Monday, July 16, 2012

A Charlotte Mason Music Class

Last year I started a small, Charlotte Mason-inspired homeschool co-op. I played the role of music teacher within the group and we sought to included the aspects of music appreciation that were endorsed by Charlotte Mason in her writings. These included composer study, hymn study, and folk music. Following is a synopsis of the music classes that were held in our Charlotte Mason co-op.

Composer study was allotted for the first portion of each class. One composer was studied per semester, and our composers last year were Bach and Mozart. We began each class session with a narration time, where the children were asked to tell me something that they remembered from previous weeks about the composer. After that, new information was presented, which involved reading aloud from one of Opal Wheeler’s composer biographies. These books are very engaging and informative -- perfect to use for composer study. I also conducted some additional research about the composers so that I could present interesting facts about their lives that may not have been included in the Opal Wheeler books. In addition, I used the corresponding Opal Wheeler CDs and played the short selections that corresponded with each chapter in the book.

I then played one or more musical selections by our featured composer that lasted a maximum of ten minutes. During this time of listening, the children were given something to do with their hands. For the younger class, (K- 3rd) this usually involved a coloring page. The Opal Wheeler CD-ROMs contain coloring pages that correspond with the chapters in her books. Also, I found some free coloring pages of musical instruments and musical symbols online. The older group (4th - 8th) were given notebooking pages to draw and write on. Sometimes the children simply used plain paper to draw or write on while listening to the music. After the listening time was over, we talked about the music a bit. I asked the children to tell me the instruments that they heard in each piece, whether the tempo was fast or slow, what the music made them think of, and how it made them feel. This created an opportunity to use group discussion to strengthen the connection with the music.

We studied hymns in our Charlotte Mason music class, mostly focusing on hymns with lyrics that were written by Fanny Crosby. Prior to the beginning of the school year, I read a biography about Fanny Crosby in preparation for the class. I presented a fact or two about Fanny’s life and held up her picture each week. We learned a different hymn by Fanny Crosby every month. For the younger class, I came up with hand motions for the some of the hymns to help keep their attention. Also, I used a jazzed-up version of “To God Be the Glory” a couple of times that the younger group really enjoyed.

For the folk song portion of the class, we learned American patriotic songs and American folk music because many homeschooled children may not have had as much exposure to these as their public school counterparts. It seemed like a good opportunity to present them. During the first semester, we sang traditional songs, such as “America the Beautiful” and “America”. During the second semester, we sang the more ‘fun’ variety of American songs, including “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”, “Turkey In the Straw”, and “The Erie Canal”.

For the final portion of class, I took a few minutes to introduce or review a musical concept. These topics were diverse and included the families of instruments in the orchestra; music notes, signs, and symbols; note values and rhythm; melody, harmony, and learning to sing in a round; posture and breathing while singing; and some basic musical terms.

I love the richness that a Charlotte Mason education brings to the homeschool experience. I appreciate her view of art and music as integral parts of education. I must admit, though, that I have found it difficult at times to include them in my home school regularly. They tend to get buried underneath the subjects that we traditionally view as core. That is why the Charlotte Mason co-op was so valuable for my children and for me. Although this may sound terrible, the co-op literally forced me to include composer study and picture study consistently in my children’s education. Every time I hear one of my children make a reference to Mozart or to Bach, I know that the classes were worthwhile. When we are singing a hymn in church and one of my kids excitedly says, “That’s a Fanny Crosby song,”  I can’t help but smile. Something that was very gratifying for me about teaching the music class was the way that many of the families continued the learning at home. Almost every week, a child would come to class almost bursting to tell me something they had learned about Bach or Mozart from a book they read at home or a documentary their family watched together. This made the class especially meaningful for me. 

I truly hope that you will  find a way to gently incorporate the arts into your children‘s education, whether that occurs in a group situation or among your family at home. I can tell you that it is so worth it. Our children need not only to be instructed; they also need to feel inspired.

Monday, July 2, 2012

My Family


Tonight I colored my hair, which got me to thinking about the frugal steps that homeschooling families often take in order to survive on a single household income. Maybe it seems unusual for hair color to bring frugality to mind, but up until a few years ago, I made regular trips to a salon for professional highlights. Then I changed my strategy and decided to color my hair at home in order to save money. That was only one of many small steps that I have taken over the years in an attempt to live more frugally. Below is a list of some of the money saving choices that our family has made at various times. It is by no means an exhaustive list; these are simply some of the items that came to mind.

  • I color my own hair at home as opposed to professional highlights. (see above)
  • My husband and I do not have smart phones, iphones, or any other type of fancy cell phone. We each have a ten dollar tracfone and we buy prepaid cards to obtain minutes for them. We only use our cell phones when we are away from home or in an emergency situation. These bare, basic phones don't have any extras, such as the ability to take pictures or a keypad for easy texting, but they still perform the basic function of allowing us to make a call when we need to. Leaving off all the bells and whistles saves us an awful lot of money, which is a worthwhile trade-off in my opinion.
  • We do not have any television stations whatsoever. Yes, I'm completely serious -- please don't faint! We don't have cable or satellite T.V. We don't even have a 'rabbit ear' antenna on top of our T.V. We only keep our television -- the old, boxy kind that isn't digital and doesn't have a flat screen -- to watch occasional movies together or to play the Wii. Our T.V. technically 'bit the dust' several years ago and we realized that we didn't miss it. I'm so glad we didn't get a new one. I don't have to worry about the content that my children watch and we don't have to pay for cable or satellite T.V. 
  • We rarely eat out and I always utilize a meal plan. I must admit that I have struggled a bit with the meal plan over the years. I have read and followed books about meal planning. At times I have prepared freezer meals. For awhile I used an online meal planning service called e-mealz. Right now I am making my own weekly meal plans from a list that I compiled of about twenty-five of our family's favorite recipes. I have never found a system that is absolutely perfect, but I know that I spend far less money at the grocery store when I use some type of  meal plan. And we only eat out when we have planned ahead to eat out, which also saves a lot of money.
  • I shop at a discount grocery store (Aldi). I find that I spend far less when I shop at Aldi than I do using coupons at a regular grocery store. I will admit, though, that I don't buy everything at Aldi. I am quite a stickler about only purchasing food products that are made with natural ingredients for my children to eat. Also, I am on a strict gluten-free diet. Thus, some of our food is purchased at a health food store. But I still save a lot by purchasing all that I can at Aldi.
  • I prepare my meals with natural ingredients and avoid convenience foods. Not only is this healthier, but avoiding prepared foods saves money too.
  • My children don't have birthday parties every year. This may seem like a small thing, but I thought it might be worth mentioning. We celebrate each of our children's birthdays every year within our own family with a special dinner, cake, and gifts. However, our children take turns having a birthday party that includes their friends as invited guests. Parties cost money and my children's birthdays happen close together. It would be a financial strain to pay for each of them to have a birthday party every single year. 
  • I avoid Wal-Mart like the plague. There was a time when I found myself making too many trips to Wal-Mart. I was frequently going in to buy a few items, but it seemed that I couldn't get back out the door without spending at least fifty dollars. Wal-Mart is the type of store that intentionally makes it difficult to run in and get only one or two things. For me, better planning of my necessary Wal-Mart trips helped to ensure that I frequented the discount giant no more than once a month. This plan turned out to be much healthier for my pocketbook.
  • I practice contentment. This is the most effective and important frugal tip that I could ever learn. It is easy to compare ourselves with others, but those comparisons always rob us of true happiness. In our family, we don't drive new cars or have all the latest items. We don't live in a big or fancy house. And guess what? We are happy.  Praying for and practicing contentment is essential for saving money and also for experiencing real joy. 
These are some of the ways that we have attempted to live more frugally. As my husband prepares for a job change and our family faces a possible move, I am looking for new ways to cut corners. How have you been successful at saving money for your family? I would love to know your tips!