Monday, September 30, 2013


Charlotte Mason’s 12th Principle tells us that “education is the Science of Relations”.   What this means is that learning takes place when a child begins to see for themselves the relationships between various things that they have read or seen or experienced or studied.   Note that these are the connections that the child makes for himself, not the connections that a teacher makes for him.   One of the distinctives of Charlotte Mason’s methodology is that she places the bulk of the responsibility for learning on the student rather than on the teacher.  The relationships and connections that a child makes for himself are not easily forgotten.
While the responsibility is primarily on the student to make these connections, the question was raised in our Forum discussion as to whether there are any ways we can help them along (without force-feeding or doing the mental work for them.   Someone brought up this point, also found in one of our suggested readings:
“Occasionally when we finish a reading I have asked my children to tell me about anyone or anything that the story we just finished reminds them of.  Sometimes they tell me they can’t think of anything. That’s okay. Sometimes they will come up with a connection I would never have thought of- that’s really delightful. (from The Common Room)
So, I decided to give this a try a couple weeks ago.  We had just finished reading a section from Dangerous Journey in which Christian’s travelling companion Faithful is sentenced to death by the court in Vanity Fair, and although he is put to death, the King brings him safely and immediately into the Celestial City.  After her narration, I asked Michelle if this story reminded her of anything.  She thought for a moment, and then said: “It reminds me of the story of those guys who were thrown into the fiery furnace even though they hadn’t really done anything wrong, and God brought them safely through it.”   And although it had been several weeks previously that we had read about Christian’s battle with the dragon Apollyon, my tag-along 5 year old added: “And the dragon reminded me of the dragon from St. George and the Dragon.”  (Another well- loved book around here...)
I was pleased and surprised by their responses.   The story had described Faithful being taken safely to the Celestial City by a horse and chariot, so the connection that I had made had been to the story of Elijah.  Michelle made a different, but still very good, connection of her own.  And I was surprised that James added anything at all, since he is not actually required to participate in our school time yet (but for certain favorite stories, he often chooses to anyway!)
The more I think about it, the more I realize that as simple as it is, this is what Charlotte Mason education is all about.   Each person heard the same story.  Each person took in what they were ready for: notice that Michelle totally glossed over the fact that Faithful was burned at the stake before he was taken safely to the Celestial City; she emphasized the fact that God had delivered him.  That was the part that was personally significant to her.  Each person made a different personal connection with the story.  Each person made their own mental effort in recalling the details of the story and comparing them with the details of other stories or experiences they had heard previously, and then putting those thoughts into words to share with the rest of us.  Each person from age 5 to age 34 was intrigued and engaged.  
We are still at the beginning of our CM homeschooling journey here, and sometimes it can get discouraging. CM education is so different from what ‘everyone else’ is doing, and as much as I love her methods, I am sometimes tempted to give in to that pressure that our homeschool needs to look more like a ‘school’.    But seeing the little sparks like this excite me and encourage me that  we are on the right track after all.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Some Good Finds

A few of the highlights of what I have been reading online….
Literature as Moral Instruction by Wendi C of the AO Advisory at Archipelago
            …or why you don’t need to have a separate  “character building” curriculum
            …thought provoking article that wrestles with how to discuss the sometimes rather heated issue of origins with our children.  Regardless of your personal stance on the issue, I hope we can agree that it’s important to consider all of the various viewpoints and discuss them with our children.  That is what Jeanne is grappling with here, and I sure appreciate reading her thoughts on the issue as I consider it as well.
            Fantastic article about teaching foreign languages Charlotte Mason style.
            Okay, so this is a good listen not a good read….I really enjoyed this podcast about the work of an inner-city classical Christian school.   We are homeschoolers, and blessed to be so, but I really wish that more children whose families are unable to homeschool for whatever reason had access to a school like this.
            This was one of the articles in the suggested reading for our study of Charlotte Mason's Principle #13.  I thought it was a great overview of what living books are and aren't.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Family Reading #10

Wow.  It’s been way too long since I updated on what we’ve been reading at our house.  So here it goes…
Picture Book Highlights
A recurring favorite lately has been Horton Hears a Who!  James’ birthday books have also been a hit: St George and the Dragon, The Kitchen Knight, and Chanticleer and the Fox.   I’m also venturing into chapter books with my littles.  Our current chapter-book readaloud is The Milly Molly Mandy Storybook.
Michelle’s Reading (Age Almost-8)
Michelle is becoming something of a voracious reader.  In my last Family Reading Post, she had just started Little House in the Big Woods.  She has since read through almost the entire Little House Series (up through Little Town on the Prairie), several of the All of a Kind Family Books, and is just now almost finished with Ballet Shoes.  I love that she is loving all of my childhood favorites…all of which were recommended to me by MY mother because they were her childhood favorites too.  Love it, love it, love it.
Featured School Book
One of the changes I made to AO’s reading list for Year 1 was to save Paddle to the Sea for later (we’ll read it together as a family during our next home assignment) and instead we have been reading about the Arctic and Antarctic regions.  We are currently enjoying The Eskimo Twins.  (I would suggest reading this together with your children and discussing it though – it goes into some of their traditional, animistic practices.)
Bedtime Reading
We are all loving Ginger Pye!   They all ask for it every night, right down to the 3 year old. 
On Mama’s Nightstand
When do I ever not have too much on my nightstand? HA!  Currently, I am spending the most time with the Charlotte Mason 20 Principles Study as well as my self-study of AO Year 4.   My current novel is Waverley…also reading along with a group on the AO Forum.  (Goodness, am I really that much of an AO Forum groupie!?)  Waverley is a tough read, and very slow moving in the beginning…I probably would have bailed a lot sooner if not for reading along with a group.  Now that I’ve hit chapter 42, I’m having a hard time putting it down.  Over the weekend, I had to force myself to read something else, so as not to get TOO far ahead of the group, so downloaded The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society for something light.  I loved it.  It was a charming story, and a pleasurable pause from all the heavier reading I’ve been doing lately.
So there you have it.  Anyone else been reading something interesting lately?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Quotes Worth Pondering: Education is a Life

Some of the ideas I am pondering was we continue through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles…
Towards a Philosophy of Education, Volume 6 (Charlotte Mason)
For the mind is capable of dealing with only one kind of food; it lives, grows and is nourished upon ideas only; mere information is to it as a meal of sawdust to the body; there are no organs for the assimilation of the one more than of the other. What is an idea? we ask, and find ourselves plunged beyond our depth. A live thing of the mind, seems to be the conclusion of our greatest thinkers from Plato to Bacon, from Bacon to Coleridge. We all know how an idea 'strikes,' 'seizes,' 'catches hold of,' 'impresses' us and at last, if it be big enough, 'possesses' us; in a word, behaves like an entity.”  (p.105)
“In the early days of a child's life it makes little apparent difference whether we educate with a notion of filling a receptacle, inscribing a tablet, moulding plastic matter, or nourishing a life, but as a child grows we shall perceive that only those ideas which have fed his life, are taken into his being; all the rest is cast away or is, like sawdust in the system, an impediment and an injury. Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas. Ideas are of spiritual origin, and God has made us so that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another, whether by word of mouth, written page, Scripture word, musical symphony; but we must sustain a child's inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food. Probably he will reject nine-tenths of the ideas we offer, as he makes use of only a small proportion of his bodily food, rejecting the rest. He is an eclectic; he may choose this or that; our business is to supply him with due abundance and variety and his to take what he needs. Urgency on our part annoys him. He resists forcible feeding and loathes predigested food. What suits him best is pabulum presented in the indirect literary form which Our Lord adopts in those wonderful parables whose quality is that they cannot be forgotten though, while every detail of the story is remembered, its application may pass and leave no trace. We, too, must take this risk.” (p.108-109)

For the Children’s Sake (Susan Schaeffer Macaulay)
“In fact, we can’t teach creativity.  Children respond to life, each in his own individual way.  How interesting to stand back and watch!  Provide time and place…Free time is necessary for the fruit of creativity.  It grows out of the rich life that has been the subject of this chapter.  All children respond to this abundance with ideas, plans, imagination, playing.  They solve problems, think, grow.  Children respond to life by living.  They need this time to grow.”  (p.89-90)

“An Imaginary Conversation with a Great Mind” (Tammy Glaser)
“Always one to seek scientific answers, she might liken textbooks to a diet of emerald shakes brimming with nutrients--healthy, but not satisfying for the soul. Scientists can manufacture fractionated vitamins in a lab, but this pap in a pill misses the vitality of whole food: trace ingredients, enzymes, amino acids, essential fatty acids, properly proportioned minerals, etc. Comparing infant formula to breast milk, she might note that textbooks may contain the minimum daily recommended requirements of facts, but cannot match the complex, perfectly balanced ingredients necessary for a developing brain.”

“Even if they replaced textbooks with living books, opinions with ideas, and questions with narration, teachers would still be lost without the guidance of the Holy Spirit."

“Leisure, Skills, Ideas, and Rest or I Try to Offend Everyone” (Cindy at Ordo Amoris)
“The home is the quiet refuge where ideas blossom…Ideas are like yeast, they need time to incubate.  You can’t overheat the yeast, it will die.”

“Every single minute you spend running around you are stealing moments away from your home: the place where ideas can be born…In these modern times, we can’t always stay at home but we should at least be on our guard against those lesser things that pull us away, especially during the school day.  Not running around is the first line of defense against stress.  Stress in the enemy of…just about everything worthwhile.”

“Starving our Children” (Brandy at Afterthoughts)
“We classify children as something other than human when we say that they are "too young" to have thoughts, too young to ponder, too young to read thoughtful books. Yes, children are not the same as adults, but having thoughts is a function of the soul--to assert that children cannot be thoughtful is to deny that they bear God's image, that they have souls at all.”

“In the same vein, she didn't wait for a child to be able to read to encourage their reaching out at ideas. The children were read aloud to--from broad and varied books of a high literary quality. And then those little illiterates narrated back what they had heard, claiming the ideas as their own, assimilating them into their very souls.”

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Simple Way to Start Doing Nature Study, Part 2

In part one, I shared a bit about our goals and journey towards a simple, natural approach to nature study.  Today, I want to share a bit more about what nature study looks like in our home these days.
Sample from our "nature notes" book
At the moment, we’ve fallen into a daily and weekly pattern for our “formal” nature study.   Daily, during our Tea Time, we take a minute to record any “nature notes” we might have.  This might be a bird or flower or insect we’ve noticed, or a change in weather patterns, or whatever.   For example our “nature notes” for the month of August included:
  • 8/7 – Michelle and a friend saw a yellow bird with a black stomach and stripes of black and yellow
  • 8/7 – We watched a brown bird with red feet pull a strip of bark off the banana tree and fly into the bushes – maybe there is a nest there?
  • 8/8 – Very cool and cloudy weather (but no rain) this week.
  • 8/9 – Note: Let’s try to find out the name of the yellow flower that hangs over the bush in the backyard.  (ETA: They are buttercups)
  • 8/13 – James and Elizabeth saw a small light-blue bird on the fence.
  • 8/13 – G. (the gardener on our compound) told us the plant along the back fence is Indian bamboo.
  • 8/14 – The H’s rescued some little baby kittens whose mother died.  Their tails are as long as Michelle’s (7.5yo) finger.  They are really noisy – mewing.  They are only as big as Michelle’s hand.  Mrs. H dips a plastic thing into a bowl of milk and the kittens suck it.
  • 8/15 – Elizabeth saw Lily, the C’s pet antelope {Yes, our neighbors really do have a baby antelope in their backyard!} She likes to eat leaves and grass.  She has a short tail.  She likes to play.
  • 8/15 – Michelle saw a tortoise at the B’s house.  Mr. B bought it from a kid while he was jogging.  It is little and has a shell.  It moved faster than I thought it would!   James found a Croton plant in the backyard.
  • 8/19 -  We found some Barbados flowers in the front yard.  The weather is starting to change to more sunny – a little bit.
  • 8/22 – Michelle noticed some little tiny yellow flowers in the grass.  The B’s lost their tortoise.
  • 8/27 – It rained last night for the first time in quite a long time.  The weather is getting warmer.
  • 8/28 – James saw the same light blue bird again on the phone wire.  Michelle saw the first tiny mangoes on the mango tree.
We are using one of the templates from this set of nature notebook pages from Fisher Academy.  This gives us a place to record what we’ve noticed and have it written down for future reference, especially if it is something that we want to be sure to research further or try to identify.   By organizing it by months, I hope that it will give us a feel over time for the “seasons” we experience here in the tropics (since they aren’t so cut and dried as those further away from the equator).
One of Michelle's recent nature journal entries, identifying and describing some of the plants in our yard
Then, each week, we carve out a space in our schedule to make an entry in our nature journals.  This is something we do all together – this includes Mama!  Even my 3 year old usually will at least sit an scribble in her ‘notebook’ too.  Sometimes we sit outside and draw something together, if there is something in particular we noticed that morning.  Other times, we will pick something we’ve recorded in our nature notes to research a bit further or sketch.   We are city-dwellers so aren’t able to take nature walks or hikes on a regular basis, although we do take advantage of those opportunities when we can.  (Thankfully, we have enough fascinating flora and fauna right in our backyard that I think we will be well-supplied with nature study topics for a long time!)
Recent entry in my nature study notebook - I have a little series going called "What's Growing in our Yard".  This is a Croton.
And that’s it, pretty much.   This is not to say that we’ll never choose a topic (like birds or mammals) to study more in-depth.  There is certainly a time and a place for that too. (Ambleside Online has a suggested Nature Study rotation, and Naomi has a great post here about choosing a “special study” for her Year 6 daughter.) But my goal is even for those more detailed studies to be borne out of our natural interests and curiosities as we continue to develop familiarity with the environment around us, rather than a lesson plan introduced by Mama.
James (age 5) decided to draw a map of our yard
So if you are one of those mamas who is feeling stuck with starting into nature study, relax.   Don’t worry about it if you don’t know anything: you don’t have to know anything to begin.   Just take one thing at a time.   Make a point to try to ‘see’ something new each day.  Share that with your kids.   Do a little research to find out what it is.  Take a minute to jot it down or sketch it.  Rinse and repeat.
I think you will be surprised by what discoveries you will make.

A Simple Way to Start doing Nature Study, Part 1

Over and over again in the online Charlotte Mason community I’ve seen people say “I have no idea where to start with nature study!!  I need someone to tell me what to do!!  I need a book!  And a schedule!”    And I totally get that, because I’ve been there too.  I grew up in the city and hated playing outside.  Although my family camped, I didn’t grow up with an affinity with nature.  So I felt like I needed some hand-holding in the beginning too.   For a while I stumbled around trying out different ideas and suggestions and resources.  I was hunting for the perfect “curriculum” for nature study.   What I finally realized is that following a book or trying to devise a schedule of topics really wasn’t bringing us the results I wanted to see.
Delighting in beauty

Let’s back up a little bit.   What is the goal of nature study anyway? 
In our family it is to:
  • Cultivate a sense of wonder and delight in God’s creation
  • Develop a keen sense of observation
  • Have a direct experience with the natural world, as described in this quote taken from the CiRCE website: “The “grammar level” student should poetically encounter the world he lives in. That is, he should experience it whole and alive through his senses. Later he will dissect dead things and engage in other analytical studies. But when he is young he should experience natural things naturally, not, as we might say today, “scientifically.” He should have a garden plot, climb trees, splash in rivers and creeks, catch frogs, etc. Reading about science should be limited and should be controlled by students’ experiences, not the marketing designs of textbook publishers.”
  • Develop a life-long love and appreciation of the natural world
Delighting in the rain

Rather than trying to find a book or curriculum to tell me what to do, I found the best thing to do was to open my eyes and take the time to see.  To notice the amazing things…and the ordinary things…all around us.   It started with me.   As I started to notice things, I’d point them out to my kids: look at that flower!  Look at that bird!  Look at that bug!   Before long, they started to notice things too: “Mama, what is that?”   More often than not, I didn’t know, so we’d look it up together using a field guide or the internet.   Now I find my kids notice things all the time: “Look at that blue bird on the fence, mama!   Look at this rock I found…isn’t it beautiful?  Mama, I just saw a butterfly  just like ‘Beautiful Butterfly’!”   I am beginning to see on a daily basis that sense of wonder and delight that I sought to cultivate.  Almost every day during our prayer time someone will mention that they are thankful for the birds on the wire or the cool morning weather or flowers they picked yesterday.  Our “formal” nature study has flowed out of our wonder and interest and delight rather than a set of lesson plans.
Delighting in the ordinary... (OK, the kids delighted in this mouse caught in our trash can.  Mama did not delight quite so much!)

Next time,  I’ll share a little bit more about what formal nature study is looking like in our home these days.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Morning Tea-Time Plans: Fall 2013

One thing that has sort of eased its way into our schedule over the past few months, and that I think is now here to stay, is Circle Time.   I first heard of the concept from Kendra at Preschoolers and Peace back when my oldest was just a preschooler.   More recently I have been inspired by Brandy and Cindy and their take on Circle Time. 
For us, ‘Circle Time’ has taken the form of a Morning Tea-Time, breaking up the rest of our school time into two blocks.  I make a little pot of some lovely, fruity flavor of herbal tea (I add a little cold water to the cups of my littles to cool it off faster and a bit of honey as well) or sometimes hot chocolate, we break out a packet of ordinary store-bought cookies (if tea-time depended on me baking we’d never have it), the kids make themselves cozy spots on the couch and chairs with their pillows and blankets if they want, and we spend some time reading together.  My primary student is 7.5 year old Michelle, but this is the time of the morning when I strive to include my two preschoolers as well (James age 5 and Elizabeth age 3-1/2).   While they certainly don’t ‘connect’ with the material we are covering to the same degree that Michelle does, they do connect with more than you might think.  They also think it is special to be included in ‘tea time’, and at the same time they are being trained in attention (or at least non-disruption!) and slowly eased into the expectations that will be placed on them as they join the ranks of ‘official students’ in our homeschool over the next couple of years.
One of last week's tea trays: 3 hot chocolates for kids, 1 Fruits Rouges flavour herbal tea for mom, and a couple of packets of Parle-G biscuits.  (Parle-G biscuits are ubiquitous here and taste a bit like graham crackers.)

Anyhow, this is what is on our Tea-Time schedule for this fall term:
Daily Nature Notes: We quickly make notes in our family nature notebook about anything interesting we may have noticed recently – new flowers or birds, weather, or whatever.  This gives us a month-by-month record, as well as giving us a place to record things we may want to look up or study more in depth later on.  (I’m hoping to do another post soon on how our nature study time has been working this year.)
Poetry:  We read a poem or two from our current poetry book (right now A Child’s Own Book of Verse, Volume 2) and recite our current memory poem (as well as reciting an review memory poem or two.)
Current Events: We subscribe to God’s World News magazine (specifically Early Edition for first and second graders).  Each day we read an article, find places on the map, and possibly talk about it a little bit if it sparks a connection or particular interest.
French: Right now we are using a very simple Bible story book: Ma première Bible en images.  We read the short story, talk about new vocabulary, sometimes act it out or find the objects mentioned in the picture.   Each story ends with a simple question, which I will ask and see if they can answer.  (They aren’t anywhere near ready to narrate something in French yet, although that would be the goal!)   This is one area I’d like to expand a bit on (songs, conversation), but that part of my planning didn’t come together in time for this term so it’s a goal for next.
Once a Week Items: In addition to the above items that we do daily, we also do one of the following each day:
            Natural History or Geography Read-Aloud: currently Find the Constellations by HA Rey.  The intention for this slot is that it will be an opportunity to add in those “extra” books and topics that I want to cover somehow, but aren’t included in the AO schedules.
            Pilgrim’s Progress: Inspired by Brandy’s rotation schedule, since this is a staple AO Years 2 and 3.   We are currently reading an illustrated, abridged version  (Dangerous Journey) which I added to AO Year 1 for Michelle since we’d already read Aesop’s Fables.   All three kids have been enjoying it, though, so I decided to keep it in our group time.  When we’re done with this, we will proceed through Little Pilgrim’s Progress and then on through the real thing just as Brandy described.
            Artist Study: See AO’s Artist Study info here.   We are currently a little bit behind the ‘official’ rotation, and are studying Georges Seurat this term.
            Composer Study: We listen to our current composer, Bach, during lunch and chore time, but during this slot we might take the time to go a little deeper – reading a biography, talking about the background of a certain piece, listening to a Classics for Kids radio program.  (Read more about Composer Study here.  We aren’t really making an effort to follow AO’s Composer Study rotation, however – I’m choosing my own based on the resources I already have available to me. Once upon a time, I WAS a music major…)
            Shakespeare:  Shakespeare retellings are another staple of AO Years 1-3.   All three of my children have enjoyed the couple of selections we have read so far, so I decided to keep this in our group reading time also.   We are currently working through Nesbit’s Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare, breaking each story up over 2-3 weeks.   (I could say more, but perhaps that’s another post in the making?)
We don’t do our Bible related things (Scripture memory, Bible reading, catechism, hymns) during this time, since we do those at the breakfast table.  Altogether, this tea-time takes us 30-40 minutes and is one of the things that I love most about homeschooling.    I would miss this cuddle-up-and-sharing time if my kids were gone at school all day!  (And when was the last time that you visited a school that included morning tea-time as part of the classroom line up?)
Anyone else do Circle Time?  I’d love to see how you do it too!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Some challenges, in case I am not the only one who has been kind of a slacker about habit training....

Last time, I shared how I was encouraged that Charlotte Mason’s ideas about habit training were more realistic than I previously thought.    I was also challenged in a few areas by some of the ideas that came up in our reading and discussion, areas that I need to change in our home to make habit and character formation more effective:
Habit Training Begins with Me
Just as atmosphere begins with me, habit training also begins with me.   I am not going to be effective in helping my children develop good habits if I am not modeling good habits myself.   They need to see me choosing to do right.   They need to see me seeking to replace my poor habits with better ones so they get the idea that ‘we are all in this together’.    It was also pointed out that children are very imitative creatures and the strongest habits are the ones that are formed unconsciously from what they see in my own life.   Do I want them to imitate me?   Convicting thought indeed.
Remain Patient and Sympathetic
As we are working with our children to help them form good habits and good character, we need to remain patient and sympathetic with them.   Habit training is a lifetime process.  There will be times when we take one step forward and two steps back.    We need to avoid becoming irritated or harsh, even when we grow frustrated.   Above all our children need to be aware that we love them and have their best interests in mind.   I need to paste this quote from the article “Nursery Discipline” up on my fridge or somewhere:
“…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.”
See the Good
Related to the above, we need to look for the good habits and good qualities that our children have already formed, and make a point to encourage our children with these things.   The small victories all add up as significant efforts towards winning the war.  Another quote from “Nursery Discipline” that I need to post somewhere as a reminder:
“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 lookout 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.”
Habit Training takes Time
In her article on habit training, Elizabeth Foss points out that if we are going to be successful in training our children in good habits, we need to be available and actively engaged with them.  We need to be aware of what they need and what is going on in their hearts.   This means self-denial, giving up other things that I may want to do.   In our fast-paced culture, this can be hard to do.   But our children’s hearts depend on it.
Look at the Big Picture
When choosing habits to focus on, don’t lose sight of the big picture.  Habit training doesn’t exist just to make our lives more convenient in the short term.  In her book Loving the Little Years, Rachel Jankovich reminds us that our children are people and not an organizational project! Likewise, awhile back on the AO Forum we had a discussion about the limitations of habits: habit training is good, but never ever at the expense of our children’s hearts.  We need to think carefully about what habits will set them on the path to life and focus our energy on those, rather than making mountains out of molehills.   Elizabeth Foss reminds us of the big picture:
“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.”
Now to ponder how to put all of these ideas into action…

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Mama Goes Back To School

Yes, this mama is going ‘back to school’ this fall too. J   Not in a literal sense – last year’s stint in French language school was enough to show me that going to school even part time while juggling little kids and homeschooling is not for me.   But I have officially started Ambleside Online Year 4 (self-study, paced at the speed of life around here).
All of my Y4 goodies...nearly all the books are on my Kindle. :)

Here’s my plan:  Basically, I am reading through the basic weekly reading list.  I’m not doing Bible or any of the more formal subjects – math, grammar, languages, etc.   (I do want to do some self-study of Latin eventually, as Brandy suggests, but I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew so I’m saving this for a little closer to when I will have a student actually starting to study Latin. We’re a good 2-3 years away from that still.)   I will read through a term’s worth of the reading list, and then take a break and study a Shakespeare play and/or a Plutarch life.  The only modification I have made thus far to the reading list as laid out on the AO website is for geography, since I am planning to do the Holling books as family read-alouds during our next furlough year in the States, freeing up more space in our schedule for world geography.  For now I am trying a biography of Captain Cook for term 1, followed by starting The Complete Book of Marvels.  (This is scheduled in Year 5, but since it has 60 chapters my thought is to spread it over Years 4 and 5).     I have also made myself a *very* simple timeline book that I will try to keep up with so I can keep myself straight historically.  (I am also planning on adding the dates that my Year 1 student is adding to her timeline book.)
Told you it was simple.  Basically two pages for each century, with three columns on each page: one for famous people, one for events, and one for 'culture' (art, music, inventions, etc.)

Why?  Well, I admit part of it is practical.  Year 4 is a big transition year for students using AO – a step up in terms of challenge, as well as in expected independence.  I figure I will get lots of exposure walking through Years 1-3 with 3 three separate students since much of that will be done together, but I want to be prepared ahead of time for Year 4.  This gives me a chance to read through the books, consider any changes or substitutions I may want to make, and take note of some of the ideas I notice in these books that may be worth bringing up for discussion when my children get there.  (I also admit that the high-school level booklists intimidate me just a wee little bit, and I feel like I need to build up to that level gradually.)
But more than the practical “preparing myself to do Year 4 well with my kids” aspect of it, I also just want to LEARN.   I was a ‘good student’ growing up in public schools, but in retrospect it was all a game to me.  Figure out what the teacher wants and give that to them.   I didn’t have a love of learning or a thirst for knowledge for its own sake…I just wanted to win the game.   After graduating near the top of my class in high school, I had a chance to be a part of the Great Books based honors program at my university, but silly 17-year-old me declined that opportunity because I was ready to shed my ‘honor student’ label and have some fun in college.   This is one of my greatest regrets now – why on earth didn’t I take advantage of an opportunity like that when it was there for the taking?   And for many years I thought it was too late.   I had missed my chance, and now I couldn’t go back and start over.  
Until I started homeschooling.   Until I discovered Charlotte Mason and classical education and AO.   Now I have the wonderful opportunity to go back and study those great books I missed out on before, using AO’s reading lists as my guide.  I have the chance to re-learn (and learn to love) history and science and literature with a goal other than passing a test in mind.  I may have missed out on the opportunity to discuss these ideas with my peers, but instead I get to discuss them with my kids.   We can all learn and grow in virtue and wisdom together.  What greater gift can I give them?
So, that’s why this Mama is going back to school this fall.   Anyone else out there want to join me? 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Some Good Finds...

I have been stumbling across so many share-worthy reads online in recent weeks that I thought I’d start attempting to share them here.   Enjoy!
            Just in case I’m not the only one who struggles with feeling like my parenting and teaching efforts are inadequate.
            Absolute must read for anyone homeschooling or considering homeschooling.  And then bookmark it.   And refer back to it often.  (I just did.  We had one of these mornings in my house today…)
            Wonderful scheduling post from an experienced CM mom.  Our schedule works similarly to what she describes here.  Worth considering if the “school at home” model isn’t working for you.
            I’ve seen these titles mentioned so often in traditional classical and AO circles that I think I may make this my next educational philosophy reading list…after I finish the 20 Principles Study and Poetic Knowledge, that is.  Have you read any of them?  (I did read Abolition of Man in college, but honestly can’t remember what I may have taken away from it…a re-reading is in order, methinks.)
            This was another encouraging read, especially when feeling that pressure that not sending our children to a school with a traditional classroom set-up is somehow a disadvantage to them.  It’s not. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Some encouragement, just in case I am not the only one who gets discouraged about Habit Training....

I will admit that when I saw our next topic of discussion was 'education is a discipline' (aka habit training), I groaned a little bit.   Not because I think forming good habits is a bad idea – on the contrary, it is a good and necessary part of our children’s education and upbringing.   But as much as I love Charlotte Mason, this is one of the principles of hers I’ve had the hardest time with.    Some of her ideas on this topic are (in my experience) a little idealistic.  (She was after all a TEACHER and not a MOTHER herself.)  Some of them seem to ignore the fact that we all have a sinful nature that we cannot overcome by our own efforts.  I’ve also felt discouraged and defeated by the way some have interpreted her ideas about habit training:  Choose a habit to focus on for 6 weeks at a time.  Start with obedience, because Charlotte talked about that one the most.  Inspire your children by reading stories that pertain to that habit.  Make sure that they NEVER MESS UP on practicing this new, good habit you are trying to instill, otherwise you’ll have to go back to square one.  Follow these steps and your child will have formed their new habit in 6 weeks flat!  Then you can start another one!  Just make sure you keep a watch out for that first one…and the second one…keep those plates spinning….  
Is it just me, or does that ‘formula’ not quite set well with you, either?   It always seemed kind of ‘compartmentalized’ to me – I’ve tried following character-training curriculums that focus on various traits for a month or two at a time, with targeted stories and Bible verses to go along with it and I’ve never been able to stick with them for very long because they always felt too forced and contrived to me.    And training children in perfect obedience in 6 weeks?  Expecting them to never mess up?  Um, right.  This isn’t to diminish the importance of training our children to be obedient, I just find it unrealistic to master this or any other ‘habit’ or character trait in a mere 6 weeks! I view this more as a lifetime kind of project.   I also think that such a view is too simplistic and doesn’t allow for our sinful nature (which makes it impossible for us to ever be perfect on our own) or God’s grace (the only way we can overcome our sinful habits and tendencies).
All this to say that I’ve gotten kind of squirmy about the notion of habit training a la Charlotte Mason, and wasn’t looking forward to reading and discussing it.   I didn’t want to be reminded of the fact that CM-style habit training has been kind of a fail for me because I just couldn’t see myself embracing her vision, at least as I understood it up until now.
So…I was pleasantly surprised to see where the reading and discussion took us.   I discovered that I was not alone in my struggle…there are other mamas out there who have found this idea discouraging and daunting as well.   And I was encouraged by some of the ideas that I took away from this study that perhaps I can embrace Charlotte’s vision for habit training after all:
Yes, in Parents and Children (Volume 2), Charlotte Mason does lay out a 9-step process towards forming a new habit, which I believe the idea I was describing above came from.   But, as I am discovering, if one really wants to understand Charlotte Mason it is important to study ALL of her work as a whole, and not isolate little parts (or worse yet, rely solely on other people’s interpretations of what she says.)   In other places in her writing she discourages unnatural and compartmentalized systems.   Nor did she expect all worthwhile habits to be formed in a mere 6 weeks.  She herself mentions an example where a mother might allow a year to work towards a new habit: “Is Edward a selfish child when his fifth birthday comes?  The fact is noted in his parents’ year book, with the resolve that by his sixth birthday he shall, please God, be a generous child.” (Volume 2, Chapter 7).  In various examples of personal experiences, some habits may take even longer to form – such as Tammy’s example of helping their daughter break the habit of throwing tantrums.  It took years of slowly identifying and removing each trigger.  And that’s OK!  The goal is to move forward, but not necessarily in any particular time frame.  The nature of the child and the nature of the habit you are trying to form will determine that.    She also speaks in various places in her writing about the work of the Holy Spirit being necessary for true heart change.  She really didn’t expect our children to be perfect or to be able to overcome all their character flaws simply by following the correct method of habit training – she understood their need for a Saviour.
“Intentional” habit training doesn’t have to mean making a list of habits a child ought to form, and faithfully checking them off every 6 weeks.   It does mean prayerfully considering what our children need, and prayerfully considering the best way to go about tackling it.  It means continuing to pray for the Lord’s guidance and direction and for His work in our children’s lives.  “It is intentional action.  It is a thoughtful, prayerful approach to life itself.” (Elizabeth Foss in “Charlotte Mason Book Study Part Two: Education is a Discipline”).
Routines are an important part of habit training.  Form routines around those habits that you find most important for your children to develop.   Looking at habit training this way was encouraging – I was able to look back and see what positive habits we HAVE been able to form in our family by making them part of our family routines: Scripture memory.  Bible reading.  Chores.   Touching base as a family before heading to bed.   Eating healthy meals.  
Habits are formed over time.  We aren’t going to see the results right away, but we will in hindsight  This gives me courage to keep on moving forward, even if I don’t see the fruit right away.
Stories and ideas DO play a part in inspiring our children in good habits and good character.   But that doesn’t necessarily mean following a ‘character-training’ curriculum with the stories specifically targeted to the habit you are trying to form, and in fact it may be better NOT to be too focused.  Consider: “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.” (Volume 6, p.102)  and “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.” (Volume 6, p.104).   Spread the feast.   Let the children ingest what they are ready for.   Let the ideas soak in over time.  Let them make their own relations.   Don’t force feed or make connections for them.   In other words – keep doing what I’m doing:  feed them a steady diet of good ideas through living books.
While I was encouraged, I was also challenged by our study of discipline and habit training.  But, we’ll save that for next time.