Thursday, August 29, 2013

What We've Learned: August 2013

We’ve been ‘back to school’ for the past three weeks now, so I thought I was time to check in with how things are going as we’ve gotten back into our groove…
Michelle – Age-Almost-8 – “Grade 2”
We came to AO partway through the school year last year, so we are continuing on with Year 1.   We have worked our way through weeks 15-17 since we started again and all is going well.  Dangerous Journey and Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare continue to be highlights for us (although I don’t think there is anything that we are reading that we DON’T like!)
We started Math-U-See Beta and have already completed Lesson 5 (we sped through the first three since they were all review).   Taking our time learning our basic facts with Alpha really paid off because she has been flying through Beta easily so far.  We are also continuing to use portions of MEP as enrichment – focusing on those exercises that emphasize different ways of playing around with numbers and problem solving skills.  (This was my husband’s brilliant solution to my quandary of wanting to somehow do both of these math programs without overwhelming anyone.  We are only spending about 30 minutes on math per day, in two 15-ish minute chunks, which is very reasonable.  And she enjoys both programs, so no complaints from the peanut gallery.  A word to the wise, even if your husband tends to be kind of ‘hands-off’ in your homeschool, as mine usually is, don’t be afraid to ask his opinion every once and while – he’s solved several of my niggling quandaries like this one.)
Nature study has focused a lot on plants lately, as we finally discovered a guidebook (Tropical Plants Around the World) that has helped us be able to identify some of the things growing around our yard.  We are also continuing with a weekly drawing period using Drawing with Children which we began over the summer.   Something new we have added is Jay Wile’s new elementary science book Science in the Beginning.  We are taking it at a very slow pace – only 1 lesson per week as opposed to the suggested 2-3 so it will take us a couple of years to finish.   I didn’t want a formal science program to squeeze nature study and living books (the true foundations of any science study) out of our school days, so this is a ‘bonus’ for us.   The focus of the book is on God’s Creation and therefore dovetails nicely with nature study (and goes deeper on some topics that might not come up naturally via nature study – for example, in the first unit we are studying some of the properties of light.)   We have completed 3 lessons so far and are all enjoying it, especially the hands-on portions of it.
A fun bonus: during our mission’s co-op session these past three weeks, Michelle got to participate in a ballet class!  She loved it, and I was really impressed with how well they did given that nearly all of the kids in the class really had no previous experience, and they only had 6 classes!   One the one hand it’s sad that she’s unable to continue, on the other, I’m glad to be reclaiming my afternoons.
Michelle's ballet performance - she is in the front right in the red and white dress.

James – Age 5 – “Unofficial Kindergarten”
So, we decided that officially we would hold James back a year and not *really* start him in kindergarten until next year when he is 6.   He has a summer birthday and is very ‘young’ for his age in some ways.  So, on paper, he’s still in preschool.   However, he has taught himself how to write his letters and numbers…and he is trying to figure out how to read and spell.  We did do a bit of three and four letter word building last spring, but left that off when he grew resistant to it.   But now he seems ready and eager to give things another go, so we are.  We are doing some simple Charlotte Mason style reading lessons based off the McGuffey Primer and a little bit of copywork related to that (he has amazing handwriting skills!).    I also started MEP 1A with him for math…very, very slowly (like 2-4 days for each lesson).    Our time together takes about 20 minutes total and we are thoroughly enjoying it.   He also sits in and participates in nature study, drawing lessons, and much of our teatime.  He especially loves reading and memorizing poems.  (More on our ‘kindergarten’ lessons and teatime coming soon!)
Who says Papas can't help with homeschooling?  Someone asked how helicopters could fly and they got an answer complete with YouTube videos!

Elizabeth – Age 3 – Tagging Along
Elizabeth is learning how to sit still and not interrupt everyone during teatime. J  
Budding Reader...

Mama – Because you should never stop learning!
Yes, this Mama has gone back to school too!  In addition to following along with the Charlotte Mason 20 Principles study, I have also started AO Year 4!  More coming on that soon, too.  (If only there was more time for all the books I would LIKE to read….)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Quotes Worth Pondering: Atmosphere is a Discipline

Some of the ideas I am pondering as we continue through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles…
Towards a Philosophy of Education, Volume 6 (Charlotte Mason)
“It is possible to sow a great idea lightly and casually and perhaps this sort of sowing should be rare and casual because if a child detect a definite purpose in his mentor, he is apt to stiffen himself against it.”  (p. 102)
“This danger is perhaps averted by giving children as their daily diet the wise thoughts of great minds, and of many great minds; so that they may gradually and unconsciously get the courage of their opinions.” (p.104)
For the Children’s Sake (Susan Schaeffer Macaulay)
“Routines form habits…When planning routines, priority must be given to the most important things.  The person matters (be it child, husband/wife, or friend).  We’ll need time to talk, read, relax and work together.  Our relationship with God matters.  Where is the time to be found for that?  I am a part of this creation.  Where will I find time to get out and enjoy nature?  There is too much work to be done, and I am finite.  I need to accept reality and plan the time and priorities carefully.” (p. 81-82)
“In keeping a child truthful, remember that it is most important not to frighten it into untruthfulness by too great severity.  If it be severely punished for some fault, the temptation to hide faults will be so great that it will readily come to conceal them, and not be quite open over anything it happens to have done amiss.”
“Then again, a child, being pre-eminently an imitative animal, most of its habits are formed by imitation rather than as a result of direct teaching.”
“With regard to obedience, it is a little more difficult to see how imitation can be brought in to help to form the habit of obedience.  Children’s rulers often seem not to have to obey anyone, so that in the minds of many children, to be grown up is to done as one likes.  There, I think, lies the importance of early training in religion, that the children should feel by the way we live as adults, who seem so free, are yet obedient to a higher power, that we are guided by duty, and obey the law of ‘must’.  In this connection, I have long felt that we nurses and mothers can do a truly religious work, for, by making our children obedient to us, we are preparing the way for their obedience to God.”
“What is often needed is a little discreet blindness.  If a child is very troublesome, you must let some of his minor faults go for a time unnoticed until he has learnt to obey the weightier matters of the law.  Don’t ever dishearten a child by making him feel that nothing he does is right, and if you find yourself tending in that direction, be specially on the look out for a child’s good points, and you are to find some, and a little praise for these will help him conquer in other directions.”
“Above all, if we are working for the future, you will see that to give commands without their reasons attached is a beautiful way of training a man to trust himself to the will of his Creator.  The child often cannot understand your reasons, but he understands loving and trusting you, and love and trust are sufficient reasons for him, as they often have to be for us adults who have dark paths to tread.”
“…love has to be accompanied by patience.  It often seems as if we make no progress – as though we gain to-day, we lose tomorrow.  One day we are rejoicing in the sweetness of the child’s character, the next, every fault  that we thought we conquered has reasserted itself, and we are apt to despair.  But we must remember that it is the last blow that smashes a stone, and that all the efforts of all the days will in the end succeed, and not one of them is wasted, but has helped toward the final triumph.”
“Nursery discipline, such as I have treated of, involves a great deal of hard work and self-denial; but all the hard work and self-denial in the world will not produce the result you are aiming at – the formation of good habits – unless you are fortified with a large stock of love and sympathy.”
“The object of discipline is always one and the same – to form and fashion the character, to educate and inform and strengthen the will; to unfold and inculcate the highest ideal of law, and the highest sanction of law.  But the means by which the object is to be attained must be regarded as distinct from the object itself.  The certainty that our object is right does not always carry with it the certainty that our particular means are right.”
“Thus the aim of the teacher is not by a cast-iron system of legal and irritating restrictions to bind and fetter and imprison the will of the child, to repress and kill out all spirit and energy and individuality, and to reduce the child to a tame and lifeless and colourless thing; but rather to give full play to the utmost spirit and energy of which the child is capable, to awaken and develop in the child the idea of obedience and usefulness and the highest happiness – in fact, to put into the child’s hands the bit and bridle wherewith to curb and guide himself, and show him why and how to use them.”
“I will never deal effectively with my children’s character issues unless I deal with my own.”
“In order to train a child’s will in this manner, parents must lay down their lives for them.  They must be willing to spend large amounts of time engaged with them.  They must believe that children are educated  by their intimacies and they must ensure that the child is intimate with what is good and noble and true.”
“Ultimately, we don’t want self-controlled children.  We want children who hear and answer the Lord.  We need to give children choices within limits, but we need to teach them how and why to choose right.  We need to train their hearts and educate their minds.   When they are fully informed of the consequences of their actions, we need to allow free will, just as our heavenly Father does…Children who are trained in such a way do not have their will subdued; instead they have it inspired by the Holy Spirit.”

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Atmosphere and Books

If you’ve hung around here for any length of time at all, you know I have a thing for books.   The use of good literature was one of the things that drew me towards Charlotte Mason in the first place, and is one of the things I love the most about her methods.
However, until discussing the idea of “Education is an Atmosphere” as part of the 20 Principles study, I’d never considered the role that books play as part of our “atmosphere”.   I’d always sort of delegated them in my mind as part of the formal “academic” side of a CM education.   Two of our reading assignments for this principle were on the topic of books, however, which surprised me.  But as I read, I began to see the connection.
As I mentioned in my previous post on this topic, atmosphere has less to do with the physical environment, and more to do with the tone, attitude, ideas, and relationships that the child encounters informally as they go through their daily life.  This starts in the home, of course, but extends beyond that to other places they may go and experiences they may have.  Which is where books come in.
From the article titled “Children and Books”:
The ideals which children gain from books are their constant associates, and mould their characters even more than human companions.  They live with them not only while they read, but also while they are otherwise engaged; and suggestions so subtle as to pass almost unnoticed linger in the mind, to influence emotions and express themselves in action.”
Just as the attitude, tone, ideas and relationships a child forms in his “real life” environment make up a large part of his formation and education,  so do the attitude, tone, ideas, and relationships the child forms through the books that they read.  The books (and in this modern age, I’d say other media as well) that we choose to share with our children can have a profound effect on them.  It is subtle and not necessarily consciously noticed by the child.    In Romans 12, we are told to be “transformed by the renewal of our minds”.   While true transformation and heart change are the work of the Holy Spirit, Sproul tells us (yes, another quote from his Romans commentary) that “the avenue to the heart is through our mind.”   The mind-food we feed our children is vitally important.  This is why we want to exercise care in ensuring that the books and media we share with our children point them to what is good, true, and beautiful.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that we only read sweet, happy things either, as is pointed out in the article “The Atmosphere of Books”.   In her comments about atmosphere, Charlotte Mason herself warns us not to “sprinkle things with rose-water” or “soften them with cushions” or “to keep the children in glass cases”.  While there is certainly a time and a place for everything (we do need to be sensitive to our children's age and level of maturity), we do want our children to be adequately prepared to live life in the real world.  Books can provide a good vehicle for this as well – I’d rather have my children exposed to uncomfortable ideas and differing opinions through the books they read under my guidance before encountering them in the real world.   The way we handle those differing ideas can send a subtle message to our children as well – how should they respond when encountering an idea that differs from their own?   Do we hide from it?  Ignore it?  Dismiss it as stupidity?  Engage with it and discuss it in light of our own beliefs?   How we handle controversial books and ideas can play a role in the ‘formative atmosphere’ that our children breathe as well.
“Stories make the child’s life intelligible to himself and are therefore a means of gaining self-knowledge without self-consciousness…Why, stories are the very source of education among all races.  The hunger of the child for stories is the hunger of the race for knowledge.  All great teachers have been great storytellers, and our Lord was the greatest of all.  A mere statement of divine truth would never have impressed the simple uninformed minds of His hearers as the parables did.  Truth is absorbed and becomes part of the child’s self when enshrined in the form of a story.  Stories, too, enlarge a child’s knowledge of the world, develop his imagination and educate his sympathies.  Much reading may be a weariness of the flesh, but the well-read person who also takes his share in the work of the world is not likely to be narrow in mind or lacking in sympathy.”

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Nature Study in the Northwest

Well, I did say I’d come back and share some photos of our time in beautiful Northwest Cameroon.   It was wonderful to get out of the big city for 10 days.
This photo was taken in the area we visited in Northwest Cameroon...

In some ways it reminded me of where we used to live in the highlands region of Papua New Guinea – similar climate (cool!), similar views.
...and this one in the area where we used to live in PNG.
So many of the plants and flowers we saw were the same ones we used to see frequently in PNG too.
This is a "cherry pie" or lantana
Geraniums...I don't remember having these in PNG, but I was surprised to see them in Africa.  According to HONS, though, they are native to South Africa.  Who knew?
Bottlebrush Tree
Here is a close-up on the bottlebrush flower.  I think you can see why it has that name.

Hibiscus, although these aren't unique to the highlands.  They're kind of ubiquitous in any place remotely tropical I think. :)
Bananas - again ubiquitous, but I thought I'd throw it in for those who've only ever gotten bananas at the supermarket.  If you look carefully you can see a stalk of ripening bananas on this tree.
Poinsettias.  I've always associated them with Christmas, so I was so surprised to find them growing in the tropics (at least in highland areas of the tropics.)
Not pictured: the coffee plants. J   Yes, it was lovely to be back in coffee-growing country.
I also didn’t manage to get any pictures of our friends’ garden and chickens.   Michelle loved helping their kids feed the chickens every morning and evening while we were there.   She already asked me if we could get a chick!   I don’t think I’m ready for chickens, but I’m thinking about the garden.   At least a little patch of herbs.   Maybe peas too – we grew them once when we lived in PNG and even my black-thumb couldn’t mess that up. J
Anyone else have any good nature study opportunities in the course of your summer travels?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Atmosphere begins with Me

In Charlotte Mason’s 4th principle, she warns us against all the tools we shouldn’t use as we seek to educate and discipline our children.   In principles 5-8, she tells us what instruments are available to us to use instead.   The first of these is atmosphere:
“When we say that education is an atmosphere, we do not mean that a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child environment’ specially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value both as regards persons and things and should let him live freely among his proper conditions.  It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the child’s level.”
Given that this is one of the main tenets of Charlotte Mason philosophy, I’ve thought about this before.  I’ve even written a bit about it before.   But reading the assignments for this principle brought me several new insights on what atmosphere IS and IS NOT and how to develop it in our home.  And once again, the ideas I was considering on this topic dovetailed nicely with what I have been reading in Romans.
One idea that hit home to me is that atmosphere is not the same as environment.   While the physical environment is important, the “atmosphere” has more to do with the intangible things – the relationships and attitudes that permeate the home.  In the article “The Atmosphere of the Home”, MF Jerrold tells us:
“And the gravest thought concerning this is that in this instance there is nothing to learn and nothing to teach: the atmosphere emanates from ourselves – literally is ourselves; our children live in it and breathe it, and what we are is thus incorporated into them.”
I don’t know about you, but I find that convicting.   Very convicting.   Atmosphere goes so far beyond organizing my home in a pleasing manner, choosing the right curriculum, following correct discipline practices.   It is not the things I do.   It starts with who I am.   If I want to build a positive atmosphere in my home, it has to start with me.
As I was letting this thought simmer, I read Romans 12 in my devotions.   Verses 9-21 are a beautiful description of love in action.   A picture of what Christian community should look like.  I won’t list out all of those characteristics here – although I do encourage you to go take a look at the passage for yourself when you get a chance – but I did appreciate Sproul’s comments in summary of the passage (these are my notes on it, not a direct quote from his St Andrews Expositional Commentary):
Christian life should be marked by:
  1. Joy -- which we can have no matter what because of our hope in Him.  The idea of hope in the New Testament is an absolute certainty in the promises of God.
  2. Patience – or forbearance, hanging in there when things get tough.
  3. Prayer – the glue that holds everything else together.  Sproul tells us: “There is to be an ongoing dialogue between our hearts and God all the time.  We are to be always conscious of God’s presence, relying on Him and communicating with the Father our thoughts.”
 This is the atmosphere I want to cultivate in my home.   These aren’t things I can manufacture artificially, but the things that flow forth from being transformed by His Spirit and offering myself as a living sacrifice as I humbly exercise the gifts that He has given me for the good of the whole body…starting in the home.  (See Romans 12:1-8 to set up the context for this passage.)
So often I fall short.  So often the atmosphere of my home is not what I want it to be.    So often I get discouraged and want to quit trying.
But I think Romans 12 is a good place to start.   I have begun to use this passage as a basis of my prayer time - to meditate on it and let the Holy Spirit apply it to my heart.   Atmosphere begins with me.
But I can do nothing without Him.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Quotes Worth Pondering: Education is an Atmosphere

Some of the ideas I am savoring as we continue on our way through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles….
Towards a Philosophy of Education (Volume 6), Charlotte Mason
“It is not an environment that these want, a set of artificial relations carefully constructed, but an atmosphere which nobody has been at pains to constitute.  It is there, about the child, his natural element, precisely as the atmosphere of the earth is about us.  It is thrown off, as it were, from persons and things, stirred by events, sweetened by love, ventilated, kept in motion, by the regulated action of common sense.”  p.96
For the Children’s Sake, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
“It is true that atmosphere is produced out the ideas held by the parents and/or teachers.”  p.74
“The child should enjoy an atmosphere where life can be explored in a rich way.  Little holy hedges are not what is wanted.  Understanding the objective certainty of the truth of God gives an atmosphere that is free from fear.  We can face up to people’s ideas.  Questions can be asked.  We can talk about them right in the open.  Indeed, the child should be able to know, read, or listen to people who hold all sorts of ideas.  As they mature, it is absolutely imperative that they be trusted to have access to current ‘worldly’ thought.  Some of it has true greatness (say a play, essay or book).  They should be able to enjoy what is good, and yet be able to see what ideas are wrong.  This open, frank atmosphere can only be achieved when those who produce it are aware of what is good, pure, and of a good report (cf. Philippians 4:8).”  p.74-75
“There are many important aspects of home-life from first training to highest education; but there is nothing in the way of direct teaching that will ever have so wide and lasting effect as the atmosphere of home. And the gravest thought concerning this is that in this instance there is nothing to learn and nothing to teach: the atmosphere emanates from ourselves – literally is ourselves; our children live in it and breathe it, and what we are is thus incorporated into them.  Atmosphere is much more than teaching, and infinitely more than talk.”
“The ideals which children gain from books are their constant associates, and mould their characters even more than human companions.  They live with them not only while they read, but also while they are otherwise engaged; and suggestions so subtle as to pass almost unnoticed linger in the mind, to influence emotions and express themselves in action.”
“And it is in the nursery that the key to the palace of good literature is opened.  The reason why so few people have developed the critical faculty with regard to reading is that so few have grown up in the company of good books – only good books – but have been allowed, while their minds were growing, to read any printed twaddle within the covers of a book or magazine.”

Friday, August 2, 2013

Best Books of 2013: The First Half

And...we're back!!  I have some photos of our time in beautiful Northwestern Cameroon and more musings on Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles coming soon, but in the meantime, just in case you might be looking for some weekend reading, I give you the first installment of the "Best Books of 2013"!
Normally, I wait until the end of the year to do a “best of” books post, but thus far 2013 has been an excellent year for books. J  In the interest of keeping the list manageable, I will give you my best of books for January-June now, and give you the second half at the end of the year.   This list represents my personal reading, and not what I am reading with the kids. It is in no particular order, other than to group them according to genre (which also gives you an idea of what genres I generally read!)
Educational Philosophy
Towards a Philosophy of Education, Volume 6, Charlotte Mason
This probably should go without saying that anything Mason is going to make my “best of” educational philosophy list.  Volume 6 was the last thing she wrote towards the end of her long career of teaching and training teachers, and is considered the mature summary of her work as a whole.   I finished reading it on my own earlier in the year, and am now re-reading portions of it as assigned as part of the 20 Principles Study.   Good stuff.  Lots of it.
For the Children’s Sake, Susan Schaeffer Maccaulay
A re-read for me – also assigned as part of the 20 Principles Study.  This is an excellent summary of Charlotte Mason’s ideas, and usually what I recommend to those who are curious to know more but aren’t yet ready to commit to reading her actual writings (with are well worth the effort, if you like what you read here).
(Interestingly enough I think every fiction book I’ve read thus far this year has made the list.  Maybe because I don’t bother with fiction unless I get really interested in it?)
All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Things Wise and Wonderful, James Herriot                                                                                                                                                                              
For a long time, I didn’t want to read these books because I’m just not an animal person and didn’t want to read animal stories.   I was pleasantly surprised to find that these stories about a British country vet in the 30’s have far more to do with people than animals.   Well worth reading, even if you aren’t an animal lover.  (Caution: a fair amount of coarse language.)
Les Miserables, Victor Hugo (abridged, in French)
Even though it was abridged.  Even though it was in French!  So worth it.  I have been inspired to tackle the unabridged in English.  It may take me a couple years at the pace I’m going….so you may have to wait to see that one appear on one of my lists.
North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell
A re-read, but just as good the second time around.  (The BBC mini-series movie is excellent too).  Reading it again this time, I noticed a strong theme of how people adapt to cultural differences and transitions – perhaps because we have been living for the past 4 years in a series of cultural transitions?   And a good love story to boot.  Can’t beat that! ;)
The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy
I read this with a group on the AO Forum and it was fantastic.  Brilliant historical novel set against the French Revolution.  Intrigue, daring escapes, romance…it’s all there.
The Laughing Cavalier, The First Sir Percy, Baroness Orczy          
Prequels to the above.  Different historical setting (the Netherlands in 1623-24 against the backdrop of an assassination plot against the Prince of Orange.)  Every bit as exciting as the Pimpernel, with interesting themes (courage vs. cowardice, honor vs. selfish ambition) to consider as well.
Foodie Books
An Everlasting Meal (Tamar Adler)
It’s always a good sign when a foodie book inspires me to get out of a cooking rut and just go cook something already.   There are some recipes in the book too, but it is primarily essays about food rather than recipe book.
Oleander, Jacaranda (Penelope Lively)
Not a Christian/missionary biography, but a very interesting memoir of the British author’s childhood (until the age of 12) in pre-WW2 Egypt.   The way children perceive things is often very different from how they are.   Another interesting note – she was educated through a correspondence program provided by the PNEU (part of Charlotte Mason’s legacy).
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (Rosaria Butterfield)
Riveting and very thought-provoking.   The author was a liberal, lesbian university professor who then came to Christ, married a pastor, and is now raising and homeschooling 4 children.  This was an interesting “insider’s” look to those outside of conservative Christian culture and gave me insight into what the reality of “loving the sinner” while not condoning the sin can really look like.  It raised lots of good questions for me that I am still pondering: Are we too sheltering?  Do we tend to spend time mainly with people who think the same way as we do, or do we seek out people who are different?  Are we thinking Christians or lifestyle Christians?  Are we engaging with culture or shrinking from it?  Are we genuine and transparent in our faith?  Very worth reading.
L’Abri (Edith Schaeffer)
Another re-read.  This is always such an encouraging story to me about the power of prayer and what can happen when we surrender completely to following His leading.
At the Foot of the Snows (David Watters)
Fascinating missionary biography of a family that lived in an extremely remote part of Nepal.  They didn’t see any converts (or even much interest) for many years, but stuck with it.  Amazing story.
Christian Living
Family Vocation (Gene Edward Veith)
A different perspective that your typical do this/don’t do that approach to books about marriage, parenting, and family relationships.  We are called to love our neighbors, and our closest neighbors are those in our family circle.  I will be revisiting this book again – it is deep and rich, and I’ve found it helpful as I traverse that ever delicate balance of motherhood and ministry.
Romans: The St Andrews Expositional Commentary (RC Sproul)
This was a very slow read, but I finally finished it!  I appreciated it so much as a companion to my reading of the book of Romans.  There are certain theological points I would quibble with, but overall it has helped me to gain a greater appreciation of just what we have in Christ, which was my goal in taking up a slow study of Romans.   (And I think it is good to wrestle with other points of view on issues of theology from time to time anyhow.)
King Alfred’s English (Laurie J. White)
Interesting, readable history of the major influences on the English language.  I will be sharing this with my kids sometime in their middle/high school years.  I found it fascinating.
I told you it’s been a good year for books!   Any suggestions for must-reads for the rest of this year?   I’m always looking for another good book to read!!