You mean besides a beautiful new coffee mug and an advance copy of Karen Glass' new book Mind to Mind…signed by Karen herself? J
Karen Glass reminded us that we are educating MINDS and not BRAINS. Minds are spiritual, rather than physical, and therefore need spiritual food: IDEAS. When we feed a child properly, she will grow physically. The process happens slowly – it may be a while before you notice the growth, but it will come. An apple tree doesn't produce apples overnight, and we don't expect it to. Likewise, when we feed a child's mind properly, regularly, and faithfully, the fruit will come in its own time. Karen encouraged us to keep spreading the feast and trusting the process.
Cindy Rollins continued that theme in her talk, reminding us to start small and do what you can – even if that's only one page of Plutarch, for example – and to do those things faithfully. Don't start big and get frustrated and give up. Start small and let things grow from there, because they will. She encouraged us to be faithful with our "10 minutes" because you never know how the Lord will use those moments. She encouraged us to develop a habit of praying without ceasing because God has a plan for our children and we can trust them to Him. She said a lot of other things too, but these were some of the key thoughts for me.
Christy's breakout session on scheduling reminded me that the child is a Person, and the Person matters first. The Person trumps the book or the curriculum or the schedule every single time. We are finite beings so we need to plan our priorities carefully. One of our top priorities needs to be margin – we need white space in our lives so we have time to process what we are reading and learning. We need routines, but those routines need to be simple and doable.
I forget who said it in answer to a question during the Q&A session - maybe it was Donna-Jean? - anyhow, she charged us to remember that we love our children and that they are not our projects.
Jeanne and Kathy's enthusiastic but gentle encouragement about implementing AO science left me feeling like yes, I can do this. I get nervous sometimes about trusting the process of nature study instead of textbooks for science in the younger years. And upper level science terrifies me in the extreme. Their session helped me to see the bigger picture a little better – how nature study really IS the best preparation we can give a child for the formal science studies of the upper years. Flipping through the books used for science in the upper levels of AO was helpful in this regard too - we really WILL cover all those things that I sometimes worry we are missing now. They reminded us that science studies should inspire wonder - that is truly the goal.
I'm sure the third breakout session that I had planned to attend (nature study) was wonderful too. But I never got that far. I popped back into the dining room to grab a cup of coffee between sessions, and ended up spending the next hour first having a lovely and very encouraging chat with Jeanne…and then moving over to another table to join Karen Glass, Cindy Rollins, and Anne White. Still kind of pinching myself. These women are not only wise and encouraging, but also approachable and down to earth. Our chat wasn't about anything profound, but still, it was a privilege to be seated around the table with such wise mentors.
Donna-Jean gave the closing address about Homeschooling in Hard Times. I bawled most of the way through it, in part because I was so touched by what she shared, and in part because the retreat was so rapidly coming to an end – I had to leave the minute it was over to head back to the airport. Donna-Jean's family has weathered some incredibly difficult circumstances over the years. And yet she stood before us and reminded us that God is with us through the storm. That Aslan is on the move. That Jesus wants to renew your mind. That He gave us these children to teach so that WE could learn. That it was time to go home, but that Jesus goes with us – that the joy of the Lord is our strength – and that He is able and safe to trust. The conference closed with the hymn Amazing Grace.
So, yes, I am mulling over many ideas still. But perhaps what touched me the most was this:
Ambleside women are amazing, and the Ambleside Online community is truly a work of the Lord. Once upon a time, years ago – before marriage, children, or homeschooling was ever on my radar – a few women started reading Charlotte Mason's writings and reached out on the internet for others to discuss her work with. The Ambleside Online curriculum was born out of this small beginning. Later the Forum was opened to support those using the curriculum and trying to implement Charlotte Mason's ideas in their homes. I've long wondered at the camaraderie that we've formed in that little corner of the web – it's unique. I don't know of anywhere else on the web like it. But the joy of taking some of those online friendships and making them into real-life friendships this weekend – I have no words. The retreat was called "At Home", and we truly all felt like we had come home. I am so very grateful that the Lord led us to AO, and so very blessed to be part of this community.
I can't wait for 2016.