Sunday, May 25, 2014

Time for a Bit of Rest...

Just wanted to pop in and let you know that things may be a bit quiet here on the blog for the next week or two.  We are heading out of town for a much needed family vacation this coming week, and coming back to begin a new term and celebrate James' 6th birthday!  

In the meantime...I thought I'd share a couple of things that I will be pondering during my time away in case anyone else is in need of some rest....

Sarah's new book and audio series Teaching from Rest.  I'm so glad she decided to release this a few days early so I could download it before we headed out of town.  I've skimmed my copy over already and it looks fantastic...and the 4 companion audios are from 4 of my favorite speakers and bloggers. :)  Hopefully the rest of my family won't mind listening along with me on our 8 hour road trip....

Also in the most recent Circe Podcast, Andrew Kern shares some more good thoughts about rest and anxiety. 

And interestingly enough, as I've been mulling over chapter 3 of School Education in preparation for my next post in that series, I'm seeing a lot of connections between the idea of Rest and Masterly Activity.  

Happy Reading, Listening, and Pondering!  Look forward to chatting with you again in a couple of weeks!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Power of Routines

Thoughts on School Education: Chapter 2 "Docility and Authority in the Home and School Part II: How Authority Behaves"
In this second chapter, Charlotte gets into  specifics of what 'authority' ought to look like.  I have actually written before on this topic – this chapter was assigned reading during the 20 Principles study last year.  It was good for me to go back and review the ideas in that post – I think maybe I need to hang that list up somewhere to remind myself what healthy authority looks like.  This time through this chapter, however, I noticed a something new.  (Isn't that the sign of a good book?  Something you can read again and again and see something new each time?)  That's what I want to talk about today.
"So far as the daily routine of small obediences goes, we help them thus to fulfill a natural function – the response of docility to authority." (p.20)
"Now to work a machine such as a typewriter or a bicycle, one must, before all things, have practice; one must have got into the way of working it involuntarily, without giving any thoughts to the matter: and to give a child this power over himself – first in response to the will of another, later, in response to his own, is to make a man of him." (p.20)
"…the parents are slow to perceive that it is not the soothing routine of lessons which is exhausting to the little girl, but the fact that she goes through the labor of decision twenty times a day, and not only that, but the added fatigue of a contest to get her own way.  Every point in the day's routine is discussed, nothing comes with the comforting ease of a matter of course; the child always prefers to do something else, and commonly does it.  No wonder the poor little girl is worn out." (p.21)
"They are careful to form habits upon which the routine of life runs easily…" (p.22)
Did you notice a theme running through these quotations from this chapter?   These points brought home to me again the idea that routines are the keys to habit.   I've had the idea of routines on my mind a lot lately, since one of my main 'takeaways' from our reading of Desiring the Kingdom was the importance of habits and routines.  After tweaking our evening routine to better reflect our values, I discovered that a good routine provided us with a framework upon which to hang other habits we'd like to develop.  For example, having an evening routine in place that helped to remove some of the chaos from our supper hour has made it easier to focus on helping our children develop better table manners.   These thoughts from Charlotte have me wondering if we can take the importance of routines a step further – our routines give us "rails" to help us move through our days more easily and to practice some of the more 'moral' habits such as obedience.   When we have established good routines in our home, we do things just because it is the next thing to do – we don't have to think about it.   In our home, we have breakfast, we have our morning devotional time, and then we go do chores.  It's just what we do.   Occasionally we have some hiccups along the way, but generally we don't have big showdowns over obedience when morning chore time comes because it's just time to do them.   I think perhaps this is an example of what Charlotte was trying to get at here – our routine provides us with the opportunity to get daily practice in "small obediences", thereby helping to develop our obedience "muscles" if that makes sense.
Having these kind of routines in place also helps us to save energy for the bigger and more 'out-of-the ordinary' decisions that need to be made.  We don't spend all day needing to decide "what comes next?" because, barring any unusual circumstances, we already know.  As a mother, I have more energy to focus on discussing big ideas and heart issues with my children.  I am calmer and better able to maintain a proper balance of authority in my home.  The children live in the security the "comforting ease of [things happening] as a matter of course" to borrow Charlotte's terminology.   In a recent thread over on the AO Forum, we were discussing how we could develop a relaxed atmosphere in our homes.  I realized that having a consistent routine in place is a big key to that – not a rigid schedule – but a general flow to the day where we all sort of know what to expect.   I've noticed that on weekends or the odd weekday that my husband is home from work – when our normal weekday routine goes out the window – we all tend to be more cranky and fractious with each other.  I can't help but wonder if that's because we've lost the security that our routine provides.  (Perhaps my next project needs to be to consider a reasonable routine for weekends and holidays!)
All of these things taken together have helped me to realize that routines can be a really powerful tool in our life-hacks toolbox.  Beyond the practical benefits of smoother and more relaxed day, routines can also be a tool we can use to help ourselves and our families to grow in wisdom and virtue.  In her book A Mother's Rule of Life, Holly Pierlot explains how she borrowed from the monastic tradition to help develop routines in her home that would help her grow in holiness:
"When Mother Teresa began writing her Rule, she didn't begin with the schedule.  Instead she began writing out the 'principles and spiritual goals' that defined the mission of the Missionaries of Charity…It was only after Mother Teresa had first defined specifically what she was doing and why she was going to do it, that she next drew up a simple schedule based on that mission…"
It is worth really carefully (and prayerfully) considering what goals we have, what habits we want to develop, what virtues we need to practice and then seeking to establish routines that will reflect our values, give us opportunities to move towards our goals, and in that way grow in grace and virtue.  In her series "Education is for Life", Mystie explores this idea and walks through some practical ways that we can flesh out the big idea "principles" that we want to live by.  I'm hoping to revisit this series during our summer break as I consider our plans for the fall.
Charlotte closes this chapter with an encouraging reminder:
"Let us not despise the days of small things nor grow weary in the well-doing…" (p.23)
Those little things?  They are worth persevering in because they can have a far greater influence than we might ever think.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Wednesday Commonplace: On How to Read a Book

So, over on the Forum, there is a group of us slowly working our way through Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book.
Yes.  There is a book about how to read books.    
Why?  That's what my husband wanted to know.   Most of us learn the mechanics of reading by the time we are 7 or 8 years old, right?  Why on earth do teenagers and adults need a book about how to read?  In the first chapter, Adler offers this:
"But it may be seriously questioned whether the advent of modern communications media has much enhanced our understanding of the world in which we live.  Perhaps we know more about the world that we used to, and insofar as knowledge is prerequisite to understanding, that is all to the good.  But knowledge  is not as much a prerequisite  to understanding as is commonly supposed.  We do not have to know everything about something in order to understand it; too many facts are often as much of an obstacle to understanding as too few.  There is a sense in which we moderns are inundated with facts to the detriment of understanding."
"Reading and listening are thought of as receiving communication from someone who is actively engaged in giving or sending it.  The mistake here is to suppose that receiving communication is like receiving a blow or a legacy or a judgment from the court.  On the contrary the reader or listener is much more like the catcher in a game of baseball."
"Getting more information is learning and so is coming to understand what you did not understand before.  But there is an important difference between these two kinds of learning.  To be informed is to know simply that something is the case.  To be enlightened is to know, in addition, what it is all about: why it is the case, what its connections are with other facts, in what respects it is the same, in what respects it is different and so forth."
"Thinking is only one part of the activity of learning.  One must also use one's senses and imagination.  One must observe, and remember, and construct imaginatively what cannot be observed."
~Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book (Revised and Updated Edition)
So it turns out that 'reading' is more than decoding the letters you see on the page.   It goes beyond a form of entertainment or a means of gathering information (although those are legitimate uses of the skill of reading in their own way.)  What is particularly in view here is the idea of reading for UNDERSTANDING -- reading in order to really know things beyond what we see on the surface.  As he points out in my first quote above, in our modern era we are often bombarded with facts and information through television and the internet.  Our modern standardized-test driven education system also emphasizes gaining facts and information at the expense of true understanding.  We live our lives at a harried, frenetic pace, jumping from one activity to another.  With all of this, we are losing our ability to think and imagine and understand.  To Know.  This is why so many of us literate adults are in need of learning "how to read a book."
I've still only read the first chapter (we're taking it slow and easy in our Forum book discussion group), so I have yet to see how Adler fleshes out these ideas.  As I read this introductory chapter, however, I couldn't help but think that this is exactly what Charlotte Mason was after as well.  So many of her pedagogical ideas point to this end of reading in order to understand.   She encouraged the use of living books which give us material to put our minds to work on – books that are not mindless entertainment or lists of facts.   Narration is a tool that facilitates 'active reading' (as Adler puts it).   For Charlotte Mason the onus to learn fell squarely on the student to wrestle with the text for himself, not on the teacher to predigest and spoon-feed it to him.   She encourages developing the habits of thinking and imagining and picturing what one is reading about in "the mind's eye".   And the end of all this active reading?  To develop the whole person – body, mind, and spirit – and produce a student who not only knows all those things necessary to life but who CARES.
From the beginning of our homeschooling journey, I was drawn to a literature based model of some sort.  At the time, that was because I thought that reading 'real books' was certainly more interesting (read: more entertaining) than textbooks and worksheets.  The further we travel on this journey, however, the more I see just how much benefit there is in basing our education upon the best books. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Family Reading #14

A little peek into what we've been reading at our house lately...

With the Littles
I started reading A Bear Called Paddington with the little ones after lunch…I love Paddington Bear.  Happy sigh. J   I've also been reading lots of Brer Rabbit and Friends (AKA "Brer Rabbit and BRER Friends"), Brambly Hedge, and Tin Lizzie.  We also recently rearranged our bookshelf and have rediscovered the Obadiah series by Brinton Turkle.
Michelle's Reading (Age 8.5)
Michelle has been enjoying Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.  I think this is a free read for a later AO Year, however when she brought home a dreadfully abridged 'children's' version from the library after a 'library class' during co-op, I had to replace it with something.  (Don't ask me how I feel about abridged children's versions…)
James' Reading (Age 5.5)
Together, we've been reading through the Treadwell Reading Literature First Reader – filled with folk tales and simple children's poetry.  We really enjoy this reader series.  I've also caught him reading the instruction manual to his Papa's remote-controlled model airplane, the Tower Hobbies catalog, and other random books on the shelf that he doesn't want me to know that he knows how to read….
Featured School Book
One of the more challenging titles in AO Year 2 is The Little Duke, a historical fiction story based on the life of Duke Richard, the boy duke, who I believe was the grandfather of William the Conqueror.  Rich in historical details about life in medieval France as well as a compelling story with themes of revenge and forgiveness.  We're both enjoying it.
Bedtime Reading
We finally finished The Five Little Peppers - it was a sweet story, but did seem to drag on for a rather long time.  We were ready to move on when the time came.  After that we read through Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – I had forgotten how funny this childhood favorite of mine was.   It was well-loved by all, and fairly quick read as well.  We've now started Brighty of the Grand Canyon.  Your gratuitous bonus photos today are our family's visit to the Grand Canyon in 2011.  My kids were SO little weren't they?
Since you can't see Miss Elizabeth hiding on my back in the family photo up there. :)  We ended up having a picnic in the car because it started to rain.  She was 16 months old, I think.
Oh, did you actually want to see the Grand Canyon, and not just my kids?! ;)
On Mama's Nightstand
Too much again, but what else is new. J Over the past month I have been finishing up some books and starting others.   I am reading and blogging through Charlotte Mason's third volume School Education.  The AO Forum ladies have recently started discussions on Three Men in a Boat (we needed something lighthearted for a change of pace after The Iliad!) and Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book.  Inspired by Brandy and our concluding discussion of The Iliad, I picked up the fascinating When Athens Met Jerusalem, a survey of how the Greek tradition profoundly affected the world into which Christianity was born.  Alongside I'm reading The Story of the Greeks, used in AO Year 6, since my middle school ancient history course is now a little foggy in my memory.   My husband and I are still slowly reading through The Lord of the Rings in the evenings too.  And that doesn't count my devotional reading…
I told you it was too much.   But it's all so fascinating…I'm not sure what I'd put down if I had to choose something to put down!
Have you read anything interesting lately?  I'd love to hear about it…

Friday, May 16, 2014

Approachability and Rightful Authority

Thoughts on School Education: Chapter 1 "Docility and Authority in the Home and in the School – Part 1"
In this and the following chapter, Charlotte is attempting to explain her principles of authority and docility as they are foundational to the 'curriculum' that she is presenting.  She urges us to consider a happy medium between strict, arbitrary autocratic rule ('you do this  because I say so!') vs over-permissiveness. 
Here are a few of the quotes I highlighted and thoughts I had as I read this chapter:
"…it is far easier to govern from a height, as it were, than from the intimacy of close personal contact.  But you cannot be quite frank and easy with beings who are obviously of a higher and of another order than yourself; at least, you cannot when you are a little boy.  And here we have one cause of the inscrutable reticence of children.  At the best of times they carry on the busy traffic of their own thoughts all to themselves…But it is much to a child to know that he may question, may talk of the thing that perplexes him, and that there is comprehension for his perplexities.  Effusive sympathy is a mistake, and bores a child when it does not make him silly.  But just to know that you can ask and tell is a great outlet, and means, to the parent, the power of direction, and to the child, free and natural development." (p.4-5)
There's a good question: how can we strike a balance between maintaining our parental authority and yet being approachable to our children so that they will be willing to talk to us about the things that interest and concern them?  I remember as a child (and especially as a teenager) not really wanting to talk to my parents about things because I always feared what their reaction would be – they didn't tend to be explosive or angry, but I did fear their disapproval.  By the grace of God I have a very good and open relationship with my parents now as an adult, but still have the sense that I would like to approach this differently with my own children.  I want my kids to feel comfortable talking to me about what concerns them, but am really not sure how exactly to do this without erring on the side of being too much of a buddy and not enough of a parent.   I suppose one way that I am trying to cultivate this is to listen to what they want to say now – even though at the moment it is often recounting their favorite moments from the movie Planes once again – so that they know that I am willing to listen, no matter what it is.   I think that homeschooling is another avenue to encourage this  - especially since CM style homeschooling is so focused on reading and discussing enriching ideas.  Still, I'd love to chat with a parent of adult children who has navigated this successfully and hear your tips, though. J
"For it is indeed true that none of us has a right to exercise authority, in all things great or small, except as we are, and acknowledge ourselves to be, deputed by the one supreme and ultimate Authority." (p.7)
Charlotte notes that the breakdown of a proper sense of authority in her (and our) culture comes from the 'dethronement of the divine'.  This was the natural result of some of the influential philosophies of her day (Locke and Spencer are two that she notes).  This effect has trickled down even further into our present day postmodern culture as well.  If we have no concept of the authority of God, we have no foundation for authority at all.  Authority comes from God.  Charlotte proposes the restoration of the proper idea of authority as a foundation for the rest of her educational thoughts:
"…restore Authority to its ancient place as an ultimate fact, no more to be accounted for than is the principle of gravitation, and as binding and universal in the moral world as is that other principle in the natural." (p.9)
She warns several times in this chapter against the abuse of authority, something that she notes parents and teachers can often be susceptible to on account of the fact that we are 'big' and our charges are 'little'.  But authority isn't an 'inalienable right'.  It is something that is deputed to us from God when He places us in a position where the exercise of that authority is needful.   Authority ultimately belongs to Him – it is our job to exercise that authority responsibly and 'as unto the Lord'.
"…we know now that authority is vested in the office and not in the person; that the moment it is treated as a personal attribute it is forfeited.  We know that a person in authority is a person authorized; and that he who is authorized is under authority.  The person under authority holds and fulfills a trust; in so far as he asserts himself; governs upon the impulse of his own will, he ceases to be authoritative and authorized, and becomes arbitrary and autocratic." (p.12)
It's pretty humbling to think about it like that, isn't it?  God has given us a weighty responsibility in asking us to serve as His deputies in the lives of the children He has placed into our care.   It can be really tempting to try to carry out that responsibility in our own power, but when we do, we are treading on dangerous ground.  However, it is also freeing to realize that the chain of command doesn't stop with me.  I have a Higher Authority that I can appeal to for grace, strength, and wisdom to carry out this task.  Ultimately, the best thing I can do is rest in Him, daily place the lives of my children into His hands, trust His guidance and direction, and leave the results to Him.  I have been realizing again and again lately that my job as a parent is to plant seeds, and it is the Lord who will reap the harvest.
" Authority is that aspect of love which parents present to their children; parents know it is love because to them it means continual self-denial, self-repression, self-sacrifice: children recognize it as love, because to them it means quiet rest and gaiety of heart.  Perhaps the best aid to the maintenance of authority in the home is for those in authority to ask themselves daily that question which was presumptuously put to our Lord – 'Who gave Thee this authority?" (p.24)
(PS: Here is another good post that addresses this topic.  Happy Reading!)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Wednesday Commonplace: On Being the Bride of Christ

In my devotional time, I have been reading through the book of Matthew alongside a devotional commentary by JC Ryle.  I thought I'd share a little taste of that with you today.   Here is a snippet from his comments on Matthew 9:14-26:
"Let us mark in this passage, the gracious name by which the Lord Jesus speaks of Himself.  He calls Himself 'the bridegroom.'  What the bridegroom is to the bride, the Lord Jesus is to the souls of all who believe in Him.  He loves them with a deep and everlasting love.  He takes them into union with Himself.  They are 'one with Christ and Christ in them.'  He pays all their debts to God.  He supplies all their daily need.  He sympathizes with them in all their troubles.  He bears with all their infirmities, and does not reject them for a few weaknesses.  He regards them as part of Himself.  Those that persecute and injure them are persecuting Him.  The glory that He has received from His Father they will one day share with Him, and where He is, there shall they be.  Such are the privileges of all true Christians.  They are the Lamb's wife (Rev. 19:7).  Such is the portion to which faith admits us.  By it God joins our poor sinful souls to one precious Husband; and those who God thus joins together, shall never be put asunder.  Blessed indeed are those who believe!"
~JC Ryle, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew
Amen and Amen.

Monday, May 12, 2014

How We Do...Field Trips

Actually, we don’t really do field trips at all.  Living in Africa means there isn’t so much to do in the way of typical field trip fare – no museums, historical sites, zoos (well we do have a zoo, but it’s small and kind of sad), and so on.   Rather than feeling like my kids are missing out on this kind of thing, however, I like to look at the fact that they have opportunities for different experiences that their counterparts in the West don’t.  Here is one such example from an ‘adventure’ my husband took our older two children on a couple of weeks ago:
Students from the mission-run international secondary school here in our city often make ministry trips to local villages.  Last weekend, Dan was asked to use our 4WD truck to help drive people and equipment for one of these trips to a village located a couple of hours south of the city.  He took Michelle and James ‘along for the ride’ since it was a good opportunity for them to experience another part of Cameroon.  They had a great time!
Once turning off the main highway, they drove another 20km down this dirt track through the jungle to reach the village.
The student ministry team finished a well project and planted plantains for the village.  Then the soccer team played in a locally organized tournament.
Afterwards the drama team performed a few skits sharing the gospel with the people who came for the tournament.
During the soccer tournament James got busy drawing and attracted quite a crowd.
Michelle, on the other hand, guarded the truck.
The folks in the village provided a meal for the group before they headed back to town: snake, lizard, greens, and rice.   The verdict: Dan didn’t think it was too bad.  Michelle liked the greens and the rice, but passed on the snake and the lizard, and James “only ate the rice.  The rest was too icky, Mama.” 
The trip back to the city in the afternoon was particularly exciting due to thunderstorms in the area, turning the dirt track into a mud track. J  But they all made it home safely, and they all had a great experience.  It was a blessing for Dan to be able to use our vehicle to help out the student ministry team in this way, and a blessing for the children to be able experience Cameroon outside of the city!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Thoughts from School Education (Charlotte Mason Series, Volume 3): Preface

Moving along from our discussion of Desiring the Kingdom, I have decided to return to our friend Charlotte Mason for awhile.  I've read her Volumes 1 and 6 twice each now, and feel fairly well grounded in her 20 Principles after our study of them last year, but I have never read School Education (Volume 3) in its entirety.  Reading Charlotte Mason's own words can be kind of intimidating, but I have also found it very rewarding.  It is well worth the effort to dig in and go to the source no matter how much you may have read about Charlotte Mason's ideas.  If you've never done so, I encourage you to give it a try.   I'm not going to set this up as an official book club type study, but I'd love it if anyone wants to read along with me and share thoughts and links in the comments. J
A few resources I recommend and will be consulting myself as I work through the book:
You can read Charlotte's writings online at Ambleside Online in the original or in a modern English paraphrase.
I am actually reading from the Kindle version that I downloaded here.   The paraphrase is available for Kindle from Amazon, as are printed copies of her works.
There is a current discussion of Volume Three going on in the AO Forum right now.  I'm not actively participating in it since they are already up through chapter 10 and I am just getting started, but will be following along with the thoughts shared there as I read through at my own pace.  (I think you have to have an account at the Forum in order to see any of the posts.)
Cindy at Ordo Amoris also blogged through School Education several years ago.  I always appreciate her insights.
So the Preface.  Where are we headed in this Volume?
Volume Three contains Charlotte's thoughts and suggestions towards a curriculum for children under 12.   It is a curriculum that is "the outcome of a scheme of educational thought" – it is solidly based on carefully considered principles and ideas, not just a hodge-podge of resources that have been cobbled together.   That is one thing that I appreciate about CM – her ideas and principles are based on her years of study, life, and experience.  I really appreciate that about the ladies that put together AO for us too – they have carefully considered Charlotte's principles and made their suggestions based on that.  Before I had settled on priorities, principles, and goals for our homeschool, I was driven back and forth by every new curriculum product that crossed my path.  Regardless of whether or not you consider yourself a Charlotte Mason homeschooler, I do encourage you to consider your principles, priorities, and goals FIRST before you begin researching and purchasing your curriculum materials – and then make your choices based on those principles.  This has helped me narrow down my choices considerably as well as resist the temptation to jump on the bandwagon with every new thing that comes up.
In this Volume, Charlotte tells us that she is not going to consider ALL the possible aspects of physical, mental, moral, and religious training, but only those things that are most often overlooked.  This isn't intended to be a comprehensive educational manifesto, but rather to stimulate our thinking on issues that perhaps we haven't considered before.
The foundational principles to her curriculum suggestions are those of authority and docility and the personhood of children.  These are considered in more depth in the first several chapters.
In the later chapters of the book, she turns her attention specifically to the proper use of books: "I have tried to show how necessary it is to sustain the intellectual life upon ideas, and, as its corollary, that a school book should be a medium for ideas and not merely a receptacle for facts…Our great failure seems to me to be caused by the fact that we do not form the habit of reading books that are worthwhile in children while they are at school and under 12 years of age."  I'm really looking forward to this part of the discussion since one of my very favorite things about CM is the way that she used books.  A living book is far more than facts presented in story form but rather is one in which "facts are presented as the outcome of ideas."  
Look forward to chatting with you all more about these ideas in the weeks to come.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Wednesday Commonplace: On Hope

Parables from Nature by Margaret Gatty is read slowly across AO Years 1-3.  It is definitely a challenging book – probably the most challenging in these Years, but it is also a very beautiful book rich in ideas.   I was reading it aloud today to Michelle and came across this little gem, spoken in a stormy forest by an Owl to a group of trees utterly convinced that the End of All Things had come:
"And as he spoke there streamed once more from out of the clouds that type of peace that passeth not away – the moon that shone in Paradise.  Oh, what a silver mantle she let fall upon the disrobed branches of those trees! Wet as they were with rain-drops, and waving in the gale, it seemed as if they shone in robes of starlight glory.  What gracious promises seemed streaming down with that sweet light!
'Lift up your heads, ye forest trees, once more!' so sang the mild-eyed Bird of Night. 'Fury is short-lived – love alone enduring.  All that destroys is transitory, but order is everlasting.  The unbridled powers of cruelty may rage – it is but for a time!  And ye may darken over the blue heavens, ye vapoury masses in the sky.  It matters not!  Beyond the blackness of those clouds, there shines, unaltered and serene, the moon that shone in Paradise.'"
~Margaret Gatty, "A Lesson of Hope", Parables from Nature
Wise words to remember the next time a Storm passes by here.

Monday, May 5, 2014

What We've Learned: March and April 2014

Education is an Atmosphere
“I want to do great things for the kingdom.  Those great things, however, are loving, training, and teaching the greatest things in the kingdom – His children whom He has put under my care.  For such is the kingdom of God.” ~RC Sproul Jr.
Education is a Discipline
Over the past month or so, I’ve been working on tweaking our morning routine to run a little more smoothly.  This is tough for me because I am NOT a morning person and deal daily with the temptation to sit around in my pj’s doing nothing but reading and drinking coffee until 10am But I do see fruit in getting everyone going and keeping everyone moving along to the next thing in the mornings.  We are able to accomplish that which needs to be done with a better attitude, and it leaves us with more time to pursue those things we would like to do during the rest of the day.  So we’re working on it.
Part of this has entailed moving James towards independence with washing the breakfast dishes, with the goal of his being completely independent by the time he turns 6 in June.   We’ve been buddy washing for a long time, and I know he is capable of washing them well.  He’s a little prone to dawdling, however, and a little attached to having me right there.  So we’ve started talking about how he will be 6 soon, and when he’s 6 he’ll be a big boy and able to wash all by himself the way Michelle does at lunchtime, while I slowly start moving away to work on something else for a minute.   Why the push for James to be more independent with the dishes?  So that I can work with Elizabeth (just turned 4) on a basic morning routine (getting dressed, making her bed, etc).  This has been pretty spotty and haphazard up until now because I just couldn’t keep a good enough eye on her while trying to oversee everyone else.  If James can be more independent, then I can be more focused on her.
Also in the interest of improving our morning routine, I decided to give up computer time before chores, school, and some kind of devotional time are done during Lent.  I’ve tried to develop this discipline before and always failed….I do dearly love getting online and seeing what all my lovely Forum ladies have been chatting about over in North America while I’ve been sleeping on this side of the Atlantic. J   But trying to fit this internet time into the morning has generally meant a more rushed devotional time, kids who go do everything but what they are supposed to because Mama is distracted, and a slower (and therefore more frustrating) start to our school morning.   I found that the Lent aspect of it provided the motivation I needed to this time, and I hope that now I have a habit I can stick with from now on.  It really does make a huge positive difference in our home when I can discipline myself to stay off the computer during the key ‘transition’ points of the day.
Miss Elizabeth and her dad with their winning pinewood derby car "Fish Out of Water" - just one of many fun family activities sponsored by our co-op this past month.
Education is a Life
April has been our Conference and Co-op Month, so we haven’t been in our normal homeschool routine.   (We did wrap up through AO Year 2, Week 9 before stopping for our break at the end of March, however.)  The way our co-op works is pretty unique due to our situation here, so I thought I’d share a little bit what 'co-op' looks like for us, and some of the highlights from this session for our kids.
Michelle with her co-op teacher - also our very dear family friend.

 Most homeschool co-op type groups meet once a week, but due to the fact that the majority of the homeschooling families in our mission community live somewhere outside of the city, meeting weekly isn’t possible.   So instead, we meet 3 times per year for 2-3 weeks at a time, long enough to make it worthwhile for those more remote families to travel into the city.   Families are asked to participate in at least 2 of the 3 sessions.  Our family prefers to skip the session in August and attend the sessions in December and April.   During these weeks, the homeschooled kids attend school with the children who attend our mission-run primary school full time.  For all of the students, however, they mix up the normal schedule and curriculum to make it possible for the homeschooled kids to participate in fun group activities that aren’t possible when homeschooling in a remote setting.   There are usually special history, science, and writing projects that are scheduled as well as fun things like sports, drama, art, and music.  Last December they did swimming.  This April’s session has included a study of the Renaissance for history and astronomy for science, music appreciation, drama, and baseball.  The little ones usually have the option to go to preschool twice a week during the session too.  A grand time was had by all, although we were more than ready to get back to “normal" when the session finished.
The Music class learned handbells or recorders - this is Michelle's group playing "Ode to Joy"
To be completely honest,  I don’t love this format.   This isn’t a Charlotte Mason or Classical friendly school, so I don’t always like the way that the academics are approached.  I don’t like that it eats several weeks out of our school year at home that I have to make up for somehow, meaning that we lose some of that flexibility that is a benefit of homeschooling.  I don’t love rushing to get Michelle out the door by 7:45 every morning, packing lunches, and dealing with homework.  And I always think I am going to be able to tackle all kinds of personal projects during this time, but between helping with various aspects of the session (parent involvement is expected) and still having my two littler ones at home with me, I actually find I have less time for such things than when we are homeschooling!  I debate with myself every single session if we really want to continue participating.  So why do we still do it?
The drama production was loosely based on Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.  Michelle is the narrator between the two posts there.  Caesar is lying dead at her feet.
The biggest reason is because to not do it would be to cut myself off from our mission community.   As much of an independent spirit as I am, community is important – for me as a parent and for my children.   It provides me with an opportunity to serve, too.  I am a teacher by training and have a heart for MK education, especially to equip and encourage missionary parents who never wanted to homeschool but find themselves in the position of having to do so.  This is my opportunity to be able to do that…thus far in rather small ways, but who knows how God will work in the future?  This is also the main opportunity that our kids have to interact with children who don’t live in our city and participate in activities like swimming and drama.  I love that they can still do those things, even way out here in Africa.
Somebody got a little tired of being in the outfield during their final baseball game of the session!
And one other rather key thing…usually after two or three weeks of living the “school” life, I find myself so very grateful for the blessing it is to be able to homeschool my children.  Homeschooling – especially homeschooling using Charlotte Mason’s methods and Ambleside Online – has brought a great deal of richness to our family life.   On those tough homeschooling days, it can be easy to romanticize how nice it might be to just send my kids out the door every day.   Having to actually do it for three weeks always makes me more than ready to bring them back home again.  It makes me realize anew how much I really do like having them around all the time and how much I love learning and growing together with them.
And that’s priceless.
What have you been learning these past couple of months?

Friday, May 2, 2014

How We...Celebrate the Season of Easter

In the comments to this post, I said I would write a post to share some of our traditions for the seasons of Lent and Easter.  That post turned out to be rather long.  You can find Part One – things we do in the weeks leading up to Easter – here.  This is part 2 – what we do for Easter Sunday and beyond.
On Easter Sunday morning, we re-light all the candles and read the final Lenten Lights devotional about how Jesus has risen from the dead.  We don’t do Easter baskets or candy or egg hunts, but we do present the children with one of RC Sproul’s allegorical picture books.  Have you seen these?  We really like them.  They explain complex theological concepts, like the atonement, in the form of a story.  We already have The Lightlings and The Prince’s Poison Cup and this year gave them The Donkey who Carried a King.   
Our food traditions are still a bit of a work in progress.  This year I made Hot Cross Buns for breakfast (although I had some icing issues which is why you can’t see the crosses in this picture!)  We usually eat some of our Easter Eggs too.   For dinner, I make a big meal-salad with chicken and hard-boiled eggs and we have some kind of fruit pie or crumble for dessert.
This year, for the first time, we’re extending the special Sunday devotionals through the season of Easter until Pentecost.  We will keep a similar format to the Lenten Lights devotional series by lighting the candles each week, reading a Scripture passage related to the theme for the week, and placing a corresponding art print on the easel.  I took the Scripture readings and themes from Bobby Gross’ book Living the Christian Year
First Sunday after Easter
Doubting Thomas - John 20:19-31
Second Sunday after Easter
Emmaus Road - Luke 24:13-23
Third Sunday after Easter
The Good Shepherd - John 10:1-30
Fourth Sunday after Easter
I Am the Vine - John 15:1-17
Fifth Sunday after Easter
Ascension - Luke 24:36-49
Ascension Day itself falls 40 days after Easter, this year it is Thursday, May 29.  That night we will read Acts 1:1-11.
Sixth Sunday after Easter
Ascension - Revelation 22
Seventh Sunday after Easter (Pentecost)
Pentecost - Acts 2:1-42
And there you have it.  Our traditions are always a work in progress, and I always have ideas that I would like to do and yet they haven’t happened yet for one reason or another.  Some of those things include:
- Extending our devotional readings to daily, rather than just weekly.  I just haven’t found anything prepared that I like yet and time always slips away from me to organize something myself.
- I’d really love to select some hymns and songs to be sung particularly during this time of year, just as we have Christmas carols in December.  (Anyone have a favorite?)
- My husband would really like to do a Messianic Passover Seder during Holy Week as well.  We did this once with friends a number of years ago and it was a really neat experience.
- I’ve always loved the idea of building an Easter garden like this too, but is one of those things that slips away from me year after year.
What traditions does your family have for this Season?