Monday, March 30, 2015

Delight in the Season...

Spring is my absolute favorite season and Easter is my absolute favorite holiday!  I feel Holy Week is the most important time of the Christian year.  It's a time to reflect, give thanks, and rejoice over the death and resurrection of our Savior.  Therefore, I'll be taking a break here from blogging for the rest of this week to delight in the season.  However, stay tuned in April for notes from our next CM Book Study, where we're taking a look at Charlotte Mason's Principal 4.  I will also be releasing a new book sale list! 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Quo Vadis?, Where are you going?...

I finished reading Quo Vadis? last week and I'm still thinking about it!  It is a great book.  If you have it on your shelf, I encourage you to get it down and read it.  This classic novel was originally written in the late nineteenth century by Henryk Sienkiewicz, a Polish Nobel Prize winning author.  It has since been translated into more than 40 languages.   

Quo Vadis? is a remarkable story set in Rome under the reign of Nero Written as historical fiction, Sienkiewicz did extensive research to be sure the historic details were accurate.  A historical note in the back of my book stated,
Before writing Quo Vadis?, he traveled to Italy several times to visit the museums and historic sites of ancient Rome.  He was thoroughly familiar with the ancient sources of the period, especially Tacitus and Suetonius, as well as the works of contemporary scholars, in particular Fustel de Coulanges and Ernest Renan.
I must confess, I did have a bit of trouble in the first chapter keeping the characters straight as many of the names were unfamiliar to me.  I remember studying Nero with the kids a few years back, but my knowledge and memory was limited.  I really appreciated the Character List found here, which shows the fictitious characters versus true historic characters.  I also read from The Story of the Romans by H. A. Guerber, reprinted by Christine Miller, to gain further knowledge of Roman history.  In addition, Cliff Notes on Roman Classics was helpful in learning about Seneca, who educated Nero, and Stoicism, a common philosophy practiced at that time.  

Quo Vadis? is an old Sonlight title, used in what was formerly Year 8, now Core 200.  It has since been replaced, initially by The Flames of Rome by Paul L. Maier, and more recently, Pontius Pilate, also by Maier, apparently due to sensual content.   I have not read either book by Maier, however, after reading Quo Vadis?, I'm disappointed that it was replaced.  I really enjoyed reading Quo Vadis? and feel it's an important piece of literature.  Beautiful Feet does still use Quo Vadis? in their high school Ancient History guide.  Their website description reads as follows:
In the dark, decadent last days of the Roman Empire, a pagan soldier sees a girl of exotic beauty and decides he must have her as his concubine. But unknown to him, Ligia is a Christian intent on living a pure life, even as Nero's ruthless persecution sweeps the city. As the lives of Vinicius and Ligia intertwine, they watch the world they know change before their eyes. While the apostles Peter and Paul seek to save the immoral city from ruin, Christians are brutally martyred in the Coliseum and Rome burns. Quo Vadis, part of Focus on the Family Great Stories collection, vividly captures all the madness and suspense of one of history's most unforgettable chapters. [It's a] Richly detailed and historically accurate picture of Rome in the time of Nero. Set against the barbarity and sensuality of Nero's Rome, it portrays the agony and the glory of the early Church. Word of caution: there are a few instances of sensuality realistically portrayed. 
I read Quo Vadis? along with a friend as part of my quest for mother culture.  We then had weekly discussion based on the questions in the BF Ancient History guide.  It was so fun reading with a buddy and it held me accountable to finish such a 'big book'.  I also joined the 2015 Chunkster Challenge and the 2015 Back to the Classics Challenge linked below.  I will use this book in the Very Long Classic category.    

Unfortunately, there are many parallels between ancient Rome and modern America.  Yet, the beautiful message of the Gospel reassures us as Christians.  I leave you with this quote that I copied into my Commonplace Book from Quo Vadis?,
....He saw a precipice before him without a bottom, a future without hope.  He was a patrician, a military tribune, a powerful man, but now he saw another power threatening him, a power which belonged to a madman whose evil actions were numerous in the past, in the present, and no doubt would be in the future.  Only such people as the Christians disdain this power and do not fear it, knowing that this power is merely temporary and ephemeral.  Sure, he could put them to death now but eventually they would overcome this evil which threatens them.  Everyone else was in mortal fear of Caesar's power but not the Christians.  They feared a much greater power than Nero's or any other on this earth.
Vinitius now fully understood the extent of the evil which ruled the Roman world....For the first time, he felt that either the world must change and be transformed or life would be impossible with such a tyrant as ruler.  He now understood that in times like these only Christians could be happy.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

My Best Homeschool Advice...

Over the years, I've learned a great deal through homeschooling.  Many wise women who went before me shared tips, tricks, and other knowledge they gained from their experience as homeschooling moms.  A couple of things really stuck with me.  The first being,  "Don't compare my outsides with your insides."

As homeschool moms, I think it's easy for us to look at what others are doing and feel inadequate.  We all know those moms, who look like they have it together.  Their kids are studying three foreign languages, attending STEM camps, taking AP courses, reading every book under the sun, and starring in lead drama roles, all while volunteering to save the world.   You feel like you could never keep up.  I'm here to tell you, you were not made to keep up.

God has created you to be the perfect parent for your kid(s).  We get into great trouble when we start to compare ourselves with others.  Exodus 20:17 (ESV) says,
You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.
There it is!...God's law, and it applies to our homeschools. Coveting what it appears someone else has in their homeschool is against God's command.  Therefore, comparing ourselves to that other "perfect" homeschool family will ultimately lead to failure. You will not and cannot measure up, because it is not the life God designed for you.  Instead, let us cling to 1 Kings 3:12-14, which says,
...behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you.  I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days.  And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.
When you're feeling inadequate regarding your homeschool, rather than compare, pray for discernment and wisdom, knowing that God will give you what you need to lead your family in truth, beauty, and goodness. 

The second thing I've learned and would like to share is, "Let your curriculum be your slave, not your master."

I remember first starting this homeschool journey and trying to create school at home.  I began with a very traditional textbook curriculum that was designed for a classroom.   I found out quickly that it was not going to work for my class of one unless I did some major tweaking.  It was so freeing when another homeschool mom told me, it was OK to tweak.  I have since come to tweak everything and it's very liberating. 

Our children are not cardboard cutouts.  Each one of them is a born person, created uniquely by God.  Therefore, what works for one will not work for everyone.  Most curriculum was designed and published because it worked for someone.  But in homeschooling, there is no one size fits all because we are all individual.  Being bound by your curriculum will surely cause burnout.  Rather, feel free to use what works and leave the rest!      

What's your best homeschool advice?  Leave a comment below and link up today to Sonlight's 25th Anniversary Blog Party...

Sonlight Blog Party

Monday, March 23, 2015

Attack in the Rye Grass, Marcus & Narcissa Whitman...

Attack in the Rye Grass by Dave & Neta Jackson is a Trailblazer Book that tells the story of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman.  The Whitmans were protestant missionaries, along with Henry and Eliza Spalding, in the Oregon Country in the mid 1800's.  Marcus was a doctor and Narcissa a teacher.  When they originally settled in Oregon, Narcissa and fellow missionary Eliza Spalding were the first European - American women to cross the Rocky Mountains.

The Whitmans and Spaldings experienced constant trouble with the native tribes in the Pacific Northwest region.  Unfortunately, a measles outbreak among the natives, brought on by Oregon Trail travelers/settlers, made life much worse for them.  The natives blamed the Whitmans, accusing them of only curing white people and letting the natives die.  Eventually, the restless natives attacked the mission, killing the Whitmans and several others. 

Attack in the Rye Grass is told through the eyes of young Perrin Whitman, Marcus Whitmans' nephew.  Though the real events took place over about a four year time, the book was condensed to approx. one and half years.  As with other Trailblazer Books, Attack in the Rye Grass is based on a true story, of what has since become known as the Whitman Massacre.    

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Importance of Picture Books....

There's nothing like a beautiful picture book!  Unfortunately, as kids get older, we often feel it necessary to stop reading picture books as though they are unworthy.  Some mom's feel time is short and they want to capitalize by focusing on higher level books.  I'm here to say, I think picture books are important at every level.

Many picture books offer character lessons or a moral to the story.  I will never forget the profound impact The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen had on me and our children.  It brought us all to tears.  Nor, the faithful friendship of Mike Mulligan, as he and his steam shovel Mary Anne dig their way to fame.  Many picture books are catchy and promote literacy.  After reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Did You See? aloud at least fifty times to Levi, he can "read" it along with me.  It's makes me smile every time.  And, there's nothing like a great historical picture book.  Whether it's Kate Waters reenacted photographic histories or Robert Quackenbush's knee slapping, humorous biographies, I've learned a great deal.

One way to get older kids reading picture books is having them read aloud to younger siblings.  I remember hearing those precious belly giggles and great laughter as our older girls read aloud Nine for California by Sonia Levitin to the younger kids.  Of course in which, they planted seeds for the beginnings of our study of the Gold Rush.

Another thought is to have a book basket with some great picture books sitting around the house in a cozy, visible area.  When they sit down to veg out, a stack of sweet books that happen to be sitting there, may light a spark.  You'd be surprised at what your kiddos will pick up and read on their own when they're easily accessible.

TruthQuest history guides offer suggestions for a plethora of worthy and wonderful historically based picture books.  Beautiful Feet Teaching Character Through Literature guide lists many beautiful picture books and discussion questions for guiding your students through life's lessons.  So, don't be afraid of adding picture books to your older child's study.  It may be a welcome break that they just may learn from :)

Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years

Friday, March 20, 2015

How I Choose Curriculum....

Earlier in the week, I shared Our Homeschool Journey.  Today, I want to share how I choose curriculum.  I mentioned previously, that I studied the local parochial school's books.  I also studied their scope & sequence as well as that of our local public school.  You see, I thought I was only in this for the short term.  I anticipated homeschooling Angel through middle school and then sending her back to public high school so I was very concerned with teaching her "the right scope & sequence".

I was initially given some older edition A Beka textbooks.  They looked consistent with my idea of education at that time, so we went with A Beka math, language arts, and health/science.  I created unit studies for history aligning with what our area schools were studying, which happened to be ancient history in 6th grade.  We spent several days a week at the public library, since we didn't have a home computer or internet access at that time.  Fortunately, it only took a short amount of time to see, it was a very inefficient system. 

As I started networking with other homeschoolers and researching various homeschool methods, I began to realize creating school at home was not really homeschooling.  I vowed to switch up some things for 7th grade.  It was an election year, so we studied American Government using a variety of materials.  I switched to Apologia Science and Bob Jones Language Arts.  Our approach was fairly traditional, but felt a little less restrictive.

However, after a year of BJU K5 Beginnings with RileyAnn, I knew it was still not working.  It drove me nuts that A Beka and Bob Jones were so classroom oriented.  I was tweaking like crazy to make it work for our one room, one student per grade, schoolhouse.  There were also many unnecessary bells and whistles which cost a lot of money for those traditional programs. 

At that point, I learned about Sonlight.  Angel had an insatiable desire to read real books and two years into homeschooling, I was beginning to gain a bit more confidence.  I felt it was time to take a new approach.  In 8th grade, Angel completed Sonlight American History In Depth, Core 100 and I used Introduction to World Cultures with RileyAnn.  The girls loved it!...and so did I.  They became excited about school and learned so much.

However, my paradigm shift really didn't come until the summer before Angel started high school.  We decided we actually liked homeschooling and that it would be in her best interest to continue. Once we determined she was not going back to public school, I felt like this huge weight had been lifted and I was free.  Free to choose my own scope & sequence based upon what God was calling us to do.  It was very liberating! 

This was the point I began studying Charlotte Mason's methods.  I was sparked by the idea of using living books as the primary means of learning.  I saw it in action while using Sonlight and I wanted more.  Enter a third student with learning differences and the deal was sealed.  A Charlotte Mason education was best suited for our family with multiple learning types, including auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. 

Fast forward to now, with a homeschool graduate and as I finish up my 8th year of homeschooling, I choose curriculum differently than when I first started.   I have come to realize that it isn't so much about which program you choose, but how you use that program.   I want to teach each child as a born person, not a scope & sequence.

I take a Christ centered approach, usually starting with a time period in history.  Then building around that with living books.  I believe history is "HIS Story" and therefore teach it chronologically from creation to modern, using God's Word as our spine.

From there, I take a look at each child's strengths and weaknesses, then I pull from many different publishers and homeschool suppliers.  I am no longer bound to one program for all subjects. I love having the flexibility to create and customize each of our children's education!

It is my intent to offer a broad and liberal education to our children, spreading a feast before them as we go.  Once the books and resources are chosen, I utilize Charlotte Mason's methods of short lessons to promote the habit of attention, copywork and narration as the means to thought and composition, and living books to promote truth, beauty, and goodness.  Every year I'm reaping more and more of the fruit of our labor and it tastes good!

 Sonlight Blog Party

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Commonplace Book...Henryk Sienkiewicz

...but Peter spoke up, "My children, on Golgotha I saw the Lord crucified.  I heard the hammer and saw the nails entering his feet and hands.  I saw Him elevated on the cross.  And, I cried out , 'Woe to us! You are God and You permit this?  We expected your kingdom to reign on earth.  Why this?'  But He, our Lord and Our God, hung on the cross and died.  He died for us all.  To free us for eternal salvation.  Yes, He died but He rose again from the dead on the third day.  He tarried with us and then ascended into heaven.  And we, with our faith fortified anew, go about strengthening and rallying the faith in others."

He then turned toward the voice of the first complain, "Why do you complain?  God Himself suffered crucifixion and death.  Is this the only life which you have?  Isn't there eternity waiting for you?  The Lord is saying to each one of  you, 'Follow me,' and He's lifting us toward Himself.  But you are clutching frantically to this earth crying, 'Help me!'  I am but dust in the eyes of God but I am also His Apostle, the Shepherd which He appointed to guard over you and so I say to you, death is not the only thing before you.  After death you will have life everlasting.  No more suffering and pain but everlasting delight and happiness awaits you."

"I then tell you, widow, whose son was taken away, that he will not die forever but will live in eternity and where you will join him in happiness.

"You, mother, whose daughters were defiled, I tell you that you will see them pure and white as the lilies of the valley.  You, mothers and fathers, who have lost children, to you I say, you will regain them in heaven; your tears will be dried and your suffering turned into joy.  You, who are about to be imprisoned and to die in the arena, I tell you most solemnly, you will be resurrected into glory after a few moments of suffering and pain.  You, who will witness dear ones suffer, know and be sure that it must be so before the reign of God will supplant the reign of terror and evil.  In the name of Christ, may you see the light and truth of my words and may your souls be strengthened."

Thus speaking, he lifted up his weary head and looked up, full of majesty and promise.  To the listeners he was no longer a poor, white-haired old man.  No.  He now was a pillar of strength and hope who would take up the pain and suffering of each one of them and present them at the feet of his Lord and Master.

"Amen! Amen!" they all cried out.  - Quo Vadis? by Henryk Sienkiewicz

Monday, March 16, 2015

Our Homeschool Journey....

Right from the time RileyAnn was in my womb, I knew I didn't want to send her to public school.  I felt fortunate to have a parochial school education through 8th grade in our rural farming community.  I felt strongly about small class sizes and one on one instruction.  I also felt strongly about parental involvement and less government control.   We weren't sure we would send our kids to a parochial school, but I hoped for some other option aside from public school.

When our older girls, Jennifer and Angel, came to us as foster kids, they attended public school because that's the nature of the beast here in WI.  You cannot homeschool foster kids.  Theirs was not initially an adoptive placement so I had not thought a lot about other educational options for them.  However, once the adoption was finalized, as time went on, I started to wonder if public school was the best place for them.  Jennifer was in special education and Angel struggled socially right from day one.  So much so, that by the time she reached 6th grade, it was unbearable.  A month into the school year, I decided to pull Angel from public school.  It felt like a rash decision at the time because I had no plan B.   I was also a member of our public school board, which was more than a little awkward.

That week, I met with teachers at the parochial school and even borrowed their books to take home and study.  I made some phone calls to teaching friends and homeschool acquaintances.  Angel was beside herself and thought I'd ruined her life.   However, after a week's worth of prayer, study, and networking, it was decided I would homeschool her for the rest of that year.  Jennifer was just starting high school.  She was a gifted athlete who did OK academically and wasn't struggling socially so she stayed and eventually graduated from public school.

At this same time, RileyAnn was attending a Christian preschool two mornings per week.  It felt like I had a foot in every door.  Because Riley has a September birthday, she was almost a whole year older than most kids at preschool giving her an edge in every area.  At the semester change, with mixed feelings, it was decided to move her up to the 4K room, which was two full days per week.  I will never forget the end of the first week, when I picked her up and asked the teacher how it went.  She stated Riley did better than most of the kids that had been there all year.  Part of me was flattered and part of me saw a huge red flag going up.

Many days I remember dropping her off and seeing wild chaos.  Little boys running and wrestling.  Kids crying in the corner.  After a short time, Riley also began crying every morning that I dropped her off.  She just wanted to stay home with me.  Though it broke my heart, I've always been of the mind that you should finish what you start.  I struggled greatly with this in my mind because I already had Angel home and technically Riley didn't belong in school yet anyway.  The only thing she learned that year was bad behavior.  We were both miserable and I have since come to realize that 4K programs are nothing but government babysitters.  Long story short, by the end of the school year, we decided it was in Angel and Riley's best interest to proceed with homeschooling. 

That was eight years ago,  Angel has since graduated from high school through homeschool.  She and Jennifer are both grown and gone from home.  RileyAnn is currently in 5th grade, Ruben is in 4th, and of course, Levi is preschool :)  I have learned a great deal in that span of time and continue to learn daily.  At this point, I LOVE homeschooling and can't imagine it any other way!  I enjoy being with our kids daily.  It's a gift to watch them grow and learn!

Sonlight Blog Party

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Old-Fashioned Banana Bran Muffins....

YUMMY!...that's the word we're using to describe the result of this muffin recipe I tried for Sunday morning breakfast a while back...

Old-Fashioned Banana Bran Muffins

1 1/2 cups bran flakes
1 cup ripe banana, mashed
1/2 cup fat-free milk (I used 1%)
1 egg
3 TBSP vegetable oil (I used coconut oil)
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tsp baking powder
1/2 Tsp baking soda
1/4 Tsp cinnamon

Preheat over to 400-degrees F. Spray muffin tin with cooking spray. Mix cereal, banana, milk, egg, and oil in a bowl.  Let stand 5 minutes.  Add flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon.  Stir just until moistened.  Fill each muffin section two-thirds full. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Makes 12 servings

Friday, March 13, 2015

Math Contemplations...

I don't know what it is about this time of year, but it seems my manic math tendencies usually come about in March.  Maybe it's because I've finally had enough of what isn't working.  Maybe it's just my love of spring and the idea of beginning anew.  Either way, math is on my mind.  Here are some things I'm contemplating...

Life of Fred - I've been on again, off again thinking about Fred for some time.  Recently, I spoke with Stanley Schmidt by phone regarding his revolutionary math series.  Mr. Schmidt asserted that there is more math in Life of Fred than any other math program on the market.  He said Fred causes students to think, which is the way we need to approach math, with a thinking mind, not with a memorizing mind.  He further stated the greatest mathematicians were thinkers.  However, he also talked about the importance of each child knowing their math facts cold before moving on to certain levels of Fred.  The kids like Fred.  I've been reluctant because it's so non-traditional, however, I just may submit and give it a try!

Living Math! - I'm looking at Julie Brennan's Math Through History Lesson Plans.  My kids all despise math, but LOVE history.  Maybe studying math history would create a spark!?

Your Business Math by Simply Charlotte Mason - I have a friend using this who really likes it!  I'm looking forward to the MACHE convention so I can take a better look at it in person. 

I recently read an article in The Old Schoolhouse magazine titled Math and Online Learning.  It was an interview with Patrick Murray of CTC Math.  I was smitten with Murray's "Five Most Crucial Mistakes Teachers Make" regarding math teaching.  I think his ideals about math teaching are very much in line with Charlotte Mason's. 

I also recently watched the YouTube talk below by Conrad Wolfram.  I get his point on the importance of problem solving, but I'm not quite ready to stop teaching procedural math altogether.  This is where I'm conflicted.  There is something beautiful about the logic of math and algorithms.  I like patterns and symmetry :)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Tending the Heart of Virtue...

Vigen Guroian is one of the keynote speakers this year at the 2015 Charlotte Mason Education Conference sponsored by the Charlotte Mason Institute.  I have never attended the conference, nor is it likely that I will have the opportunity any time soon.  However, I was curious about Guroian's book, Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken a Child's Moral Imagination and found a copy through our local public library. 

In Tending the Heart of Virtue, Guroian explains the importance of using fairy tales and fantasies to educate the moral imagination, beginning with young children.  Guroian walks you through a wide range of literature/stories including, but not limited to: Pinocchio; The Velveteen Rabbit; The Little Mermaid; The Wind in the Willows; Charlotte's Web; Bambi; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; and Prince Caspian, to illustrate his point.  In the opening chapter, he says,
The great fairy tales and fantasy stories capture the meaning of morality through vivid depictions of the struggle between good and evil, where characters must make difficult choices between right and wrong or heroes and villains contest the very fate of imaginary words.  The great stories avoid didacticism and supply the imagination with important symbolic information about the shape of our world and appropriate responses to its inhabitants.
I believe this is right on point with Charlotte Mason's view on the use of living books
In Form I, children begin to gather conclusions as to the general life of the community from tales, fables, and the story of one or another great citizen.  (Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, p. 185)
I was very intrigued by Guroian's writing on "The Deception of Values in the Contemporary Debate over Education and Morality".   Guroian purposes:
"Values" is the chief buzzword of the contemporary educational scene.  The word carries with it the full burden of our concerns over the decline of morality.  Teaching values, whether family values, democratic values, or religious values, is touted as the remedy for our moral confusion.  Of course, this consensus about the need for stronger moral values immediately cracks and advocates retreat when the inevitable question is raised as to which values should be taught.  I do not think that the current debate over values lends much promise of clarifying what we believe in or what morality we should be teaching our children.  Values certainly are not the answer to moral relativism.  Quite the contrary, values talk is entirely amenable to moral relativism. 
Guroian cites German philosopher and atheist Friedrich Nietzsche's famous essay, Beyond Good and Evil, as being the beginning  of our modern use of the word "values" in our moral vocabulary. 
Nietzsche used "values" in this new way, not as a verb meaning to value or esteem something, or as a singular noun, meaning the measure of a thing (the economic value of money, labor, or property), but in the plural form, connoting the moral beliefs and attitudes of a society or of the individual.  In his turn of the phrase "transvaluation of the values," Nietzsche summed up his thesis about the "death of God" and the birth of his new "noble type of man."  Nietzsche described this new kind of human being as "a determiner of [his own] values" who judges right from wrong on the basis of what is good or injurious to himself.  Thus, the values of conventional morality were false values bound to be replaced by the self-made values of the truly autonomous and free individual.
Apparently, Nietzsche's new spin on the term "values" didn't take hold immediately.  However, Guroian purposes that in our modern "consumerist society", Nietzsche's new use of the word has come to fruition in the contemporary man's notion that he can pick and choose moral values to suit his tastes and desires as a "material commodity".   
As a society, we are learning to regard morality and values as matters of taste and personal satisfaction. 
In the final pages of the first chapter, Guroian uses the essays of G. K. Chesterton as an argument for his response to the contemporary debate over moral education.  
In conclusion, I want to review what Chesterton had to say, thus bringing this conversation around full circle to the claim I made at the start - that stories, especially fairy tales, are invaluable resources for the moral education of children. 
In subsequent chapters, Guroian uses the literature pieces referenced above, as well as others, to illustrate the teaching of classical moral virtues such as courage, faith, humility, and honesty, especially as they are understood in traditional Christianity.  Guroian is a Professor of Theology and Ethics at Loyola College in Baltimore, Maryland.  I would love the opportunity to hear him speak! 

Unfortunately, I didn't get to finish Tending the Heart of Virtue, as my library copy was beyond renewal.  However, Guroian's book is one that I would like to obtain for my personal collection.  I think it's a great resource and testament to Charlotte Mason's method of education...   
'Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life.'  By this we mean that parents and teachers should know how to make sensible use of a child's circumstances (atmosphere), should train him in habits of good living (discipline), and should nourish is mind with ideas, the food of the intellectual life (Vol. 3, School Education, p. 216-217)

Monday, March 9, 2015

"Authority is among us and in us" says Charlotte Mason

Principle 3: The principles of Authority on the one hand and Docility on the other are natural, necessary and fundamental...

While reading Chapter IV of A Philosophy of Education in preparation for our monthly book club discussion, I felt like I was floundering.   Initially when I read principle three, I was thinking of authority as a person (an adult...namely parent/teacher) in command.  I immediately had an image of a gavel hitting the table and I wondered how in the world docility, being teachableness, could go hand in hand with authority, someone standing over me with a gavel.  I was thoroughly perplexed!

Then, on page 69, I read, "That principle in us which brings us into subjection to authority is docility, teachableness, and that also is universal."  Upon further investigation of word meaning and origin, I realized Charlotte was speaking of authority as the power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior in one's self, not from an external schoolmarm holding the gavel.  If one aspires to be teachable (having docility), one must have power (authority) over one's own mind.  This was my light bulb moment! 

In Charlotte's words....
There is an idea abroad that authority makes for tyranny, and that obedience, voluntary or involuntary, is of the nature of slavishness; but authority is, on the contrary, the condition without which liberty does not exist and, except it be abused, is entirely congenial to those on whom it is exercised: we are so made that we like to be ordered even if the ordering be only that of circumstances.  Servants take pride in the orders they receive; that our badge of honour is an 'Order' is a significant use of words. It is still true that 'Order is heaven's first law' and order is the outcome of authority.
That principle in us which brings us into subjection to authority is docility, teachableness, and that also is universal. If a man in the pride of his heart decline other authority, he will submit himself slavishly to his 'star' or his 'destiny.'  It would seem that the exercise of docility is as natural and necessary as that of reason or imagination; and the two principles of authority and docility act in every life precisely as do those two elemental principles which enable the earth to maintain its orbit, the one drawing it towards the sun, the other as constantly driving it into space; between the two, the earth maintains a more or less middle course and the days go on.

The same two principles work in every child, the one producing ordered life, the other making for rebellion, and the crux in bringing up children is to find the mean which shall keep a child true to his elliptical orbit.  (Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, p. 69-70)

So how does Charlotte propose we, as educators, guide, enable, or lead, our children to a position of authority and docility...

The sense of must should be present with children; our mistake is to act in such a way that they, only, seem to be law-compelled while their elders do as they please. The parent or teacher who is pestered for 'leave' to do this or that, contrary to the discipline of the house or school, has only himself to thank; he has posed as a person in authority, not under authority, and therefore free to allow the breach of rules whose only raison d'être is that they minister to the well-being of the children. Two conditions are necessary to secure all proper docility and obedience and, given these two, there is seldom a conflict of wills between teacher and pupils. The conditions are, - the teacher, or other head, may not be arbitrary but must act so evidently as one under authority [Parents and Children. By the Writer.] that the children, quick to discern, see that he too must do the things he ought; and therefore that regulations are not made for his convenience. (I am assuming that everyone entrusted with the bringing up of children recognises the supreme Authority to Whom we are subject; without this recognition I do not see how it is possible to establish the nice relation which should exist between teacher and taught.) The other condition is that children should have a fine sense of the freedom which comes of knowledge which they are allowed to appropriate as they choose, freely given with little intervention from the teacher. They do choose and are happy in their work, so there is little opportunity for coercion or for deadening, hortatory talk.  (Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, p. 73-74)

All school work should be conducted in such a manner that children are aware of the responsibility of learning; it is their business to know that which has been taught. To this end the subject matter should not be repeated.  (Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, p. 74)

To return to our method of employing attention; it is not a casual matter, a convenient, almost miraculous way of covering the ground, of getting children to know certainly and lastingly a surprising amount; all this is to the good, but it is something more, a root principle vital to education. In this way of learning the child comes to his own; he makes use of the authority which is in him in its highest function as a self-commanding, self-compelling, power. It is delightful to use any power that is in us if only that of keeping up in cup and ball a hundred times as (to the delight of small nephews and nieces), Jane Austen did. But to make yourself attend, make yourself know, this indeed is to come into a kingdom, all the more satisfying to children because they are so made that they revel in knowledge.  (Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, p. 76-77)
For further study, you can read my thoughts on principle 1 and principle 2.  Also, I really appreciated and found wisdom in the article posted on the Charlotte Mason Institute blog by Tara Schorr titled Authority in Perspective.  I love the biblical references she applied to Charlotte's third principle. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Winter Nature Study...Coyotes

Coyotes howling here on Drywood Creek is a common occurrence.   We've heard them for years and have seen a few on occasion.  Not so long ago, one crisp January night, Riley and Levi sat wrapped in a blanket on the threshold of the school room door listening through the darkness to what sounded like a coyote just on the other side of the black curtain.  Once daylight hit, we thought we must investigate!

With cloudy skies and sub zero temperatures, we bundled up.  Pulling Levi in the sled, we were off to look for coyote tracks in the snow...

Sure enough, we didn't have to go far to find them.  Approx. 150 yards from the house, we found not only tracks, but evidence of where a coyote bedded down near a row of round bales.  It looked like the coyote sought shelter where the wind had drifted the snow up to the bales.

After a while, Ruben climbed up on the bales and found tracks where the coyote had walked on top of the bales as well.   Once the kids had enough coyote investigation, they played around on the bales until we were froze and had to head back to the house.

Back inside, RileyAnn added an entry to her nature study notebook.  (I believe she meant to date it 1-31-15.)

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Aesop for Children...

I'm reading The Aesop for Children this year to Ruben.  We are focusing on narration.  I read one page three days per week.  He narrates after each fable.  So if there's three fables on a page, he narrates three times.  This is working well.  The fables are short so they keep his attention.  He enjoys the stories.  His ability to narrate is improving.  Often times he's able to capture the moral in his narration.  I give him this opportunity before I read the moral at the end. The Aesop for Children is a great book for beginning narrators and Milo Winter's illustrations give an added level of beauty.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Commonplace Book...Jean Henri Fabre

Sheltered by a clump of juniper-trees, Uncle Paul and the three children await the grand spectacle they have come to the top of the hill to see.  In the east the sky is getting lighter, the stars turn pale and go out one by one.  Flakes of rosy cloud swim in the brilliant streak of light whence gradually there rises a soft illumination.  It reaches the zenith, and the blue of day reappears with all its delicate transparency.  This cool morning light, this half-daylight that precedes the rising of the sun, is the aurora or morning twilight.  In the meantime a lark, the joy of the fields, takes wing to the highest clouds, like a rocket, and is the first to salute the awakening day.  It mounts and mounts, always singing, as if to get in front of the sun; and with its enthusiastic songs it celebrates in the high heavens the glory of the day-bringer.  Listen: there is a breath of wind in the foliage, which stirs and rustles; the little birds are waking up and chirping,; the ox, already led to work in the fields, stops as if thinking, raises its large eyes full  of gentleness, and lows; everything becomes animated, and, in its own language, renders thanks to the Master of all things, who with His powerful hand brings us back the sun. 

And here it is: a bright thread of light bursts forth, and the tops of the mountains are suddenly illumined.  It is the edge of the sun beginning to rise.  The earth trembles before the radiant apparition.  The shining disc keeps rising: there it is almost whole, now completely so, like a grindstone of red-hot iron. The mist of the morning moderates its glare and allows one to look it in the face; but soon no one could endure its dazzling splendor.  In the meantime its rays inundate the plain; a gentle heat succeeds the keen freshness of the night; the mists rise from the depths of the valleys and are dissipated; the dew, gathered on the leaves, becomes warm and evaporates; on all sides there is a resumption of life, of the animation suspended during the night.  And all day, pursuing its course from east to west, the sun moves on, flooding the earth with light and heat, ripening the yellow harvest, giving perfume to the flowers, taste to fruit, life to every creation. - The Story Book of Science by Jean Henri Fabre, p, 269-271

I LOVE Fabre's description of the sun rise!  Read slowly and soak it in.  Or, better yet, close your eyes and savor someone reading it aloud to you :)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Defining Charlotte...Morals



Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin moralis, from mor-, mos custom
First Known Use: 14th century

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, morals concern or relate to what is right and wrong in human behavior.  Morality is sanctioned by or operative on one's conscience or ethical judgement.  Ethics is a branch of philosophy, an area of study, dealing with what is morally right or wrong.  Looking at the Latin origin or morals, a custom is an action or way of behaving that is usual and traditional among the people in a particular group or place.  Therefore, being of high moral character is to conform to a standard of right behavior, or the repeated practice (custom) of doing what is right. 

Let's look at what Charlotte has to say on moral training...
Morals do not come by Nature.––No doubt every child is born with a conscience, that is, with a sense that he ought to choose the right and refuse wrong; but he is not born with the power to discern good and evil. An educated conscience is a far rarer possession than we imagine; we are all startled now and then by the laxities of right-minded neighbours in matters the right and wrong of which is patent to ourselves; but probably our own moral eccentricities are equally startling to our friends. The blame rests on our faulty moral education, which has hardly made us aware of fallacious thought and insincere speech; we believe that Latin and Greek must be taught, but that morals come by nature. A certain rough-and-ready kind of morality, varying with our conditions, does come by heredity and environment; but that most delicate and beautiful of human possessions, an educated conscience, comes only by teaching with authority and adorning by example.
Children born neither Moral nor Immoral.––It is curious how educated people are still at sea as regards the moral status of children. Some time ago I was present at an interesting discussion, among the members of an educational society, on the subject of children's lies. It was interesting to notice that the meeting, consisting of able, educated people, divided itself into those who held that children were born true and those who held that they were born false; it did not occur to anybody to recall his own childhood, or even to reflect on his own condition at the present moment. The question lay between children being born moral and born immoral. Nobody reflected that every human being comes into the world with infinite possibilitiesfor good; and, alas! infinite possibilities for evil; possibly with evil hereditary tendencies which may be rectified by education, or with good tendencies which his bringing-up may nullify.
Moral Teaching.––We need go no further than the Ten Commandments and our Lord's exposition of the moral law to find corrective teaching for the spasmodic, impulsive moral efforts which tend to make up our notion of what the children call 'being good,' and nowhere shall we find a more lucid and practical commentary on the moral law than is set forth in the Church Catechism. It was the practice of a venerable Father of the Church, Bishop Ken, to recite the 'duty towards God,' and the 'duty towards my neighbour' every day. It is a practice worth imitating, and it would not be amiss to let all children of whatever communion learn these short abstracts of the whole duty of man. (Vol. 3, School Education, p. 129-130)

The Bible, the great Storehouse of Moral Impression.––Valuable as are some compendiums of its moral teaching, it is to the Bible itself we must go as to the great storehouse of moral impressions. (Vol. 3, School Education, p. 175)

We are aware of more than mind and body in our dealings with children. We appeal to their 'feelings'; whether 'mind' or 'feelings' be more than names we choose to give to manifestations of that spiritual entity which is each one of us. Probably we have not even taken the trouble to analyse and name the feelings and to discover that they all fall under the names of love and justice, that it is the glory of the human being to be endowed with such a wealth of these two as is sufficient for every occasion of life. More, the occasions come and he is ready to meet them with the ease and triumph of the solvent debtor.
But this rich endowment of the moral nature is also a matter with which the educator should concern himself. Alas, he does so. He points the moral with a thousand tedious platitudes, directs, instructs, illustrates and bores exceedingly the nimble and subtle minds of his scholars. This, of the feelings and their manifestations, is certainly the field for the spare and guarded praise and blame of parent and teacher; but this praise or blame is apt to be either scrapped by children, or, taken as the sole motive for conduct, they go forth unused to do a thing 'for it is right' but only because somebody's approbation is to be won.
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. 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.
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. It is a wonderful thing that every child, even the rudest, is endowed with Love and is able for all its manifestations, kindness, benevolence, generosity, gratitude, pity, sympathy, loyalty, humility, gladness; we older persons are amazed at the lavish display of any one of these to which the most ignorant child may treat us. But these aptitudes are so much coin of the realm with which a child is provided that he may be able to pay his way through life; and, alas, we are aware of certain vulgar commonplace tendencies in ourselves which make us walk delicately and trust, not to our own teaching, but to the best that we have in art and literature and above all to that storehouse of example and precept, the Bible, to enable us to touch these delicate spirits to fine issues. (Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, p. 58-59)