Tuesday, May 22, 2018

To the Mother of my Daughter on Mother's Day

"Now the crying song." The teacher smiles a little apologetically as the children all giggle. "I always cry at this movie."

 We are sitting in a first-grade classroom, surrounded by ladies trying to cram their legs under the small desks. We have our children on our laps and the light is dimmed. I am at your daughter's Mother's Day Tea Party.

First the teacher plays a slideshow of class activities from the school year. Math centers, One Hundred Day, field trips. Smiling faces.

Then comes the crying song. A little girl whispers, "Don't cry!" to her mom. The song begins and a video montage of children shows on the screen, projected over a white board schedule of the school day. Newborn pictures. Babies learning to crawl and walk. First birthdays. Splashing in the surf. Children growing up. "Slow down..." the artist sings, and suddenly I am plunged into the blankness of having no memory.

No memory of her newborn face. Her first smile. Her first tooth. I don't know what her first word was. Mommy? Or daddy, kitty, something else? When did she start talking? What was her favorite food? And sitting there, with her snuggled on my lap calling me "mom", I can only think of you.

You held her when she was a newborn. That is only blankness to me.
You watched her learn to walk. I can only guess.
You taught her to pray. Now I listen as she prays for you.

Where are you? What is on your mind this Mother's Day? Do you think of her?

Do you know your children call me "Mom"?

I don't know what could make someone forget a whole life. Leave behind the memories and the home and the children. I don't know your pain. But I think of you often; when I rock your baby, when it's time for new shoes, when I see the "A"s on report cards. When they draw their family for a school project and it's me, not you, labeled with a crooked "MOM".

When I hear them singing, "God's not Dead" as loudly as they can, remembering how it was their favorite song, how you played it in the car for them. I don't judge you. I know life is hard and you have demons to face. I just wish you could have faced those demons instead of running. I wish you hadn't given up.

The song ends but I can't get the thoughts out of my head. I go through the motions. We have our tea, eat our cookies. We taste each other's treats and then trade. She tries to finish my cinnamon tea but it's too strong, and we laugh.

She takes me on a tour of the classroom and we talk about books. She loves to read. Does she get that from you? We admire the mother's day whiteboard where the children all wrote messages to their mothers. I am there. You are not. I grieve for you.

 I'm the only mom here who's child doesn't "match". Her black hair and dark skin are noticeably different from mine. No one treats us differently but today it's present in my thoughts. This is your day. I grieve for you.

We look at the daily schedule and the chart of lost teeth. We try to remember which month her tooth was lost in. We laugh. We wonder why no teeth were lost in January.

She shows me where the chapter books are, and I ask her if she's read them. No, her teacher doesn't know she reads chapter books at home. I urge her to ask her for a chapter book to read at school; she is too shy. She loves her teacher but is afraid she'll say no. I ask for her, and of course she's allowed to pick out several. Her teacher is delighted. I think of you. You don't know she can read. Have you wondered, or is she even on your mind? I grieve for you.

We make small talk. We rinse off our plates and gather our things. She made me a planter with her silhouette on it. I smile and chat, but I can only think of you. I feel like I'm watching someone else's life. This should be your day. Your tea. Your laughter. Your planter.

 It should be you getting the hugs and "I love you"s.

 I don't mind taking your place. I just wish I wasn't needed.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Love and Justice: Charlotte Mason on Character Training

Charlotte Mason had a thing or two to say about what we would call "character training". A thing or two. Actually, reading her books, you will quickly see that there is far more material devoted to principles, attitudes, and child training then practical how-to of educating as we think of it. There is comparatively little on how to teach sums or physics, for example, and much on how to teach CHILDREN.

In Mason's sixth book, A Philosophy of Education, where she "sums up" so to speak, all her years of experience and work, she has a little section titled "Misdirected Affections", which, if I was presumptuous enough to re-title, I would call "Love and Justice". In it, she speaks of not only how character training should be approached, (and NOT approached) she has some great things to say about human nature in general.

Love and Justice. 

How do you train a child in love and justice? And what are they? Perhaps you should buy one of those handy curriculum packages for character training. The ones with crafts, activities, comprehension questions, and insipid stories designed to illustrate one moral, and one moral only.

Or you could do it Charlotte's way. She is pretty blunt:

As for moral lessons, they are worse than useless; children want a great deal of fine and various moral feeding, from which they draw the 'lessons' they require.  

She doesn't, however, neglect to tell us what to do instead.

This education of the feelings, moral education, is too delicate and personal a matter for a teacher to undertake trusting to his own resources. Children are not to be fed morally like young pigeons with predigested food. They must pick and eat for themselves and they do so from the conduct of others which they hear of or perceive. But they want a great quantity of the sort of food whose issue is conduct, and that is why poetry, history, romance, geography, travel, biography, science and sums must all be pressed into service. 

So forget those annoying and patronizing character studies. Instead, Mason tells us that our school books, including poetry, history, science, and even math are all training in character. She also tells us that we can't plan for a certain moral lesson from any particular reading. The child takes what he needs from his books, including what he needs to develop his character. Again, she compares gaining knowledge with acquiring nourishment- the mind, like the body, takes what it needs.

No one can tell what particular morsel a child will select for his sustenance. One small boy of eight may come down late because "I was meditating upon Plato and couldn't fasten my buttons," and another may find his meat in 'Peter Pan'! But all children must read widely, and know what they have read, for the nourishment of their complex nature. 

So what about Justice? 

Justice is, at it's heart, a sense of fairness. 

Everyone has Justice in his heart; a cry for 'fair play' reaches the most lawless mob, and we all know how children torment us with their 'It's not fair.' It is much to know that as regards justice as well as love there exists in everyone an adequate provision for the conduct of life:...
When reading this section, I had my reservations. How can character be simplified into just two things, love and justice? But she goes on to explain how justice contains many different ideas.

 Justice in Word: Truth

Young people should leave school knowing that their thoughts are not their own; that what we think of other people is a matter of justice or injustice...
You have a responsibility to think right thoughts about your neighbors. You also have a responsibility to say right things: 

... a certain manner of words is due from them to all manner of persons with whom they have to deal; and that not to speak those words is to be unjust to their neighbours. They should know that truth, that is, JUSTICE IN WORD, is their due and that of all other persons...

Justice in Action: Integrity

Integrity, I have heard, is how you act when no one else sees you. Charlotte mentions that, as well as working well and being trustworthy, and doing your best in everything.

JUSTICE IN ACTION; integrity in work, which disallows ca'canny methods, whether those of the artisan who does as little as he can in the time, or of the schoolboy ... Therefore he may not scamp, dawdle over, postpone, crib, or otherwise shirk his work. He learns that "my duty towards my neighbour" is "to keep my hands from picking and stealing," and... he must know that justice requires from him the integrity in material which we call honesty;

Justice in Thought: Opinions

We also owe our neighbors justice in thought: It is our duty to form opinions wisely and carefully. This seems to be something usually disregarded when we think about character, and sorely needed in our modern world.

There is another form in which the magnanimous citizen of the future must be taught the sense of justice. Our opinions show our INTEGRITY OF THOUGHT. Every person has many opinions whether his own honestly thought out, or notions picked up from his pet newspaper or his companions. The person who thinks out his opinions modestly and carefully is doing his duty as truly as if he saved a life because there is no more or less about duty.

Justice in Motive: Principles

Principles seem to be related to our opinions. They both need to be created consciously in order to be doing our duty, and yet seldom are. Conscious thought in opinions will lead naturally into conscious thought in principles. One births the other.

If a schoolboy is to be guided into the justice of thought from which sound opinions emanate, how much more does he need guidance in arriving at that JUSTICE IN MOTIVE which we call sound principles. For what, after all, are principles but those motives of first importance which govern us, move us in thought and action? We appear to pick up these in a casual way and are seldom able to render an account of them and yet our lives are ordered by our principles, good or bad.

Just like love, the formation of justice comes from a spread feast. Wide reading, and opening your heart to beauty and virtue. We are not reading books ABOUT character, or studying art and music designed to teach virtue. Rather we read books about people. Books exploring what it is to be human, living in this world. Art, nature, and music. Beauty and virtue are not taught, they are given. A door that is opened, a feast that is spread.

Here, again, we have a reason for wide and wisely ordered reading; for there are always catch-words floating in the air, as,––'What's the good?' 'It's all rot,' and the like, which the vacant mind catches up for use as the basis of thought and conduct, as, in fact, paltry principles for the guidance of a life.  Here we have one more reason why there is nothing in all those spiritual stores in the world's treasury too good for the education of all children. Every lovely tale, illuminating poem, instructive history, every unfolding of travel and revelation of science exists for children..... 
Children of a poor school in the slums are eager to tell the whole story of Waverly, ...They talk about the Rosetta Stone and about treasures in their local museum; they discuss Coriolanus....They know by heart every detail of a picture by La Hooch, Rembrandt, Botticelli, and not only is no evolution of history or drama, no subtle sweetness, no inspiration of a poet, beyond them, but they decline to know that which does not reach them in literary form.

Charlotte Mason has a lot to say about forming character and virtue in children (and ourselves). In fact, she has far more to say about creating better humans then she does about practical applications of school lessons. She has one whole book called "Formation of Character", after all, so this is only scratching the surface.

I feel like many times we get it backward. We want to know all the nuts and bolts, we want the how-tos, the step-by-step guide, the factual bits. But what if giving a Charlotte Mason education... what if imparting a living education... what if spreading a feast of beauty and richness... what if all that is a lot more about the impractical, the intangible, the spiritual, then it is about how long your math lesson should be? It sure seems that was how Ms. Mason thought anyway, given that more then half of her books are about things like "the way of the will" rather then about how to implement copywork.

All quotes from A Philosophy of Education, chapter III, by Charlotte Mason. Emphasis added. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

School Planning Season- Four Tips for Successful Homeschool Planning

Four Tips for Successful Homeschool Planning

Summer is here, that lovely time of year when everyone relaxes, enjoys the weather, and spends months not thinking about lessons. Everyone, that is, except teachers. In fact, during this time of year we get a lot this type of question on the AmblesideOnline Forum and Facebook page: How do you do plan? Can I see your schedule? What does it look like for you?

Of course, as soon as one year ends you are planning the next year. So summer is really just "getting ready for fall" for many people, and I thought this would be a great time to write a blog post I have been thinking about, which, as it goes, ended up REALLY long, (like this sentence) so it will be a blog series instead.

Tip One: Change Happens

One thing I think is often overlooked in planning a home school year is the changing life we all live. From big changes like new babies and new houses, to smaller changes like the seasonal differences in the year and the phases our children (and us!) all go through, one-size-fits-all schedules just don't work well- even within our own family! So the first tip I have for figuring out a plan for your family is Don't Be Afraid to Change.

Change is good and the ability to be flexible within your plan is important. How flexible you need to be will depend on your lifestyle, personality, and your kids. But we all need the ability to move things around, take a day off, fix the toilet, or find the band aids without ruining our plan. So plan margin into your day.

Tip Two: Start Small

It's inevitable. The year is planned perfectly. Every math lesson has it's 15 minute block, every composer study is on the list, and all the books are arranged each day, with just enough time to read and narrate each lovely selection. I have everything printed and bound neatly, with encouraging Bible verses on the cover of my planner. I can tell you what I will be reading to each child next November 18th.  I am super excited to begin. And then by the second week the entire thing will be scrapped. Maybe we had an unexpected field trip, or we found out that child needs twice as long to read that book as the last child did. Maybe the Librivox book I planned to use is incomprehensible for one child, while math needs to happen independently and later in the day for another.

While it's nice to have some things planned ahead, if you go out too far there's simply no way to know what life will throw in your path that will force changes into your plan. Sometimes we make our lovely plans and then force ourselves and our kids to keep using them out of guilt, even when it's clear something else is badly needed.

Tip Three: Stick to the Principles

Mason's principles are important to keep in mind while scheduling. We need to remember the overarching goals to avoid stuffing ourselves into little boxes, while at the same time neglecting other aspects of her method. The PNEU timetables we have are excellent examples of how she implemented her curriculum and how she guided her schools into following those principles, but the timetables are not themselves principles. We can't expect them to work in every circumstance.  In fact we have reason to understand that even Mason's schools were not always able to follow them perfectly, and our homes are even more variable then schools.

On the other hand, there is no reason to throw the timetables out completely. They are a great practical example of HOW principles such as short, varied lessons worked in a school setting. What should you take away from them? Lessons are short, but grow as the child gets older. Lessons are varied- don't stick all the readings in a two-hour session. Lessons don't have to be all in the morning- if you need to make some time in the afternoon or evening or weekend, that's okay. For older kids especially, there was time in the afternoon for those things that tend to take longer or drag out because they are enjoyable, such as nature study and handicrafts.

Use the timetables as a reference, but make your schedule fit your life, not the other way around.

Tip Four: Be Creative

School in the morning might not be best for every family at every time. Many times people try to fit their lives into the "school in the morning" model, and for whatever reason it just doesn't work for them. Do you have little ones? Sometimes the only quiet time of day is during naps. That's a great time to do math. Baby feeding time with mom in the rocking chair? That's a great time to sneak in a reading or an older child's narration.

Do you have young kids close together? Maybe consider combining some subjects. Maybe something like a block schedule would help, where each child works with you for one hour. Perhaps one longer reading a day can be saved for the afternoon.

Are your kids farther apart, in different stages? Maybe an older child needs some science experiment time or a younger one needs a longer literature chapter read- those are things that maybe the other parent can do in the evenings, or even on Saturday. An independent reader can narrate at creative times. I often have someone telling me back stories while I wash dishes or cook.

These are all things that I have learned, some painfully, through the last six years of changes and homeschool lesson planning. Most important, have grace with your children and yourself, accept that you will mess up, and move on with hugs and chocolate.

What great scheduling tips have helped you make Charlotte Mason schooling work in your family?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Weekly Wrap-up: A Few of our Favorite Things in July

Every year I say I'm going to spend the summers getting outside more. Every winter I spend all winter wishing I had focused on outdoor time. Every summer passes before I notice I am not outside.

I think we still spend more time in nature then the average American family, but that is not a satisfactory comparison to me! So a few weeks ago I really determined to make it a priority this year, and have been trying to get out at least once a week. I don't mean an our outside in the backyard, I mean a whole day away from home, in the mountains, with a picnic lunch and school books.
We've been successful so far (one week we went two days!) and I can say it's both rewarding and exhausting. 

A few of our favorite things this week:

Math: Caiden's math on Khan academy is going great. He made the switch from MEP (temporarily) to give our relationship a break, as it had become an area of contention between us. He's doing much better, welcoming my help, and we'll move back to MEP later this year. The other two are doing MEP and it's going well. Even when we have a bad day, it's still a great program and I don't want to use anything else!

The Garden: In the never-ending battle between weeds, bugs, and edible plants, I think we are winning (for now). Tomatoes are huge, squashes are growing, and the beans are taking over. We are hoping to have beans and tomatoes to can, so it's great to see them doing so well.

Hiking: we had a great mountain day on Wednesday. We took our school books but the kids ended up swimming and exploring the whole time, so we did some reading after we got back home and everyone was too tired to play much anyway. The kids are so focused on nature study after all these years that the older ones need no guidance anymore, they discover and observe so well and always see things I haven't noticed. Abby found a pocket knife in the woods and was so happy, she's been asking for a knife for a couple of years and we didn't think she was quite ready.


Hailey: Reading about Phyrrus and the elephants in Plutarch's Lives (Such a mommy pride moment there.)
Caiden: Everything. Getting the net. (He got a fishing net to hunt for specimens in water, and found a crawdad among other treasures.)
Abby: Going in the mountains.
Colby: The mountains. I liked sitting on the rocks.

Favorite Photo: 

So there you have it, a few of our favorite things for this week! 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

How Do I Pick an AmblesideOnline Year?

One of the most common questions on the AmblesideOnline forums and Facebook page is some variation of, "I am switching to AO with older children.... where do I start?"

Although there are always variables in everyone's life, and sometimes they lead to out-of-the-ordinary suggestions, for most people the question usually gets a standard answer. This is my usual answer.

Because Charlotte Mason wanted children's minds to be fed, I always recommend starting with your child's ability to understand, not their ability to read. The books in AO are well above modern "grade level" and are not expected to be read completely by the child, especially in the early years. Instead of going by reading level, I always recommend going by comprehension level.

Recognizing that the AO years were not designed as strict grade levels (although Year One does match up with grade one if a child starts it at age six) the usual suggestion is to pick a year or two lower then your child's "grade" and look at them for comprehension first, and then content.

Start with comprehension: One suggestion that I like is to pick a couple books from the years you are considering, and read a passage from the middle somewhere. Can your child narrate it? (If he's new at narrating, this might not be very good- just ask for three things he remembers.) If that went well, consider the other books- what are they about? What subjects are covered? Do they sound like they are too hard for your kids? If it comes down to a choice between a couple of years and you can't decide, consider the history chronology last. If your child just learned all about the middle ages, you might not want to do Year 2. But that's the last thing to consider because it's of less importance then placing your child where they are challenged, but not overwhelmed.

If you are new you need to watch this video. Watch it. There is a lot of information here that is easily missed, and a lot of explanations about the different parts of the site and the options you will see.

Useful Links: 

If you would like more information on the AmblesideOnline books and grade levels, here is a short post addressing that.

Some advice from experienced moms on placing in Ambleside. (I think these are from the old yahoo groups, you can find tons of similar advice on the forum.)

Here is the AmblesideOnline history chronology, which is really helpful as a broad picture view of AO.


The GORY DETAILS from Afterthoughts (This is very helpful if you are getting started.)

And maybe most important, the Forum. This is where you can get free personalized advice on implementing the curriculum in your own family, from experienced AO users, including the Advisory/Auxiliary.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Books I Read in 2015

So all my friends are posting the books they read in 2015, and I don't want to get left out of the fun. I have some friends that read almost 70 books last year! I didn't read nearly that many, in fact I didn't count. And I am sure I have forgotten a few because I didn't put them all in Goodreads.  I only included books I read for the first time, so there were many other school books I didn't count.

I also set a new goal for this year of reading 52 books this year, about one a week. Now, I don't actually read a book in a week most of the time, but since I currently have 20 or so going at a time, I think it will even out.

2015 Book List 

(Including my Goodreads rating. Cause I'm nice like that.) 

The Living Page  *****

The Daughter of Time ***

The Fellowship of the Rings *****

Watership Down *****

Colorado-The Bright Romance of American History *

Mere Christianity *****

The Brenden Voyage *****

Tending the Heart of Virtue *****

Galileo's Daughter ***

Of Courage Undaunted (school book)

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (school book)

Richard II (Shakespeare)

The Two Towers *****

Animal Farm ****

Ivanhoe ****

The Once and Future King

The Great Divorce

Saturday, January 2, 2016

A Day in our Life- CM Open House

I'm so excited to join in the great project over at Beautiful Chaos, Charlotte Mason Open House. We are trying to be really honest and open with how this education really looks in our homes. So many times it seems like we are all perfect and have it all together when we are really all the same in our struggles.

I originally filmed almost our complete day, which ended up being an hour long even when I sped up many parts. So I re-filmed and just tried to capture the general chaotic progression of our day. On this particular day, everyone slept in, we got started late, and things just didn't go as well as many times, so you get to see us even "real-er" then normal. I was pretty frustrated by the end of the day, but it all works out.

I didn't film any of the "riches" or "extras"- the artist and composer study, the music we listen to, the poetry. We also didn't do any language learning.  Because this was the week after Christmas we really weren't getting those things done. Another moment of being real. We typically do those things around lunchtime, either while we eat or right after we finish. Sometimes we grab a rare minute between the other things when everyone is free at the same time. Sometimes it happens in the afternoon when we have quiet time and the kids all sit and read for 30 minutes. Sometimes it just doesn't happen.

Enjoy and keep coming back to Beautiful Chaos (I LOVE that name!) for the rest of the month. We have great things planned!

P.S. I really don't mind the chair. Much.

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