Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Descent of the Holy Spirit

This fresco, The Descent of the Holy Spirit, located in the Spanish Chapel attached to the Church of St. Maria Novella, in Florence was loved greatly by Charlotte Mason.

It represented to her a great truth, that "God the Holy Spirit is Himself, personally, the Imparter of knowledge, the Instructor of youth, the Inspirer of genius"

In her Biography, The Story of Charlotte Mason it says...

Charlotte built this 'great recognition' deep into the foundations of the students' life and training there. It formed the special teaching of Whitsunday afternoon. A reproduction of the frescoes had its place in a central position for all to live with. The students called it the 'creed picture,' coming slowly to understand how not only every increase in knowledge and power came by the Divine Spirit, but also the way of using the things and opportunities of daily life the way to handle a microscope, the moment to choose for a word of praise or rebuke in school. Charlotte Mason showed that this recognition resolves the discords in each person's life between claims of the intellect, of the aesthetic sense, and of religion: 'There is space for free development in all directions and this free and joyous development, whether of intellect or heart, is recognized as a Godward movement. Various activities with unity of aim bring harmony and peace into our lives.'

She wrote in Vol.2 of the Charlotte Mason series, Parents and Children, p. 268 that the Florentine mind of the Middle Ages accepted in simple faith not only that the seven Liberal Arts were fully under the direct outpouring of the Holy Ghost, but that every fruitful idea, every original conception, whether in Euclid, or grammar, or music, was a direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit, without any thought at all as to whether the person so inspired named himself by the name of God, or recognised whence his inspiration came.

Then after quoting Isaiah 28:24-29 she says...

In the things of science, in the things of art, in the things of practical everyday life, his God doth instruct him and doth teach him, her God doth instruct her and doth teach her. Let this be the mother's key to the whole of the education of each boy and each girl; not of her children; the Divine Spirit does not work with nouns of multitude, but with each single child. Because He is infinite, the whole world is not too great a school for this indefatigable Teacher, and because He is infinite, He is able to give the whole of his infinite attention for the whole time to each one of his multitudinous pupils. We do not sufficiently rejoice in the wealth that the infinite nature of our God brings to each of us.

Reading all this brought to mind my good friend Rachelle who spoke of this at our monthly Charlotte Mason meetings over a year ago. As some of us newer homeschooling mothers fretted over our YR0 and YR1 children's education and our own perceived shortcomings, she would gently remind us that it is He who educates. What a comforting truth that is. Her wonderful teenage daughter Carly who at times would sit in at those meetings was a true testament to that wisdom.

CM goes on to write in Vol. 2 that the infinite and almighty Spirit of God appears to work under the limitations of our cooperation as teachers. She says we cooperate by sticking to guiding ideas and simple principles, keeping the teaching true, direct, and humble; without pedantry and without verbiage.

While there seems to me something wrong with the idea that anyone could "limit" the plans of a sovereign God, I can certainly see how a teacher could, with rules upon definitions upon tables, etc., transform a perfectly inspiring idea into dull, tedious work. Or how dumbed down books and dumbed down tones of teaching could transform wonderful interesting history, geography, literature, art, and more into dry, uninspiring work.

According to CM, the teacher is a facilitator of great ideas - not the source. Her point is simple - why dilute great works of art, literature, etc. with everything you know? Why lecture and explain and beat the idea to a living pulp? Present the idea "true, direct, and humble". And with the aid of the Holy Spirit, the infinite Teacher, learning will occur. Individually, intimately.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Recitation, 'The Children's Art'

This is our second year of implementing recitation with our children, ranging in age from five to nine. Some of the selections we have used are: Caterpillar by Christina Rosetti, The Eagle by Alfred Lord Tennyson, Lullaby by Edith Nesbit, Trees by Joyce Kilmer, 1st Corinthians 13, and Joy to the World.

In that time, the children have grown more and more comfortable speaking to their group. A good start for developing their 'art' of recitation.

So how do we guide them along to the next step?

I've tried talking to them about speaking clearly, audibly, not too fast, looking their audience in the eyes - I gave examples of good and bad delivery to help them understand. I'm sure it helped, but I wouldn't say it inspired any grand ideas in them to recite beautifully.

Charlotte Mason says this about recitation:
(Vol. 1, page 222 - 224 Modern English Version)
You can read the original English text here.

Recitation is among the most useful and advancing tools for education. Arthur Burrell has called it 'the children's art.' It is born in children to recite, like a buried jewel waiting to be discovered, or like an imprisoned spirit just waiting to be freed.

...If used faithfully, even ordinary children get beyond their stiffness and recite artistically and dramatically.

...Burrell's book gives gradual steps that can teach even ordinary children the fine art of beautiful and perfect speaking. Yet that is only the first step in being able to recite. A child should speak beautiful thoughts so beautifully and with such precise rendering of every shade of meaning that he interprets the author's work to his listener. It takes appreciation for a work to be able to do that, as well as sensitivity and expressiveness. That's why reciting is a learning experience on its own, or, like Richard Steele said about loving his wife, 'a liberal education' in itself.

Some may assume that expressive children are merely parroting the way they've heard something said rather than understanding and expressing it themselves. But that's not the case. In Burrell's book, children are taught to find the meaning for themselves. The teacher isn't supposed to set a pattern for the child to mimic. The texts he uses are limited to what the child can understand, and the child adds in the expressiveness himself. A clever teacher can entice him by harnessing his naughty attitudes: the child may enjoy coming up with different ways of saying, "I won't!" and from there, the teacher cunningly brings him along by steps until he starts expressing himself in other ways, and even the child is surprised and delighted.

The texts suggested are fun for children.
Wynken, Blynken and Nod, Miss Lilywhite's Party (by George Cooper) or The Two Kittens should make any child want to recite. Try a poem using the technique suggestions in Burrell's book and you'll see that the result is as unlike ordinary reading aloud as music is when played with or without the composer's expression marks. I hope everyone reading this book will train their children to recite. In the future, it will become more and more necessary for educated people to speak effectively in public, and reciting teaches children to do that.

Boy, does CM ever paint high standards in a Mother's mind!! What gradual steps? How are children taught to find meaning for themselves? How does a teacher cleverly and cunningly bring them about to find meaning for themselves all without setting a pattern for them? I need this Burrell book she is referencing!! (HA!~ I found it after posting this. It's in the PR archives:Recitation: The Children's Art.by Arthur Burrell. Volume 1, 1890/91, pgs. 92-103)

The good news is, it is available!
The bad news is, the only copy I could find is at Cambridge University in the U.K. only 5400 miles away.

Err.... um.. Ms. Mason, where are we to find CM mentors to teach us these things in California?!?!?

I did find this other book, Clear Speaking and Good Reading by Burrell on Google Books, which may be worth browsing.

Here are some interesting quotes from it:

The good reader is so rare that his name is treasured as a family inheritance when his voice and he are gone; and his rarity has produced some dicta, partly true and partly false, on the subject of his art

The art of reading and speaking clearly, sweetly, and convincingly depends on many things. It goes without saying that it demands a distinct enunciation and a good pronunciation; a freedom from woodenness, staginess, and all obvious searching after effect; a natural and a quiet instead of a blustering, bullying, and termagant manner; a sympathy with subject and with audience; a self-forgetfulness and enthusiasm that will carry speaker and hearers wherever the music of the words leads them.

...what words are too beautiful to describe them? Stirring and enthusiastic voices; soft and persuasive voices; mysterious, penetrating, illuminating voices; voices that hold out to us the meaning of poet and speaker as one holds out fruit to a child; voices with the 'natural gift' preserved and not wasted. This natural beauty of the voice, quite distinct from intensity or quality, must be saved or won back again. In fact, we have to get back to our mothers and nurses, to our Fairy Tales, Contes, and Marchen, if we would learn to read and speak well and beautifully.

The art of reading requires also, or at least asks for, a wide acquaintance with the masterpieces of literature, that the speaker may at his will, and by means of his note-book or his memory, at once transfer himself into regions of a moral and aesthetic refinement.

These quotes in grey are from Recitation: The Children's Art by Burrell:

With them [the art of reading and recitation] all is changed; the light from the writer's soul is handed down from one generation to another. For good authors cannot die; the human voice is for-ever conferring immortality upon them. So magical is the power of a good reader that he can convey to an audience shades of meaning in his author which he himself does not suspect.

...is it not worse than madness for us to look on English literature as mere work for the study, mere dictionary stuff? It was meant to be interpreted by the voice of life; there is only half the passion in the printed page. If there were more good reading round English firesides, do you suppose that the masterpieces of English thought would be studied, as they often are, merely with an eye to the examiners' certificate?

Can you see how CM would love his books? There's beauty in the way he expresses the art of speaking; his love for it is evident in his words. And words like these spark fantastic ideas.

Perhaps we are to put our children in touch directly with some of these words in order to convey these ideas to them. In any case, I look forward to this journey of recitation with my children.

I must admit, at bedtime, when the kids are all tucked in and I'm reading to them from a wonderful living book - I am practicing this art, the art of reciting! I find myself working the tonality and extending the pauses and slowing down to a crawl at some parts completely pleased with their fixed attention on every word. It is such an enjoyable process conveying a story and bringing it to life in the minds of children.

If you ever need examples of good and bad recitation, or to convince yourself the need to teach this art, try listening to several of the children's selections on librivox - Peter Pan is one that comes to mind. Some of the readers were wonderful, others were, well - you never got to the story because your mind couldn't get past the unnatural delivery. It seemed to me that the better the speaker, the less you noticed them, they faded into the background as the story came to life.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on recitation or any insight into how CM or Arthur Burrell suggest we teach it. What's worked with your kids?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Red Worm Farm

The soil is the sepulcher and the resurrection of all life in the past. The greater the sepulcher the greater the resurrection. The greater the resurrection the greater the growth. The life of yesterday seeks the earth to-day that new life may come from it tomorrow. The soil is composed of stone flour and organic matter (humus) mixed; the greater the store of organic matter the greater the fertility. - John Walton Spencer (page 760 of Comstock's Handbook of Nature Study)

We now have a worm farm! My husband had this great idea to collect "castings" or worm poop to make our soil fertile with organic matter. This idea came to him after purchasing our new Thornless Blackberry bush. It was delivered from Indiana a few weeks ago and we look forward to its amazing berries come Spring. We need to do our part to care for this bush so we can have fresh berries on our cereal every morning and over an occasional treat of vanilla ice cream.

A quote from Comstock's Handbook of Nature Study, page 160-161:
Few people realize the significance of the soil and the part that it plays in the life of man. Because a child, after making mud pies, is told that his face is dirty, he naturally concludes that soil is mere dirt. But it is only when out of place that soil is dirt; for in place and performing its normal and natural functions, it is the home of miracles - the seat of the intricate chemical and biochemical changes that make possible the nourishment of higher plants on which all animal life depends.

This is James' apple tree. Last Fall of 2008, James saved his apple seeds after eating his apple from Riley's Farm. It was our first time picking apples. When we did our 2009 Spring seed planting, James remembered and planted his apple seeds. This apple tree was the strongest seedling and now stands tall and happy!

This is our artichoke plant. We love to eat steamed artichoke that has been finished up on the flower pot smoker my husband made. There is a man on the beach boardwalk with an amazing garden that has a very Hawaiian feel, we have nicknamed him Mr. McGregor. He gave us a shoot from his artichoke, and it is doing very well. We look forward to our first harvest.

This is our Reed Avocado Tree. The Reed Avocado is amazing...we tried it for the first time when we were at the avocado festival in Carpenteria. My husband had the idea to put the seed in water and once it showed roots, he planted it in a pot. That was Fall of 2003 and has since needed to be re-potted twice into larger pots.
He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; Psalm 104:14
by A. F. Gustafson (from Comstock's Handbook of Nature Study, page 766-767 -a section)
Many years ago, when the white man came to this country, he found the eastern part of what is now the United States covered with forest trees. In the central Mississippi Valley area there were forests along many of the larger streams, and tall growing prairie grasses on the wide open spaces between them. To the westward on the Great Plains, where the rainfall was less, the land was covered with short grasses. In the mountains farther west and along the western coast, trees grew at lower elevations wherever the rainfall was sufficient for them. Thus, in nature, the land was covered, protected, and held in place by vegetation; and that form of vegetation for the growth of which conditions were most favorable predominated.
The trees covered the soil somewhat like leaky umbrellas. Rain fell on the leaves, twigs, and branches; thus the fall of the raindrops was broken and some of the water ran down the branches and trunks of the trees directly into the soil, which held part of it for the use of the trees. Likewise, the rain fell on the prairie grasses and ran down into the soil very much as it did in the forest.
The leaf and twig litter in the forest caught the water, so that much of it could be absorbed by the soil. The old dead grasses on the prairies and plains held water in much the same way. Under both grass and trees the soil was loose and open. Decaying roots left openings in the soil. The remains of leaves and grasses were broken down by earthworms and other organisms living in the soil; as these animals moved about, they left many openings in the soil. Moreover, the decaying litter kept the soil in a loose condition, and so enabled it to absorb the rain rather rapidly. The litter itself also absorbed considerable water, so that less was lost as run-off to the streams. The old dead grass and the growing grass kept the water from running off until much of the rainfall soaked into the soil. The absorbed rain water came back to the surface of the soil at lower elevations, in the form of springs. During long periods between rains, the springs supplied water for man and for his livestock; the excess, then as now, flowed off to form streams which in turn fed the larger bodies of water.
The white man cut down the forest trees and then plowed the land; a little later he broke the sod on the prairies. Once Nature's protecting cover for the soil was plowed under it soon rotted and was lost. Immediately after the forest was cleared, good yields of wheat, corn, and other farm crops were produced even on rather steep slopes. But when the roots of trees and grasses and the other organic matter in the soil had decayed and disappeared, the supply could not be quickly renewed; and as a result, the soil was no longer loose and open but became hard and closely packed. In this condition it would not readily absorb water, which consequently ran off the fields into the brooks.
Hard and closely packed soil...just like what we have in front of our house. I thought what a great place to have a little garden when we planted our seeds last Spring. We had miniature, stunted everything in our garden. Our corn plants were 1 foot tall with four ears of two inch corn! It was quite funny and a learning experience. While our neighbor has lush growth with trees. I want trees!!!
And fertile soil....
So now we have our own worm farm...

We purchased our Red Worms at Armstrong's.

We purchased a container at Home Depot. Garrett drilled many air holes all over the top and sides and put a spout near the bottom to drain liquid if necessary (organic tea for the garden).

Julia and James moistened strips of newspaper for the bottom.

We pre-moistened a piece of cardboard for the top.

A small amount of Organic soil was sprinkled over the wet newspaper.

Another sprinkle of water inside, not too much though!

Next, we placed inside some raw chopped fruits and vegetables.

Then, the RED WORMS!

Last, we placed wet cardboard over the worms and then closed the cover. They like the dark. Feed as needed. Nothing cooked. Avoid broccoli and onions as they may give off an odor. Not too much citrus. Leaves, wood dust, rinsed raw egg shells, molded bread, and raw fruits and vegetables are good. Also, save used coffee grounds, avocado skin and banana peels for your little worms. They will soon grow long and have many babies. In 4 months or so, the castings will be reading for harvest and to use in your garden. Here is a link for detailed instructions.
Here is a problem, a wonder for all to see.
Look at this marvelous thing I hold in my hand!
This is a magic surprising, a mystery
Strange as a miracle, harder to understand.
What is it? Only a handful of dust: to your touch
A dry, rough powder you trample beneath your feet,
Dark and lifeless; but think for a moment, how much
It hides and holds that is beautiful, bitter, or sweet.
Think of the glory of color! The red of the rose,
Green of the myriad leaves and the fields of grass,
Yellow as bright as the sun where the daffodil blows,
Purple where violets nod as the breezes pass.
Strange, that this lifeless thing gives vine, flower, tree,
Color and shape and character, fragrance too;
That the timber that builds the house, the ship for the sea,
Out of this powder its strength and its toughness drew!
--From "DUST," Celia Thaxter (Comstock's page 766)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

No more sticks...

Have you ever imagined a world without sticks?

The thought had never even crossed my mind, nor my children's...

until today.

As our group was leaving one of our favorite nature trails, a worker came out to tell the kids not to take the sticks they were carrying.

I believe her exact words were:

"If everyone took a stick, there wouldn't be any more sticks."

No more sticks...


Interestingly enough, our kids, all four of the ones who she was talking to, had actually brought their own favorite sticks with them and were carrying out their own sticks. That's how much they love sticks, they bring them and own them and know who's belongs to who.

Imagine God pondering the thought that he had not designed the world with enough sticks for children to play with, swing on, climb up, use as pretend weapons, build tee pees with... Ha!

Unforunately, when we visit state and regional parks with our children in Southern California, the message from rangers and volunteers more often than not is that nature is to be observed from afar, not touched, not known intimately. Enjoying and experiencing nature is against the rules.

We're talking about 4 sticks in a 388 acre park with thousands of trees continually producing new sticks!

Here's what author Richard Louv says about it in his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder in the chapter titled "The Criminalization of Natural Play"

"If endangered and threatened species are to coexist with humans, adults and children do need to tread lightly. But poor land-use-decisions, which reduce accessible nature in cities, do far more damage to the environment than do children."

As open space shrinks, overuse increases. ...typical development methods favor decapitated hills, artificial landscaping, yards the size of gravesites, and few natural play areas. The disappearance of accessible open space escalates the pressure on those few natural places that remain. Local flora is trampled, fauna die or relocate, and nature-hungry people follow in their four-wheel-drive vehicles or on their motorcycles. Meanwhile, the regulatory message is clear: islands of nature that are left by the graders are to be seen, not touched.

The cumulative impact of overdevelopment, multiplying park rules, well-meaning (and usually necessary) enironmental regulations, building regulations, community covenants, and fear of litigation sends a chilling message to our children that their free-range play is unwelcome, that organized sports on manicured playing fields are the only officially sanctioned form of outdoor recreation. "We tell our kids that traditional forms of outdoor play are against the rules," says Rick [John Rick]. "Then we get on their backs when they sit in front of the TV - and then we tell them to go outside and play. But where? How? Join another organized sport? Some kids don't want to be organized all the time. They want to let their imaginations run; they want to see where a stream of water takes them."

Here's more if you're interested.

It's no wonder that more and more, we find ourselves taking our kids to natural places without rangers, without nature centers, without volunteers... how sad.

And how sad that the very people who will some day become the rangers, landscapers, community developers, etc.; that their love for nature, to know her intimately, is not considered just as endangered. Who will have an interest in caring for something they were never allowed to know intimately? Something that was always against the rules?

I think on Christmas it would be fun to buy a case of Louv's books and drop them off as presents at every nature center. It should be mandatory reading for all employees!

On a more positive note, here's a cute video from this week of the kids playing with their sticks. Thank God we haven't run out of them yet :)