Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What I Took Away From the Ambleside At Home Retreat....

You mean besides a beautiful new coffee mug and an advance copy of Karen Glass' new book Mind to Mind…signed by Karen herself? J
Karen Glass reminded us that we are educating MINDS and not BRAINS.  Minds are spiritual, rather than physical, and therefore need spiritual food: IDEAS.   When we feed a child properly, she will grow physically.  The process happens slowly – it may be a while before you notice the growth, but it will come.  An apple tree doesn't produce apples overnight, and we don't expect it to.   Likewise, when we feed a child's mind properly, regularly, and faithfully, the fruit will come in its own time.  Karen encouraged us to keep spreading the feast and trusting the process.
Cindy Rollins continued that theme in her talk, reminding us to start small and do what you can – even if that's only one page of Plutarch, for example – and to do those things faithfully.  Don't start big and get frustrated and give up.  Start small and let things grow from there, because they will.  She encouraged us to be faithful with our "10 minutes" because you never know how the Lord will use those moments.  She encouraged us to develop a habit of praying without ceasing because God has a plan for our children and we can trust them to Him.  She said a lot of other things too, but these were some of the key thoughts for me.
Christy's breakout session on scheduling reminded me that the child is a Person, and the Person matters first.  The Person trumps the book or the curriculum or the schedule every single time.  We are finite beings so we need to plan our priorities carefully.  One of our top priorities needs to be margin – we need white space in our lives so we have time to process what we are reading and learning.  We need routines, but those routines need to be simple and doable.
I forget who said it in answer to a question during the Q&A session - maybe it was Donna-Jean? - anyhow, she charged us to remember that we love our children and that they are not our projects.
Jeanne and Kathy's enthusiastic but gentle encouragement about implementing AO science left me feeling like yes, I can do this.  I get nervous sometimes about trusting the process of nature study instead of textbooks for science in the younger years.  And upper level science terrifies me in the extreme.  Their session helped me to see the bigger picture a little better – how nature study really IS the best preparation we can give a child for the formal science studies of the upper years. Flipping through the books used for science in the upper levels of AO was helpful in this regard too - we really WILL cover all those things that I sometimes worry we are missing now.  They reminded us that science studies should inspire wonder - that is truly the goal.
I'm sure the third breakout session that I had planned to attend (nature study)  was wonderful too.   But I never got that far.  I popped back into the dining room to grab a cup of coffee between sessions, and ended up spending the next hour first having a lovely and very encouraging chat with Jeanne…and then moving over to another table to join Karen Glass, Cindy Rollins, and Anne White.  Still kind of pinching myself.  These women are not only wise and encouraging, but also approachable and down to earth.  Our chat wasn't about anything profound, but still, it was a privilege to be seated around the table with such wise mentors.
Donna-Jean gave the closing address about Homeschooling in Hard Times.   I bawled most of the way through it, in part because I was so touched by what she shared, and in part because the retreat was so rapidly coming to an end – I had to leave the minute it was over to head back to the airport.   Donna-Jean's family has weathered some incredibly difficult circumstances over the years.  And yet she stood before us and reminded us that God is with us through the storm.  That Aslan is on the move.  That Jesus wants to renew your mind.  That He gave us these children to teach so that WE could learn.  That it was time to go home, but that Jesus goes with us – that the joy of the Lord is our strength – and that He is able and safe to trust.  The conference closed with the hymn Amazing Grace.
So, yes, I am mulling over many ideas still.  But perhaps what touched me the most was this:
Ambleside women are amazing, and the Ambleside Online community is truly a work of the Lord.  Once upon a time, years ago – before marriage, children, or homeschooling was ever on my radar – a few women started reading Charlotte Mason's writings and reached out on the internet for others to discuss her work with.   The Ambleside Online curriculum was born out of this small beginning.  Later the Forum was opened to support those using the curriculum and trying to implement Charlotte Mason's ideas in their homes.  I've long wondered at the camaraderie that we've formed in that little corner of the web – it's unique.  I don't know of anywhere else on the web like it.   But the joy of taking some of those online friendships and making them into real-life friendships this weekend – I have no words.  The retreat was called "At Home", and we truly all felt like we had come home.   I am so very grateful that the Lord led us to AO, and so very blessed to be part of this community.
I can't wait for 2016.  

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Reflections on Relationship: Enriching Relationship with God

This is the second part in my planning series, Reflections on  Relationship.  You can read the introduction to the series here.
Today, let's talk about how we can help enrich our children's relationship with God.   In Volume 6, Charlotte Mason tells us this: "Of the three sorts of knowledge proper to a child, the knowledge of God, of man, and of the universe,––the knowledge of God ranks first in importance, is indispensable, and most happy-making…. their relation to God is one of those 'first-born affinities' which it is our part to help them make good." (p.158-159)   This sentiment is echoed throughout Charlotte's writings – her whole philosophy is built on the premise that children are born 'persons' created in the image of God.  Ultimately all of education should help us to know Him and love Him better so that we can glorify Him and reflect His Truth, Goodness, and Beauty to the world around us.

There are many ways that we can help our children to cultivate a relationship with God.  Here are a few of the ideas that I have been thinking about.
This is perhaps the most essential, because ultimately I can't force my children to grow in their relationship with God.  I can introduce them to Him and point them in the right direction, but ultimately the Holy Spirit must work in their lives for them to grow.  Anything else I do must be rooted in prayer and done in cooperation with Him.  (This point was underscored in a big way by all of the speakers at this past weekend's Ambleside Online At Home retreat.  More on that coming soon.)
Attend to my own Spiritual Vitality
It has been said that "Faith can be caught, not taught."   Besides prayer, one of the most important things I can do for my children and students is cultivate my own relationship with God.  As my own love for Him increases, it will spill over to those around me.   I have let attending to my own relationship with God slide in the craziness of recent years, so I am trying to remedy that.   Some of the ways that I am doing this:
  • Corporate Worship: We recently started attending an Anglican church.   Among other things about the structure of the liturgy,  I really appreciate that Communion is served weekly as an essential part of the service.  It is a weekly reminder to me of the glorious work of grace that Jesus has and is working in my life which helps me to reorient myself away from me and back towards Him.  I don't know about you, but I need that reminder often!   The teaching is also very good in this church – this series on 'Releasing the Grace and Power of the Vine' has been particularly helpful to me as I have considered this idea of enriching my relationship with God.  
  • Counseling: We returned from Africa very weary, and in my case that has been largely because I have gotten far too good at putting on my 'I'm okay' face while pushing issues that I need to deal with out of the way.  This only works for so long, however, and now has caught up with me.  So I am working toward sorting all these neglected issues out - unpacking my baggage if you will - so that I can move forward as a healthier person.
  • Renewed Commitment to Daily Prayer, Scripture Reading, and other Spiritual Reading: I have typically tried to do this in the early hours of the morning, but as any mother probably knows, it doesn't always work out that tidily and all too often gets skipped.  I am purposing this year to attend to this time of reading and prayer before any other reading I do.  If it gets missed in the morning, I will do it later in the day,  before reaching for a novel or book discussion title.   
Daily Liturgy
Cindy Rollins talks about morning time as a liturgy of sorts.  She is not the only person who has written or spoken about this idea over the past couple of years.  So I have been considering how to apply this idea in our home.   We have typically closed our day with a family time of hymns, Scripture reading, and prayer.   However, it has been awhile since we opened our day in the Word. We used to do this at breakfast, but as my children have gotten older their rising times have changed and this routine no longer works well for us. I have floundered around trying to figure out where to make it fit.  This year I am going to make a point to start our school day with Morning Time (we've done it as a mid-morning break in the past), and start our Morning Time with a time of Bible reading, Psalm singing, and prayer.  We will continue to close the day with our evening family devotional, hymn singing, and prayer as we always have in an effort to develop the kind of rhythm that Cindy and others speak of.
The Christ-Centered Curriculum
Ultimately, the knowledge of God is the leading edge of the curriculum as a whole, not just the parts that are specifically focused on the Bible or hymn singing or prayer.  Jack Beckman explains it this way in When Children Love to Learn:
"Therefore Miss Mason places the knowledge of God on the leading edge of her curriculum, with the knowledge of man and the universe following in order.  God has revealed Himself, His being and purposes, through the pages of living Scripture, which has its focus and meaning in the life and work of Jesus Christ.  Because of this starting point, we must infer that all of life has a theological or religious base.  A purpose of education begins to emerge, that of developing an understanding of God and His created reality and to use that understanding in exercising a creative-redemptive dominion over the creation in which we live. The child is not passive in His education; he experiences, understands, and acts upon that understanding in ways that show the image of God in him – creating, exploring, making choices, building relationships." (p.118)
Andrew Kern explores this idea in detail as well in his lecture on the Christ-Centered Curriculum.   Ultimately all topics we study and skills we learn can point us back towards Him and help us better understand who He is and reflect Him to the world around us.  (I wrote about this before here and here.)
How do you hope to enrich your and your students' relationship with God in the coming year?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

From My Commonplace: An Assortment

" 'I had an idea that if you read the books they write for their children, you will know something about the soul of a people that you could not know otherwise.  Folk music teaches you a great deal, too, and the little pictures a peasant paints on the walls of his house to beautify it are of more value as evidence than pictures in the art galleries.  I wanted, you see, to understand the soul of the people to whom I – for whom I worked.'"
"She loved beauty and she was creative, but her creativeness found its joy in the shaping of everyday life to a form of comeliness, so that it became not just something that one just put up with, but something that was enjoyable and lovely in itself."
"Hilary in his old age was getting rather irritatingly full of quotations from queer old writers one had never heard of, yet they came in handy sometimes, for there was no doubt about it that the longer ago people lived the better sense they seemed to talk."
~Elizabeth Goudge, The Heart of the Family
I've been sort of binge-reading Elizabeth Goudge this summer, particularly her three book series about the Eliot family: The Bird in the Tree, Pilgrim's Inn, and The Heart of the Family.  She is a new-to-me author who was suggested to me when asking for some lighter-but-not twaddly summer reading over on the AO Forum.  She is now among my favorites.  Her novels aren't action-packed – I'd describe them as more character-driven – but the writing and the themes are beautiful, and you feel that you truly come to know the characters, in this case the various members of the Eliot family.  Thankfully, she has written lots of other books as well.  I know what I will be reaching for next time I'm in the mood for something not-too-difficult yet still beautiful and thought-provoking.

My Bookbag This Week:
Devotional: Job with a commentary: Job: The Wisdom of the Cross (Ash)
Theological or Christian Living:  Spiritual Depression (Lloyd-Jones), With (Jethani)
AO Book Discussion Group: On Break for the Summer
On Education: Between Books
Topic of Special Interest: Between Books  (Hmm, I'm noticing a theme here)
Novel/Biography/Memoir: Cold Comfort Farm (Gibbons)
Read-Alouds with the Children:  The Wheel on the School (De Jong), Pilgrim's Progress (Bunyan)

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

From My Commonplace: On Beauty

" 'It's because of their mystery that I love them,' David had said.  'Their wings seem a sort of prophecy.  More than other beautiful things they might be an evidence of things not seen.'
Nadine had smiled amusedly but when she spoke her voice had been tender.  She was always gentle with the childish fantasies that were still not done to death in David.  She enjoyed them.  They were such a change. 'Do you think all beauty is just the evidence of things not seen, David?' she had asked.
'If it's anything, it's that,' he had said. 'I should say that faith is the belief in something that you do not understand yet, and beauty is the evidence that the thing is there."
~Elizabeth Goudge, The Bird in the Tree

My Bookbag This Week:
Devotional: Job with a commentary: Job: The Wisdom of the Cross (Ash)
Theological or Christian Living:  Spiritual Depression (Lloyd-Jones), With (Jethani)
AO Book Discussion Group: On Break for the Summer
On Education: Waiting for Awakening Wonder (Turley) to come in the mail and hoping it will before leaving on a road trip next week...
Topic of Special Interest: Galileo's Daughter (Sobel)
Novel/Biography/Memoir: The Heart of the Family (Goudge)
Read-Alouds with the Children:  The Wheel on the School (De Jong), Pilgrim's Progress (Bunyan)


Monday, July 13, 2015

Reflections on Relationship: A Planning Series

So, it's that time of year where I see many bloggers posting their plans for the upcoming school year.  I love reading planning posts.  I love making checklists and organizing new books.   I love sharp pencils and new notebooks.  I love just about everything about starting a new school year and always have.
That said, I haven't made any new checklists or organized anyone's binder yet.   That aspect of planning comes very naturally to me - so much so that it is easy for me to jump straight to that part of the process without considering the 'why' behind what we are doing.  This has been especially true in the last year or two.  Since returning to the States in May, I have come to realize that I have been functioning in survival mode for…well…for a long time.   Now that we are here in the US again, at least for now, I am slowly starting to replenish some of what has drained away.  Part of that process is thinking through where we are and where we need to be in our family and in our homeschool, and taking those ideas into consideration when I start choosing curriculum and making checklists.  I want to be sure that we are using our time in the best possible way - being intentional to work towards our goals - and not just flying on autopilot.
I have been re-reading sections of When Children Love to Learn (Cooper, et al) as part of my reflection time this summer.  This quote in an early section really struck me:
"Charlotte Mason's educational ideal was not to remove us from the ordinary but to enrich us, each one, with the best possible relationships…with God, with people in our family and community, with others through books, art, or music, and with God's creation." (p.35)
The end of Charlotte Mason education is far more than the books and materials that are included on my nice checklists.  The end is relationship – and not just any relationships, but the best.  The relationships that will enrich us and help us become human beings fully alive.  That is really the point of the living books and the narration and the nature study and habit training.  Those things are not ends in themselves, they are the means of helping us to develop those relationships appropriate to us as human beings.  (See more about this in Charlotte Mason's Third Volume, School Education, Chapter VIII 'Certain Relations Proper to a Child').
These relationships fall into four basic categories: relationship with God (what Charlotte Mason refers to as 'Knowledge of God' in her writings), relationships with the people in our family and community ('Education is an atmosphere' and 'Education is a discipline'), relationships with 'others' - Mankind, if you will - that we develop through our books and other studies ('Knowledge of Man'), and relationship with God's creation ('Knowledge of the Universe').   I have been reflecting on ways that I can help to enrich our relationships in each of these four areas so that I can ensure that my priorities are straight when I get to the more nitty-gritty-checklist-making part of my planning process.   What does it look like to enrich these relationships?  And how can we do that, practically speaking?  I hope to share some of those reflections in posts to come.

Friday, July 10, 2015

What We've Been Up To....

Out and About:
Well, for people who are trying to rest this summer, we've been out and about quite a bit. J   We had a fun family 'exploration' of some of the wooded trails around where we are living on one cool-ish, gray Saturday morning.  We had a brief visit from my husband's parents (they hadn't seen the children since Christmas 2011!! - we will be spending some more time with them later this month) and a fun day out with an "auntie" from Papua New Guinea days.  We had a real 'proper' Fourth of July with fireworks – a first for our children.   Swimming, bike riding, and playing with neighbor kids have all been regular features of our days too.   We're keeping busy, but busy with good things. J

In the Schoolroom:
We are officially out of school until sometime in August, although Mama is in active planning mode.  More musings on that topic soon.  In the meantime the two older children are doing one school-related reading per day, just to keep moving forward a bit, and running through some math facts – adding/subtracting for James and multiplying/dividing for Michelle.   That takes all of about 20 minutes for each of them in the morning, so not too much.   We are enjoying having a proper break.
I crocheted a few dishcloths, and am now trying to teach myself some new embroidery stitches.  I have long admired embroidery, but have never known how to do much more than a basic running stitch and backstich (which I didn't even do properly!).  I have this book (I can't wait until I feel confident enough to try one of the projects in it!) and have also been using some of the tutorials here when the pictures in the book don't cut it.  So that's my latest crafty challenge.  With the children, we've been doing a bit of nature journaling:
And a bit of drawing, following the suggestions in the Artistic Pursuits Elementary 4-5 curriculum.  This was purchased mostly with Michelle in mind, but the littler ones are enjoying joining in too.
In the Kitchen:
Local Peaches.  I was worried when my husband brought home a box with probably 30-40 peaches in it that I'd have to mess around with freezing them or something, but I needn't have.  I think we ate at least half of them within the first 24 hours.  I now know how to make my picky 5 year old who tends to eat three bites of her food and then insist she is full actually finish her meal…just promise her a peach.   I love summer fruits….
Around the House:
Trying to reorganize chore routines in a way that will be sustainable once we get going with a full school schedule again (meaning Mama doesn't have to be responsible for it all).  We're getting there, slowly.
What have you been up to?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

From My Commonplace: On Mortifying Sin

"What then is this killing of sin?  It is the constant battle against sin which we fight daily – the refusal to allow the eye to wander, the mind to contemplate, the affections to run after anything which will draw us from Christ.  It is the deliberate rejection of any sinful thought, suggestion, desire, aspiration, deed, circumstance or provocation at the moment we become conscious of its existence.  It is the consistent endeavor to do all in our powers to weaken the grip which sin in general, and its manifestations in our own lives in particular, has.  It is not accomplished only by saying 'no' to what is wrong, but by a determined acceptance of all the good and spiritually-nourishing disciplines of the gospel.  It is by resolutely weeding the garden of the heart, and also by planting, watering and nurturing Christian graces there, that putting sin to death will take place.  Not only must we slay the noxious weeds of sin, but we must see that flowers of grace are sucking up the nourishment of the Spirit's presence in our hearts.  Only when those hearts are so full of grace will less room exist for sin to breathe and flourish." (p.162)
~Sinclair Ferguson, The Christian Life

My Bookbag This Week:
Devotional: Job with a commentary: Job: The Wisdom of the Cross (Ash)
Theological or Christian Living:  The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction (Ferguson)
AO Book Discussion Group: On Break for the Summer
On Education: How to Read a Book (Adler), When Children Love to Learn (Cooper)
Topic of Special Interest: Galileo's Daughter (Sobel)
Novel/Biography/Memoir: The Heart of the Family (Goudge)
Read-Alouds with the Children:  The Wheel on the School (De Jong), Pilgrim's Progress (Bunyan)

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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

From My Commonplace: On Wonder

"' True, true,' he said. 'That's right, Eelka.  We can't think much when we don't know much. But we can wonder!  From now until tomorrow morning when you come to school again, will you do that?  Will you wonder why and wonder why?  Will you wonder why storks don't come to Shora to build their nests on the roofs, the way they do in all the villages around?  For sometimes when we wonder, we can make things begin to happen.' " (p.6)
~Meindert de Jong, The Wheel on the School

My Bookbag This Week:
Devotional: Job with a commentary: Job: The Wisdom of the Cross (Ash)
Theological or Christian Living:  The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction (Ferguson)
AO Book Discussion Group: Beowulf
On Education: How to Read a Book (Adler), When Children Love to Learn (Cooper)
Topic of Special Interest: Galileo's Daughter (Sobel)
Novel/Biography/Memoir: Pilgrim's Inn (Goudge)
Read-Alouds with the Children:  The Wheel on the School (De Jong), Pilgrim's Progress (Bunyan)

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