Mum To Mom

Musings of an Aussie Mother Living in the USA

Category: Homeschooling (page 1 of 2)

How To Add Pilgrim’s Progress To Your Homeschool Day

The Pilgrim’s Progress (unabridged) is a beautiful example of the best of English literature. An analogy of the Christian life, it combines truth with the beauty of the written word. Yet, due to its 17th-century prose, it can be an intimidating book to attempt to read aloud to your kids. When Ambleside Online (AO) scheduled it to be read in Year 2 and pleaded with us to read the unabridged version, I was a little worried. I had tried to read it for myself once before and struggled immensely. How was my 7-year-old going to understand it? Yet I trusted Ambleside and believed it a worthy book to read. Because I was convinced that the richness and beauty of John Bunyan’s original language were worth the effort, I scoured Ambleside’s website and forum for suggestions and advice on the best way to approach reading this book to give us the best opportunity of succeeding with it. With these suggestions, I came up with a plan. Lo, and behold, the year was a success! When it came time for my middle daughter to read it I decided the whole family would benefit from reading it together. For the last 2 years, we have read short sections of The Pilgrim’s Progress each week as a family in our Morning Time. This is the plan that I follow.

Read Dangerous Journey first

Dangerous Journey is an excellent picture book retelling of the main events of The Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s language and story are simplified but not dumbed down. It is very respectful of the original. I read this book over two to three weeks. After each reading one of the children narrated it. This means that they told back to me in their own words what had been read to them. By reading this retelling first, the children became familiar with the main events of the story and the illustrations gave them a picture of the story that they were able to draw on later when they heard the original. The children loved this book and looked forward to it every week.

Use an audiobook

When I first saw The Pilgrim’s Progress on the school schedule I did not believe I had the ability to read it aloud well myself. Since I didn’t want my inability to read it well to interfere with my children’s understanding, I bought this dramatized unabridged audiobook version from Answers in Genesis. It is excellent. Each character is read by a different reader and the music and sound effects enhance and bring clarity to the story.

Read small sections and Narrate

The Pilgrim’s Progress is a dense, theologically rich analogy of the Christian life. There are many ideas to ponder. We are benefited greatly by not rushing through, but instead by reading small sections at a time to allow the mind the space to think over the truths encountered in these pages. AO has a 1-year and a 2-year plan. We follow the 2-year schedule which has divided the book up into small sections of 700-800 words. After listening, I always ask one of the children to narrate. Resist the temptation to preach at them. Resist the temptation to narrate it for them. Allow the children’s minds to digest what they have heard for themselves. Accept whatever they have told you and leave it. If they ask questions, by all means, answer them. Have discussion after narration, but don’t reduce the children’s enjoyment or limit what they get out of the book, by using it as a springboard for why they should obey you when you ask them to tidy their rooms. This is a time for listening and the children processing what they have heard by telling it back in their own words. It is also worth noting that it is very likely that your children are internalizing a lot more than they are able to communicate verbally. Narration takes time and practice. Be patient and allow the words of the book to do their work. You will likely think that you will have to explain a lot because the language is difficult. But if you give the children a chance, their insights might surprise you. Remember, you have already prepared them for the story by reading the picture book retelling. Often my children make connections and understandings that I had not thought of. Even my less academic child, who I have often accused in my mind of not paying attention, has had some profound insights that have left me speechless. You will all get used to the language. My kid’s narrations aren’t always great, but that is ok. Every now and then, after their turn for narrating, if they have totally missed an integral point, I have given my own narration, but never in a way to make my children feel that they didn’t do it right. And I will never interrupt a child while they are narrating or correct them while they are still speaking. Give them a chance to figure it out for themselves. It will be much more meaningful for them that way. My kids did not love this book, to begin with, but after a while, they got used to the language and the style of the book and are now disappointed when I press stop, begging me to play another section.

Scaffold each reading

Prepare for the coming reading by telling what you read last time. This is called scaffolding. It is even better if the children can tell you what was read last time. I usually ask the children to tell me because I often can’t remember! When it’s time for The Pilgrim’s Progress I will ask something like, “so what did we get up to last time?” or “does anyone remember what happened last time we listened?” This part should only be a very short summary of the previous reading. It is part review, but also helps set the scene for the coming passage to be read, and helps to provide further understanding. After recapping what was read last time you can also prepare them for what they are going to hear by giving them a brief (one sentence) summary of the passage to be heard. I have never done this as I am not well enough prepared to look ahead before we all listen together.

Do my children understand every theological point made in this book? No. Neither do I, and probably neither will you on first reading. There is a reason Charles Spurgeon read and re-read The Pilgrim’s Progress over and over in his life. But my children do understand that without Christ we are in the City destined for Destruction; that it is only at the foot of the cross of Christ that the burden of sin can be lifted; that the Christian journey will not always be easy and we will likely face persecution and sometimes death for the sake of Christ; that even though the journey to the Celestial City is often fraught with danger and we make many missteps along the way, the destination is far glorious and beautiful than one could ever imagine and is the reason to press on in difficult times. I can’t tell you how many times Christian’s burden, or Christian falling into the Slough of Despond, or Christian falling asleep in the garden on his journey, or Christian and Faithful in Vanity Fair has come up in discussions and conversations throughout the year or by the children in their play. I know that The Pilgrim’s Progress has enriched our family in more ways than I will ever even know. I encourage you to read or listen to The Pilgrim’s Progress with your family.

Best of 2017

The new year is a popular time on blogs for “best of” posts. As we are still in the first few weeks of a new year and today is also my birthday, it seemed a fitting time to reflect on my own “best of” for 2017.

Best 5 books read

I am a very slow reader. I mean, read-aloud-in-my-head slow. So I can’t fit too much more reading in after all the read-alouds and pre-reading I need to do for our homeschool. I am pre-reading at least 7-10 chapters a week. Because of this, I made the majority of my daughter’s school booklist my reading list. Ambleside Online’s booklists are so rich that I benefit greatly from pre-reading. I am learning too! As a result, most of my ‘best 5’ books are school books that were read in 2017. I also like to be reading a book on education as part of my ongoing vocational training… and because I really like reading and thinking about educational philosophy. It is also interesting to me that most of the books in my best 5 were read aloud to one of my family members.

Without any further ado:

1. A Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason

Number one on my list because… it’s Charlotte Mason! It is the comprehensive discussion of her educational philosophy, written years after refining her philosophy and practically applying it successfully in her schools. This one I began in 2016 and finished mid 2017. I wish I were a faster reader so that I could read this every year. It is SO good.

2. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

This was assigned reading for AO4. I read it aloud to E-age-9 and it became our favorite time of the week. It is often tempting to combine the children’s literature selections for school so that I can read one book to all of them at the same time and free up some of my schedule. I’m so glad that I don’t do that. Having one-on-one reading time with each of my kids is time that I treasure. If this book had not been assigned in our curriculum, I probably wouldn’t have prioritized it, but I am glad it was because it is wonderfully rich. More than a story of shipwrecks and survival on a deserted island, it is a story about repentance and redemption. There were so many conversations that I enjoyed with my daughter about rebellion against God, feeling sorrow for our sin, the continual need for repentance, the joy and lightness we feel when we ask for forgiveness, God’s providence in our circumstances—even difficult circumstances—that are ultimately for our good. There were so many times when my daughter would interrupt my reading to interject her own thoughts on how Crusoe was thinking. She would tell me times when she had felt like that or what the right thing to think was when Crusoe was being selfish and ungrateful in his thoughts. She still rates it as one of her favorite books.

3. Little Men by Louisa May Alcott

I loved this book so much that I wrote a whole blog post about it. You can read it here.

4. Never Give In by Stephen Mansfield

This is an excellent biography of Winston Churchill. It was assigned reading for AO6 which I pre-read. I actually pre-read it by reading it aloud to my husband. We both really enjoyed it. This book is divided up into 2 parts. The first part discusses the life of this fascinating man. The second part discusses characteristics of leadership, and examples of how Churchill displayed those characteristics. We gleaned a great deal of wisdom about leadership from this book.

5. The Princess and the Goblin by George Macdonald

Anything by George Macdonald is wonderful and this book is no exception. This is a story about faith and having faith when nobody else believes you. There are many allusions to the Christian faith in this book. This was assigned reading for AO3. This was the 2nd time I had read this book aloud, but the first time reading it to G-age-8. Reading this book was precious time with my youngest daughter and we enjoyed many conversations throughout the book.

 

It was hard to narrow down this list because my family enjoyed many lovely books this past year. So here are a few more honorable mentions:

Carry a Big Stick by George Grant
This is a biography of Theodore Roosevelt from the same series as Never Give In. It was tough to choose my favorite out of the two because they were both great. But having the experience of reading the Churchill bio aloud to my husband made it the winner.

Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
Would definitely be in #1 position only we are reading it slowly and haven’t finished it yet.

Heidi by Johanna Spyri
We listened to the audiobook which you can get for $0.99. Just buy the kindle edition for $0.00 and select “Add Audible book to your purchase for just $0.99” underneath the “Buy Now” button before purchasing.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
We listened to the audiobook narrated by Rachel McAdams. McAdams is delightful to listen to.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
I listened to the audiobook, which is only $3.95 at the moment! A great deal!

Best blogs

I don’t have as much time to read blogs as regularly as I used to. But there are 2 homeschooling blogs that I always find a few minutes to read because they are so encouraging and thought-provoking.

1. Afterthoughts

Brandi Vencel is a Charlotte Mason Classical homeschooler. She has written series of posts over the years discussing Charlotte Mason and her methods, which helped get me started when I first began homeschooling. I owe much of my early understanding and practice of Charlotte Mason educational principles to this blog. She also writes very meaningful posts about books, ideas, parenting, theology, Christian living, making connections between ideas through books, and loads more. She is always very thoughtful, and I know I am a better reader, thinker, and homeschooler because of her influence.

2. Simply Convivial

Mystie Winkler is a second-generation homeschooler who writes a lot about adjusting our attitude toward the mundane and repetitive work of homemaking, parenting, and educating our children. She has helped me a great deal, with practical organizational advice. I did her “Work the Plan” course a couple of years ago and it helped my organizationally-challenged mind to make order out of the chaos. She encourages and equips mothers in the work of the home. She also generously shares her lesson plans for various subjects. I unashamedly borrow ideas from her Shakespeare plans, and have copied her Memory Work Binder system (with modifications to suit our needs). I also regularly consult her Scripture Memory Work Index to pick the next Scripture that we will memorize.

 

The following blogs are on the honorable mention list simply because I don’t read them regularly enough to be in the top 5.

Modern Mrs. Darcy

A fun blog that is all things books. I especially like the daily kindle deal email that she sends out with kindle deals on more books than I could possibly read in a lifetime. I enjoy reading about good modern books and authors to look out for.

Joyous Lessons

Celeste Cruz writes a Charlotte Mason homeschooling blog. She shares wonderful, practical examples of the Charlotte Mason education that is happening in her home. Incidentally, If you are on Instagram, Celeste is one of the contributors of the @charlottemasonirl (Charlotte Mason in Real Life) account. It is amazing to me how much thought goes into each and every post that they make on that account. So much wisdom and practical advice. She is also the owner of @keepingcompanycm account on Instagram as well, which I enjoy following.

Karen Glass

Karen is one of the advisory of Ambleside Online and is the author of Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition. This month, hopefully, she will be releasing her much anticipated book on narration called Know and Tell. I can’t wait. She writes about Charlotte Mason education sporadically on her blog, but when she does write, you can be sure to learn a great deal and be challenged to think more deeply.

Circe Institute

Seeks to inspire, encourage, and provide resources for Classical Educators. They have so much content I can’t possibly keep up with them, but I do read a few articles a month that pique my interest and I find them to be thought-provoking and stretch how I think. I especially love their articles about fairytales, poetry, and other literary works.

Best 5 podcasts

1. Renewing Your Mind

Just in case you are tempted to accuse me of neglecting my spiritual encouragement and needs, I listen to the Renewing Your Mind podcast a few times a week. If you are a Christian and want to grow in your understanding of God and His Word, listen to this podcast. It’s founder (and our pastor), R.C. Sproul, passed away recently, but the truths that he taught have not. I am encouraged and stretched every time I tune in.

2. Schole Sisters

Without a doubt my favorite homeschooling podcast. Classical Mamas discussing how they can learn and grow while their children learn and grow. This podcast is hosted by my two favorite bloggers, Brandi Vencel and Mystie Winkler, as well as Pam Barnhill.

3. The Mason Jar

A close second to Schole Sisters, this is a podcast hosted by the wonderful homeschool veteran and author of Mere Motherhood, Cindy Rollins. It is about… you guessed it… Charlotte Mason education. She has lots of guests on to talk about different aspects of a CM education.

4. Your Morning Basket

Hosted by Pam Barnhill from Schole Sisters, YMB is a podcast dedicated to discussing the philosophy and practice of Morning Time. Pam also has guests on most episodes to discuss various aspects that can be involved in Morning Time.

5. Read Aloud Revival

I’m sure most of you already know about this one. Sarah Mackenzie, with her many guests, encourages us to read aloud with our kids. So good.

Best 5 educational apps

1. Squeebles

My favorite math fact app. This app has saved us from the tears and the monotony of memorizing multiplication facts. We bought the bundle a few years ago, which includes practice for all the basic math concepts (addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, fractions) as well as spelling. We have continued to use it almost every day. I add it to the children’s weekly schedule. I like how customizable it is. You can work just on one fact at a time, for example, the 3 x tables, or you can be quizzed on all of the timetables. There are rewards and games when the children achieve a certain amount of correct answers. There is step-by-step training which teaches one fact at a time, like 1×3, before moving on to teaching the next fact, 2×3. You can customize whether to use a timer, which was a big deal for one of my children who panics anytime there is a time limit. And you can customize which facts will be included in the quiz game. So if you have only learned the times tables for 1’s to 5’s, you can just quiz those multiplication facts.

2. Quizlet

A replacement and improvement on flashcards for learning Latin vocabulary (or any language for that matter). Visual Latin (our Latin curriculum) had pre-made sets that correspond with each of their lessons that I easily searched for and downloaded in the app.

3. Seterra

A fun and easy map quiz app for learning states of America, capital cities of America, countries of the world, and other geographical facts.

4. YouTube

I mean, you can pretty much use YouTube to learn anything. We use it to watch performances for composer study, learn folksongs, learn a new hymn, learn how to crochet, draw, paint, sew… Anything I don’t know how to do and we want to learn, we YouTube it.

5. Audible

Lots and lots and lots of audiobooks. I usually use an audiobook to pre-read the literature selection for AO6 and listen while vacuuming or cleaning the shower. We also listen to audiobooks as a family in the car.

Well, that wraps up my favorites for 2017. What were your favorites?

Little Men

Little Men Book Cover

Not long ago, my children and I listened to the Little Men audiobook* in the car. It has become a fast favorite in our family and I think, of all the parenting/homeschool books I have ever read, this one is my absolute favorite. That may sound strange since it is just a story and not a parenting book, but it does what only a well written story can do. It instructs the moral imagination of its reader in truth, through narrative, that cuts straight to the heart.

Aunt Jo and her husband, Fritz Bhaer, run a school for their own children, Meg’s children (Jo’s sister), and also for a number of orphaned boys. As the sequel to Little Women, Jo has grown up, outgrown her mischievousness (for the most part), and found her passion and joy in loving and caring for these lost, wayward little men. Jo’s heart is full as she seeks to provide a safe home and an education for these young people. She seeks their good while expecting the best from each of them. The children keep both Aunt Jo and Uncle Fritz on their toes with their childhood antics and mischievousness. Aunt Jo can always be relied upon to enjoy the fun, yet both she and Fritz take care to speak a gentle word of truth and wisdom in moments of folly. They seek out ways to instruct the character of the children in right living, so that they may grow up to be honorable men and women.

If I had read this as a child, I would have related to the childhood antics and frolics of the children in the story, as my own children have. They loved to discuss what they would have done as different situations arose. Their imagination was captivated by the play and the mischief of these new friends. Now, as a parent and a homeschooler, I found myself sitting at the feet of Aunt Jo and Uncle Fritz, whose wise governing and educating of the children washed over me like a gentle wave. Their example of parental love and care, treating each child as a person worthy of respect, penetrated deeply. It described exactly what Charlotte Mason meant when she said, “Children are born persons.” This has had a great impact on how I view my children and how I want to parent and teach them. I want to be Aunt Jo. She seems to have an endless supply of patience, and becomes passionate when she has the opportunity to provide for the needs of her charges in just the right way to suit each person individually. She doesn’t get it perfectly right, but her heart is for the children, and they know it, and develop a peace and contentment because of it.

Because they were loved, the children were not left to themselves. The Bhaers took seriously the responsibility of raising useful, honorable young men, and took pains to not only see to their intellectual needs but also to cultivate the character of the children. They sought to provide an atmosphere in which the children grew to love goodness for goodness sake and to choose to do what is right because it was right. When it was discovered that a theft had occurred in the school, Mr. Bhaer spoke very soberly to the boys,

“I am not going to try to frighten, bribe, or surprise the truth out of you, for every one of you have got a conscience, and know what it is for. Now is the time to undo the wrong done to Tommy, and set yourselves right before us all. I can forgive the yielding to sudden temptation much easier than I can deceit. Don’t add a lie to the theft, but confess frankly, and we will all try to help you make us forget and forgive.”

And when a young newly arrived boy was frightened of being teased by the other boys because he hadn’t learned as much as they,

Thinking that a lesson in learning to help one another was better than arithmetic just then, Mr. Bhaer told them about Nat, making such an interesting and touching little story out of it that the good-hearted lads all promised to lend him a hand, and felt quite honored to be called upon to impart their stores of wisdom to the chap who fiddled so capitally. This appeal established the right feeling among them, and Nat had few hindrances to struggle against, for everyone was glad to give him a “boost” up the ladder of learning.

In addition to developing intellectual and personal virtue, Aunt Jo and Uncle Fritz sought to prepare them for the world that they would soon enter. Their times of climbing trees and fishing in the lake taught them independence while learning to till the ground to reap a harvest and earn money for it, taught them to work hard. And when they didn’t work as they ought, they were allowed to suffer the consequences of idleness.

Jo herself reflects,

“I only want to give these children a home in which they can be taught a few simple things which will help to make life less hard to them when they go out to fight their battles in the world. Honesty, courage, industry, faith in God, their fellow-creatures, and themselves: that is all I try for.”

I leave the last words of this post to dearest Jo and with the encouragement that if you and your children have not read this book, put it on your read-aloud list. You will be glad you did.

As the year draws to a close and the taming of many a wild boy can clearly be seen, Laurie asks Jo,

“What magic did you use, Jo?”

And she simply replies,

“I only loved them, and let them see it.”

*To get the audiobook for $0.99, select “Add Audible book to your purchase for just $0.99” beneath the “Buy now with 1-click” button before purchasing.

Sing (though your heart is breaking)

This week has been a tough week. I have woken up every day to a slurry of grumpy attitudes (including my own) and toddler tantrums all before breakfast. The toddler’s tantrums have been over everything:

Not putting the right milk in his cereal.
Not letting him put the milk in his cereal.
Putting blueberries instead of raisins in his cereal.
Putting raisins instead of blueberries in his cereal.

And on it goes.

If you’ve ever been the mother of a 2-year-old, you know what I’m talking about.

Most mornings I can handle this with a slight amount of graciousness and understanding. But with the amount of sleep I’ve been getting this week (totally self-inflicted) grace was all but absent. And it got worse as the week went on.

Add to the 2-year-old tantrums, siblings squabbles, and stresses and emotional outbursts, the mornings have been less than peaceful.

And this all before we begin school. Every morning I despaired. How do I rein in the terrible tantrums and redeem the day?

Sing! (though your heart is breaking)

Most days it is my practice to start the formal part of our homeschooling with Morning Time. To call everybody together and begin I usually put on the current month’s folksong, or, more often, the 2-year-olds favorite Aussie folksong, Road to Gundagai.

By the end of the song everyone has joined in singing and are prepared and ready to begin the day. We then sing a hymn together. Our current selection is My Hope Is Built (on nothing less). This is followed by Bible reading and prayer, memory work, and a few other things.

Without fail, every single day this week, beginning our day with singing our folksong and hymn has abated the tantrum tempest. I won’t exaggerate and tell you we were all on our best behavior for the rest of each day. We are, after all, sinners in need of a Savior. And there is only so much that singing can do to make up for lack of sleep, but it helped. It really helped to reset our bad attitudes and be in a more positive and worshipful frame of mind as we heard God’s Word, prayed with repentance to a holy God, and approached our duties for the day. Harsh words were replaced with encouragement. Scowls and frowns were replaced by smiles and giggles. For a little while anyway.

So if you ever feel that your day has derailed before it’s even begun, sing. Sing together. Sing folk songs. Sing hymns. Your soul will be fed. Your children’s souls will be fed. And you’ll all be directed toward Him.

A New Look for Artist Study

We have always done artist study during Morning Time in our home. Initially, I used the links for the pictures on the Ambleside Online artist study page and we’d look at them online. I then got an app for my iPad and used that for a while to view the images. (You can read about how we did Artist Study here). The app became frustrating though because it took so long to load the images, which made it more difficult and time-consuming to use than it did to just click a link on the AO website. Last year I was determined to be more intentional about our artist study. I also wanted to have the artwork on display to look at more often than at the scheduled artist study time. So I got organized and printed the selections at a local Staples. Crunchy Conservative over at A Generous Education has made downloadable PDFs of the current year’s pictures following the AO artist study schedule. Her PDFs made sending the pictures to the printers a breeze. This worked well. I put our current picture in a frame and hung it above our kitchen table. We had many discussions about our pictures over our meals. When we were finished with a picture I replaced it with our next selection and put the old one in a binder kept in our school room. My hope was that the children would use the binder to look back over and enjoy the old pictures. But having pictures in a school binder is like telling them never to look at this again.

Recently I was listening to an interview with Emily Kiser, author of the Picture Study Portfolios at Simply Charlotte Mason, on the Your Morning Basket podcast. She talked all about artist study and encouraged mom’s to provide each student a picture of their own to look at.

I have toyed many times with the idea of getting our artist study prints from Simply Charlotte Mason. But although they contain extra information about the artist and the pieces, I always talked myself out of it knowing it was much cheaper to get them printed myself. Especially when we will study 3 artists over the whole year and I wanted a print for each of my 3 children. So when a deal of buy 1 photo book, get 2 free came up on Snapfish, I had an idea. 3 girls, 3 books for the price of 1. I would make my own artist study photo book for the whole year. Altogether, including shipping, these 5×7 softcover photo books cost $20.96.

I love this picture on the front by Mary Cassatt, don’t you? It captures the gooeyness of motherhood. Cuddles and coffee in bed in the morning. I assume it’s the morning because that’s when I have cuddles in bed. True to life, Mama is looking a little weary. The girls and I have always been more drawn to impressionism of all the art styles. I think it might be because we see ourselves more readily in impressionism than we do in some of the other styles. They mostly painted ordinary people doing ordinary things—playing on a lake, in a boat, walking in the street, cuddling in bed with Mommy. Although we live in a different century we are still ordinary people doing ordinary things.

I’m so pleased with how the books turned out. Some minor alterations obviously need to be made in the next book to make the alignment of the images fit better on the left pages. But overall, I’m very pleased with how my first attempt turned out. I wasn’t sure how the size would work but after using it for a couple of weeks now I can tell you that the size is perfect for little hands to hold and enjoy. Emily was right. Each student having their own copy is much better. Putting our artist study selections in a photo book also means that the children can keep them forever and remember the pictures we enjoyed and wondered at throughout our school days.

Hopefully, as they grow older, they will go on looking at beautiful art and love it as much as I love Cassatt’s “Breakfast In Bed” painting. It wasn’t one of our 6 Cassatt selections to look at for the term, but the more I looked at it, the more I loved it, the more it had to be on the front cover of our books. That’s the thing about artist study, you don’t know what pictures will capture your imagination. It’s not always the first look that develops the relationship between you and that piece either. You often have to look more than once and look intentionally, to see the truth, the goodness, and the beauty in the piece. That’s when you fall in love.

Graduation and Godliness: Cindy’s Homeschool

Mere Motherhood: Morning Times, Nursery Rhymes, & My Journey Toward Sanctification

This Christmas I was given the book Mere Motherhood: Morning Times, Nursery Rhymes, & My Journey Toward Sanctification by Cindy Rollins. Cindy is a mom of nine with over thirty years of homeschooling experience. For over ten years, she blogged her way through her efforts to homeschool under the principles of Charlotte Mason and classical education. Today, she is an occasional contributor at circeinstitute.org and is the co-host of The Mason Jar podcast on the CiRCE Institute Podcast Network.

I have been listening to her podcast for some time and having heard great things about this book I opened it with much anticipation. By the second page, the tears were welling up. She knew me and knew what this anxious mama needed to hear. I knew I had to share some of her wisdom with you.

“Perhaps the greater portion of you are in the middle years. You are just starting to panic a little bit. You are beginning to realize that tea parties don’t cure sin. You want some assurance that all will be well when you are starting to fear it might not be. Something may go wrong. You might miss stamping out a fire or two. I think this book will be a comfort to you. You are not alone. We who have gone before are still here. We will look you in the eye and say, ‘Motherhood hurts like hell’ but the old dragon skin does peel away. God is real. He is there. He doesn’t just love your children; he loves you. I have been young, and now I am old, and I have not seen the righteous forsaken.”

Throughout this book, Cindy gives insight into her 30-year homeschooling journey. She shares stories of her family, her successes and difficulties in homeschooling, and the trials and the triumphs of motherhood, all the while weaving through it drops of wisdom, drawing us to look to our Father in heaven.

“Motherhood is a place of dreamy hopes and crushed fantasies and the hard, hard work of sinners in relationship with one another day by day.”

“He is trustworthy and I can give my precious family to him.”

She shares how she used the practice of Morning Time, reading together Scripture, books, poetry, Shakespeare, and singing hymns to ground her family in the past as culture shifted around them.

“It is a habit that ties the past with the future – a liturgy of love. Morning Time is a way to collect grains of sand. It should not be a way to complicate life but rather simplify it.”

Because,

“For me the years did roll by, and they are rolling by for you, too. You are never going to have a lot of time, but you do have a little time here and a little time there, and those little times all add up to a life.”

She tells us how important our roles as mothers are.

“Motherhood is a high calling. Civilization depends upon motherhood. I do not believe you should lose yourself so thoroughly in your motherhood that that is all you are. That is not healthy for you or your family. But I do think women need to know that motherhood is a high-value commodity in the market of civilization.
Mama, you are the first pillar of education. You are a vital part of the infrastructure of culture, family, and even the body of Christ.
This is not about having the perfect family or the perfect school. Your success or failure doesn’t rest on your perfection, just your faithfulness.”

Yet she reminds us that ultimately, our children are God’s work. Not ours. He is in control.

“How could I go on creating beautiful pottery pieces if they weren’t going to turn out as I intended or hoped? … I had an epiphany. I was not the potter. A potter was shaping my children, but it was not me. I had forgotten what Charlotte Mason wrote: “Children are born persons.” Until that moment, I had not heard her with my heart nor truly understood with my mind. My son was not my product. He was the work of a great artist: the Creator of all.”

And she describes how God uses motherhood for our sanctification.

“Part of the sanctification of motherhood is learning to trust God with our children. One day we will come to the end of what we can do for our children. In those early days our children cannot live without us, but slowly they grow up and move away. This is almost always heart-wrenching, but the process also gives us a chance to lean on our Heavenly Father and to trust Him more. God has entrusted us with a great treasure. It is our life lesson to hand it back. To let it go. Our children must not become ‘Our Precious.’ In the end, we are merely mothers. Mothers who are also children of our Father. Let us run into His arms with great joy, knowing that when we see Him face to face we will not be standing alone.”

There was so much more to share but there isn’t space here. If you are a mom, especially a homeschooling mom, you just need to read this book. You will be glad you did. It is available to purchase here from The CiRCE Institute.

Other posts in this series

Graduation and Godliness: Sheryl’s Homeschool
Graduation and Godliness: Peggy’s Homeschool

Graduation and Godliness: Peggy’s Homeschool

I am very excited to share with you the second installment of my Graduation and Godliness series. I have been blessed to interview godly women who have homeschooled for a long time and have graduated some of their children. You can find Part 1 here. These women have many years of experience in the trenches and I am so thankful for their willingness to share what they’ve learned with us. Today we are blessed to hear from my friend, Peggy. I was so encouraged by Peggy’s wise words. I know you will be too.

Meet my friend, Peggy Hobden and her family

Hi! My name is Peggy Hobden and I feel very blessed to be asked to write on your blog, Tania. I have been married to Randy for 28 years. The Lord has blessed us with seven children and we’ve always homeschooled. Our children and their ages are Tim (26), Melissa (23), Stephanie (19), Heather (17), Chris (15), Kimmy (almost 13), and Grace (8). We have graduated the oldest three. Tim graduated with a Business-Finance Degree from UCF (mostly scholarship), Melissa is attending Valencia and getting a Business-Culinary Degree, Stephanie just graduated from Seminole State with her AA Degree and is continuing her education at Rollins College to pursue her Teaching Music Degree (mostly scholarship). Heather will most likely graduate next year and she is very creative and artsy. She wants to open her own Etsy store. Chris has an engineer brain like Dad. Kimmy and Grace are very creative. God made each one of our seven so different and we’re very thankful for each one of them and their unique ways. 😍

Why did you decide to homeschool?

We first saw Randy’s older sister homeschooling her four kids and at first we thought she was crazy. 😀 A couple of years later the Lord laid it upon our hearts to desire to homeschool our children – His way. We have tried different methods and curriculum over the years. Looking back when I had many young children, we had many unplanned days – lots of park days, field trips, reading aloud and hands on learning. Exhausting but fun, I miss those days…. We incorporated some of Charlotte Masons’ methods – narration, copy work, nature study and lots of outdoor play. Then as some of my kids got older we did co-ops and sometimes had great classic books discussions with others.

What was most rewarding about homeschooling?

The most rewarding part of homeschooling is getting to be with my wonderful kids every day. Sure most days are tough and exhausting but so worth it!! I’m grateful to be able to teach my children from The Word of God every day. I get to see my children building good relationships with one another. If they were at school every day this wouldn’t happen. It’s neat to see them go to one another – whether it’s a math problem, writing problem, or just to share life together. I love seeing godly fruit in their lives and their servant hearts. We love taking field trips together, even if it’s a last minute trip to the beach. 😀

Any regrets?

I think all Mom’s have some regret. I wish we had hid more of God’s Word in our hearts as a family. We also don’t want to compare ourselves with others. Of course I’m guilty of that too. Mom’s focus on godly character. Read lots of good books aloud that demonstrate God’s ways. I wish I had read aloud even more. Take the time to really listen to your precious children. I wish I hadn’t been so busy….. Cleaning, wasting time on the wrong things. Mom’s make wise choices for your days – seek God’s face and His plans for your family. Lots of prayer time – hide in the bathroom to pray.😀 For the days are short. Too short! You will blink and your beautiful children will be all grown up!! 😰

Any advice?

Mom’s make your days more fun; relax about school – plan more field trips, family vacations, date nights with your hubby, (even a meal at home on the porch-just the two of you), sing hymns together and make many great memories. Love on your children, hug them often – even when they think they’re too big 😀. Really enjoy them at every stage, study God’s Word together, read aloud often and have fun enjoying life together. Focus on our Lord Jesus Christ and serving together as a family. Focus on things that matter for eternity!!

 

Graduation and Godliness: Sheryl’s Homeschool
Graduation and Godliness: Peggy’s Homeschool ← You Are Here

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.

The Woods, a Mole, and Homeschool Sanity

Traveling the long stretches of highway from Nashville to North Carolina, on our family road trip this January, gave me much time for contemplation. The view of woods on either side of the road remained the same for several hours. These woods were stripped bare of its finery, set in the rest of winter. For some stretches, snow blanketed the earth beneath the trees. In others, the snow had already melted revealing fallen leaves, twigs, stones, and rocks along the ground. I had just read the third chapter of Wind in the Willows to my daughter and the description of Mole wondering around the woods in winter was still fresh in my mind.

“The country lay bare and entirely leafless around him, and he thought that he had never seen so far and so intimately into the insides of things as on that winter day when Nature was deep in her annual slumber and seemed to have kicked the clothes off …

He was glad that he liked the country undecorated, hard, and stripped of its finery. He had got to the bare bones of it, and they were fine and strong and simple.”

As I looked out my window I was struck by that line, “He had got to the bare bones of it.”

Bare bones

This wood, with its bare trees, hadn’t lost its beauty. Yes, it was subdued and scaled back, yet still beautiful. It was strong. The trees stripped back of all their frills revealed their true self—their bones, so to speak. What became interesting to me was that when the woods were stripped to its bare bones, more of itself was revealed. You could see the landscape that the trees were a part of more clearly than when the trees were in full bloom. Every curve in the ground, hill, exposed root, the variety of color in the fallen leaves covering the ground were its own kind of beauty.

As I contemplated this ‘bare bones’ wood, I considered that for the tree to remain healthy and survive winter, it needed to lose its leaves so that it might conserve its energy and be able to grow in the spring with renewed vigor. It needed to rest.

Marveling at the amazing handiwork of God in building this rhythm of rest in nature, a connection was slowly dawning on me. An analogy between this natural time of resting and shedding of leaves to the bare bones, and my homeschool.

I had been feeling overwhelmed in my homeschool. Trying to adequately meet the needs of three students across multiple disciplines while caring for a toddler can send you loopy.

I needed to rest. I was beginning to burn out.

I then read Christy quote Nancy Kelly, “Keep cutting back until there is peace in your home.”

There it was. A shedding. A cutting back to the barebones. Not in the sense of ceasing from work, but cutting back the excess in order to have peace and rest in the work I was doing. The bare trees were still living, the woods still thriving, but they were not expelling the energy that was needed to maintain their health during the winter season. We can’t always see the ground beneath when our days are full of foliage. And this foliage can beautiful: music lessons, artist study, clubs, co-ops, sports activities, craft projects, play dates, camps, art lessons, extra math tutoring, composer study, foreign languages, the list can go on. All of these things are good, true, and beautiful, and are worthy of our time. But if the pursuit of these studies results in a crowded life with no room to see forward, perhaps a cutting back to bare bones is needed. As I contemplated this further I realized that it’s not simply a cutting back of activities, but a reordering of priorities. It’s getting back to the heart of what education is and answering the fundamental question, “Why am I doing this?” Perhaps it’s my mind that needed to shed its foliage so that I could re-energize and see more “intimately into the insides of things.” To see clearly where we were headed and the ground we were treading.

By answering “Why?” I could more easily identify those aspects of our current homeschool life that did not meet that purpose. I would have a point with which to measure all curriculums, activities, and studies against. I could then immediately identify and clear out any that did not meet our “Why?” I would find the bare bones of it, and it would “be fine and strong and simple.”

But what of the things that do answer the “Why?” and yet still seem too much? Charlotte Mason says that “Education is a life.” Christy takes this to heart and answers, “When everything was done in its own time and we allowed our learning to spill over into our ‘life,’ there really was time for everything without rushing.” To understand this is to realize that learning isn’t something that must be done between certain hours but is lived out through all moments of our day. I needed to redeem those moments. We could sing songs in our foreign language while we drive in the car. Discuss a book we’ve been reading while we take a nature walk or cook dinner, and even play classical music while we have breakfast.

Space

Considering this further, I also saw a link between cutting back to bare bones and the space that is created because of it. The woods, stripped of its finery, created space. It was as though the woods were breathing. Each tree was individual, not blending or competing with the tree beside it. There was space to see. Space to breathe.

Stripping back to the bare bones creates space. It creates the atmosphere in which the education that I provide can thrive. There is space for my children to process new learning in order to see “so far and so intimately into the insides of things.”

“After learning something new children need a Sabbath, a time to process, internalize, to find pleasure in the new learning, and to make connections to previous learning.” – Carroll Smith

My children needed the space, the time, to process and internalize. Diligence in homeschooling doesn’t mean filling in all the space with long seemingly endless lessons, or too many extra-curricular activities and classes. By shedding the foliage in my homeschool I get back to the bare bones of education and create the space for that learning to take root in the souls of my children, shaping them and molding them as persons made in the image of God.

“For all our lives, we are human beings, in an active state of learning, responding, understanding. Education extends to all of life.” —Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

May I remember this next fall, as I prepare for the inevitable winter.

A book I found helpful in answering the “Why?” question was For The Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. I highly recommend it.

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