Monday, September 27, 2010


Here's our boy today...

He got a good thumping and a face plant in a wave he thought he was big enough for.

It was interesting listening to the men around him talking to him about it. It was universal - they didn't frown disappointingly at him, tell him he should have been more careful, pay better attention next time - what would naturally spew from my concerned Motherly heart if I didn't know any better - no, they talked of his bravery, his strength, even talked of it being a badge of honor.

He beamed.

As I've been reading through Hal & Melanie Young's book, Raising Real Men, I've been thinking about how I treat this little guy a lot.

Here's a quote from the book that was a paradigm shift for me:

We all expect that our sons will grow up to be strong, independent men, able to support themselves and their families, prepared to stand up for their beliefs, able to take on the world if necessary. What we've forgotten, as a culture, is how soon that may be possible.

In 1781, the young John Quincy Adams was sent to Russia as the private secretary of America's diplomatic mission to the court of Catherine the Great. Since the lead diplomat did not speak French, the diplomatic language of Europe, young Adams would be responsible for interpreting discussions and translating any official documents. He was fourteen at the time.

In 1813 midshipman David Farragut, serving aboard the USS Essex, was given command of the captured British whaler Barclay. Although the English captain of the vessel attempted to take back the ship once they were underway, Farragut faced him down and brought the prize successfully into port. He was twelve years old.

...What changed to make the culture go from viewing a 12-year-old as a young adult, to seeing men and women ten years older as barely able to care for themselves?

I'm sure many of you can take your guesses at answering that question. And you can read the book for yourself to find out what else Hal & Melanie have to say.

They were actually kind enough to give us a free copy of their book for a giveaway on this blog - our very first one! We will be posting the details on that shortly so stay posted.

And have a great week!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Over in the Meadow

This past week we had a long drive home from the Tar Pits in LA so I decided to listen to an audio I'd downloaded to my ipod called "Making the Heart Sing With Recitation" by Bonnie Buckingham.

She had a lot of good things to say on there. My 8yo daughter was the only one awake with me and as we listened along, there were many poems she read that we recognized. Having been raised on poetry read to her by her practical Mother, my daughter quickly noticed how lovely Bonnie read the poetry. "I like the way she says the poems Mommy."

I found myself wondering why I haven't allowed a more leisurely pace as I read my children's poems to them every day. Why not indulge in a pause here, one there - what's the rush? Why do I limit the inflection in my voice? I suppose it's out of character for me, in front of them. But hearing Bonnie, I think I might... try.

We also learned of a new poem, or maybe it's the lyrics to a song. Bonnie said she had heard Susan Macaulay, author of For The Children's Sake, on a panel at a L'Abri Conference answer the question "What was the first piece of literature that sparked that love of literature for a lifetime?" Susan said for her it was the poem "Over in The Meadow" that her Mother, Edith, often repeated in their home.

In case you've never heard it, here it is. Share it with your little ones; not only is it fun to read, they'll love it :)

Over in the Meadow
by Olive A. Wadsworth

Over in the meadow,
In the sand in the sun
Lived an old mother toadie
And her little toadie one
"Wink!" said the mother;
"I wink!" said the one,
So they winked and they blinked
In the sand in the sun

Over in the meadow,
Where the stream runs blue
Lived an old mother fish
And her little fishes two
"Swim!" said the mother;
"We swim!" said the two,
So they swam and they leaped
Where the stream runs blue

Over in the meadow,
In a hole in a tree
Lived an old mother bluebird
And her little birdies three
"Sing!" said the mother;
"We sing!" said the three
So they sang and were glad
In a hole in the tree

Over in the meadow,
In the reeds on the shore
Lived an old mother muskrat
And her little ratties four
"Dive!" said the mother;
"We dive!" said the four
So they dived and they burrowed
In the reeds on the shore

Over in the meadow,
In a snug beehive
Lived a mother honey bee
And her little bees five
"Buzz!" said the mother;
"We buzz!" said the five
So they buzzed and they hummed
In the snug beehive

Over in the meadow,
In a nest built of sticks
Lived a black mother crow
And her little crows six
"Caw!" said the mother;
"We caw!" said the six
So they cawed and they called
In their nest built of sticks

Over in the meadow,
Where the grass is so even
Lived a gay mother cricket
And her little crickets seven
"Chirp!" said the mother;
"We chirp!" said the seven
So they chirped cheery notes
In the grass soft and even

Over in the meadow,
By the old mossy gate
Lived a brown mother lizard
And her little lizards eight
"Bask!" said the mother;
"We bask!" said the eight
So they basked in the sun
On the old mossy gate

Over in the meadow,
Where the quiet pools shine
Lived a green mother frog
And her little froggies nine
"Croak!" said the mother;
"We croak!" said the nine
So they croaked and they splashed
Where the quiet pools shine

Over in the meadow,
In a sly little den
Lived a gray mother spider
And her little spiders ten
"Spin!" said the mother;
"We spin!" said the ten
So they spun lacy webs
In their sly little den

Speaking of Edith Schaeffer, have you seen or read any of the books she's written? Imagine the wisdom that woman might have about homemaking and family life as a Christian Wife and Mother.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Duties of Parents

Monergism is offering a free download of J.C. Ryle's "The Duties of Parents" for EPUB, Kindle, or in PDF format.

Reading through, it was interesting to find much emphasis on early habits, and other hints of ideas near and dear to CM's heart. Living in the same country at the same time, I wonder if CM hadn't read and been influenced by him.

Download your copy here: http://www.feedbooks.com/book/4236

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Carnival of Homeschooling

The Carnival of Homeschooling is up over at the blog Raising Real Men.

Grab a cup of tea and head on over!

And by the way, in case you don't notice, Hal and Melanie Young who are hosting this round of the Carnival have written a book called "Raising Real Men: Surviving, Teaching, and Appreciating Boys" endorsed by the likes of Michael Smith of HSLDA, Douglas Wilson - author of Future Men, and more. Let us know if you grab a copy, we want to hear your thoughts on it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Starting School

After a summer of lax schedules, far more time with neighborhood kids than I would have preferred, and letting way too many incidents 'slip by' for the sake of a little computer or reading time, a nap, or a shower - our first week of school began.

All of it by my own choosing, because... well... I wasn't raised with good habits. But really, at this point, it's because I continue to choose not to be more scheduled and disciplined through the summer.

My son had a pretty bad cold, but we couldn't have a sick day our first day of first grade! So I decided to go ahead with school and see how things went.

The morning went well. We had several expected interruptions by my 2yo dd who I instructed several times to either play quietly or go upstairs in her room. There was some fussing and crying, but we were prepared for that as we knew it would take a little training for her to learn to adjust to the new schedule. When she fussed about being quiet, I'd stop reading, set down our book, walk her upstairs, sit her on her bed, and let her know she's not to come downstairs until she is ready to be quiet.

This week, she's been quietly patting us on our arm to get our attention instead of talking to us - an improvement :)

This year, my ds is in YR1 and my dd is in YR3 so I have 2 schedules and separate readings for each. Rather than having both sit in on all the readings, or letting one go play and then have to call them out of their play, I took Kristine's advice and am having one do their chores, copywork and math during that time. Once they're done with those things, they can choose to do either a drawing, any writing project, handicraft, or recitation memory work independently while I go through the reading with the other.

After lunch, I had my ds review some of his letters for copywork. When we got to the letter g, he started to pout about having to write it starting from the top. He wanted to know why he couldn't just write it from the bottom up. I explained about cursive, etc. but he wasn't really interested in reason. He was sick with a cold, he didn't want to do it the right way, he wanted to do what he wanted to do and that was that. Don't we all act like that sometimes?

So I sent him upstairs for a nap and told him we'd finish school after his nap. He started to cry and fuss because he didn't want a nap, but I could tell from his puffy eyes and yawns his body felt otherwise, so I explained he was either going to have a nap or he was going to have a nap and a consequence - his choice (not the consequence, but whether he would get it or not). After a little more fussing and me reiterating his options, he chose to take his nap without the consequence - smart boy. I tucked him in, said prayers, gave him a cuddle, and went back to finish things up with my dd.

He woke up an hour and a half later in a cheerful mood and diligently finished his copywork well without a word from me. Since then, he's done better work at his copywork and hasn't complained again.

Yesterday, he had a similar pouty mood about doing his nature drawing and today, he wanted to read silently to himself and only ask me when he needed help instead of reading out loud to me as I had asked. These are not ability issues, he knows how to draw, he knows how to read, it wasn't our first reading lesson; he was just not wanting to and starting to get into a habit of complaining and trying to get out of it. Each time, I made clear what was expected of him and explained his choices to him. With the nature drawing, he chose to draw without the consequence and even showed it off proudly when he was done with it.

With the reading, he chose to scrub the kitchen floor before choosing to read out loud to me. As I got the rag and the soapy water out for him, he continued complaining so I again made his options clear to him - he could either scrub the floor in probably less than five minutes and get on with his reading, or he could scrub the floor and the garbage bin and depending on how long he continues complaining, any number of other things I have needing cleaning around the house. Again, his choice.

Thankfully he chose to stop complaining and scrub the floor, be done with it, and then finished his reading out loud.

On the upside, he did also say things that week like: he loves school, wishes he has one more book read to him every day, he asked me for one more page of Parables from Nature, giggled at Whale from Just So Stories, told others about his favorite school books... also, the story of James Watt's invention of the Steam Engine that I read to my dd has spurred them on to play creating new inventions with their tinker toys and making agreements on their ability to use each others' ideas (patents).

Is this the right way to handle things? That is a question that I continually ask myself over and over as a parent and homechooler. What I do know is that my children need a 'firm hand' at home to help them make good choices and do their best. And I need God's grace to provide that for them with wisdom and 'purposeful determined gentleness'.

It seems a delicate balance of a firm hand, a listening ear, and a tying of heart strings through play and engaging them in what matters to them - a balance I've upset before and am certain to do so many times again - God help me.

When I slack in providing that clear framework, it isn't long before the home grows disheveled, schoolwork beings to fall by the wayside, attitudes seep in, frustration spills over onto my husband and before I know it the whole tone of the home is affected.

So our first week was less than ideal, as it usually is coming off a lazy summer. There will probably be a few more incidents before we get into a smoother groove, but God willing, we'll get there.

Education is a discipline... so Charlotte wrote.

How was your first week?

I have heard of families who work on good habits all summer and consequently start school with ease. That's how I'm hoping to be when I grow up :)

I'll leave you with some of Charlotte's own words on Parental Authority and instructing our children in the 'art and science of living', from Vol. 5, p 198-201...

Now, here is the secret of home government––put the child into the attitude of a receiver, the parent into that of an imparter, not merely of physical care and comfort, but of a careful and regular training for the responsibilities of life, and the rest comes easy. The difficulty is, that many parents find it hard to maintain this superiority to their children as the latter advance in age and set up other standards than those of home. They possibly feel themselves less clever, less worthy, than some others with whom their children come in contact; they are too honest to assume a dignity to which they doubt their right, so they step down from the rostrum, and stand on the same level as their children, willing to owe to affection and good-nature the consideration which is their lawful due.

Very likely such parents are not less, but more worthy than the persons they give place to; but that is not the question; they are invested with an official dignity; it is in virtue of their office, not of personal character, that they are and must remain superior to their children, until these become of an age to be parents in their turn. And parents are invested with this dignity, that they may be in a position to instruct their children in the art of living.

Now, office in itself adds dignity, irrespective of personal character; so much so, that the judge, the bishop, who does not sustain his post with becoming dignity has nothing to show for himself. So of the parent; if he forego the respectful demeanour of his children, he might as well have disgraced himself before their eyes; for in the one case as in the other, he loses that power to instruct them in the art and science of living, which is his very raison d'ĂȘtre in the Divine economy.

If parents put it to themselves that their relation to their children is not an accident, but is a real office which they have been appointed to fill, they would find it easier to assume the dignity of persons called upon to represent a greater than themselves. The parent who feels that he has a Power behind him,––that he is, strictly, no more than the agent of Almighty God, appointed to bring the children under the Divine government, does not behave with levity and weakness; and holds his due position in the family as a trust which he has no right to give up.

And now, given the parents in their due position as heads of the family, and all the duties and affections which belong to the family flow out from that one principle as light from a sun. The parents are able to show continual tenderness and friendliness towards their children, without partiality and without weak indulgence. They expect, and therefore get, faithful and ready obedience. Their children trust them entirely, and therefore bestow confidence, and look for counsel; and, of course, treat their parents with due honour and respect.

But there are times when the "relations are strained"; and of these, the moment when the child feels himself consciously a member of the school republic is one of the most trying. Now, all the tact of the parents is called into play. Now, more than ever, is it necessary that the child should be aware of the home authority, just that he may know how he stands, and how much he is free to give to the school. "Oh, mither, mither why gar ye no' mak' me do it?" was the cry of a poor ne'er-do-weel Scotch laddie who had fallen into disgrace through neglect of his work; and that is just what every schoolboy or schoolgirl has a right to say who does not feel the pressure of a firm hand at home during the period of school life. They have a right to turn round and reproach their parents for almost any failure in probity or power in after-life.

But no mere assertion of authority will do: it is the old story of the sun and the wind and the traveller's cloak. It is in the force of all-mighty gentleness that parents are supreme; not feebleness, not inertness––there is no strength in these; but purposeful, determined gentleness, which carries its point, only "for it is right." "The servant of God must not strive," was not written for bishops and pastors alone, but is the secret of strength for every "bishop," or overlooker, of a household.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mind to Mind

This idea of 'mind t0 mind' comes up often in CM's writings.

...but for the moment it may be well to consider the ideas that influence life, that is, character and conduct; these, would seem, pass directly from mind to mind... ~Vol. 6, p. 25

Education should connect children mind to mind with thinkers who have dealt with knowledge. ~Vol. 3, p.226

Treat children in this reasonable way, mind to mind; not so much the mind of the teacher to that of the child,––that would be to exercise undue influence but the minds of a score of thinkers who meet the children, mind to mind, in their several books, the teacher performing the graceful office of presenting the one enthusiastic mind to the other. ~Vol. 6, p.261

Though CM surely wasn't the originator of this idea, she certainly brings it to light in the realm of child education for us.

Maybe you can experience this difference first hand yourself, this idea of mind to mind.

Let me tell you about this painter, Makoto Fujimura. He is Japanese American, the Head of the International Arts Movement and the artist selected for the 400th illuminated anniversary edition of the KJV Bible set to publish in January. Fujimura’s art process is a layering of metallics called Nihonga. It produces light upon light as it ages. I learned of him through a post on the Childlight Blog by Bonnie Buckingham.

Here is one of his paintings...

"Sacrificial Grace" by Makoto Fujimura

Isn't the blue so vivid? Did you see the object in that painting?

Now let's see if his mind (rather than mine) to your mind has any different effect at all. See if your idea of art isn't enlightened by his thoughts in this article as posted on Ligonier.org. (Article link courtesy of Nancy Kelly.)

The Beautiful Tears

by Makoto Fujimura

In John 11, Jesus weeps. His tears, shed in response to Lazarus’ death and Mary and Martha’s grief, are full of embodied truth, beauty, and goodness.

Why did Jesus weep? He delayed coming to Bethany “so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4), and, when He arrived, informed Martha that He is “the resurrection and the life” (v. 25). If He came to Bethany to show His power, the fact that He is indeed the Messiah with the power to resurrect the dead, why did He not simply wave His “magic wand” to “solve the problem” of the death and illness of Lazarus? There would have been an immediate celebration, and all the tears would have been unnecessary. Tears are useless, even wasteful, if you possess the power to cause miracles. Instead, He made Himself vulnerable, stopped to feel the sting of death, to identify with frail humanity, who struggled to know hope.

Through those tears, Jesus pronounced, “Lazarus, come out!” (v. 43). A deep emotive response prepared the way for a resurrection moment. Lazarus came stumbling out of the grave, and many began to believe in Jesus. The authorities then sought to kill Lazarus, and Jesus continued His path toward the cross.

Jesus’ tears transformed Mary’s view of her Lord. Soaking the hardened ground of Bethany, Jesus’ tears commingled with hers. Jesus was not only a Savior but proved to be an intimate friend; the glory of God shone through such a deep friendship with the Son of Man. John took note.

Beauty, to the Japanese of old, held together the ephemeral with the sacred. Cherry blossoms are most beautiful as they fall, and that experience of appreciation lead the Japanese to consider their mortality. Hakanai bi (ephemeral beauty) denotes sadness, and yet in the awareness of the pathos of life, the Japanese found profound beauty. Nobel laureate Yasunari Kawabata quotes from Japanese post-war writer Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s suicide notes: “But nature is beautiful because it comes to my eyes in their last extremity” (Japan, the Beautiful, and Myself, p. 63).

Kawabata, too, committed suicide a few years later. For the Japanese, the sense of beauty is deeply tragic, tied to the inevitability of death.

Jesus’ tears were also ephemeral and beautiful. His tears remain with us as an enduring reminder of the Savior who weeps. Rather than to despair, though, Jesus’ tears lead the way to the greatest hope of the resurrection. Rather than suicide, Jesus’ tears lead to abundant life.

Later, Mary responded by running to Jesus with her most important possession. She barged into a closed room of disciples, crushing open her alabaster jar of nard, worth a year’s wages, that she was to keep for her wedding. She intuited in Jesus’ tears that every miracle of Jesus drew Him a step closer to His sacrificial death. She had to respond with a direct, intuitive, but also intentional, act of devotion.

While the disciples (notably Judas) grumbled, Jesus commended her, saying, “She has done a beautiful thing to me…. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Mark 14:6–9, NIV).

Jesus’ tears led to Mary’s act of sacrifice, of nard being spread in a closed room in Bethany, where a transgression by a woman opened up a new paradigm the aroma of Christ, of the reality of the gospel breathing into our broken world, filling the cracks of suffering. When Jesus hung on the cross, the only earthly possession Jesus wore was Mary’s nard.

Art, like Jesus’ tears and Mary’s nard, spreads in our lives, providing useless beauty for those willing to ponder. Many consider the arts to be the “extra” of our lives, an embellishment that is mere leisure. Yet how many hours of sacrifice go into being able to play a sonata by Chopin? Or a dancer’s flight on stage at the Lincoln Center? What many consider extra, and even wasteful, may come to define our humanity. That evening at Bethany, in that aroma that Mary spilled, there were Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings and Johann Sebastian Bach’s cantatas floating in the air as well (thanks to James Elaine, curator and artist, for this observation). Every act of creativity is, directly or indirectly, an intuitive response to offer to God what He has given to us. We twist this intuition and may create something transgressive and injurious, but this creative impulse originates from the Creator. Jesus wept.

Judas was livid at Mary’s act, and argued that the nard could have been sold and the money given to the poor (Mark 14:5). Pragmatism, legalism, and greed cannot comprehend the power of ephemeral beauty. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness; the opposite of beauty is legalism. Legalism is hard determinism that slowly strangles the soul. Legalism injures by giving pragmatic answers to our suffering. Legalism takes away life by forbidding the nard to be spilled onto our feet. Artists, like Mary, can intuitively give generatively and break open the oppression. Often, in the church and in the world, pragmatism and legalism stand in the way.

Artists need Jesus’ tears to create. They need to relate to Jesus’ tears.

Artists know the poor, and they do not need to be told by a legalist to give to the poor. Jesus knows that those who truly give cheerfully are merely responding to an extravagant God. What we deem to be extravagant and wasteful, Jesus calls the most necessary. The problem is not that we do not respond extravagantly to the poor; the problem is that we do not believe in an extravagant God.

To me, all art resonates from the aroma of Christ, hung on the cross. Art seeps out like Mary’s nard onto a floor that is supposed to be “clean”; such art reveals what is truly beautiful (Mary’s act) and what is truly injurious (Judas’ act) at the same time. Artists, like Kawabata, are also vulnerable to despair. Legalism and despair are both tools at the disposal of the Devil: suicide meets both at the end of their paths.

I spend my time in my studio pouring water onto the surface of my paintings and mixing mineral pigments into them. I pursue grace by the very act of painting. The materials I use are extravagant, expensive. Gold, platinum, silver, hand-lifted paper and silk, and one-hundredyear- old sumi ink all become materials that build up the layers of the surface of my works. I remind myself to be like Mary. I remind myself of Jesus’ tears.

Christ is the great Artist. Maybe what He saw in Mary was a little artist, emulating and mirroring His great sacrifice.

Mary transgressed cultural norms in this act of love, trembling in thanksgiving, knowing that the King must be anointed. In one act, she broke open the mystery of the moment. Her nard spread and its aroma filled that room. It was an ephemeral act, one that she did not think of as “art.” I am sure she herself was surprised by Jesus’ words that her act would be remembered, that she would leave a lasting legacy.

Jesus told the disciples that what Mary had done would be proclaimed “whenever the gospel is told.” Perhaps we need to ponder the logical consequence to this extraordinary affirmation: Is our work for the gospel saturated with the aroma of Mary’s nard? What is our beautiful, extravagant offering that exposes Judas, an offering prepared for the cosmic wedding to come?

What we deemed a waste, Jesus called the most necessary. Jesus wept.


Of his work with the International Arts Movement, he says...

We believe that God desires to re-humanize the world via the arts and creative expression, and we want to create a home for folks wrestling with deep issues of art, faith and humanity. Re-humanizing the world is a big, ambitious goal, and yet a goal that God calls all of us to participate in.

Whether or not that is one of God's desires, I can not speak to, but if it is, I somehow think CM homeschooling Moms have a part in the effort, don't you?

Here is an interview with Fujimura on Challies.com if you're interested in learning more and here is Fujimura's website.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Why I Homeschool, Why Charlotte Mason, and Other Whys

I recently had a discussion with a dear lady I respect on the topic of education. We are both mothers of three, we both have been homeschooling our children since our youngest was in kindergarten, and we both come from the same theological perspective. Yet although we are like-minded in many things, we have different educational philosophies. It's easy to assume that we all (parents, Christians, homeschoolers) have the same goals in educating our children, although we utilize different methodologies. That is true in some cases. But often, our different methodologies reflect the fact that we have different goals. A pastor once said to me, if you want to see what someone values, look in their check registry. We can all say we highly value missions, but our check registry might show that we value other things most. As someone whose schedule is determined almost 100% by myself, I think that the way I use my time also shows what I value most. So this is me looking into my own check registry. The way my school day looks is calculated to achieve my highest goals for my children.

A Thorough Knowledge Of and Love For the Scriptures

This is my highest goal in schooling my children. One of the reasons I homeschool is because I believe the Scriptures are related to all of life. Teaching a variety of subjects while excluding God from the discussion doesn't teach a child nothing about God. Excluding God from all subjects is teaching something about God: It is a way of saying that God is irrelevant in much of life. I want my children to grow up knowing how the Bible relates to politics, to economics, environmental conservation, and the arts. And I want these connections to be made naturally and over time, and starting before age three. I don't want this connection to be restricted to a few classes they may take here and there.

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16

My husband and I have opinions about how the Bible is rightly understood and applied, the place of the Bible in our life, and how to foster enthusiasm for the Scriptures (some time I would love to write about this last topic more). All of these things have led my husband and I to consider ourselves the primary Bible teachers for our children, and our primary textbook is the Bible. This was true before I heard of Charlotte Mason, so I was drawn to her writings when I saw that she thought that parents and educators underestimate childrens' abilities when they give them watered-down summaries of books, including the way the Bible is often taught, dumbed-down stories with an easily applied moral lesson. Mason thought children should have the Bible itself read to them, and the Spirit will apply it as He will. She says in volume one of her Original Homeschooling Series, “...we should implant a love of the Word; that the most delightful moments of the child's day should be those in which his mother reads for him, with sweet sympathy and...gladness in voice...the beautiful stories of the Bible...”.

I'm not saying that parents have to homeschool in order for their children to love the Scriptures. And I don't believe that parents need to give their child a Charlotte Mason education in order for a child to love the Scriptures. But we all have to choose the path we believe is the most likely to lead us to our goals. And I think that having an atmosphere in the home like that which Mason wrote about, where we enjoy books together and work together, and the Scriptures are taught with “gladness of voice” is a reflection of what my family values most.

I'm now at the point of my standard disclaimer, and it is necessary that I point out that I don't agree with everything Charlotte Mason has written about education, and certainly not everything she has written about theology. We must all constantly check our most cherished ideas against the standard of the Scriptures.

The Atmosphere of the Home

Having unhurried time forms part of the culture of our home. Having unhurried time is not frivolous. And being unhurried doesn't mean I have 30 minutes to myself between breakfast and dinner most days. The difference between our busyness and the busyness I see in other families is that my children and I are busy together, and enjoying our time together. There are some families who seem to be always in a hurry, stressed out by the commitments they've volunteered for. Busyness for us does not mean we are in a hurry: We are just occupied. On my better days, when I don't allow my mind to be consumed with my mental list on things to do, the atmosphere of our home fosters meaningful conversations. While we are chopping vegetables together, we have had discussions about our favorite books, God's sovereignty, things for are thankful for, what different religions teach, and why some parents baby their children. When we were walking home from visiting a nursing home in our neighborhood recently, my eight year old said to me, “If I'm ever a missionary in a dangerous place, I know what verse I'll use to comfort Christians. 'Go, make disciples of all kinds, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Teach them all the things I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even till the end of the age, amen.'” He didn't quoted Matthew 28:19-20 perfectly, but in his own words. He he didn't memorize this and the many other lengthy portions of Scripture he knows because I told him he had to memorize these passages. Listening to the Bible on audio is an enjoyable part of our home life. While doing laundry with my boys the other day, my six year old asked me, “Why was the manslayer allowed to leave the city of refuge when the high priest died?” This question was provoked by the passage we are studying at our church Bible study that he was mulling over.

We don't have these types of conversations when I am in a hurry, when the kids are “rushed and jostled,” as my son says. I am teaching my two year old to wash dishes. We work on this every day, but this habit training gets squeezed out of my day when my time commitments are too many.

My children do miss out on some things because I value other things more. And your children miss out on some things because you value other things more.

Charlotte Mason believed that the atmosphere of the home makes up a significant part of a child's education. She wrote that the atmosphere of real life, which includes sibling relationships, interacting with people of different ages, and having household responsibilities, forms an atmosphere that is like fresh wind to a child. When people use statistics to measure the performance of children in different educational settings, I think of the outcomes that are hard to measure, like, do children who are homeschooled like their siblings more than children who are in age-segregated classrooms? And which children have values more in line with their parents' values? Which children are more likely to have their values determined by all the other third-graders? These are questions worth thinking about.

When friends of my husband and I come over, conversations often center around theology. Sometimes my children choose to go play, but it is not rare for them to choose to sit and listen to the discussion. I think that is because discussing theology is a part of the atmosphere of our home. Our children know that ideas are for them too, not just for adults. I hope they will be thinkers throughout their lives because we expect them to be thinkers as children.

Again, I'm not saying that one has to choose a Charlotte Mason education in order to have an atmosphere of enjoying books and ideas and family relationships. But I recognize that people often pass over a Charlotte Mason-style education in favor of one where their children spend hours filling up workbooks, often starting school in the morning, and finishing homework into the night, because they value different things than I do. For some parents, making sure their child knows how to tell time and recite the states and capitals at the age outlined by the U. S. Department of Education is a priority. In my family, learning these things is also a must. But I'm okay with us studying some things after children of the same age, knowing that we are always learning many interesting things. I'm okay with us studying some things in a different order than others do. I'm not okay with our home having an atmosphere of stress and a constant push to the next activity.

Love of Learning

Many studies show that homeschooled children perform better on standardized tests than children in other educational settings. Some studies show that children who were homeschooled perform higher in college. But this is not why I homeschool. There are also studies which say that homeschoolers perform the same in college as children who attended public school. And this does not discourage me from homeschooling. Grades are not a perfect measure of knowledge (spoken like a B student, I know). Grades are often a measure of priorities, and the skill of responding with what the teacher wants to hear. I do want my children to have the intelligence to to comprehend and retain college-level material, and thus they would have the abilities to earn high grades in college. But if they have priorities that prevent them from earning a 4.0 in college, or even (gasp!) priorities that exclude college, my children might not show up on a study as the most successful outcome of homeschooling. But those who start their own business, invent things, travel as missionaries and raise godly families might not have been 4.0 students in a four year institution.

I believe there is no better way for me to pass on my love of learning to my children than for us to learn together every day with enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is contagious, and I am so thankful that my children are storing up memories of being outside with a butterfly net, binoculars, and field guides, learning with joy about the world around us. We have learned so much about tide pool life by watching what happens in between the rocks at the shore, and we have learned about the plants and animals around us just by being observant and interested. And my children are learning that learning is fun. The books we read, usually written by someone who is not only and expert in their field, but also someone who loves the subject they are writing about, these books ooze enthusiasm for the given subject.

"Many young people find botany a dull study. So it is, as taught from the text-books in the schools; but study it yourself in the fields and woods, and you will find it a source of perennial delight." John Burroughs

A child who is “...accustomed to find both profit and pleasure in his books...”, as Catherine Levison says, is a child who will love to read.

Charlotte Mason recommended teaching in short lessons and moving on to other subjects, because she believed it is important to cultivate in children a habit of attention. Teaching long lessons past the length of time a young child can be engaged in the lesson leads to children tuning out. If a child is regularly losing attentiveness due to long lessons or dragging slowly through school work which is tedious, a bad habit is being form. Better to have short, engaging lessons with enthusiasm. And when longer periods of attention are required, as it is for my children during the forty-five minute sermon at church, we prepare beforehand with reminding them what we profit from dedicating our minds to the task at hand.


Some people think that a Charlotte Mason education is not rigorous. Often times, people are familiar only with one or two of Charlotte Mason's ideas, like the idea of learning through literature and short lessons, and they conclude that children in this educational setting are not getting the content that another educational framework would provide. This is not true. Our school day does exclude some things which are exercises of rigor. I do very little testing, for example. But remember, testing is not designed to equip the child with knowledge, testing is designed to tell the teacher what the child has learned. Through our normal, daily discussions, and through narration, which I am so thankful I learned about from Charlotte Mason, I am well informed as to what my children do know and what they do not.

Although I choose to do little testing, there are some aspects of a Charlotte Mason education which are more rigorous than other educational methods, and in ways that children are not often exposed to due to their diet of books. At a young age, children given a Charlotte Mason education are exposed to a rich vocabulary and to complex ideas. Sentences which adults struggle through when first reading these books, to children which are used to well-crafted literature, these complex sentences are able to be digested. In second grade we read sentences like this in Pilgrim's Progress: “...Thou must abhor his turning thee out of the way; yea, and thine own consenting there to...from this little Wicket-Gate, and from the way thereto, hath this wicked man turned thee, to the bringing of thee almost to destruction.” This is difficult language, yet my children will ask for this book. These books give children ideas to think on. My children will often come to me a week or even months after we have read something and say, “Remember when we read how France bent the pride of Rome? Wasn't that funny how the author said...”. One of my sons recently said, “I agree with J. R. R. Tolkien when he says, 'Things that are unpleasant may make a good tale, and need a good deal of telling anyway.'” The books I choose for school books are those with ideas that live with us, and my children continue to think on these things, not because I assigned it to them, but because they are interesting. I think that's what Charlotte Mason meant by the term “living books.”

The strength of the education you give your child lies in the ideas you put before them, and not in how many hours they spend filling paper with answers.

Your children miss out on some things because you value other things more. And my children miss out on some things because I value other things more.

“Most of us know what we should expect to find in a dragon's lair, but... Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons.” C. S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader

This is not an exhaustive explanation of why I homeschool. And this is not an exhaustive treatise on what a Charlotte Mason education is. If you want to know more, you might want to read The Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola or A Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison, and browse the booklists on Ambleside Online. I'm sure many of you reading this have great ideas you could share concerning what you value in the education of your children and the methods you use to get there. I want my children to be thinkers. I want my children to love knowledge. I want my children to highly exalt the Scriptures, even while they are children. I want my children to be knowledgeable about many things. I want my children to care for each other and to be a blessing to the others. I want my children to value my husband's and my opinions. I want my children to learn what is entailed in the Biblical calling of husband and wife, father and mother. And for those of you who value the same things I do, I hope you are encouraged to know there is one more mom trying to get there too.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Art Bags Handcraft

Ever since I saw this tutorial on how to make a field bag from recycled clothing, I'd been wanting to make something like it for the kids for our nature outings. The thought of all three of them carrying their own supplies on our nature outings was a big draw.

Knowing a bit about basic sewing, all I needed was the idea. So yesterday, I rummaged through some old clothes to see what we had and found a shirt for my youngest and some old jeans for my boy. My oldest daughter picked an old dress she loved and off I went on my latest preoccupation.

Handcrafts in our home mostly happen this way... when I have an urge or a fun project just happens to come our way from reading blogs, talking with friends, etc. They don't happen weekly, but they are on my schedule to remind me that if it's been a while, it's time to find something to do. We also tend to do more handcrafts in the Fall/Winter months than we do in the Spring/Summer.

I started with my 2yo's bag so if I made mistakes, it would be on hers.

I cut the bottom part off, including the button because that makes it so cute! Measured size based on our new 4x6 sized nature journals we just got for $3 each at Art Supply Warehouse (thanks Sophia!) and our paint sets, then sewed around the edges inside out for a clean seam.

Once that was done, I turned it right side out, roughly measured again using the notebook and paint and stitched a line up from the bottom to the top separating the bag into two compartments - one larger for the notebook and one smaller for paints and pencils.

We decided to flip the pencil compartment behind the book compartment and made a tie to tie it together. Then I added a strap and oala!

Here's big sister's made from her old dress. You can see the finishing on the strap is nothing spectacular.

And for my son, he wanted a button instead of a tie. I love that big pocket from his cargo pants in front for extra storage. They're pretty excited about nature journaling now :)

As happens on most days when I'm preoccupied with some project or other, most things, aside from meals don't get done around the house until around midnight or later. Thankfully, I have a very gracious husband who's relaxed his standards of household excellence over the last eleven years of our marriage. Not that that's a good thing, and I'm sure some of you are praying for me right now as you read this, but let me just say I've improved a lot since when we were first married and I had cockatiels and parakeets loose in the home and ashtrays everywhere. But that's a whole other story. Let's just say we've both adjusted some of our expectations towards each other and at times have also risen to meet expectations. It's part of what makes a marriage work.

Anyhow, I spent the most part of the day making those bags. Having shown the kids how to do a basic embroidery stitch a while ago, they took scraps and thread and needle and started working on their own stitching. They threaded their own needles and I tied a knot in the end for them.

Here's what my creative 6yo son ended up with - an airplane!

Here's one of the pieces my 8yo daughter made - I did the finishing on one side for her. We had made a small quilt before and she remembered how to sew inside out and turn it right side out.

She made four of these and then sewed them together, which isn't exactly the right way to do it, but we'll leave that for her to learn another day.

Isn't it amazing what they can manage with just a little help? Here's what CM said about handicrafts:

The points to be borne in mind in children's handicrafts are: (a) that they should not be employed in making futilities such as pea and stick work, paper mats, and the like; (b) that they should be taught slowly and carefully what they are to do; (c) that slipshod work should not allowed; (d) and that, therefore, the children's work should be kept well within their compass. (Vol. 1, p.315)

And here's a page from AmblesideOnline on Handicrafts.