Sunday, July 21, 2013

Might be quiet around here for the next couple of weeks...

We are headed out tomorrow on a partial work trip for my husband - partial vacation for the next two weeks.  Our internet access is likely to be limited, so it will be a couple of weeks before you hear from me again!   Hope your summer is going well, and look forward to chatting with you when we get back!   (For real - looks like the commenting issues I was having have been resolved, so I do look forward to really being able to chat with you all again!)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Education and the Glory of God

After I finished reading the rest of Chapter 45 in RC Sproul’s St Andrews Expositional Commentary on Romans 11:36,  I wanted to add a little bit more to what I wrote about on this topic the other day.
Romans 11:36 (NKJV) tells us:
“For of Him, and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be the glory forever. Amen.”
I already wrote about the significance “of Him”.   I’d like to break down what the significance of “through Him” and “to Him” are, and relate those to some of the thoughts I’ve been having about what difference this all makes in how we educate our children (or ourselves for that matter).
“Through Him”
Sproul tells us that this phrase refers to the sovereignty of God.  God is sovereign over, in, and through all things.  Resting in God’s sovereignty is one of the great joys of the believer – we can trust that He is in control of all things.   Sovereignty is a key attribute of God – if even one molecule was out of place, he would not be sovereign, and he would not be God.
When I read this statement in the commentary, it resonated with me.  I have been reading a book called The Disappearing Spoon, which is basically an entertaining look at the history of the periodic table.  (Yes, I’m reading a book about chemistry for fun.  Yes, I have accepted the fact that I am a hopeless nerd.)   This book isn’t a “Christian” book – the author very evidently assumes evolutionary theory as a fact.   And yet, I have found myself fascinated by all the stories of people who have discovered new elements or posed new theories about how the world works on the atomic and subatomic levels.  I can barely wrap my mind around all the detail there is when you plunge beneath what is plainly seen on the surface, and I can’t help be see the fingerprints of the Creator all over it. 
“To Him”
Sproul says that this phrase speaks of “the purpose towards which everything is moving” – what is the ultimate goal and purpose of history?  All things – even the those things that seem bad on the surface – are for His glory.  He goes on to explain that the Hebrew word for glory implies “weightiness”.   God’s glory is His significance and value.   We cannot begin to fathom the depths of God’s glory.   In Revelation 21, we are told that in the New Jerusalem there will be no light, nor lamp, nor sun because the radiance of God’s glory will supply all the light that is needed and it will never be extinguished.  Our appropriate response is reverence, awe, humility, and submission.  “To Him be the glory forever and ever!”   All things are meant for His glory – to reveal His significance and value and inspire in us reverence, awe, humility, and submission.  
This is what education that is truly ‘Christian’ will do.  It will help us  see and reflect God’s glory in the world and lead us to worship Him.  This is what studying chemistry – even from a “secular” book – has helped me do.  It has helped me to understand the sovereignty of God on a whole new level – He is in control of every single particle down to the minutest subatomic level.  He governs the laws that control how all of these elements interact with one another.   I have no practical need to apply the information that I’ve read in this book, but my knowledge of God has increased.   That alone makes study worth pursuing.
This is what I aspire to give to my children as well.   I don’t merely want to prepare them for the world beyond our home.
I want them to get a little glimpse of God’s glory.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

What We've Learned: June - July 2013

We’ve never really been big on following the traditional school year…but since moving here and living in such close proximity to others who do has sort of forced us to this year.  So this month we’ve wrapped a few things up and switched a few things around....
Term One of AO Year 1
We’ve had a rather interrupted year, but we did finally complete the first 12 weeks of AO Year 1.  I’m so pleased with how it’s been going for us and how much both Michelle and I are enjoying reading and learning together.   It has been so much fun to see her begin to make connections between various things we’ve read together – such as with Dangerous Journey: noting the similarities with the dragon battle in St George and the Dragon, and recognizing some of the Biblical references (like “the Valley of the Shadow of Death”).    Or when our memory work poem for June “just happened” to be a little portion of a speech of Ariel’s from The Tempest, and the same week we began to memorize it one of our reading assignments was to read the story version of The Tempest in Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare.  This version of the story ends with the same little quote of Ariel’s (“Where the bee sucks, there suck I…”) and you should have seen her face light up when she heard it!   Another fun example: we wrapped up our composer study of Mozart and have switched to Bach.  Yesterday the kids asked me if I could put on Mozart for them again just because “they missed him”!  June has also been a wonderful Nature Study month – you may have already seen our updates about our caterpillar undergoing metamorphosis…I loved the awe and wonder on all of their faces when we first saw him as a butterfly!   Michelle has taken a great deal of interest in the birds we see in our yard as well – we are slowly working on identifying them.  It has been such a delight to me to see the personal initiative that she is beginning to take, often noticing things that I don’t.  I still remember our very first nature walk where I told her to see “how many blue things she could find” and the best she could come up with was “there’s a blue car over there mama!”   We’ve come a long way, baby!
Math-U-See Alpha
We also wrapped up Math-U-See Alpha.  It was slow going at times, but we did it.   We also finished up a 6-week module of MEP Year 1 (which we picked up in the middle).   Whereas MUS is very systematic, MEP has been challenging and stretching her to think about numbers in new ways.   I like both of these curriculums for very different reasons and am trying to figure exactly what direction I want to take with them.   I’d love to figure out how to mesh them both together somehow….
I haven’t been doing any formal lessons with James, but he has been consistently choosing to read out of his readers (the All About Reading Level 1 Readers) several times per week and thus getting in some good practice with sounding out three letter words.  He’s also taken an interest in writing and trying to spell things (last week it was all the names of the Little House in the Prairie characters) and has taught himself how to write numbers up to 30 (correctly, I should add).  I’ve also been trying to make a point to read books off of the AO Year 0 list with he and Elizabeth – currently enjoying the stories of Beatrix Potter.  So I guess it doesn’t matter that I’m not doing any formal lessons with him….
Summer Term
We’ve now switched gears to what we are calling “Summer Term” until the school kids in our neighborhood go back the second week of August.   This is basically our way of keeping some structure in our days when we don’t have other activities going on!   Summer term for us consists of:
  • Math daily – we are continuing to reinforce addition and subtraction skills by using MEP Year 1.
  • Reading Daily – independently and together – at least one thing off the AO reading lists.  Just to keep moving forward, and because we love reading AO books. J   It is taking us 2 weeks to read through 1 week worth of books at this pace.
  • Tea Time – another activity that has become a staple in our home.  We have tea and cookies, read poems, talk about nature observations, maybe do a bit of geography or French.
  • Games – the addition of a daily game period has been a huge hit with all 3 kids.  We are revisiting old favorites, trying to learn some new ones (I picked up a simple set of ’30 Classic Games’ all in one box that we are trying out), and occasionally sneak a math game in there too.
  • Nature Study – aiming for one journal entry per week, as usual.
  • Drawing with Children – I’ve had this book on my shelf for more than 2 years and am just now getting around to using it.  It’s a little intimidating to start with, but the lesson plans from Donna Young have helped a lot getting started.  We are having a blast with it!
  • And as we have time, I have some ideas for some craft and writing projects we might work on.  Right now we are working on taking photos to make a little book on a topic of their choice.  Michelle wants to make one about her rock collection, the two little ones both what to do one about their chores!!  
Overall, we’re being a lot more relaxed though – last week my husband was off of work so we had  a ‘staycation’ of sorts and hanging out with Papa took priority over doing “school”.  And it’s looking like we may be able to travel with him for a work-related trip coming up at the end of the month, which should be a fun opportunity as well.
So, that’s what’s up in our home.  Hope you are having a wonderful “summer” too!!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Something New To Us This Year: Sunday Reading

Not too long ago, I did a series about how we are approaching Bible teaching in our home.  (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).  For the most part the ideas I described here haven’t changed much – we’ve found a good groove and good routines that are working for us.  The notable exception to this would be that while we are still memorizing the Children’s Catechism, I have reverted back to memorizing longer Scripture passages rather than a proof-text for each catechism question - so we do a catechism question or 2 each week along with a longer Scripture passage, currently Romans 8:31-39.  The other addition has been Sunday Reading.
I don’t talk about our ministry-life much on this blog, but I think most of you know that our family moved to Cameroon, in Francophone Africa, back in January after having spent all of last year in language school in France.  While we lived cross-culturally in Papua New Guinea for many years before that, it was primarily in an English-speaking context.  Attending worship services in a foreign language (especially one that you are still in the process of learning!) is one of those things that we are still struggling to get used to.   Going to church has become important for language and culture learning and relationship building, but it is no longer the primary place where our spiritual needs are met.   And if this is true for my husband and I, this is even more true for our children (whose French is even more limited than ours).     We have been grappling with ways to continue to ensure we – and our children - are fed spiritually via other means.   One of the answers to that has been a special Sunday evening reading time.
Instead of our normal evening family read-aloud from a Bible storybook, we take a little extra time to sing some praise and worship songs together (my husband plays the guitar) and do some special readings – one from a devotional resource of some kind and one from a missionary/Christian hero biography.  Right now our devotional resource is Sally Michael’s book God’s Names which is EXCELLENT.  I’m not a fan of children’s devotionals, but this one is really well done.   The kids are enjoying it as well – Michelle asks me several times a week when we will read another section out of it.   I was happy to see that she’s done a couple of others as well  (God’s Promises and God’s Providence), so we may look into using those later.  Leading Little Ones to God is another book I have on my shelf that we may consider when we are finished with this one.   For our biography at the moment we are finishing up Missionary Stories with the Millers.   When we are done with that, we have several of the Simonetta Carr picture book biographies as well as several volumes from the “Missionary Adventure” series to choose from.  We were given the BBC Planet Earth DVDs for Christmas last year, and when we finish up early enough that the littlest ones don’t need to be sent off to bed yet, we enjoy watching one of these together.   I think that sitting in awe of God’s creation is a suitable addition to a time of family worship, don’t you?  (For what it's worth, these DVDs do have an occasional evolutionary reference, but it isn't a dominant theme and has either gone completely over their heads, or has given us opportunity to talk about it.)
This has been a wonderful habit for us to establish.   It has helped fit in some of the “extra” things (such as the Christian hero readings that I’ve had good intentions to do for a while).   It has given us an intentional family night together too, something that we have been inconsistent about at best.   It takes the place of the “Sunday School” teaching that our children aren’t getting, and the English-language worship singing that my husband dearly misses.  While I think that family spiritual input is important for everybody - even for those who are able to attend a Biblically solid church with services conducted in their mother tongue - being outside of our comfort zone in that arena has been the nudge we needed to take that one step further.
Do you do any kind of special reading or family time on Sunday (or any other evenings)?   I’d love to know how others do it, and if you have any favorite resources to share!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Truth, Goodness, Beauty

Last week, while I was doing my quiet time, I had an “aha” moment.   For the last (very long) while, I have been slowly reading my way through the book of Romans and reading RC Sproul’s Commentary alongside (Romans: St Andrew’s Expositional Commentary).   Today I had reached Chapter 45 in this commentary – an entire chapter dedicated to the exposition of one little verse:
Romans 11:36 (NKJV): “For of Him, and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be the glory forever. Amen.”
In unpacking the significance of the phrase “of Him” in this verse, Sproul says that everything BELONGS to Him and that He is the SOURCE of everything.   Specifically He is the source of:
TRUTH – We are speaking here of objective truth, outside of ourselves and our preferences.   Truth is defined as “that which describes real states of affair”.  Truth is how reality is perceived by God.   No possession we have is more valuable than truth.
GOODNESS – Sproul tells us “the ultimate norm for ethics and righteousness is the character of God”  and that “God’s external righteousness flows from his eternal being.”
BEAUTY – “Every beautiful thing comes from him and points back to Him.”  (Sproul again.)
Immediately, I recognized these traits because they are written right into the definition of education put forth by the Circe Institute: EDUCATION is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty.” (I’ve been listening to lots of Circe talks lately.  Fantastic stuff, if you want something meaty to keep you company while folding laundry or cooking dinner.)  The goal of education is not simply utilitarian – to pass exams or prepare for a job (although that’s a nice side-benefit).   The goal is to become wise, virtuous people who can reflect the glory of God to those around them.   And the way we do this is by absorbing and contemplating that which is good and true and beautiful.
I think this is the goal that Charlotte Mason was shooting for as well.   In her fourth principle, she encourages us not to rely on external tactics such as entertainment, competitions, prizes, grades, fear, or even a winsome personality to motivate students to learn.   Rather, she tells us that “knowledge is delectable” and that the desired end of our educational efforts is “the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.”   What makes knowledge worth pursuing for its own sake?  
Its truth.  Its goodness.  Its beauty.
Obviously, God has revealed Himself to us directly through His Word.   But anywhere we spot truth, goodness, or beauty – these things can also point us to our Creator.  This is why Charlotte used great literature as a vehicle to teach all manner of subjects.   This is why she encouraged us to make room in our schedules for poetry, art, music, and nature.   Even the more ‘technical’ subjects can be vehicles we use to pursue these three things: mathematics and language reveal the order that God placed into our universe and science His intricate, creative design.   When our student asks “Why do we have to learn this?  When am I ever going to need to know this?” – we can tell them it is because it reveals the truth, goodness, and beauty of our God.  We may never need to use chemistry or geometry or music or poetry in our ‘real life’.   But they are still worth studying because each reveals another facet of God’s character, and our souls will be shaped and formed by them.   When we study chemistry with an eye towards seeing God’s design in the universe rather than merely another college-entrance-requirement-hoop to jump through, it can help make us into the men and women that God wants us to become even if we don’t go on to become a scientist or doctor.
As I thought about these points,  the “aha” came as I realized that this is just WHY the pursuit of “truth, goodness, and beauty” should be the goal of education.   When we pursue truth, goodness and beauty, we are pursuing God Himself because He is the source of all these things.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Nature Study Monday: Butterfly!

Well…after only 8 days our butterfly emerged from his chrysalis!!    We had given it 2-3 weeks, so we were blown out of the water that it happened so fast.   That morning, I had just cleaned out the leaves in the bottom of his box, since they had gotten pretty yucky just sitting there for the last week and didn’t really notice anything too unusual.    About an hour or so later, we were having our regular morning tea-and-reading time and I asked one of my normal questions: “So, does anyone have anything that I should add to our nature log?”   Michelle looked up and was the first to spot that something had changed….
Needless to say, the original plans for the rest of the morning were thrown out the window so we could sketch and observe before he was ready to fly away.  As best as I can tell from the online research that I did, I am pretty sure that he is a “Wandering Donkey Acraea” or more properly an Acraea neobule.   (You can read more about the Acraea genus here, and specifically about the Acraea neobule here.)
Closer-up look at the empty chrysalis.  You can see where he burst out at the head, and the silky threads he used to attach the other end to the lid of his container.

 Around 3 o’clock that afternoon, we noticed he was trying to climb out of the container and opening and closing his wings.   We took him outside onto the porch, Michelle’s friend who was playing at our house coaxed it to climb onto her hand, and a minute or so later he flew away.
This is Michelle’s journal entry.  I love that she added the little border across the top that basically shows all the stages in the life-cycle of the butterfly.  I didn’t tell her to do this.  Nor did we do a formal lesson about it.   She was just inspired to add that by the informal discussions we’ve had as we observed this little guy over the past couple of months.  This, my friends, is yet another thing that I love about Charlotte Mason education!
I also loved this little conversation between my two younger ones, ages 5 and 3:
James (age 5, spoken very seriously and matter-of-factly): “Chewleaf [the name given to the caterpillar] did something different today.  He became a butterfly.”
Elizabeth (age 3, spoken very loudly and exuberantly): “GOD DID IT!  God made him a butterfly!!”
Her little comment resonated with me too.  That very same morning I had just been reading in Romans 12:1-2 where Paul reminds us not to be conformed to this world but be transformed.  The commentary I was reading with it (RC Sproul’s St Andrews Expositional Commentary)  reminded me that the Greek word for transformed is “metamorphosis”.   Sound familiar?   The commentary goes on to say: “We use that word to describe the transition a caterpillar undergoes in order to become a butterfly.  The word indicates a radical change of form….The prefix ‘trans’ added to the word ‘formed’ means “above and beyond the forms of this world”…We are not conformed to this dying age, but our lives are transformed by the power of God.”
Yes, little one, God made Chewleaf the Caterpillar into a Beautiful Butterfly.   And when we trust Jesus to be our Savior, He sends the Holy Spirit to work the same kind of transformation in our lives.   He promises to complete the good work that He has begun in us and to make all things beautiful in His time.   What a beautiful reminder the butterfly is of this promise!