Mum To Mom

Musings of an Aussie Mother Living in the USA

Tag: Homeschooling

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.

We Are Made To Know

Last week, I discussed Charlotte Mason’s principle of authority and obedience. I chose to focus on her exploration of parental authority. This week, I am continuing the discussion by considering the other side of authority: self authority.

Parents have authority in the home, but we need to recognize that our children have been given a certain degree of authority too. Their authority, like ours, has been given by God. Their authority is the responsibility they have for their own learning.

Education Is a Feast

Throughout her philosophy of education, Mason uses the analogy of a feast to describe what education ought to be. Imagine Christmas dinner. When you sit down to share this celebratory meal with your family, you do not expect to be served only one kind of food. If all you got served was meat that was two days old and had already been chewed up for you, you would feel pretty disappointed and would likely not want to eat at all. The expectation is that the Christmas dinner table will be full of all kinds of food—rich, delicious, nourishing food that will feed your body the nutrients that it needs while tasting amazing. There will be plenty and there will be variety. And being a special meal, it will be the best food that the cook is able to produce for such a special occasion. This is the analogy that Mason has in mind when she discusses education. The teacher/parent supplies a well-ordered, varied, and nourishing feast of living books filled with living ideas. Mason explains over and over that ideas are the food for the mind. And ideas themselves are found in living books. These living books should be of the best quality that will nourish the mind with ideas of history, science, geography, art, music, and all areas that touch humanity. Since children are born persons, made in the image of God, their mind has the same capabilities as yours to deal with these ideas for themselves.

Learning Is Their Responsibility

“All school work should be conducted in such a manner that children are aware of the responsibility of learning; it is their business to know that which has been taught.” Vol. 6, pg. 74

Self-authority means that it is up to the children to “deal with these educational offerings in their own way and for themselves.” This is where Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education diverges greatly from the traditional school/teacher mindset of how to educate children. It is tempting to want to hand feed them to make sure they ‘know’ all the facts. To drill them to oblivion to make sure they ‘get’ it all. We, in a sense, want to chew up their food for them. But what does that say about how we view the child? Do we believe that they are capable of dealing with ideas for themselves, or is it necessary to chop it all up and pre-package it with nice little fill-in-the-blank worksheets and comprehension questions? When we chop it all up we have decided for them what their minds should take away from a lesson. Instead of predigesting knowledge for them, the role of the teacher is to provide the best and most nourishing “food” through living books and allow the children to digest the food (ideas) and take what nutrition their mind needs for themselves. Teachers are to give the children the best books and let them do the work of knowing.* This is how they learn to think. Children need to be allowed to develop their own relationships with history, science, geography, and especially God. Lets not deprive their minds of the food’s nourishing properties but instead allow their mind to do its own work.* It is their responsibility to know.

We Are Made To Know

“But to make yourself attend, make yourself know, this indeed is to come into a king-all the more satisfying to children because they are so made that they revel in knowledge.” Vol 6. pg. 77

Remember when you went to the zoo and the children got excited seeing “Prickly Porky” the porcupine and proceeded to tell you all about their quills and their diet because you had read about them with delight in The Burgess Animal Book? Remember when you read Robinson Crusoe to your daughter and she earnestly interrupted you to tell you why Robinson shouldn’t have been complaining, but should have been grateful? Remember when you read that chapter in the history book about the steam engine being built, and she became excited as she remembered reading about the steam engine in her science book, making a beautiful connection between the invention and the time period for herself, while telling you all about it? We are made to know. We are made to revel in knowledge.

Mason’s lofty vision for education is “that children grow to revel in knowledge. That knowledge for its own sake is satisfying.” This might sound idealistic, but if we consider that children are creatures that bear the image of the Creator, isn’t it possible that these children, born with capable minds, are able to know and be satisfied in that knowledge?

It is true that children will not always want to know everything that is set before them. But why should that alter what is offered to them? They should want to know. The responsibility for knowing should be kept with them. Their minds have been created by God for the work of knowing. So as parents, we need to make it clear that this is what God requires of them. They will also learn the habit of wanting to know through a continual offering of the feast. We can hinder our children’s love for learning by repeating lessons instead of requiring them to pay attention the first time around. We can aid this growth by reducing the effort of their decisions through developing routines and habits as part of their school day.* This also removes the constant negotiating of the child to do what he wants to do rather than what ought to be done. This training in “mechanical obedience will set them in good stead for reasonable obedience later.”

Mason explains,

“The man who can make himself do what he will has the world before him, and it rests with parents to give their children this self-compelling power as a mere matter of habit.” Vol 3. pg. 20

Obedience

Parental authority (discussed in this post) and a child’s self-authority are the two conditions which Mason believed were necessary to secure the willing obedience of the children.

“Two conditions are necessary to secure all proper docility and obedience and, given these two, there is seldom a conflict of wills between teacher and pupils. The conditions are,—the teacher, or other head may not be arbitrary but must act so evidently as one under authority that the children, quick to discern, see that he too must do the things he ought; and therefore that regulations are not made for his convenience… The other condition is that children should have a fine sense of the freedom which comes of knowledge which they are allowed to appropriate as they choose, freely given with little intervention from the teacher.” Vol 6. pg.73-74

Children will not always obey all of the time. They are sinners just as we are. We live in a sinful world. Just as we sin and fall short of the glory of God, so too children sin and fall short of the glory of God. They will disobey. There will be times when discipline is required. But Mason believed that the establishment of this principle of authority will give surer footing for both teacher and taught. We will help our children toward obedience when they observe and are taught that parents are under the authority of God just as they are. They are to obey because parents are to obey. We will also help the children by showing them that the responsibility for learning is on them. They will come to understand that if they do not attend, if they do not give their full attention, if they do not make themselves know, they will not know. There is also joy in learning for the child who knows that they have freedom to deal with the educational offerings themselves. They more happily obey because of this freedom. These two principles will help to establish a right thinking of what the role of the parent and the student is and what God has created them for. We have been created to know. We have been created to know Him first, and then to know about what He has created. The responsibility for learning is on each individual for themselves. When this self authority is established, it is more joyfully attended to as we spread the educational feast fit for the minds of these persons.

*how to do this will be discussed in later principles.

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

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 Our Homeschool Look Like? – Our Schedule (Year 1)

A couple of weeks ago I shared our year 1 Booklist.
I thought perhaps it may be helpful to see how I have scheduled out our homeschool week. I have used Week 9 from the Ambleside Online weekly schedule which we follow, as a sample week, with the additional work which we actually did do in week 9, to hopefully make the schedule more meaningful.

So here it is:

20121030-214948.jpg

This schedule is pretty fluid. We don’t always do each subject in this exact order. Depending on what else is going on in life, we may switch the days on which certain subjects are done. But that’s one of the many joys of homeschooling, right? I don’t want a schedule to get in the way of the many educational opportunities that occur naturally everyday.

Even though I don’t always keep to exactly what’s here, all the work is completed by the end of the week. Well, almost all of it. I have been terrible at doing much with handicrafts. I need to be better organised. And while the goal for bible is to read a few verses everyday from an historical book and have daughter narrate, the reality is it often gets dropped off the schedule, and, to my shame, is really only once a week at the moment. This bible reading is not our family devotion time (which dear husband leads faithfully each night at the dinner table), but is in addition to our family devotion time. Just thinking about it now, perhaps every day is not necessary anyway, since devotions are everyday. Hmmm…I’ll have to think on that one.

Anyway, this is how it is at the moment. Hope it’s useful.

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