Tuesday, March 30, 2010


On a whim, a neighbor of ours decided to sell everything they own and move to NYC. A bold move, the kind of thing I think about doing at times - but not for the city, for land - woods, streams, nature in my back yard... sounds dreamy.

Anyhow, they put a bunch of things out for donation in front of their home. She has a daughter in Kindergarten so I thought I'd drop by and see if she had anything we might be able to use.

Right on top of everything, the very first thing I found was a box full of vintage doll house items. I couldn't believe she was giving it away!

We had so much fun this afternoon taking every piece out, opening every drawer, fixing everything in its place.

I don't know much about doll house toys nowadays, but I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like this. EVERYTHING opens! Just like the real thing.

Now to tie it in...

These kinds of toys treat children as persons - because persons want to open drawers and put food in the fridge and include a Grandpa when they're playing!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Why Boys Fail

This is Sobering...

A coarsened cultural environment has eliminated the heroic ideals that once inspired young men.

Boys, and young men in particular, respond very well to noble purpose but haven’t had much to go on in the past fifty years of our bedraggled history. So many of the young men I see in my classes have mentally and emotionally quit, given up. They are not supported by inspiring ideals that help organize and focus their energies.

Read the rest here.

If you are following the Ambleside Curriculum, rest assured your boys are in for a feast of heroic ideals and noble purpose, in many of the books there. In YR1 and YR2 alone, we read from...

The Bible
Trial and Triumph
Our Island Story
King of the Golden River
Pilgrim's Progress
St. George and the Dragon
Little Duke
Otto of the Silver Hand
Farmer Boy

Would there be a difference in a boy's heart, character, and view of the gospel after feasting on books like these

And what about in the home? What are we teaching our boys and girls in the home?

Growing up in a very dysfunctional family, I learned early to rely on no man. I took pride in my ability to take care of myself. I didn't need anyone. So when I got married and my husband offered to open the door for me, I'd hold it myself and tell him to go ahead. When he offered to bring the groceries in, I'd tell him I could handle it. If I needed to move a piece of furniture, I'd do it myself to the point of hurting myself. I actually thought I was being nice to him by not burdening him with such trouble. I thought he liked that his wife could take care of herself.

Well, many cold nights and years later, thanks to friends with insight and some good books, I can see now that I wasn't being helpful at all. My self sacrifice, what I thought was 'doing for him' was actually robbing him of his chance to be a man. I might as well have been screaming in his face "I don't need you. You are worthless to me."

Oh, and it doesn't end there. I think of all the times I've piped in as he's fixing something, telling him how to do it. And all the times I've told him to be careful as we're driving, or told him what a great job someone else's husband does at so-and-so. I may as well have been saying "You complete idiot!!! How did you ever manage in life without me!? Why can't you be a better man!?"

The truth of the matter is, when I bite my tongue, he does things just fine without me. In fact, I've come to realize that there are a lot of things he does much better than me, when given the chance. And I've also come to realize that when I don't crinkle my brow and nag him and tell him what to do all day, he's more attracted to me and I to him.

Yes, for years I was doing it all by being an independent, self-sufficient woman. But honestly, it was an extremely lonely and tiring gig. Exhausting. I'm still a long way from having learned this lesson completely, but I can now find rest and security leaning on my husband's loving strength. I feel good relying on his abilities, not just mine. I am attracted to his masculinity and the way he takes care of us in the little things like opening the door, carrying groceries, checking the oil and the tires on the car, offering to drop us off while he goes and parks the car.

And as I rely on him, he in turn turns to me for my support. Funny how that works. He would reject my advice when I force it on him. But when I give up control, he trusts me to help him.

Charlotte Mason said Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life. The atmosphere in the home is learning grounds for our future men and future women. How I treat my husband is how my daughter will naturally start in her marriage treating hers. And the type of wife I am to my husband will naturally be the type of wife my son will look for.

We can read all the great literature about heroes and noble deeds to our boys, but according to CM, and to common sense, that only accounts for a third of his education. Atmosphere accounts for another third, and training good habits accounts for the rest

In Vol. 2, Chapter 4 Parents as Inspirers, she writes:

An Idea may exist as an 'Appetency.'––Ideas may invest as an atmosphere, rather than strike as a weapon. 'The idea may exist in a clear, distinct, definite form, as that of a circle in the mind of a geometrician; or it may be a mere instinct, a vague appetency towards something, . . . like the impulse which fills the young poet's eyes with tears, he knows not why: To excite this 'appetency towards something'––towards things lovely, honest, and of good report, is the earliest and most important ministry of the educator.

How shall these indefinite ideas which manifest themselves in appetency be imparted? They are not to be given of set purpose, nor taken at set times. They are held in that thought-environment which surrounds the child as an atmosphere, which he breathes as his breath of life; and this atmosphere in which the child inspires his unconscious ideas of right living emanates from his parents.

Every look of gentleness and tone of reverence, every word of kindness and act of help, passes into the thought-environment, the very atmosphere which the child breathes; he does not think of these things, may never think of them, but all his life long they excite that 'vague appetency towards something' out of which most of his actions spring. Oh, wonderful and dreadful presence of the little child in the midst!

Hopefully, we have a little more wonderful than dreadful! Let us not rest on society, school, friends, and the like to provide the right atmosphere for our boys, because they aren't finding it there. The responsibility rests on us as parents to create the atmosphere at home, to give our boys opportunities at noble purpose, to appreciate and respect our husbands when they offer up noble and heroic acts. It's how they're wired.

I'd love to hear what other families have done with their boys to cultivate this. Leave a comment if you'd like to share your thoughts or ideas!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Protecting vs. Attracting

Kristine loaned me a book the other day called Gospel Powered Parenting by William P. Farley. With so many parenting books out there, I'm not one to get overly excited about the latest greatest, but with a title like that and a recommendation from a very well read friend like Kristine, I knew I had to read it.

I'm only just into the second chapter of the book, but something Farley wrote about in the first chapter has already had my mind going. Comparing a parent's mind set to that of a football team who either plays offensively or defensively (defensively apparently being deadly in football) he says:

Either we can prepare our children to enter the world and conquer it, or we can concentrate on protecting our children from the world. A defensive mind-set worries about the evil influences of Halloween, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or non-Christians on the Little League team. {gulp} Although parenting always involves some protection, this should not be the main focus for biblical parents.

What mother hasn't had their heart skip a beat as someone or something just shed light on a topic with your child you just weren't ready for them to learn yet?

Farley goes on to say...

Thomas Chalmers (1780 - 1847), a Scotch Presbyterian, wrote a famous essay entitled The Expulsive Power of a New Affection. In it Chalmers proposes that the best way to overcome the world is not with morality or self-discipline. Christians overcome the world by seeing the beauty and excellence of Christ. They overcome the world by seeing something more attractive than the world: Christ, "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3). A man who owns an Acura is not interested in a Geo Metro. In the same way, Christian parents try to make Christ and his kingdom glorious. Their children conquer the lusts of this world with a higher passion: the moral beauty of Christ.

The idea of that has struck me completely.

Yes, protect my children, but more than that, show them how truly glorious it is to live in Christ! Show them the beauty, the truth, the complete and utter brilliance that nothing else can ever replace. And, (we may part in agreement here) on the flip side, as they grow older and are more ready for it, show them the ugliness of sin. Show them where it leads. How else can they truly understand how good the light is?

And beyond that, in some ways, isn't that what a CM education does?

Aren't we showing our children just how alive and interesting and masterful a piece of art is that has been viewed for centuries in contrast to the dull, thoughtless scribble offered to children today? Aren't we reading rich classics from literature to them so they will know what is thoughtful, clever, expressed so fantastically well with just the right words to attract them to substance, instead of twaddle? Don't we place them in the midst of a history so rich and full of real human experience that causes love, war, passion, life and death rather than offer up shallow bits of dates and events devoid of life - don't we do this in order to captivate them to a more genuine, complex view of humanity and their place in it rather than leave them to the mere self-absorption so highly promoted in society today?

Isn't this why we acquaint our children with Nature in all her beauty and form; to delight them with perfect harmony, intricacy, transformation, miracles and wonder rather than put them in front of a flashing TV everyday?

Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things. ~Charlotte Mason, Vol 1, II, p.61

CM talks about living a 'full life', not in the sense of always being busy, but the opposite of dull; a mind full of interest in life and living. I think this is what we are attracting our children to isn't it? And oh, how attractive it really is. Compare the average person you know who is dull and bored will life, finding nothing of interest, nothing of value, nothing of purpose. And contrast that with another, who finds joy in nature, art, literature, people... (fill in the blank here). It really isn't a hard sell, is it? Having gone from the former to the latter myself since starting CM homeschooling, I certainly don't think it is.

Farley goes on to say:

...defensive parents have little confidence in the attractiveness of the gospel. They think the world is more powerful. Fundamentally, they are not confident in the gospel's power to transform their children from the inside out. They do not believe Jesus' words, "Take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). They have little confidence in the world conquering power of new birth.

I really, really like this view. Because in reality, I can't keep my kids from every bad word, every TV commercial, every billboard, every pop song, every punk kid. I can, on the other hand, show them something better, something true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, admirable. I can show them what is excellent and worthy of praise and trust that ultimately, the Lord will lead them to choose it for themselves.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Train Up a Child

One of the ladies in our group recently commented on a post titled Perfectionism written by Anne Voskamp regarding the teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl.

Their methods are controversial, to say the least, and even more so now with all the media attention they are garnering.

Kristine took the time to write out her thoughts on the matter and also point out some of what Charlotte Mason had to say about habit training. As always, I love and appreciate her perspective and so with permission, I am re-posting her comments here in hopes that they may also be a blessing to others.

We're reading that book right now as a group and it has nuggets of wisdom, but Ann is right (I love her blog) in that his doctrine of perfectionism is in there along with his advice. His theology is off and that infuses his words. I have been helped in some practical situations with his suggestions, but always felt that he was arrogant in his tone. He is serious about 100% obedience. But when training a particular habit, it is extremely helpful to catch it each time and consistently deal with it so that it becomes a habit. Charlotte Mason in speaking of habit training emphasizes the same:

“Not mere spurts of occasional punishment, but the incessant
watchfulness and endeavour which go to the forming and
preserving of the habits of the good life, is what we mean by
discipline” (Vol. 2, p. 173)

“The mother will have to adopt various little devices to remind
him; but of two things she will be careful––that he never slips
off without shutting the door, and that she never lets the matter
be a cause of friction between herself and the child, taking the
line of his friendly ally to help him against that bad memory of
his” (Vol. 1, p. 123)

Note: That certainly doesn't mean spanking each time, but requiring the right behavior. Going back and doing it correctly. But showing mercy at a time like this would cause the child to not gain that habit. Instead, with a smile and friendly tone, mother helps him in his forgetting.

"The Dangerous Stage.––Now that Johnny always shuts the door, his mother's joy and triumph begin to be mixed with unreasonable pity. 'Poor child,' she says to herself, 'it is very good of him to take so much pains about a little thing, just because he is bid!' She thinks that, all the time, the child is making an effort for her sake; losing sight of the fact that the habit has become easy and natural, that, in fact, Johnny shuts the door without knowing that he does so.

Now comes the critical moment. Some day Johnny is so taken up with a new delight that the habit, not yet fully formed, loses its hold, and he is half-way downstairs before he thinks of the door. Then he does think of it, with a little prick of conscience, strong enough, not to send him back, but to make him pause a moment to see if his mother will call him back. She has noticed the omission, and is saying to herself, 'Poor little fellow, he has been very good about it this long time; I'll let him off this once.' He, outside, fails to hear his mother's call, says, to himself––fatal sentence!––'Oh, it doesn't matter,' and trots off.

Next time he leaves the door open, but it is not a 'forget.' His mother calls him back in a rather feeble way. His quick ear catches the weakness of her tone, and, without coming back, he cries, 'Oh, mother, I'm in such a hurry,' and she says no more, but lets him off. Again he rushes in, leaving the door wide open. 'Johnny!'––in a warning voice. 'I'm going out again just in a minute, mother,' and after ten minutes' rummaging he does go out, and forgets to shut the door. The mother's mis-timed easiness has lost for her every foot of the ground she had gained. " (vol 1 p. 124)

One could say here that she allows no mercy in shutting the door to create this habit, but you see, it is exactly at this time that the wise mother must have fortitude to stick with the training and not budge or the habit is lost.

“Every day, every hour, the parents are either passively or actively
forming those habits in their children upon which, more than upon
anything else, future character and conduct depend” (Vol. 1, p. 118)

“Educate the child in right habits and the man’s life will run
in them, without the constant wear and tear of the moral effort
of decision. Once, twice, three times in a day, he will still, no
doubt, have to choose between the highest and the less high,
the best and the less good course. But all the minor moralities
of life may be made habitual to him. He has been brought up
to be courteous, prompt, punctual, neat, considerate; and he
practises these virtues without conscious effort” (Vol. 2, p. 124)

“We entertain the idea which gives birth to the act and the act
repeated again and again becomes the habit” (Vol. 6, p. 102)

When I read the Pearls the first time, I did feel like I was always failing. He'd give examples of the mothers who let things slide and would point out the rotten fruit of their half-hearted labor. If my children weren't obeying perfectly, I would be down on myself and them. I think it was his tone and delivery that was discouraging. I read it now with a filter of the Gospel and also an emphasis from Charlotte of working on one habit at a time and to be diligent to enforce and encourage that behavior until it is a habit, laying down the rails. His words of no mercy are what sound harsh, but it is really the same as Charlotte's encouragement not to let a single episode pass when training a habit. Now, that said, I am very inconsistent. I am lazy. I am busy with other children and can't seem to find out which child pees all over the floor. I am encouraged by the instruction to lay down the rails, to guard my children's actions and their hearts, yet with gentleness and a cheerful heart.

I have heard Mr. Pearl speak a couple of times, and he seems to emphasize the joy and tying strings of love with your children, not the harshness of the book. I heard him respond to some of his harshness and he said that he figured the joy and love were evident in all families, it was the lack of training that he saw missing in families, but if that joy was missing, then you would become a frustrated parent whose children would not have the motivation to obey you. I think that was the basis of a series of articles called Jumping Ship about children who have rebelled in later years, because that joy and love was lacking. If you skim over or never get to the chapter on Joy and tying strings, all his advice would be incomplete and lacking.

I don't think that when the Pearls speak of training a child that you are just swatting all day. And it isn't emphasized for punishment, but as a tool for training a behavior. My boys actually drew a happy face on a wooden spoon to remind them that the spoon was an attitude changer. It would bring a smile looking at it, knowing that they could will themselves into a better choice of attitude. And seeing a spoon laying in an area not allowed to go would be a reminder that it was a no-touch zone. So it isn't always swatting, it's sometimes guiding them along to will themselves to do what is right, what is required by mom and dad. But even CM states that it is not easily done:

The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures
for herself smooth and easy days; while she who lets their habits take
care of themselves has a weary life of endless friction with the children” (Vol. 1, p. 136)

Another book I found very helpful in practical training was Raising Godly Tomatoes. Tips such as training your children to come and replying with a cheerful, "Yes, Mom" was one of the most helpful training tips for me when my oldest was a toddler. Training your infant to lay his head on your shoulder while holding him helped to keep babies from squirming and being fussy. Having my children smile when they are pouting will often change their hearts, training them out of a sour disposition. Keeping my children close to me, "tomato-staking," so I can see their interactions and be available for constant training, rather than sending one to his room to stew and grow bitter. I never thought of these simple solutions to help me along my way. All this advice was free from her website. Once again, though, I take what is helpful. I don't adhere to everything from any parenting book.

I am reading a book called Gospel-Powered Parenting right now. I'm about half way through, but I think you would like it very much. He has a right view of God's Mercy and His Wrath toward sin. His explanation of the Gospel is clear and how our view of it will affect our parenting. While it doesn't have those practical tips that you may pick up from a seasoned mom (or raising godly tomatoes or the Pearls), it does lay the most important foundation which will give you the motivation to "take pains to" raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Much love as we journey together on this most worthwhile endeavor.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

We Undervalue Children

One of the basic tenets of a Charlotte Mason Education is that "Children are born persons."

What does that mean; that a child is born a person?

While I won't assume to understand what CM meant by that completely, as a CM homeschooling mom, part of its meaning is becoming more and more apparent to me.

In Vol. 3, p. 171 CM writes:

The fact is, we undervalue children. The notion that an infant is a huge oyster, who by slow degrees, and more and more, develops into that splendid intellectual and moral being, a full-grown man or woman, has been impressed upon us so much of late years that we believe intellectual spoon-meat to be the only food for what we are pleased to call 'little minds.'

...our grandfathers and grandmothers recognised children as reasonable beings, persons of mind and conscience like themselves; but, needing their guidance and control, as having neither knowledge nor experience. Witness the queer old children's books which have come down to us; these addressed children as, before all things, reasonable, intelligent, and responsible persons. This is the note of home-life in the last generation. So soon as the baby realised his surroundings, he found himself morally and intellectually responsible.

Children as they are.––And children have not altered. This is how we find them––with intelligence more acute, logic more keen, observing powers more alert, moral sensibilities more quick, love and faith and hope more abounding; in fact, in all points like as we are, only more so; but absolutely ignorant of the world and its belongings, of us and our ways, and, above all, of how to control and direct and manifest the infinite possibilities with which they are born.

Have you seen this? This undervaluing of children? This 'intellectual-spoon meat' for 'little minds'?

It's everywhere...

Toys, crafts, foods, menus, toiletries, clothes, even Sunday school handouts ooze it. All gleaming with fluorescent colors and glitter, emblazoned with the latest animated TV characters. Most, lacking in substance, quality and actual usefulness.

I see it in the conduct of educators, rangers, librarians, volunteers, parents. Talking louder, slower, CLEARER with wide eyes and fake smiles in a patronizing way - similar to how people begin talking to seniors when their hearing begins to go. Around here, we also get a lot of adults trying to be 'cool' and 'on the level' with the kids. "Whas happenin' dude!" "Don't call me Mr! It's Joe"

Books - abridged, adapted, re-written, made easier and shorter. Simplifying, dumbing down. Nothing offends me more than a Peter Rabbit book with cartoon pictures replacing the originals, or Disney versions of Winnie-the-Pooh.

I see parents shoving their children off, away from the cooking, cleaning, shopping, fixing, everything; treating them as incapable of helping or contributing, unable to add any value anywhere in the home, unable to take part in any 'real' discussions, set before the boob tube to be 'managed'... how sad.

Where does this offensive idea come from that children are so limited, shallow, incapable?

Charlotte Mason's idea that children are born persons, is truly revolutionary in our society today. Okay, maybe not everywhere, but in Southern California, where we are, it certainly is :)

One of my favorite authors lately is Edith Nesbit. Her writing is so clever and interesting for children. She writes the sort of books that are food to nourish the mind (how's that for a little CM-ism?) Actually, she might possibly have been categorized as 'idle entertainment' in CM's time, nevertheless, she is someone who treats children as persons.

To show you what I mean, here are some snippets from her writing in the chapter "Uncle James" in The Dragon Book, a story about a princess in a far away land called 'Rotundia'. Just listen to how she speaks to the children:

Now that you have read as far as this you know, of course, that the kingdom of Rotundia was a very remarkable place; and if you are a thoughtful child - as of course you are - you will not need me to tell you what was the most remarkable thing about it. But in case you are not a thoughtful child - and it is just possible of course that you are not - I will tell you at once what that most remarkable thing was. All the animals were the wrong sizes!

Now you will remember that I told you there was one wicked person in Rotundia, and I cannot conceal from you any longer that this Complete Bad was the princess's uncle James. Magicians are always bad, as you know from your fairy books, and some uncles are bad as you see by the Babes in the Wood, or the Norfolk Tragedy, and one James at least was bad, as you have learned from your English history. And when anyone is a magician, and is also an uncle, and is named James as well, you need not expect anything nice from him. He is Threefold Complete Bad - and he will come to no good.
(This was especially fun since we had just read about King James in Our Island Story!)

Because you see the princess and the gardener's son were so fond of each other they could not help being happy - and besides, they had an elephant of their very own to ride on. If that is not enough to make people happy, I should like to know what is. Though, of course, I know there are people who could not be happy unless they had a whale to sail on, and perhaps not even then. But they are greedy, grasping people, the kind who would take four helps of pudding, as likely not...

Whether you enjoy Nesbit or not, CM's idea that children are born persons is, I believe, foundational to educating them, in so many ways. I would even go so far to say that it is also a clue to finding the answer to the many issues facing education in our country today. But... I'll save that rant for another day :)

For now, with these three very special persons, I thank the Lord for this opportunity to implement CM's ideas in our homeschool.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Interesting Collections

Is it just me... or does the Handbook of Nature Study give you the impression that an effective teacher ought to collect things for the children's classroom... living things, for the sake of observation and learning? Surely the instructions on how to create a pond aquarium or a small animal trap are for the reader's sake?

Well we do. And it's interesting how you really do learn so much more when you spend time with a creature and observe it's behavior.

Take our water bug for instance...

you can learn that those front legs are for catching prey, but it isn't until you observe the one your friend caught you that you see just how it sits perched on a rock sitting ever so still for its prey to swim by to nab it. And you don't see how patient it is and how many times it will try and how frantic it becomes after a while that it even dives after it. And you don't see that after a good day's hunting without a catch, it rests until the next day to give it a try again.

I didn't read anywhere about this silly behavior with its hind legs captured in this video. By the way, it has a water strider in its grip in the video.

I wonder if it isn't trying to release some excess air from under its wings - it seems it only does it after surfacing for air.

Another one of our collections came from this slimy sac of frog eggs we found in a stream by us. We brought them home along with some snails we saw there since the water bug supposedly eats them.

The water bug hasn't eaten the snails we gave it. It prefers the minnows we buy at the pet store for .12 cents a piece. We left the frog eggs in an open container outside and check it every day to see if any of the eggs have hatched. They have! So we keep them in this jar with air holes of course and a tiny bit of algae wafer for food. We've learned too much pollutes the water and can kill the tadpoles.

They are tiny at first, but grow quickly.

For the most part they just hang from their noses like this...

They have the most adorable little faces!

They seem to get along just fine with the snails.

And look - see that?

We've found a few of these egg sacs in different parts of the jar. The tadpoles don't lay eggs... and the only other creature in there are the snails so they must be snail eggs! I guess we'll find out soon.

Isn't real life ever so much more interesting than textbooks?