Mum To Mom

Musings of an Aussie Mother Living in the USA

Tag: Homeschooling (page 1 of 2)

My Homeschool Vision Statement

July has been the month of planning our homeschool year (for all my Aussie peeps, the American school year usually begins around Aug/Sept). For the last week or two, I have been locked in our study surrounded by school books, spreadsheets, and checklists. I always begin the process hoping to get the majority of our year mapped out, checklists filled in, and lesson plans written for the entire year so that I have less to do from week to week. I am yet to achieve this hope, but I will have the first term completed, which is a good start. This year was different. I began the process with something that I have never done before: I wrote a homeschool vision statement. Pam Barnhill has encouraged moms for many years to begin planning with a vision statement. She even gave a webinar once about it, and I believe she teaches about it in her planning courses. This year, I finally did it.

So often, planning can become mechanical. Find the curriculum. Fill in the timeslots in your planner. Begin pre-reading the books. Make a list of materials needed. Get the materials. Familiarize yourself with the lessons. Make a note of any discussion questions, science LABS, note-booking etc. etc and put those in the lesson plans/checklists. Do all of these x4 students. The process of planning can overshadow the reason why you began to homeschool in the first place.

The planning we do at the beginning of the year can also leave us disappointed at the end of the year. The hopes we had at the beginning are barely recognizable as we limp over the finish line. The end of the last three school years have left me anxious and overwhelmed. My school year never finishes as perfectly as I want it to. My children struggled in certain areas so that they didn’t make as much progress as I had planned. There were areas where our homeschool did not reflect the ideal atmosphere and philosophy that I so often write about here. We didn’t check all of the boxes. I dropped the ball on dictation, memory work, and (fill-in-the-blank). My kids didn’t do all the extra-curricular activities that I see my friends’ kids doing. I must have failed them. Somewhere in the middle of the year I lose sight of my reasons and hopes for homeschool and become overwhelmed with all the things. Maybe this is just a reflection of my own personality and the tension I feel between the ideal and the real, but this is how it has gone for me every year.

I knew that to begin planning this coming school year in this state of mind was not a good place to start. I needed to remember why I chose to homeschool before I even thought about filling in checklists. This drove me to prayer. I have prayed for specific areas of my children’s education before, mostly the areas of struggle, as well as my own keenly felt limitations in teaching my kids, but I have never prayed for our homeschool generally, or planning, itself. I have never begun my planning with prayer. Let me tell you, prayer changes everything. It is an acknowledgment that you have limitations and that you need help from our omnipotent, ever-present God. It is an acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty over all things, including our well-laid plans. As I have come to realize, my well-laid plans do not always turn out the way I want them to. But our year has been exactly what God intended. “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) God’s plans always work out. And they are for our good and His glory. This month, I have prayed constantly for every child, every subject, every checklist. Not because prayer is a magic potion that will make our homeschool perfect, but because I need God. None of it is meaningful without acknowledging Him as being at the center of it all and that He is trustworthy and faithful to do His will in our homeschool.

After much prayer, I wrote my vision statement. I printed this out and put it in the front of my homeschool binder. I want to always have it right in front of me. Every time I open my binder to do the next lesson, my vision is before me. When difficulties come along, when a shiny new curriculum makes me doubt what we are currently doing and tempt me to throw it all away and start again, when my plans seem to fall apart at the seams, I can remember why we are doing what we are doing. I can hold fast to these principles that will withstand all the bends and curves of life, trust God, and press on. In addition to my vision statement, I also took the time to write specific goals for each of my kids that I keep in front of me as I make plans for their school year. These include specific subjects and skills, weaknesses and strengths that I want to focus on for each child this coming year. This meant taking a reality check on what was the priority for each child this year. Even though I wish I were, I am not Wonder Woman, and I cannot give focused attention on every area, for every child, all the time. Writing goals for each of my children helped me to see where my time is best spent with each child. I will not share my goals for my children with you since they are personal, but here is my homeschool vision statement for 2019/2020. I encourage you to think about writing one for yourself. If you already have one, what has been the benefit to you? What have you learned from it? Has it changed? I’d love to hear from you.

Vision Statement

I want my children to love and worship the one true God, pursue holiness, dwell on what is true, seek what is good, love what is lovely, and do what is right with all diligence and perseverance in order that they may glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

I want my children to desire wisdom and knowledge and develop the skills to pursue knowledge and wisdom for themselves.

The knowledge that I desire my children to know, delight in, and pursue is the knowledge of God, the knowledge of man, and the knowledge of the universe. The delight for this knowledge is most readily cultivated through living books. The supreme living book being the Bible.

I want my children to learn to think for themselves and be able to articulate their thoughts and ideas clearly in both oral and written forms.

I want them to learn the reading, writing, math, and thinking skills necessary to participate and contribute in society as godly, patriotic, and useful citizens.

The Discipline of Habit – Part 2

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A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles: Principle 5b & 7 – Part 2

Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments – [the second being] the discipline of habit…
By “education is a discipline,” we mean the discipline of habits, formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structures to habitual lines of thought, i.e. to our habits.

You do not have to search far on the internet or in bookstores to find helpful advice in ways to develop habits. In fact, I highly recommend Atomic Habits by James Clear as a very practical and research-based method of developing habits. In my last post, I discussed Mason’s “why” and “what” of habit training. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend that you do before you read on. Today I am discussing “how.” Since this is part of my study of Charlotte Mason’s 20 principles, I am choosing to limit this discussion to what stood out to me from what she said. It is by no means comprehensive but a very good starting place for a mother to think about how to train her children in the habits discussed in my previous post.

Begin with the person

Habit training begins with Mason’s first principle, “Children are born persons.” They have desires and affections, conscience and a sense of duty, just as we do. They have both physical and intellectual characteristics and skills that are inherited or learned through family culture. They are particular ages with strengths and weaknesses. We take who they are as a person into account first. Then…

Teach them to do what is right

“…[it is] as much the parent’s duty to educate his child into moral strength and purpose and intellectual activity as it is to feed him and clothe him; and that in spite of his nature, if it must be so.” Vol 1, p103

Considering a child’s age, abilities, and dispositions, children are often not capable or naturally inclined to compel themselves at first to do and think the right thing. They need us to show them the way first, require them to do what is right, and lead them toward right thinking and doing for themselves as they grow in maturity.

“He depends upon his parents; it rests with them to initiate the thoughts he shall think, the desires he shall cherish, the feelings he shall allow. Only to initiate; no more is permitted to them; but from this initiation will result the habits of thought and feeling which govern the man––his character, that is to say.”

As mothers, there are many ways that we already naturally do this. We see the sins, flaws, and vices of our children and we take pains to correct and educate them in right behavior to replace the wrong. For example, it is often automatic for a mother to tell a child, “say please” before giving them something that they have asked for, and “say thank you” when they have received it. Then, when they have learned the required responses (habits of manners), we no longer prompt them with “say please.” Instead, we ask, “what do you say?” requiring them to think and remember for themselves what the required way of asking for something is. Once we have proceeded with this for a short while, we then do not need to prompt with words at all. We simply withhold that which the child has asked for until they have remembered to ask with the required “please” and responded equally to the receiving of the thing with the required “thank you.” This is very natural for a mother to do. The training of manners becomes a habit and part of the atmosphere of the home.

Reduce the strain of decision

“The effort of decision, we have seen, is the greatest effort of life; not the doing of the thing, but the making up of one’s mind as to which thing to do first.”p119

When we show the children that we expect a certain behavior every time, we take the decision making out of the equation. For example, if we want them to develop a habit of making their bed in the morning, we must take the decision away from the children whether or not they will choose to make their bed in the morning. There is no choice. They must. It is required. That is it. No more discussion. I find checklists especially invaluable for this kind of training in habits of cleanliness, neatness, and order around the home. This dovetails nicely with James Clear’s third principle of behavior change: Make it easy. “You just need to get your reps in.” (Atomic Habits, p143) By removing the effort of decision and requiring a certain behavior everyday, you are helping the children practice a behavior which becomes an automatic habit.

“Here, no doubt, come in the functions of parents and teachers; they should be able to make the child do that which he lacks the power to compel himself to. But it were poor training that should keep the child dependent upon personal influence. It is the business of education to find some way of supplementing that weakness of will which is the bane of most of us as well as of the children.” Vol 1, p99-100

Expect them to do it for themselves

Mason touches on this idea over and over and over again. We train our children with the expectation that they can and should do it for themselves. This is true in math as much as it is true in learning to make themselves a nutritious lunch. Our family motto has become “never do for a child what they can do for themselves.” If Mason herself didn’t say it, the idea is firmly rooted in this principle of training children to do the work of learning for themselves.

Once a habit is established, don’t allow it to slide.

The critical moment is after a habit is established -— you might be tempted to let him off “this once. He is tired.” But this undoes everything. It teaches them to think that it’s not important.

I had a friend tell me a few weeks ago that her daughter’s track coach cautioned the team not to ease up on running over the summer break. They were to keep it up because the coach was aware of research that showed that when a physical habit, such as running, is relaxed to the point where they miss more than a week, their physical ability reverts back further than where they were when they first started. This is especially true for girls and running. To allow the relaxing of a habit will undo all the hard work of establishing the habit in the first place and may set you back even further.

It is important to remember that it doesn’t take the same amount of work to maintain a habit once established as it does to form it in the first place. It requires diligence to stay on top of it but nowhere near the same effort to maintain it. Think about your habit of brushing your teeth. When you were a 3-year-old learning to brush your teeth every day, it required all your will power plus the insistence of Mom, to brush your teeth well every day. But now that you are an adult and this habit is firmly entrenched, you no longer exert any of the energy you first did. It is now so automatic you barely think about it at all. This is true for our children as well.

Here are the steps again.

General steps to form a habit

1. Teach it.
2. Look with expectancy that they can do it. Say little and allow the child to do their own work of thinking through the steps.
3. After 2-3 weeks the habit should be formed.
4. Do not allow dawdling to come back in at this point. New brain pathways have been forged and to go back on them at this point would undo the habit forming.

When is a habit successful?

“The education of habit is successful in so far as it enables the mother to let her children alone, not teasing them with perpetual commands and directions––a running fire of Do and Don’t; but letting them go their own way and grow, having first secured that they will go the right way, and grow to fruitful purpose.” Vol 1, p134

We train them in habits first by instructing them in the way of the habit, then let them think of it and do it for themselves. Once they know how, they need to think through the steps themselves and then do them. Resist the urge to prod them for each step. Otherwise, you are training them to rely on your memory, rather than their own. If they really can’t remember then, of course, help them. But always toward the purpose of having them learn and do it for themselves.

Developing specific habits pertaining to their education

Habit of thinking

  • Give them the right sort of lessons — Give them books!

“We need not labour to get children to learn their lessons; that, if we would believe it, is a matter which nature takes care of. Let the lessons be of the right sort and children will learn them with delight.” Vol 6, p99

James Clear says that the second law of behavior change is “make it attractive.” Mason is essentially saying the same thing. Make the lessons delightful. Mason believed that rich meaty ideas through well-written living books of a narrative nature are the feast that is naturally engaging and delightful to the minds of children. Ideas are stimulating food for the mind and will grow their thinking muscle.

  • Sow the idea lightly and casually — Give them books!

“It is possible to sow a great idea lightly and casually and perhaps this sort of sowing should be rare and casual because if a child detect a definite purpose in his mentor he is apt to stiffen himself against it.”p102

Mason says the best way is to give the children great books with heroes of good character from which to train habits of right thinking that, over time, give rise in the children’s minds to gain the same opinion.

In Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about identity as the deepest aspect of behavior change. How you identify yourself, what you believe about yourself, has a deep impact on what you do. It is the difference between thinking, “I try to run” compared with, “I am a runner.” The person who identifies as being a runner will be more motivated to run every day than someone who just tries to run. How we identify ourselves matters. As we give living books to our children that contain ideas of honor, nobleness, compassion, faithfulness, etc. the hope is that our children will take these ideas as their own—that these ideas will become part of their identity. In other words, that virtuous ideas become part of their habit of thinking which, Lord willing, will result in good doing.

When E-age-10 (at the time) and I read about the life of Teddy Roosevelt, we were astounded at the boundless energy, the zest for life, and the sheer amount of activity he fit into any given day. Whatever you think about his politics, the ideas of working hard and using your time wisely that came out through this book have not been lost on my daughter. They continue to work, albeit under the surface, to form her habits of thinking virtuously which, Lord willing, will produce good doing.

“We have seen the value of habit in mind and morals, religion and physical development. It is as we have seen disastrous when child or man learns to think in a groove, and shivers like an unaccustomed bather on the steps of a new notion. This danger is perhaps averted by giving children as their daily diet the wise thoughts of great minds, and of many great minds; so that they may gradually and unconsciously get the courage of their opinions. If we fail in this duty, so soon as the young people get their ‘liberty’ they will run after the first fad that presents itself; try it for a while and then take up another to be discarded in its turn, and remain uncertain and ill-guided for the rest of their days.”p104

Habit of attention

The habit of attention is giving complete attention of our minds to what it should be on at a given time so that we can know it and recollect it later. If you have ever experienced your mind wondering off when it should be listening to a sermon (or to your husband!), or giving it’s full attention to the book that you are reading, or writing a paper, you know that it requires rigorous effort of will to stay focused and give full attention to what it is you are doing. To train the habit of attention in our children now will be of great value to them, not just during their education, but in all of life.

“‘habit is ten natures,’ and we can all imagine how our work would be eased if our subordinates listened to instructions with the full attention which implies recollection” Vol 6, p 100

Steps to training habit of attention (from Vol 1, p137-148)

  •  Definite work in a definite time. – (Mason says 20 minutes for a child under 8) One time is not ‘as good as another.’ When it is time for math, that is what must be given complete attention for the full amount of time. Do not allow daydreaming or a wondering mind. This works in combination with…
  • Short lessons – Don’t let the time for the lesson go longer than a child can keep their full attention. Mason says 20 minutes for a child under 8. Sometimes, when my children first began formal lessons, or when a new concept is particularly hard, they have needed a shorter lesson time than even this. I gradually built up the time over a few weeks as they were able to give full attention for longer. “When a child grows stupid over a lesson, it is time to put it away” vol 1, p141. This helps to strengthen the habit of attention rather than give them the opportunity to develop the habit of inattention by daydreaming. (Full disclosure – I have one child that is a daydreamer by nature. This is an area we are STILL working on. Studying this principle has shown me that I need to be extra diligent in addressing the habit of attention for this child. Educating is for the long haul, mamas. Don’t grow weary of doing good.)
  • Alternating lessons. sums first, say, while the brain is quite fresh; then writing, or reading––some more or less mechanical exercise, by way of a rest; and so on, the program varying a little from day to day, but the same principle throughout––a ‘thinking’ lesson first, and a ‘painstaking’ lesson to follow,––the child gets through his morning lessons without any sign of weariness.”(Vol 1, p142)
    This is also the antidote to weariness in a lesson. If your child grows “stupid” over a lesson before you have finished the allotted time, put it away and do something completely different. Then go back to it when “wits are refreshened.”
  • Use Natural Rewards.––”What is the natural consequence of work well and quickly done? Is it not the enjoyment of ampler leisure?”p143 Assign an amount of work in a given time. If they get it done early, the rest of the lesson time is theirs. My children usually choose to go onto the next lesson and accumulate their free time for the end of the school day, while others will choose to use the spare minutes straight away to do something they enjoy at the time.
  • Natural Reward for the older child. — When an older child is taught to bring “ his own will to bear; to make himself attend in spite of the most inviting suggestions from without,” he should be taught to feel satisfaction and triumph in fixing his thoughts on what he ought.
  • Use Natural Consequences — If a child does not give full attention to his work and does not complete definite work in a reasonably given amount of time, a natural consequence could be that he loses his free time at the end of the school day to complete the work he should have already completed due to lack of attention. This may mean that the extracurricular activity scheduled for the end of the day will have to be missed because the child did not give the attention he ought to have during class time. It would not take very long for a child to see the wisdom of definite work in a definite time :).

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

The Discipline of Habit – Part 1

Habits photo

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles: Principle 5b & 7 – Part 1

Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments – [the second being] the discipline of habit…
By “education is a discipline,” we mean the discipline of habits, formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structures to habitual lines of thought, i.e. to our habits.

There is so much to be said in the area of habits. In fact, Charlotte Mason herself said a lot. There was a LOT of reading for this principle, y’all! In order to unpack it in a way that was helpful to me, I organized the ideas into three different questions. Why is the idea of the discipline of habit important in education? What did Mason consider were the habits of the mind and the body? How do we initiate the formation of these habits in our homes? For the sake of length, this post will be concerned with the first two questions. The ‘how’ will be addressed in a separate post.

Why is the idea of the discipline of habit important in education?

1. It makes life easier

“But the most comfortable thing in this view of habit is, that it falls in with our natural love of an easy life. We are not unwilling to make efforts in the beginning with the assurance that by-and-by things will go smoothly; and this is just what habit is, in an extraordinary degree, pledged to effect.” Vol 1, p136

This is the most obvious and well-known reason for the establishment of habits. A plethora of self-help and productivity books have been written about habits with this purpose in mind. As Mason points out, our natural desire is to make life easier. Decision fatigue is a real thing which Mason discusses at length. She describes the strain that making a lot of decisions can have on a person. It is a burden which can easily become too much to bear. Imagine needing to make the decision every morning to get out of bed, to brush your teeth, to eat your meals, to brush your hair. For most of us, we don’t have to make the decision to do these things every day. We just do them out of habit. No mental energy has been expended to complete our morning routine and get ready for the day. We just do it. Habits take the decision out of what is to be done next. As Mystie Winkler often says, just do the right next thing.

Mason explains that we want the children to do the work of learning for themselves. Developing habits of mind and body is the best way to help them take ownership of their work, know the right next thing to do, and avoid the strain of making decisions about what the right thing to do is.

2. Habits are inevitable
Mason points out that our very natures prove that habits will form whether we purposely instill them or not. The question is, will they be good habits or bad? More often than not, left to ourselves, without any purposeful action toward establishing right habits, we will tend to establish unhelpful bad habits, naturally seeking the ease of life rather than the work of a good life. Therefore, establishing right habits is all the more important in the education of our children.

“We have lost sight of the fact that habit is to life what rails are to transport cars. It follows that lines of habit must be laid down towards given ends and after careful survey, or the joltings and delays of life become insupportable. More, habit is inevitable. If we fail to ease life by laying down habits of right thinking and right acting, habits of wrong thinking and wrong acting fix themselves of their own accord.” Vol 6, P101

3. Brain science tells us that habits restructure the brain.
Mason was greatly impressed with new brain research showing that pathways in the brain are rewired through habitual activity. The latest habit book I have read, Atomic Habits, also refers to current studies on the power of habits to the brain.

“We all know something of the genesis of a habit, and most of us recognise its physical basis, i.e. that frequently-repeated thoughts or acts leave some sort of register in the brain tissue which tends to make the repetition of such thoughts, at first easy, and at last automatic.”vol 3, p105

4. Establishes tools for good living in adulthood.
“training in habit becomes a habit.” (Vol 1, p126)

By initiating habits in the home, you not only equip your children with good, intentional, and thorough habits for the time they live in your home, you also give them the tools to continue to develop their own good habits of mind and body into the rest of their lives.

“habit is like fire, a bad master but an indispensable servant;” Vol 6, p101

5. Reinforces the idea of authority.
This idea is developed by Mason in Volume 3, when she talks about the training of physical habits. She says that through physical training, the idea of “living under authority, training under authority, serving under authority” (Vol 3, p103) can be brought to bear. Through habit a person is taught to bring their body into subjection first to his parents, then to his own will, and always under the authority of God. (I discussed the idea of authority in this post and this post.)

6. Prepares for a life of service
The training in habits prepares the children to be fit for whatever plans God has for them. Mason explains that the Greeks disciplined their bodies so that they were prepared for any heroic feats that the ‘gods’ would ask of them. How much more should our children, who we raise to serve the living true God, develop habits of mind and body in order that they would be prepared to serve Him in whatever capacity He places them. It prepares them to love their neighbor.

“we are empirically certain that a chief function of education is the establishment of such ways of thinking in children as shall issue in good and useful living, clear thinking, aesthetic enjoyment, and, above all, in the religious life.” – Vol 6, p100

What are the Habits of the Mind?

1. Habit of Attention
“You want them to remember? Then secure his whole attention.” (Vol 1, p157)

The development of the habit of attention is a significant aspect of Mason’s philosophy of education. She believed it was so important to develop the habit of fixing a child’s thoughts completely on what it should be on at that moment.

“no intellectual habit is so valuable as that of attention; it is a mere habit but it is also the hall-mark of an educated person.” Vol 6, p99

“A vigorous effort of will should enable us at any time to fix our thoughts.” (Vol 1, p137) A person’s capacity for mental effort is reduced when allowed to wonder off or day dream. Mason believed that overpressure or burn out was a result of a failure of the habit of attention. The children are so overly distracted that the lesson becomes overburdensome for lack of attention. She had much to say about how this habit should be developed which I hope to discuss in the next post.

2. Religious Life
Mason discusses the benefit of requiring participation in liturgy and religious habits. It encourages the religious life to be “fixed and delightful and give us due support in the effort to live a godly, righteous and sober life.” (Vol 6, p103) I do not remember reading Mason outlining religious habits specifically in the readings for this principle, but we can assume she means prayer, Scripture reading, and worship.

3. Thinking
This is the development of right thinking that results in right living. It can be seen as synonymous with ‘wisdom and knowledge’ so often referred to in the Bible. It is clear thinking that asks and attempts to answer their own questions. “Every walk should offer some knotty problem for the children to think out.” (Vol 1, p194) It is the development of tracing effect from cause, or cause from effect, comparing alike and different, and drawing conclusions as to causes or consequences from certain premises.

4. Morals
Although this is not a comprehensive list, Mason draws specific attention to obedience, “obedience the whole duty of a child” (Vol 1, p161) as well as sense of honor, gentleness, kindness, candor, respect, truthfulness, temper (keeping his temper).

Other habits of the mind briefly mentioned to work on in the education of children were concentration, thoroughness, intellectual volition, accuracy, reflection, remembering, and meditation.

As we consider these habits of the mind, Mason warns parents to be careful to not look to:

“‘What will people say? what will people think? how will it look?’ [so that] the children grow up with habits of seeming, and not of being; they are content to appear well-dressed, well-mannered, and well-intentioned to outsiders, with very little effort after beauty, order, and goodness at home, and in each other’s eyes.” Vol 1, p106

What are the habits of the body?

1. Cleanliness, Neatness, and Order
After the children have been allowed to enjoy all the messy play that is foundational to childhood, Mason impresses the importance of training them to be anxious to clean themselves of any dirt from play, bathe themselves daily, and tidy and restore order to any messes they have made. All things to be put away in their place. She stresses the importance of having the children clean up for themselves. “The pleasure grown-up people take in waiting on children is really a fruitful source of mischief.” (Vol 1, p127)

2. Manners, elocution, music, singing, health, and physical fitness
These physical skills that Mason also identified should not require much explanation. These skills are improved and made easier through repetition. That is, through habit. The benefits of developing habits in these areas for the individual are discussed in books and blog posts all over the internet. But the highest benefit, as has already been discussed earlier in this post, is to glorify God and to love and serve others with our bodies.

Mason also identifies that physical activity such as playing on the field also helps to develop habits that she calls half physical and half moral. That is, habits of good character that develop through both habits of mind and body. These are:

1. Self-restraint – no overindulgence of food or activities. Also, the habit of restraining discontentedness as well as idleness.
2. Self-control – being “impervious to small annoyances.” That is, practicing the habit of self-control of emotional outbursts, “cheerful under small inconveniences” and ready for action with “presence of mind.” Self-control results in having mind and emotions in submission to your will so that you can act and respond reasonably in a given situation.
3. Self-discipline – In behavior, address, courtesy, deportment (conduct), tones of voice, tidying own messes.
4. Alertness – that is, developing the habit of alertness to seize opportunities of getting knowledge.
5. Quick perception.
6. Fortitude – to bear pain and inconvenience without making a sign.
7. Others – stimulating ideas, service, prudence, courage, and chastity.

This is a formidable list of habits that may seem overwhelming. You might, as I do, see a vast array of habits that you, yourself, need to work on, let alone train your children in. Mason herself acknowledges that forming habits requires certain “strenuousness.” As a mom of four, if I were to try to work on all of these at one time, this list would be unattainable. There are practical things we can do to help develop these habits for ourselves as well as our children which I will discuss in the next post, but as Cindy Rollins often says, we are in this for the “long haul.” We need to keep in mind that we will not always see results in the immediate future. These habits develop little by little over the many years that the children are with us, as part of the atmosphere of our homes. We need to allow ourselves grace to work on what is possible with much prayer and supplication, and leave the rest. We need to remember to lean not on our own strength but on the Lord’s. We can rest in the knowledge that God is faithful. He never slumbers nor sleeps and is working in us and in our children even when we are exhausted and do no more. We can trust in the knowledge that “we do not labor in the dark.” (Vol 3, p99) We do not labor in vain.

My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
* Psalm 121:2-4

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

2018/2019 End-of-Year Round Up

Last year, I began the tradition of interviewing my kids about how they felt about their school year. This year my girls finished 4th, 5th, and 7th grade using Ambleside Online’s Years 4, 5, and 7. These are their reflections followed by my own.

G-Age-9(AO4)

Favorite subjects/books
My favorite books are Kidnapped, Incredible Journey, the Roman gods one (Age Of Fable) and George Washington’s World. And George Washington is my favorite subject.

Area that I grew the most in this year
Cursive and reading, but mostly cursive.

Area I need to work on the most
Spelling.

The most interesting topic in history
George Washington. He saved America.

The most interesting topic in science
The submarine.

What was the hardest thing this year?
Reading and spelling and math.

Is there anything that you would change or add?
I would add breaks in between hard things. I think I might change it to Morning Time first and math would go after the first reading. And all the hard things would go after a reading, and then a reading would go after the hard thing. Like, reading, math, reading, cursive… (this is already how we typically structure our day. She wants the first hard thing we do to be Math instead of cursive like it was this year).

Things that you felt did not go well in our homeschool this year
I thought that Nessy was horrible (reading curriculum), math was exhausting, and that Abigail Adams and Inventions (The Story of Inventions) was just a really hard book to read and understand. And I partially did typing but I stopped.

Any supplies you wish you had
A drawing kit with erasers, sharpener, pencils, pastels, maybe some markers. And maybe the hard paper-the watercolor paper, and a sleeping mask and a pair of slippers that fit me.

Anything else
On the good days, it’s fine. On the bad days when I haven’t had good sleep, it is stressful and I don’t do good at narrating.

Best part of your homeschool day
I think Morning Time and spending time with my parents.

I am most proud of
My narrations.

I am pretty good at
Liking the books Mom reads to me.

Next year I hope to
Be better at reading.

E-Age-10(AO5)

Favorite subjects/books
Math and doing the readings. Sometimes I like to write the copywork because it’s fun to write. My favorite books are George Washington Carver, Oliver Twist, Theodore Roosevelt (Carry a Big Stick), and the inventions book (The Story of Inventions). I like history. I liked The Story of the World and This Country of Ours and I also liked Of Courage Undaunted and Kim. So I basically liked all my books. But my favorite books is like, a little bit from every history book, Oliver Twist, Theodore Roosevelt, and Inventions. I like them because they are interesting. If they weren’t interesting I probably wouldn’t pay attention as much.

Area that I grew the most in this year
Math and history. History of all the presidents I get to write down on the timeline. And so probably, in other years, when I’m a grown up and teach my kids I could just go back, look at mine, and show them as an example of what I did, so they would want to do what I did. And then they will be able to do their children if they have kids. So you can just look back and see all the work you’ve done and you just get proud of it.

Area I need to work on the most
Concentration. I wander off and think of other things like my favorite TV show and I don’t pay attention that much and so I miss the main of the story. I also need to practice learning math. Even though it is quite easy, I just get lazy and then I have to do math in the summer, even though it’s a school break, because I got lazy in the middle of the year and I did less math and so now I have to pay the consequences.

The most interesting topic in history
How all the presidents… and how the President, Thomas Jefferson sent people down to see how big America was. And it was BIG. And they actually made friends with a lot of Indians. And Thomas Jefferson was wise. He said, “If you can’t make friends with the Indians, stop and don’t go on any further, because we don’t want a war with any Indians.”

The most interesting topic in science
The parts of the body. I like to know how it’s made because, if you don’t know how your body is made, it’s like using a machine but you don’t know how it works. Because if you’re a doctor, you need to know what to do … [a lot of examples omitted for length]. I also liked Inventions. They are a little bit history but also science.

Is there anything that you would change or add?
No.

Things that you felt did not go well in our homeschool this year
I think we should have been constant reading the bible and doing Morning Time every day. Because sometimes we’d forget. And the things that didn’t go well is that I would always finish it very quickly because it would be easy and fun. I would start off school really early but then for most of the day I didn’t have anything to do so I grew bored and needed more school.

Anything else
To make things fun even though it’s hard. Make like a fun project. Like, if you’re learning math and it’s a hard question, you could just, “how many questions can you do in this time?” Or if that does not help me, you could say, “well, just do this section of math questions.” And once I’ve finished that section I would be like, “yay, I’ve finished.” You can be like, “how about you do a little bit more.” And then I can get all the math done. Or you can separate it into sections… like I do when I tidy my room.

Any supplies you wish you had
More knowledge and wisdom and to learn to control my temper when I get frustrated that I can’t work out the question of math.

Best part of your homeschool day
The readings and being satisfied that I have actually learned something.

I am most proud of
That I can understand math and I can understand my history and read it well. And learning the science about the body. So I have all this knowledge. And I am proud that I have a great mother who can teach me things. And that I write down the president’s names and it just helps me memorize them.

I am pretty good at
Reading. Because Mom taught me in a fun way.

Next year I hope to
Improve of my concentration and to help to understand the math and not think of other things while I’m reading. I just hope I can get the things done and won’t have to be slack in math so I won’t have to do it in the summer.

A-Age-12(AO7)

Favorite subjects/books
My favorite book I read this year wasn’t a school book. It was David Copperfield. It was really fun and enjoyable and you got to learn about the characters. They showed different parts of human personalities and different people and it was really fun.

My favorite school book this year… I had a lot of favorites. I liked Fallacy Detective, How To Be Your Own Selfish Pig, Freedom (In Freedom’s Cause), The Brendan Voyage, and a lot of others that I can’t remember the names of.

I liked Selfish Pig because it was funny but also told you how not to be and it had really funny and true descriptions of people who had stopped being a selfish pig. I liked Freedom because I had never really understood that part of history and through the main character, Archie, I was able to understand that. Brendan Voyage was just enjoyable.

Area that I grew the most in this year
Math. Because I worked really really hard on it so I wouldn’t fail the Stanford 10.

Area I need to work on the most
Math.

The most interesting topic in history
War of the Roses because it’s very, very complicated. And if you don’t understand exactly which side is coming from you can be unjustly biased. I still don’t quite understand everything and there are also some really complicated parts where some people don’t do anything, which doesn’t make any sense. And it’s really interesting and people can probably justify themselves pretty logically from being on either side, even though there is only one right side, and that’s the Yorkist. Which, by the way, I am.

The most interesting topic in science
The laws of this world (The Secrets of The Universe). Like the Law of Acceleration. It’s kind of cool.

The best part of our homeschool day
When I get to read my literature and history books because they’re often classics. Or if they’re not classics they are really well written, interesting books that teach you along the way. I like being able to read books and learn and not just have some boring textbook tell me something.

Is there anything that you would change or add?
Figure out some way for me to magically get better at all the hard things. Other than that it’s really helpful that I have a checklist and can just change it to fit the day and what’s happening. So there is not really anything I would like to change.

Things that you felt did not go well in our homeschool this year
Not starting on time. Which then derailed our day which then put us later in the afternoon which then got it all stressful. Then I was grumpy and then other people were grumpy, and we made each other grumpy because we were grumpy and then it just didn’t turn out very well. But that was only a couple of days.

Any supplies you wish you had
There isn’t really any supplies I need. I just need patience because I have everything I need to make my notebooks pretty, but I just need the patience to get it done. At the end of the project I’m like, “yes, this was worth it. It was worthwhile.” But then at the beginning, I’m like, “this is pointless. Why would I do this?” And then halfway through the year, I change my mood, but I have to actually start to get to that halfway point.

I am most proud of
Math because I worked really really hard and I got it all done. I was able to get better at it.

I am pretty good at
I am pretty good at reading and spelling and history and literature and logic. The only subjects I have the most trouble with are Math and Science and Chemistry, which is kind of the same thing.

Next year I hope to
Next year I hope to be done with King Arthur. Because I am sick of it.

Anything else
There is nothing I would like to add because it is fine. Really, really, really, really enjoyable. I think the only feedback I could give wouldn’t be to you, it would be to me… to just get down and do the school and stop with the whining and complaining, because I’m going to have to do it anyway and I always end up doing it so I may as well do it at the beginning and not waste all that time whining and complaining and making it out to be something way worse than it is.

Me

I have said before that I am reading almost all of my eldest daughter’s school books alongside her. Essentially, this year I completed AO7 with her. It was a challenging year for many reasons, but the books, as always, were rich and enjoyable.

Favorite subjects/books
The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer and The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges. These were such rich books and I grew so much in my faith. It was a delight to read these alongside A-Age-12 and discuss them with her.

I also loved The Birth of Britain by Winston Churchill, The Brendan Voyage by Tim Severin, Beowulf, and How the Heather Looks by Joan Bodger.

Area that I grew the most in this year
Time management.

Area I need to work on the most
Consistency in training habits. My own and my children.

The most interesting topic in history
Seeing the development of the parliament and laws for the people.

The most interesting topic in science
Without a doubt The Laws of Science (The Secrets of the Universe by Paul Fleisher). It is incredible how perfect and ordered God made this universe. The relativity of time blew our minds.

What was the hardest thing this year?
Managing different personalities living under the same roof who are with each other all. the. time. This has been very sanctifying.

Is there anything that you would change or add?
Because of an amazing friend who speaks fluent Spanish, I am able to add Spanish back into our curriculum again! Very excited about that.

Things you felt did not go well in our homeschool this year
I had tried moving memorizations out of our Morning Time and into each child’s independent work. They were supposed to manage these themselves. Even though I had their memory work clearly printed on their checklists, the children did not consistently work on memory work like they were supposed to. I had attempted to build in accountability by scheduling weekly recitations of the poems and Scriptures they were working on, however, we were so inconsistent with actually doing this that learning new memory work, especially in the last term, fell apart.

I am most proud of
The answers my children gave in this interview! The ability to self evaluate their strengths and weaknesses will be such a valuable skill for them as they go on in life. I had not intentionally set out to teach them that, but through this interview process, I can see that they are learning to do that.

I am pretty good at
Adjusting a lesson on the fly to suit the situation.

Next year I hope to
Be more consistent with our memory work and keeping timelines and notebooks.

Anything else
I can get so down on myself as I think about all the ways I didn’t meet my own expectation for the year, but listening to the children’s thoughtful answers and seeing how much of the school year they enjoyed and grew has been an incredible encouragement. I am thankful to our sovereign God who is over all and through all and in all. Only by His Grace can I continue to raise and educate these amazing, complex, deep-thinking human beings. Soli Deo Gloria.

Valderi, Valdera: Reflections on Ambleside Online Camp Meeting

I have just got back from spending a wonderful weekend at Ambleside Online’s 2019 Camp Meeting. On the plane ride home I endeavored to collect my thoughts and process all that I had learned from the conference. But as I attempted to reflect, the folksong, The Happy Wanderer, played over and over in my head. “Valderi, Valdera. Valderi, Valdera, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha…” Over and over and over. When Wendi Capehart taught us that song during the conference, she told us that we would be singing it whether we wanted to or not. She was right. At first, I found it irritating that this unwanted folksong persisted in pervading my thoughts. I wanted to be thinking of deep and meaningful things, not a frivolous folksong. But then I decided that instead of fighting with it, I would embrace it. I could not help but smile and even laugh as the song played round in my head.

You try singing, “…valdera, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,” without laughing.

Do you know what? Once I embraced it, it was exactly what I needed at that moment. I was smiling, singing a funny song, and enjoying the moment. It reminded me of something that Cindy Rollins said this weekend. Moms need to be joyful. We homeschool moms, who take educating our children very seriously, can easily forget to be joyful in our work. We worry about doing enough. We worry about doing it right. We agonize over all the ways we aren’t living up to “The Perfect.” This weekend Lynn Bruce exhorted us to put away comparing and seeking the perfect Charlotte Mason education. Because there is no perfect education. There is your family’s education. We have these beautiful persons, given to us for such a short while, full of energy and life and wonder, who we forget to smile at because we’re busy looking at what others are doing and thinking we’re not measuring up. We unwittingly push away those organic Valdera, ha, ha, ha,ha,ha moments and miss out on the very joy that is there for us if we allow ourselves to see it.

This work that we are doing is hard, especially when you’re “in the middle” as Sheila Atchley reminded us. But it is joyful work. It is good work. It is kingdom work. We are not raising or educating careers; we are discipling our children and educating their moral imagination. Wendi taught us that through living books our children learn to imagine what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes. They learn to imagine what it is like to be in other cultures, other ways of life. Through living books, our children are developing empathy for the orphan, empathy for the downcast, empathy for the worker in a factory or a leader of a nation. Wendi explained that there was no need for the “goody goody” (as Charlotte Mason calls them) moralizing book that often hardens the hearts of our children instead of softening them. Because living books bring those character qualities worth emulating to the forefront in living, real characters and life situations. As Tim Laurio, from the progeny panel, told us: the characters become their friends who guide them through life. Their failings and successes and even their words of wisdom, set down in the pages of literature, serve as guideposts for life. This is why living books and narration are so integral to Charlotte Mason’s philosophy.

Mason understood the universal law that “Children are born persons.” Karen Glass taught us that this principle as well as “education is the science of relations” were the pillars from which all Mason’s other principles hinge. As Karen went on to explain, these were principles that Mason observed as already existing. She just wrote them down. Anne White said it well when she stated, “Simple principles simply stated are often the best.” Anne showed us that these principles aren’t for the purpose of serving ourselves, they are for the stewardship and service of others. When we realize that Mason’s education philosophy was in order to develop a character that loves God and loves people, we can be joyful in our work. We can smile and be content and hopeful, as Cindy encouraged us to be, because our work is not for us. And it is not for college. It is for others. And most importantly, it is for God. As Cindy reminded us, we are educating our children for the worship of God.

Donna-Jean Breckenridge emphasized that it is not our job to save our children, but to lead them to one who can. Lead them to His Word — His truth. She explained that we do this by being in His Word and praying. Pray, pray, pray, pray, pray because, as Donna-Jean said, “there is a King over ALL” and we can trust Him. He is faithful. And because He is faithful we can be joyful and sing with the Psalmist:

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

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.

We Are Made To Know

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles: Principle 3 – Part 2

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.

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