Imagining an Apple Tree…

Imagine sitting underneath an apple tree, with the limbs and all the green hanging down all around you.  Imagine finding a wonderful limb that you could sit on, pretending to go galloping up a mountain and reaching the very top.  Or, perhaps you would like to imagine bringing out your dolls and sitting inside your house of limbs with all sorts of interesting shaped rooms.

We never had apple trees when I was growing up.  I never went to an apple orchard until shortly after I got married, and then it was only once.  I have visited an orchard a few times over the last few years, but never had the luxury to sit underneath one.  However, I can imagine how it would be to be a little smaller and enjoying the shade of the trees.  I think the next time I go apple picking I will sit down underneath one of the trees and just imagine…

Why is it that I can imagine something that I have never done?  It is easy if you have a living book to read from.  A living book is a book that is written by a person who is extremely knowledgeable in the topic.  Normally these authors love the topic they are writing about and it shows in their writing.  The nice thing about AO is that they use living books.  I do not know about you, but I have always found textbooks to be very dry and hard to learn from usually.  With living books, I learn.

It is easy to learn when the author writes as though they are talking directly to you, in person.  I read to my boys (all 5 of them tonight!) about the orchard.  We learned that the apple blossom blooms only in May, and learned to wonder how an apple could come from those blossoms, after all, not everyone wonders but it is good to wonder.  We learned that the apple blossom has 5 petals and in the center it looks like there are pins in a mini pin cushion!  There is what looks like dust on the head of the “pins” and so we are calling them dust boxes right now, until the author tells us the real name. 🙂  Did you know if you took off the petals, you will be left with 5 green “leaves” and little pins with no dust boxes on them!  After the petals fall from the flower, a knob grows on the other side, and that, my readers, is the beginning of an apple!

Now, reading from a living book is wonderful, but it is no match for seeing it in person.  We do not have an apple tree in our yard, and since it is July, we would not have any blossoms on it anyways.  However, we do have rose bushes. What do rose bushes and apple trees have in common? (Well, I read ahead so I know!)  Let me tell you what I did after supper.  I took all the boys out to our rose bushes (the one we went to is an Alberta Rose bush variety.  Now are you getting the idea?)  Our roses have just finished flowering and the flowers are in the process of falling off.   Yes, the blossoms look similar.  We did not see the dust boxes on these roses for the flowers were shriveling up to die, but perhaps I’ll still find a flower in bloom tomorrow if I look on one of the other plants.  I did take my youngest over to the lilies that were blooming and see the dust boxes on them.  I even got him to use just one finger to touch the pin heads instead of pinching them with finger and thumb.  We both loved looking at the yellow dust on our fingers!

We each had the thrill of pulling off the petals and seeing the 5 “leaves” and the pins with no dust boxes.  Now, we looked underneath the flower, and voila! There we saw the knob!  Looking further around the bush shows knobs that were ripe and ready to pick and eat.  Wow!  It is amazing how much the rose bush and the apple tree have in common.  The nice thing about the rose bush is that we were able to see all facets of the plant growing at the same time, unlike the apple tree. (By the way, the rose fruit is called Rose Hip and is edible!)

We were very lucky today.  We cannot always finish a nice learning with actual testing of the reading, and I took full advantage of it.  Sometimes we can do part testing – for example, I first took my youngest to the lilies and that would have been wonderful in itself without being able to see the rest that we were talking about.

I believe it is very important that children – and adults alike – get to make these wonderful connections.  It brings all the things we learn to life and ingrains it inside of us – just like when we took the boys to see handmade replicas of Columbus’ two ships the Nina and the Pinta this past weekend!

The awe and warm fuzzy feeling that even I felt tonight as I went and picked the petals and saw the inside with the pins with no dust boxes is something I will most likely remember.  Even though this was a rose bush, I remember seeing pictures of apple blossoms and it was just as wonderful with the rose bush as if it was an apple tree.  If I am ever able to visit a blooming apple tree, you will be certain that I will put my finger gently on the pins with the dust boxes!

Ambleside Online – Why I’m so excited!

Over the years, we have had various kinds of curricula.  We started off with Calvert, an all-in-one curriculum that even includes crayons, pencils and erasers!  It is a standard school curriculum which includes the teacher’s guide, answers, and wonderful support from real teachers.  After using it for 3 years, I realized that other than it is quite expensive (it was costing me about $700 a year per child, but over 93% cheaper than private schools,) it was not working out for one of my children so I had to look for something else.

Money was a huge issue, as well as the fact that I was trying to teach and look after several younger children at the same time and I decided I was going to try to see if I could combine and overlap some of the teaching with the boys to help me out.  I spent a long time looking into Unit Studies.  Unit Studies take a topic and combine different subjects into one unit so you are teaching many subjects at once.

We have a yearly budget for school, which includes any camp, and two years ago, while our boys were at a much needed (for me!) camp, I spent several days searching the internet for unit studies that I wanted to do for the coming year.  With sending 3 boys to camp for 2 weeks each, my budget for schooling for the year was almost nothing, so I had to search for free stuff.  The problem was that I was not finding free units for the topics I wanted to teach.  The second last day of camp I was at my wit’s end.  I just did not know what to do.  Our schooling was suppose to start in 4 days and I had no clue what I was going to teach!  For some reason I clicked on a link that was a curriculum.  I did not want a curriculum, but I clicked anyways.  What did I have to loose?  I already exhausted all possible sites for what I was looking for anyways, and I needed a change of pace.  I started reading.  It was Ambleside Online, a Charlotte Mason curriculum.  A free curriculum, nice, but not for me (not that I knew anything about it!)  As I read all about the curriculum, I found myself liking and agreeing with what I was reading.  I emailed my husband some of what I read for I really liked it – not that I was going to do it, but it was really good stuff.  I kept reading.  And reading.  And reading.  By the end of the day I knew what I was going to do that year – with only 2 days to prepare (Shabbos was in the middle,) I was going to jump right into it anyways and figure it out.

Charlote Mason lived in England in the late 1800’s early 1900’s.  Ms. Mason was a teacher for many years and spend a lot of time trying to improve her teaching ideas and skills.  In a nutshell, she voted for short lessons, which equal to short school days so there is time for personal interests and hobbies (very important.)  However, she was an advocate for a strong education with knowledge in a wide range of topics and felt that children were capable of more than we tend to think of them as being capable of. She was an advocate for living books – books written by authors who were knowledgeable and passionate about the topic. At the same time, religion was very important and incorporated God into secular learning.  She was a huge advocate of sending kids outside for as long as possible with part free time and part guided time.  Middos (character traits) are very important.  And, don’t start children too early.  Let them grow, let them learn about nature, let them understand how a flower grows and how a squirrel lives.  Let them learn how to observe nature and then they can learn.  With four children, and with being religious, the idea of having time to teach all of them, give them a good strong educational background AND do it with Hashem in mind all the time, Wow!

The Charlotte Mason version that we use is an online version.  The advisory has tried to find as many of the books that fit the teaching style as possible that are out of copyright and available for free online.  This helps cut down the cost.

They have also set up a schedule for each year – broken down by week.  This makes it very flexible. Some children need to break readings down into multiple sections read over several days, and it gives the option of putting everything into a 4 day week instead of 5.  This is what we do.  I arrange almost everything into 4 days, and Fridays are left for other stuff (yes, cooking and cleaning is part of it, but that really is school for that is real life skills.)  I do not feel forced to use everything on the list.  Obviously, I replace the Bible with Torah study, Christian history with our Jewish history and hymns with davening and Shabbos songs.  However, I do not have to worry about reading that the world is millions of years old when I do not believe that.  The setup is just a nice guideline being flexible if I need to replace a book and letting me choose when to teach.  There are a few books that I have left out of teaching for they are too Christian based, but all in all, that is not an issue and we enjoy being able to easily see Hashem in all our learning.

The big difference that one will see when they go through the FAQ’s is that especially for the younger years, there is no writing except the copywork! None!  What is done instead is oral narrations.  The parent or teacher (if in a school) reads from the different books, then asks for an oral narration from the child(ren).  After the narration, the parent or teacher then uses that for discussions.  Why oral narrations? Talking is easier than writing, and if you cannot tell me what you read, then you do not understand and how can you write about it?  Starting in year 4, after the child has the idea of how to listen and read and understand, then they start with 1-2 written narrations.  The readings get very intense – starting in year 4 we add Plutarch’s Lives and Shakespeare (yes, the real thing – however, it did not work out for us too well, but I think it was mostly me and the scheduling mainly….)  Younger children have short attention span so the lessons need to be short – 10-15 minutes.  Older children about 30-45 minutes.  No longer.  Also, learn not to repeat (unless the child does not understand) for they need to learn to listen the first time, after all, their boss is not going to tell them twice to do a job!

The first year was a little strange.  It took a while before I got the hang of what I was suppose to be doing with the narrations.  This past year I had a much better idea and the discussions came a lot easier for me.  I will be entering year 3 with AO and am very excited.  I just placed the order for the year’s books – $160 for my oldest (the younger ones already have the books!).  Well, that is everything except math.  That will come at the end of the summer.  My oldest is going to be reading about all sorts of exciting stuff this year such as classical mechanics, relativity (yes, in year 6!!!), reading the Hobbit and the Animal Farm and all about the Greeks and Romans.  He has read the unabridged classics such as Robinson Crusoe and Oliver Twist, with more to come!  Oh, and Understood Betsy and The Little Duke are NOT to be missed!

I have my reading list for the summer set out for me, I can’t wait!  I think I will enjoy the books more than they will!