Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Wonder Book

We are currently reading 'The Golden Touch', the story of King Midas in Nathaniel Hawthorne's A Wonder Book at bedtime in hopes of being able to enjoy most of the YR2 'free reads' (books read at any pace, any time, without narration; described as "books no child should miss"). From the looks of it and the rapid pace at which YR3 is creeping up on us, it's unlikely we'll get through them all :(

I found this beautiful picture on the online copy of the book on the Baldwin Project. Our copy unfortunately didn't come with these pictures. But... it was free from Kristine who picks up any books I may not already have for $1 here, a quarter there. Isn't that a wonderful kind of friend to have? Such a blessing, you have no idea! She's kind of like a drug dealer is to a drug addict... she brings me books every time I see her. Tells me she has something in the car for me. Last time it was both volumes of the Jungle Book and Treasure Island. It's getting out of hand :)

ANYHOW, I was reading The Golden Touch to the kids tonight and it's so fun because they just know what is going to happen now that he has the Golden Touch. He goes through the garden and touches all the roses and they turn to gold, and he is so pleased. Then he comes in from the garden for breakfast and Hawthorne writes:

What was usually a king's breakfast in the days of Midas, I really do not know, and cannot stop now to investigate. To the best of my belief, however, on this particular morning, the breakfast consisted of hot cakes, some nice little brook trout, roasted potatoes, fresh boiled eggs, and coffee, for King Midas himself, and a bowl of bread and milk for his daughter Marygold.

Then Marygold arrives in tears. She is sobbing. And my 6yo son blurts out "I know! It's the roses! She's sad about the roses because they don't smell anymore!" and he's right.

Marygold then sits down but is too distraught to eat.

"Poh, my dear little girl,—pray don't cry about it!" said Midas, who was ashamed to confess that he himself had wrought the change which so greatly afflicted her. "Sit down and eat your bread and milk. You will find it easy enough to exchange a golden rose like that (which will last hundreds of years) for an ordinary one which would wither in a day."

What a great lesson, right here with Midas and Marygold. I look at my children imagining what deep thoughts must be going through their minds. Then my 8yo daughter says

"Why doesn't she get what he has?!"


"Why doesn't she get trout and all those potatoes too!?"

Er, um, not what I was expecting.

"I don't know, they don't tell us why sweet pea. That's a great question."

The story goes on...

Amid these thoughts, he lifted a spoonful of coffee to his lips, and, sipping it, was astonished to perceive that, the instant his lips touched the liquid, it became molten gold, and, the next moment, hardened into a lump!

"Ha!" exclaimed Midas, rather aghast.

"What is the matter, father?" asked little Marygold, gazing at him, with the tears still standing in her eyes.

"Nothing, child, nothing!" said Midas. "Eat your milk, before it gets quite cold."

At this, my son interjects "It can't get cold, it's cold already!"


"The milk is cold already, it can't get cold... oh, I guess it could. maybe, it's probably from the cow."

Not quite the conversation an adult might expect spurring from Midas, but it's what crossed their questioning minds at that time. And I'm okay talking about age discrimination at the breakfast table and assumptions about milk - because it's hilarious and delightful! In fact, it's one of the very few things that can make a good story even better for me.

Friday, July 30, 2010

It Pleases Thee

I read today a brief snippet about a woman named Madame Guyon, who was persecuted for her faith and imprisoned in a dungeon lit only by a candle at mealtimes.

My 'struggles' faded by the wayside and my heart was gripped by her obedient words in this poem she wrote of her experience:

A little bird I am,
Shut from the fields of air;
Yet in my cage I sit and sing
To Him who placed me there;
Well pleased a prisoner be,
Because, my God, it pleases Thee

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. ~2 Thes 5:16

Hebrews 12:10-11, 1 Peter 1:6, Romans 5:3-5, Romans 11:36

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

239th Carnival of Homeschooling

The 239th Carnival of Homeschooling is up at The Common Room! (One of my favorite blogs to read btw)

The theme is 'The History of Homeschooling in America'. I think you'll enjoy this one :)

If you're not familiar with The Carnival of Homeschooling, you can read about it here.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Revisiting Math

Euclid in the School of Athens, Raphael Sanzio

Some call it an 'aha' moment. I can't think of it as anything other than Divine Providence. In any case, it happened today after finding this gem of a Parent's Review Article entitled "Home Arithmetic" by Ms. May Everest Boole, written for our discovery no less than 117 years ago. I'm ashamed to admit I had to use the handy desktop calculator to figure that out without counting on my fingers. Which is precisely why I bought a complete math curriculum for the past three years to do the job of teaching my children the subject for me. It was, at the time, the path of least resistance.

But today, as we worked through a workbook page of 3 digit, 3 column addition, I couldn't help but feel the senselessness of it all. Yes, she knows how to round to the nearest hundred, thousand, ten thousand. She knows how to add those numbers for an 'estimate'. She knows to start adding from the right column and carry the number over to get the exact answer, but... does she really know anything more than a set of rules to operate by? Why do we round, why do we estimate, why do we carry? WHY does any of it matter?

Then I read this from the article:

...it is almost impossible for a pupil to extract out of a mathematical operation what it has to teach about the abstract, after he has once learned to perform that operation mechanically. It is therefore desirable that a child should learn from each operation all that it can give of knowledge of Laws of Thought, before he ever sees it performed in the class-room, where skill in manipulation is being cultivated. Each operation should be introduced to the child first by a series of play-lessons, in which no eagerness is aroused, on which no examination depends, and during which he is free to soak up all it contains of Philosophic Truth, unhampered by the need for following any prescribed method.

and this...

Beware of writing, in play-lessons, anything which does not represent some process actually going on in the child's mind. E.g. It is natural to a child to count the more valuable coins or counters before the less valuable ones; allow him to do additions in that order, till he discovers the inconvenience of doing so. The first few examples of each operation should involve no "carrying" and therefore no inconvenience from beginning at the "wrong" end. When he begins to "carry," let him still work in the wrong order, and correct his results. If it does not soon occur to him to spare himself this trouble, you may suggest it to him; but for some time after you have suggested it, make him do each sum in both ways, the clumsy and the convenient way, and become accustomed to see the identity of results.

and this!!!

When he can do an easy addition, of about three columns and three rows, slowly, but without effort, beginning indifferently at either end, and can explain the rationale of each process, addition may pass to the stage of "work." Subtraction should them be taken up for play-lesson, the same principle being observed as in play addition.

When he can easily do a short division by one small digit, let him do one on the top of the slate and leave it; prepare the rest of the slate as for long division, and set the same sum over again in long division form. Tell him to write down all the steps (multiplication and subtraction) by which he got his successive remainder. Repeat this process during several weeks, or even months: do not set any division by more than one digit till the child quite realizes that long and short division are identically the same process; that the former helps memory when the divisor is large, but gives needless trouble in writing when it is small. This will forestall the difficulty which many, even clever, children experience in understanding long division. Remember too that no time is wasted which serves to impress on the child's consciousness that abstract truth has a sanctity and authority of its own, independent of special method; and that our choice between methods, equally valid abstractly, is to be decided by human convenience.

I was convinced immediately, because I'd already seen the fruits otherwise; dull, dry, imposed, meaningless. Don't get me wrong, the curriculum could still be very useful, I'm just realizing that, had she grappled with the wrong way for a while, then discovered the truth of it, with me 'scaffolding' as necessary, then truth would have unfolded itself to her in a much more remarkable way. There would have been understanding, ownership, conquest, interest, and so much more meaning to it all.

And to know a bit of why things have come to be as they are:

When you use notation, shew him that ten was chosen as our "carrying" standard, because savages counted on their fingers; make him realise early, that ten has no special value as a standard except what is given to it by the conformation of man.

It is fascinating really.

Why on earth isn't it?

I think this critique of K-12 math education, "A Mathematician's Lament" by Paul Lockhart, a research mathematician, does a great job explaining why. He is impressed: (emphasis all mine, link courtesy of Jimmie via Squidoo)

Sadly, our present system of mathematics education is precisely this kind of nightmare. In fact, if I had to design a mechanism for the express purpose of destroying a child’s natural curiosity and love of pattern-making, I couldn’t possibly do as good a job as is currently being done— I simply wouldn’t have the imagination to come up with the kind of senseless, soulcrushing ideas that constitute contemporary mathematics education.

I bet he'd agree with Charlotte Mason in that 'The Child is a Person'

Why don’t we want our children to learn to do mathematics? Is it that we don’t trust them, that we think it’s too hard? We seem to feel that they are capable of making arguments and coming to their own conclusions about Napoleon, why not about triangles?

And this just took my breath away...

All this fussing and primping about which “topics” should be taught in what order, or the use
of this notation instead of that notation, or which make and model of calculator to use, for god’s sake— it’s like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic! Mathematics is the music of reason. To do mathematics is to engage in an act of discovery and conjecture, intuition and inspiration; to be in a state of confusion— not because it makes no sense to you, but because you gave it sense and you still don’t understand what your creation is up to; to have a breakthrough idea; to be frustrated as an artist; to be awed and overwhelmed by an almost painful beauty; to be alive, {@$&#} it. Remove this from mathematics and you can have all the conferences you like; it won’t matter. Operate all you want, doctors: your patient is already dead.

The saddest part of all this “reform” are the attempts to “make math interesting” and “relevant to kids’ lives.” You don’t need to make math interesting— it’s already more interesting than we can handle! And the glory of it is its complete irrelevance to our lives. That’s why it’s so fun!

Here it is, this theme again; that knowledge is intrinsically valuable, in and of itself, without need of spicing up, and knowledge striven for remains in a much more meaningful way. While I would disagree on the one point of the glory of it, it's refreshing to see others coming to the same truth as Charlotte Mason - and oh. so. passionately. Lockhart beautifully gives several examples bringing math alive within the article, worth looking at for yourself. And let's face it; his case is quite convincing.

I believe we are on track for an awakening of sorts in math this next year.

This post is part of the Carnival of Homeschooling.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Reflections on AmblesideOnline YR2 - An Intelligent, Sequential, Integrated Curriculum

On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt, 1868, Claude Monet

I first heard of an 'sequential, integrated curriculum' earlier this year when I read an article titled, Is Sequencing and Ordering the Curriculum Important for Scaffolding Learning? by Dr. Carol Smith in a back issue of the Winter 2007 Parents Review.

The article is long and delves into the work of a Russian educational psychologist, Vygotsky, and his concepts of thought and language. Maybe more than you really need to know, but there is much else in the article that is helpful to a homeschooling mom like myself. Like the six steps of narration and the 'Grand Conversation' involved, the safe learning atmosphere that values what the child says, and the idea of this 'sequential, integrated curriculum'.

Here are a few quotes from Dr. Smith in the article, except where he quotes CM as indicated:

First, a note about scaffolding. This term is generally used in an instructional sense--in the support a teacher gives in daily lessons. I want to extend this concept of scaffolding to the curriculum because I view a sequenced, integrated curriculum as a scaffolding support for students. Although scaffolding was not a term used in Mason’s time, I believe she understood this concept very well.

...we want children to have access to a curriculum that can be adequately scaffolded and to instruction that is scaffolded and sequenced so they can reach the new learning and integrate the new learning onto their previously laid layers or prior knowledge. If children are not taught in such a way that they can properly lay their bricks to build supported knowledge, then there are consequences: their learning becomes patchy and fragmented.

Mason (1954) says, “The shallow child guesses the riddle and scores; and it is by the use of tests of this kind that we turn out young people sharp as needles but with no power of reflection, no intelligent interests, nothing but the aptness of the city gamin” (p. 55).

Disconnected learning frequently prevents children from gaining understanding and wisdom from their learning. The learning isn’t organic and living. For example, they cannot see how their personal actions are connected to the larger community. Or, they may not understand how their lack of care for the environment affects everyone.

The general curriculum sequenced around history provides the basic structure and sequence for learning to occur. The integration of the curriculum, done by correlating (whenever possible) ourstory with literature, other histories, poetry and other subjects provides children with the structure to make cross disciplinary conditions and, following the sequence of ourstory and general history, allows students to interconnect subjects using a proper sequence.

Sadly much education today does not use an integrated and sequenced curriculum. Unit studies and separate subjects (departmentalization is the common educational jargon) are taught. As a result, children frequently build separate rooms, learning one subject with little ability to relate it to another and are building a patchy education. I believe Mason designed her curriculum to precisely avoid this fragmented, fragile, patchy learning and that one of our important responsbilities as educators in helping our children build a more robust and
satisfying education is offering them a sequenced, integrated curriculum.

Woman with a Parasol: Madame Monet and Her Son, 1875, Claude Monet

Having come to the end of YR2 of the AmblesideOnline curriculum, my thoughts were drawn back to this article. In fact, it explained exactly what we experienced over the past year.

Our Island Story walking us through the history of England while selected chapters from A Child's History of the World filled in pertinent historical events. Trial and Triumph revealed the trying times of the martyrs whose lives were interwoven with the rule of these Kings of old. Stories like Little Duke and Door in the Wall and Otto of the Silver Hand bringing in intimate knowledge of how children lived in this long-ago world. And Robin Hood along with the others putting them in touch with language and further depiction of the times in which they lived (and a whole lot of laughs!). The art of Raphael Sanzio with paintings of knights and dragons further enhanced these times in our minds .

Would my 2nd grader be able to explain all that? Definitely not. Will she remember the names of all the Kings and Queens in order, the formalities of the feudal system, or the exact date when the printing press was invented? No way. But those are facts she can look up on Google in an instant. Why fill a brain with mere facts when there is so much more?

I believe as she progresses through Renaissance, Reformation, Revolution and beyond to return to The Middle Ages again in YR7, she will have a deep pool of intimate understanding about that time to draw upon. What mattered to people then? What were their fears, joys, frustrations, struggles, hopes and why? What was daily life like and how did people interact? What were the decisions they grappled with and how did their beliefs affect their choices and the way they lived and treated others? What was it like to be human then? And
how does that matter to me, here, today? What do I think of it? So much more.

One of the greatest points I have to point out about the AO curriculum, and I believe this is key to CM, is that the curriculum leaves the learning up to the child. It placed her there in the midst of it as an observer experiencing the time period as it came to life through vivid descriptions within the story of characters who drew us in and who we came to know intimately over time. Our brief discussions arising from her narrations as well as Hillyer's Child's History of the World provided just enough non-intrusive scaffolding so that connections were striven for, chewed on, contemplated and thought upon - by her. And because there was enough left unsaid - out of a simple trust of her intellect and her natural desire to want to know, understand and connect what was presented to her - she owned what she learned. And I wasn't overburdened with having to come up with fantastic lesson plans, it was all there for us.

Did I understand anything about a
sequential, integrated curriculum when I chose AO? Not at all. In fact, I only chose AO because it was free and it was CM and a friend was also using it.

If I was better educated and more knowledgeable about books, might I choose a different schedule and different books than those on AO? Maybe.
I'm not so I can't say.

What I do know is that the more I read and learn, the more I recognize the aspects of AO that are so very true to CM's philosophy and intended methods. Will next year or the year after be the same? I can only speak to YR0-3, but I can tell you we are excited for what is in store for us next year! A banquet no doubt.

I marvel at Mason’s depth in understanding human learning, and I think that years from now, when we have gone deeper and deeper into pulling back the layers of her educational philosophy and pedagogy, we will see the richest and most comprehensive view of education both philosophically and practically that has ever been written. ~Carol Smith

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Summer Heat

Weather reports predicted 90 degrees for our nature study day today. Enough heat to sway our plans to meet up at the botanical preserve. So some of us headed to a more shady trail while we opted for the beach. Having been the first week of summer heat after a long bout of June gloom, the beach was packed.

The little ones played with sand and buckets of water, ever entertaining.

The older ones strapped on their boogie boards and headed for the surf.


What a ride!

this helicopter passed by for all to see, heading south, probably to Camp Pendleton.

It was a beautiful summer day.

What are heavy? sea-sand and sorrow:
What are brief? to-day and to-morrow:
What are frail? Spring blossoms and youth:
What are deep? the ocean and truth.

~Christina Rosetti

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Disciplined Will

His thoughts are wandering on forbidden pleasure, to the hindrance of his work; he pulls himself up, and deliberately fixes his attention on those incentives which have most power to make him work, the leisure and pleasure which follow honest labour, the duty which binds him to the fulfilling of his task. His thoughts run in the groove he wills them to run in, and work is no longer an effort. ~Vol.1, p.324

Isn't this the result we all want in our children? That they would consciously choose to do right even when it is not easy to do. Whether it be finishing a hard job well, forgoing the extra piece of pie, controlling their temper or sour mood; whatever it may be - we want to train our children to make the right decisions in life.

CM defines the will as the controller of the passions and emotions, the director of the desires, the ruler of the appetites ... it becomes vigorous and capable in proportion as it is duly nourished and fitly employed. ~Vol. 1, p.319

Left to our own devices, what do we as Mothers often find ourselves doing to train our children?

"Pick up those clothes!" "Clean up your toys!" "Change that attitude!" "You just bumped her, say you're sorry!" "Put your plate away!" "Stop dawdling and get to it!"

Whose will are we training our children to obey when we are constantly after them? Ours.

CM believed we should train them how to use the power of their own will.

And here is the line which divides the effective from the non-effective people, the great from the small, the good from the well-intentioned and respectable ... that he can depend upon himself, and be sure of his own action in emergencies. ~Vol. 1, p.323

Is that possible to train our children this way - to compel themselves to right action? How is it done?

She says that the one who controls his will does not do so by sheer coercion saying "Thou shalt" or "Thou shalt not", nor is it by reasoning "This is very wrong in me. So-and-so is not so much to blame, after all." She says they are not ready for that. (No age reference is made here)

Rather, she claims it is by seemingly inadequate means. A simple "transferring of our attention from one subject of thought to another." She gives this example:

...some slight affront has called up a flood of resentful feeling: So-and-so should not have done it, he had no right, it was mean, and so on, through all the hard things we are ready enough to say in our hearts of an offender against our amour propre. But the man under the control of his own will does not allow this to go on ... he just compels himself to think of something else - the last book he has read, the next letter he must write, anything interesting enough to divert his thoughts. When he allows himself to go back to the cause of offence, behold, all rancour is gone, and he is able to look at the matter with the coolness of a third person. And this is true, not only of the risings of resentment, but of every temptation that besets the flesh and spirit. ~Vol. 1, p.324

But is it really that simple? Just change your thoughts? She gave an example of the baby that falls and cries and the experienced nurse who distracts him. I have tried that with my 2 year old and the distraction still works with her, but how is that training the child's will if we are the one doing the distracting?

Here she makes the transition from us doing the distraction to teaching the child to train his own will. And I believe it is a progression that occurs with age. I would think that by four or five years old, a child would be capable of understanding this.

let him know the secret of willing; let him know that, by an effort of will, he can turn his thoughts to the thing he wants to think of - his lessons, his prayers, his work, and away from the things he should not think of; - that, in fact, he can be such a brave strong little fellow, he can make himself think of what he likes; and let him try little experiments ... that if he feels cross, naughty thoughts coming upon him, the plan is to think hard about something else, something nice - his next birthday, what he means to do when he is a man. Not all this at once, of course; but line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, as opportunity offers. Let him get into the habit of managing himself, controlling himself, and it is astonishing how much self-compelling power quite a young child will exhibit. ~Vol. 1, p.328

I love the encouraging tone of that. And it is little by little. Starting with something small, help them discover this ability and power to manage their actions. We want to help them succeed.

I wonder if CM's "I can, I ought, I will" doesn't tie in nicely here. Children often like to say "but I can't!" instead of "I can, but I'm really not willing to." My 2 year old does this a lot, when I ask her to walk somewhere or go upstairs or pick something up and put it away.
When she doesn't want to so she says "I can't!" Just this morning I asked her to unload the utensils from the dishwasher and put them in the drawer. She did a couple haphazardly while holding onto a toy in her other hand. Then she stopped and said "I can't!" I said "Yes, you can. Put them away." again she said, "But I can't!"

I suppose I could have disciplined her somehow and made her finish the job. After all, she was being 'disobedient' wasn't she? But was it rebellion? And had I taken the time to train her in this job before? No. Would distraction have worked here? What did I want? I wanted her to finish the job as best as she could without fussing about it and begin training her will to do the thing she thinks she 'can't'.

Every effort of obedience is valuable only in so far as it helps the child towards making himself do that which he knows he ought to do. Every effort of obedience which does not give him a sense of conquest over his own inclinations, helps to enslave him, he will resent the loss of his liberty by running into license when he can. That is the secret of the miscarrying of many strictly brought-up children. But invite his co-operation, let him heartily intend and purpose to do the thing he is bidden, and then it is his own will that is compelling him, and not yours; he has begun the greatest effort, the highest accomplishment of human life - the making, the compelling of himself. Let him know what he is about, let him enjoy a sense of triumph, and of your congratulation, whenever he fetches his thoughts back to his tiresome sum, whenever he makes his hands finish what they have begun, whenever he throws the black dog off his back, and produces a smile from a clouded face. ~Vol. 1, p.328

On an average day, I might have just let her go with "I can't!" having had the last word. But being intentional after having read about training the will, I grabbed up all the remaining utensils - there were only a few, I told her to put down the toy she had in her hand, handed her the utensils and encouragingly said "You can! Now go put them in the drawer." So she did, and I praised her for doing a good job and she beamed.

I think if she would have had cried and fussed about doing the job, then distraction may have worked to change her mood after the job was done.

CM does say that much must go before and along with a vigorous will if it is to be a power in the ruling of conduct. The power of attention; applying the whole of their mental faculties and also good habits. In fact, she says that habit trumps the will and reiterates that it is the duty of parents to ease the way of their children by laying down for them the lines of helpful habits.

Habit is either the ally or the opponent, too often the frustrator, of the will. ~Vol. 1, p.326

In reading this, I was reminded of how much of her philosophy is weaved throughout her methods. Narration to train attention, habit training to ease the way.

She goes on to say ...only the man of of cultivated reason is capable of being ruled by a well-directed will. If his understanding does not show good cause why he should do some solid reading every day, why he should cling to the faith of his fathers, why he should take up his duties as a citizen, - the movement of his will will be feeble and fluctuating, and very barren of results. ~Vol.1, p.327

Even development of 'cultivated reason' is weaved into the curriculum through living books and the conversations that arise from reading them. Again, as I so often am when I read about and apply this philosophy and these methods, I am gripped in wonder and awe at the breadth and richness of this education afforded to us by the very grace of God.

As to the reason why we train our children in the knowledge and application of a disciplined will, CM claims
that knowing what to do with ourselves when we are beset is the secret to a happy life. She also says that while it is not a necessary condition of the Christian life, it is necessary to the development of the heroic Christian character. A Gordon, A Havelock, A Florence Nightingale, A St. Paul, could not be other than a person of vigorous will. ~Vol. 1, p.322

The Penitent Magdalene, Guido Reni 1635
Photo courtesy of Web Gallery of Art via AmblesideOnline

Speaking of this painting, she says ...but you look up to the eyes, which are raised to meet the gaze of eyes not shown in the picture, and the countenance is transfigured, the whole face is aglow with a passion of service, love, and self-surrender.

All this the divine grace may accomplish in weak unwilling souls, and then they will do what they can; but their power of service is limited by their past. Not so the child of the Christian mother, whose highest desire is to train him for the Christian life. When he wakes to the consciousness of whose he is and whom he serves, she would have him ready for that high service, with every faculty in training - a man of war from his youth; above all, with an effective will, to will and to do of His good pleasure.
~Vol.1, p.322

And in quoting Dr. Morell's Introduction to Mental Philosophy, she says: The education of the will is really of far greater importance, as shaping the destiny of the individual, than that of the intellect ~Vol.1, p.329

While we may not be sure exactly how to apply this to every instance that arises in our home, little by little, one foot in front of the other, prayerfully, and with much grace for our shortcomings and theirs, we can hope to persevere. It is, in fact, as Mothers, I believe our high service isn't it?

...discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness ~1Tim 4:7

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Isodontia Philadelphica - Grass Carrying Wasp

We saw this very unusual looking wasp today at the Niguel Botanical Preserve. The picture is not mine, unfortunately, I didn't have a camera with me.

© Copyright John Ascher, 2006-2010

It was one of those "What on earth is that!?!" sightings. Its thread-like waist was just so unusual, I stopped to get a closer look to make sure I was seeing it correctly. I thought maybe it was injured somehow, half eaten. Its abdomen was pulsing.

After some research, I believe it's a Grass Carrying Wasp. It is a solitary wasp that builds grass nests with several tube-like compartments which it provisions with live, paralyzed insects for its larvae to feast on.

Here is an image of the related mud-dauber wasp's nest.

Here's what the Handbook of Nature Study says:

The wasp in some mysterious way knows how to thrust her sting into the spider's nervous system in a peculiar way which renders her victim unable to move, although it yet lives.

Yuck! Is what you may be thinking.

But isn't it fascinating? That as we are going about our busy lives, right here in our town, unbeknown to us is this strange little creature who builds a structure so intricate, who knows to hunt and sting in a precise spot to paralyze not kill, who knows just how many insects her larvae will need, and knows to begin building and hunting in perfect time to lay its eggs.

So do we say to our children "Yuck! Don't go near it!" or do we say, "Let's have a look!"

It's in these little observations that I've found opportunities for our kids to learn a thing or two about the character of God; His intricate detail and attention to even the littlest creatures. Fallen though this world may be, He provides an abundant glimpse of His glory right before us all if we care to look.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. ~1 Cor 13:12

There is much to marvel at. Mason's methods have convinced me of that. Won't it do the same for our children? If we teach them the secret paths where there are glimpses of His nature will they not delight in His ways? These simple observations in nature, or beautiful paintings, thoughtful poems, lovely music, handcrafts, stories of old, and interesting discussions, will they not continue to be a source of joy and fascination for them? And when difficulty and uncertainty arises in their lives, as it most certainly will, will they not find some solace in them as they struggle to make it through?

But Knowledge has her own prizes, and these she reserves for her lovers. It is only in so far as Knowledge is dear to us and delights us for herself that she yields us lifelong joy and contentment. He who delights in her, not for the sake of showing off, and not for the sake of excelling others, but just because she is so worthy to be loved, cannot be unhappy. He says, 'My mind to me a kingdom is'––and, however unsatisfactory things are in his outer life, he retires into that kingdom and is entertained and delighted by the curious, beautiful, and wonderful things he has stored within. ~Charlotte Mason, Vol 4 Our Selves, pg 79

I hope so. And that little wasp helped convince me of it today.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Broad River Greenway

On the last night of our trip at the Childlight Conference, many of us gathered at the Broad River Greenway for a nature hike and listened to Janet Pressley play her awesome blues in an old cabin in the humid air, watching (and of course catching) fireflies. I wish I could have bottled a few and brought them home for our kids to see.

Now I do consider myself quite the naturalist, I mean I have been hiking for over 2 years now, field guide ever on hand, able to identify the many birds, plants and bugs of our native chaparral. Ever on the lookout for an off trail adventure... but North Carolina was a different world completely.

Everything was foreign to me. Dense forest with trees that extended way into the sky, a drenching humidity, oak leaves shaped like the ones you only see in books and other interestingly shaped leaves like sassafras and tulip. And the bugs, the BIG bugs, oh my!

As my confidence escaped me, a gal came traipsing out of the brush with capri's on - meaning bare legs! Wasn't that poison ivy? Completely vibrant, she was pointing off in the brush saying "That's where I want to go!" I was in awe.

I later came to learn that gal's name was Lisa Echtor, mother of, I believe, seven children. Kristine and I also met Jeanette Tulis that night on that walk and after a little bit of talking came to find out that both of these ladies were early adopters of the Ambleside curriculum 'way back when'. What an amazing connection!

We later had milkshakes at McDonald's and talked about books and homeschooling and babies and training children and everything else that matters in our realm of life. What a treat. It amazed me how much we can have in common with total strangers through a Charlotte Mason Education.

Jeannette, I later found out writes a monthly editorial for the Chattanooga Southeast Tennessee Home Education Association. You can read her editorials here. They have been a wonderful encouragement to me.

Here's a picture of me, Kristine, and Jodi Meiter, another first time Childlight attendee. We hope you'll join us next year!