Monday, March 31, 2014

{My CM Journal} Why Read Charlotte Mason as a Mother of Preschoolers?

I can't remember exactly why I began to read Charlotte Mason's works on education. I read Susan Schaeffer MacAulay's For the Children's Sake when I was a teenager. To be honest, I don't remember it very well. Sometimes when you read things without the opportunity to apply them, they don't make much more than a vaguely positive impression when you think of them years later. Then, about a year ago, I read When Children Love to Learn. One of the reasons we should educate our children with "living books" spoke to is to put the minds of our children directly in touch with the author's mind, without letting our teaching and explaining get in the way. (I'm sorry, I have since lent the book out, so I can't give you a quote on that.) I had been reading a lot about Charlotte Mason's ideas, and liking them very much. There are many books and blogs that do a wonderful job of presenting her ideas. But the thought came to me that all these interpreters were getting between my mind and Charlotte Mason's mind, so to speak. And so I decided to begin to read her myself. 

Since then, I've found myself often preaching the value of reading Charlotte Mason while your children are still young, long before you start homeschooling. If you're a beginning homeschooler (or even just planning to homeschool sometime in the future) and I've overwhelmed you with that thought, crushed you with a six-volume series written in Victorian English, when really, all you want is some practical ideas, preferably in small packages, I am sorry. I don't mean to be that way. It's just that I myself wish I had started reading Charlotte Mason's own works when my oldest child was just a baby. I never realized that she had so much to teach me about the preschool years.

Here are some of the ways Charlotte Mason has helped me as a mother of preschoolers:
1. She has encouraged me by reminding me of the value of the work I do as a mother.
2. She has given me a broader view of what education is than I might have had otherwise. 
3. She has helped me order my priorities in my day to day life with my preschool children.
4. She has given me confidence in the choices I'm making as a homeschooler (and there is so much to choose from these days!).

For the next few Mondays, I'm going to unpack some of these points (and possibly others as they present themselves). But I hope you won't take my word for it. I hope you will be inspired to go and read Charlotte Mason for yourself.
Never was it more necessary for parents to face for themselves this question of education in all its bearings. Hitherto, children have been brought up upon traditional methods mainly. The experience of our ancestors, floating in a vast number of educational maxims, is handed on from lip to lip; and few or many of these maxims form the educational code of every household.But we hardly take in how complete a revolution advancing science is effecting in the theory of education. The traditions of the elders have been tried and found wanting; it will be long before the axioms of the new school pass into the common currency; and, in the meantime, parents are thrown upon their own resources, and absolutely must weigh principles, and adopt a method, of education for themselves. (Vol. 1, p. 6)
Is the necessity so different now? I think not.

As for the impossible thought of reading a six-volume set when you are understandably busy with your babies and your preschoolers, why not try just starting with Volume 1? I often find myself reading a little at a time while I'm nursing, or at quiet time. If it's the Victorian English that concerns you, Ambleside Online has a good modern English paraphrase available online for free. (They also have the original series available.)

More on reading Charlotte Mason as a mother of preschoolers:
Encouragement for Mothers of Preschoolers
Charlotte Mason and Preschool Priorities 1: The Outdoor Life for the Children
Charlotte Mason and Preschool Priorities 2: Habits
Education is Bigger than You Think

Thursday, March 27, 2014

March 2014 Favourite Read-Aloud Roundup

It's hard to believe it's already the end of March. We have just had the worst blizzard of the winter, and are expecting more snow on Sunday. It is not unusual for us to have snow in March (and April. and sometimes May.) but this was quite a storm. The boys were very happy to have their Papa home for a cozy snow day. In honour of the winter weather, I'd like you to introduce you to Snow Bears, our favourite winter book ever. It may also possibly be my favourite book by Martin Waddell, though I haven't read them all yet. 

This book is just so sweetly humorous. Three little bears get very white rolling around in the snow, and have a fun little game with their mother pretending they are not her little bears, but snow bears. When they go back inside, the snow melts and they transform into their mother's own little bears again. I recommend it especially for ages two to four, though my five-year-old loves it as well (especially as he can read it on his own now!).

The Mountain that Loved a Bird is a beautifully written story of a bird that visits a barren mountain once a year. The mountain always asks her to stay, but with nothing on the mountain to support life, the bird must go on. Finally the mountain's heart breaks, and the water of its tears is the beginning of a wonderful transformation. 
I think this book will be appreciated by all ages. The illustrations by Eric Carle make it accessible to even the youngest children, and the story itself will be appreciated even up into adulthood. I love reading this aloud as much as my children love listening to it.

One of our favourite books for Poetry Teatime this month was Mother Goose, illustrated by Tasha Tudor. I believe it is out of print now, but we found it at our library. It is indubitably the most beautiful collection of Mother Goose I've seen to date, and my boys loved to choose from it. Of course, many of the rhymes are songs, and they love it that I sing those ones for them. 

We also checked The Children's Book of Virtues out of the library this month. It is a collection of stories and poetry arranged according to the virtues they convey: courage, responsibility, compassion, honesty, and more. The author, William J. Bennett, speaks in the introduction of the purpose of the book:
"Today we talk about how important it is to 'have values,' as if they were beads or a string of marbles in a pouch. But these stories speak to morality and virtues not as something to be possessed but as the core of human nature, not as something to have but as something to be, the most important thing to be. To dwell among these stories and verses is to put oneself, through the imagination, into a different place and time, a time when there was little doubt that children were essentially moral and spiritual beings, when the verities were the moral verities, when the central task of education was virtue."
My boys' favourite story was "The Little Hero of Holland," the story of a brave little boy who kept his finger in a hole in the dike throughout the night to prevent the water from breaking through and flooding the land. (It may have helped that their Opa is from Holland.) The illustrations by Michael Hague are wonderful as well. Highly recommended for children aged four and up.

Sharing with Read-Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word today, 

and also with Book Sharing Monday at Life on a Canadian Island.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wednesday with Words: The Power of Habit

I have a ridiculous number of books on the go right now, too many, really. Three in the bathroom, three beside my bed, a few more in the living room. Given the nature of life with three little children, I read snatches from each when I have a chance, making steady but very slow progress. They are all wonderful books...I really can't drop any of them. I suppose that should be a lesson to me about starting books when others aren't finished yet.

My quote for Wednesdays with Words  is from a book by Charles Cooke called Playing the Piano for Pleasure. I stumbled across this book at my library, and it is an absolute delight. The preface to the original edition (1941) begins: "This book is frankly intended as inspirational. In it I have tried to communicate my indelible enthusiasm for music-- in particular for the infinitely varied music that can be drawn from that noble, self-sufficient instrument, the piano." I feel this captures both the tone and the purpose of the book. If you play the piano as a hobby, or you used to play and would like to again, you will very likely find this book of great practical help. (I should mention that the focus is on Classical music.)

In his chapter titled "The Pleasant Necessity of Practicing," Cooke writes:
"Habit is a miraculous thing. To me it is more miraculous than nuclear radiation. From now on we are going to be working closely with Habit, piano playing being a complex of mental and physical habits. Therefore it behooves us to form right habits all along the line, and having formed them, to make them so intensely ours that they function unconsciously. When you substitute a good habit for a bad one, or when you decide to acquire a habit where none existed before, the new habit must function at first, for a little while, from power supplied by you. This is the stage where we have to make a strong conscious effort, even to the extent of a sensation of spiritual pain. But in a surprisingly short time the habit begins to take over the task of supplying power; it begins to develop its own momentum; and finally we get a sensation of spiritual pain if we don't exercise the habit....Hamlet, reasoning with his mother on the topic of dropping a bad habit and substituting a good one, said: 'For use almost can change the stamp of nature.' As far as piano playing is concerned, I take the liberty of differing with the Bard; I maintain that the word 'almost' could be omitted...Every day of our life, from now on, we will see proof that Habit is miraculous."
 Of course, I thought of Charlotte Mason and "Habit is ten natures" when I read this.

Click through to see what others are reading today!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Winter Term Goals and Wrap-Up

I made some goals back in January for our winter term. It may seem a bit much to have such elaborate goals for what really amounts to less than an hour a day (not counting Nature Study), but hey, I'm a beginning homeschooler and this is still fun.

Bible: The Goal
-To read a Bible story every day, beginning at Genesis 1 and continuing through Judges using selected passages from Penny Gardner’s list.
-To memorize Psalm 100 and the Beatitudes from the Bible (ESV).
-To memorize one hymn per month:
January: Trust and Obey
February: All People That on Earth Do Dwell
March: How Great Thou Art

Bible: The Reality
We did read a Bible story every day, beginning at Genesis 1. We did not follow Penny Gardner's list after the first little while, choosing instead to simply read the chapters consecutively. (I did skip a few names...). As a result, we are still in Exodus instead of all the way in Judges. I am not unhappy with this. I feel that for the first time, they are really learning the stories. We memorized Psalm 100 with ease, but are still working on the Beatitudes. I simply read the passage for memory every day until they are able to say it with me. We memorized the hymns we planned, but are still in the middle of "How Great Thou Art" because "Trust and Obey" took more than a month to learn with its multiple verses. We also began work on the Children's Catechism, and while I haven't been as consistent with this as with the Scripture and hymn memory work, we memorized up to question 18. I am so thankful to have been introduced to Songs for Saplings songs based on the Children's Catechism. It amazes me how easily my children pick up these songs, even though they still can't carry a tune in a bucket! All of these items were memorized by simply taking five minutes after our meals every day to review them. Now I need to figure out a system to rotate review of things we've memorized in the past so we don't forget them.

Habits: The Goal
To learn habits of attention.
January: Listening to the Bible Story each day
February: Paying attention in church

Habits: The Reality
Attention did not end up being our focus, as I noticed that obedience needed some attention. This ended up being quite difficult for me. Creating practical habits (such as putting away toys or getting dressed before breakfast, as we did in our Fall term) is fairly simple. Creating moral habits such as obedience require a much more constant vigilance and much more wisdom (which I may or may not have very much of...). I think we made progress. I found a way to communicate with my 3-year-old about it that we did not have before, a light-hearted way to get his will on my side.

In other habits, I began having the children do chores after breakfast each morning. They clear the breakfast table and collect the laundry.
I also am working hard on getting SA to sit quietly in church and participate in whatever he can. This also is not easy. He is a fairly calm person, but, boy-like, he does have a hard time sitting still.

Reading: The Goal 
To spend 10 minutes each school day in focused attention on learning to read. Use books that are interesting to SA. Teach sight words, then related phonics rules on alternate days. Use fun games as often as possible.

Reading: The Reality
Shortly after the term began, SA took off with reading. I got as many good, easy-to-read books from the library as I could, and allowed him to read them as he pleased. We recorded the books he read on "reading ladders" and later on a large poster. He is currently at book #30 since January. During this time, I have not done a lot of phonics (maybe once a week, casually, rather than every other day). I will have to pick that up again during our Spring term, but I'm not sorry I dropped it during our Winter term.

Math: The Goal
To introduce a math game from Games for Math once a week (on Mondays).
To spend 10 minutes three times per week in focused attention on learning math concepts presented in Miquon Math.

Math: The Reality
We did introduce a new math game almost every Monday. This was a happy success, and I really feel it helped to continue to build their "math sense." Kalah remains SA's favourite game, and we still play it often. We also did Miquon Math, continuing with the concept of addition and subtraction, and introducing the concept of multiplication. In just the last couple of weeks, SA became interested in adding and carrying, so I taught him that as well.

Pencil Skills: No Goals
SA did some printing incidentally, mostly numbers in his math. He is very neat and accurate. I don't feel the need to push this yet.

Read Aloud: The Goal
To read and enjoy several books from Ambleside Online’s list for Year 0. Begin reading from the Winnie the Pooh series this quarter.
-To read and enjoy poetry at a daily poetry teatime.

Read Aloud: The Reality
Poetry Teatime continued to be one of our favourite parts of the day. The boys memorized several poems. I simply read the same poem (from The Harp and Laurel Wreath) every day at the beginning of teatime until they could say it with me, then went on to the next one. They learned:
The Little Turtle (Vachel Lindsay)
Once I Saw a Little Bird (an old nursery rhyme)
Rain (R.L. Stevenson)
Bird Talk (Aileen Fisher)
At the Seaside (R.L. Stevenson)
Of course, we enjoyed many other poems and nursery rhymes as well. They were always excited to choose what they wanted to hear.
We did read Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, which they loved. (They preferred the first to the second, though. I'm not sure why.) We have also begun to read from When We Were Very Young and Now We are Six, and will continue with those into the next term.

Nature Study: The Goal
To spend time each week observing and learning about nature, choosing from the Outdoor Hour Challenges found at To buy a birdfeeder and observe and learn about birds there.

Nature Study: The Reality
After reading more from Charlotte Mason, I ended up making much larger goals of spending time outdoors. I failed to meet my lofty goals (10 hours a week). However, having these goals meant that we did go outdoors for at least an hour almost every weekday this winter (barring extreme wind chill conditions). This is an accomplishment to be celebrated, since my usual mode in our Canadian winter is hibernation.

We did get a bird feeder, and it was a wonderful, wonderful thing to see the boys so excited about the birds we saw there. Even MM shouts "Chickadee!" whenever he sees a bird. We saw a couple of unusual birds: a brownheaded cowbird and some snow buntings. We learned about the difference between crows and ravens.
We did not follow many challenges at the Handbook of Nature Study blog. To be honest, most of our outdoor time was spent shoveling snow or playing games of hide and seek tag. But I began my own nature journal, which I hope will be the beginning of a family hobby.

Field Trips: The Goal
To learn from people and activities outside our home. Examples might be homeschool co-op events, or trips to Opa’s bakery.

Field Trips: The Reality
I ended up being without a car for most of the winter, so we just stayed home. We made it to one Co-op event, a Valentine's party. I think SA in particular needs to get out a bit more. We went out this week and he got more and more anxious the farther we got from home. New and different situations take practice, with him.

I felt very happy with this term overall. I think I deepened in intention to do little things every day, and in understanding of how all those little things add up over time. It was exciting to see SA's reading take off, and his enjoyment in numbers and patterns continue to grow. I felt less satisfied with our work on habits, and I'm thinking of how to improve that this Spring.

Monday, March 17, 2014

{My CM Journal} What it is, is Classical

I know I said a couple of weeks ago that I would compare Classical education with Charlotte Mason's philosophy. The more I think about it, the less ready I feel to take that on. I am realizing more and more that Charlotte Mason's philosophy is a plant with its roots firmly in Classical education and as such is as valid an expression of Classical education as the one put forward in The Well-Trained Mind or any other Classical Christian approach you might come across.

I have CiRCE Institute to thank for this thought. As I read "What is Classical Education?" I realized that everything they say about Classical Education is also true of a Charlotte Mason education.

But why, then, does a Charlotte Mason education look so different from what's commonly called a Classical Christian education?

I believe the key is in Charlotte Mason's first principle: Children are born persons. Yes, this is a belief held in Classical Education, but Charlotte Mason worked out the implications of this principle in a broader way. To her, children as persons come equipped to deal with ideas. Indeed, ideas are the only proper food for their minds, even from their earliest school years. Facts must never be presented without their informing ideas. This is very different from the common view of the Grammar stage of the Trivium, where young children spend a lot of time memorizing the facts that form the structure of language, of mathematics, etc, whether or not they understand them. Dorothy Sayers put forward this view in her essay "The Lost Tools of Learning:"
" is as well that anything and everything which can be usefully committed to memory should be memorized at this period, whether it is immediately intelligible or not. The modern tendency is to try and force rational explanations on a child's mind at too early an age. Intelligent questions, spontaneously asked, should, of course, receive an immediate and rational answer; but it is a great mistake to suppose that a child cannot readily enjoy and remember things that are beyond his power to analyze--particularly if those things have a strong imaginative appeal (as, for example, "Kubla Kahn"), an attractive jingle (like some of the memory-rhymes for Latin genders), or an abundance of rich, resounding polysyllables (like the Quicunque vult)." 
Why am I going with Charlotte Mason, and not Dorothy Sayers, on this one? It is because I remember myself as a child. I know that I myself came equipped to deal with ideas from a very young age, and that ideas were the proper food for my mind. I did not need to be prepared to deal with ideas by learning many facts first. (My mother has a story of me making some profound observation while she was changing my least, I think that's how the story goes. "If Adam sinned, that's not my fault." Clearly I must have been toilet trained a bit late, but not as late as you might think.) I did love my grammar as well, but I don't believe it was a prerequisite to logical thinking.

It seems to me that Charlotte Mason did not neglect any aspect of the grammar, logic, and rhetoric of the trivium, though. They are all included in her process of narration, though not in an "ages and stages" way. In her method, logic and grammar go hand in hand throughout a child's education. The facts are always informed by the ideas that give them their meaning, and this is what makes them a joy to learn. Even the seeds of rhetoric are cultivated from the very beginning, as in narration children interact with living ideas, assimilate them, and communicate their understanding of them. This ability is allowed to grow and develop as the child grows. It is not that Charlotte Mason denied any developmental stages in children, but that "children are born persons" throughout all their stages of growth. To her, that meant that their minds must be nourished with ideas in the same way as their bodies must be nourished with food throughout their lives.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Saturday Commonplaces 10

I don't have a lot to share today. I decided to have a musical teatime one day this week instead of our usual poetry teatime. We watched Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf." I think I'll try to do a musical teatime once a week from now on. The only problem? I don't know how we're going to top this! Enjoy.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Pages from my Nature Journal

Well, I finally did it. After talking for months about my intentions to jump in and "just do it," I finally bought myself a notebook for a nature journal and started making entries. I am no artist, but I hope to improve as I practice! The boys are taking notice, and I think they will be excited when I buy them journals of their very own soon.

My first page is my list from the Great Backyard Bird Count. I drew a picture of our bird feeder. I use what I have, which happens to be pencil crayons.

 This is a snow bunting. We saw a small flock several times one sunny, warm day in February. (0 degrees Celcius...warm for here, anyway!)

And this is an entry I made this week about some sprouted apple seeds we found inside an apple, and how we planted them.

I also made an entry with what the boys want to plant in the garden this spring from the seed catalogues that arrived last week. I'm hoping to try to draw a downy woodpecker this week as well. We had one come to our feeder for the very first time on Monday while we were all standing not ten feet away! Obviously I am not drawing from real life yet, since I am not nearly fast enough. But I can still commemorate the occasion with a journal entry.

I think keeping a nature journal myself will be a pure joy, but also it will be a way to teach my children by example. And it can't hurt them to realize that Mama is always learning something new, too!

Sharing with Nature Study Monday at Fisher Academy International.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wednesday with Words: The Myth of Ability

I just started reading The Myth of Ability: Nurturing Mathematical Talent in Every Child by John Mighton. The introduction started with a parable of education, and I thought I'd share it because it reminds me of several things I've been reading recently, both in Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles and in The Spark by Kristine Barnett.

"Imagine a school where the following ritual is observed. At the end of the year, after several days of coaching and preparation, the children are led to a cafeteria where tables have been set with plates of food, one for each child. A government official has inspected the plates; for a given grade each plate holds exactly the same foods, in the same proportions, at the same temperatures... Afterwards, the children are given a battery of tests to determine how well they are digesting their food.
"Now imagine that only those children judged to be superior eaters are allowed to eat a full and balanced diet at school the following year. The teachers at the school, though well-meaning, believe only a few children are born with the capacity to digest food properly; the rest, depending on what kind of stomach they've inherited, can eat only one or two kinds of food, and even then only in small quantities. When challenged to defend this belief, the teachers point to the vast number of weak and unhealthy students at the school: even those singled out for special attention continue to complain of stomach disorders when placed on restricted diets.
"One day people will look back on our present system of education as only slightly more rational or humane than this..." 
Mighton then focuses his attention on a solution for the state of math education in the school system. I am hoping it will be helpful for me as a homeschooler as well...

Sharing with Wednesdays with Words today. Click through to see what other people are reading this week!

Monday, March 10, 2014

{My CM Journal} Not a "Pope"

I didn't end up having time last week to write the post I wanted to publish today; instead, I just want to share a quote from Charlotte Mason's Home Education (Vol. 1 of The Original Home Schooling Series).
So far as education is a science, the truth of even ten --much more, a hundred--years ago is not the whole truth of today.
'Thoughts beyond their thought to those high seers were given';
and, in proportion as the urgency of educational effort presses upon us, will be the ardour of our appreciation, the diligence of our employment, of those truths which the great pioneers, Froebel and the rest, have won for us by no less than prophetic insight. But, alas, and alas, for the cravings of lazy human nature --we may not have an educational pope; we must think out for ourselves, as well as work out, those things that belong to the perfect bringing-up of our children. (p. 185)
I appreciate Charlotte Mason so much. She had so much insight and wisdom. I have only just begun to scratch the surface of all that I can learn from her. And yet, she also is not an "educational pope" (that is, an infallible authority). I doubt she would have appreciated hordes of followers doing things just "because Charlotte Mason says so." No, we ourselves must think, and do things because they are right.

I think it may also be worth saying that we should not be going around spouting the wisdom of our "educational pope" without acting on that wisdom for ourselves. We need to "work out" the principles we learn, and in doing that we will find out for ourselves whether they are really true.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Saturday Commonplaces 9

I wish you could have seen my little ones one morning this week. JJ (3) and MM (1) sat down on the couch together with some of SA's books. JJ carefully arranged a pillow behind their backs and a blanket over their toes, and they "read" aloud for about ten minutes. JJ had Bears on Wheels, and MM had Put Me in the Zoo. JJ especially is very keen to read now that SA has taken off with reading. I had to make him his own reading ladder (a paper where we record the books SA reads on his own). He mostly "reads" from memory, but if he doesn't remember, he runs his finger along under the lines and has me read, and he repeats after me. I don't really think he's ready yet for phonics lessons, though. I don't think he'd even realize the connection between phonics and reading. It's not about the words for him. It's about the stories.

SA (5) is still reading very easy-to-read books, but he is making progress all the time. Last week I had a few moments of self-doubt. I noticed SA was starting to be a bit resistant to my having him read a book a day. Maybe I just needed to go back to the reading lessons. I decided that I would not suggest any book for him to read this week, and see what happened. What happened was that most days he came to me on his own with about three new books that he wanted to read (I'm so thankful for the library!). We filled up the new reading ladder we started just last Friday. I'm going to have to get a poster board to make a gigantic ladder, because these dinky construction paper ones are filling up too fast. For phonics this week we talked casually about words with a silent E. I have been second-guessing myself when it comes to phonics...should I buy a phonics program? Am I doing enough? I think I will wait to see where he is at the beginning of Grade 1 next September, and pick up there.

I have also been second-guessing myself when it comes to math, which is his real love. There are so many options out there, and I guess it's natural to wonder sometimes if there's something you're missing. We are doing Miquon Math and Peggy Kaye's Games for Math. The games are wonderful. I pick one out every Monday and we do the same game again any time my children ask for it that week. Miquon is great, too, but it seems a bit slow for him. I think for next term I will try something new. As soon as he gets a concept and has reinforced it for a week or two with rods and games, I will move on to a new concept. He can continue to do worksheets on the old concepts as he pleases. I have started to do this already. I allow him to choose his worksheet from anything we've learned already. (We do worksheets two or three times a week.) This week he chose to do worksheets on addition and subtraction, though our "concept work" was in multiplication. He does the worksheets on his own, and uses or does not use the rods as he pleases. There was a "trick question" on one of the sheets this week, and I fully expected him to come to me for help. But when he showed me the paper, it was complete, and correct. (The question was 2-3= -1) I didn't know he knew how to do that, so I asked him about it. He said the answer was one less than zero. This is why I sometimes don't think I'm giving him enough challenging work.

I have been looking at MEP as well (a free program), which is totally different than Miquon. It seems more puzzle-oriented, but slower when it comes to concepts like addition, subtraction, and multiplication. It also has more variety every day. So I think SA might be bored with some parts of it, and greatly enjoy other parts. It is also more worksheet oriented, which I do not necessarily like, and which he may not be quite ready for. I'm thinking I may experiment with supplementing a few pages from MEP next term and see if he likes it. I'd probably have to start in the middle of year one in order to challenge him.

I read another good book this week. It was a bit too good, actually, since I could not help reading it in one day (if you have three or more children, you'll realize why having this kind of book in the house is not a very good idea). However, I did better than my husband, who came home from work in the wee hours of the morning one night, picked up the book, and didn't put it down until it was done. (Don't worry, neither of us make this a habit...) The book was The Spark by Kristine Barnett. She's the mother of an autistic genius, and she tells the story of how she followed her mothering instincts in order to help her child.

I noticed that parents of autistic children do not tend to rate this book very highly, as this woman's son is quite unusual (He is a genius, first of all, and he began to function more normally when she gave him the resources to follow his interests.). I was inspired as a mom of ordinary children, though. Every child, no matter what their gifts or their shortcomings, is a born person and should be treated as such. She saw how all the therapy her son was taking was about what he couldn't do, and determined to allow him to do something he could do (and well!). She also saw how the hours and hours of work they were doing were taking away his childhood. So she made a focused effort to take the time to play, make friends, and do the things childhood memories are made of, even though these things are quite challenging to find ways to do with an autistic child.

I did find myself wondering about the details of this it all true? Everything is so highly coloured. My take on it is that the author is a very intense woman, and so you see everything through her dramatic viewpoint. Since my own natural tendency leans more towards downplaying things that happen, this sometimes felt strange to me. But even with that, I highly recommend this book.

MM has taken to clutching cars or other hard toys while I nurse him. As soon as I realized this, I got out some stuffed animals (they had been put away because they were not played with). But it was too late. He seems to like holding the angular, hard shapes better than the soft, squishy ones. Yesterday I called him to nurse, and as usual he bustled around first, finding things to hold. There were no toys around at that moment, so I found myself cuddling with a duster (stoffer), a pen, and a scrap of craft foam. I love this toddler so much!

And that's all for this week! Have a good week, everyone.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Wednesday with Words: The Robin

I've been thinking since last week that somewhere in my house I have a book of poetry by Emily Dickinson. The day after reading Emily at one of our poetry teatimes, I found SA (5) hunting through our children's poetry anthology for the "one by Emily" ("A bird came down the walk," of course.) So today I buckled down and searched until I found it: Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson. I think he will be pleased when I pull it out for tomorrow's teatime.

Since March has begun, and I've just recently begun seeing more robins (though none at my house yet, sadly), this poem seems suitable for today.



The Robin is the One
That interrupt the Morn
With hurried—few—express Reports
When March is scarcely on—

The Robin is the One
That overflow the Noon
With her cherubic quantity—
An April but begun—

The Robin is the One
That speechless from her Nest
Submit that Home—and Certainty
And Sanctity, are best

Sharing with Wednesdays with through to see what other people are reading!

This post has been edited to remove my thoughts on the poem...I thought again and didn't want to spoil it for you all.

Monday, March 3, 2014

{My Charlotte Mason Journal} That's like unschooling, right?

I haven't made a lot of progress. After my post last week, I spent a lot of time thinking further about the same quote I shared then. Today's post will focus in on this part of it:
"It is illuminating, too, showing the value, or lack of value, of a thousand systems and expedients. It is not only a light, but a measure, providing a standard whereby all things, small and great, belonging to education work must be tested."
 Two other homeschooling approaches that have strong philosophies of education are the seemingly polar opposites Unschooling and Classical Education. I think it is illuminating to compare and contrast these two with Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education.

I believe that the reason people who aren't very familiar with Charlotte Mason say things like "Charlotte Mason? That's something like unschooling, right?" (though truthfully they are quite different in practice) is because the two are based on the same first principle: that children are born persons. Her thoughts about the "respect due to the personality of children," the "educational value of his natural home atmosphere," and the child's natural "appetite for all knowledge" would all earn a hearty affirmation from unschoolers, I think. (Quotes from the "20 Principles" found in the Preface of Volume 6)

When it comes to Charlotte Mason's "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life," I think unschoolers emphasize the truth that "Education is an atmosphere" very strongly. I think that Charlotte Mason's "discipline of habit" is not recognized as a foundational aspect of education in unschooling (though different households would of course recognize it to a greater or lesser degree). As for "Education is a life," the similarities and differences seem more complex. Most unschoolers I know would take pains to expose their children to a wide variety of ideas and experiences. And yet this is the point where Charlotte Mason exposes her Classical roots and takes "Children are born persons" in a different direction than unschooling does.
"The fundamental idea is, that children are persons and are therefore moved by the same springs of conduct as their elders. Among these is the Desire of Knowledge, knowledge-hunger being natural to everybody." (Vol. 6, p. 14)
To Charlotte Mason, curiosity is "the chief instrument of education." (vol. 6, p. 11) Children are born with this desire for learning and maintain it until the artificial incentives for learning that teachers and systems set up stifle it and leave the students apathetic. (Vol. 6, p.11) She also says that "self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a child’s nature" and that "...The mind of a child takes or rejects according to its needs" (Vol. 6, p. 10). So far, my perception is that the unschooler would agree with her completely.

The conclusion Charlotte Mason comes to from these points is startlingly different than the one unschoolers come to, however. Because children are born persons, and are naturally curious about everything, we owe it to them to give them a broad, generous, liberal arts education. How do we do this in a way that stimulates the desire for learning, rather than stifling it? Put the children in touch with great minds and great ideas through "living books" (Books by people who lived what they wrote about, who were passionate about their subject.). Then get out of the way and trust the child to take what he needs from the banquet of ideas you set out.
"...mind appeals to mind and thought begets thought and that is how we become educated. For this reason we owe it to every child to put him in communication with great minds that he may get at great thoughts; with the minds, that is, of those who have left us great works; and the only vital method of education appears to be that children should read worthy books, many worthy books." (Vol. 6, p. 12)
And so you will find that, unlike unschooling, Charlotte Mason does not advocate following a child's own interests in his lessons, though she does call for short lessons and plenty of spare time for a child to do just that. The lessons should be consecutive, she says, and there should be "no stray lessons." This is so we do not unduly limit the amount of knowledge a child can learn in the short years that are their school years.
13. In devising a SYLLABUS for a normal child, of whatever social class, three points must be considered:
     (a) He requires much knowledge, for the mind needs sufficient food as much as does the body.
     (b) The knowledge should be various, for sameness in mental diet does not create appetite (i.e., curiosity)
     (c) Knowledge should be communicated in well-chosen language, because his attention responds naturally to what is conveyed in literary form. (20 Principles, Preface, Vol. 6)
If you'll forgive me for saying this, in Charlotte Mason we find a Classical education flowing from what looks very much like an Unschooling heart, and that distinguishes it from the majority of the Classical education we are familiar with in the homeschooling world today.

This post has become long enough, though. I'll get into measuring Classical education against Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education next time.

(disclaimer: I am no expert in any of these philosophies or methods, even Charlotte Mason's --you can see I'm still quoting from prefaces and introductions because I haven't gotten any farther yet. You can also see that my perspective is one of love for Charlotte Mason's ideas, and that I'm analyzing these philosophies based on my perception of them, which may possibly be faulty. I am open to gracious correction.)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Saturday Commonplaces 8

/ˈkämənˌplās/ noun 1. a usual or ordinary thing.

It has been a few weeks since I've done this little newsletter. I was just browsing through my "old" posts (all from this winter) and realizing how valuable they are for capturing and remembering a bit of everyday life. Many of the things I wrote were already on their way out of my memory! This is one of the reasons I started to blog in the first place...

Some Quirky Language from JJ: 

"Afta" (After)
definition: before.
"What time is it, JJ?" I ask as I'm rudely awoken at some dark hour of the morning.
He switches on the cell phone to check. "It's six afta two afta zero." (meaning 6:20)
Or he weighs himself. "Mama, I'm three afta eight afta six." (38.6 lb)

"Eida" (Either)
definition: too
"I want to come with you eida, Mama."
or "Can I have a cookie eida, please?

JJ painted a watercolour picture yesterday.  He started in the corner of the page, and painted part of a circle. It was mostly blue, with some patches of green and brown. I asked him what it was, he said "the sound from the speakers." I had no idea what that meant, but Stephen filled me in today. When he's playing music on the stereo upstairs, there are pictures of earth from space showing on the screen. JJ had painted the earth. That paper is going in our keepsake box, along with its title.

A Good Book I Read Recently:
I first heard about Surprised by Oxford from some quotes I read on a blog. I lost no time in finding it at my library. For me, its beauty was that it was yet another illustration of how God reaches down and meets us where we are. What believer does not have a similar story of the providential leading of God as they came to faith?
I couldn't quite figure out whether this book was well-written or not. On the positive side, I finished it in two days because I just couldn't put it down. On the negative side, the language of many of the conversations is stilted and unreal. One possibility is that these "conversations" are in fact distillations of the wisdom found in several conversations over time. And the truth is, this concentrated form of conversation often results in some of the most quotable passages of the book. Overall, I highly recommend it.

And that's all for today. Have a good week!