Revisiting Ambleside Online

KIMG1030
I was not going to buy books. I just wanted to look. ūüėź

Well, it’s that time of year again. I have been working for days trying to get a schedule going for 4. Yes, Mr. Little is not so little and will actually need to have a schedule of his own. I am so glad we are doing a Charlotte Mason styled learning, I would hate to think how things would be going otherwise. A CM styled learning allows me to teach more than one child without me going crazy. (I am going to apologize here for the lack of pictures, I have not gone out too much lately for one beautiful boy had a bike accident and now has one leg all straight in a cast. A black one. In 100 degree heat. ūüėź ¬†)

I still remember sitting down at the computer 5 summers ago. I was just not finding what I wanted. Money was a big issue, and anything I wanted to do cost money. I remember the boys were at a camp, with one little one at home, and I spent all morning on the computer. Searching. ¬†I remember noting somewhere that I saw “Free” written beside a link. It was not what I was looking for (so I thought), but it had been several hours and I had nothing, that after I exhausted the page for what I thought I was wanting, I decided to go back for I might as well look at whatever that was that had “Free” written beside it. It was one of the most amazing things I could have done. No, it was one of the most wonderful gifts from Hashem.

At that point I had three boys learning, with one who just started walking. I started reading. I honestly felt my heart racing. I clicked from page to page, reading everything I could read. The whole concept of whatever I was reading really felt good. I remember thinking, “This is what I want for my kids! This teaches middos (character traits)! I can have time for all my kids!” Whatever this was was a G-d based curriculum that was geared to raising well rounded children with good middos.

I typed to my husband about it and sent him some links, saying that I found something really neat! No, I don’t intend on doing this, don’t worry, but it is so interesting and so what I am looking for! (So why was I not going to do? I am not sure, but I knew it was not for me. *cough*) I went to see him at lunch time and again, briefly told him about this so interesting new thing (I still was not sure what it was), and knew I was not going to do it but it was so interesting!

After lunch, I had to go back and read everything again and then again. I just could not stop. By the time I had to get my boys from camp, the decision was made. Whatever this was, and I was still not quite sure what it was, for it was a very different kind of way of teaching, this *thing*, this is what we are going to do. This is what I need. The schedule was all laid out IMG_20150810_082138for me, in a way that made it so easy to use with our family, most of the books I needed were available for free, linked to right from¬†the website, for they were out of copyright books, and the best thing is that it was free. The philosophy so matched our family. ¬†This is what I always wanted for my kids. And bonus, there was minimal work in preparation needed from me for there was even a weekly schedule set out to follow. I texted my husband. I felt so relieved and so happy. I cried¬†all day, from the first time that morning that I started to read, and even for days afterwards I was crying. It was all wonderful, except I had one obstacle. It was Thursday. We were supposed to start school on Monday. Just 4¬†days. And¬†don’t forget¬†a Shabbos in the middle so no reading, learning or preparation then! To top it off, I had no clue how to implement the teaching.¬†That was not going to stop me. We started our year of schooling on time.

This was the beginning of our journey with Ambleside Online.  The year was strange. I had never heard of Charlotte Mason nor of her teachings, and frankly, in the 4 days between first hearing about it and starting school, I was busy getting books printed, and preparing for Shabbos. After that, I was busy trying to teach. I did not get to do my due diligence and really understand. It took me a year to really figure out how we were supposed to learn with this new method, and by the second year I was definitely getting the hang of it and as I was understanding, my love for CM learning increased.

As it often happens, once we get into a routine, we keep chugging away. I have enjoyed learning with the boys. I really enjoy the books, though for the later years I do not get to read most of them. There are several that I would love to read, however, I might have to be content to wait until the boys have gotten older so I have the time to read. I was preparing for this coming year when AO’s Facebook page started getting really active. They have a forum, but I don’t normally go to that, and I tend to just stick with Facebook. All the wonderful questions and comments and even the help-me’s got me thinking again. I know my boys need more outside time, and besides the 105 degree weather we had for a while, there really is no excuse not to send them outside. We have not done the art or composer study (yes, I’m a musician… don’t ask, that is for another time,) and we have not done too much with the nature study or walks, though I have taken the boys out more and more each year.

I want to add more, but it is hard. It finally donned on me today why it’s hard. Yes, there are Bible readings and other religious books read, and all I have to do is replace them with our Chumash, gemara, mishnayos, dikduk and whatever else we are doing. However, when I looked at it, I realized that really, we are doing a lot more than what is¬†laid out, which takes away time from doing other things. I don’t feel so bad anymore, but I really do want to do more, and I figured it out. I have figured out how to add in music lessons that the boys have asked for but I have failed to follow through with… each year… and I have figured out how to add nature study and our walks in every week. I am about ready to add in composers and their music – I’m almost done printing out short biographies of various composers – and I think I finally have a timeline and a Book of Centuries (a timeline for older children) that will finally work for us. I¬†don’t think I KIMG1023can add in more, but it is all well. I do not consider the rest necessary for our lives and that is just fine. I have been doing some reading and getting chizuk (encouragement) from other AO members on the Facebook page. I was telling my husband about the nature studies I am adding and I told him I just feel so relaxed and happy about it all. I am still not quite sure how I want to do it, but that is fine, there are various ways and we will use trial and error to find out what works for us.

As we start our 5th year with AO, I am feeling more confident than ever. I almost feel like I am starting fresh and new. I guess I am. It’s a new learning year and I am ready with new thoughts and ideas to bring to our lessons that I hope will help make our children more well rounded and ready for whatever they intend to do in the (near – yikes!!!) future.

Wishing all of you a wonderful learning year!

A Full Week!

Wow, the middle of October and hard to believe that we only just finished a full week of school!¬† It’s been a tough week for boys for as soon as school work was finished, off to selling popcorn.¬† Baruch Hashem most of the time we were inside, though Baruch Hashem it has been wonderful out here!¬† I did have the next two days scheduled inside the JCC, but I think we have exhausted the crowd there and I will give some boys a happy break from selling popcorn so they can work on their Foliage Raking elective.¬† It has been hard to get outside when it is light when we come home at sunset time.¬† Our yard is wonderfully colored right now, but if we wait much longer I am afraid it will not and instead it will be dull and gloomy looking.

Even with the extra-curricular activity of socialization with selling popcorn, I have been able to spend some time outside getting my exercise with bike rides.¬† Daddy was even home one day to go out with me, which was an extra bonus. ūüôā¬† I am not really looking forward to the diminishing light, however, on the flip side, the children have been going to sleep a little easier since they do not have the light shining in!¬† Baruch Hashem I moved south after getting married so the sun sets before 11pm in the summer…….

Over the last 4 months or so I have been going to a friend’s house to learn with a few other friends.¬† We are reading “Garden of Emuna (faith/belief)” by Rabbi Shalom Arush.¬† We read a few pages each week and talk about it, taking turns discussing and asking questions.¬† It is a nice heimishe group.¬† Over the last few weeks, I have noticed a change.¬† I do feel a closer connection to our Creator, and I find I am looking at things with a slightly new twist.¬† I enjoy the weekly getaway, and I feel better about myself and life in general.¬† I was wondering how I could instill the new feeling of emuna into my boys while they are young instead of waiting for them to get older to read such a book.¬† It is hard for children to really feel and learn some spiritual concepts while young, but it is so very important.

(Note: This book is not recommended for girls who are in school/seminary until after they have been married for a while Рthey need to be out in the real world a bit.  I would assume it would be similar for boys, though it is harder for me to tell for I was never a boy!)

To create emuna, one needs to have a connection to Hashem. Someone in our group told a nice parable.  A father had two daughters.  The first daughter was given a credit card and was told she could purchase anything she wanted.  The only condition was that she call before buying anything, but she was welcome to purchase anything.  The second daughter was given a credit card and told she could purchase anything.

The first daughter would find something and call, “Hi Dad, I found this nice skirt, and the price is right.”¬† “Sure, enjoy!”¬† The father always agreed to whatever she purchased.¬† The second daughter would find something and buy it.¬† No call.¬† She was not told to call.¬† At the end of the year, the first daughter had a much closer relationship with her father for she called all the time to touch base and the second daughter never called.

I want our boys to have a similar connection to their Father in Heaven as the first daughter.  Yes, I try to show by example, but I do not show everything I feel.  I do not verbalize all the times I thank Hashem for the little things, and they are not there when I cry out to Hashem to help me with rough days.  So, we have begun a new thing.  At least once a day, at various times in the day, I will sit down with all of them and ask each one of them to tell us for what they are thankful to Hashem for today.  At first it was hard for some of them, and yes, they would sometimes repeat what a brother before him had said, but they are slowly getting the idea.  It does not matter to me what they are thankful for and it does not matter how small the item is.  Actually, sometimes I think it is great that they come up with such tiny things to be thankful for because then they understand that everything is from Hashem, not just the big stuff, and will have a better understanding that Hashem is with them everywhere and at all times.

Today I asked for two things from each boy.  We were eating supper at the time.  I had made a double batch of split pea soup in the crock pot today and each boy, for one of his two things, said they were thankful for the pea soup that they were eating Рand they each had a huge smile on their face!  *love*  I am doing somethings right! (And yes, each of the 4 boys had a second helping!)

The boys do like their Rebbe, and the Rabbi does offer a nice range of classes, but I only have one boy in a class at a time usually.  So, that means that not all the boys get all the classes.  It is not all that bad, for some of the classes I make up by teaching myself, and others I plan on having the younger ones take in future years when I age the older one out.  I do this for various reasons, mainly because I need to have time to teach all the boys, and if they are all taking most of the classes, then I would not have time to teach them all everything for they are all on different levels and time is a slight factor!

I feel it is best to teach the boys a couple more combined classes, similar to how we do parsha.¬† The thing is, I want something that is interesting that could be taught in small doses.¬† It keeps their interest better so that way they will hopefully remember more.¬† Davening is always something that is hard to do unless you know what you are saying.¬† I did find a nice tefillah curriculum that had 24 short lessons on chinuch.org.¬†The lessons are to be done one a week. Something simple, but yet helps all the boys learn just a bit at a time, a nice small bite sized amount.¬† I like small amounts spread over a long period of time.¬† That is how we do our secular studies.¬† The idea is that time gives the person time to think about what was learned and gives the subconscious time to mull things over and to solidify the thoughts and ideas.¬† I have seen how this works well in many cases.¬† Last year I had a son discuss a reading with me and while he was talking to me he told me, “they did not say in this book, but in the other book we read they also mentioned xxx.”¬† It was so nice to hear him take things from various sources and put them together to create a whole picture and he was so excited to be able to do that for me and without me even prompting!

I’m signing off here to do some exercising before bed!

Our Vacation During Non-Vacation Week

!◊ě◊©◊†◊õ◊†◊° ◊ź◊ď◊® ◊ě◊®◊Ď◊ô◊Ě ◊Ď◊©◊ě◊ó◊Ē
When Adar enters, happiness increases!

It’s Rosh Chodesh Adar, and there is a lot of good mazal (“luck” – for lack of a better word, when I find one, I’ll replace it) in this month. ¬†We are told this month is a good month for success – if one needs to start a new business, get a new job, or just needs success in other matters, this is the month to start things. ¬†(Permission was encouraged by the artist for everyone to share the image to encourage the spirit of Purim!)

This week was vacation week for the public (and some private) schools. ¬†It was not supposed to be a vacation week over here. ¬†The nice thing about homeschooling is that we get to pick our vacation, and it does not have to correspond to what anyone else is doing. ¬†However, for a non-vacation week, it sure turned out more like a vacation week – that too is the beauty of homeschooling. ¬†We get to change our plans and have unexpected “vacation”, and just make up for it later, either by not taking a vacation at a later date, or by adding a few days onto our school calendar.

Not quite sure what we did at the beginning of the week, but the boys had a few days off from their learning with their Rebbe (room613.net), and on Monday we got most of our learning done in 2 hours Рall three boys!  We learned something new Рone of my boys is a late reader, and begged me to let him do his reading opposed to having me do all his reading for him.

Tuesday I decided it was time to clean. ¬†It was a hard morning. ¬†I have one child who, because of his personality and his wonderful attributes, just cannot clean! ¬†It does not matter what creative way I try, it is like pulling teeth to get him to do anything. ¬†I have to say, I personally clean his room several times a year when I get fed up with it and fed up with trying to get it clean otherwise. ¬†Last time I did it was about a month ago when I bought some nice Closet Maid cubbies, along with the cloth baskets to go inside, thinking if there was something to store things in, it would help, at least a little. ¬†But this time the room was worse than ever. After all the other boys and I cleaned the rest of the house, and after trying for 3 hours to get him to clean, I went in and spent an hour cleaning. ¬†I thought the funny part was when he came in and huffed and fell on top of the bed complaining that he does all the work in the house (as I’m finishing up cleaning his room!) ¬†I was not quite sure what to say to him at that point.¬† Our house is still fairly clean (and surprisingly so is this boy’s room!)

Yesterday we had to go to the scout store to get needed items for all the boys (and even the 2 year old). ¬†Anyone who has boys and lives in the US, Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts is definitely recommended! (There are only 2 countries in the world that do NOT have co-ed Scouts – the US and I *think* South Africa — definitely not Canada nor Israel). ¬†The scout store is like a totally kosher candy store. ¬†Normally, the boys need to look for hechshers (kosher symbols) on the candy, but in a totally kosher candy store, the only limit is what I say. ¬†Same goes for a toy store. ¬†Normally I say “NO” to most things the boys ask me (and ¬†then I feel like a bad mom), however, in the scout store, I just let them roam around and “oo” and “ahhh” at everything on the shelves and then pick out what they want.

All three boys sold a lot of (kosher) popcorn as a fundraiser for scouting (totaling¬†around $4000 worth of popcorn! Yeah boys!) ¬†For prizes, they each got gift cards. ¬†Two boys chose cards for the scout store… and yesterday was D-Day. ¬†So, we made 3 different kinds of slime, I have a 2 year old who was excited for his “TV” ¬†(translation: ATV – All Terrain Vehicle) that was made of wood that he will be painting this afternoon. ¬†I had string tied across my living room and had space derby vehicles whizzing by. ¬†I have 2 bear bells that keep dinging around the house (yes – bear bells — bells to wear in the woods when there might be a bear, and since I could not come up with a good reason not to get them, they got them for of course, the scout motto is “Be Prepared!”) ¬†I actually felt like the stereotypical “Homeschool Parent” (see the image on my previous post!)

Today, my oldest went out for a scout camp out. ¬†For some reason, no one would go into the car when it was time. ¬†We were all finally in the car, I was going to pick up a boy down the street as well…… and then the car wouldn’t start.¬† Baruch Hashem, the other mother was home and was able to take both boys to the camp. ¬†I purchased an AAA membership a few months ago (for the first time in about 8 years), and gave them a call.

Now, here is where religious-homeschool parents will take out their creative juices, for instead of just learning from a story or a book in school about things such as middos (character traits) and other lessons that need learning, homeschooling children many times learn through experience.  After AAA came and boosted the van, we drove down to the mechanics to get a new battery.  On the way, the boys and I discussed the events of the morning.  Even though it looks like it was a bad morning Рthe van died, we missed the market, and we needed to get a new battery Рwe have to understand that we do not know what MIGHT have happened if things did not go the way they did.  Hashem set up today months ago and put us in a position that we decided we needed an AAA membership.  Perhaps if the van did not die, we would have left on time and would have gotten into an accident.  Perhaps if the battery did not die this morning, it would have died in a very inconvenient time and place (like on the road in between towns, etc.)  Each experience we have, each decision we make, molds us.  By taking being able to teach Torah thoughts and attitudes through living examples ingrains the lessons inside the neshama.

Well, I was going to talk a bit about our Limudei Kodesh studies, for that is always a hot topic for Jewish Homeschoolers, but I guess that is part of homeschooling too – sometimes we step out of our routines!