Saturday, March 28, 2015

Our Timeline Books

We've gone through a variety of timeline formats in the history of our homeschool.  We started with a wall timeline chart with pictorial images, but it was unwieldy and awkward and was always falling off the wall.  So that turned out to be a fail.   Then we tried a binder timeline with pictorial images, which was better.  However, by the end of that school year, it had pretty well fizzled too – in part because the binder was clunky and so I often *forgot* (ahem) to pull it out.  The printing of images was also too dependent on me and wasn't allowing Michelle to form enough of her own connections, which is a big part of the value of keeping some kind of a timeline.  So we dropped that idea too.   Last summer, we started a Stream of History Chart as described in The Living Page, and that is still working well for us.  In the post in which I described that chart, I mentioned that I was toying with different ideas to replace the binder timeline.  Today, I wanted to share what we ended up with because I have been quite pleased with how it has worked out for us.   It was inspired by an idea shared by another lady over on the Ambleside Online forum.  This is our take on that idea.
I started with one of these Moleskine notebooks.  The pages pull out accordion fold style but close back up into a slim little book that is easy to store and easy to grab when we want to add something.   Because I now have two official students and therefore two identical timeline books floating around my house, I printed their initials in a fancy font onto sticker paper to stick onto the front covers to easily tell them apart.
Stretched out on the table

The idea is along the same lines as Miss Mason describes herself here in Volume 1, just in a little book that can be folded away rather than a large sheet of paper or wall chart. Each page is one century. I started with the present century in the front of the book and worked backwards through the centuries AD.  The flip side of the pages work back through the centuries BC.   When we come across something we want to enter, we very simply add that name or event into its correct century.  With my Year 1 student, we do this together directly after reading – I'll ask him at the end of a historical reading if there is anything he wants to add, and then I help him find the correct century and add it.   On Fridays, I ask my Year 3 student to think of 2-3 people or events that she has read about that week that she would like to add. I am starting to teach her how to look up the dates online when they aren't mentioned in the book we are reading so she can add them for herself.
This term's history (Year 3, Term 1)  has focused in heavily on the 1500's.  You can see the list of names she has collected here.
Here's a 2-page spread from James' book (Year 1, Term 1)
For the centuries BC, I only went back to 2000BC, and then added one more page titled 'dates before 2000BC'.  This left about three blank pages left at the end of the book.  James, my Year 1 student, hasn't used these pages yet.  Michelle (Year 3)  is keeping a running list of all the Kings and Queens of England that we have read about in Our Island Story on one of the pages, and chose to copy the family tree chart we made to help us understand the Wars of the Roses onto another page.  We'll see what else we come up with to do with these pages as time goes on.
My plan is to continue keeping these books through our first history rotation – which in AO goes through the first term of Year 6.  When they start back at the ancients again in the second term of Year 6, I will have them start keeping a 'real' Book of Centuries (like Jeanne describes here).  I hope to purchase a Book Of Centuries while we are in the States this coming year so I can start keeping one for myself.  I find the best way to train my children in 'keeping' habits is to 'keep' right along with them.  
Click Here for More Keeping Inspiration

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

From My Commonplace: On Overcoming Fear

I am still slowly…very slowly…plugging away at Dante's Inferno, which recounts Dante's (imagined) guided tour through Hell by his mentor, Virgil.  It's a tough read with a lot of allegorical and obscure historical references – I'm thankful that I have an annotated edition.  Nevertheless, it has been a worthwhile read.  I have been asking myself "What is the good that we we learn from Dante's journey?" and nearly every Canto has given me a little nugget of wisdom to carry away.
"Like one so close to the quartanary chill
that his nails are already pale and his flesh trembles
at the very sight of shade or a cool rill –
so did I tremble at each frightful word.
But his scolding filled me with that shame that makes
the servant brave in the presence of his lord.
I mounted the great shoulder of that freak
and tried to say 'Now help me to hold on!'
But my voice clicked in my throat and I could not speak.
But no sooner had I settled where he placed me
than he, my stay, my comfort, and my courage
in other perils gathered and embraced me."
~Dante, trans. Ciardi, Inferno, Canto XVII, Lines 79-90
Virgil has enlisted the services of Geryon, the great monster of fraud, to carry him and Dante down to the next level of Hell. (Dante pictures Hell as a series of circles spiraling ever downward.)  Dante is terrified to mount the beast, but he moves forward anyway so as not to be ashamed in front of Virgil, whom he looks up to as a mentor.   But once he does, he finds that Virgil 'gathered and embraced' him.  Really, he needn't have feared…just as we needn't fear in the face of new, unknown, or frightening circumstances because the everlasting God is the one who gathers and embraces us.
"The steps of a man are established by the Lord, and He delights in his way.  When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the Lord is the One who holds his hand."
Psalm 37:23-24 (NASB)

My Bookbag This Week:
Devotional: Lent Devotions in Living the Christian Year (Gross), The Discipline of Grace (Bridges)
Theological or Christian Living: Age of Opportunity (Tripp), Kingdom Come (Storms)
Book Discussion Group Titles: Idylls of the King (Tennyson), Watership Down (Adams)
'Great Book': Inferno (Dante)
On Education: How to Read a Book (Adler), Beauty for Truth's Sake (Caledecott)
Topic of Special Interest: The New World (Churchill)
Novel/Biography/Memoir: Nicholas Nickelby (Dickens)
Read-Alouds with the Children: On the Banks of Plum Creek (Wilder), The Horse and His Boy (Lewis), Eric Liddell: Something Greater Than Gold (Benge), The Milly Molly Mandy Story Book (Brisley)

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Handicrafts for the Not-So-Crafty: Felt Bookmarks

I think that I have mentioned before that one of the reasons why I tend to hate crafts is that I hate useless clutter around my house that is eventually destined for the trash can.    I love that Charlotte Mason's emphasis in handicrafts is on making useful items and developing useful skills.   (Did you see Brandy's recent post on planning handicrafts by these criteria?  It was great and sums up my approach to crafting pretty well too.)  Over the past month or so, we have been busy making felt bookmarks.    I was first inspired to this project by the fact that we are using a lot more printed books for school this year (just the way it worked out – we use the Kindle when we can to cut down on international shipping costs) in addition to the mountains of free reads scattered all over the house, and all of those books were being dog-eared.   It also struck me as a good project to help Michelle continue to practice her sewing skills (she's being doing simple hand sewing a for a couple of years) and introduce basic sewing skills to James (6.5) and Elizabeth (almost 5).
Once I got them started with the initial project, they took off with it.  The older two went on to make several more on their own time.  After the first couple, James was threading his own needles and tying his own knots.   I was  pleased with the end results:
I did the two on the left (patterns from here), then Michelle's (age 9), James' (6.5), and Elizabeth's (almost-5) first attempts.  Their other efforts have gotten consistently better.
Useful life skills and bookmarks that went to immediate use.   Handicrafts just the way I like them.
Click Here for More Handicraft Inspiration

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

From My Commonplace: The One 'In Whom All Things Hold Together'

So, after finishing CS Lewis' The Abolition of Man the other week, I picked up Stratford Caldecott's Beauty for Truth's Sake as my new read in the "education" category.   So many of the thoughts and conclusions I drew from Abolition repeated themselves in the introduction to Caldecott's book….isn't it interesting how that happens sometimes?  You start thinking about an idea and all of a sudden you start seeing that idea, or ideas that relate to that idea all over the place.  I think Charlotte Mason called it 'the science of relations'. J  But I digress. 
Here are a few of the particularly relevant bits from the introduction to Beauty for Truth's Sake that dovetailed nicely with what I've already been thinking about lately:
"Faith and reason often appear to be opposed, and we have lost any clear sense of who we are and where we are going…we are becoming less than human ourselves.  We are reduced to being consumers and producers, producing merely in order to consume.  We have more and more stuff, but the world seems thinner and less substantial and our souls also.  We have gained much, but we have lost our way in the shadows."
"Even more important than flexibility is a virtuous character and set of guiding principles that will enable us to keep track of goodness amid the moral and social chaos that surrounds us."
"Beauty comes from meaningful inner order…It has a deeper foundation: the mind of the Creator…The Logos himself is the great artist, in whom all works of art – the beauty of the universe – have their origin.  To sing with the universe means, then, to follow the track of the Logos and come close to him…A merely subjective 'creativity' is no match for the vast compass of the cosmos and for the message of beauty.  When a man conforms to the measure of the universe, his freedom is not diminished but expanded to a new horizon."  (quoting Pope Benedict XVI)
"We do not need to be content with our fragmented worldview, our fractured mentality.  It is not too late to seek the One who is 'before all things' and 'in whom all things hold together.' (Col. 1:17)"
~Stratford Caldecott, Beauty for Truth's Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education
In his essays written in 1944, CS Lewis reminded us of the importance of remaining in what he called "The Tao" – the set of fixed, objective Truths in the universe, and warned of the slavery and destruction that would come if we failed to do so.  Caldecott, writing 65 years later, is seeing the fruit of this move away from Truth. He reminds us that it's not too late, and he points us back to the Source of that Truth – God Himself, "in whom all things hold together."
Interestingly enough,  I saw this idea again in Paul David Tripp's book, Age of Opportunity.  This is a Christian parenting book that has nothing at all to do with homeschooling, Charlotte Mason, or classical education. The first couple of chapters, however, discuss God's design for the family to be a child's "primary learning community."  God's call to parents, according to Tripp, is to take advantage of every possible opportunity to help our children see the glory and goodness of God in all things:
"Root his identity in the soil if the glory and goodness of God…if you act as if God doesn't exist everything loses its meaning…All of life blows into a chaotic mass of meaningless choices unless it is rooted in the one fact that makes every other fact make sense – GOD."
~Paul David Tripp, Age of Opportunity
That is our goal, isn't it?  The only way our children will be able to make sense out of life is if they learn to see God as the center and source of everything, and learn trust in Him and follow Him with their whole hearts.
Charlotte Mason in particular and the ideas of the Christian classical liberal arts tradition more generally have given us some excellent tools to help us be able to do this.  They aren't the only tools we have, but any means, but they are a good ones. 
For that, I am very grateful.

My Bookbag This Week:
Devotional: Revelation, with a commentary The Final Word (Wilmshurst)
Theological or Christian Living: Age of Opportunity (Tripp)
Book Discussion Group Titles: Idylls of the King (Tennyson), Watership Down (Adams)
'Great Book': Dante's Inferno
On Education: How to Read a Book (Adler), Beauty for Truth's Sake (Caldecott)
Topic of Special Interest: The New World (Churchill)
Novel/Biography/Memoir: Nicholas Nickelby (Dickens)
Read-Alouds with the Children: On the Banks of Plum Creek (Wilder), The Silver Chair (Lewis), Eric Liddell: Something Greater Than Gold (Benge), The Milly Molly Mandy Story Book (Brisley)

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Monday, March 9, 2015

Irrigating Deserts: Why I am a Classical Educator

I recently finished reading CS Lewis' series of essays on education, The Abolition of Man.  I actually read this book years ago as an elementary education major at a Christian university, but to be completely honest it didn't really make an impact on me then - I didn't really have a context by which to really understand it at that time, I don't think.  This time around, informed by much of the study I have done over the past several years of Charlotte Mason's principles and the Christian classical liberal arts tradition, the impact these essays made on me was huge.  All of a sudden a lot of pieces fit together in my mind – it became clear to me why it is I do what I am doing and why it is vitally important to stay the course even with the culture around me tries to pull me away.
This post is going to be an attempt to summarize some of my thinking along these lines.  I considered writing a full series exploring the connections I discovered, but to be honest, I don't really have enough time to pull my pages and pages of quotes and notes together into some coherent whole.  After my summary, I will leave you with a list of some of the other reading that I have done over the past several years that informed my understanding of Lewis' words so that you can dig for yourself and see what you find.  J
In the three essays that comprise The Abolition of Man ("Men without Chests", "The Tao", "The Abolition of Man"), Lewis describes some of the troubling trends he noted in the field of education in his time.  Although originally written in 1944, much of what he observed then still rings true.   Ultimately, he is warning against subjectivism and the trend away from acknowledging and rooting our educational practice in objective, absolute Truth (what he refers to in his essays as "the Tao").  When we fail to recognize and order our lives by these moral absolutes, we are no longer freeborn men.  Lewis says, "It is not that they are bad men.  They are not men at all."  They become slaves – slaves to impulses, instincts, to the few 'Conditioners' who decide what 'truth' is if it is no longer fixed and absolute.    "The practical result of education in [this] spirit," Lewis tells us, "must be the destruction of the society that accepts it."  The antidote, he says, is to remain in the "Tao": "In the Tao itself, as long as we remain within it, we find the concrete reality in which to participate is to be truly human: the real common will and common reason of humanity, alive, and growing like a tree, and branching out, as the situation varies, into ever new beauties and dignities of application."
One way we can 'remain in the Tao', as Lewis puts it, is by following the principles of the Christian classical tradition – of which Charlotte Mason's ideas are one excellent expression.  These principles are firmly rooted in the Truth, Beauty, and Goodness that find their source in God Himself.   The goal is to order the souls of our children and students according to what is True and Good and Beautiful and thereby cultivate wisdom and virtue by the help of the Holy Spirit.   The result of this kind of education – or perhaps formation is a better word since we are dealing with whole persons and not just minds – is free men and free women, not slaves subject to the ebb and flow of the dominant culture around them.  Lewis' essays helped me to clarify why it is so important to 'instruct the conscience' and to help my students understand 'the way of the will' and 'the way of reason' (terms used by Charlotte Mason in her writings).  This is why I am a classical educator and why I follow the principles that Charlotte Mason has laid out in her writings.   It is because, as Lewis put it, "the task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts."

Reading that has informed my thoughts on The Abolition of Man:
-         Charlotte Mason's writings, especially Volume 4, Ourselves and Volume 6, Towards a Philosophy of Education
-         Brandy Vencel's 20 Principles Study – I did this with a group on the AO Forum a couple years ago, but the same study has now been published as Start Here
-         Consider This by Karen Glass, especially the chapter titled "Finding the Forest amid the Trees" on synthetic vs. analytic learning
-         Various resources from the Circe Institute
-         The Liberal Arts Tradition by Kevin Clark and Ravi Jain, especially the chapters on "Piety" and "Gymnastic and Music"

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

From My Commonplace: Chief, Saviour, Friend, King

Today I will share one last quote from Charlotte Mason's Ourselves.  This from the final chapter:
"One thing we must hold fast – a clear conception of what is meant by Christianity.  It is not 'being good' or serving our fellows: many who do not own the sovereignty of Christ are better than we who do.  But the Christian is aware of Jesus as an ever-present Saviour, at hand in all dangers and necessities; of Christ as the King whose he is and whom he serves, who rules his destinies and apportions his duties.  It is a great thing to be owned, and Jesus Christ owns us.  He is our Chief, whom we delight to honor and serve; and He is our Saviour, who delivers us, our Friend who cherishes us, our King who blesses us with His dominion.  Christianity would only appear to be possible when there is a full recognition of the divinity of Christ.   Let us cry with St. Augustine: 'Take my heart! For I cannot give it Thee: Keep it! For I cannot keep it for Thee.'"
~Charlotte Mason, Ourselves
Oh, how I wish I had realized this truth earlier in my life.  I grew up with the impression that being a Christian meant asking Jesus into your heart and being good girl, and it is only just in the past five years or so that I have realized that there is far more to it than that.  I am learning to be dazzled by His beauty and His love and His grace and mercy towards such a one as me, and delight to honor and serve Him rather than do so out of a sense of obligation or because it was what I thought was expected of me.  It is my fervent prayer that my children will come to realize this truth while they are still young. 
I can't wait to read and discuss this book with them when they are teenagers.

My Bookbag This Week:
Devotional: Revelation, with a commentary The Final Word (Wilmshurst)
Theological or Christian Living: Age of Opportunity (Tripp)
Book Discussion Group Titles: Idylls of the King (Tennyson), Watership Down (Adams)
Great Book: Inferno (Dante)
On Education: How to Read a Book (Adler), Beauty for Truth's Sake (Caldecott)
Topics of Special Interest: The New World (Churchill)
Novel/Biography/Memoir: Nicholas Nickelby (Dickens)
Read-Alouds with the Children: On the Banks of Plum Creek (Wilder), The Silver Chair (Lewis), Eric Liddell: Something Greater Than Gold (Benge), The Milly Molly Mandy Story Book (Brisley)


Click Here for more Words

Monday, March 2, 2015

What Nature Study Can Do That Science Can't

So what's the big deal about nature study anyway?  This is one of those questions that is frequently asked by newcomers to Charlotte Mason's ideas.   I asked it myself in the beginning.   I think it's hard for many of us to wrap our minds around because it isn't the mindset with which we were raised, or the mindset of our modern educational culture which emphasizes the hard sciences, facts, and experiments at younger and younger ages.    There's nothing wrong with those things in their correct place, of course.   But given that that is what we are used to, it's hard to imagine how nature study can possibly be 'enough' science for younger students, and why older students should continue it alongside their more formal science studies.
In her fourth volume, Ourselves, Charlotte includes Nature in her list of "instructors of conscience" and in that context offers us a variety of ways that nature study can be valuable to us not only as an academic exercise, but as a tool for personal and spiritual growth as well:
"But Nature does more than this for us. She gives us certain dispositions of mind which we can get from no other source, and it is through these right dispositions that we get life into focus, as it were; learn to distinguish between small matters and great, to see that we ourselves are not of very great importance, that the world is wide, that things are sweet, that people are sweet, too; that, indeed, we are compassed about by an atmosphere of sweetness, airs of heaven coming from our God. Of all this we become aware in "the silence and the calm of mute, insensate things." Our hearts are inclined to love and worship; and we become prepared by the quiet schooling of Nature to walk softly and do our duty towards man and towards God." (p.98)
She goes on in the chapter to name four ways that this plays out:
In nature, we learn to see beauty and order in God's world and to understand our place in it.
For many years, we lived in the Aiyura Valley in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea.  On a clear sunny day, the green hills and blue sky all around me were breathtakingly beautiful – so beautiful they almost didn't look real.  Moments like that truly do make one realize the majesty and splendor of our Creator God.
View from the front porch of our home in Papua New Guinea

In nature, we are able to see the big picture, rather than only the little parts that scientific facts show us, and our hearts are inclined to gratitude.
I will quote 9-year-old Michelle on this one – an entry from her "Garden Journal" on January 9:
"The tomato plants have grown bigger since the last time we did this.  They measure 8 inches or 20 cm tall!  Notice that near the ground the stems are purplish.  I still hope we get good tomatoes from these plants. God is great.  He made all things!  Even tomato plants!"
Nature study is true scientific training.
Nature study involves patient and careful observation.  It involves making connections with other knowledge, and carefully recording what we find.  These skills are valuable for later science study and for life, and cannot be learned by memorizing facts from a science textbook.
Nature study gives us a sense of personal discovery.
In her comments on this topic, Charlotte mentions that there is probably nothing that a child will discover through nature study that hasn't already been written about somewhere.  It's not like we are making new discoveries.  We have been attempting to grow tomatoes over the past few months in an effort to learn about plants – what they need, how they grow.  We certainly could have covered this topic more efficiently by reading about plant growth, drawing some diagrams, maybe sprouting a bean seed.  But that can't possibly replace that morning when we first went out and found our first blossom…or the morning a week or two later when the first tiny green tomato appeared.  Those are our tomatoes.   We scraped the seeds from a market tomato and have observed for ourselves each stage of growth.  The needs and life cycle of a plant are our own personal discovery.
I encourage you to go read the whole chapter – I found it marvelously inspiring.  You can find it here on the Ambleside Online website.
What gifts has nature study given to your family?