Monday, March 16, 2020

for the days ahead

Last night, song writer and musician Wendell Kimbrough hosted a live singing session on Facebook for about an hour where he took requests for his Psalm-based songs and even the classic Jesus Loves Me from a young listener. He played the guitar and sang the words taken from the Psalms, the songs for all seasons of life. As a small community gathered online to listen and sing-along, those moments were full of comfort and hope.

The music re-centered my mind after a hectic day of reaching out to friends and family through phone calls and online messages. Earlier that morning, our church had gathered online to connect through a livestream as our pastor led us through our usual order of worship which includes singing, Scripture reading, prayer and a sermon. While it was unusual to be sitting at home by ourselves and not surrounded by our church family, the familiarity of following our normal order of worship was comforting and calming. The sole musician used her voice and her guitar to lead us through hymns of praise and worship that we sing regularly together.

This morning as the sun came up and I opened our curtains, a bright yellow shone out as I saw that my mini daffodils had opened overnight. I inspected each one and looked carefully to see how many other blooms might follow. As I carried the planter towards the southeast part of our house to capture the blooms in the stronger light my spirits rose. I had already checked my email and saw an update on a family member who has been hospitalized far from home. And though I find myself anxious for our extended family and for those far from me, I took a few moments to delight in these new blossoms and capture them with my camera. As I worked, I decided to put on some music and put on Sara Groves' older album Conversations featuring the song The Word

I follow the news closely and I have for years. With the onset of the coronavirus news coming out of China in early January and issues here in Canada, I have read the news incessantly for weeks. 
Late yesterday afternoon as I worked on our evening meal anxious over all that is happening and changing , I realized I needed to work at creating a better balance between staying informed and forming my own stories from time well-spent. So here I am writing, sitting in the sunshine and listening to God's people sing about His Word and His works. I have girls who need my time and attention and house to keep clean and ordered. But I also have a spirit that needs tending and a body that needs exercise and fresh air. Wherever you find yourself these days, may you also find comfort in songs of praise and lament as you work and rest.

My heart is steadfast, O God;
 I will sing and make music with all my soul.
Awake, harp and lyre!
 I will awaken the dawn.
I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations;
 I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, higher than the heavens;
 your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens,
 and let your glory be over all the earth.
Save us and help us with your right hand,
 that those You love may be delivered.

~ Psalm 108: 1-6

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Part 2: How to find 'living books'

In Part 1: How to Educate Students Outside the Classroom, I discussed the method of reading and retelling (often referred to as 'narrating'). In that post, I mentioned several times about well-written, living books.
How do you know if a book can be considered well-written or 'living'?
Here are a few criteria to get you headed in the right direction.

For non-fiction books (i.e. history stories, biographies, travel stories, science inventions or discoveries, natural history, etc.), the books should be written by one author instead of compiled by an editor.
For fiction books (i.e. fairy tales, fables, myths, literature, etc.), retellings written by one author is preferred over an editor, but use your judgement. Poetry collections or anthologies often have an editor rather than an author given the nature of the material. But if you can find the poet's own collection, pick that one.
The writing should have the natural flow of the author speaking to the reader in a friendly and conversational tone.

The text should not be continually broken up by sidebars or boxes with 'fast facts' or 'Did you know?' content.

The idea is to provide the reader with an understanding of the ideas presented in a readable paragraph format with diagrams or illustrations that enhance the text.
The example I provided at the end of my last post about Gutenberg's printing press is an example of this type of writing. Here is a picture of what the pages look like from that excerpt.

Well-written, living books are enjoyable to read because the author is competent in their research, but also enthusiastic to share these ideas with their readers.
The sentence structure is varied with pleasing vocabulary usage but not needless jargon or insider terms that confuse or isolate the reader.

The ideas presented are intended to be absorbed with interest and attention, leaving the reader free to draw their own conclusions.

Well-written books can be found in all sizes and formats, such as picture books, chapter books, and story collections. Authors and illustrators of living books are to be found at all levels of writing for younger and older students.
Do not assume that the larger picture books are only for the very young students.

Everyone enjoys a well-told story richly illustrated.

I could talk about good books for hours and show you photos of many more living books right up through high school age. Lucky for you, I also have children in my home who need to be fed and attended to. So before I go, let me give you a few places to look online for 'living' books lists.

If you already have some ideas of books you want your students to read, but want to save delivery time and money, look for free audio recordings from LibriVox, free kindle downloads from Project Gutenberg and free printable reading schedules from Ambleside Online's Curriculum pages.

If you would like some resources to help you select well-written, living books for your students to read and narrate from here are some online sites to look through:

Reshelving Alexandria
Simply Charlotte Mason
Read-Aloud Revival

Public libraries may still have some of these books, but may choose to close for a time. Thrift stores and secondhand shops will also have them. Big box stores and online book sites will offer many of these too. And as already has been mentioned, you can read many of these books for free in the public domain.
I wish you well in whatever path you choose to continue reading and learning. Thanks for reading these posts and I will try to answer any further questions you may have.

Part 1: How to educate students outside of the classroom

As countries around the world grapple with the coronavirus outbreak, the closings of schools, colleges and universities are leaving students everywhere needing to continue their studies in some new format.

But educational interruptions can happen to any family for any reason. What I share here, is for those times too. Our family uses a free online curriculum called Ambleside Online that also has an emergency help page at Ambleside Online -AO Help designed to help families cope with providing ongoing learning in the midst of irregular life events. Much of the reading content is available for free in the public domain.

If you're a big picture person, here's the big idea I'm proposing for your family or school.

If schools need to close, take the offered tablet, but read the books.

As school administrators, teachers and parents look to creating work packets, buying workbooks, selecting online learning sites and purchasing apps on devices, I would encourage parents and tutors of elementary and high school students to put their time and resources into one main effort:

The reading of good books and the retelling of what has been read.

It's called narrating.
It does not need an app or a login to a website.
It needs attention given to the material by the student and a quiet, patient moment for the reteller to speak without being interrupted or corrected.
The books can be topics or genres of all sorts, but they must be well written by one author (not an editor) and convey living ideas without overloading the student on facts.

How it works:

Students can read the assigned portion on their own or listen to it read to them by another person or by an audio recording.
Once the reading has been completed, the narration can be given. It can be simply given orally to whoever is available to listen quietly without interruption.
Or it can be spoken into the tablet or phone and recorded for later listening.
The narration can be written or typed. A diagram or age-appropriate drawing can be completed. The narrator can act out the material with props or toys.
There are many, many different ways in which a student can retell what they just read or listened to. Mix it up and try different ideas.
Assign two or three readings in whatever books you pick, no need to complete whole chapters in one day.
In twelve weeks, you can have read and narrated through one biography, one science story, one novel, and one history book.

In twelve weeks, you could also have started longer books that need more time to be read carefully and attentively.

The main point is that well-written, living books provide ideas that the mind needs as nourishment to grow and be curious about.

I have consistently used the phrase well-written and living to describe the books to give to your students. More on what I mean by that in Part 2: How to Find Living Books.

If you are unsure of how to do this with your students, try it yourself. (At the end of this post, I will include a book excerpt for you to read and try this for yourself.)

1) Pick up a book on any topic or genre (biography, history, science, literature, etc).
2) Read a small portion carefully and attentively.
3) Put the book down.
4) Retell in your own words what you just read. Say it out loud or grab some paper and start writing.

See what you can remember as you organize the information and ideas in your mind. 

It is a serious and engaging effort for your mind. You will either despair or delight over what you can recall.

This is the task that you are asking your students to do:

Read or listen to the material with attention and then organize the material in a version of retelling. 

You do not need worksheets. You do not need an app. You do not need prior knowledge of the material. As a parent, grandparent, or tutor, your work is to assign the reading and then listen carefully without interrupting or correcting to the narration.

I suspect your task will be as difficult for you as the student may find theirs because most adults like to talk and have those infernal 'teachable moments'.

Focus on your part of quiet listening and let the student do their part of retelling to an interested and listening person.

When the student has given their retelling, say thank you and offer a sincere compliment on their retelling if you must.

Task completed, you can rest assure that their mind has been given much to think about. 

Go on to whatever is next. Perhaps some math work or copying an intriguing quote or sentence from a reading in their best handwriting.
Even better, have them go outside and have a look at what is growing, moving or chirping in their  own neighborhood space. Request them to just look and listen closely and start wondering about what they observe. Suggest they draw what they see, find samples and use guide books to look up unfamiliar things. Students can also enjoy good books just for pleasure with no need to narrate at all. That's called a free read.

For students just starting to learn this way, give them time to adjust. 
Days and even weeks may be needed to practice this way of reading and retelling. New habits will need to be formed, these take time and diligence by everyone. Your students may be just finding their stride as summer vacation begins. Good.

Let them enjoy their summer break with all those newly discovered ideas swirling in their heads. 

I have more to say in Part 2 about finding well-written, living books, but for now, here is the written portion I promised for you to read and retell as an experiment for yourself.
For Gutenberg the most important part in printing was the type, or the little movable letters. Therefore, he needed to find the right kind of type material and an easy way of making the type. Knowing that block books were printed from carved blocks, Gutenberg first tried to make type from wood. It seemed easy to do this. Yet it proved difficult to carve a good letter upon the end of a small wooden stick. It proved equally hard to cut the sticks of such width that there would be equal spaces between the letters. Even when Gutenberg succeeded in doing this, for he was an expert carver, the ink so softened the wooden type that, after a few impressions, the printed letters became blurred. As the printed letters must be clear and distinct, Gutenberg was forced, much against his will, to give up trying to make movable type from wood.
It now occurred to him that lead would serve. From his work in making mirrors, he knew how easy it was to mold it. With a simple mold, he cast a number of small lead sticks of uniform width and height. Then with no great difficulty, he carved a letter on the end of each stick. He seemed to be on the direct road to success, but when he came to print from lead type, he found that it took more pressure than with wooden blocks. However, when enough pressure was applied to transfer the impression to the paper, it flattened out the lead letters.
~ Excerpt from The Story of Inventions by Frank P. Bachman, (Second Edition, pages 157-158)
*One final note: This act of reading and retelling is not new, but it has fallen out of practice. Through the work and writings of British educator, Charlotte Mason, schools, tutors, and families are bringing this method of reading and narrating back into use.
If you would like to know more, search online for 'Charlotte Mason education'. Her writings are still in print or can be read online for free at Charlotte Mason Series.

If you're interested to read on, here's Part 2: How to Find 'Living' Books

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Sage Rice Pilaf

After I was married, I discovered that my love of homemade stuffing was not shared by my husband who preferred rice dishes over bread stuffing. At first, I made both whenever I cooked chicken or turkey. But as the babies came, I no longer took time to make stuffing just for me.

But I missed those flavors and one afternoon while working on dinner prep, I took a basic rice pilaf recipe that starts with cooking diced onion in butter and I decided to keep going adding the ingredients that make bread cubes become stuffing: celery and sage. It worked so well that although I was eating rice, the flavors evoked memories of Thanksgiving stuffing in my mind.

I never looked back and this sage rice pilaf became a great side dish for all of us. I make it as a side to any roasted or grilled meat or fish meal. It pairs well with any cooked vegetable and adding a homemade gravy in the fall and winter makes it extra comforting and warm.
This is an adapted recipe from Betty Crocker's Rice Pilaf and I don't measure my onion or celery amounts, but I've provided an amount to aim for if you like precise numbers. This recipe is also very close to a dish that my mother-in-law makes with leftover turkey or chicken where she adds a chicken noodle soup mix packet and plain water instead of the chicken broth I use. Her dish gives you rice and noodles and pieces of meat to make it into a main dish. You can choose to do it however you like.

2- 4 Tbsp. butter (I like butter so I use 4 Tbsp, use less if you prefer.)
1/2 c. diced onion
1/2 c. diced celery
1 cup uncooked regular long-grain rice
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. sage
Fresh chopped parsley (optional)

Melt butter in 3- quart saucepan over medium heat. Cook onion and celery in butter, stirring occasionally until tender.
Stir in uncooked rice. Cook for several minutes, stirring frequently until rice begins to turn golden. Do not let it burn or stick to the saucepan.
Add in broth, salt, pepper and sage and bring to a boil, stirring once or twice. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer 16 minutes (do not lift cover or stir). Remove from the heat and let it stand covered for 5 minutes.  Garnish with chopped fresh parsley on top if desired.