Monday, November 30, 2009

Dd is for Discovery

We end our week of learning with a focus on science and nature. In Letters of Grace we have included three levels of discovery activities tied into the letter theme of each week. By the time a child has cycled through the three levels of Letters of Grace, seventy-eight different science-themed topics will have been encountered. Sprouting beans into plants, observing ants by setting up a feeding station, learning about states of matter by melting broken crayons into crayon cookies or using your backyard to measure just how big a dinosaur really is. By using materials that are familiar to the child, the goal is to spark the child's interest in the natural world.

We were careful to choose activities that are both age-approrpriate and realistic for use in the home. Simple household supplies and your backyard are the required resources for most of the activities. For those odds and ends that need to be located? All items have been listed by category on the weekly supply list.

Along with the discovery activity, a related book has been assigned for each week. The titles are included in the weekly reading list. With your reading list, supply list and activity page tucked neatly inside your planning notebook, you and your child are ready to discover.

The next stop of the Letters of Grace curriculum tour is Hh is for History.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Aa is for Art

In the letters-of-grace the focus of the third day of learning is art. Whether leading the child towards that which is beautiful or directing the child through the steps of an art project, the goal of this day is to inspire creativity.
We begin the day with picture study centered around the development of virtue and the formation of habit. We have chosen for each week a famous work of art and connected the subject matter of the painting to a corresponding lesson in virtue or habit. Aa is for Attention, Bb is for Bravery, Cc is for Compassion are just the first examples of the topics covered in this aspect of the curriculum. The art work has been beautifully formatted in a printable version and will be available on the website along with the other printable resources for each week of plans. By simply rotating the art work each week on the family's refrigerator or a bulletin board, the young child will be exposed to a variety of famous art along with a constant reminder and opportunity for the formation of the will

The joy of creating with one's hands is another focus of day three. In Letters of Grace you will find three levels of creative projects, appropriate for each of the three levels of learning. We were careful to select art activities that use accessible supplies and can be produced easily by the child. The supplies for each week are listed on the printable weekly supply list along with any other supplies necessary for the week. The third level of Letters of Grace transitions from art projects to handcrafts. Resources for learning the creative hand skill of your child's choice will be included in the resources pages.

Dd is for Discovery is the next stop on the Letters of Grace tour. Please leave any questions in the comment box or send them via email. They will be answered in a single post after the tour is completed. The tour now has it's own page and is archived under the title Letters of Grace on the left side bar under Learning Through the Year of Grace. We are spending a great amount of time creating the resources for the curriculum, building and designing the website, organizing the Amazon bookstore and creating the message board. Please pray for us as we continue to add content to the new website and work on its design. We are so excited to share it with you.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Washington DC

I finally got around to getting the DC pix onto the computer, so here is a look at a few of the highlights (there were too many to name, we did some amazing things in just 4 days!)

We all shared a bowl of the famous peanut chesnut soup at Mt. Vernon, the crocodile hunter said it looked like bat barf - but everyone thought it tasted great!

Peeking out the windows of the Washington Monument, I always wanted to go to the top as a kid!

The fountains at the World War II Memorial - it was beautiful!

My personal favorite - the National Gallery of Art - we spent 5 hours there, and it was amazing to see in person so many works of art we have studied!

The little princess parked herself in front of Monet's Water Lilies - and sketched her own version in colored pencil. Here she is on the phone, telling Grandma what painting she is looking at - it is Grandma's favorite!

For some reason, riding the bus was a highlight - the girls loved getting on and off - and always wanted to sit in the back.

And of course, the subway - a new experience for these country kids :)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thank God

"Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s."

Thank God someone in the church is finally willing to stand up and say that what is happening is wrong! Thank you, Bishop Basil, and may others hear your voice and stand up beside you.

If you want to stand up and make your voice heard - sign the Manhattan Declaration here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cc is for Cooking

Breaking bread. Taking the raw ingredients of God's good creation, using our gifts to create something greater than the individual parts, and sharing that creation to nourish our loved ones. Such is the gift of the family meal. In designing an early childhood curriculum centered on the life of the family, we made sure to incorporate those aspects of family life that serve to bind us together.
In the previous post we toured the first day of learning which begins the week with an emphasis on our Orthodox Faith. On the second day we turn our focus to the family table. Welcoming a young child's help in the kitchen benefits the child in many ways. Reading a recipe serves as a lesson in following directions. Abstract mathematical concepts become concrete when measuring ingredients. Motor skills mature through the tactile nature of food preparation. But most importantly, relationships are nourished.
In Letters of Grace you will find two letter-themed recipes selected for each weekly plan. In designing an Orthodox curriculum we could not ignore the fasting and festal seasons which affect every detail of our daily life, even down to the family menu. We wanted to avoid the situation in which a family would feel compelled to schedule the plans according to the liturgical year, avoiding using the plans during the four major fasting seasons. For this reason we opted to include a choice of two appropriate recipes for each lesson. In each week of plans you will find both a festal and fasting recipe, clearly explained and beautifully presented. The recipes have been formatted for download and printing and are intended to be added to the planning notebook.
Child-friendly, simple and delicious are the goals of every recipe. We have chosen main dish, snack and dessert recipes that are simple enough for a child to assist in its preparation. We hope these recipes will become family favorites and inspire culinary creativity in the children who participate in their preparation.
Please feel free to leave questions in the comment box or send them via email. Next stop on the Letters of Grace tour? Aa is for Art.

Tea Party for the Theotokos

The annual tea party for the Presentation of the Theotokos. Every year, all the little girls (ages 2-12) in our parish gather for a tea party in honor of the Theotokos. This year, 30 young ladies wearing their finest dined on muffins, jelly sandwiches and fruit, and "tea" poured by Father himself. Each girl brings a candle and takes part in a very special procession in the church, in memory of the girls who processed before the precious Mary at age three, as she made her way to the temple, to become the living Holy of Holies, the one human chosen to fully and physically contain God within her.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Ss is for Saint

Aa is for Andrew

The first day of the undated, weekly lesson plan begins with the theme Ss is for Saint. An Orthodox curriculum by necessity must be centered on our Faith and each week begins with the story of a saint whose name begins with the letter of the week. Careful attention was given to the selection of the saints for this curriculum. We could not ignore the need for a systematic introduction to phonics and for this reason, avoided long vowels and soft or blended consonant sounds in choosing the name of the saint for each week.
The lesson begins with the introduction of the letter of the week through original art work. Inspired by the illustrations found in Waldorf alphabet books such as Schrager's LMNOP and All the Letters from A to Z and Zonneveld's The Waldorf Alphabet Book, we have taken the concept of letter art and given it a Byzantine twist. The art will be available as a PDF and can either be viewed on the screen or printed for the child's learning notebook. A black line drawing of the weekly alphabet art will be available for the child to color and keep in the notebook as well.
After the saint and letter of the week are introduced, an Orthodox children's book on the life of the saint is scheduled to be read. These books will more than likely be the only book selections that are not readily available from the public library. We hope that the slow addition of Orthodox literature in the home library will give families a larger variety of books to read when using the resource Reading Through the Year of Grace.
Once our spiritual reading is finished, we will move on to phonics instruction. With three levels in mind, we have made every attempt to cover the many stages of development. At this point we are in the process of creating pre-writing sheets for the younger sibling who is interesting in following along, but not quite ready to begin formal learning. The goal is fine motor skill practice for the aspiring writer.
The first level of Letters of Grace assumes a child's initial introduction to the formation of letters. While short vowel and hard consonant sounds will be briefly introduced throughout the week, letter recognition and basic formation are the primary goals of Level One. Within the first level, you will find two sub-levels of letter formation instruction from which to choose. Both will be available for download and printing. As the pages are available as a PDF, the child will be offered an unlimited opportunity for practice.
The introductory series, My First Letters, was created for the child who is relatively new to working on fine motor writing skills and needs a large letter for formation practice. Both the lower and upper case letter of the week will be available for unlimited download and printing.

Some children will begin Level One with previous letter formation experience and the second sub-level of handwriting instruction was designed for the young child who needs further practice in formation. The model letters offer guided arrow instruction in letter formation and assure that the child is writing them properly.

The child working in Level One will benefit from two sets of Montessori-inspired three-part cards. The first set uses the Letters of Grace original artwork, while the second set offers an opportunity for the child to gain familiarity with the icon of each saint. These cards can be used in future years as well.

For the child working in the second level of Letters of Grace, you will find more opportunity for letter formation practice, along with an introduction to writing words. A second level of phonics is introduced in this level as long vowel sounds will be taught along side the introductory short vowels. Companion reading lessons using the Bob Books series along with additional spelling practice and introductory copywork sheets created for Letters of Grace will be introduced in a future post.

The third level of our curriculum includes an alphabetical introduction of the 70 phonograms. Having the opportunity to be slowly and gently familiarized with all of the sounds of the English language, we have used Orthodox vocabulary to present advanced phonics. Flashcards will be available for download along with ideas for using them. The copywork sentences make up a child's first Orthodox dictionary, as the model sentences define the Orthodox vocabulary used in the phonogram lessons. (More advanced reading lessons and custom spelling and copywork sheets using the I Can Read series, along with an introduction to basic grammar using Father Deacon James Hughes' The Sentence Family will be discussed in a future post.)

As we mentioned in the planning post, please feel free to leave any questions in the comment box or send them via email. We are collecting them to answer in a post after the Letters of Grace tour is complete. Next stop on the tour? Cc is for Cooking.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pp is for Planning

When beginning the work of designing a complete curriculum for the early years, Mary, Matushka Emily and I began by taking into consideration the context of family life, the loving atmosphere in which the child will be learning. The balancing act of juggling multiple curriculums can be daunting. Unless a curriculum is designed for the reality of the home environment, in relation to time and focused attention from the parent, the task can prove itself to be frustrating at best and at its worst, impossible.
For this reason we have laid out one cohesive curriculum, purposed to span multiple ages, from a precocious three-year old to a nine-year old in need of additional phonics instruction. Each aspect of Letters of Grace includes three distinct skill levels of learning concentrated on similarly themed subject matter. From simple letter recognition to advanced phonogram study and introductory grammar, the three-tiered approach accommodates a family with many young children as well as the entire early education of one child. Each time a child begins a new year of Letters of Grace, a unique learning experience will be encountered.
We begin each week with a clearly laid out plan. A color-coded, all-in-one page view will be available for download and printing for each week of the plans. No matter the number of children using the curriculum and regardless of the span of their ages, all of the plans for the week are neatly laid out on one sheet.
A page of lesson notes, offering more detailed explanations of the week's lessons, insights and helpful tips will accompany the lesson planning chart. The weekly pages will be completed with a weekly book list organized by suggested reading level and alphabetized by author, along with a weekly supply list. We hope these lists help the teaching parent to gather books and supplies ahead of time, alleviating the need for last minute list-making and frantic scrambling for resources.

All of the planning resources for Letters of Grace will be offered as PDFs. Since we cannot control the availability or longevity of outside web sources, the curriculum does not depend in any way on internet links. For this reason, Letters of Grace is unique. Countless hours have been spent attentively customizing the resources for each week of plans. Every activity, recipe and project has been carefully worded, mother-to-mother, and beautifully presented to be used within the context of a family's daily life.
Step-by-step instructions will be offered for setting up the parent's planning notebook as well as the child's learning notebook. A clearly labeled cover page with original artwork and a table of contents will be available for download and printing. The only thing necessary to purchase will be a 3-ring binder with a clear pocket cover and a set of alphabetical index dividers at your local office supply store. All planning pages and resources will be conveniently filed behind the alphabetical tabs. Once the notebooks are set up with the printed resources, there will be no pressing need to return to the computer to use the plans. With your notebook and library card, you're ready to go.
The next post in this series will begin a guided tour of the planning chart previewed here. We will begin with Ss is for Saint. In the meantime, please feel free to leave any questions in the comment box or send them via email. We plan to collect the questions and answer them in a single post after the tour of Letters of Grace is complete.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Letters of Grace

Introducing a Complete Orthodox Curriculum for the Early Years

Long ago there lived a young boy, about the age of seven, who struggled in learning to read and write. Despite the greatest of efforts, the work of learning letters bore him no fruit. Discouraged by the ridicule of his peers and the disappointment of his parents, with great pain of heart, the young boy retreated into the forest.
As he walked along a heavily wooded path, the sight of an elder praying beneath the massive oaks startled him. As he quietly approached the holy man, the elder turned to the young boy and immediately recognized that he was greatly troubled. Pouring out his pain over his lack of learning, the elder responded by offering him a gift of blessed bread, a sign of God's help, which he carefully pulled from a small pouch.
Take and eat it. This is given to you as a sign of God's grace and for understanding of the Scriptures.
By God's grace, he immediately learned to read and write with ease. All the days of his life, he used his ability to acquire knowledge as a means to acquire the grace of God. This young boy, Bartholomew, grew to be St. Sergius of Radonezh, the 14th century founder of the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra in Russia and the patron of our curriculum.

Over the next several days we will be sharing a series of posts on our new curriculum, Letters of Grace, a complete curriculum for young children between the ages of three and nine. These plans will constitute the material that will launch our new Learning Through the Year of Grace website, due to make its debut sometime in late spring to early summer. Please don't hesitate to ask questions.
The end of this project is in sight. It has been a labor of love. Beginning in January, our three families (Mary's, Emily's, and ours) will be giving it a trial run, testing the details of the plans with the tool of real life. Our goal is to offer a fully tested curriculum, intuitively organized and easily understood by the teaching parent and thoroughly enjoyable for the child and family. We hope you enjoy this tour of the work of our hands and ask that you pray for us as we work to contribute more towards Orthodox curriculum. And of course, all of the plans and printable resources will be available online free of charge.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Advent Reading

So, how are we using our Reading Through the Nativity List? Each book for the season has been pulled out from the Christmas storage and carefully wrapped in candy stripe paper (I bought rolls of this one year for a dollar, fun for kids and I don't feel guilty using expensive paper) and placed in a basket under the Christmas tree in my kitchen. There are about 25 books (I label on the back the ones that are specific to a saint day such as St. Herman so we can open those as appropriate). Each evening we gather for our prayers, Jesse Tree readings and hanging ornaments, then the kids pick a book to open and we read it together. The opened books stay in the other basket, ready to be re-read throughout the season. I have been doing this for 6 years now, and it is so much fun to see how excited they get when they find an old favorite under the wrapping paper. My oldest takes his time in his selection, sizing the book up, trying to open his personal favorites early in the fast. And since there are always nights when things go crazy, not having 40 books is not a problem, as we run lower on books, I will re-read a favorite one night rather than opening a new book.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Advent Wreath

Since our women's retreat, there has been much discussion concerning the "proper" colors for advent candles. Some use purple with a pink for the Theotokos, following the Roman Catholic tradition. Others have a more elaborate color system - with a different color for each Sunday during Advent. This year, I decided to use the beeswax candles I already had at home - and to differentiate the weeks, I printed off thumbnail icons for each Sunday. A little mod podge and some gold 3-D paint around the edges, and we now have a lovely advent wreath, commemorating the Sundays that fall during Advent.
Download icon images
And, if you are looking for an amazing resource of beautiful fresco icon images of some harder to find parables etc - check out this site!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bringing Church Home

Last Saturday was our annual church women's retreat. Normally we have a weekend event, and often bring in a speaker. This year, my mother came up with the concept of focusing on practical aspects of Orthodox living. Due to circumstances beyond our control, the hotel we had booked fell through, and the retreat was shifted to a one day event held at the church. Looking back, that was a real blessing! The theme was Bringing Church Home, and we decided to have a series of mini workshops led by some of our own ladies, along with a series of discussion periods focusing on female saints and scripture passages. The goal was to present a wide range of ideas gathered through reading, online research and personal experience, and share some of the more tangible ways we express our faith. It was an amazing day, and I learned so much. I would like to share with all of you some of the many wonderful ideas, displays and information from this day, so I will be posting a series of posts here outlining what was covered. Here is a list of the topics, and as I post on each one, I will link to this main post.

The Home Altar
Daily Devotional Aids
Service in the Church
The Nativity Fast
Preparing for Pascha
What's in your Pascha Basket?
Home Organization Tips

Bringing Church Home: Fasting and Feasting

(notes taken from the 2009 women's retreat at my parish)
Why do we fast? NOT to afflict selves with pain – learn to sacrifice

Correct approach to fasting
1) Gain mastery over ourselves – deny control to the demons of our passions thus depriving Satan of points of entry into ourselves - we must also replace those foods with worthy activities
2) To express our unity with the church – for me – this is huge – during Lent, feel like an outsider to this world, feel as if I don’t belong – need the frequent contact with the church and those who are journeying with me
3) Allow us to focus on the services of the church (cannot do this if we are planning elaborate fasting meals, or worrying at the last minute about what to cook)

Fasting is a two edged sword. It allows us to be more alert – not lulled into the satisfaction of a full belly, but at the same time it must not become our focus– obsession – if all we think about is proper fasting, then we have simply traded one passion for another.

Importance of fasting –Often it is easy to consider it a minor thing to break the fast, certainly God overlooks this, not like I commited a serious offense, yet breaking the fast mimics the original sin of Adam and Eve – eating that which was forbidden.

Things to consider when fastingFasting is not a natural thing, not easy – we must plan for it, prepare
Quickest way to fail – to be unprepared
Must take care to not fall into legalism

Practical Aspects of Fasting:
One key to making fasting more doable is menu planning. Taking a few hours to plan out a menu for the fast will save many hours later, and enable us to focus on the services of the church not on what we will be fixing for dinner.

First - determine the frequency of your menu. You can prepare one weekly menu and repeat it throughout the fast, or you can alternate two menus, or plan different meals for each week. Once you decide how often you will repeat meals, select the appropriate number of recipes using the following criteria:
What does my family like? What will my kids realistically eat?
Are the meals simple to prepare? Elaborate or fancy dishes not only make it harder to attend services, but also contradict what the church fathers say about fasting.
Do the dishes I select follow the spirit of the fast? If one of our goals is to tame the passions, and we simply switch from Ore*s to Hydr*x cookies during the fast, we are technically fasting, but not taming our passion for food.

Once you have selected your recipes, gather them all in one place. You may want a binder to store them in, or a recipe box or on your computer. Just make sure they are together and easy to access. I have mine in a 3 ring binder organized by day of the week. I use page protectors with a tab and insert for each day of the week, then I file each recipe for that day behind the divider.

Now, using those recipes, create a master weekly grocery list. You can also create a list of all non-perishables that can be purchased ahead if you like to bulk shop.

A few tips for grab and go foods: Amy's non-dairy burritos are a favorite around here, we always keep a supply in the freezer. Spaghetti in a jar, or homemade and frozen in meal sized portions is a quick meal. Zat*arain's beans and rice makes a great no fuss lunch or dinner.
Helpful Links
"When we fast, we search the earth and sea up and down: the earth in order to collect seeds, produce, fruit, spices, and every other kind of growing edible; the sea to find shellfish, mollusks, snails, sea-urchins, and anything edible therein. We prepare dry foods, salted foods, pickled foods, and sweet foods, and from these ingredients we concoct many and motley dishes, seasoned with oil, wine, sweeteners, and spices. Then we fill the table even more than when we are eating meat. Moreover, since these foods stimulate the appetite, we eat and drink beyond moderation. And after that we imagine that we are fasting....
"And whoever taught those who fast in this way that such a variety and such quantities of food constitute a fast? Where did they read or hear that anyone who simply avoids meats or fish is fasting, even if he eats a great amount and different kinds of food? Fasting is one thing, great variety in food another; fasting is one thing, eating great amounts of food another."
Nicephorus Theotokis [Fasting and Science, 18-19]

Nativity Fast Menu

I am spending this week finishing up all of my planning for the season of the Nativity, so I thought I would share my menu for the season. A few explanations - here are guidelines for the fast. Sunday we always fast before the Eucharist, and my kids usually just snack for lunch since they tend to fill up at coffee hour after church. I am keeping our breakfast and lunch menu consistent throughout the fast, but I will alternate dinners for a little variety, so that is why there are sometimes two meals listed for dinner. You may also download a copy of this menu here. I will post recipes (or links to recipes) and my grocery list in the next few days.

Dinner: lentil burgers/chili

Breakfast: oatmeal
Lunch: potato soup
Dinner: taco salad/haystacks

Breakfast: granola & fruit
Lunch: soy quesadillas & tomato soup
Dinner: shrimp, rice and vegetables

Breakfast: oatmeal
Lunch: burritos
Dinner: spaghetti & salad/taco soup

Breakfast: granola & fruit
Lunch: pbj & ginger lentil soup
Dinner: falafel/ cabbage rolls

Breakfast: oatmeal
Lunch: burritos
Dinner: bean soup/vegetable soup

Breakfast: pancakes
Lunch: dahl, flatbread and rice
Dinner: spring rolls/fish tacos

Let us fast an acceptable and very pleasing fast to the Lord. True fast is the estrangement from evil, temperance of tongue, abstinence from anger, separation from desires, slander, falsehood, perjury. Privation of these is true fasting.
St. Basil the Great

Monday, November 9, 2009

Reading Through the Season of the Nativity

While I have been buried in plans for our local church women's retreat (posts coming soon), Mary has been busy at work organizing our list of Nativity books. This season of the church is fast approaching, and is the second of the great fasts of the Church. Beginning on November 15, those in the Orthodox Church prepare for December 25 through fasting, prayer and almsgiving. However, the church continues the celebration of this season with the feast of Theophany on January 6 and then concludes with the Feast of the Presentation on February 2. Because of this, we have chosen to include titles that go beyond just the traditional Christmas story books. We have included books for the saints of the season, books on the Great Feasts celebrated during this period of time, titles specifically devoted to the birth of Christ, pious customs related to the feast of Nativity, and traditional folktales from Orthodox countries make up the substance of our list.
This list is far from being a comprehensive list, and your suggestions are welcome. We have included some titles that are not strictly Orthodox. We chose to include books we feel are both well-written and beautifully illustrated. We have hyper-linked the titles to assist you in determining if these are appropriate choices for your family. There are many traditional Christmas books you will not find on this list, since there are so many other Christmas themed reading lists online and we did not wish to duplicate them.
We hope this list will be a help to you and your family as you prepare for the blessed Nativity season, and keep us in your prayers as we continue with our projects.