Mum To Mom

Musings of an Aussie Mother Living in the USA

Month: May 2016

Impressions from Ambleside Online’s 2016 Conference

Deep In The Heart of AO

Last week I had the joy of attending Ambleside Online’s “Deep in the Heart of AO” 2016 conference. I learned so much. It has enriched me in my homeschooling journey. If you don’t know, Ambleside Online is a free curriculum dedicated to reflecting Charlotte Mason’s education philosophy and method as closely as possible in the 21st Century. You can read a definition of what a CM education is here.

Christ Centered

We began using AO for 4 years, almost since the beginning of my homeschooling life. Charlotte Mason was a Christian and a member in good standing in the Church of England. Ambleside Online’s creators, The Advisory, are also Christians and designed the curriculum to reflect Charlotte Mason’s Christian values and philosophy. I knew this. I have told others, “AO is a Christian curriculum.” And yet what had the most impact on me at the conference was how Christ centered it was.

After the initial introductions and announcements were out of the way we began by singing the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy.” There were no accompanying instruments. Simply our voices, which burst out as a sea of harmony. And oh how beautiful it sounded. I was completely taken by surprise. I had come to a homeschooling conference expecting to hear how to implement a Charlotte Mason education, with perhaps a splattering of Bible throughout from time to time. Instead, I found myself in a room with a group of women (and a few men) from all over the country, and various denominations, who I had never met before, worshipping our Creator together.

The refrain repeated throughout the conference was “trust Christ.” We sang hymns together throughout the conference. We prayed together. Donna-Jean Breckenridge’s talk was bathed with Scripture as she spoke about schooling in hard times by renewing your mind in Christ. She taught us that we renew our minds through prayer and rejoicing and praising Him. God is with us. Sometimes the hard times are the curriculum. But through it all, we can trust Him. Megan Hoyt talked about how music points to God. Brandy Vencel reminded us that while our children are under our authority, we are under God’s. Our authority must not be arbitrary. We can be corrupted in our thinking if we’re not careful. Lynn Bruce shared the heart of AO. She passionately expressed how God put it on the Advisory’s hearts to develop the booklist and curriculum and use the emerging technology of the Internet to make it available for free. They wanted as many people as God willed to have access to the same rich and wonderful CM education that they were providing for their children. It was heartwarming to hear of communities in Indian slums providing their children with a rich education because the Advisory had gone out of their way to make sure the books on their booklists were as economical as possible. Again, we were encouraged to trust God.

Care, Compassion, and Cultivating The Whole Person

Another theme that had a significant impact on me was this: the riches matter. Singing hymns and folksongs, picture study, composer study, nature study, copious amounts of time spent outside, handicrafts, drawing and art instruction, poetry, and Shakespeare. These things are not extras, as I have often treated them. They are what my children need. They are what we all need. These riches feed the whole mind and body. They calm us and bring us joy. Lynn Bruce explained studies that showed how increased Cortisol in the brain leads to stress, fear, and anxiety which shut down the mind. Oxytocin on the other hand, produces confidence and a relaxed state of mind, keeping us calm. And how do we increase Oxytocin? Among other things, a warm touch, music, art, singing, going for a walk, talking with someone who cares about you. In other words, the riches. So on that bad day, as Lynn said, “The riches may just save you.” Wendi Capehart whimsically called these riches, “The uncommon core.” She told us that if you view these things as extras you are clipping your wings. She explained that these riches are the leavening that helps us rise as human beings. So we spread the feast of ideas and allow our children the opportunity to love what is lovely. We don’t know what our children will love. So we put them in the way of it all. And this is not a burden or a stress for the teacher. It is a life sprung out of caring.

We were blessed to hear from some of the grown children of the Advisory who were the “guinea pigs” for AO’s Charlotte Mason education. This well known Charlotte Mason quote, which was quoted in almost every talk I heard, was put to them:

“Thou hast set my feet in a large room, should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking – the strain would be too great – but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest. We cannot give the children these interests; we prefer that they should never say they have learned botany or conchology, geology or astronomy. The question is not, – how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education – but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?” – Charlotte Mason (Vol 3, School Education, Chapter XVI, p. 170)

How much did these progeny care, and about how many orders of things did they care? The answer was that they had so many things that they cared about. Firstly, they loved Christ. They also spoke about art, music, poetry, literature, science, and so much more. But more than these, the consistent thread throughout their various answers was that they loved people. They were compassionate toward people, even if they disagreed with them. They had the ability to listen to another as they spoke and engaged with the ideas that were different from their own. The development of compassion and empathy led two of these women to become foster moms.

The riches provide us with a full life. A life of relationships. Relationship with God, relationship with each other, and a relationship with the universe—God’s creation. A life full of the riches and the best literature asks you to care. As Wendi shared, a small child of 5 (her granddaughter) can stand in front of a painting that you had passed by without a second glance, and be captivated. She can fall in love.

There was so much more that was said that I could share. So much wisdom and practical application. But it will have to wait for another day. I am so thankful for my supportive husband who rearranged his work schedule to stay home with the kids so I could go. I am so thankful for this beautiful and rich curriculum that has been provided to me. I am thankful for the opportunity I had to learn from these wise women at the conference, mothers who have gone before me. I can’t wait for the next one, whenever that may be.

Graduation and Godliness: Sheryl’s Homeschool

I am very excited to start a new series here on the blog. I am blessed to know many veteran homeschoolers. Some of these moms, who have seen their children graduate, have kindly agreed to answer a few questions about their experiences. I hope that you will be encouraged and supported as you continue to serve God and your family through your homeschooling journey.

My first guest is Sheryl Stiemann. Sheryl has been homeschooling for 20 years and has seen three of her four children graduate.

Tell me about your family

We have four kids. The oldest Kyle (24) is married to Sarah and they have a son on the way. Then there is Jesse who is 22, Josiah 19, and our youngest Amanda is soon to be 16. My husband and I will celebrate 28 years of marriage in October. We began our “official” homeschool journey in 1996, so, we’re finishing our 20th year of homeschooling in May.

Why did you decide to homeschool and did you have a particular method or philosophy that you subscribed to?

We had friends who homeschooled their six children back in the 80s. They were different from everyone else we knew and we loved their family. They had a lot of obstacles to overcome, especially since there were very few homeschool families. My husband and I had graduated from the same high school two years apart and we both felt that we “survived public school.” He had been a christian in an openly hostile environment. I was not a Believer, but, since I didn’t party, was an “ok” student, and poor, I didn’t fit in anywhere. I found that when I became a Christian my already small circle got even smaller, and I only had one year left until graduation. We had our first son in 1991 and as we held him in our arms in the birth center we looked at each other and said, “homeschool.” It was decided. We didn’t have a clue, this was before the internet, but we felt that we weren’t going to send him to the wolves. I think that decision was mostly from fear, but the Lord is gracious. Even though I might have made homeschooling an idol, He was teaching me and giving me such grace. Our philosophy at the time we officially began our homeschool was to recreate public school. We sought a vigorous curriculum for our kindergarten student in 1996. We had a schoolroom, seatwork, a chalkboard, and, started every day at 8:00 am.

“What was the most rewarding thing for you and what do you think was the most important lesson that you and your children learned through homeschooling? Or, put another way, what fruit do you see now, in both you and your children, that homeschooling contributed to? How did homeschooling contribute to it?”

The most rewarding thing for me in homeschooling is having my kids around all the time. I loved having big late breakfasts together and watching them grow in so many ways. Teaching our kids to read is at the top of my list as well. There is nothing much more rewarding than having them read Scripture out loud to you because you were able to teach them to read. One of our very favorite stories is “The Mouse and the Motorcycle.” Having each of our kids read it out loud at night is still one of my favorite memories.

For our family, the most important thing that we all learned was that the Lord works through families, broken relationships, people who we just can’t get along with, and the different ways we think. He brings maturity through being with each other so much of the time. Homeschooling, working together most of the day, brings out our differences, and our sinful ways of dealing with each other in a way I don’t see possible if we were all apart for eight hours every day. Learning to love one another happens within the family. Homeschooling amplifies our weaknesses as parents, siblings, and children, which is painful and wonderful at the same time. Exposing our weakness should bring us to prayer for the Lord’s strength, and, to humbleness because we are weak and cause pain to others. We are in desperate need of a loving and faithful Savior. Our kids had some difficult times with each other. Looking back is painful, but because we kept at it, prayed for wisdom, and sought forgiveness, relationships were built, and there is a fortitude in dealing with difficult people that I don’t think we’d have if we were apart for many hours during the day.

Do you have regrets?

Yes, yes, and yes again. We put the older two in public school for one year. I still regret that decision, but, the boys were lonely since there weren’t a lot of homeschooling families in our church, I was pregnant with a high-risk pregnancy and had a two-year-old to care for. Because of our rigorous curriculum getting the work done seemed daunting. We put them in school, the oldest in 2nd grade and the next one in kindergarten. I wasn’t prepared for the work involved in sending them to school. Packing the backpacks and dealing with mountains of paperwork was harder than our first year of homeschooling. One of the first fights I had with the principal of the school was in not turning in the free lunch paperwork. She hounded me for that constantly. They wanted me to fill it in so they’d get more funding. I didn’t want them to get more funding so I wouldn’t turn it in. And so began our year of ongoing battles. Thankfully, we all survived. The kids started again the following year, we made it around four weeks and pulled them back out again. I am so grateful that we could homeschool them again. My other regret is using the rigorous curriculum. Even though a wiser homeschool mom with older kids kept telling me to go outside more, I felt like we had to finish all of our seatwork. I still like the curriculum, but, if I could go back, I’d lose most of the seatwork, just read together, and go outside a lot more often, and use a Charlotte Mason approach. I wish I hadn’t worried about measuring our homeschool success. I wish we had just enjoyed the journey, wherever it took us.

“Now that you are almost finished, as you look back at your time, is there anything you would change?

This goes along with my regrets, but I would definitely build more exploration into our days, not be so results-driven, or compare our homeschool with everyone else’s homeschool. I’d pray more with the kids, and have them pray out loud more. I’d do more fun things as well. Even when money is tight there are fun things to do together, even if it means taking a break from your actual “schoolwork.” I also would have liked to have more “hands-on” learning experiences, especially for high school, ie, having car clinics, where the kids would learn the mechanics of a car, how to change a flat tire, repair brakes, change the oil, etc. I think we would have all benefited from serving together more. Especially spending time outside of abortion clinics, sharing the gospel, and serving widows and orphans within the church. There are several in our church who serve at the local nursing home. It’s become such a blessing in their lives, and can easily be a part of homeschool life.

“What advice do you have for young moms who are still in the thick of their homeschooling life. Or what advice do you wish you had been given?

I would encourage young moms to realize that they can’t do it all. They may be in a season in life where they can’t chat on the phone with girlfriends, or workout as often as they like at the classes they’d like. Taking a walk with a little can bring much refreshment, as can taking a walk with the whole family. Don’t ignore your husband, make time for each other, if you can’t afford a babysitter, date each other at home. Put the kids to bed and order takeout, sit outside together and talk and laugh. Your kids will be blessed by this, and your homeschool will be refreshed often. Love those children entrusted to you. I wish I had loved big, and not focused on such small stuff, and most of the stuff with young children is small. Give lots of hugs. If a subject is too taxing for you as a mom and you find yourself frustrated with your child, toss the subject. It all gets repeated up through college. They’ll be fine. Your relationship is much more important than a school subject.

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