• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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Another Charlotte Mason resource

I’ve been meaning to write this post for several months now, which of course means I’m behind and I apologize.

Penny Gardner, author of The Charlotte Mason Study Guide, who has been a long-time home educator sharing her wisdom through her writings and seminars, is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Study Guide with an expanded and revised edition. Also available now is a secular version. Each guide is available for $5 as a digital e-book to download.

And don’t miss Penny’s nature journaling page or her wonderful lists — of general links and living books and nature links and books.

Speaking of a secular approach to Charlotte Mason, there’s also a secular CM group at Yahoo. From the group description,

“We have no expectations that you are of any particular faith, or any faith at all, nor that you have read (and digested) in full the collected and/or abridged and/or modernized works of Charlotte Mason; dabblers and dilettantes are welcomed and encouraged. We do, however, expect tolerance, respect, civility, a general open-mindedness, a genial sense of humor, and a willingness to share information and resources (especially whenever you hear of twaddle-free literature on sale).”

Grammar resources

I’ve been remiss in not posting about the latest Growing with Grammar program by my friend Tamela Davis, for Grade 5. More good stuff for home educating families looking for more choice. And more Growing with Grammar posts and reviews (for Grades 1&2, 3, and 4) here, here, and here.

I’m a big fan of Patricia T. O’Conner‘s Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, which I consider an essential reference, but wasn’t much impressed by the recent Woe Is I Jr.: The Younger Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, which I found tried too hard to appeal to kids, overly laden with references to popular children’s culture, from Shrek to Lemony Snicket and, of course, Harry Potter, with Garfield the Cat thrown in for good measure, as if to recognize that yes, grammar is indeed a vile thing (though not vile in a good sense like noxiously flavored jelly beans) and like broccoli must be dressed up with Cheez Whiz. My Spidey sense/hip-trendy-ironic parent alert started quivering as soon as I read Garrison Keillor’s “This is, like, cool” on the cover. Oh dear. Borrow it from the library, but to buy for your son’s or daughter’s desk I’d definitely consider handing anyone age 12 and up a copy of O’Conner’s original Woe Is I. While you’re at it, add a copy of her Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes Should Know about Writing, too. Both breezy and informal and not at all overwhelming, And not twee, either.

And much as I enjoyed Lynne Truss‘s Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, the illustrated children’s versions so far — last year’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference! and this year’s The Girl’s Like Spaghetti: Why, You Can’t Manage without Apostrophes! — have left the kids and me a bit cold. Though I have no doubt that Penguin/Putnam is enjoying parceling out the ideas from the original in 32-page picture books; I believe the hyphen is up next. Stay tuned. As an aside, Laura (age 10) has found the Eats, Shoots & Leaves 2008 Day to Day Calendar, meant for adults I think, more intriguing and appealing than the picture books.

The grammar reference book that seems to get the most use around here by the kids is The Usborne Guide to Better English by Robyn Gee and Carolyn Watson; it’s what Usborne calls a “bind-up” of its three books on grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and like some of the publisher’s books it’s also “Internet-linked”. It doesn’t seem to be in print in the U.S. anymore, though it is in Canada; perhaps check with your friendly Usborne rep. A book this good and helpful should certainly be more widely available. It is, indeed, included on the Plain English Campaign suggested reading list.

Americans will find in the Usborne Guide some noticeable differences — in some of the spelling and terminology (what we call a period the British call a “full stop”, which does make good sense, especially when you’re teaching youngsters to read) — but nothing insurmountable. Lighthearted without being silly or goofy, and illustrated with small cartoons and comic strips, the book is full of easy explanations and handy dandy tricks; Davy particularly appreciates the following in the section on nouns: “Nouns can usually have the, or a, or an in front of them. Try putting the in front of the words on the right to find out which of them are nouns.” (saucepan, finger, happy, rocket, sometime, heat, daffodil, never, sky, have)

Science with Tom Edison

John Holt, on helping a very young boy learn the names of different words, from How Children Learn:

I was careful, when I told him the name of something, not to tell him as if it were a lesson, something he had to remember. Nor did I test him by saying, “What’s this? What’s that?” This kind of checking up is not necessary, and it puts a child in a spot where he will feel that, if he says the wrong thing, he has done wrong and is in the wrong. I have seen kindly, well-meaning parents do this to young children, hoping to help them learn. Almost every time the child soon took on the kind of tense, tricky expression we see on so many children’s faces in school, and began the same sad old business of bluffing, guessing, and playing for hints. Even in the rare case when a child does not react this defensively to questions, too much quizzing is likely to make him begin to think that learning does not mean figuring out how things work, but getting and giving answers that please grownups.

* * * *

A bit of a confession here from the would-be well-trained Farm School.

Literature-based studies work very well for us, especially for English (what newfangled types call “language arts”), and history. But literature-based science studies have been a bust. First, following The Well-Trained Mind‘s suggestions, with one discipline a year, life science or earth science/astronomy or chemistry or physics, and heavy on the narrating (with written “Narration Pages”) and notebooking (with written “Experiment Pages”). Then, in an effort to make things easier for myself, with more formal programs (Great Science Adventures, Living Learning Books), with fiddly little make-your-own booklets and worksheets. After a while, it occurred to me that while teaching science was more pleasurable for me this way, it wasn’t an interesting or effective way for my kids to learn. In fact, this rather bloodless approach was sucking the fun and fascination out of what would otherwise be very fun and fascinating subjects and ideas. They’re good books and curriculum, just not right for my kids, right now.

After a year or so of mulling the subject, a year in which we unschooled science and the kids learned a good deal (not to difficult to do in the country on the farm when dinnertime conversation tends to revolve around plant and animal genetics anyway) and in which I carefully studied Rebecca Rupp’s Complete Home Learning Sourcebook and read all sorts of things, including Natalie Angier’s new The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science, I realized that young Tom Edison didn’t have programs, curriculum, or lesson plans. No sirree. He just burned down barns and boxcars with his experiments and exasperated his teacher before being sent home to his mother for his education.

I knew we’d have to move away from a well-laid out, book-heavy program for my own sake — ever so much easier to plan and co-ordinate — to a more hands-on method for the sake of my kids (ages 10, eight-and-a-half, and almost seven) — not quite so easy to plan and co-ordinate — to keep them excited about and interested in science, before it turns into incomprehensible drudgery. And dare I say it and sound like an unschooler, but often the kids’ best lessons, and when they learn the most, is when things aren’t Planned – And – Co-ordinated. Of course not. That would be too easy.

This coming year, after much thought and reading, we’re trying something new — heavy on the experiments and experimenting, light on lab reports, narration, and even reading, especially when it comes to biographies and “the history of science” stuff, which I adore but which the kids regard as frilly extras. I figure there’s plenty of time for that later. What there’s little time for now, though, is hooking the kids on the magic and fun of science. And instead of spending the entire year on one facet of science — chemistry or physics or biology, etc. — which the kids with their many interests lose patience with quickly, we’re going to do both chemistry and physics, with the usual natural history thrown in, too; if we were following the WTM framework, we’d be starting our second, more in-depth study of biology, which just might send everyone here around the bend. As far as I was concerned, that wasn’t even an option, though I was sorely tempted by Noeo Science for chemistry and/or physics, but in the end realized I didn’t want us to be constrained by someone else’s lesson plans, though I have found some wonderful book suggestions on Noeo’s reading list (including, from Physics I, Rubber-Band Banjos and Java Jive Bass, How Do You Lift a Lion? which I mentioned the other day; Fizz, Bubble & Flash; and and from Physics II, Gizmos and Gadgets: Creating Science Contraptions That Work (& Knowing Why)).

So here is the non-plan for science this year:

Chemistry:
I’m going to take a page from Tom Edison and let the kids become boy and girl wizards. Messy, our-flasks-and-test-tubes-bubble-over experiments galore, no lab notes, and minimal books, mostly for experiments:

the old and dangerous Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments (which I wrote about here several months ago). Lynx at One-Sixteenth is using The Golden Book too, so we’ll be able to compare bangs and booms shortly.

Our old out-of-print How and Why Wonder Book of Chemistry by Martin L. Keen

Two older Dover books already on the shelf: Entertaining Science Experiments With Everyday Objects by Martin Gardner and Chemical Magic by Leonard A. Ford and E. Winston Grundmeier

Mr. Wizard’s World six-DVD set; though I think I’ll ask Tom to help the day we electrocute the hot dog.

There are so many good experiment books available, new and out-of-print, including a number by Mr. Wizard, aka Don Herbert, and even a dandy Thomas Edison one); I decided to go with what we already have on the shelf.

Physics:
I ordered the K’NEX Simple Machines Set, and I plan to keep it in the living room and let the kids loose with it, with minimal assistance and guidance from me. Mechanically-minded Daniel will have a field day,

On the bookshelf, just in case:

Physics in a Hardware Store and Physics in a Housewares Store, both by Robert Friedhoffer and both out of print but which I found easily and cheaply secondhand; recommended in Rebecca Rupp’s Complete Home Learning Sourcebook. I can’t think of a better way to involve Tom’s carpentry experience and the kids’ love of tools with basic physics principles. And while we’re in the kitchen with the housewares, we can make use of kitchen scientist Harold McGee’s Curious Cook website — “exploring the science of food and its transformations”.

And on the reference shelf, if the kids want more information, though I will try not to push it, because I know that while I prefer to read about science, my kids prefer to live it:

How to Think Like a Scientist by Stephen P. Kramer and illustrated by Felicia Bond

David Macaulay’s The Way Things Work, and the related DVD series which I found in the library system; 26 discs, 13 minutes each.

* * *

I’ll wait to see how this year goes before planning any more science. If the approach works this year with the kids, I have my eye on a couple of books following the same approach for the high school years, Hands-On Physics Activities with Real-Life Applications: Easy-to-Use Labs and Demonstrations for Grades 8-12 by Cunningham and Herr, and Hands-On Chemistry Activities with Real-Life Applications: Easy-to-Use Labs and Demonstrations for Grades 8-12 by Herr and Cunningham. I think the latter would be well paired with the Thames & Kosmos Chem C3000, which looks like one of the better chemistry sets available in these toothless times.

Just a bit more from John Holt on How Children Learn:

There is a special sense in which it may be fair to say that the child scientist is a less efficient thinker than the adult scientist. He is not as good at cutting out unnecessary and useless information, at simplifying the problem, at figuring out how to ask questions whose answers will give him the most information. Thus, a trained adult thinker, seeing a cello for the first time, would probably do in a few seconds what it takes a child much longer to do — bow each of the strings, to see what sounds they give, and then see what effect holding down a string with the left hand has on the sound made by that string. That is, if — and it is a very big if — he could bring himself to touch the cello at all. Where the young child, at least until his thinking has been spoiled by adults, has a great advantage is in situations — and many, even most real life situations are like this — w here there is so much seemingly senseless data that it is impossible to tell what questions to ask. He is much better at taking in this kind of data; he is better able to tolerate its confusion; and he is much better at picking out the patterns, hearing the faint signal amid all the noise. Above all, he is much less likely than adults to make hard and fast conclusions on the basis of too little data, or having made such conclusions, to refuse to consider any new data that does not support them. And these are the vital skills of thought which, in our hurry to get him thinking the way we do, we may very well stunt or destroy in the process of educating him.

(L at Schola has been reading John Holt too.)

* * *

Other recent Farm School science mutterings, natterings, and ramblings:

More food for thought: connections and disconnections

Science summer school

In search of freedom and independence, and big bangs

The beautiful basics of science

Getting there is more than half the fun

I had meant to write about our new game (and a bunch of other things) shortly after returning from our trip the other month to visit my parents, and now that it’s homeschool convention/ curriculum fair season, I thought I’d better get moving.

On our trip we were lucky to get the chance to catch up with a dear family friend, my English fairy godmother. One of the many gifts with which she showered the kids was the board game 10 Days in Europe, great fun for all of us to play; even though it’s labelled “Ages 10 to Adult”, six-and-a-half year-old Davy has no problem and fancies himself a junior travel agent. You can play with two to four players or two to four teams (teams of two work very well). One thing I especially like the game, after enduring the seemingly endless Monopoly games of my childhood, is that 10 Days takes only about half an hour to play, just the right amount of time with younger children.

Reading through the instructions and checking the maker’s website, I was surprised to learn that 10 Days in Europe is from Out of the Box Publishing, which just happens to make Apples to Apples, one of the more popular games in homeschooling circles.

Just as Apples to Apples comes in several varieties (Apples to Apples Kids for ages 7 and up, Apples to Apples Junior for ages 9 and up, Yiddish/ German/ Jewish/ British Isles — but sadly no French — editions, one with Customizable Cards which could even be turned into a Latin or ancient Greek version, and an LDS version under development), so too do the 10 Days games. In addition to 10 Days in Europe, OTB offers:

10 Days in Asia (covering Asia, Australia, and New Zealand)
10 Days in the USA
10 Days in Africa

After enough 10 Days trips, you might be interested in another OTB game, Shipwrecked. The OTB website is well worth a search to see the variety of their games, retailers, and international distributors. Lucky Americans can find Out of the Box games directly from OTB (free ground shipping with orders of at least $14.99) as well as at Barnes & Nobles, Borders, Booksamillion, and Target. I’m considering buying a few of the other 10 Days games, and think I’ll ask my favorite Canadian homeschool supplier/vendor if she’d be interested in bringing them in for me.

No, I don’t get a penny from this recommendation. Just the possibility of a few more friends to play with whenever we get together in real life.

These days, with most actual travel downright daunting and unpleasant, where it often feels as if you’re spending 10 days in airport security lines, what better way to travel than in the comfort of your own home? Especially when, if you miss your connection, you can get a snack from the fridge while you wait.

Children’s entertainment that isn’t prechewed

One of the joys of traipsing in and out of Toronto’s Pearson Airport over a weekend is being able to stock up on the Saturday editions of The Globe & Mail and National Post, and the Sunday edition of The New York Times. In the G&M book review, I found a brief mention of the new title, The Best Old Movies for Families: A Guide to Watching Together by Ty Burr. The Christian Science Monitor’s review calls it “an excellent guide for parents looking for entertainment that isn’t prepackaged, pre-sold, and prechewed”. Also according to the CSM, “The Boston Globe film critic has a reputation as “The Man Who Showed ‘The Seven Samurai’ to His Kids. And They Liked It.” Which means that I’m pretty sure that Mr. Burr and I — the mother who showed her preschool children “The Magnificent Seven” and then bought them the soundtrack CD, and whose three kids dressed up as Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers, and Harpo Marx last Halloween — would get along just fine.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, the kids’ choice (thanks, Grandpapa), before dinner. And more thanks for the 1959 Kenneth More version of “The 39 Steps”, enjoyed by everyone last night.

Some of my favorite homeschooling with movies resources include, in no particular order:

Leonard Maltin’s annual Movie & Video Guide; the link is for the 2004 edition, which is the most recent one I have.

Leslie Halliwell’s Filmgoer’s Companion; the Amazon page suggests that this book has been “superseded” by Ephraim Katz’s The Film Encyclopedia, which I just might try to find at the library, since my copy of Halliwell’s is falling apart.

Rebecca Rupp’s Complete Home Learning Sourcebook, which lists movies for the various subjects, including math and science.

Paula’s Archives Movies for History list, a nifty list

Patrick Cooney’s list of Historical Movies in Chronological Order

Growing with Grammar 4 is here!

Great good news from my friend Tamy Davis at Growing with Grammar: she’s finished with Growing Grammar 4, for fourth graders! Laura enjoyed using GWG3 this past year, and is looking forward to the next book. My Farm School review of GWG3 is here.

Don’t forget, Canadians can find GWG at Academic Distribution Services (ADS) in B.C. The new volume was only just released, so ADS may not have it just yet.

I don’t get any commission for spreading the word about Tamy’s new series — I just get a solid, grammar program for my kids, one that independent readers can use more or less on their own, and one that even reluctant writers won’t find too taxing. And it’s secular, too, which means you can spend your time teaching and learning instead of tinkering. Thanks, Tamy.

Growing with Grammar, now in Canada

Just received the latest homeschool curriculum catalogue from the folks at Academic Distribution Services (ADS) in B.C. and am delighted to see that they now carry Growing with Grammar/Grade 3, on page 19, and at a price of $37.50 CAN (for the student manual, workbook, and answer key), which compares very, very favorably with the GWG website price of $29.99 US.

While GWG isn’t on the ADS website yet, you can request a free catalogue here or by calling 1-800-276-0078. Worth noting is the annual Spring sale on now until the end of June, which features no GST and free shipping on orders over $200. This is when I usually stock up on Singapore math and Explode the Code workbooks.

No, I don’t get a commission from GWG (or ADS), but author Tamy Davis, a homeschooling mother of two, is a friend, and, most importantly, with three kids I have a vested interest in a rigorous, enjoyable, and secular grammar program. My full, pleased-as-punch review from November still stands, and Laura and I are both looking forward to the release of the new Grade 4 material in the fall.

Growing with Grammar: a review

A friend of mine, Tamy Davis, has just finished her new third grade grammar book, Growing with Grammar, the first in what will be a series. Homeschoolers, especially secular homeschoolers in search of a rigorous grammar program, will be delighted.

Since we were lucky enough to be part of the test group, we’ve been using the program now for about a month. I, and others who’ve already started using the program, have shared our thoughts on it here, in a testimonial at the GWG website, and here, in a review at The Denim Jumper.

The timing of the test group couldn’t have been better. Laura had been working in Rod & Staff’s Beginning Wisely grammar program since September. While grammar is one of her favorite subjects, she was beginning to balk at the the unending religious references, even when we changed names to brothers, aunts, favorite dolls, and book and movie characters. I had thought that we could work with R&S knowing that it was religious but not proselytizing. I had hoped that we could, because I really want something thorough for the kids.

Tamy saved our bacon. I had hoped secretly in my heart that GWG would be “as good as” R&S’s highly touted (even by secular hs’ers) program. Guess what? It’s better, yes, better. This, aside from the secular aspect — which means it can be used by families of any faith or no faith — is why:

— it doesn’t involve a lot of writing, which is especially nice for reluctant writers. But the exercises are incredibly thorough, and include a lot of review of previously covered material (and each exercise contains references to the original lesson in the manual, so you or your child can go back for more review if necessary). In fact, the 230-page workbook is just seven pages shorter than the manual. How’s that for thorough? But it’s fun, sort of like a Mad Libs book but educational and not disjointed or overly silly. The student exercises are a combination of rewriting sentences as well as underlining, checking or circling the right answer, and completing sentences with a few extra words.

— both the manual and workbook are spiral-bound, so they lie flat on the table. Why should something so small make me so happy? Because books that flop shut of their own volition despite your best efforts do not make for extended, happy, learning periods. And the spiral-bound workbook is bound at the top, which makes it very nice if you have a lefty. I have a lefty and two righties, so this is much appreciated.

— there’s no teacher’s guide, because one isn’t needed. Just the manual, which you read through with your child, and the student workbooks. Very nice to get your budding grammarian doing more independent work.

I’ll give Laura the last word: “I like that the activity pages [workbook] are fun, I can work on them by myself, and it’s about kids like me and families like mine.” And she’s getting a solid foundation in third grade grammar. Sold!