Mum To Mom

Musings of an Aussie Mother Living in the USA

Tag: Homeschool

It’s All About the Motivation

“You need to get this work done now! Don’t you know that your future is at stake? If you don’t work hard now, you won’t get a scholarship to the best college, then you won’t get the best job at the best place, and you won’t make lots of money. You don’t want to disappoint me, do you? So memorize these multiplication facts, now!” 

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles: Principle 4

“These principles (ie., authority and docility) are limited by the respect due to the personality of children which may not be encroached upon whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire.”

Throughout Charlotte Mason’s volumes, Mason is highly concerned with the development of character.  From her observations of children, she saw the biggest problem was that they were “incapable of steady effort, because they had no strength of will, no power to make themselves do that which they knew they ought to do.”  As homeschoolers, I think we often see the same problem. The children don’t seem to want to motivate themselves. They don’t have the strength of will to do what they ought to do without reminders and prods and motivation from us. This can be true, not just for children, but for many adults as well. It is comforting to know that Mason saw the same problems and thought long and hard to find a way to help children overcome this fault.

She does this keeping in mind that children are whole people. They have personalities, strengths and weaknesses, and minds capable of great understanding. They are made in the image of God and are to be respected. The personhood of children is not to be undermined or undervalued or encroached upon. It may not be manipulated or coerced. The development of a child’s character as God’s image bearer was of paramount importance to Mason. Children must grow up moral with their affections rightly ordered, and any method employed in the educating of children must not hinder, crush, or maim their character.  It was not worldly success that she saw as the purpose of education, but virtue. This is a classical idea.* Plato said, “Education is teaching our children to desire the right things.” In The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education, Ravi Jain and Kevin Clark call it piety. Mason realized she was educating people. Not computers. Not factories. People.

Knowledge Is Delectable

Not only did Mason have a high view of children, she had a high view of knowledge. “Knowledge is delectable,” she tells us. Knowledge for its own sake should be the motivation. This is God’s world and we are His creatures — we should want to know. It reminds me of the shorter catechism question, ‘What is the chief end of man?”

The answer:

“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

This means our purpose is to glorify and delight in God. We delight in Him by delighting in His Word. We also enjoy and glorify God by delighting in His Creation and His people—learning from those who have gone before, the good and the bad, so that our character may grow to be more Christlike so that we may glorify Him.

This, of course, does not come easily. But there is much that we as teachers and parents can do, and NOT do, to lead our children toward desiring knowledge for themselves. It is because of her view of children as persons and the high importance she places on the development of their character as well as their intellect, that Mason’s fourth principle of education places limits on the methods appropriate to educating children.

“we act our parts and play in an unlawful way upon motives.” – Vol 6, p81

How Not to Motivate

Mason warns that any means a teacher might employ to compel a child to do what is required of them that draws their affections and motivations away from knowledge itself, is to be avoided. To compel a child to work by fear (fear of you, punishment, or failure), love (so that they would do anything for you like a pathetic little puppydog), undue influence and suggestion (which I would call manipulation), is to compromise their character so that they become, as Mason says, “flaccid.” In other words, weak.

“Bob or mary is losing that growing time which should make a self-dependent, self-ordered person, and is day by day becoming a parasite who can go only as he is carried, the easy prey of fanatic or demagogue.” – Quoted from For The Children’s Sake, p67

You will get willing obedience by utilizing these means, but at the expense of developing a strong character who can think for themselves and will do what they ought because it is the right thing to do. 

Mason identifies four “natural desires” that are good in their place, being neither good nor bad, but when overemphasized or manipulated, also shift a child’s affection away from knowledge itself. These are:

  • Approbation (approval or praise),
  • Emulation (desire to excel),
  •  Avarice (extreme greed for wealth or material gain), and
  • Ambition.

Each is a good servant, but when one is favored at the expense of others, it is to the detriment of the development of the character of a child.

“We have considered the several desires whose function is to stimulate the mind and save us from that vis inertiae which is our besetting danger. Each such desire has its place but the results are disastrous if any one should dominate.” – Vol 6, p88

Approbation

Praising your child is natural for any parent. They do something well and we say, “great job!” There is no harm in this, as long as you do it “in such a way that no one set of motives be called unduly into play to the injury of the child’s character.” It’s about balance. It becomes a problem when children do the work SO that they get praise or approval. It becomes especially problematic when they desire it from the wrong people or for the wrong things. Praise for virtuous behavior such as hard work is more desirous than praise for achievements. One of my daughters qualified to take the DukeTIP this year (this means she placed in the 95th percentile or higher in last year’s standardized test and can take the college entrance SAT along with high schoolers). It is tempting to praise her for high academic abilities. But really, she was born with a keen mind, which she had absolutely no control over. Yes, a Charlotte Mason education of reading living books and narration went a long way to help her to place well, but it is her character qualities of diligence and hard work that are worthy to be praised, more than the achievement itself. I have other daughters who work just as hard and have received the same education, that will not, in all likelihood, qualify for DukeTIP. They were not created with the same academic abilities (more to the point, our current education system tests only a certain kind of ability, but I digress). But they are equally hardworking. When children begin to work for approval, instead of the knowledge itself, it is at the expense of character. Too much praise and of the wrong thing can cause a child to become conceited, which is a definite blight to a person’s character.

Emulation

When high test scores become the goal of education, the child no longer cares what it is he is learning. He crams for the exam to get the marks, only to promptly forget a short time after. Mason was highly critical of the trend she saw in schools of her day where the desire to excel was manipulated by the school system through prizes and rewards to get results.

“Emulation, the desire of excelling, works wonders in the hands of the schoolmaster; and, indeed, this natural desire is an amazing spur to effort, both intellectual and moral…
…In the intellectual field, however, there is danger; and nothing worse could have happened to our schools than the system of marks, prizes, place-taking, by which many of them are practically governed. A boy is so taken up with the desire to forge “ahead that there is no time to think of anything else. What he learns is not interesting to him; he works to get his remove.” – Vol 6. p85

What has a child gained by getting a good score if they don’t care about the knowledge that they scored high in?

Competitive Examinations aren’t helpful because the motivation isn’t knowledge. It is the “getting on”, achieving scholarships and the like. It doesn’t make them a better person.

Avarice

Closely connected with Emulation, is Avarice. When greed for wealth or material gain is played upon as a motivation for children to do their work, then we have a big problem. What happens to the child who works so that they can get good grades so they can get a scholarship, so they can go to the best college and get the best job so they can have lots of money and the best car and live on the best street… You get my point.  Having these things is not the problem. It is the unhealthy desire for them as the motivation for doing what ought to be done that is the problem. Where is the love of learning? Where is the love of doing the right thing because it’s the right thing?  Where is the human?

Ambition

Ambition hardly needs to be discussed. I think most of us know the difference between Ambition as a servant, that keeps us from stagnation, and Ambition as a master, which is an all-consuming tyrant.

Mason does not say that these “natural desires” are bad in and of themselves. They are good servants when in their place. It is when they are out of balance that it can be a detriment to character.

“… because the balance of character is destroyed by the constant stimulation of this one desire at the expense of the rest.” – Vol 2, p221

Mason’s goal is to see children self-dependent and self-ordered, who grow to love what is lovely and pursue what is good for themselves and for its own sake.

The coming principles will address what can be done toward that ideal, but for now, let me suggest that it is through gentle leading, not coercing, that we guide our children to delight in knowledge—because “knowledge is delectable.”

 

If you’d like to join me in studying Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles, get your copy of Start Here and see this post for details

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason 20 Principles Directory

*For more on Education as a virtue, I really like this post by Mystie Winkler.

When The Ideal Meets The Real

As I study principles of education, I am reminded that there is a gaping chasm between the ideal and the real. I study educational philosophy because it is my vocation. Educating my kids is what God has called me to do and I want to do it to the best of my ability for the glory of God. But I do not measure up to the ideal. Education in my home is not always joyful, happy, or peaceful. I do not always treat my children with care for their emotions and personalities. I am often times met with bad attitudes (including my own), children who do not want to read the books I have given them to read, and who resist any kind writing with every fiber of their being. But I must not grow weary in doing good. I will never attain the ideal in my home. But I continue to work diligently toward it, knowing that anything that is achieved is not my own achievement but is a result of God’s grace. Educating is humbling. It requires leaning on the Lord for His strength, His help, His comfort. I cannot live the ideal. But He did. And only by His grace can I go forward. He is trustworthy when I fail. He is true when I am false. He is good when I sin. He is beautiful when my best is filthy rags. He is strong when I am weak. He is faithful when I am not. So whether I measure up to the educational standard set by philosophical thinkers that have come before, I can rest in the knowledge that, “all I have needed thy hand hath provided, Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”

To God be the Glory.

2014-2015 Reflections (Part 2)

In my last post I mentioned how I have spent time reflecting on our school year. I discussed our successes, and overall, we did have a great year. However, there were a couple of areas that did not go as well as I’d hoped, and others that need a bit of improving.

Math: A Slave to the Worksheet

The biggest challenge for me this year was Kindergarten (Prep). My wonderfully creative and clever 5-year-old simply wasn’t ready for school. Letters wouldn’t stick, simple math concepts like writing numerals (0-20) wouldn’t stick. If I hadn’t keenly felt the social pressure to begin formal school at age 5, I wouldn’t have for this child. As I mentioned last post, I use Charlotte Mason’s method to teach reading. I am so glad that I did. Though it was painfully slow for me, learning to read was a fun, interactive game for her. And about half way through the year something clicked for this child. Letters that she would forget from one week to the next, began to stick. The pace picked up tremendously. I hadn’t done anything different. It was time. She had simply needed time.

This is how it could have been for math. Instead, enslaved to the worksheet, math became a painful learning experience for my dear daughter, and for me. We have used Math-U-See from the beginning, and, for the most part, I like it. So I began my new Kindergartener (Prep) with the Primer book, and did what I’ve always done. Sit down and watch the lessons on the DVD together, sometimes going over a few more examples of the concept taught with her myself, then have her open her workbook and do a couple of pages out of it (or whatever she could get done in 10-15 minutes). Job done. Easy, right? Umm. Not so much. I was so focussed on getting the worksheets done that I failed to see that she wasn’t understanding the concepts the worksheets were designed to reinforce. Correct answers were written but weren’t understood. As the year continued and she was presented with more new math concepts, frustration from both this student and me mounted. How many times did I have to go over the same thing? Why wasn’t she getting this? She was still needing my constant help to arrive at the correct answer. When I left her to do a question on her own, she said she didn’t know how. She began to believe she couldn’t do it. With one month to go of our school year she still didn’t know what “20” was. She could count to twenty but didn’t understand its value nor how to write it. Hadn’t we been writing numerals all year? Didn’t we learn place value in our first term? It dawned on me that in my fixation with completing worksheets, we had been plowing through the lessons without any regard to whether my student actually understood the problems she was completing. I realized that instead of allowing her time to interact with the concept and understand it for herself, I had pushed her helped her too much, essentially telling her the answers, hoping she’d pick it up as we went along. The whole year had gone by, but had meaningful learning actually taken place? Some. A little. Not as much as was possible. And not without a lot of pain and heartache. I had failed her. With three weeks to go I tossed the student workbook in favor of hands on math games that taught the concepts she so clearly didn’t understand. And you know what? The tears and the tantrums disappeared and she learned more in that three weeks than she had all year. She will still use the student workbook next year, but only as a guide, and to reinforce concepts that I will teach through play and games.

Spanish

Spanish will probably always be in the “need to improve” list. Primarily because I have never learned this language before so I am not confident about teaching it to my kids. I had read that the best way to learn a language is to hear it all the time and just start speaking it, but I still wasn’t sure how to put that into practice. The result was trying to do a little bit of everything to make sure that I had it all covered.

We did:

Doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that isn’t necessarily bad, but I felt that there was a lack of continuity to what we were learning. Chopping and changing often resulted in a lack of review. It also resulted in us not being able to finish the Petra Lingua course before our subscription ran out. I think it would have been better to have done the entire year with the Petra Lingua course to build up the children’s vocabulary. YouTube songs, duo lingo, and Salsa Spanish would still have worked great as a compliment to the course. We will continue with those activities next year.

Nature Study Notebooks

I mentioned last post that nature study went well this year. This is because we were consistent in doing it. But our nature study notebooks need some love and attention to become what Charlotte Mason had envisaged. It wasn’t until I read Laurie Bestvater’s book, “The Living Page” that I saw the vision for these notebooks. I saw the deficiencies in our half-hearted notebooking efforts, but saw what they could be, and how important and treasured they could become to my children. It is my goal to make the following adjustments to improve our nature study notebooking this year:

  • Replace cheap lined notebooks with quality watercolor Moleskine notebooks
  • Use quality watercolor paints and art supplies instead of cheap markers and pencils
  • Be more intentional in looking up facts about our discoveries and include them in our notebooks
  • Be intentional in looking out for and including poetry that relates to what we are painting
  • Cultivate and nurture a love and a care for our nature notebooking practice
  • Cultivate and nurture a love and a care for God’s creation as we make notes of our discoveries.

So that’s 2014-2015. Please pray for me as we embark on a new school year in a couple of weeks (this year will include Shakespeare, Plutarch, and even some Latin!).

2014-2015 Evaluations and Reflections

After finishing the school year a couple of weeks ago, I spent the better part of a week preparing portfolios for evaluation. This year took longer than normal. At the last minute I decided to reorganize all of the girls’ work. I also had two terms of exams for two students to type out. I know I could have typed them up earlier in the year, and I intended to. But not being naturally organized, I never got around to it. In spite of my disorganization, I got them done. Want to see?

Portfolios

Language Arts

Geography

Tabs

Free Reading

Narration

It took 3 hours to type up all the books my 3rd grader read this year. The girl is a machine. I read pretty slowly so this is shocking to me. I know Charlotte Mason advocates reading slowly, giving your mind time to digest the living ideas, but I cannot slow my daughter down. I am not overly concerned about this with her free reading because she can narrate everything she’s read without a worry, even quoting paragraphs, so I know she’s giving attention to what she is reading and understands it.

While typing up exams and preparing portfolios, I’ve had time to reflect on the year that’s gone by—the things that went well, the areas that need improving, and the areas that went well but could use a little tweaking to work better. Considering what went well, here are what I think were our greatest successes.

Our Schedule

The most successful area of our homeschool this year was our schedule. I know that sounds kind of boring, but if our schedule didn’t work so well, many of the wonderful areas that we studied (like art, composers, poetry, nature study, and Spanish) would have been left out, to our detriment. Charlotte Mason believed in providing a liberal education, that is, a wide and generous feast of living ideas for children to devour that would feed their souls. This is why including areas of study that many might not deem necessary is so important to me.

This year I introduced a third student to our school day. Her schedule and demand was pretty light as she was only in Kindergarten (Prep), but it still had an impact on the dynamic of our day. Last year, when I had only two students our day had a general outline with no specifics. I knew in my head what we had to get done and each day we somehow figured it out. Needless to say, many areas that I’ve already mentioned were left out on many occasions, and when we did do them they were in a haphazard, stressed kind of way. That is not what Charlotte Mason envisaged at all.

Thanks to Brandy’s average day planning post last year at Afterthoughts and Jen’s 2013 planning series over at Snowfall Academy, I realized I needed a better plan. I was able to use ideas from both their schedules to come up with one that was much more thorough than I had before and one that suited our family.

Daily Schedule

Schedule

Weekly Schedule

Weekly ScheduleAO1 and AO3 refer to the Ambleside Online’s weekly scheduled readings for years 1 and 3.

It worked beautifully for us. There were three areas that were particularly successful.

Circle Time

I have posted a little about this before, but just to quickly explain again: Circle Time is basically all the areas of study that we do together. Last year I attempted Circle Time but found that with Bible reading, prayer, poetry, memorizations, artist or composer study, and Spanish, it was going WAY too long, and my children, especially the 5-year-old, could not sit in one place for that long, and so I often left things out. I saw on Jen’s daily schedule that she had Bible, prayer, and memorization first thing and then had another Circle Time during snack. This seems so obvious now but I had never thought of it before seeing her plan. Following Jen’s example I split Circle Time in half, beginning the day with Bible, prayer, memorization and adding poetry in as well. At either snack or lunch time, depending on how the day was going, we did Spanish and alternated composer and artist study. This has worked really well for me, and morning Circle Time has become my favorite part of the day.

Kindergarten

The second area that was successful for us was teaching the youngest student first. This year I had two students that were learning to read. One had not mastered all her letters, while the other had finished 3 and 4 letter word families and was moving on to learning to read actual books (You can find the method I use to teach reading over at Joyful Shepherdess). Only a year apart in age, both students needed me for all of their schooling, yet were at different stages of learning, so couldn’t be combined. I was nervous about this. So my plan was to begin with the youngest, whose attention, presumably, would wane the quickest. This worked well most of the time. Though some days the 1st grader had the shorter attention span, and so I began with her. Other days I mixed it up, beginning with K phonics for 15 minutes, then giving her a break, taught 1st grade reading for 15 minutes, then returned to the youngest to finish her formal school time with math, then switched again to 1st grade math, and continued with Year 1 readings. So even though I had the Kindergartener scheduled, and followed this schedule most of the time, I allowed my days to be fluid enough within the schedule structure to ensure that I could meet my individual children’s needs on any particular day. The first of Charlotte Mason’s 20 principles is “Children are born persons.” I think part of respecting our children as real, individual persons in their own right, made in the image of God, is being tuned in to what they need to learn best that day. This means that sometimes shifting the order of the schedule is necessary because it is what is best for them. I am not always successful at this, but when I am, our school day is better.

Nature Study

The third area of success in our homeschool was Nature Study. It was actually on the schedule this year, so we actually did it! This is a big success for me because I’m naturally a homebody. This is an area of study that definitely need’s more improvements, particularly with our notebooks. Yet I still consider it a success since we managed to go for a nature walk somewhere every week and draw or paint what we observed.

So that is our school year in a nutshell. There is definitely areas that I need to improve or tweak, but I will save that for another post.

How was your school year? What are some successes you had? I’d love to hear from you.

What Does My Homeschool Look Like? – Our Booklist (Year 1)

I mention in my bio that I am a homeschooler so I thought I would do a series of posts about what our homeschool looks like at the moment. I currently only homeschool my 6 year old and we are following the booklist and 36 week schedule (3 terms) for Year 1 at Ambleside Online (AO1).

Here is our AO1 booklist:

Bible
We are reading the book of Genesis.

Copywork
This is basically handwriting and spelling practice. I choose a short passage from one of the books that we are reading and she copies it out. Usually only one or two sentences a day. I try to vary the type of writing to expose her to a variety of writing styles. For example, for a couple of days she will copy a verse from a poem, the next day a line from Aesops fables, the next couple of days something from literature, the next something from a history book, etc.

Readers
Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik
Harriette Taylor Treadwell Readers (free online readers)

Math
Math-U-See

Science
Apologia’s Exploring Creation With Astronomy by Jeannie Fulbright

Nature study
The Burgess Bird Book for Children by Thornton W. Burgess (free online ebook)

Literature
The Aesop for Children by Milo Winters (free online ebook)
Beautiful stories from Shakespeare by Edith Nesbit (free downloadable ebook)
The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang (free downloadable ebook)
Just so stories by Rudyard Kipling (free downloadable ebook)
Parables from Nature by Margaret Gatty (free online ebook)

Poetry
A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson Term 1
Now We Are Six/When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne Term 2
A Child’s Book of Poems by Gyo Fujikawa Term 3

History
Trial and Triumph by Richard Hannula
An Island Story by H.E. Marshall (free downloadable ebook)
Fifty Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin Terms 1 & 2 (free downloadable ebook)
Viking Tales by Jennie Hall Terms 2 & 3 (free downloadable ebook)

American History Biography
Benjamin Franklin by Ingri D’Aulaire Term 1
George Washington by Ingri D’Aulaire Term 2
Buffalo Bill by Ingri D’Aulaire Term 3

Geography
Paddle to the Sea by Holling C. Holling

French
First Step en Francais (free online beginner course)
Tres Bien app for iPad

Artist and Composer Study
Term1 – Renoir/Debussy
Term 2 – Ruisdale, de Hooch/Bach
Term 3 – Seurat/Opera Overtures
Wikipedia and other online resources
I will discuss how we do artist and composer study in another post.

P.E.
Classes run for homeschoolers at our local gym.

Free Reading
Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie (free downloadable ebook)
Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne (especially for my younger girls who are 4 and 3 and not ready for chapter books, and 6 year old enjoys it too)
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi (free downloadable ebook)
The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs (Australian)
The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall (Australian)

I may add more to the free reading list if we have time to read more than what is listed. There are a couple of books that I also may include for Australian History/Literature if I am able to get the books and can work out how to fit them into our schedule. These are: The Way of The Whirlwind by Mary Durack and Dot and the Kangaroo by Ethel Pedley. Thanks to my Aussie friend Jeanne at A Peaceful Day who drew my attention to these Australian books and has spent many years Australianizing AO by compiling great Australian literature to compliment the Ambleside Online curriculum.

I have linked to as many of the free ebooks that I could find, but obviously you can choose to purchase the paper version of these books instead if you preferred to. I started with all the ebooks that I could for budgeting reasons but have since gone back and purchased a few of the literature books in paper. While the ebooks are helpful, they are a poor substitute for a beautifully illustrated children’s book that the children can hold in their little hands and can pull off the shelf anytime they want to immerse themselves in the adventure it holds.

Well there it is. My next post I will show you what our weekly schedule looks like.

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