A Review of Simply Charlotte Mason's Visits To... Geography Series (Curriculum)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

I'm happy to give my full review of the "Visits To..." Geography Series.

I'm on a bit of a Simply Charlotte Mason run, I know, but that's because I really do love their resources and I'ver been meaning to g et these reviews up for months!!!

So...  Geography has always been a bit of a mish-mash for our family.  When the kids were younger we covered most of our geography through Five in a Row.  Now we read books that are specific to certain geographic areas and have basic discussions about them and find them on a map.  Geography is also naturally covered in History read-alouds and discussions.  We've also done Map-Drill, which I highly recommend for memorizing maps.

The "Visits To..."  series has 5 book or region options to choose from:  Europe (what we have), North America, South/Central America and Australia, Africa, Asia.  The spines of this program are the workbook/guide (lessons, maps and discussion questions), and two books - Hungry Planet and Material World.

There are suggestions for read-alouds throughout the guide based on the region - some are hard to acquire but some are readily available.  These are suggested readings and do not form the spine of the program.  I didn't acquire any of the suggested titles.

This is a people-focused program where kids are learning very specifically about individual families in various regions of the world.  This makes it quite Charlotte Mason friendly if you consider the idea of biography to express history and geography.

How the Program Works:

The two spine books (Material World and Hungry Planet by Peter Menzel) are used for every single volume in this series.  If you don't own them, the program won't work at all.  Likewise, if you don't love those books - you won't love the program.

The set-up is a series of 'visits' from 1 - 36.  This could be 1 for every week of the school year but doesn't have to be.

The lessons go in rotations or a type of loop.  For example:

Visit 1: Map the countries of Europe- Great Britain and Ireland (students are given a map of Europe and they either write or past the names of Great Britain and Ireland onto the map.  There is also recommended reading - Megan's Year: An Irish Travellers Story for grades 1-3, The British Empire and the Great Division of the Globe for ages 4-12).

Visit 2: Meet the Families - Here you read a part of Material World about the Hodson family who live in Great Britain.  Then there are questions for discussion. An example of question: "Look closely at the picture of the Hodson family's house and belongings on page 210 and 211.  Can you identify all the belongings."  Another question is: "Read the Photographer's Note on page 215.  Based on the description, the photographs, and the clothing the people in the photographs are wearing.  How would you describe the weather in Great Britain?"

Visit 3: Make your own Map - The kids are no tracing their own map of Great Britain using a map that is provided in the guide/student sheets.

Visit 4: Meet the Families - Now we get to know another family from Great Britain in Hungry Planet.  Questions include:  "Read the narrative of the morning the author spent at the Bainton family's house on page 141.  Tell what you learned about their life." and "Look at the photographs and read the captions on page 142 and 143 to find out more about the Bainton family's lifestyle.

The program continues with map work, biographical readings from Hungry Planet and Material World, and with various conversational or written questions the students answer and consider.

There are also a "Detailed Visits Project" idea that suggests older students creating a spreadsheet to express data and stats given on each country.  

Some photos from the spine books -

Thoughts and Recommendations:

Based on my experience teaching my kiddos, I actually think this program is best suited for middle school and beyond.  The questions are fairly simple but the reading and map work is advanced.  The spine books used are geared to older kids, in my opinion.  In fact,  Hungry Planet and Material World are not kids books at all but written to an adult audience.

There were some topics I wasn't really comfortable with for my younger kids and they weren't particularly engaged with the text.  It really is geared to much older students.

The books are written well but they aren't narratives, just non-fiction writing of mostly facts about the given families.  They are written in a conversational tone - but not a living book style.  Hope that makes sense.

The photos and captions, mind you, are quite interesting, especially for people/kids who like stats and information they can compare.  I would say, though, the books don't work that well as read-alouds.  If you are looking for a read-aloud geography book - these are not the books.  These work far better as individual reads.  (Of course, this is just my opinion!)

I think this program would work best done individually by an older student instead of trying to do it as a family read-aloud type program.

For this purpose, it would make a very thorough and engaging geography series in a Charlotte Mason format for a child who loved information and comparing various stats and regions of the world.

Hope this review was helpful for you all.

Much love from our snuggly home to yours (I write this with a baby wrapped to my chest...  *smile*).

A Review of Simply Charlotte Mason's Stories of the Nations and Stories of America

Friday, February 10, 2017

Our family uses many of the resources found over at Simply Charlotte Mason.  

I honestly love the friendly, easy to use materials and their affordability.  Last year we worked through the Family Guide for Early Modern History and Epistles.  This took us on a living books learning journey from 1550-1850 that centred around family learning and reading.  I'm always adding to and changing the formal plan laid out in the guides but they are so affordable, it's completely fine in my opinion even if you only use them as a springboard for era study.  You can, mind you, use them as a well laid-out curriculum.  This year we've been (slowly, mind you) working through Modern Times.

Stories of the Nations and Stories of America are spine history books to the SCM Family Guides for Early Modern Times History and Modern Times History.

You really need these books to make the program flow.  There are two Volumes for each title.

Volume 1 of each book is used extensively with the Family Guide for Early Modern History.  Stories of America covers 'Columbus through Alamo', Stories of the Nations covers 'Queen Elizabeth the I through Geribaldi'.

Volume 2 of each book is used with the Family Guide for Modern History.  Stories of America covers 'Oregon Trail through the Information Age' and Stories of the Nations covers 'Count Bismarck to Queen Elizabeth the II'.

So, if you are anything like me you want to know - how are these books written?  Will they engage my kids?  Enlighten them?  Express historical fact in a living-book format that our family actually wants to sit down and read...?

My answer to all of these is a resounding, YES!

I absolutely love these volumes and how they are written!

Lorene Lambert writes Stories of the Nations. 

Various authors contribute to Stories of America, based on much of the 'original and revised material from The Child's Story of America and other books by Charles Morris, originally published in the early 1900s'.

Both Volumes, however, read in a similar tone.  They reflect a Charlotte Mason, living-book, let-me-sit-beside-you-and-chat style that is known and loved by so many homeschool families.

To give you an idea of the clever way these books are written to enlighten and engage, I've typed out a few examples of some of my favorite sections/parts from a few volumes -

The beginning of Stories of the World, Volume 1 is so captivating.  I LOVE Chapter 1 'A Bird's-Eye View'.  It invites the readers to come on a journey, here's a piece:

"It is a strange journey we are going to take.  Our route lies not through space, but through time.  Not over land and water, but backward over the years.  We are going to set out on a journey over the Old World....  The Old World is so big and has so many countries that I think one had better go over it by balloon, and look down on it as a bird does when flying through the clouds... But how little we see of the land beneath us.   Clouds spread thickly over it and blot out nearly the whole of Australia and great regions of Africa and Asia.  A dense cloud of ignorance rests upon them and hides from view, for we are sailing in the year 1550, when very little was known about these continents..."

(Stories of the Nations, Volume 1, pgs. 7-8)

Oh my gosh!  Don't you love it?

My kids were hooked.  They love me to read them these stories and this opening was so perfect!

More hints of what to expect:

"...To tell the whole story of our Civil War would take a book five times as large as this, so all I can do is to draw a sort of outline map of it.  A civil war, you should know, means a war within a nation, where part of a people fights against the other part.  A war between two nations is called a foreign war..."  

(Stories of America, Volume 2, page 36)

"All around Boston the farmers and villagers began to collect guns and powder and to drill men into soldiers.  These were called 'minute men' which meant that they would be ready to fight at a minute's notice, if they were asked to.  When people begin to get ready in this way, war is usually not far off..."

Stories of America, Volume 1, page 101)

"I am curious how many of my readers ask questions.  I fancy many of you do.  But I am also curious how many of my readers set out to answer their questions for themselves.  It is much easier to sit and wait for someone else to discover and explain the answers, is it not?  And yet, if every person sat and waited for others to do the work, answers would be few and far between.  The man I want to tell you about now was such a man as asked questions and then set about to find the answers himself.  Like the great Galileo, he carefully observed what was going on around him, then set up experiments to learn more.  His name was Isaac Newton, and he was born in England the same year that Galileo dies in Italy."

Stories of the Nations, Volume 1, page 63)

These books can be used with the Simply Charlotte Mason Family guides or as stand alone history books.  Either would be a huge benefit to any homeschool.

These are narratives that not only the children love, but I love as well.  They are perfect family read-alouds and I highly recommend them for the study of early modern history and modern history!


Keeping Homeschool Simple when Life is Busy and Time is precious...

Friday, February 3, 2017

Oh, hi there!

It's been well over a month since I've been able to post anything on this little blog but I promise, I have VERY good reasons!

Our family is actually walking through the journey of fostering to adopt a beautiful baby boy.  There is so much more I would love to share about how amazing God is and how He weaves all things together but that will have to wait until the adoption is final...  *smile*   Then, watch out... because I won't be able to stop talking about how Jesus works and posting about a million photos of this little one's precious face!

What I can say right now about this adoption process is that this comes after years of seeking, praying, and waiting.  And we are absolutely over-the-moon thrilled and in love with the newest and tiniest member of the fam.

Oh, and we're also a touch busier than we were 2 months ago too.  And, we had literally 2 days to prepare before he came!

Ok,  we are a LOT busier.  Honestly, how on earth did I once have 3 children under 4?  HOW?  I have an 11-year-old, 10-year-old, 8-year-old, and 8-week-old and I'm crazy busy.  How you Mamas do it with a house full of babies and toddlers?  You're my heroes.

So, life is beyond sweet for us right now but the stuff we used to have time for and the planning I used to accomplish just isn't a reality anymore.  As I'm sure so many of you who are homeschooling with littles already know - things are different with a baby in the house!

I thought I'd share what we are doing right now while time is precious!  I'm sure many of you could write this post yourselves and do a better job than me!  Please add your ideas to the comments if you have more ways you've worked in busy seasons.  This is just my take on it after 2 months...  my thoughts and tips for you lovely Mamas who might be walking the same journey or preparing to enter in...

Blessings to you.  I love you guys more than you know!

Keeping Homeschool Simple when Time is Precious...

The biggest change I made when life got really busy is that I switched to a BOOKS-BASED 'Family Schedule' or plan.  

I have always scheduled Family Learning based on subjects (see how we plan for Charlotte Mason style homeschool here).  Now, instead of scheduling subjects that I need to plan and figure out the readings for, I'm simply working with a list of great books that I read chronologically.  I just pick up the book and read.

I specifically chose the books based on what we were already reading and covering and what I knew would give us a good 'bang for our buck' in covering material and feeling at least sort of productive... I selected a reasonable selection of titles then I decided how often we should read each title in a week.  By the way, our weeks include weekends!

I typed the titles in a grid and added the appropriate number of boxes to check based on frequency.  It's kind of a loop without the loop... no scheduled days for anything just a weekly frequency.  But, if I want to do bible 5 times a week, I will likely end up doing that Monday through Friday by default.

We read Trial and Triumph once a week but it really doesn't matter when.  Oh, the freedom.

The fist step is to -

Decide what you value and choose read-alouds based on those priorities.

Pray.  Seek God's direction on what your really want to share with your kids.  For us, scripture is a priority, memory work from scripture, and some kind of short devotional or inspirational book.  If those things happen on a daily basis, I'm actually OKAY with that, even if we do nothing else for the day because things get crazy.

Then the priorities go to living books, classics, fables, parables, poetry, and so on. "The weekly chart helps me visualize how many times per week I want to be reading from each book.  It doesn't always happen but it is the goal.  

If I really want the kids to have scripture read to them every day - then, well, I'm going to need to read scripture every day.  ( I know...amazing how that works!)

Since my kids LOVE history, if our time is short, I know I will likely focus on some great history readings to sharpen the mind and spark the imagination.  I value the arts and great stories... so poetry, fables, folk tales, and stories about art history will likely make their way in as well.

Hero Tales are another thing that is pretty important to us - so this year we are reading through Trial and Triumph by Richard Hannula.  And we've really enjoyed the entire Hero Tales series by Dave and Neta Jackson.

Choose the priorities, then plug books in.  Sometimes the day will depict what you read.  That's why I love the checklist system with just boxes for how many time  PER WEEK you want to read a book.  So much easier to be flexible.

Look at the list on the far right.  On the left is the book titles, on the right the shaded boxes show frequency of reading (one box per time, per week).  The bottom is some Morning Time stuff that we are really struggling to fit in lately...

Always in arms...  *smile*

Do as much reading as possible together as a family.

It has been absolutely imperative that I teach my three eldest (ages 11, 10, 8) together.  And since at this season in life I can lump them together quite successfully for everything except Language Arts and Math - I love to do it.  It simplifies our homeschool SO MUCH.

We read most everything together.  The kids have their individual reading and there are a few books here and there that we read just one-on-one but for the most part, we are reading as a family.  This is great for family time and bonding but also serves the purpose of efficient use of time and easier planning for me!

Consider giving your kids their own daily tasks charts and checklists to follow.

This has been huge for our family in fostering a wee bit of independence in our kids.  (It's a work in progress trust me!)  I started with the spiral bound book method a while back and now use a variation of this.  (A much easier checklist that I print out weekly for each child.)

These charts have Individual Work, chores, and reading on them.  The kids can see and check as they go.

They look like this:

Surrender to the philosophy that reading great books really IS enough for many subjects.

You know... we are really susceptible to getting stuck in the rut of WORRY as homeschoolers.  I really, really get this.  It is my daily struggle to fight my need to enforce methods that I think show learning (ie: sometimes busy work...).  I'm always asking:  How do I prove they are actually 'doing something' without forcing pointless workbooks, written 'assignments', and the like?

Listen, please.  (This is me talking to myself as well!)  I had this revelation ages ago and am always trying to remind myself.  I DID all that stuff. Projects, charts, written journals, assignments, busy work, workbooks, worksheets, you name it. You probably did too if you went to traditional school.  I mean, Im sure I was busy-worked through years of my education.  And you know what?  I retained very little.

I mean, honestly, most of what we learn in our homeschool - I'm learning for the first time.  I remember almost nothing from school.

I was exposed to very few living books as a child.  Most of the topics I now read about are coming ALIVE and staying in my brain like never before and I'm not writing narrations or doing worksheets.  Just saying. I'm just reading.

History, Geography, Science, and most school-type subjects can be covered very well by living books.

Go easy on your family.  Read great living books.  Discuss.  Repeat.  You'll be okay.

Read when Daddy is home (ie: at night and on weekends).

We haven't aced this yet, mainly because we have a newborn and our evenings are filled with chaos and a lot of bouncing baby around the house... but, honestly, reading at night and on weekends has been a huge part of our life for ages.  Don't get stuck on the thought that you can only ever get through the readings from 9am-3pm Monday to Friday.  That's crazy!

Evening reading can be a life-saver for when you've got big kids and babies in the mix.  Let Daddy read or take the baby and you read.

You could also read at nap time.  If that sort of thing actually happens at your house. *gulp*

Um, find books that lay flat.

HA.  For real though.  Just the other day I had a massive poetry anthology propped open with my phone across the middle spine of the book while I carefully read from the pages, hoping it wouldn't pop shut while I bounced the baby.  I literally had no hands to hold the book open.  Guess what happened?  My 8-year-old grabbed the phone and the book slammed shut (it was epic) and that was the end of poetry because, honestly?  I lacked the energy (and hands) to re-find the page and start reading again.  

We do a ton of reading while I bounce the baby.  Flat books, books that sit easily in our book stand, or even ebooks on the ipad are key for us right now.

Be flexible.

So, I had a beautiful 10-year-old daughter who literally BEGS to do schoolwork.  Not that she wants to GO to school... no she loves homeschooling but she is always wanting 'more work' to do.  (Man, I wish she would rub off on my boys...).

So, I actually did what she begged me to do this week and got her an actual workbook. Yep.  (Thank you, by the way, if you were one of the supportive people telling me to just do it on Facebook...).

To me, these are like a Charlotte Mason disaster... the mother-of-all-busy-work books.  Buuut.... the funny thing is,  she loves it.  (Go figure!) and she is very happy to do 'more work' and I'm happy to not have to come up with all the ideas and lessons myself right now.  I wouldn't normally do this (um, ever.) but in this season, it actually works.  My youngest wanted one too and now they are both messing around in their workbooks individually and it is actually quite nice for them (and me!).

*gasp... in our house?*  Yep.

Give yourself time to cherish time.

We've been lazy.  Well, as lazy as can be with the circumstances.  But, we've lounged.  We've read.  We've watched the ENTIRE season 1 of Full House. (Wow, I don't remember Uncle Jesse being so promiscuous! Yikes...).  We've all just gazed at our new family member for LONG periods of time.  We've had loads of visitors and days 'off'.  And it's OKAY.  We are building family relationships and cherishing a very precious time.  That is a gift, friends -don't rob yourself of a stress-free time to just ENJOY.  Or if your busy time is not as enjoyable as a new baby... then give yourself grace to life as stress-free as possible.

Give yourself a heaping dose of grace, Mama.

Kick fear and anxiety over academics to the curb.  No, seriously - do it.  So, its not all perfect - that's OKAY.  It will never be so stop striving for perfect.  Instead, go for peace.

Yep, my boys have played WAY more on the ipad than they ever have before.  And yep - we've gone WAY down on our reading and school work.  But it's OKAY.  It's a season.  And in this season, these things are helping to maintain peace.  We aren't being irresponsible - just a bit more lenient than usual.

I know many families who have grown-up children who were homeschooled.  Many of them literally PREACH at us younger Mamas to RELAX.  To stop worrying.  To give ourselves grace.  To trust that learning is a journey and seasons will come and go.  I also have friends who have had to take years (YEARS!) off of academics for various reasons (and some even by choice!) and guess what?  Their kids are okay.  In fact, I don't see an ounce of difference between their kids and most other kids.

It's going to work out.  You need to breathe deep and foster an atmosphere of grace - for  yourself AND your family.  Seek first His Kingdom - those fruits of the Spirit - love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control... and everything else will fall into place.

A couple (pretty bad, sorry!) photos of some of the books that made it to our book list this Winter -

As a disclaimer - these might change.  Some might get dropped, others added - we are always changing stuff around in our homeschool!!!

Top from Left: Vincent's Starry Night and Other Stories (I highly recommend this book for Art History and Picture Study... WOW!  Takes you on a journey from cave paintings to modern art in living story format.  It's a huge book - will likely take us 2 years to read through!), poetry of Emily Dickison (not a favorite but we are reading it for culture's sake...), Julie Andrew's collection of Poems, Songs, Rhymes.  Bottom from Left: William Bennett's  Book of Virtues (we are literally just reading through it and it's perfect for character study just as it is!),  The Bible Story (these are old school bible narratives with great detail - love them!  There are ten volumes and we are on volume five), Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing (LOVE this book for little daily inspirations), and of course, God's Word (love our Adventure Bibles!)

From Top Left:  Children Just Like Me and Our Favourite Stories - These are companion books that I got at the Thift Store for maybe a dollar each.  BEST value!  These work as wonderful living books to work through geography with younger elementary kids.  Each Story features a country and a child then we locate the country on the map and read about the child and usually watch some kind of YouTube video about that country (usually a travel video - lol).  Find the Constellations - haven't read it yet but it looks neat.  Bottom from Left:  And the Word Came with Power and Trial and Triumph (these make up our Christian Hero readings), Amos Fortune Free Man, By the Great Horn Spoon and Gold Rush Fever - all are part of our living books for history.

You just have to love a nice pile of books...  ;)

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