Monday, June 23, 2014

A Born Person

I don't have my usual post today, as I'm busy getting ready to have my Charlotte Mason study group at my home tonight. We are studying Charlotte Mason's Volume 6, A Philosophy of Education, together. This meeting's topic is Chapter two: Children are Born Persons.

Since I don't have much time, I'll just share a quote or two that I underlined in preparation for tonight's meeting.

"If we have not proved that a child is born a person with a mind as complete and as beautiful as his beautiful little body, we can at least show that he always has all the mind he requires for his occasions; that is, that his mind is the instrument of his education and that his education does not produce his mind." p.36

"Our business is to give children the great ideas of life, of religion, history, science; but it is the ideas we must give, clothed upon with facts as they occur, and must leave the child to deal with these as he chooses." p. 40

"They experience all the things they hear and read of; these enter into them and are their life; and thus it is that ideas feed the mind in the most literal sense of the word 'feed.'
"Do our Geography lessons take the children there? Do they experience, live in, or story of the call of Abraham? --or of the healing of the blind man on the way to Jericho? If they do not, it is not for lack of earnestness and intention on the part of the teacher; his error is rather want of confidence in children. He has not formed a just measure of a child's mind and bores his scholars with much talk about matters which they are able to understand for themselves much better than he does." p.41

And that's all for this commentary for once!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

My One-Year Blog Anniversary

It's true! A year ago yesterday I started this blog. I was getting tired of the meaninglessness of Facebook. I needed a place to process what I was thinking about, and record things I wanted to remember. This blog has proved to be that place. It has also become something I did not expect: a place to connect with people who share my interests.
A Favourite Nature Study Memory

Here are some favourite posts from the past year:

Favourite Funny Story (from a year ago today): Adventures in Nature

Best Book Reviewed: Time of Wonder

Some Rich Educational Experiences: 
{Big Red Barn Reading Lessons} Lesson 4
Palindromes: Our Best Math Lesson Ever!
Our Very First Poetry Teatime

Top Five Most-Read Posts:
What it is, Is Classical
Education is Bigger Than You Think
The Outdoor Life for the Children
Printable Outdoor Time Log
The Awesome Mystery of Growth in Reading

I will leave you with a picture of my 3-year-old JJ's preparation for Poetry Tea Time one day last winter. Apparently I was taking too long putting his baby brother down for his nap, and so JJ took matters into his own hands.

If you've never commented before, please say hello today. I find it fascinating that there are people out there who are reading what I write, and I'd love to meet you!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Term that Fell Apart

All I can say is, it's a good thing this is only Kindergarten. After a very happy and productive Fall and Winter, we lost steam at the beginning of May. I signed up for a theatrical production that required rehearsals three times a week, and we started swimming lessons once a week for six weeks. Add in the garden, and suddenly the easy, calm routine we followed every day all winter just didn't work anymore. The worst thing was that I didn't seem to have the time or energy to sit down and fix it, so we just stumbled along in the chaos.

This is why I plan each season. A fresh start four times a year? Yes please. Things have settled down a little this week, and that has given me a chance to think about what happened with our Spring and plan for better things in our Summer.

I don't want to give the impression that everything fell apart. SA read about fifty books this term, and while he doesn't love reading the way he loves math, he is happy to read every day. Our math lessons did rather dry up after the beginning of May, but he hasn't lost ground. He continued to practice at Khan Academy daily, and has almost finished Early Math there (as far as I can tell, this level covers K-Gr 2). I don't consider Khan Academy a tool for significant growth in math for him, but at least it kept his math love somewhat satisfied. Another area of progress was piano. I started him off with a few lessons from an Alfred book I found at Value Village, and he took off. He practices for the joy of it every day, and that makes me very happy.

But what I felt was the best part of our homeschool this Fall and Winter, our "circle times" of morning devotions and poetry teatimes, really did fall apart this Spring, and I regret that. Every time I needed the car, we would have to go to work with Stephen in the morning. This meant that the breakfast-around-the-table anchor for our morning memory work was gone in favour of a quick sandwich in the car. Tea time also became sporadic, happening once or twice a week instead of every day. This meant that our memory work slowed down significantly. We kept up with Scripture and hymns, but learned only ten new catechism questions and no new poems. I have noticed something good coming out of this, though. The boys are eagerly requesting favourite poems whenever we do have poetry teatime, where before they were rather taking it all for granted.  JJ especially has really connected with some of A.A. Milne's poetry, which we began to read in this term.

Nature study was very informal and mostly related to gardening. They planted some seeds and watched them begin to grow. My nature journal has been sadly neglected.

Habits are another area that suffered. Not only did we not develop any new habits, our old ones have not been doing so well with our irregular routine.

I think the most important lesson for myself is just to pick myself up, adjust my expectations, and begin again. Now to work on my plans for Summer!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Masterly Inactivity: A Matter of Trust

Masterly inactivity is one of my favourite concepts in Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education. The phrase itself is all about balance. There is parental authority on the one hand, and a wise letting alone of children on the other -- giving them freedom to make right choices, take risks, and make discoveries on their own.

Charlotte Mason noticed that parents in her day felt a deep responsibility for the upbringing of their children. She felt this was a good thing, but that the anxiety and the "fussy and restless habit" it was causing in many parents was not helpful. (What would she have thought of the "helicopter parenting" of today?!)

"We ought to do so much for our children, and are able to do so much for them, that we begin to think everything rests with us and that we should never intermit for a moment our conscious action on the young minds and hearts about us." (Vol. 3, p. 27)

How can we as parents strike the right balance? Charlotte Mason mentions several factors, including authority, good humour, confidence in oneself and the children, and a sound mind in a sound body. I think the key element here is trust, though: trust in yourself, in your children, and most of all, in God.

Trust Yourself
"The mere blessed fact of the parental relationship and of that authority which belongs to it, by right and by nature, acts upon the children as do sunshine and shower on a seed in good soil. But the fussy parent, the anxious parent, the parent who explains overmuch, who commands overmuch, who excuses overmuch, who restrains overmuch, who interferes overmuch, even the parent who is with the children overmuch, does away with the dignity and simplicity of that relationship which, like all the best and most delicate things in life, suffer by being asserted or defended." p. 29

I'll be honest, I am anxious sometimes about whether I am doing enough for my children. I teach them many good things, and neglect others. I see things other parents neglect and worry about my own blind spots. I know I have them. Charlotte Mason reminds me that the mere fact of the relationships in our home is enough. It is enough that they live in a home where their father and mother love the Lord, love each other, and love them. It is enough that they know that we are in authority over them, however imperfectly that may be carried out from day to day. It is enough that they feel secure and loved. It is enough that they know that there is right and wrong, and that they must choose the right.

Trust Your Children
Though Charlotte Mason herself was not a parent, she knew perfectly well that children are often testing the limits, seeing how far they can go. Parents must be alert in their authority, and yet, in balance, they must also give their children the trust and freedom to choose the right.

"Every time a child feels that he chooses to obey of his own accord, his power of initiative is strengthened." p. 31

"He must be treated with full confidence, and must feel that right-doing is his own free choice, which his parents trust him to make; but he must also be very well aware of the deterrent force in the background, watchful to hinder him when he would do wrong." p. 32

This is, of course, how we live as adults. We make our own free choices, and yet we do not feel free to break the law or to hurt others, for example. As Christians, the Holy Spirit guides us and convicts us. And here is the heart of the matter.

Trust the Lord
Do we trust the Lord himself to be working in the hearts of our children? If we do not, will it not all be in vain, no matter how much anxious labour we put into it? But if we do trust Him, we can have peace, and in that peace, allow our children the freedom to be led by the Spirit instead of constantly hovered over by ourselves. We can be diligent, and yet not anxious.

"When we recognise that God does not make over the bringing up of children absolutely even to their parents, but that He works Himself, in ways which it must be our care not to hinder, in the training of every child, then we shall learn passiveness, humble and wise. We shall give children space to develop on the lines of their own characters in all right ways, and shall know how to intervene effectually to prevent those errors which, also, are proper to their individual characters." p. 35

A Personal Note
I have been thinking a lot about this lately. I have a sibling (adult) who has been making many unwise choices lately. And I have been afraid. We grew up in a stable, Christian home. We were loved. We knew what was right and wrong. My parents were not perfect parents. I notice that my husband and I are not perfect parents either, and I wonder what will become of our own children when they go out in the world and make their own choices. Is it really enough that we love them and that we do our best to nurture them in the fear of the Lord? Is it really enough to trust the Spirit to work in their hearts? Can we let go and allow them to make mistakes, even really, really bad ones? It is a sobering thought that children are born persons, and that they can choose to resist the Spirit's work, too. That they can start on a destructive path that leads far from God. That our own children will choose for themselves some day whom they will serve.

And yet I must choose this path of trust. My anxiety, my fussiness, my hovering and controlling will not add anything good. The grace of God is our only hope, whatever our children choose in the future. And we know it is Amazing Grace.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Adventures on PEI: Taking the Ferry

Even when you live in a place as amazing as Prince Edward Island, it is possible to take the place you live for granted. I have found that I need to be intentional about exploring new places with my young children. I am making it a goal this summer to go out at least once every two weeks and visit some of the local attractions, both old favourites and new-to-us discoveries.

When I was about twelve years old, in the days before the Confederation Bridge connected PEI to the mainland, my family came on vacation from Ontario to PEI. The ferry was the only way you could get here back then. But I hadn't taken the ferry since.

Someone from our local homeschool group arranged a (free!) tour on the ferry at Wood Islands this week. This ferry connects PEI to Pictou, Nova Scotia. The trip takes about 75 minutes each way. If you were to drive on with a car, the trip would cost you $69 (about $20 more than taking the bridge to New Brunswick). But the regular price for walking on is only $18, with children 12 and under free. Not bad for an afternoon of fun.

Before we boarded, the boys were excited to watch the front of the ferry open up to let the trucks and cars out.

Then we got on and waited for our tour to begin. Meanwhile, the ferry began to move.

As soon as the ferry was well underway, our guide took us up to the bridge. SA was fascinated with all the screens and instruments, and I was pleased to see that he wasn't afraid to ask questions. JJ was the most excited to sit in the captain's chair, and MM just loved the windows right at his level that allowed him to see the water below.

After about an hour, we went down to the deck. We were nearing Nova Scotia.

The front of the boat opened up again. We stayed on the ferry and didn't set foot in Nova Scotia. There wasn't much we could have seen on foot, I think. Some other day, if we have more time, we may try getting off and taking a later ferry home...perhaps there are some geocaches to find on the other side...or maybe a nice place for a picnic? While we waited to leave again, we got in line at Cows and got some ice cream. We were lucky. It was the first day of the season that they were open on the ferry!

On the way back to PEI, we spent more time on the deck. At some point I decided I wanted to switch to the other deck (the one facing PEI), and when we went inside to walk there, the boys discovered toys! Not what we came for, but for them, it was all part of a fun experience.

I got them outside on deck again in time to see PEI as we approached.

All together, the trip took about three hours. We all had a lovely time, and hope to do it again some day!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Musical Teatime and the Music Animation Machine

This term we have been having a musical teatime on Fridays instead of our usual daily poetry teatime. We take our tea tray and go upstairs and sit in front of the big screen and watch YouTube. I decided to focus on Johann Sebastian Bach this term. We started with a lot of organ music, because the boys love their Opa's big organ. At some point we stumbled across Stephen Malinowski's Music Animation Machine,and SA was hooked. Check this out!

I love it myself, too. I think it's because it's a visual representation of what I hear in a much more direct way than a musical score is. Read about it at the Music Animation Website. I find it fascinating!

The boys enjoy watching live performances as well. Here's one they really enjoyed, on the largest church pipe organ in the world. My sensibilities were a bit offended by all the ostentation (Isn't a pipe organ beautiful without the garish lights?), but my children didn't mind that. JJ noticed that it had more stops than Opa's organ. (Ha!)

We also borrowed a CD from the library called "Mr. Bach Comes to Call." The story was fanciful and the quality was a bit spotty, but it had some good pieces of music on it. Another plus is that SA seems to have been inspired to practice more and more on the piano.