Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Morning in the Life

(of one very pregnant homeschool mama!)

Hello everyone, I'm still here! I was due yesterday, and there were some signs that the baby might come that day, but it did not happen. Today is quiet, and I'm thankful, because we're having a blizzard. I wouldn't really want to go out in this.

My days are not exactly typical right now. I'm nine months pregnant and definitely slowing down. My fourteen-year-old sister is staying over and helping, so housekeeping is actually a bit easier than usual. And she always graciously allows me to have a long nap after lunch while she watches the boys. On the other hand, I'm having some aches and pains and disrupted nights. Homeschooling is still going, but things are being missed here and there, and we're progressing more slowly. I'm content with that, but hoping for my usual boost in energy after the baby is born (and for another sleepy baby!). We'll see.

This was our morning last Friday:

6:30 AM: Stephen's alarm goes off, and SA(6) bounds out of bed immediately, as usual. He comes and snuggles with Stephen, talking a mile a minute. I have had bad pain in my hips through the night (ahhh...Relaxin. Let's hope it means the baby is coming soon!). I get up and walk around a bit, hoping to relieve the pain, but it's not happening. Oh well. Back to bed for a bit more rest.

7:15 AM: Now it's really time to get up! The boys are all downstairs already, playing on Stephen's work phone before he has to leave. I quickly get Stephen's lunch ready. Too late to make him coffee. I set the table for breakfast for myself, my sister, and the boys. We have breakfast, but I'm finding the  wooden chair too uncomfortable to sit on, so I move to an easy chair. Unfortunately, this seems to be a signal for the boys to go crazy. Somehow they seem to sense that I'm not moving anytime soon. I call them to stand around me while we do our "circle time." I read the story of the Prodigal Son from the Bible and require SA(6) to narrate. He does so, but while I'm paying attention to that, JJ(4) and MM(2) squabble on the floor beside my chair. Apparently they are blocking each other's view of the picture. I rearrange them, and we do our hymn and Scripture memory work. They are still moving around and quarreling, so I skip our catechism memory work and our French review.

8:30 AM: I decide to have a  hot shower to see if that will relieve my hip pain. It seems to work, but my energy levels are very low. I go upstairs and lie down for a while. I'm so thankful for my sister being here!

9:45 AM: I'm back downstairs, and find I have to remind my sons of their chores. Thankfully they have been playing very nicely together, though. I love that they do that. I hurry to do the breakfast dishes before our school day begins.

10:00 AM: Never mind the school day...somehow JJ(4) has knocked down a huge pile of boxes that I was saving for my garden (I use them to smother weeds). That was a project I was hoping to do another day, but now it seems it must be today. I collapse all the boxes and get them ready to be put outside. I think about how ruined my day would be right now if I didn't have my sister to actually carry them out for me.

10:20 AM: I'm still working on the boxes, but my sister gets our "teatime" ready. We haven't done our art appreciation or our music appreciation this week, though we have read poetry several times. I decide we'll do art appreciation, and open our Degas book to "The Orchestra." We look at the painting together, and talk about what we see... the instruments (is that a harp in the back?), the dancers blurry and bright in the background, the orchestra members all dressed in black and white. Then we study it for a while until we can see it in our minds with our eyes closed, and we close the book. SA narrates first, and remembers a surprising amount. (Should I mention that at this point JJ(4) is complaining he is still hungry --we shared an entire cantaloupe, a small piece of coffee cake, and some cheese. I tell him he's had enough.) I add a few details from the painting that SA hasn't mentioned yet, and he adds one or two more things.

My sister goes off to do her math on the computer (thankfully the younger boys seem content to look over her shoulder), and we settle down to do some more schoolwork. SA reads a chapter from Walter the Lazy Mouse, a delightful library find written by Marjorie Flack. This is the largest chapter book he's attempted to read on his own so far. I offer to let him read silently, but he still wants to read aloud.

Next, we get out his math binder and do some work on simple fractions. We normally use Miquon Math, but today he wants to do some pages I've printed out from SchoolhouseTeachers.com. He enjoys them a lot, and asks me to print out more for him to do next time. His math lesson rarely takes more than fifteen minutes, and today is no different.

SA works on his copywork next. Today I tell him to print four words neatly. (Normally we just set a timer for five minutes and he does what he can in that time.) He gets to the second word and makes a mistake: he prints the last letter of the word a bit far from the rest of it. He is distressed about it, but I tell him to go on to the next words, and he will do better next time. And he does.

I'm ready to go on to our first narration, but SA asks for a break. I agree that he may play for ten minutes. Then we sit down and I read from "Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp" from the Blue Fairy Book. This is our third or fourth reading from the story, as I don't allow reading and narration to take longer than about fifteen minutes. SA narrates well, thankfully. (He had an off day yesterday when it came to narration...)

Meanwhile, my sister has finished her math, and JJ(4) has been having fun at starfall.com (A Friday treat.). When he's done, SA takes his turn at the computer to do some math analogies. I'm not sure how useful they are educationally (for him, I mean...he seems to be fairly intuitive about these things), but he enjoys his turn on the computer.

And the morning is over... lunch time! We still have another narration to do this afternoon, but while my checklist is not complete, I don't think we will do more than that today. They can go and play outside!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Reading Scripture with your Young Readers

SA(6) and I began to read Proverbs together at the beginning of Grade 1. He had been reading for about half a year at that point, and had just received his own Bible. I decided we would try to read a short passage every day after lunch, where he would read one verse, and I would read the next.

I should perhaps mention that we have a habit of reading Scripture aloud after meals anyway, whether I or my husband do so, or whether SA reads along with us. So this new habit was actually not a huge innovation on our part.

Still, it was a challenge, and we did not really begin to do it steadily every day until the beginning of the second term of Grade 1. For one thing, the vocabulary of Proverbs is really challenging. For another thing (and this is probably more to the point), any new habit requires committed, daily effort. I do have the blessing of a son who, once he makes a habit his own, never deviates from it. You could even call him a bit inflexible sometimes. However, in this case it has been a blessing. :)

As we've really gotten into the routine of this, I'm enjoying it more and more. I'm sure a case could be made for beginning with an easier Bible translation with young readers. We've chosen to simply use the version we normally use as a family and plan to keep using throughout our children's growing up years. (ESV) We do this to build our children's familiarity with the language of Scripture over time. Switching versions as they grow could take away from that.

Beginning with Proverbs was a personal decision, and not really one I put a lot of thought into. However, it has proven to be a good choice. The best thing about it is the repetition of words. While the vocabulary may be difficult, once a child has mastered a few big words, the same words keep coming up. (Righteousness, instruction, knowledge, reproof, prudence, integrity, understanding, discretion...) There is also a lot of repetition of ideas. Comprehension may or may not be complete at this point, but it would be hard for him not to get the idea that wisdom is good and foolishness is bad, that hard work is good and laziness is bad, that listening to instruction is wise and despising it is foolish.

We are now working through Proverbs 18. It takes us about three reading sessions to get through a chapter now. It took many more than that in the beginning, but there was no rush. I do not make him "sound out" big words when we're doing this. If he's struggling, I simply supply the word and we move on. I still help him quite often, but I notice that he usually reads a word effortlessly the second or third time he encounters it.

I don't know where we'll go once we're done Proverbs, though I am leaning towards the Psalms. I anticipate that as our children grow, we'll simply incorporate each new reader into our routine until we're all taking turns reading verses aloud. I have a distinct memory from my childhood of reading like this with my family...my father, my mother, myself, and two younger siblings. The youngest reader at the time was about five years old. It is a good memory. I'd like to pass it on to my children, and perhaps to you and yours as well.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Two More Reasons I Love Ambleside Online!

1. Yesterday I was reading (to my 6-year-old) the legend of how Merlin brought the Giant's Dance from Ireland to England to form Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain. The thought crossed my mind that AO is already filling in gaps in my education...and this is only year one!

2. Having the wonderful list of living books AO recommends for each grade is a huge blessing to me. You see, it can be intimidating to go from a vague idea of what a living book is, to always choosing living books for your children. Using a list like this, you gain an experience of what a living book is simply by using them constantly. I realized yesterday that almost all of the books I am using with my grade one child are books that a person of any age would enjoy and learn from. I'm sure that the level of difficulty goes up with each grade, of course, but these books and the information in them are not aimed at first graders...they are aimed at people. My fourteen-year-old sister is staying with me right now, and I know that her interest has been caught by the books I'm reading to my son. I know this because she has been finishing off the books on her own. (Tales from Shakespeare and The Blue Fairy Book, so far.)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Neither Good nor Evil?

Principle 2: “Children are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.” (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6: A Philosophy of Education, p. xxix)

When I first read the second principle, I admit I cringed at what seemed to me a clear denial of Scriptural teaching.  How can this statement possibly reconcile with what the Bible says?
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. - Genesis 1:27
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. - Genesis 1:31
All children are created in the image of God. So in that sense, all children are born good, right?

But then, all children are fallen creatures.
The heart is deceitful above all things,and desperately sick; who can understand it? -Jeremiah 17:9
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. -Ps. 51:5
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. -Ephesians 2:1-3
Surely all children are "born bad" and desperately in need of our Saviour.

Continuing to read more of Charlotte Mason's writings, I’m confident she was not denying either the image of God in children or their fallenness. In chapter 3 of Volume 6 ("The Good and Evil Nature of Children"), she speaks of the imagination, the creativity, the intelligence, the ability to love and the sense of justice all children have. What is this but the image of God in them? So what can she mean when she says they are not born good, but with tendencies toward goodness? What kind of distinction is she trying to make? She also speaks of patterns of behaviour that can only be described as sinful even in very young children. She is not denying their fallenness. So what can she mean when she says children are not born bad?

To begin to understand where she is coming from, you have to understand her context, the time in which she wrote. Karen Glass believes this principle is a rejection of the hereditary determinism of the eugenics movement (See the Ambleside Online forum, Volume 6 - Philosophy of Education/RE: CM in 2 Years, Volume 6, Week 3: Book 1, Ch 3 & 4 07-21-2014, 11:39 AM. She mentions there that she also writes about this in her book, Consider This, which I have not yet read.). Just what is hereditary determinism, you ask?

Hereditary (or biological) determinism was the idea that "goodness" and "badness" were genetically determined by the parents you had. If you were born in a respectable family, decent, church-going, moral, you were born “good”. You could be trained, and it was assumed you would probably turn out decent as well. If your father was a criminal, or you were born out of wedlock, you were born "bad," and since this "badness" was determined by your genetics, there was really not much any training or education could do about it.

There is other evidence that hereditary determinism was a very personal issue for Charlotte Mason. It is very likely that she was born before her parents were married, and therefore illegitimate. This was in a day when even illegitimate orphans were rejected from respectable orphanages because of the supposed taint of their parents’ sin. For more on this, see a very fascinating article at The Common Room Blog commenting on research by Margaret Coombs presented at the 2012 ChildLightUSA Charlotte Mason Educational Conference. (Unfortunately, I have not been able to find Coombs’ original research published. Please do your own due diligence, and let me know if you know where to read more on this!)

So when Charlotte Mason says children are not born good or bad, she is really saying that all children are the same in their tendencies towards good and evil. There are not some children born good, and others born bad, depending on the family or class they were born into. They are all made in the image of God. They are all fallen. Children are "born persons," body, mind, and soul, and these tendencies towards good and evil affect every aspect of their whole person - body, mind and soul. And she is saying that every child can be trained and educated. No one is beyond hope because they were born "bad."

Whether or not you agree with Charlotte Mason's second principle, I hope you consider this simple insight, which is at the heart of all she teaches: What you believe about children and education will work itself out in your practice. Do you believe that your children are made in the image of God? What does that mean? Are you underestimating their imaginations, their intelligence, their capabilities? Do you believe that your children are fallen creatures who need training and instruction, but ultimately, need their hearts changed by the gospel through the work of the Holy Spirit? What do you believe your role as a parent and teacher is in all of this?

I still do wish Charlotte Mason had worded this differently. I am concerned that simply accepting this principle as written without considering its context could lead to danger. What do we want our children’s first resort to be when they discover a sinful habit in themselves? Will they see it as a simple matter of replacing a bad habit with a good one? I hope we teach them to go to the cross, knowing the love and forgiveness of Christ first of all. And yet, I can not fault Charlotte Mason for focusing on the training and education side of things. Education is, after all, what she's writing about. And it is incredibly important, so long as we do not lose sight of the gospel and see it as a way of saving ourselves.

For further reading on the issue of whether or not Charlotte Mason was rejecting Christian theology here, I highly recommend Brandy Vencel’s blog post “Charlotte Mason, Total Depravity, and the Divine Image.”

Friday, January 9, 2015

This Week's Musical Teatime

We are still doing our "Musical Teatime" once a week on Thursdays. This term we are listening to Handel. We watched "The Messiah" during December. Now we are on to his "Water Music" and "Music for the Royal Fireworks." Beyond choosing the pieces we will listen to, I don't put a lot of planning into this beforehand. Yesterday we stumbled upon a beautiful, graceful baroque dance set to Handel's "Water Music."

Following that, we watched an electrifying version of the "Music for the Royal Fireworks" performed by Le Concert Spirituel conducted by Herve Niquet. (Sorry, I know I need an accent in his name, but can't figure it out right now.) If you like watching conductors, here's one worth watching. He has a bit of a villainous look, for one thing. Then the way he conducts is beyond description. He seems to  move and shape the music with his hands in a way I've never seen anyone else do. Fascinating. Watch it just for that.

Next week I plan to look for some Handel music performed on an organ (My boys love organs because their Opa has one.). I will also check if the Music Animation Machine (musanim) has anything by Handel. Yes, this is the way I "plan"...

Monday, January 5, 2015

How the "Science of Relations" is Formed

I'm sorry, despite my resolve, I am really having trouble getting started jumping back into Charlotte Mason's Volume 3! If you're not familiar with this volume, it is entitled School Education and it deals with developing a curriculum for children under the age of twelve. Right now I'm working through chapter 7: "An Adequate Theory of Education."

There is much more in this chapter than I can do justice to right now, so I'm going to follow an idea within the chapter: that education is the science of relations. What does this mean? It means that our children are educated by the relationships --"ties of intimacy, joy, association, and knowledge" (p. 75) they form with things and with ideas. The end result of this type of education must be "fulness of living, joy in life."

Charlotte Mason describes how these relationships are formed:

1. Recognition. Even young children begin to recognize the things around them --the birds at the feeder, the trees in the backyard, a piece of music. We need to be encouraging and nurturing this recognition as much as we do their progress in early reading and math.

2. Appreciation. This follows closely after recognition. Children begin to naturally compare and contrast the things around them, and to appreciate their beauty. Some children (mine do not yet, sadly) begin to try to copy what they see with their pencil crayons and paint.

3. First-hand Knowledge. This is the beginning of science. To use Nature Study as an example, children begin to observe more closely, and to notice similarities between birds or plants, and to realize that they belong to families.

4. Appreciative Knowledge and Exact Knowledge. I find the relationship between the joy and the discipline of learning fascinating (and sometimes hard to get my mind around, depending on the child and the subject). Charlotte Mason says let the joy, the delight, the spark of interest, come first. Then building the discipline of exact knowledge will be eagerly pursued.

I had an example of this just today. I had to choose a chapter for SA(6) to narrate from the Burgess Bird Book. Now, he sometimes finds this a bit of a difficult book. However, I chose a bird that we happened to see yesterday for the first time this winter (a Hairy Woodpecker). As a result, he was very interested to learn about the difference between the Downy and the Hairy Woodpeckers, and also get to know about a few more types of woodpeckers.

I think it's clear that the education gained by relationships formed in this way is worth far more to a person than anything studied only in order to pass a test!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Hymn for a New Year

We sang this beautiful hymn in church this morning, and it was such an encouragement to me for this new year that I had to share it with you. I hope you are encouraged, too! Blessings to you all in 2015.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Resolution

This is not a very good time for resolutions for me, with a baby due in less than a month. It has also not been a good time for blogging, or even keeping up with my "to read" pile, in the last little while. But the thing is, I miss it when I don't do it. When I read and then write about what I'm learning, I feel myself growing. I begin to make connections in every area of my life. I could just say that blogging about what I'm reading makes me understand exactly why Charlotte Mason-style narration works.

It's time to go back to a commitment to a weekly blog post about what I'm reading. It will probably work in reverse for the first little while...I will read because I am committed to write. I don't expect these posts to be very good, but I need to remember that I don't have to be full of wisdom and insight all the time. I expect to be blogging for years, and I hope there will be evidence of spiritual and mental growth over all that time. In the mean time, I need to go through the process of a steady, weekly discipline of reading, then writing. The last months of writing random, disconnected posts have shown me that.

So here's my resolution: I will come back to doing my weekly "Charlotte Mason Journal" postings on Mondays. I will pick up where I left off in Charlotte Mason's Volume 3: School Education. 

I do have to be realistic. There is a baby coming soon. But I hope that if I miss a week, I'll pick it up again the next week. And I hope that if I don't have any wonderful insights, I'll at least have some great quotes to share.

Feel free to join me! 

Reading Charlotte Mason's own works is very rewarding. If you don't own them, you can read them online for free at Ambleside Online in both their original form and in a modern English paraphrase.