Friday, November 27, 2009

A Trip to Olvera Street

Breaking from our usual nature outings, we ventured into the heart of the city to experience Olvera Street, the birth place of the city of Los Angeles.

What a blessing to be able to take our babies, toddlers, five year olds, eight year olds; all ages alike, on an off day of the week, without whistles, line-ups and name badges, without matching colored shirts; as families, as friends, as persons to experience and explore this intriguing place.

The Metro

Union Station

La Luz Del Dia

Olvera Street

(he always wanted a back scratcher, only one dollar - SOLD!)

Avila Adobe

Mr. Churro

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Thanksgiving Poem

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope this Thanksgiving, perhaps through literature or poetry alongside our family experiences, we are able to share a living idea with our children.

the dead yet speak their living thoughts in the work they have left us, and by which as by links of an endless chain all men are bound to each and all men influence each. ~Charlotte Mason

Landing of the Pilgrims

The breaking waves dashed high,
On a stern and rock-bound coast,
And the woods against a stormy sky
Their giant branches tossed;

And the heavy night hung dark
The hills and waters o'er,
When a band of exiles moored their bark
On the wild New England shore.

Not as the conqueror comes,
They, the true-hearted came;
Not with the roll of the stirring drums,
And the trumpet that sings of fame;

Not as the flying come,
In silence and in fear;--
They shook the depths of the desert gloom
With their hymns of lofty cheer.

Amidst the storm they sang,
And the stars heard, and the sea;
And the sounding aisles of the dim woods rang
To the anthem of the free!

The ocean eagle soared
From his nest by the white wave's foam;
And the rocking pines of the forest roared--
This was their welcome home!

There were men with hoary hair
Amidst that pilgrim band:
Why had they come to wither there,
Away from their childhood's land?

There was woman's fearless eye,
Lit by her deep love's truth;
There was manhood's brow serenely high,
And the fiery heart of youth.

What sought they thus afar?
Bright jewels of the mine?
The wealth of seas, the spoils of war?--
They sought a faith's pure shrine!

Ay, call it holy ground,
The soil where first they trod.
They have left unstained what there they found--
Freedom to worship God.

~~Felicia Dorothea Hemans l793-1835

The art of standing aside to let a child develop the relations proper to him is the fine art of education, ... The evolution of the individual is a natural sequence of the opening up of relations.

...for example, we do not endeavour to give children outlines of ancient history, but to put them in living touch with a thinker who lived in those ancient days. We are not content that they should learn the history of their own country alone; some living idea of contemporaneous European history, anyway, we try to get in; that the history we teach may be the more living, we work in, pari passu, some of the literature of the period and some of the best historical novels and poems that treat of the period; and so on with other subjects. ~Charlotte Mason

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Our Tree Trip in Utah

"This fine Maple, with its hard wood, its beautiful autumnal colors- red and yellow and orange- and its sweet sap, is the close western relative of the famed Sugar Maple of the eastern states. If it were as abundant as the true Sugar Maple and grew as accessibly, it would doubtless be an important hardwood lumber tree. But its habitat is in canyons and along the banks of mountain streams where it is unlikely that the saws will ever seek it while the eastern tree holds out." Donald Peattie

A Natural History of Western Trees is well-written, and holds the interest of a 5 year old boy, and seven year old boy, and a mom in our house, unlike a textbook of botany. It was a good companion on our recent trip to Utah to see the fall color on the trees.

Our nature journal have been all over the country with us:

This tree book will be packed with our nature notebooks for many trips to come!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Nature Diary

As soon as he is able to keep it himself, a nature-diary is a source of delight to a child. Every day's walk gives him something to enter: three squirrels in a larch tree, a jay flying across such a field, a caterpillar climbing up a nettle, a snail
eating a cabbage leaf, a spider dropping suddenly to the ground, where he found ground ivy, how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, how bindweed or ivy manages to climb.

Innumerable matters to record occur to the intelligent child. While he is quite young (five or six), he should begin to illustrate his notes freely with brush drawings; he should have a little help at first in mixing colours, in the way of principles, not directions. He should not be told to use now this and now that, but, 'we get purple by mixing so and so,' and then he should be left to himself to get the right tint. As for drawing, instruction has no doubt its time and place; but his nature diary should be left to his own initiative. A child of six will produce a dandelion, poppy, daisy, iris, with its leaves, impelled by the desire to represent what he sees, with surprising vigour and correctness.

~Charlotte Mason

The idea of a "Nature Diary" spoke to me as soon as I had read about it in CM's writings. My Uncle in Japan kept diaries with many drawings in them - diaries of his travels, visits with family, the food they ate, the progress of the construction on their home - they were meticulous and beautiful, and they told the story of what was happening in his life at that time. I admired his drawings so much, often wishing I could keep beautiful memories like that for our family. He always encouraged me to draw.

It has been a love hate relationship for me.
Some I adore...

while others make me wonder why I ever try.

I could hardly wait to start my children on their own Nature Diaries.
But they didn't seem to "get" the idea as I had hoped. They put stickers all over their new beautiful hardcover diaries and when they fell off they taped them on... lovely.

And their drawings were cute, but the effort just wasn't there. They weren't taking time on their drawings or treasuring them as I had hoped. "Sigh" Those awful expectations again.

And, No, the Avocet is not green!!

but as we kept at it, and I turned a blind eye to their rushed drawings and chicken scratch in there, things gradually changed. They started wanting to share their diaries with others, show their pictures and all the places they had been. They began to like drawing in their journals more (though not always), and their diaries now really are a "source of delight" for them, reminding them of experiences past. Just last week they sat with their visiting Grandma, going page by page describing their contents to her.

I do believe CM said "a source of delight" and not "an accurate depiction" for a reason. She must have called it a "diary" because it is just that - a record of our life experiences and how we related to the things in nature around us.

And so it has become for me.

A flower picked...

a lizard caught...

fresh blackberries enjoyed for dessert...

a relative's observations...

All memories special to the diary's owner, a source of delight; not exclusive to a child, but just as readily available to an adult, to flip through in the years to come.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Phantom Holes

Have you ever worried about the phantom "holes" in your child's education? You know, the important lessons, connections and facts that we might miss by not using the nationally sanctioned public school curriculum? I especially worried about these "holes" when I realized my six year old didn't know the days of the week in the right order! What else was I missing? What horrible damage was I doing to my child?

The feeling only intensified when I talked to people entrenched in the educational system. There was always worry, concern and anxiety surrounding their talk of education and the importance of consulting with "experts" on all matters. It's the same tone I used to get from my teachers in public school: Sure, you have great ideas and thoughts, but these things are decided and determined by the experts, and really it is above your head, you only need comply and acquiesce to get along well here and get ahead in life. Just follow the system and everything will be just great.

Ugh! Makes me want to grab my kids and run for the hills.

But what of that seed of concern they planted in my mind? What of the phantom holes? Are they really a concern?

Here are points 9-12 in Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles:

9. We hold that the child's mind is no mere sac to hold ideas; but is rather, if the figure may be allowed, a spiritual organism, with an appetite for all knowledge. This is its proper diet, with which it is prepared to deal; and which it can digest and assimilate as the body does foodstuffs.

10. Such a doctrine as e.g. the Herbartian, that the mind is a receptacle, lays the stress of education (the preparation of knowledge in enticing morsels duly ordered) upon the teacher. Children taught on this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching with little knowledge; and the teacher's axiom is,' what a child learns matters less than how he learns it."

11. But we, believing that the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, give him a full and generous curriculum; taking care only that all knowledge offered him is vital, that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas. Out of this conception comes our principle that,––

12. "Education is the Science of Relations"; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of––

"Those first-born affinities
"That fit our new existence to existing things."

This line from point 10 really sticks out to me: "Children taught on this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching with little knowledge"

What do I want for my children? Do I want my child to be "covered', in other words, no phantom holes? Or do I want my child to know how to think?

I'll tell you a story to answer that one.

I read somewhere that Henry Ford once filed a libel suit against a newspaper that had called him ignorant and uneducated. After being embarrassingly questioned on textbook facts like the fundamental principles of government, the dates of the Revolutionary War, etc. Ford grew tired of this line of questioning. He explained that if he wanted answers to those questions he could summon any number of men who could answer them by simply pushing a button on his desk. He then said, "Now will you kindly tell my why I should clutter up my mind with general knowledge for the purpose of being able to answer questions when I have men around me who can supply any knowledge I require?"

I guess my question is, in this day and age when any and all information is readily available at our fingertips, does it really matter if we miss a thing or two? We're not talking about the three R's here - that's covered. And obviously I'm not talking about specific conditions that would need outside expertise like dyslexia, autism, etc. What I mean is, won't a child, with your help, or the help of another, be able to figure out the days of the week when they become necessary to her? If we can't answer yes to that, there's a problem.

So, back to the question, what do I want for my children?

I think I'm opting for a child who knows how to think for him/herself. One who has been given the chance to make connections on their own, whose desire to learn hasn't been squelched, who has feasted on a banquet of living ideas, not stuffed from without on what a panel of so-called-experts, who don't know my child, who I'm almost certain I don't see eye-to-eye with, who are more concerned about a politically correct and socially acceptable curriculum than they are about valuable ideas for my child, has decided was good education!

Charlotte Mason wasn't perfect, she made mistakes, and she definitely had some strange ideas about some things, but she was really on to something big. Her principles of education are much greater than her. In my opinion, they feed the soul of the child in its right way. She knew children and she knew they were "persons". And for me, I don't need to go any further than my own home to see that truth clearly.

I just ran into an article on Ambleside about this same issue here: http://www.amblesideonline.org/Gaps.shtml
Great insight!