Monday, July 06, 2015

pondering summer

Another summer has begun. The hazy, humid days of another greatly-welcomed New England summer have arrived and as far as I can see they plan to stick around for the duration of the summer months.

As it happens each year, summer arrives with what I would call mixed emotions. There, of course, is the obvious elation due to the fact that our homeschool year has come to an end and with it the daily narrations, dictation exercises, grammar lessons, math drills and science blocks have also come to a gentle close. 

The arrival of this stretch of non-formal academic days comes as a thrill to both teacher and children alike, there is no doubt. Although at the same time there is a sadness, perhaps even a disappointment, that the grand summer we were all so eagerly awaiting isn't as spectacularly spellbinding as we had expected it to be. It's as if with one uniform sigh I can hear my children questioning, "Is this it? Is this summer"? And it is with an equally keen ear that I can also 'hear' their inner voices (yes, I can read my children's minds from time to time) ever-so-begrudgingly begging for more

It is with a bit of shame that I confess that my children have been half-captured by that worldly frame of mind that convince us humans to expect big things.. exciting things... sweet things on their summer vacations (where did the idea and practice of a summer holiday come from anyhow??). Because after all, it is summer vacation (did I mention that yet!?) and we all know that must mean a steady stream of fun-in-the-sun-ice-cream-everyday-spectacular-wet-and-wild-play-non-stop-pleasure (at least during waking hours) and perhaps even a scandalously late bedtime. 

So I'm left with several questions. What is it that my children are in need of this summer to give them a sense of purpose and a bit of recreational enjoyment? (I am shying away from words like fun and pleasure and entertainment here). And also, how can I as their mother-teacher help to retrain their way of thinking and direction of their will in this area of pursuing (mostly) pleasurable things and being sorely disappointed when more is asked of them?

These are indeed big questions!

And because I'm older, more realistic, quite contented to be at home doing beautifully mundane things (on most days), stubbornly resilient to being taken in by the world's messages of what ones' life ought to look life on this day or that day and also because I am maybe (only a tiny bit) wiser than they, I have also found my way to some small answers to these big questions.

I hope to share some of these thoughts this week here on my blog. In fact, I am eager to share what I have only begun to glimpse (and by only, I mean really over the last two or three years). The answers are simple but not always easy. They are inspiring but difficult to implement. And the solutions that our family values could be more likened to giving children their daily spoonful of cod liver oil and less likened to doling out a couple of sugar-laden, fruit-flavored, cartoon-shaped vitamins. The result is often hard to swallow but oh-so much more life giving.

But for now, a few photos from our superbly simple, perfectly sweltering, out-of-doors day from yesterday will be my joy to share.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

autumn poem

Poetry. It is one of our most beloved lessons and is often read daily in our home. One of our poetry selections this month is from A Journey Through Time in Verse and Rhyme and has become quite familiar to us after reading it annually over the last few years. It really speaks to what is happening right outside of our window this time of year. 

Just today, as we sat at our table working on some math, we watched a blustery gust of wind sweep away what seemed like a whole tree-ful of orange leaves across our front yard. It certainly left our maple emptier and filled our neighborhood with a delightful scattering of autumn color.

Autumn Poem
Fall, leaves, fall;
Die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day.
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the Autumn tree
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow
I shall sing when night's decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

Emily Bronte

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Happy October

October begins! There is always a satisfaction and a little thrill when I am able to turn the calendar page and welcome a new month. Marking the change of time and the rhythms of the year with my children is an experience that I take great joy in. 

With the older children now, they know what each month, each season brings. They know that in autumn the leaves turn from green to gold, crimson and orange and then fall from the trees. They know that we pick apples each September and that in October we pick pumpkins and drink apple cider. They can proficiently state the date each day, both numerically and in words. They are able to spell all the months, recite little poems about what each month brings and can place each family member's birthday in its correct month and day.

For the littler ones, the rails are just being laid. We begin discussing seasons and what each season brings in the way of weather, activities, clothing and animal life. They learn their birthday day and month and begin asking how many more days, weeks or months until it arrives. They begin to anticipate the holidays and feast days of the Church that come each year and perhaps may venture a guess at their proper place in the year. 

And then there are the days of the week. Oh how I wish that I had a specific day for each household chore like in Little House or some of the folk stories we read! Monday for washing, Tuesday for ironing and so on. But alas, I do not. We do however adore reading these little stories, rhymes and poems about what chores are done on each day of the week.

I suppose it the modern world we have the 'luxury' of foregoing the rhythm of these chore-days and can clean, bake, shop and mend on whichever days we feel like doing so!

Some of our favorite books for laying down a good foundation of the rhythms of the year are:

Around the Year by Elsa Beskow
A Journey Through Time in Verse and Rhyme by Heather Thomas
A Child's Paradise of Saints by Nun Nectaria

We also keep a seasonal book basket in our living area. I used to keep a larger book crate, but found it to contain too many books. Now I choose only a few and keep them neatly displayed (with the cover showing) in a nice little basket.

Each morning we follow the Scripture readings on our Church calendar and celebrate the saints commemorated on each day. Oh, and namesdays! Each child, as well as my husband and I, have a day each year where we remember the saint we are named after and celebrate. It is just like a birthday, but even more sacred.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

hats off to warmth for babies

Mixed reviews are often interesting to me. Whether in response to our decision to homeschool, or to the welcoming of our FIVE beautiful children or to some of the smaller details of our life, I am often intrigued about the 'why' and 'where' people's questions come from.

In terms of the smaller details of life, one of the more frequent questions I am asked is why my baby is always (well, almost always) wearing hats.

Some, like my Nana, are beyond pleased by the fact that my infant Cecelia is perpetually donning her bonnet. She is 94 and must know from old-time wisdom that babies should be dressed in layers with bonnets and booties and the whole-nine-yard regardless of the season (hats aren't just for winter).

Others seem to ask why and wonder whether she is too hot with her head covered. These well-intentioned observers seem to ask with a mixture of intrigue and skepticism and are always met with a simple and confident answer.

Babies ought to be wearing hats.

One point that Susan Johnson, MD makes in regard to keeping our children warm is that-
Warmth is probably one of the greatest gifts we can give our children, not only the warmth of love, but the physical warmth of their bodies.  Children are developing their bodies especially during the first seven years of their lives.  An infant or a young child will always feel warm unless they are on the verge of hypothermia because they have an accelerated metabolic rate.  If we don’t provide them with the layers of cotton and wool to insulate their bodies, then they must use some of their potential “growth” energy to heat their bodies.  This same energy would be better utilized in further developing their brain, heart, liver, lungs and other organs.”
 And just think of a small baby with all of that body heat leaving them through their heads! I truly do attempt to live my life judge-free of others and often strive to give others the 'benefit of the doubt', but I have to admit to cringing a bit when I see small children and babies being brought into air-conditioned stores or out in breezy, cool weather with little more that a romper on and a bare head.

Of course I just had to share a few photos of Cecelia this spring in some of her many hats. We have wool, cotton, wool-silk and some blends for her to enjoy. Seeing her in these hats makes me feel warm inside knowing that her sense of warmth is being protected.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

smothered by praise

Last fall for our artist study, we enjoyed the six paintings of Pierre-Auguste Renoir. They were lovely and hung happily on our 'schoolroom' wall for the term along with one of my most favorite quotes from the artist that had to do with the idea that the only real reward for work is the work itself.

Our beloved Charlotte Mason held a similar belief and felt that children should be motivated by a naturally preserved curiosity and a love for learning rather than rewards and grades. She knew then what many modern researchers are now just discovering- that external motivators affect only the exterior, the short-term. To put it bluntly, rewards simply don't work.

This article, Five Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job!", only confirms what so many others have already discovered. It was with mixed emotions that I read this, feeling simultaneously convicted and confirmed in my own behaviors and tendencies towards praising my children.

The author asks the reader to stop, look and listen and to notice how often we hear the words "good job" spoken from parent to child at almost every turn. I did just that and not only did I sit up and notice how often others around me are blurting out these words (almost unconciously, or as what the author refers to as a 'verbal tic'), but also how often I was turning this phrase in my own home.

I have become more mindful over the years of attempting to hold the space in my home with my presence and gestures and modeling of behaviors instead of issuing commands, praising, and talking, talking, talking at my children. This has been life-changing.

We have been in certain educational settings where children have been rewarded with candy and the like for memorizing facts, Scripture and for simply sitting still. It has never sat well with me and I can honestly say that we do not use these methods in our own homeschool and family life.

Perhaps because I have become so closely knitted to Charlotte Mason's methods of education that I knew better. Perhaps because I grew up in similar environments and it has left me sour towards such behaviors. Or maybe simply because my motherly instinct have told me otherwise.

Nevertheless, the article is worth the read, especially for those with small children. It seems to be that it is with these littlest of littles that we smother the most praise.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

fairy houses

My favorite month, June, is upon us. My love for June has very little to do with that fact that it is my birthday month, and everything to do with what's happening out-of-doors. A quite reliable warmth begins to take over, the sunshine seems to beam just a bit stronger, the sounds of birds and children alike seem to echo in a new way and everywhere I look, flowers, trees and gardens are in bloom.

Since my two little ones, Luca who has just turned four and Cecelia who is six months old, are participants in the seven o'clock bedtime, there is a little time to exhale between dinner and bedtime. Lately, we have been enjoying that sweet morsel of time outside in our backyard.

The scene goes something like this- me laying out a soft, old quilt for baby to roll and play on, Luca filling pail-after-pail of water to mix with our garden dirt to make mud and dip his feet in, peaceful birds landing (and just as quickly flying away from) our fence, and the sun casting a warm shade of golden light onto 'our spot'.

And oh, there are fairy houses. Each night a new one is built. It doesn't take much in the way of materials for Luca to fashion a house to his liking- dried bark from the woodpile, grass clippings, a bit of clover and a golden dandelion for detail. He things they are fancy. He feels proud as he builds them, steps back, and then admires his handiwork. I sit quietly and smile. No praising, just happiness at my little boy's innocence and contentedness in the simple things.

Years ago, my older pair started building fairy houses. I am certain there are books (how-to perhaps) on the details of these magical little dwellings. We never needed them. We simply followed the rule- one can use anything to build the house that is of natural material.

It had been so long since we've been in the fairy house building stage that I had nearly forgotten about them. I'm so pleased that Luca has brought me back to that enchanted period of motherhood again.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

An Educational Manifesto

We resumed our homeschooling just after the start of the new year after a l-e-n-g-t-h-y break celebrating the birth of our new baby (beautiful baby photos to follow soon!), Nativity and all of the wonderful, warmth that the holidays bring. It has been very humbling, to say the least, to start back with less planning, less time, less energy and less (this one is tough) patience that I had previously had before the enormous and joyful task of caring for a newborn whilst looking after the physical and academic needs of my other four children.

However, I can honestly say that I'm not facing defeat or discouragement as I continue the task of home education. I truly feel hopeful each morning as I wake up knowing that providing a Charlotte Mason education for my children is not about preparing a perfect environment, cramming lessons, completing workbook pages or equipping my children with arbitrary facts so they can take an exam or preparing lectures to 'teach' them what they must know. CM is about educating the whole child and training the habit of attention. Above all, it is about helping them learn to choose what is right, true and just in this world and help them discover who they are in Christ.

I'm pleased to say that I have continued with my 'Mother Culture' over the last two months since our new baby arrived and have found bits of time to read and study Charlotte Mason's principles and many other wonderful, enriching things that I wish to share with my children (more to posts to follow on this topic!).

In reading one of my new, beloved books based on Charlotte Mason's Principles- When Children Love to Learn- I was reminded to read (or re-read) Charlotte Mason's An Educational Manifesto found in School Education on page 214.

Miss Mason believed that "studies serve for delight, for ornament and for ability" and that every child has a right to a broad, widely varied curriculum including living books and real things to nourish the soul on. She called these living books "mind stuff" or "mind food". Just as one pays careful attention to nourishing their child's body with proper food and rest, we should be equally aroused to the much quieter, but as important, needs of their minds and souls to be provided with excellent nourishment.

I will reprint An Educational Manifesto here and also provide a link to CM's School Education so more can be read if desired.

An Educational Manifesto

"Studies serve for Delight, for Ornament, and for Ability."

Every child has a right of entry to several fields of knowledge.
Every normal child has an appetite for such knowledge.
This appetite or desire for knowledge is a sufficient stimulus for all school work, if the knowledge be fitly given.

There are four means of destroying the desire for knowledge:––
(a) Too many oral lessons, which offer knowledge in a diluted form, and do not leave the child free to deal with it.
(b) Lectures, for which the teacher collects, arranges, and illustrates matter from various sources; these often offer knowledge in too condensed and ready prepared a form.
(c) Text-books compressed and recompressed from the big book of the big man.
(d) The use of emulation and ambition as incentives to learning in place of the adequate desire for, and delight in, knowledge.

Children can be most fitly educated on Things and Books. Things, e.g.––
i. Natural obstacles for physical contention, climbing, swimming, walking, etc.
ii. Material to work in––wood, leather, clay, etc.
iii. Natural objects in situ––birds, plants, streams, stones, etc,
iv. Objects of art.
v. Scientific apparatus, etc.

The value of this education by Things is receiving wide recognition, but intellectual education to be derived from Books is still for the most part to seek.
Every scholar of six years old and upwards should study with 'delight' his own, living, books on every subject in a pretty wide curriculum. children between six and eight must for the most part have their books read to them.
This plan has been tried with happy results for the last twelve years in many home schoolrooms, and some other schools.
By means of the free use of books the mechanical difficulties of education––reading, spelling, composition, etc.––disappear, and studies prove themselves to be 'for delight, for ornament, and for ability.'
There is reason to believe that these principles are workable in all schools, Elementary and Secondary; that they tend in the working to simplification, economy, and discipline.