Thursday, January 30, 2014

Wednesday with Words: On Grace and Joy

Once again sharing some striking quotes from Carolyn Weber's wonderful memoir, Surprised by Oxford.  These are all reflections on grace and joy in the life of a Christian.
"'Christians often grow world-weary themselves, even God weary.  We get 'used to Him', we become pretty chuffed with ourselves and our better-than-others supposed stance, our righteous worship, all our perfect acts.  It's a hard habit to crack – especially for an overachiever – that overachieving means nothing in His eyes.  And grace is even harder.  Accepting it is one thing, but really believing it and living it out – yeah, living in it – is not.  The cross reminds us of all this.  A much-needed humbling memento mori among all the lilies if you will.'"
"'Grace takes a lifetime to really grasp," Regina responded.  'And then some.  In fact, most of us don't ever 'get it' fully, I think.'  She stood up, taking the books and setting them back on the shelf.  'But even the crumbs from His table are enough.'"
"Dorothy Sayers wrote, 'The greatest sin of the Christian is to be joyless,' the speaker began. 'As reflective and active Christians, one of our most important duties is to be joyful.  This may sound like an oxymoron' – he chuckled – 'but it's a good reminder that 'all joy reminds,' and that, as recipients of grace, we have much to be joyful about."
"Don't underestimate the power and importance of celebration.  It should be our perpetual way of life – we shouldn't be folks too rushed to say hello, or too beaten to bless, but a people recalling joy.'"
~Carolyn Weber, Surprised by Oxford
Click through to read more inspirational quotes!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Desiring the Kingdom Book Club - Chapter 1, Part 3 (p. 63-73)

In this section, Smith proposes that we replace the idea of 'worldview' (which, in current usage is restricted to the realm of the mind, leading to educational practices focused on ideas, beliefs and perspectives) with the more holistic idea of the "social imaginary.   This is a broader term that encompasses not only the importance of content, but also the importance of practices in Christian education.   What exactly does Smith mean by a 'social imaginary'?  "An imaginary is not how we think about the world, but how we imagine the world before we ever think about it, hence the social imaginary is made up of the stuff that funds the imagination – stories, myths, pictures, narratives – these are social because they are 'communal and traditioned'."   Smith gives an analogy of being able to look at a map and figure out the directions to a given location vs. just knowing how to get somewhere without really thinking about it because we've traveled the route so many times.   One's 'social imaginary' is that gut level knowledge – that which we know without thinking about how we know it (or perhaps that which we know poetically?)  Smith proposes that Christian educators need to develop a distinctively Christian social imaginary which should then drive our educational practices. 
As I was considering the distinction that  Smith was drawing between a worldview and a social imaginary, I got to thinking that perhaps this is why cross-cultural adjustments and relationships are so difficult to navigate.  (For those who don't already know, I have lived most of my adult life in cross-cultural ministry situations, first for 10 years in Papua New Guinea, then for a year in France to attend language school, and now in Cameroon, Central Africa.)  If worldview-level thinking (addressing primarily the realm of the mind as Smith is defining it here) really is sufficient, then it should follow that it would be a simple matter of saying to oneself that "Cameroonian people do ____ because of ____" and that would be the end of the matter.  But, it is rarely ever the case for it to be that simple.   I can understand on a head level WHY Cameroonians feel the need to haggle over prices in the market and even get really good at playing the bargaining-game myself, but it still really irritates me on a gut level that that is the way things are done here.  It grates against that part of me that, from my own cultural upbringing in middle-class America, values efficiency – I'd rather just get the transaction taken care of and move on already.   To really become fully integrated in this culture would require changing not just the way I think about making purchases, but also changing that gut-level value that values efficiency over relationship and interaction.    That is something that would only happen after many, many years if it ever happened at all.   When I think about it in cross-cultural terms like this, I can see so very clearly that my orientation to the world – the way I see things, do things, react to things – is very much driven by those almost unconscious gut-level values and not by what I know in my head.    I think this is the point that Smith is getting at, and why it is so important to consider not only how our educational practices are shaping minds and thoughts, but also how they are directing what the heart values.
Click through to read more thoughts on this section!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Books to Read in 2014 Part 2 - With the Kids!

OK, I admit I am a book list junkie. J  I couldn't resist doing one more book list post with the list of books I have selected to read aloud with the kids this year. J   This is outside of their assigned school books, the mountains of picture books that I will probably read to the little ones, and what Michelle chooses to read in her free time.   Some of them are pulled from the Ambleside Online Year 2 free reading list and the Year 0 suggestions, some come from various other recommendations online or from friends, and some are books I just like and wanted to share with my kids.  (You can always use the links in the sidebar to see some of our favorite books for reading aloud to various ages, reading alone at various levels, and reading for mama!)
Family Bedtime Read-Alouds
Chosen mostly with my 8-year-old's interests in mind, but the two younger kids (5.5 and 3.5) nearly always listen in and enjoy as well.  (I suppose that's better than the option of going to bed, which is their other choice!)
The Five Children and It (Nesbit)
Brighty of the Grand Canyon (Henry)
Otto of the Silver Hand (Pyle)
The Door in the Wall (de Angeli)
Along Came a Dog (de Jong)
Boy of the Pyramids (Jones)
Star of Light (St John)
Half Magic (Eager)
Because of Winn-Dixie (di Camillo)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Dahl)
The Five Little Peppers and How they Grew (Taylor)
Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin (Henry)
Follow My Leader (Garfield)
The Borrowers (Norton)
Lunchtime Read-Alouds for the Little Ones
After lunch, I read aloud to my two preschoolers (age 5.5 and 3.5) while Michelle washes the lunch dishes.  This reading time usually includes a free-choice picture book for each, James reads something aloud to me for reading practice, and something of my choice.  Many of these are books I read with Michelle when she was around age 4-5 and the littles were still babies…but I want them to get a chance to enjoy them too. J
A Bear Called Paddington (Bond) – possibly others in the series too
Little House in the Big Woods (Wilder) – possibly others in the series too
Uncle Wiggly's Storybook (Garis)
The Dear Old Briar Patch and others (Burgess)
Uncle Remus Stories – the adaptations we have are Jump: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit (Harris, adapted by Parks and Jones) and The Adventures of Brer Rabbit and Friends (Harris, adapted by Amin)
The Velveteen Rabbit (Williams)
The Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book (short folktales from around the world)
Sunday Reading
You can read about our Sunday Reading tradition here.  These are the special Sunday books I have chosen for this year:
God's Promises and God's Providence (Michael)
John Calvin and/or John Owen (Carr)
Gladys Aylward: The Adventure of a Lifetime (Benge)
Amy Carmichael: The Hidden Jewel (Jackson)
Pilipinto's Happiness (Shepard)
What are you planning to read with your little ones this year?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Some Habit Training Notes for the New Year

During our recent break from school, I took the time to do a fairly quick re-reading of Charlotte Mason's first volume, Home Education.   I am really glad that I took the time to do this as I have most definitely gained some fresh inspiration for the coming year!  I made some notes of things that stood out to me to apply this coming year and thought that I would share them here both for my benefit (organized and in one place!) and perhaps for yours too.  I shared my nature study/outdoor time notes here and my lesson planning notes here.
Today I want to share some of my gleanings on habit training and parenting in general.  I struggle at times with motivation and consistency in this regard and need all the help I can get!
Training in the habit of obedience (or any habit) and the training of the conscience are GRADUAL processes.  It's okay if I don't see results overnight.  The goal is to help the child gradually enlist their will to choose what is right.   My part is to continue on guiding and training with Tact, Watchfulness, and Persistance.
"I am, I can, I ought, I will."  This was Charlotte Mason's motto for students.  I love what Jack Beckman has to say about this motto in Chapter 2 of When Children Love to Learn:
            "I am a child of God
            I ought to do His will
            I can do what He tells me,
            And by His grace, I will.
'I am a child of God.'  How freeing to realize the wonder of the relationship of a child with her heavenly Father – the flow of love and grace in the child's life as she learns to live under His care and authority.
'I ought to do His will.' The child has a standard to live by found in the very Word of God.  She has a place to go to find out about all the 'oughts' in life,  but a place of forgiveness and acceptance as well.
'I can do what He tells me.' The very real presence of the Holy Spirit in the child's life makes obedience to His precepts possible.
'And by His grace, I will.' It is by grace the child has been saved, and it is by grace that the child is preserved and sustained as she walks the walk of faith, life, and learning."
Important truths to remember (and share with my children) as I handle situations of training and discipline this coming year.
There is more to habit training than external training in morality.  True morality is the product of a heart that has been changed by God.  Therefore, our first goal in training our children in morality and good habits is to point them to the wonder and greatness of our Saviour, to pray for the Spirit to work in their lives, and implant in them (model!!) a deep love for His Word.
"Accept the parable: the parent is little better in this matter than the witless bee; it is his part to deposit, so to speak, within reach of the soul of the child some fruitful idea of God; the immature soul makes no effort towards that idea, but the living Word reaches down, touches the soul,––and there is life; growth and beauty, flower and fruit." (Vol 1, p.344)
"…he will have infinite need of faith and prayer, tact and discretion, humility, gentleness, love, and sound judgement, if he would present his child to God, and the thought of God to the soul of his child." (Vol. 1, p.345)
"Again, the knowledge of God is distinct from morality, or what the children call 'being good', though 'being good' follows from that knowledge. But let these come in their right order. Do not bepreach the child to weariness about 'being good' as what he owes to God, without letting in upon him first a little of that knowledge which shall make him good." (Vol. 1, p. 347)
"It is as the mother gets wisdom liberally from above, that she will be enabled for this divine task." (p. 348)
"A word about the reading of the Bible. I think we make a mistake in burying the text under our endless comments and applications. Also, I doubt if the picking out of individual verses, and grinding these into the child until they cease to have any meaning for him, is anything but a hindrance to the spiritual life. The Word is full of vital force, capable of applying itself. A seed, light as thistledown, wafted into the child's soul will take root downwards and bear fruit upwards. What is required of us is, that we should implant a love of the Word…" (Vol. 1, p. 349)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Wednesday with Words: On Christ's Sacrifice

I recently finished reading Surprised by Oxford, the story of Carolyn Weber's discovery of Christ during her first year as a graduate student in English literature at Oxford University.   Wonderful, thought provoking book.  You'll have to pardon me if I actually spend the next several weeks quoting from it, as I highlighted more than I could share in one post (at least if I expect anyone to actually read it!)   Today's collection of quotes all relate to Christ and His sacrifice for us – snippets from her thoughts and conversations as she began to explore the truth of Christianity.
"You say that you can't believe in a God who would sacrifice His only perfect Child for all of His imperfect ones.  I used to think the same thing.  But reading the Bible has required me to consider how, in extending us grace, God not only sacrificed Himself, but something even dearer than Himself.  He went for the whole nine yards and then some.  Not a precise and petty measure, Mom, but an overflow, an outpouring of abundance, as I've seen you do for us."
"And yet…something kept fluttering beneath its surface, anchored by the undeniable authority of the final line: 'Take off the grave clothes and let him go."  There was no other way to put it than to say that I detected something bigger happening here:  A love that turns back to a place of danger to retrieve its beloved.  A love that illustrates itself in acts and words and trust.  A love at work in the seen and the unseen.  A love that weeps over us, releases us, raises us, removes our grave clothes, and tells us we are free to go.
Do you believe this?
An upstart love.  A radical love.  An uncontainable, indefinable, incomprehensible
  love.  A love that invites and defies and eternally transforms."
"Christ offered a bridge over the gap I felt, sitting there on the floor, between myself and my own soul.  Between my God and me.  I wanted to know God and to be known by Him – a relationship so intimate that there was no space between Him and my soul."
"Suffering.  Emotion.  Love.  Devotion.  That passion could hold all these meanings in the confines of one word.  And God would take my passions and use them as a means to fill me with His true passion.  As He can and will do for all of us, if we allow Him."
            ~Carolyn Weber, Surprised by Oxford
Click through to read more inspiring quotes...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Desiring the Kingdom Book Club: Chapter 1, Parts 1 and 2 (p.37-63)

I never got around to writing a post about last week's reading (super busy week, followed by sick kids all weekend), so I will attempt to summarize the last two reading assignments here.  Attempt being the key word, since there is a lot there.  But, the nice part about running late is the fact that I've gotten a sneak-peak at some of the other posts on the first section already which has helped my own processing of this chapter immensely. J  (Thanks for letting me ride your coattails, y'all!)
In the introduction, Smith made the proposal that our anthropology (view of what human beings essentially are) our pedagogy (teaching practice).  In the first part of chapter 1, Smith describes two common anthropologies that underlay much of contemporary Christian educational practice: People as "Thinking Things" (we are driven by our thoughts, therefore Christian education aims to feed the mind Christian ideas) and People as "Believers" (we are driven by our beliefs and our worldview, therefore Christian education aims to help us develop a Christian perspective on ___).  Smith dismisses both of these anthropologies as inadequate because they focus primarily on ideas and beliefs – things which are centered in the realm of the mind – and fail to take into account the whole person.  In the second section of this chapter, he proposes an alternative view.  He states that we need to "shift the center of gravity of human identity, as it were, down from the heady regions of the mind closer to the central regions of our bodies, in particular, our kardia – our gut our heart."   He proposes that rather than being driven by ideas or beliefs, we are actually driven by love: "To be human is to love, and it is what we love that defines who we are."   To flesh this idea out, he lays out a model with 4 parts:
Intentionality: Love's Aim
We can't just "love"; we have to love something.  (Just like you can't just think, you have to think about something.  Even if you are trying not to think about anything, you are still thinking about not thinking… This actually reminded me attending French language school last year – there are certain French verbs that have to take an object – you can't just leave them hanging.  But perhaps I digress.)  This love – what we desire above all else – drives who we are and what we do.  Sin has knocked this off kilter and redirects our desires towards the wrong things, but regardless of whether our aim is in the right direction or not - or if we are consciously aware of what we are aiming at or not - we are all aiming towards something.
Teleology: Love's End
Teleology comes from the Greek word teloi meaning ends or goals.  The telos of our love is our target – the object of our love to borrow from the French grammar example.  Smith says that this target is "a specific vision of the good life, an implicit picture of what we think human flourishing looks like."   This includes what 'flourishing' looks like in all things: relationships, recreation, work, family, social justice, etc.  This picture is what "governs, shapes, and motivates our decisions and actions".  He intentionally uses the word picture to describe this because it is a picture which captures the imagination, not a set of rules.   (As a side note, this is why stories speak to us in ways that more factual, straight to the point presentations can't.)
Habits: Love's Fulcrum
So how does this happen?  How does our vision of "the good life" get into our bones?  Smith says it is by our habits, both good and bad.  These are our natural default tendencies – the things which are so automatic that they seem completely 'natural'.  But as natural as they seem, they are formed and trained into us.  These habits are "the hinge that turns our heart, our love, such that it is predisposed to be aimed in certain directions."
Practices: Love's Formation
So, if these habits are trained into us, where do they come from?  Smith says that, over time, they are formed by the rituals and practices of our lives.  Just as a baseball player or pianist is trained to respond "automatically" by years of practices and drills, so are our desires shaped by the rituals of our lives.
Some Thoughts
As I read the first week's reading, I found myself with the niggling thought that perhaps Smith was dismissing the importance of the life of the mind and the way that ideas can feed our minds (and our hearts too, I'd say) a little too quickly.   Charlotte Mason is often telling us about the necessity to feed our minds with living ideas.   And even Scripture tells us not to be "conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds" (Romans 12:2, emphasis mine).  Brandy explored the relationship between Charlotte Mason and her understanding of ideas with what Smith is saying in her post from last week, which I found very helpful in processing this potential disagreement.   I also found it helpful to continue reading in this week's assignment.  I could begin to see that perhaps the view he is proposing is not so incompatible with what Charlotte is always telling us.  In fact, in some ways I felt a bit as if he should just come out and say that "education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life."  Atmosphere encompasses the practices and rituals and rhythms of our daily lives.  Discipline encompasses habits.  And Life: in several places, he talks about how stories and pictures are more effective means of communication because they appeal to our imaginations and therefore help shape our vision and not just our brains.  This is the same idea that Charlotte had when she promoted the use of living books and poetry and art and music and spending time in nature as key components of our education.   Smith is proposing a vision of education that addresses the whole person, which was the same vision that Charlotte Mason had.  (Once again I am amazed that she proposed all of this 100 years ago, and other people are just now 'discovering' what she already knew!)
The other realization that I had is that I don't know that I've ever defined what my vision for 'the good life' is…either what it is in reality (since I think we probably all have such a vision even if we've never thought about it), or what I think it should be.   At least not in any intentional kind of way.  I have the vague sense that the 'good life' means living for the glory of God, but I don't know that I've ever fleshed out what that might look like in all the various spheres of life.  Nor am I really sure if the vision I think I should have on a head level really matches with the vision that my heart is actually pointed towards. (I guess perhaps that proves Smith's point that addressing the mind isn't enough?  Sometimes what we know in our heads doesn't always match what we believe in our hearts.)  And, following on from that: if I haven't even thought intentionally about what my vision really is, how can I know whether or not the habits and practices in our home are helping to point us in the right direction? (Although I do choose to educate in the way I do because I want my children to gain a vision of goodness, truth, and perhaps we aren't too far off base.)   Good food for thought, though.
Click through for more thoughts on this section linked up at Simply Convivial.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Some Lesson Planning Notes for a New Year

During our recent break from school, I took the time to do a fairly quick re-reading of Charlotte Mason's first volume, Home Education.   I am really glad that I took the time to do this as I have most definitely gained some fresh inspiration for the coming year!  I made some notes of things that stood out to me to apply this coming year and thought that I would share them here both for my benefit (organized and in one place!) and perhaps for yours too.
I shared my notes on nature study and outdoor time here
Today I'd like to share a few of the ideas that I gleaned with relation to lesson planning, specifically with my 8-year-old Year 2 student in mind.   She has been doing oral narration for more than 2 years now and has become quite proficient.  These ideas were highlighted with her advancing needs in mind, yet still keeping them within the guidelines that Mason herself laid down for children under the age of 9.  
The Habit of Thinking
"This is the sort of thing that the children should go through, more or less, in every lesson – a tracing of effect from cause or cause from effect; a comparing of things to find out wherein they are alike, and wherein they differ; a conclusion as to causes or consequences from certain premises." (Vol. 1, p.151)
These are ideas to keep in mind for post-narration discussion where appropriate.  Narration can extend beyond just simply "telling back", especially as the child grows older and gains experience.
On Memory and Recollection
"But one verb is nothing; you want the child to learn French, and for this you must not only fix his attention upon each new lesson, but each much be so linked into the last that it is impossible for him to recall one without the other, following in its train." (Vol. 1 p.154)
This isn't just for French lessons, either!  This is a good reminder to link ALL lessons to the previous one.   A simple way to do this is to do a quick recap of the previous lesson.  I particularly love the train image she gives here.
Writing Assignments appropriate for children under 9
Charlotte Mason didn't encourage a lot of written output in the earlier years of formal education, preferring instead to allow those skills to develop naturally through copywork (physical act of writing) and oral narration (organizing and composing ideas orally).  That said, this doesn't mean that all written work needs to be avoided until the child is 10 as it sometimes seems to be implied.  Mason suggests the following ideas as appropriate introductions into written composition for children under the age of 9:
  • Writing a part and narrating a part of a reading
  • Writing the account of a walk they have taken
  • Writing the account of a lesson they have studied
  • Writing about some other simple matter that they know
 (from Vol. 1, p. 247)
On Original Illustrations
Mason generally preferred that children be 'left to themselves' in the area of artistic development, but she did offer a lesson outline for how a teacher might help her students on occasion produce an original illustration to accompany a lesson studied.   I found these ideas helpful since Michelle already does like to do drawn narrations, and I think some of these ideas may help her to pay greater attention to accurate details.
  • Draw from the children what they know of the story that is to be drawn (perhaps via an oral narration?)
  • Read the descriptive section again if necessary, and look at pictures of dress, etc of the time period in question.
  • Draw from the children what mental pictures they have formed.
  • Have them produce their mental picture on paper.
  • If possible, show them an original illustration of the scene by another artist for purposes of comparison.
 (from Vol. 1, p.307)
Last year, we did a weekly notebook page on which she would illustrate a favorite scene from one of the week's readings and write 1-2 sentences describing what she drew (in addition to a more detailed oral narration at the time of the reading).  I'm hoping the writing and illustration notes above will help us take this to the next level this coming year.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Wednesday with Words: On Heeding that Still Small Voice

I am continuing to enjoy the wealth of insights woven into the narrative of Robinson Crusoe, an Ambleside Online Year 4 selection.   It's one of those books I don't think I ever would have picked up on my own, so I am grateful for AO from bringing it to my attention.   Here is a passage that struck me recently (and then I'll tell you kind of a cool story to go with it):
"This renew'd a contemplation, which often had come to my thoughts in former time, when first I began to see the merciful dispositions of Heaven, in the dangers we run through in this life.  How wonderfully we are deliver'd, when we know nothing of it.  How, when we are in (a quandary, as we call it) a doubt or hesitation, whether to go this way, or that way, a secret hint shall direct us this way, when we intended to go that way; nay, when sense, our own inclination, and perhaps business has call'd to go the other way, yet a strange impression upon the mind, from we know not what springs, and by we know not what power, shall over-rule us to go this way; and it shall afterwards appear, that had we gone that way which we should have gone, and even to our imagination ought to have gone, we should have been ruin'd and lost: Upon these, and many like reflections, I afterwards made it a certain rule with me, that whenever I found those secret hints, or pressings of my mind, to doing, or not doing any thing that presented; or to going this way, or that way, I never fail'd to obey the secret dictate; though I knew no other reason for it, that that such a pressure, or such a hint hung upon my mind: I could give many examples of the success of this conduct in the course of my life; but more especially in the latter part of my inhabiting this unhappy island; besides many occasions which it is very likely I might have taken notice of , if I had seen with the same eyes then, that I saw with now…"
~Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe
Now here's the story, which took place on the same day that I happened to read this particular passage:  It was Friday afternoon at the end of a tiring week.   That week we had welcomed several new missionary families, a couple of whom we had met in some stage of our journey to get here ourselves.  One of those families in particular had had a number of difficult circumstances to greet them on their arrival, so I knew they must be feeling tired and worn out.  After all, we had been in their shoes only a year before!  We have not yet forgotten about how exhausting a cross-cultural transition with three young children can be.   I kind of had a feeling that perhaps I should go check and see if they were OK in terms of groceries and meals and invite them for dinner in case they were not.  But then again, I was tired.  I sat down during quiet time that afternoon with a cup of coffee to read, and happened to read this passage from Robinson Crusoe.  The further I read, the more convinced I was that I needed to go and extend that invitation for dinner – all that talk about Robinson having learned never to ignore those unexplainable impressions that sometimes came to his mind and all (in his case it was in situations of potential danger, but I think the same principle can apply here).  So, I set down my Kindle and walked across the street to ask them if they'd like to come for supper.  Sure enough, they had nothing but a little bit of leftovers, so gratefully accepted the invitation.   We enjoyed a lovely evening of fellowship together.  And before they left they asked how they could pray for us.   Here we were trying to encourage them, and yet we too were able to share some of our struggles and be encouraged as well.  A double blessing that we would have missed if I had ignored that thought that I should go check on them and given in to my tiredness.  I think perhaps Robinson was on to something….

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Wednesday with Words: On Finding Solace in Nature

We have been enjoying the BBC television series Lark Rise to Candleford, so I picked up Flora Thompson’s semi-autobiographical trilogy of the  same title.  Although quite different from the television adaptation, I still really enjoyed it.  (I’ve enjoyed both on their own merits, I should say.  They are dissimilar enough for that.)  The novels tell a slow moving and highly descriptive coming of age story.  Although written in the third person, it feels a little bit as if you are sitting across the table from your grandmother as she recalls anecdotes of her childhood and adolescence in a rapidly changing world.  I could relate somewhat to young Laura as she comes into her own and tries to find her place in a world where she doesn’t quite fit.
Here is one particularly beautiful section:
“The accumulated depression of months slid from her at last in a moment.  She had run out into the fields one day in a pet and was standing on a small stone bridge looking down on brown running water flecked with cream-colored foam.  It was a dull November day with grey sky and mist.  The little brook was scarcely more than a trench to drain the fields; but overhanging it were thorn bushes with a lacework of leafless twigs; ivy had sent trails down the steep banks to dip in the stream, and from every thorn on the leafless twigs and from every point of the ivy leaves water hung in bright drops, like beads.
A flock of starlings had whirred up from the bushes at her approach and the clip, clop of a cart-horse’s hoofs could be heard on the nearest road, but these were the only sounds.  Of the hamlet, only a few hundred yards away, she could hear no sound, or see as much as a chimney-pot, walled in as she was by the mist.
Laura looked and looked again.  The small scene, so commonplace and yet so lovely, delighted her.  It was so near the homes of men and yet so far removed from their thoughts.  The fresh green moss, the glistening ivy, and the reddish twigs with their sparkling drops seemed to have been made for her alone and the hurrying, foam-flecked water seemed to have some message for her.  She felt suddenly uplifted.  The things which troubled her troubled her no more.  She did not reason.  She had already done plenty of reasoning.   Too much, perhaps.  She simply stood there and let it all sink in until she felt that her own small affairs did not matter.  Whatever happened to her, this, and thousands of other such small, lovely sights would remain and people would come suddenly upon them and look and be glad.
A wave of pure happiness pervaded her being, and, although it soon receded, it carried away with it her burden of care.  Her first reaction was to laugh aloud to herself.  What a fool she had been to make so much of so little.  There must be thousands like her who could see no place for themselves in the world, and here she had been, fretting herself and worrying others as if her case were unique.  And, deeper down, beneath the surface of her being, was the feeling, rather than the knowledge, that her life’s deepest joys would be found in such scenes as this.”
~Flora Thompson, Lark Rise to Candleford, p.433-435

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Desiring the Kingdom Book Club: Introduction

Well, I'm excited to be diving into this book.  I've heard it mentioned here and there over the past year and had the sense I should add it to my list of books to be read.   Then when Brandy quoted it here, I had a major "aha" moment (more on that in a minute) and bumped it up on my list of reading priorities.  When Mystie announced the book club, that just sealed the deal.  So here I am.   Right up front, I'm going to be honest and say I may not manage a post every single week.  My blogging life ebbs and flows with my real life. J  But, I will be reading along and hope to chime in with some thoughts here and there when I can. 
Let me give you a little bit of background to start with: I am a teacher.  I have a degree in elementary education from a Christian university.  I taught for 4 years in a Christian international school for missionary children.  And I am now a homeschooling mother of three, doing homeschool evaluations and consulting as part of a co-op program/umbrella school for missionary children in a different setting.  Given that my entire adult life has been spent involved to some extent in the field of Christian education, it's something that is a passion and interest of mine. 
For a long time – going all the way back to my classroom teaching days - there has been something about Christian education as it is typically practiced that didn't sit quite right with me.  I've never cared for most of the specifically Christian textbook/workbook scripted-type curriculums, as they seemed kind of forced and shallow to me.   The international school where I taught used mostly secular curriculum, with the caveat that we as Christian teachers were to provide the Christian focus by presenting the material from a Christian worldview.  This was a better approach, I thought, but I still struggled with how to do it authentically.   Years later when I started looking into homeschooling methods and came across Charlotte Mason, I appreciated her holistic view of education, but still couldn't really articulate what made that *better* than the way I was trained to teach.
It wasn't until I read the aforementioned post by Brandy that I was able to put my finger on what has always bothered me.  She quotes Smith when he says in this introduction: "Behind every pedagogy is a philosophical anthropology."  In other words, HOW we teach is (or at least should be) informed by what we fundamentally believe about the nature of people.  Charlotte Mason tells us that children are born persons, created in the image of God, able to think and reason and feel and love, as opposed to rational animals that are mere sacs for information.  I think pretty much ALL Christian educators would agree with this assessment.  And yet so much of 'Christian' educational practice doesn't reflect this.   We slap a Christian veneer on modern educational methods that actually reflect the latter anthropology.  There is a disconnect.  I don't think this is necessarily intentional on the part of Christian educators - I think it is more a matter of never having really thought about it.  I know I never really did.
This is the question that Smith sets forth in his introduction: What *is* a distinctively Christian education?  He contends that it goes further than simply teaching students to think from a Christian worldview, but that it is about the formation of whole people – not just their minds, but also their hearts and desires:
" we think about distinctly Christian education would not be primarily a matter of sorting out which Christian ideas to drop into eager and willing mind-receptacles; rather, it would become a matter of thinking about how a Christian education shapes us, forms us, molds us to be a certain kind of people whose hearts and passions and desires are aimed at the kingdom of God."
He goes on to pose other questions: What practices will effect this type of transformation?  What should our educational practices look like if they are going to be an effective counter-formation to the allure of the world?   What sorts of habits will be fostered by the rhythms and rituals of our lives?  "Could we offer a Christian education that is loaded with all sorts of Christian ideas and information – and yet be offering a formation that runs counter to that vision?"
Smith puts forth the proposal that our educational practices should be founded in the practices of Christian worship.  We need to think beyond the realm of intellect and recognize "education" is "formation" that takes place everywhere – not just in school - and involves our whole bodies and all of our senses - not just our minds.  Environment and habits also play a role (hmm, sounds like what Charlotte is always trying to tell us!):
"…we need to adopt a paradigm of cultural critique and discernment that thinks even deeper  than beliefs  or worldviews and takes seriously the cultural role of formative practices –  or what I'll describe in this book as liturgies."
Education – formation – must address the whole person in order to be truly effective.  It must speak to our hearts and not just our minds:
"Being a disciple of Jesus is not primarily a matter of getting the right ideas and doctrines and beliefs into your head in order guarantee proper behavior; rather, it's a matter of being the kind of person who loves rightly – who loves God and neighbor and is oriented to the world by the primacy of that love.  We are made to be such people by our immersion in the material practices of Christian worship – through affective impact, over time, of sights and smell in water and wine."
I'm looking forward to seeing how he unpacks these ideas.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Some Nature Study and Outdoor Time Notes for the New Year

During our recent break from school, I took the time to do a fairly quick re-reading of Charlotte Mason's first volume, Home Education.   I am really glad that I took the time to do this as I have most definitely gained some fresh inspiration for the coming year!  I made some notes of things that stood out to me to apply this coming year and thought that I would share them here both for my benefit (organized and in one place!) and perhaps for yours too.
Nature study has gone well for us this year, keeping to the simple format that I outlined here, but this is always an area that I need to be stretched in.   With that in mind, I gleaned a number of new ideas to incorporate into our time from the section titled Out-of-Door Life for the Children.   I was glad to find ideas of ways that we can kick our nature study and outdoor time up to the next level while keeping it appropriate for my young children. (Volume 1 gives Mason's suggestions for the education of children under the age of 9.)   This is not an exhaustive list of everything Mason suggests, but are some of the ideas that were striking to me and that I hope to incorporate in the coming year:
Meals Outdoors: We've taken teatime outdoors on occasion, but perhaps we should take lunch outdoors on occasion too – or even breakfast during this hot season when it is nasty to be outside at mid-day.  An idea to consider….
Sight-Seeing: Here is how Mason describes this activity in her own words: "By-and-by the others come back to their mother, and, while wits are fresh and eyes are keen, she sends them off on an exploring expedition––Who can see the most, and tell the most, about yonder hillock or brook, hedge, or copse. This is an exercise that delights children, and may be endlessly varied, carried on in the spirit of a game, and yet with the exactness and carefulness of a lesson." (Vol 1, p. 45-46)  And on the benefits of such an activity: "This is all play to the children, but the mother is doing invaluable work; she is training their powers of observation and expression, increasing their vocabulary and their range of ideas by giving them the name and the uses of an object at the right moment,––when they ask, 'What is it?' and 'What is it for?' And she is training her children in truthful habits, by making them careful to see the fact and to state it exactly, without omission or exaggeration." (Vol 1, p.46-47)

Detailed Knowledge of Local Flora: We've worked this past year on using a field guide to identify most of the plants in our yard and immediate neighborhood, but Mason suggests that children should be able to describe these familiar plants in detail – the leaf (size, shape, manner of growth from the stem, manner of flowering, etc.).  The goal is to have "made the acquaintance of a wild flower, so that they can never forget it or mistake it." (Vol. 1, p.52).  This year I'm hoping to occasionally use our nature study time to make a more detailed examination of some of the common local plants we have identified this past year.  
Methods of Recording Nature Finds: Mason suggests collection and pressing flowers and leaves – perhaps something we will try this year, as well as making careful drawings of those that are of the most interest, including the whole plant where possible.   We have done drawings pretty faithfully this past year, but Michelle doesn't always tend to be very detailed or careful in these drawings, something I hope to gently encourage her towards this year.   Other things that can be recorded about nature finds (with mom's help if needed): where it was found, what it was doing or seemed to be doing (for a living creature), color, shape, features (legs, etc).  We will continue to keep our "nature notes" book as we enter into our second year in this home, with the hopes of comparing things to what we saw at the same time last year and getting a better sense of our tropical seasons.

Adopt-a-Tree: This we've done the past several years, but I am reminded to choose a new tree or plant to keep track of this year.  I'm thinking maybe corn plants – there is a large corn-field near our house that we often have to pass through when running errands in the neighborhood.  Not only could we learn about the growth of the corn plants, it will force us to get out in the neighborhood more.  Win-win-win.

Teaching Children to Watch Living Creatures Quietly and Carefully, so as to learn something of their habits:  We've stuck largely to plants up until now, partially because they are inanimate. J  But there is something to be said for learning to sit still and quiet and observe what one can about insects, birds, and other larger creatures.   Mason describes how to build a simple ant farm in this section as an example.   We did keep a caterpillar and a mantis earlier this year and currently have a cage full of mice that we trapped in our house (!!), but I think there is good advantage to teaching children how to watch quietly and observe those things they come across in a natural setting too.   I'd also like to see if we can associate the bird calls we hear with the familiar birds we have identified in the yard.

Rough Classifications: While we don't want to go overboard with technical scientific explanations, Mason does encourage us to use their observations to make rough classifications of the natural objects they have observed – plants with similar flowers and leaves, animals with various body coverings or eating habits, etc.  Careful observation and classification is a great skill to develop for future in-depth science study.

Mother's Knowledge:  Mason stresses the important of the mother educating herself so she can naturally and casually impart to children the little bits that they want to know about their discoveries.    (Although she also stresses not giving too much talk!!  There needs to be a balance.)  Guess I will be educating myself about plant structures and such this year….

Outdoor-Geography: Mason gives a lengthy section on ideas for learning geography naturally during our outdoor time.  We learned how to tell directions from the sun this past year.  This year I hope to incorporate her ideas about direction, distance, boundaries, and sketching simple maps and plans.   We will be using some of the suggestions from Long's Home Geography for Primary Grades to help with this.   My idea is to either take a longer outdoor time once a week to do both nature and outdoor geography studies or else to take two shorter outdoor times, depending on how our schedule goes in a given week.   (We are committed to a Friday art class for the rest of this school year, but once that is finished I love the idea of making Friday a field day.  We'll see how we go.)

Above all, remember the point is to impart a love of and sense of wonder in nature to our children!
"It would be well if we all persons in authority, parents and all who act for parents, could make up our minds that there is no sort of knowledge to be got in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves of the world they live in. Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things." (Vol. 1, p. 61)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Books to Read in 2014

So, I usually post my “best-of” booklists after the fact, but this year I have been jotting down titles here and there of things that I would like to read sometime in the coming year.  These are largely based off recommendations and discussions over on the AO Forum. J  This probably isn’t exhaustive of everything I may read this year…actually I know it's not exhaustive since I have already jotted down several other titles of interest in other folks' year-end book posts between writing and publishing my list. :)  But hopefully having a list to work from will help me to be more conservative with my Kindle downloading habits....(you know, finish something off the list before I go downloading something else...)
Educational Philosophy
  • Desiring the Kingdom (James K.A. Smith) – hoping to participate, or at least follow along with, Mystie’s book club
  • The Living Page (Laurie Bestvater) – this is a new book out, and I have heard NOTHING but good things about it.  Can’t wait for my copy to arrive in our next sea freight shipment.
  • School Education, Volume 3 (Charlotte Mason)
  • continue The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What it Means to be an Educated Human Being (edited by Richard Gamble)
  • Writings of Amy Carmichael
  • Writings of Isobel Kuhn
  • Surprised by Oxford (Carolyn Weber)
Christian Living
  • The Christian Life and Children of the Living God (Sinclair Ferguson)
  • The Hole in our Holiness (Kevin de Young)
  • Concise Theology and/or Growing in Christ (JI Packer)
  • Hannah Coulter or another novel by Wendell Berry
  • Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) – I read this in high school, but a recent discussion on the Forum made me realize that I probably missed a lot as a 15 year old. J
  • Persuasion (Jane Austen) – another re-read.  This is my favorite novel of hers, I think.  Actually I may try to re-read all of Austen this year.  I'm feeling inspired...
  • Something by Dickens – maybe Nicholas Nickelby or Little Dorrit, anyone have a favorite to recommend?  (My lit-major sister says Bleak House is her top pick...)
  • Something by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Le Temps des Secrets and Le Temps des Amours (Marcel Pagnol) - these are the third and fourth books in his series Souvenirs d'enfance.  I read the first two (La Gloire de mon Père and Le Chateau de ma Mère) during our time in France and thoroughly enjoyed them.  I've really dropped the ball at reading in French, as much as I do enjoy it, and would like to pick it up again.  I have the film adaptions of the first two as well that I want to watch first to refresh my memory.
  • continue Ambleside Online Year 4, and then move on to Year 5
  • The Iliad (Homer, translated by Fagles) – this is our first official book discussion over at the AO Forum this year.  We start January 4 if you want to join us!
  • How to Read a Book (Mortimer J Adler)
What do you have on your list to read this year?