Saturday, December 26, 2009
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
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
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
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.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
The thought had never even crossed my mind, nor my children's...
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 :)