Thursday, October 30, 2014

Creating a Thanksgiving Celebration

Berg family Thanksgiving play circa 1992

It's almost November and that means Thanksgiving is right around the corner! As faithful readers of this blog know, I love Thanksgiving. This year all the Bergs will be gathering to celebrate it. Since our last Thanksgiving together in 2012, the family has grown by three grandsons and we are all excited to get our little guys together for their first Berg Family Thanksgiving. 

Our family has always done Thanksgiving in a big way. Whether it was a traditional dinner with extended family and friends or a gathering of immediate family, it's the holiday we "do" best. In years past there have been amateur theater productions featuring cousins in Pilgrim costumes. There have been long walks through fall foliage or highly competitive touch-football games before dinner. Dinner has varied from the traditional Turkey feast to a French-style fĂȘte modeled after Babette's Feast. While I may now cringe at the pictures of me in a pilgrim bonnet and we no longer put on theatrical productions, Thanksgiving still holds a very special place in my heart. It's centered on spending time with the people  you love and taking time to reflect with gratitude on the blessings God has so generously bestowed. 

Thanksgiving stories have always played a part in our family's celebrations. From recitations of Five Kernels of Corn to the breathtakingly amazing story of Squanto, the accounts of those who came before us always add meaning and dimension. Today I want to share a few of our favorites with you so that you can read these in the weeks leading up to November 27. 

This sweet book is perfect for introducing the history of Thanksgiving to your youngest children. Dalgliesh's Caldecott Honor title combines lucid text with folksly Americana illustrations by Helen Sewell. Beginning in England the book follows the Pilgrims on their quest for religious freedom to Holland and then to Massachusetts Bay Colony. Their devastating first winter and the help they received from the Natives all pave the way for a day set aside to celebrate God's faithfulness to this little band of brave seekers.

Three Young Pilgrims by Cheryl Harness

Gorgeous illustrations accompany this story of Bartholomew, Mary and Remember Allerton. These young siblings relate their adventures aboard the Mayflower, a journey that took sixty days, and learn how difficult it is to carve out a new life in a wild and foreign land. Squanto and Samoset play a starring role in helping the Pilgrims grow their own food. Harness's illustrations and maps provide detailed information on geography, ships, farming and more. 

The Pilgrims of Plimoth by Marcia Sewall

A long-time favorite, The Pilgrims of Plimoth is a bit more advanced than the previous two titles but just as lovely and rich with detail. Sewall's illustrations are sumptuous and her text is expertly research while being very approachable. Sewell includes quotes from journals kept by some of the Pilgrims, adding a first-person feel to the text.

Relating the remarkable story of Squanto's life, this book is a whirlwind of adventure. Eric Metaxas is one of our favorite contemporary writers and he does not disappoint with this children's account of Squanto. Many people do not know that when Squanto first approached the Pilgrims he addressed them in English! How did a Massachusetts Native come to learn to speak the Pilgrim's language? Learn about it and in the next title.

Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims by Clyde Robert Bulla
This account is among the best we've seen it tells the amazing story of Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe, who went to London with some of the first English explorers, was sold into slavery in Spain, and finally returned to America where he befriended the Pilgrims when they landed.

The Landing of the Pilgrims by James Daugherty
The perfect family read-aloud this book tells in detail the story of the Pilgrim's quest to find a place where they could worship God according to their consciences. The Pilgrim's love of freedom played a significant role in the establishment of religious freedom in the States. Their willingness to give up the comforts they enjoyed in England, leaving behind family, friends, and possessions behind is a reminder of what so many have to sacrifice for their faith. 

William Bradford, Pilgrim Boy by Bradford Smith
This lovely book relates the childhood of the famous Pilgrim leader. Learn about his life in rural England and how he came to his strong convictions. Circumstances in his life prepared him for his essential role in the band of Pilgrims and children will enjoy hearing about his adventures as a child.

If you are interested in adding these titles to your library, give us a call at 800.889.1978 and we'll give you free shipping when you order all seven titles! 

All of these books will prepare your family for a Thanksgiving that's truly established on gratitude. One more way to prepare children is to make a Thanks Giving Tree. Ann Voskamp provides a beautiful free printable on her website here. Throughout the month of November, children record things they are thankful for on leaves and attach them to a tree. By the time Thanksgiving comes along you and your family will have cultivated an atmosphere of thankfulness that will be a wonderful blessing. 

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Lightbulb Moment!

Today Kathy continues relating her family's story of their journey to a Charlotte Mason approach to education. I'm sure many of you have had similar journeys and would love to hear about them in the comments below! Enjoy!

“First comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality.”
                                                                                                                 -Napoleon Hill

While I was pregnant with our daughter, my husband I began to talk about the subject of education. Looking at it from the logical perspective, we had three options: public school, private school or home school. The public schools in our geographical area were teaching topics which were counterculture to our Christian beliefs. The private schools included the Christian faith in their curricula, but were too expensive. The final alternative was the words “home school” sitting on the table before us. As the old saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” so I began to research the topic of homeschooling. I remember leaving our local public library six months pregnant with a stack of approximately twenty books on the topic of home schooling. After sifting through the stack, I narrowed it down to three: The Well Trained Mind, A Charlotte Mason Companion and Dr. Beechick’s Homeschool Answer Book. I began reading voraciously.

The Well Trained Mind was reminiscent of the way I had been educated. Dr. Beechick’s Homeschool Answer Book provided answers to the questions swirling around in my mind; however it was the last book that truly caught my attention, A Charlotte Mason Companion. Knowing the background of my maternal grandmother’s education helped direct me towards this particular book. I had “seen the proof of the pudding” in her life and this was the educational experience I wanted for our child. Eagerly, I shared my discovery with my husband and began filing away mental notes for the future.

Fast forward three months. Our daughter was born at the end of August and immediately we began implementing Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education via “living books.” Living books are defined as “books written by authors who have a particular fondness for their subject.” They are books which are well written, make the subject come alive and “get in touch with great ideas from great men”. I perused our book shelves, as well as the public libraries. Goodnight Moon, Blueberries for Sal, Winnie the Pooh, and Little House in the Big Woods are a few examples of the living books I selected to begin reading to our daughter during feeding time.

As the preschool years came and went, we began to think more seriously about homeschooling. My husband and I had defined our goals and objectives for education: 
~Create and foster a lifelong love of learning.
~Provide a solid academic foundation that will last a lifetime.
~Equip and prepare our daughter to be a leader, not a follower, in the 21st Century.

So with these goals in mind, we were faced with the question of how do we go about executing our educational philosophy? Initially, we settled for a pre-packaged curriculum that billed itself as “literature based.” In reality it led our child to information overload and her burning out on education. I retrieved my copy of A Charlotte Mason Home Companion and began to read again. On paper it looked so simple but in reality it seemed to be a daunting task. Where in the world could I find a curriculum that fit the Charlotte Mason philosophy? I remember reaching my wits end and praying for guidance one morning after my devotional time. After I prayed, I remember a friend asking me if I had ever read Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s book, For the Children’s Sake. Within minutes I was online placing a hold for the book at our local public library. Once I began to read For the Children’s Sake I could not stop. Then one day while I was reading, the light bulb finally went on in my brain. Charlotte Mason isn't about using a particular curriculum it is about implementing the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education using "living books." God spoke to me through Susan's writing and I finally got it! Hooray! No more searching and looking for the perfect curriculum because now I understood what it was all about.

After the "light bulb moment" I got to thinking "How did my great grandmother implement the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education in her homeschool?" I remember my grandmother saying she only had Home Education and Comstock's Book of Nature at the beginning. From there she added books which met Charlotte's standards and ordered them from Sears and Roebuck or J.C. Penney and the Wells Fargo man would deliver them. From what I had gleaned from my grandmother’s experience and readings, Charlotte Mason is all about the implementation of the “philosophy of education" and how we apply it in our homeschools. I am so thankful God led me to Susan's book. I felt like a tremendous burden had been lifted from my shoulders and now our family could truly experience the truth that “the life of the mind is sustained upon ideas.”

Thank you so much for sharing Kathy! If any of you have similar lightbulb moments, we'd love to hear about them! And if you want to know more about the Charlotte Mason educational philosophy, check out the links below. You may also want to invest in a copy of For the Children's Sake. It's an excellent, inspiring resource you will turn to again and again.

Learn more about Charlotte Mason and our philosophy at BFB at the following links:

We would love to hear what you think! Chime in below in the comments section and share your thoughts. Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Pinterest pages.  To learn more about Beautiful Feet Books, click here.
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Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Hooray for Real!

A while back we asked if any of you were using e-readers and the response was overwhelmingly "NO!" You spoke of the feel of pages, the smell of books, the beauty of books on shelves. And we agree. At BFB, we love our books and we're all avid book collectors. And while the reasons are often sensory or sentimental, there is now research that shows reading a printed book is better for our brains!

Recent research shows that e-reading and reading a hardcopy are two very different experiences. Science backs up the idea that reading on a screen results in lower reading comprehension, less retention, and reduces the relaxing effect of reading. All of these findings are something to consider as parents and educators. As students spend more and more time in front of computer and on tablets they are developing habits that could impede their ability to read for pleasure as well as hinder the development of reading skills such as plot comprehension.

There is fascinating research linking the tactile experience of reading a printed book with greater comprehension and retention. One 2014 study showed that people who read short stories from a Kindle had less retention of the story than people who had read a printed copy. And "slow reading", the sort required by a novel or long written work, is a skill that can be lost if it is not exercised. When reading electronically formatted articles or literary works, our reading pattern shifts into something more resemblant of skimming, as opposed to the concentrated reading that results in you being lost in the story. And if the book has hyperlinks built into the text, the distractions drastically increased and the ability to focus solely on the story is constantly interrupted. As we get more and more used to jumping around on our tablets, skimming articles, clicking links and jumping to other websites, our brain is being trained to process information that is not conducive to thorough, detail oriented reading.

I believe the ramifications of this lost skill are widespread, whether it's a reduced enjoyment of the relaxing practice of reading a novel, or accepting soundbite encapsulations of complex ideas and arguments, or a closing of one's world and experience due to an inability to persevere in reading a challenging story, we have a lot to lose. When children are not challenged to do anything more than read books they find to be fun and easy, there is a great risk that they will never come to know the satisfaction of making their way through a work like War and Peace. While we often talk about the pleasures of reading on this blog, I think it's important to sometimes remind ourselves that it is also a discipline and a skill that requires practice, especially for children. I was always an avid reader and it was not something I struggled to learn but I did have to learn how to persevere in my reading. I distinctly remember my mom assigning me Ivanhoe when I was about 12. Up to this point, reading was pure pleasure for me but I was in tears by the end of the first chapter. The exasperatingly detailed descriptions of a shepherd and the blades of grass being eaten by the sheep bored me beyond reason. I begged my mom to let me quit and read something else. She wasn't swayed by my arguments and so I struggled through, hating every second...until I suddenly was caught up in the fascinating story of Rebekah and the Black Knight and evil King. To this day I am not a fan of flowery Victorian prose, but I learned a valuable lesson in reading Ivanhoe. Reading is not always easy, sometimes it's work. But it will pay off. And the discipline of slowing down my frenetically paced reading, absorbing details, re-reading paragraphs and sentences that are especially beautiful is so much easier in a real book. So while the sentimental reasons for preferring books to e-books are still strong, we now know that they're better for our brains as well as our hearts. So take your kids to the library, give them books for their birthday presents, help them build their own libraries - it's a gift that will benefit their whole person.

To read more about the research on e-reading vs. reading as well as the relaxing and sleep-enhancing benefits of reading, check out this article.

We would love to hear what you think! Chime in below in the comments section and share your thoughts. Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Pinterest pages. To learn more about Beautiful Feet Books, click here. And if you've enjoyed this, please feel free to share using the buttons below.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Family History

Today our Wisconsin rep Kathy shares the history of her family's journey to home education as well as a surprise connection to Charlotte Mason! 

“In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.”
                                                                                                           Alex Haley

Kathy Alphs
Every homeschooling family has a story to tell of how it all began. For our family, our homeschool journey begins in the past. My maternal grandmother, Daisy had graduated from the sixth grade at the one room country school in her small rural town. Gram was not content to be known as a “sixth grade graduate.” She had higher aspirations. She had her eyes set on obtaining a high school diploma. In the mid 1900s if you were seeking higher education, there were two options: 1. Move to the nearest city which had a high school and board with relatives. 2. Study for four years and sit for the yearly high school examination. My grandmother chose the latter.

In the pursuit of this goal my great grandmother, Mary, decided to “home educate” my grandmother because in reality, it was the only option available. She acquired a copy of Charlotte Mason’s book Home Education and read through it voraciously. After finishing Home Education Grand Mary constructed a yearly lesson plan for my grandmother using the knowledge and insight obtained from Charlotte Mason alongside the Montgomery Ward and Sears catalogs from which she ordered. Gram’s days were structured with short lessons in the morning and outdoor time in the afternoon
Charlotte Mason
For four years, Grand Mary and Gram followed Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education of living books, narration, habit training, short lessons, handwriting, dictation, poetry, Shakespeare, Plutarch, grammar, foreign language, art, music appreciation, handicrafts, nature study, outdoor education, Bible, history, and geography. The day to sit for the yearly high school examination finally arrived. Gram walked into the classroom with a positive attitude, determined to do her best. After the day of testing was completed she returned to her rural community and its way of life. A month later, the examination results arrived in the mail. Gram had the highest overall score in the group, plus she passed the examination of the first attempt. As an adolescent, I remember Gram sharing this story to encourage me while I was going through a particularly difficult time. After her passing, while going through her belongings, the high school diploma was discovered. Time had discolored the once white stationary paper to a cream colored tint, but the black italic lettering remained unaltered. As the diploma was passed around, I was able to share her story with the family members who were present.

Through the teachings of Charlotte Mason, Gram developed an insatiable appetite for learning and discovering. Her “love of learning” enriched the lives of those within her sphere of influence. When I stop to think about this particular quote from Charlotte Mason, “The question is not—how much does the youth know when he has finished his education—but how much does he care? And about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? And, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?” I think back to this incredible, articulate woman and her passion for learning.

This is the first portion of how our family’s homeschooling journey begins in the past. Please allow me to share with you the second portion of our story. My paternal grandparents, Elliott and Lola, were descended from Brits who left England during the reign of King George III. They came to the colonies as masons and evolved into plantation owners, slave traders, and tradesmen who eventually migrated north.

While doing research on our family tree several years ago, I was able to trace our ancestors back to England. While going through the family tree, there was one name which stood out from all the others: Charlotte Mason. I had always felt a “connection” to the teachings of Charlotte Mason through my maternal grandmother, but here was the proof that I am actually related to her. My husband and daughter weren’t surprised when I gave them the news. They always had an “inkling” Charlotte was somewhere on my family tree.

Next time, I will be sharing with you my “light bulb” moment which led our family to pursuing a Charlotte Mason Education.

Mason, Charlotte. “The Original Homeschool Series School Education” pp. 170-171. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers Inc. 1989.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Hear Rea on the Sociable Homeschooler

Rea Berg will be speaking with Vivienne McNeny, the Sociable Homeschooler tomorrow! The podcast airs at 12 central and you can access it here. Vivienne and Rea will be discussing the power of great literature and how to channel that power to shape our children's lives and character. Do not miss!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Free Shipping Offer!

As you settle in to your new school schedule, maybe you're looking for something to occupy your kids during down times, car rides, or while you're working with a sibling. Your Story Hour audio dramas are just the ticket! Put them on when your kids are playing, doing chores, or just needing to be occupied while they wait for something. Uncle Dan and Aunt Sue are the narrators who bring historical stories to life with a combination of music, dramatic acting, and great sound effects. And we're currently offering free shipping on of their collections! Maybe you know someone who would like these for Christmas! Great time to stock up!

Patterns of Destiny (12 CD Set)

Enter "FREESHIP" in the coupon code box upon check out. Offer expires at the end of September.
Free shipping valid until September 30th for US residents only. Free shipping method USPS Media Mail. Can not be combined with any other offers. Use good for retail orders only.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Incredible Ways Children Learn

Photo: Alamy
This week I have been listening to the TED Radio Hour podcast and I want to share a specific broadcast with you. As educators and parents, I think you'll find this absolutely fascinating and encouraging. You are all probably back to school, settling into schedules, past the first-week blues, and maybe you're excited about where this year is going to take you and your family. Or maybe you're in desperate need of some encouragement. Either way, I think this podcast will re-energy the weary and strengthen the resolve of the enthusiastic.

Entitled Unstoppable Learning, and drawing from five different TED talks, host Guy Raz digs into the absolutely incredible way babies and children learn. The latest science shows that even while babies are in the womb, they're taking in, assimilating, and processing information. One little factoid that I loved was when babies are born, they cry in the accent of their mother's language! Babies have already learned how to adapt to the culture and family into which they are born. Wow!

The look of wonder in a baby, a window into
their brilliant minds.
The first years of a child's life are critically important in their lives, but learning does not stop there. Sugara Mitra talks about his experiment in placing a computer into a wall in a slum in Delhi. He placed it at a height children could easily reach and left. And what were these children doing on this computer? Via remote desktop, Mitra was able to observe what the children were doing with this new object of fascination. With no training on how to use a computer, young children were teaching themselves how to use it. They figured out how to use the character map because the computer had no keyboard. And the real kicker is that the computer operated in English so these unstoppable learners taught themselves English in order to be able to teach themselves how to use the computer! These are children living in desperate conditions, without access to the luxuries of tutors, specialized education programs, even basic school supplies. And yet, that thirst for knowledge is unquenchable when given an outlet for development. Mitra pushed his experiment further. He developed a proposition: with access to a computer, would Tamil speaking children in a village with access to a computer programed in English be able to teach themselves about DNA replication? Without teachers, without adult supervision, without computer training of any kind, these children in an Indian village did in fact teach themselves about DNA duplication. And so Mitra saw something that has been observable but often ignored: children do not need to be taught how to learn. Teaching is not about training children to learn. Children begin learning in the womb. As educators, it's often more our role to set up an environment that provides fertile soil for the growth of that inherent learning ability. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is step out of the way!

Our entire philosophy is built around this idea: children are natural learners. They do not need to be taught to be curious, interested, or explorative. Every parent knows that babies and toddlers are the most curious creatures alive. This ability does not magically cease to exist when they enter school, but sadly it seems to wither in the confines of a classroom, rigid schedule, lifeless textbooks, and arbitrary standards. We've found that educating children via a philosophy that allows for more personalization, less rigid evaluation, and a broader definition of "learning" allows this inborn skill to flourish. Our study guides are not strict to-do lists. They do not contain a lot of tests. They're structured around fantastic stories and literature. We encourage parents to take part in their children's learning process, to discuss ideas and events, to channel curiosity into critical thinking. So if you find yourself bogged down in a curriculum that has endless checklists and fill-in-the blank worksheets, consider taking a step back. Seek to encourage joy in exploration. The learning will come. And take a bit of time to listen to the podcast, it's a great reminder that sometimes we just need to let go of our expectations and allow children the freedom to be their curious selves.

We would love to hear what you think! Chime in below in the comments section and share your thoughts. Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Pinterest pages. To learn more about Beautiful Feet Books, click here. And if you've enjoyed this, please feel free to share using the buttons below.