Sunday, August 2, 2015

Reflections on Relationship: Enriching Relationships with the People Around Us

This is part three in my planning series, Reflections on Relationship.  You can read the other parts here:
Today, let's consider how we can enrich relationships with those around us – our family and our community.   Charlotte Mason's educational motto was "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life."   While the other three aspects of relationship we are considering – God, Mankind, and God's Created Universe – all fall under the heading of 'education is a life', today's topic falls under 'education is an atmosphere' and 'education is a discipline'. 
Education is an Atmosphere
"When we say that education is an atmosphere we do not mean that a child should be isolated in what may be called a 'child environment' specially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere both as regards persons and things and should let him live freely among his proper conditions."  (Charlotte Mason, Volume 6, p. 94)
In When Children Love to Learn, Jack Beckman speaks thus of the learning atmosphere we should strive to cultivate:
"The atmosphere is supportive, nurturing, and caring, reflecting a sense of safety balanced with challenge.  Good habits of mind and body are deliberately encouraged both in teacher and student.  A sense of community is present – praying and feeding on the Word of God, solving problems, and gathering around vital learning together." (p.55)  
I love the picture that he paints of a learning community 'gathering around learning together.'   He also speaks of:
"our role as parents and teachers is to reflect the model of our Lord Jesus in relationship with these little ones – to come alongside and encourage them in their ignorance and sin toward a better way…When a child chooses to act in accordance with his fallenness, this time is best used to instruct the child in relationship." (p.59)
I see here the idea of cultivating a mentoring/discipling relationship with my children, of fostering a learning community within our family rather than a checklist-driven us-and-them mentality.  How to go about doing this is a little bit tricky because much of it relies on consistently checking my own attitude and setting aside my own convenience.   It means watching how I react to them in our learning times or in times of correction and being willing to take advantage of teachable moments.  It means repenting when I fail and asking my children to forgive me.   I hope (I pray!) that this kind of attitude shift will be a byproduct of attending to my own personal spiritual vitality.
On a more practical level, I have thought about some ways that we can restructure our learning time to better foster relationship and community.  For us right now that has meant putting Bible back into our Morning Time, as I mentioned before.  It has meant dropping French completely, at least for now, because of the tension it always caused among all of us.  It has also meant separating everyone for memory work/recitation so that each person can learn their poetry and Bible passages at their own rate rather than fostering a sense of competition or frustration due to children who memorize at different speeds. 
In addition to working to foster a greater sense of community in our home, we will also participate in the community around us through hospitality, attending a weekly co-op, and being a part of our church family.
Education is a Discipline
"By this formula we mean the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully whether habits of mind or of body." (Charlotte Mason, Volume 6, p. 99)
Ah yes, habit training.  This is one aspect of Charlotte Mason's philosophy that's always made me a little bit squirmy.  And so I have tended to be less than intentional about it.   That said, I was struck by some of Maryellen St Cyr's comments about habit training in When Children Love to Learn:
"The necessity of forming habits is an integral part of this philosophy as they aid one in functioning in relationships.  These habits are not tacked onto one's life as another feat to be mastered in a performance culture, but are used as valuable tools in the intellectual, spiritual, and physical development in relationship to oneself, God, and others…Therefore, it is the business of education and the function of the educator to train each child we have been entrusted with in the formation of habits that will allow the child to truly live." (p. 89,99)
The idea that habits 'aid one in functioning in relationships' set off all kinds of lightbulbs in my mind.  One area that we have really been lacking in is helping our children to develop habits of courtesy – things like table manners, greeting people, responding to people who greet you, how to treat visitors in our home.  While I could offer a lot of valid-sounding excuses for this, I won't.  The fact is, whatever has happened in the past, we still need to work on these things  now.  Failing to attend to them has at times disrupted the harmony of our home and relationships with others.  So as much as intentional habit training has always made me kind of squirmy, we are going to work on these things this year starting with table manners – things like sitting properly in your chair, not starting to eat until after prayer, not making rude comments about the food, eating quietly with mouths closed, not leaving the table until you have been excused…you get the idea.   I'm still working out exactly what this will look like in practice, but it is a goal for this year.  Once we have made some progress on that front, we will probably move on to dealing courteously with others (greetings and responding to greeting appropriately, etc) and habits of hospitality (treating others courteously when they visit our home).
How do you intend to enrich relationships with those around you this year?

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