simply Charlotte Mason, but I intermingled several ideas of my own that we have done over here. ❤

Happy storytelling, friends! May we be encouraged by how the power of story and living tellings of them shape our students and ourselves!

build a long rope: how to memorize long passages

It is said that “Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.” (It’s a Chinese proverb, I believe.)

Regardless of whether or not you are a fan of memorization, no one can ignore the fact that we do have to remember something/be able to recall it to actually learn it, apply it, and create with it. That’s one of the main reasons memorizing takes its place as the base of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Being able to recall facts creates the ability for a student– for all of us– to be able to begin wrapping our minds around it, applying it to our lives and situation, analyzing connections, evaluating what we are learning… with the hopes that we can create something new out of it.

We can talk forever about how our current educational system might rely too much on remembering, or mistake remembering for education itself… and I actually have strong thoughts and feelings about that: as a teacher in a classroom for years myself (high school and college), I have definitely felt very frustrated about how pre-assessing and assessing and post-assessing whether or not students learned content was basically just memory-based– when learning is so. much. more!

But that’s not the point of this post. 😀

The point is: we DO need memory. Memory is the foundation for us not just to remember things, but to work and play with information and thought and art in our own heads: to “follow us” by simply being with us. Within us.

I have memorized A LOT in my educational journey. Not just for tests and quizzes, but for performance. Part of my undergrad and graduate degree requirements were me, myself, and I creating and performing 50 minute to 1hr and 10 minute one-woman shows. That’s a LOT of memorization.

But the memorization was just the first step. It was the first way for me to get that text in my head… to trickle down into my heart. I can’t tell you how many times I would be rehearsing the memory in my head, and suddenly I would get light-bulb moments about what the text really meant and how I could perform it. Suddenly, I would understand the characters in the story or the lines in the poetry I didn’t– and wouldn’t– without having it secure in my mind first.

Memorizing passage– classical and religious– is something we do in our home because I believe in the value of having thoughts, not just words, shape the hearts and the minds of my children.

So, how do you do it? How do you learn long passages? And to take it one more step… how can you get your students to do it as you use it in your home and homelearning?

In this very “amateur” video (because I don’t have equipment and a fancy home studio or anything. Instead, you get to join me at my kitchen table with a chalkboard in the background, ha!), I go through what I have done, what you can do, and how you can adapt the long-passage memory technique for little people and slip it into your morning time easily.

When you watch the video, you’ll completely understand what I mean by building “a long rope,” and how easy it is to actually do it!

The Revolutionary War… “close to home” (with a free homeschool resource)

As term 2 of our school year comes to a close, I get the exciting privilege of planning our end-of-year home learning trip!

Our history with A Gentle Feast centered around the Revolutionary War this year. Initially, I had grand plans of driving up through VA and up into the Philly areas, hitting several of the things and areas that we had learned about: Mt. Vernon, Monticello, the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Betsy Ross museum… even up and over to Valley Forge. My brain was in high gear, planning all the things!

But then something else happened to hit a high, too.

Hello there, gasoline… I’m looking at you. :/

Between the high fuel prices and planning a long road trip to Texas later in the summer for a family wedding/reunion, it looks like we will be postponing that long trip for the next time we hit this history rotation. (My younger kids will be able to appreciate it more at that point anyway. Three is a little young to appreciate being in the same room that the Declaration was signed in, I think. Ha!)

Fortunately, my family lives in a state that was one of the original 13 colonies… so I started to really dig into the Revolutionary war close to home. I knew of a couple of battle fields quasi-close by, and knew that Nathanael Greene and the Swamp Fox had been up and around our state… but for living in this state all of my life (and going to state schools growing up), I was incredibly surprised about ALL of the Revolutionary history here in SC. (Truth be told, my memories in school of war and our state all seemed to be about the Civil War and fighting against our country vs. being a major contributor to its creation, but that’s another thought for another time.)

So now, my brain is back into high gear, plotting at least 5 battlefields and museums within an hour of our house… and planning an overnight closer to the coast.

I’m a huge fan of journaling and recording thoughts, questions, etc., as they come up… and find that my 3rd grader still needs a few prompts to help her write out her observations. I went ahead and designed some pages for our days out and about for her to use to help document what she learns along the way.

For fellow South Carolina homeschool/homelearning families, I’d love to have you use the pages I created to document your own trek of learning across our state. Just download and use the pdf below!

I’m going to share a few super helpful links below if you are interested in plotting your own weekend field trips! (Click the images for more information.) The Southern Campaign Animated Map is great for a general overview/review… but the other links below are geared towards an Piedmont/Upstate focus of the state’s involvement. I’m hoping to do a part 2 of it with more of a midland and coastal focus, if/when we get around to doing that soon.


Piedmont/Upstate Areas of Interest

Ninety Six National Historic Site
South Carolina Museum of Revolutionary War History
Battle of Musgrove Hill State Historic Site
Kings Mountain National Military Park
Cowpens National Battlefield

L is for the way…

January is fading fast, friends.

It’s super crazy how fast the month has gone. The stores went straight from Christmas to Valentines two weeks ago, bless it!

And even though I’m not going to buy the pink-iced cupcakes on the endcaps at the store, I can still take a hint: it’s time to start preparing.

I’ll admit: we do like to stretch our holidays a little bit over here– even more so with this one, since we felt like Christmas fun was cut short. (Thanks, Covid.)

Anyhoo, I’ve gone ahead and compiled a week’s worth of activities and ideas. Use one or use them all– totally up to you! The underlines link up to videos, recipes, and suggested items to check out, in case you don’t have random craft stuff jammed in drawers like we do. Ha!

Want the actual links to work? Ha! Here’s a pdf download with all the clickables!

I’ll be bluntly honest; we might not do every thing I have on this little weekly calendar, but I do plan on doing several. A sure-thing though, is our “I love you” fondue. We have done that every Valentine’s Day for 3 years now, and we are keeping that for, oh, forever. (My husband and I don’t actually like to go out on the actual date because it’s just too crowded and all of that. Instead, we celebrate love together as a family on the 14th– and the hubs and I head out the weekend after, when it is a bit easier to find a sitter and a seat at a restaurant. 😉 #worksmarternotharder)

Here’s wishing you a day, a week, a whole month full of sweet moments and memories of loving well. ❤

Loop scheduling: how we ensure family culture and our “gentle feast”

Each day, we spend a chunk of time learning together. Our mornings always include Bible time, hymn/folk/foreign song singing, and Bible memory… and we loop through other subjects. Right now, we loop through habit training, poet/poetry study, etiquette, fables, composer/music study, and art/artist study.

Yesterday morning, we talked about the etiquette of making others feel welcome— through simple acts like smiling, waving, saying hello, and introducing ourselves well to new people we meet.

We practiced hellos and introductions… and then made tasty smiles, just to be funny. 😂

Days don’t hold enough time to do all.the.things. Incorporating a loop schedule in our morning together time gives me the assurance that we will slowly and surely cover things that are important to the “gentle feast” I want to offer to my children, as well as foster a family culture that (I hope 🙏🏻) will have a lasting impact.

What’s important to you and your family culture that you weave into your days?