Thursday, July 31, 2014

From My Commonplace: On His Sustaining Grace

A few thoughts that have encouraged me the midst of some recent discouragements I have been facing:
"Martin Luther said 'Although it hurts us when he takes his own from us, his good will should be a greater comfort to us than all his gifts, for God is immeasurably better than all his gifts.'  That is a very gutsy thing to say.  That's gutsy because one must be certain of two things.  First, one must have faith that no hurt can be so painful that God is not able to comfort the hurting one.  Second, one must have faith that no gift from God could ever be greater than the gift of Himself.  That's a gutsy thing to say and an even gutsier thing to try and live.  And the gutsier thing to do is to pray on a daily basis that God would show you how it is true."
"Every time God acts, He acts in righteousness and grace.  The God who is immeasurably better than all his gifts and the standard of perfect righteousness could never answer a prayer request for grace by giving you a gift less than Himself.  He's a good Father who doesn't give His children rocks and snakes, but bread to sustain their lives and make them glad."
"I too easily forget that God is the one who quiets my soul.  When my soul is quieted within me, it doesn't matter how much noise is going on around me. I too easily forget that God is my peace.   When God is my peace, then rockets could be going off around my house, my husband's health could drastically decline, and I could lack a single moment alone, and still be at peace."
"God in His grace doesn't always rescue us from difficult or painful circumstances.  God is about his business of redeeming us while we are in the midst of this broken world."
"…the steadfast love of the Lord is better than life."
"When God mercifully strips us of our idols, he has in mind to give us something better instead – himself."
"…He is what is best for us no matter what our circumstances are."
~Gloria Furman, Glimpses of Grace, Chapter 9

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Drawing with Children

Over the past year, I have been working through Mona Brookes' Drawing with Children with my older two kids – currently ages 8.5 and just turned 6 (so they were 7.5 and 5 when we started).   This is one of those books that I bought a long time ago because it is mentioned so often in homeschooling circles, but then it sat on my shelf for the next two years because it completely overwhelmed me.   I finally pulled it back out last summer because a friend of mine was using it with her children and I was so impressed by their work that I figured it was worth another go.  I'm so glad I did because I've been impressed with the progress we (meaning the children and myself!) have made.
The first lesson walks through learning to see the 5 basic elements of shapes (dots, circles, straight lines, curved lines, and angled lines) that make up any object.  The basic premise of this book is that once you can learn to see these basic elements in the objects around you and learn to reproduce them, then you can draw basically anything by putting them together in basic combinations.  The first lesson takes you through a series of exercises that help you to identify and reproduce these 5 elements, concluding with instructions for drawing a simple bird using these shapes.  I found the lesson plans at Donna Young's site helpful for breaking this lesson down into activities that I could accomplish in a 15-20 minutes drawing session with my children.  She also has some downloadable sheets that you can use for the reproduction exercises suggested in the book.
Sample of some of the reproduction exercises suggested in the first lesson of Drawing with Children.  The idea is to learn to see the shapes and lines that you see and reproduce them - first with abstract items, and later with real ones.
The second lesson is called "drawing from graphics" and builds on the previous lesson.  (Donna Young also has lesson plans for this lesson which I didn't follow exactly, but again it was helpful to me in terms of wrapping my mind around how to break down the wealth of information in the chapter into manageable chunks.)   This lesson provides a sequence of progressively difficult drawings and instructions on how to draw them, putting to use the idea of combining the different elements of shape to make something recognizable.   We completed the first two drawings – a lion and a tropical bird – breaking down each over several drawing sessions.
Lion drawn by James, age 5.5
Lion drawn by Michelle, age 8

Lion drawn by Mama, who has never been particularly artistic. :)

 After we had done that, though, I thought we ought to slow down and work on putting the principles we have used into practice before moving on to the more complicated lessons in the book. J   So the last several drawing sessions we've done, we've chosen a picture book with fairly simple line drawings from our shelves and put our skills to work in trying to reproduce them.  This has been a lot of fun.  It's been good practice too, cementing the skills we've learned.   It's also made it more natural to carry over the skills we've learned from this book into our other drawing.   I'm far more pleased with my nature journal sketches now than I was a year ago, and I can't help but think that the principles in this book have helped with that.  
Michelle's reproduction of Camille, our favorite French giraffe.
From Mama's sketchbook - Curious George and some of Miss Fannie's hats.

That's as far as we've gotten, really.  The next lessons include still-life drawing and volume drawing (we may work through Bruce McIntyre's Drawing Textbook or Mark Kistler's You Can Draw in 30 Days when we get to that point, both of which we have on our shelf, and both of which go through three-dimensional drawing techniques in more detail.)  Although I had a weekly drawing session scheduled in our school day last year, we didn't always get to it – perhaps every other week, on average, was more realistic.   With a second student officially joining us this fall, I'm rethinking our schedule and actually thinking of moving our drawing time to the evenings.  We have been building a habit of doing something special together as a family after dinner so we might try having a drawing time on occasion at that time of day instead.   I hope that we will be able to be more consistent about doing it regularly. J  We'll see.
Do you have a favorite resource for art or drawing instruction?

Friday, July 25, 2014

A True Education is a Relational Education

Thoughts from School Education: Chapter 6 "Some Educational Theories Examined"
This chapter starts off in much the same way as the last: Charlotte continues surveying and critiquing some of the common educational theories of her day.  (Particularly in this chapter, she is discussing the ideas of Herbart.  I'm not going to get into him, but if you are curious you can read Brandy's post on Herbart and what our friend Charlotte had to say about him here.)  In the end, she draws the conclusion that none of these theories of education are adequate, and from there proceeds to lay out her own.
One thing to note about Charlotte: she is really humble when she goes about putting forth her own theories.  She doesn't claim to be an expert, but is only suggesting those principles that she has gleaned from her own experiences working with actual children.   'E.F.B.' who wrote the forward to The Story of Charlotte Mason notes this about her as well: "I should say that underlying all her work is her wonderful intuitive understanding of children, especially very young ones; and her teaching and writing are effective and durable because she has founded her private structure of the human mind, which is both the raw material and the finished product of education, on the rock of a wide reading of the great philosophers.  On this rock she has built steadily and naturally with the materials of her own experience as a teacher of children." (p. vii).  Charlotte was no armchair educational theorist, she was a down-in-the trenches practitioner.   We can trust what she is telling us to hold true because she is speaking from experience and not just proposing untried ideas.
So, what are these principles that she proposes?
  1. Children are persons – like ourselves.  They have both souls and bodies.  They are to be taken seriously.  They are able to will and think and feel.
  2. Since children possess both souls and bodies, both must be nurtured and nourished: "Pleasant and well-cooked food makes a man of cheerful countenance, and wine gladdens the heart of man, and we all know the spiritual refreshment of a needed meal.  On the other hand, we all know the lack-lustre eye and pallid countenance of the well-fed who receive none of that other nutriment which we call ideas; quick and living thought is as necessary for the full and happy development of the body as it is for that of the soul." (p.64-65)
  3. Education is the 'science of relations': "We, for our part, have two chief concerns – first to put him in the way of forming these relations by presenting the right idea at the right time, and by forming the right habit on the right idea; and secondly, but not getting in the way and so preventing the establishment of the very relations we seek to form." (p.66)   
  4. Given all of the above: Teachers must learn 'the art of standing aside" which is "the fine art of education".  There's that masterly inactivity thing again.  Note, however, that the teacher's role isn't completely passive – this isn't unschooling we're talking about here.  The teacher's role is to present the student with a broad array of ideas, to work on the formation of good habits, but then to step aside and let the student form their own relationship with those ideas.  
Charlotte goes on to give a couple of examples of what this might look like:
  • Don't let the student "believe that to know about things is the same thing as knowing them personally." (p.66)  
  • Rather, "…we do not endeavor to give children outlines of ancient history, but to put them in living touch with a thinker who lived in those ancient days…" (p.67)
Charlotte is not satisfied with students who have accumulated a storehouse of facts, but wants the child to form a relationship with the world by coming into contact with its peoples and ideas.
This is where I start to get really excited about what she is doing – she wants to give her students the world and prepare them to live in it as fully as possible.  Next time, we'll dig deeper into just how that is all supposed to work.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

On The Sense of Wonder

"If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in."
"Once found, it has lasting meaning.  It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate."
"Exploring nature with your child is largely a matter of becoming receptive to what lies all around you.  It is learning again to use your eyes, ears, nostrils, and finger tips, opening up the disused channels of sensory impression."
All quotes from A Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson.  Highly recommended if you are in need of fresh inspiration for nature study in your family.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Acknowledging the Whole Person

Thoughts on School Education: Chapter 5 "Psychology in Relation to Current Thought"
This is one of those chapters in Charlotte Mason's work that was rather a slog to get through, as she gets into an evaluation and critique of some of the educational and psychological theories of her day.  I'm sure this was quite interesting to her contemporaries who would have had familiarity with those theories, but can be rather confusing to those of us reading her works a hundred years on. J  Needless to say,  I followed Mortimer Adler's advice for 'superficial reading' (as described in his book How to Read a Book) and didn't sweat the bits I didn't understand and focused on that which I did.  Convoluted discussions of Victorian era educational philosophy aside, I still mined several gems in this chapter and that's what I'd like to focus my thoughts on here today.
Charlotte Mason notes the dissatisfaction with the education system in her day and rather idealistically suggests that this is a good thing because perhaps this means that there is positive change on the way.  Sadly, I wouldn't say this has played out that way over the past hundred years as the 'system' has only become more and more broken as each succeeding generation has tried to come up with some bigger-and-better idea to replace the ideas that didn't work in the last. (Interestingly enough, Adler discusses this very thing in relation to methods of reading instruction in How to Read a Book.) In a way, I suppose that this dissatisfaction with the system has paved the way for the surge in the popularity of homeschooling over the past generation and the renewed interest in Charlotte Mason, Christian Classical Education, and the Liberal Arts Tradition – which are all good things, albeit still quite small scale in the grand scheme of things.  But who knows where all that will go in the next hundred years?  Perhaps we can share in some of Charlotte's optimism.
She goes on to list some of the necessary elements for an adequate system of psychology to underlie our philosophy and methods of education.  She notes that it must address the whole person: "Next we demand of education that it should make for the evolution of the individual, should not only put the person in the first place, but should have for its sole aim the making the very most of the person, intellectually, morally, physically.  We do not desire any dead accretions of mere knowledge or externals of mere accomplishment.  We desire an education that shall be assimilated; shall become part and parcel of the person, and the psychology which shall show us how to educate our children in this vital way will meet our demands." (p.47)
The failure to acknowledge the whole person is largely what is wrong with the "system", I think, as well as the failure to acknowledge that there is such a thing as knowable truth (Andrew Kern talks about this in his video series on Teaching from Rest, particularly in Video #2).  This is part of the reason why I so appreciate Charlotte Mason and her emphasis on feeding the mind and soul with good, true, and beautiful ideas and her constant reminders that children are persons – not oysters or brains in vats.  The Christian Classical tradition emphasizes this as well with its emphasis on people as image-bearers – as beings with souls, created in the likeness of God Himself – and on wisdom and virtue as the end of education, not merely head knowledge and marketable skills. 
Charlotte critiques the materialist philosophies of her day and explains the outcome of these unsatisfactory theories and methods:
"We become devitalized; life is flat and grey; we throw desperate, if dull, energy into the task of the hour because we shall say so, any way, get rid of that hour; we are glad to be amused, but still more glad of the stimulus of feverish work; but the work, like ourselves, is devitalized, without living idea, without consecrating aim.  Our manner becomes impassive, our speech caustic, our countenance dreary and impenetrable.  This is the change that is passing over large numbers of the teaching profession, men and women of keen intelligence, who might well have been inspired by high ideals, quickened by noble enthusiasms, had they not imbibed and educational faith which meets all aspirations with a Cui bono?  We give what we have, and only what we have.  What have these to pass on to the children under their care?" (p.54).
The failure of reaching the whole person in education leads to devitalization, dullness, greyness.   Is that what we want for our students?  For ourselves?  I found it interesting that this idea of reaching the whole person applies not only to students but extends to the teachers.  We can't feed souls, pass on love and enthusiasm and wonder if we haven't been feeding our own souls.  We can't help others to see goodness, truth, and beauty if we've not beheld it for ourselves.  How can we as parents and teachers feed ourselves?  For myself, I make it a priority to make room in my day to cultivate a habit of wide reading.  I listen to podcasts and read blogs that inspire and encourage me (see some of my favorite resources up there in the Resources Tab).  I don't have a local Charlotte Mason or Classical community, but have found a wonderful online community at the Ambleside Online Forums. I've taken up nature journaling and drawing alongside my children.  Check out Brandy's wonderful series "Learning How to Live" for more ideas along these lines.  It's never too late to take the cultivation of your own mind and soul seriously.
I'm glad I took the time to wade through this chapter, despite the outdated philosophical references.  One thing that I love about Charlotte Mason is that her ideas are enduring and valuable no matter how the current social landscape has changed.  There is still plenty here for modern parents and teachers to take away.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

On Endurance, Stamina, and Zeal

"Perhaps in a small parish, he was spared the passion, but didn't feel spared the challenge.  He was feeling more surely than ever that he was exactly where God wanted him to be.  All he really needed, he knew, was the endurance to be there with stamina and zeal."
~ Reflections of Father Tim in At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon
"Let us mark this well.  There is nothing which shows our ignorance so much as our impatience under trouble.  We forget that every cross is a message from God, and intended to do us good in the end.  Trials are intended to make us think – to wean us from the world, to send us to the Bible, to drive us to our knees."
~Thoughts from JC Ryle on Matthew 15 from his Commentary on the Gospels
I read both of these thoughts in the wee hours this morning, and they really struck me.  There are days that full-time mothering and homeschooling in a challenging cross-cultural environment feels like one long hard slog – an ongoing trial that just won't go away.  I will admit that I struggle at times with just wanting an out – any out – from our current situation.  But these thoughts reminded me of some important truths:
What I really need is 'endurance, stamina, and zeal' right where I am rather than a way out.  I need more of Him, not an easier life.
That leads right into the thought from Ryle: I am ignorant if I am impatient with my trials because those trials are intended for the very purpose of sending me to Him.
Oh Lord, help me not to be impatient for this season to end or impatient with the lack of glamour in my job.  Help me to lean harder on You, and continue in what you have called me to do in this season of my life with zeal and stamina.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Why We are Ditching the Science Textbook this Year

I have a confession to make.
Last year, my oldest daughter's "second grade" year, we used a science textbook.   I know, that's very un-Charlotte-Mason of me.   Don't get me wrong.  We did nature study too – one of our best years of nature study yet.   We read the living books suggested on the Ambleside Online reading lists.   And we took the text slowly so as not to crowd out these other good things in our schedule.  But the bottom line is that I gave into that fear that somehow nature study and living books wasn't enough.   I gave into that fear that told me I needed a textbook written by an expert and experiments too.
This is a pretty common fear among homeschoolers, I think.   It's a pretty frequent topic of discussion over at the Forum, and especially in recent weeks as the first stage of the new 'living science' suggestions for the upper years of the Ambleside curriculum have been rolled out.   (Check out the new suggestions in Year 6 and Year 7.)   Over and over again, the patient 'science ladies' have explained what CM's goals are for science: To love it.  To learn to observe and think.  To care.   Can a textbook help us to reach that goal?   It's a good question to ask.   Silvia shares Kathy's thoughts on that question here.   It's worth the time to click over and read.
All this talk on the forum lately got me thinking that maybe I didn't need that science text after all.  But then again, we hadn't finished it yet.  (I hate not finishing what I start.)  And Michelle thought the experiments were a lot of fun.   So why not just keep on sneaking it in there?
Around that same time that all this talk was going around the forum, I realized that it's not just a Charlotte Mason thing to say that nature study is enough.  In talks I've listened to recently from the classical world, Andrew Kern and Christopher Perrin have both said that they believe that nature study is not only ENOUGH for science in the elementary grades, but is really an essential foundation for any later upper-level work in the sciences.  Nature study builds that foundation of wonder and keen observation skills.    Can a textbook do that?   I started wrestling with myself again.  Could I really shelve that textbook?  
Finally came end-of-term exam time.   I asked Michelle to explain one of the science experiments she had done and what she had learned from it.  And do you know what I realized?  She hadn't really learned anything from it.  Sure, she had fun.  Sure, she could tell me what we did and how it was kind of cool.  But the concept that the experiment was supposed to teach her?  Gone.   On the other hand, she told me in lively and enthusiastic detail about the life cycle of the mango tree we've been keeping an eye on in the yard.  Not only did she do this at exam time, but she did it again during prayer time when she thanked God for making the tree to blossom and produce fruit over and over and over again.  She told me in detail about the habits of our mice, and can correctly identify just about every flowering plant in our neighborhood.  She has taken a fascination with rocks and the interesting bits that can be found amongst 'ordinary' gravel.  I can scarcely keep up with her questions.
All of a sudden it hit me: the time we spent with that textbook last year?  It was pretty useless.   She didn't really even learn any nifty facts, let alone gain a greater sense of awe or wonder.   She had fun doing the experiments, but she didn't love what she was learning.   But she loves that tree.  She loves the mice, the flowers, the rocks.   She has a relationship with those things, and she's starting to see the glory of the God who is behind it all.   This is what nature study does that a text just can't.
So I got brave.   I went ahead and shelved the textbook.   We'll use the time we might have spent with the text delving more deeply into nature study next year.
I'm pretty sure that it will be time well spent.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Masterly Inactivity: On Knowing When to Let Go

Thoughts on School Education: Chapter 4 "Some Rights of Children as Persons"
In this chapter, Charlotte lays out some specific examples of ways that we can respect the personhood of our children and practice masterly inactivity.  Some of those ideas included:
  • Giving them freedom in play rather than over-stuffing their schedules with organized games and activities.
  • Giving them the opportunities to express themselves freely rather than micromanaging.  Specific examples suggested were the freedom to explore creatively and come up with their own ideas and designs when doing art and craft projects rather than expecting a set outcome and freedom to write about topics of interest.  It occurred to me that the use of the 'blank page' in a notebook (as described in The Living Page) as a tool of response to a lesson rather than a fill-in-the-blanks worksheet was one way that this particular suggestion could be applied.  Nelleke shares another example here of giving her son freedom to explore as he has begun learning how to play the piano.
  • Giving children the opportunity to "stand or fall by their own efforts" – experiencing for themselves the natural rewards or consequences of their actions, rather than nagging or bribing them to correct behavior.
  • Giving children the freedom to choose their own friends.
  • Giving children the freedom to spend their pocket money as they choose.
  • Allowing children to form their own opinions on things like politics and religion as they grow into adults rather than expecting or influencing them to adopt the exact same position that we hold.
I think it's important to note here that one needs to take these suggestions within the whole context of Charlotte's ideas. (And, as Cindy points out in her post, one needs to consider age-appropriateness with these suggestions too.)  Masterly Inactivity doesn't mean a totally 'hands off' approach. It does mean understanding and applying our God-given authority rightly.  It means understanding that our role as parents and teachers is to set before our children the great feast of ideas and to diligently train them in good habits.  It is only within this framework that we will be able to have the freedom not to give into the temptation to micromanage.  The key principle that I took away from the examples Charlotte writes of in this chapter was the idea that our role as parents is to instill our children with right ideas, sound principles, and good habits and then LET GO and not try to micromanage every aspect of their lives, even if that sometimes means letting them learn certain lessons 'the hard way'.   Easier said than done!  Once  again, I find it comes back down to the idea of resting in the Lord and entrusting our children to Him.  It goes back to remembering that we don't have the power to save our children or make them wise in our own power and strength – only God can do that.   We sow the seeds and let the Lord take care of bringing forth the harvest in their lives in His good time.   This has been such a repeated message to me lately!  It has certainly brought home to me the absolute necessity of praying regularly and fervently for my children and for the Lord to work in their lives.  (Lisa has a beautiful, must-read post on this topic here.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fruits and Flowers: May/June Nature Notes

I thought I'd I share something a little more pleasant after last time's creepy crawlies. J
A month or so ago, Dan and the kids came inside bearing a new kind of fruit that I had never seen before: a rose apple.
These were a new-to-us discovery in a neighbor's yard.  There were heaps of them ripe on the tree at the time and there were children climbing the tree and passing them down.  They are lovely fruits – our plant guide indicated that they can be used to make jam, and I bet it would make lovely jam.  We only had two so I sliced them and put them into a tossed salad with a balsamic vinaigrette, which was lovely as well.  They are spicy-sweet with a texture similar to a pear.
Later I went to inspect the tree from whence they came, and found out that the flowers are rather magnificent too.
I also recently learned from a different neighbor that the vine we are growing along our fence is a passion fruit vine.  When I was taking my laundry out one morning a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that there were buds all along the vine which I hadn't noticed before.
I also noticed an immature passion fruit, which puzzled me because I had never seen any opened flowers, just buds.  How can you have fruit without any flowers?
It wasn't until a week or two later that I finally noticed a passion flower blooming on our vine.  Aren't they magnificent?
They seem to be very short blooming flowers.  I noticed this one late in the afternoon on one day, and by the morning it was shut up tight again.  I never saw that same one open again, although I have noticed a couple of others open on the vine at other times – always very briefly.  That would explain why we saw the fruits before the flowers – the flowers are fleeting, but so very beautiful if you do happen to catch a glance.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Family Reading #15

A peek at what we've been reading at our house lately:
With the Littles
This week there's been a lot of Brambly Hedge and Virgina Lee Burton (Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, The Little House, etc.)  We're also working out way through The Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book,  a collection of folktales from around the world.
Michelle's Reading (Age 8.5)
Well, she's been doing a lot of binge reading of Beverly Cleary books (especially the Henry Huggins series), the Boxcar Children, and Lucy Fitch Perkins Twins series (this week was The Belgian Twins and The Spartan Twins).  She has also read Baby Island, and just pulled out The Adventures of Dr Doolittle.   She's actually made some really fun connections with some of these books too.  It's fun when your child comes running to you while reading The Spartan Twins and says "Mom!  Did you know that there are things from The Wonder Book in here?  It's the Gorgon's head with the snaky locks and everything!"  Or wondering at the dinner table if Dr Doolitte might go to the Sahara Desert while he's in Africa – in Timbuktu, no less – on the very same day that you happened to read the chapter from The Child's History of the World about the great medieval kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai for school.  Charlotte Mason tells us that education is the science of relations, and it is so very exciting to see that happening.
James' Reading (Age 6)
We are buddy-reading Thorton Burgess' The Adventures of Danny Meadow Mouse.  On his own he's reading a variety of Level 3 and Level 4 easy readers we got from our co-op library and the Billy and Blaze series.
Featured School Book
Okay, so this isn't the most literary choice, perhaps. J  But my map-loving children are adoring the new Oxford Atlas of the World that I splurged and bought.  It's huge.  But it's finally satisfying our need for details that the more compact atlases we have just don't.  I've always loved a good atlas.  So does my hubby.  And our kids are following suit. 
Bedtime Reading
We just finished Because of Winn Dixie which was enjoyed by all.  Our next choice is The Door in the Wall.  I had to stop in the middle of the first chapter because it was a longish chapter and it was getting late and Michelle was rather peeved at me for not continuing.  That's usually a pretty good sign….
Devotionally, we are enjoying Catherine Vos' A Child's Story Bible on weeknights.  We read through this story Bible when Michelle was four (and the other two were just babies), but even I am getting much out of re-reading it.  Catherine Vos is a really good storyteller.  Our current Sunday reading is the devotional book Exploring Grace Together, which has been thought provoking for the two older children especially and Pilipinto's Happiness which was written by Elisabeth Elliot's daughter Valerie about her experiences going back to live among the Waorani (Auca) people who killed her father.  We just finished an account of the martyrdom of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, and the other missionaries in 1956 (The Fate of the Yellow Woodbee), so this is a fitting follow-up.
On Mama's Nightstand
In my morning devotional time I am working my way through the book of Matthew with a devotional commentary by JC Ryle and Kathleen Nielson's book Bible Study.
In my afternoon "study time", I am rotating through How to Keep a Naturalist's Notebook, How to Read a Book, School Education (Charlotte Mason's third volume), and When Athens Met Jerusalem.  I was previously trying to read through all of Ambleside Online Year 4 too, but it proved to be more than I could enjoyably keep up with so I scaled back to a few selections that were of the greatest interest to me.  Right now that's Madam How and Lady Why, Kidnapped, Emily Dickinson's poetry, and Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution.  I'm also reading Churchill's Birth of Britain which is the Year 7 history spine, but corresponds to the time period that I am studying with Michelle in Year 2 and fleshes out the details a bit more.   My study time tends to be the 45 minutes or so at the end of the afternoon when I stop to have a cup of coffee before I need to start supper – usually I sit out on the porch because the kids are playing outside.  I will read a chapter (or section or two out of those books with longer subdivided chapters) out of two or three different books and just keep rotating through them, with a little more focused reading time on the weekends.  It's slow going, but it's better than nothing, and truly is enriching and invigorating to be learning along with my kids. 
In the evening I am reading my long-awaited copy of The Story of Charlotte Mason (this is out of print and hard to find at a reasonable cost, but I was able to snag a copy thanks to a tip from one of the lovely forum ladies).  I am enjoying it very much.  I am also still slowly working my way through The Lord of the Rings alongside my husband, too. 
And when I am just completely FLAT OUT…then I re-read bits from Jan Karon's Mitford series.  I love those books.  Happy sigh. J
Been reading anything good at your house lately?

Friday, July 4, 2014

Masterly Inactivity: How Can We Live It?

Thoughts on School Education: Chapter 3 "Masterly Inactivity" – Part 2
Last week, we defined what is meant by Charlotte Mason's term "masterly inactivity".  Today let's talk about how  we can reach this serenity of attitude – this 'state of rest' as Andrew Kern would put it – so that we can practice Masterly Inactivity in our homes.  Charlotte offers a few suggestions towards this end:
First of all, Charlotte encourages mothers to 'play' from time to time: "If mothers would learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households.  Let the mother go out to play!  If she would only have courage to let everything go when life becomes to tense, and just take a day, or half-a-day, but in the fields, or with a favorite book, or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures, or in bed without the children life would go on far more happily for both children and parents" (p.33-34).

I know, it does sound like a bit of a pipe dream, doesn't it?  In my particular life situation, I don't have a lot of opportunities to get out and away from my children, and yet I do see the difference that it makes when I can.  My ideal is to take a half a day at a coffee shop to read and think and journal, or to take a long walk in some peaceful place – but I can't do either of those in our current city.  What I have been able to manage is daily quiet rest time – in which we all go into our separate spaces and relax with a book or take a nap, mama included.  I also stop whatever tasks I am doing in the late afternoon early enough to be able to take 45 minutes or so with a cup of coffee and a book that nourishes my soul and mind before I need to start dinner.  My children are often playing outside at this time of day, weather permitting, so I join them with a chair on the front porch. Occasionally my husband will take the children out or find projects that he can include them in on the weekends so that I can have some quiet time alone at the house to read or write.  We are sadly lacking in places where one can take long peaceful walks in our city, but we soak that kind of thing up when we are able to get out of town for a while.  An occasional ladies' night out can be refreshing too, although in a different way.  What can you do to get some occasional refreshment for yourself?  It's worth a think, even if it means thinking outside the box.
Charlotte also encourages us to try and have a 'state of leisure' in our homes as far as possible.  The ideal is to try and avoid being rushed, busy, and stressed.  Busy seasons lead to greater 'fractiousness' in the home.  "Leisure for themselves and a sense of leisure in those about them is as necessary to a child's well-being as it is to the strong and benign parental well-being" (p.35).
This is a tough one in today's world, isn't it?  There's almost a societal expectation that we make ourselves busy, with the accompanying guilt trip  if we're not.   I will confess that I probably have an easier time of keeping our day-to-day schedule leisurely simply because I live in Africa and don't have the myriad of activity choices that are available elsewhere.   We still have busy seasons, though, especially around conference and co-op sessions…and I do notice the increased "fractiousness" in our home during those times.  It always makes me glad these are temporary seasons in our family life and not our normal state of life!  It is worthwhile to consider all the activities that we are involved in and all the running around we do.  Is it possible to combine our errands into fewer trips?  Can we evaluate the true value of our activities and cut some of them out?   Cindy Rollins has some words of  wisdom on this subject matter here. "Stress," she reminds us, "is the enemy of just about everything worthwhile."
Ultimately, though, and perhaps most importantly of all, Charlotte reminds us that masterly inactivity is the outworking of our faith in God and our rest in Him: "The highest form of confidence, known to us as faith, is necessary to full repose of mind and manner.  When we recognize that God does not make over the bringing up of children absolutely even up to their parents, but that He works Himself, in ways which it must be our care not to hinder, in the training of every child, then we shall learn passiveness, humble and wise.  We shall give children space to develop on the lines of their own characters in all the right ways, and shall know how to intervene effectually to prevent those errors which, also, are proper to their individual characters" (p.35).
Masterly inactivity is really all about REST – teaching and parenting and living from a state of rest, trusting that God will lead and guide us – when to act, when to let things go - and trusting our children are ultimately in His care.  Our role is to plant the seeds, He brings forth the fruit.
The message of masterly inactivity dovetails so nicely with my contemplations on rest over the past month or two.  I highly recommend Sarah's new ebook and audio companion Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakeable Peace if you need some practical encouragement in this regard.  At the very least, you can listen to interview she did with Andrew Kern as part of the audio companion for free at the Circe Institute website
In what practical ways have you striven to live out the principle of masterly inactivity in your living, parenting, and teaching?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Wednesday Commonplace: On Achilles, and How Jesus Changes Everything

Most of you already know that I participated in a group discussion on The Iliad over on the AO Forum last spring.  We wrapped up that book back in May, but I've found myself still chewing on it all these weeks later.  The central character in The Iliad is Achilles, considered the quintessential Greek hero.  But most of us in the book discussion group had a hard time understanding why he was upheld as such a paragon.  To us he appeared to be a selfish, brooding tyrant.  What was so wonderful about him?  What did the Greeks see in him that we as modern Christian women were just not seeing?  Was it a cultural difference?  Religious difference?  Gender difference?  My gut instinct to answer that question was that the difference was because of our belief in the one True God, and perhaps even more specifically because of Christ. Throughout the discussion, many of us noted that we were grateful to serve a God that we could rely on to be Faithful and True in contrast with the capricious nature of the Greek gods and goddesses that were 'running the show' behind the scenes in The Iliad.
Shortly after finishing our Iliad study, I picked up John Mark Reynolds' When Athens Met Jerusalem and have been very slowly working my way through that.  With these thoughts about the contrasting natures of our God and the Greek pantheon in the back of my mind, I found Reynolds' comments about Homer very interesting:
"Homer taught human beings to fear the gods - not in the Judeo-Christian sense of awe and love, but in terms of terror. His great study of the Trojan War, The Iliad, begins in war and ends there. His is a hard view of reality, skeptical about progress from humans who are born into pointless struggle with gods and nature, a torment that does not even end in death….Homer, the greatest Greek poet and mythmaker, pictured gods who used humans as playthings in the famous Trojan War. The war began with a petty quarrel between the gods to determine which of the female deities was the fairest, and it grew to swallow up human heroes. The irrationality of the war was matched by the futility of human existence itself. Mortal man was doomed to die. Unlike the beasts, humans were aware of their own immortality, but strive as they might, they could not overcome it. Humans could not escape their fate no matter how powerful their passions. The first word of Homer's Iliad, the magnificent poem about the Trojan War, can be translated 'divine wrath'. The Greek hero Achilles possesses this godlike passion and was the ideal warrior. His anger, so potent it condemns hundreds of Greeks to death, does nothing but destroy everything he loves. He is man with only one weakness, the famous Achilles' heel, but that is enough. He falls. He is merely a man."
~John Mark Reynolds, When Athens Met Jerusalem
Isn't that fascinating? The world that Homer pictures is a world of chaos, hopelessness and futility, no matter how hard one may strive. Achilles was the great hero in that world because he reflected the 'godlike passions' that acted according to whim and used those around him as pawns. We find that repulsive because in Christianity, we have an orderly world ruled over by an unchanging, Sovereign God. We have a 'future and a hope'. And the model we set before us as an ideal is Jesus Christ Himself who 'did not consider equality with God to be grasped' but humbled Himself to death on the cross in the place of sinners.  
God sending His Son into the world to save sinners – this changes everything.