Friday, February 28, 2014

Shakespeare enchantment

It's amazing what students will listen to when they are enchanted by something. ~Jenny Rallens, Society for Classical Learning

Now,  fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
Draws on apace. Four happy days bring in
Another moon, but O, methinks how slow
This old moon wanes! She lingers my desires
Like a stepdame or a dowager
Long withering out a young man's revenue.

The title of this post Shakespeare Enchantment is somewhat tongue-in-cheek because I know what a struggle Shakespeare has been for me to do well as part of our lessons. Yes, we have the children's versions, both Lamb and Nesbit, but for me they really were a far cry from cracking open a real Shakespeare play and plunging in to the Elizabethan prose.  But this beautiful three volume set was a Christmas gift from my in-laws, coming straight off the shelves of my father-in-law's expansive library at my request for a Shakespeare collection.

We read the list of characters for A Midsummer Night's Dream and dove in with those opening lines by Theseus, the Duke of Athens preparing for his marriage to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. I tried not to stop and comment or question very often, but occasionally I would check to see if any of this 'foreign' language was sinking in. A few well timed smiles or smirks would let me know he understood the humor or irony in certain areas. With slightly less confusion than when we started, we finished our first day's reading and picked up again the next day.  By day two, we were starting to find our rhythm in the play and Seth's favorite characters were the Athenian workmen trying to secretly meet and organize themselves to perform a rendition of the Greek tragedy, Pyramus and Thisbe at the upcoming wedding. And then it happened.
On day four, after reading for a while, I went to close the book and move on to our other literature readings, Robinson Crusoe and Winter Holiday and Seth protested and asked if we could keep reading.

Quite sure I was in some dream, I obliged and we read on until we had to stop our lessons for the day. It was amazing, not because we were getting every phrase and nuance, hardly I'm afraid. But because I knew then that he was enchanted because the language and the ideas were a rich feast for his mind and he was hungry for more.  Not every moment will be necessarily like that, but as we finish the last part of the play today, I am so thankful for how far we've come and how God hears my cries for wisdom and help in this enormous responsibility.

* Resource Notes:
I think it was Cindy who recommended Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare which I first borrowed from our library then found my own used copy from ebay.  I used it to read up on A Midsummer Night's Dream a few months ago and was so intrigued that I easily read the whole chapter one night before bed.
We also took a few minutes to read from Bulfinch's Mythology about Pyramus and Thisbe so we could be familiar with the play to be performed by the Athenian workmen. This was another book that I stalled in earlier this year, but we have now found it to be helpful and necessary so we are reading through two to three selections each week and seeing some progress.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

the virtuous particulars

"Just to give you a general idea," he would explain to them. For of course some sort of general idea they must have, if they were to do their work intelligently, though as little of one, if they were to be good and happy members of society as possible. For particulars, as every one knows, make virtue and happiness; generalities are intellectually necessary evils. Not philosophers, but fretsawyers and stamp collectors compose the backbone of society. ~Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

Saturday, February 15, 2014

conversing through stories

My previous posting was a journaling of some conversations that we had in our home this week with our oldest son who became a communicant member of our Reformed Presbyterian church back in the summer of 2012. Thinking about the conversations we had have this week leaves me so thankful that I am here with him each day as we have so many different opportunities to discuss every aspect of life.
This is why we homeschool our children.
We are convinced that God has given us as parents the responsibility to train our own children in His ways. We are convicted that having our children home with us each day, requires that we actually do the things we have been commanded to do and to do them as thoroughly as we are able. We are not taking it one year at a time, we are committed to this work for the duration, which means a lot more conversations to be had with our children, God willing.

So I wanted to write further about conversing with our children as I have been learning some humbling lessons that I need to remember every wakeful moment with my children.

In Chapter 1, Self-Education of Charlotte Mason's A Philosophy of Education, she writes about two potent means of creating incuria (mental lethargy)  I will only discuss the first means in what she calls the talky-talky of the teacher.
"We all know how we are bored by the person in private life who explains and expounds. What reason have we to suppose that children are not equally bored?" ~p. 52

It was Cindy Rollins who first alerted me to this problem that we as eager and concerned homeschooling parents create for ourselves. The problem of the pontificating parent.
The problem goes like this.
We see a great lesson in the passage we just read together in the Bible (or other literature) and we begin to expound on it, writing our own unpublished commentary as we go. We return back to earth with a thud, only to see our carnal children looking exactly like they have been spaced out in a different corner of the universe. We sigh and ask them if they were listening. They either shrug, act sheepish or piously affirm our sermonette or some version of all three. The dust gathers on the books still waiting their turn for our lavish attention.  We have just created some incuria, although we despair and think our children are being incorrigible.

What children want, says Charlotte Mason is knowledge conveyed in literary form and the talk of the facile teacher leaves them cold. 

Is it not true that the reason many of us have been drawn to Charlotte Mason is because of all the wonderful books we get to read to our children?  Then let's get on with the business of reading these great books and let the stories speak to our children and not our constant chatter. I speak to myself first.

If you will bear with me, here is a bit of analogy which I hope you will be kind to.

Consider your newborn child's mind like a new sponge, just freshly removed from the packaging it came in. It is slightly moist already, not dry, for of course, the child is born a person.The prenatal baby who has been hearing sounds and voices for the last few months, now recognizes them as important parts of this new world they have been born into. The days go by, the infant babbles and chatters and soon it is speaking it's mother-tongue. The sponge is now quite damp. Amazing.
The books on the shelves begin to show wonderful wear and endearing tear. There are favorites and new additions, bought and borrowed. The sponge is beginning to be soaked. Then the reading lessons start in earnest and now the books are flying off the shelf. The stories get longer and tell of histories and legends and poems. The sponge is now quite heavy. As the years advance, the sponge is seeping, a little pressure and it leaks some major drips. The child's mind, full of literary absorption is beginning to drip great drops of connections and ideas. The slightest touch yields full paragraphs of wonder and excitement.  Yes, the mind can no longer contain all that it is seeing and knowing. Your dear child is bursting with insight.

The stories and books have done their work, parents. Do not let the sponge shrink with your arid talky-talky; even the best intentions can so easily dry out the sponge.  If Charlotte Mason is correct in her solution, let the books bring the knowledge. Let the narrations and grand conversations reveal what the child's mind is absorbing. Let the Word bring the times of refreshing.  Let the Spirit do His work. Again, I speak to myself.

Here are two resources (in the same link)from Cindy on this topic that I consider required reading and listening for anyone, homeschooling or not.
What Are We Doing to our Boys?
Scroll past the photo and listen to Cindy's talk which is embedded after a brief bio. She covers so much, but it all goes back to the same idea, use Morning Time to connect great literature to your children, but don't get in the way of the connection with moralizing and preaching.
Continue to scroll down and read the ensuing interview she gives alongside another educator.  And if you enjoy it, please share it with those within your circle of influence.

I talk to moms quite a bit about not moralizing, spiritualizing, or nagging. I think this is tied to what James is saying about masculinity being externally-based, while femininity is internally-based. I naturally learned over the years that I could preach away if it made me feel better – only no one was listening. Worse than that, it deadens the conscience. ~Cindy Rollins


Q. 36.  What benefits in this life go with or come from justification, adoption, and sanctification?

A. The benefits that in this life go with or come from justification, adoption, and sanctification are: the assurance of God's love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Spirit, and growing and persevering in grace to the end of our lives. ~Training Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Shorter Catechism, Starr Meade

"I don't know if God loves me."
 His words came out in a quiet, ashamed sort of way as we finished our daily reading for the catechism question.
Caught off guard, I gave an incredulous look to the air in front of me and said in an exasperated sort of way, "Of course, you do. You know that the Bible tells you that God loves you."  It was not my best moment at all. I kept going, sputtering and trying, very aware that my words were not helping and our voices were sounding frustrated with each other. Now in a full blown panic inside my head, I am frantically and silently praying for help and rummaging around in my cranium for something helpful to say.
Still at a loss, I finally blurted out, "God loves those who belong to Him. And it is those who believe who belong to Him."  Quite sure, he could take confidence because he has professed to believe, I waited to see what he would say next.
"Sometimes I don't know if I will go to heaven."
Clearly my prayers are being heard as I begin to find my place in this conversation, "If you believe that Jesus was punished for your sins, then you will go to heaven."
With a bit of wonder in his voice, he said brightly, "Oh, I believe that."
Unsure if he understood what the difference was, I went on. "The ones who believe that they are sinners and deserve to be punished by God, but instead believe that Jesus was punished in their place, they are the ones who go to heaven. The ones who do not believe that they are sinners and did not need Jesus to be punished for them, they are they ones who go to hell."
Clearly relieved, he exhaled and said, "I get it now. People who believe that Jesus died for their sins go to heaven and if you don't believe you need Jesus, you go to hell."
He gives a little smile and says, "Now I'm fifty percent sure I'm going to heaven!"
I slump in my spot next to him on the couch.
"Fifty percent?"
"You mean you only half believe you're going to heaven?" I ask completely discouraged.
"Uh, no, I'm 100 % sure!"
Sagging with relief that it appears to be just a mathematical mistake, I smile and tell him how glad I am that he understands and knows.
Our conversation goes on, the books in our laps forgotten as he wants to talk about what he will do when he grows up. It's a wonderful conversation about his interests and economics and God's kingdom and his future wife.
We come to a natural close and return to our Morning Time routine having settled something very important for him. Just how important was to be revealed later that evening.

More than half way through our dinner that evening, I had stepped away from the table and was out of sight in the kitchen when I heard his voice say nonchalantly to Shane, "I know for certain I'm going to heaven now."
Shane, surprised by the conversation starter, quickly looks right at his face, while I quietly hurry back into the dining area but still out of sight of Seth. I smile knowingly at Shane as he looks up at me with a questioning face.  I nod my head and wait for Seth to speak again.
"Yes, Mommy and I talked today and I know I'm going to heaven because I believe that Jesus died for me."
Shane responds with an encouraging smile and says 'That's great to hear, Seth."
And then looking for further context to this abrupt announcement, he asks him, "Is this something you have been struggling with for a little while?"
Completely open now, he answers easily, "Oh yes, for the last one or two years."
Shane trying not to looked shocked, but failing completely, says, "Oh, that long."
Still just listening from my post by the kitchen doorway, I wonder what will come next.
Seth keeps going, "Yes, I didn't know, but now I do."
It is a wonderful moment and I am rejoicing quietly in my heart as I see Shane's face reflecting my own thoughts.

It would continue to be a thoughtful evening for Seth.

Coming into his room, I found him on his top bunk, in his pajamas reclining on one elbow with his opened Pokemon album in front of him. Slightly irritated that he is not reading one of the two assigned books still unfinished for this week, I ask him why he is not reading.
With a truly thoughtful, subdued voice, he informs me that he is thinking.
He is thinking of what he would tell someone if they didn't believe in Jesus.
Completely chagrined and feeling about the size of a worm, I ask what he would say to them.
Rattling off a whole exchange complete with rebuttals and evidences of Jesus' deity and the historicity of Adam and Eve, I am amazed at his level of intensity.
Wishing to challenge him with other answers that he might be given by these hypothetical unbelievers, I remind him of the conversation Mr. Pipes has with a German university student in the book we had read together earlier this school year. I ask him if he remembers what question Mr. Pipes asked the student. He can't remember right now although at the time of our reading, Seth had been so intrigued by Mr. Pipes' discussion with the student that he had started to write down the questions on a small piece of paper to keep in his wallet he said, in case he found someone who didn't believe in Jesus. That was another wonderful moment, but obviously forgotten right now.
"He asked the German student what he thought about Jesus, " I tell him.
And the student told him he thought Jesus was a good man, a good teacher.
"So Mr. Pipes asks him a question that C.S. Lewis wrote about in his books, "If Jesus was a good man, a good teacher, why did he claim to be God?"  Mr. Pipes wanted the student to consider what this good Jesus was claiming about himself.  I walked Seth through the discussion a bit, but I could see he wasn't following all that well. I finished quickly, encouraged him to keep thinking and asked if he was ready for me to pray with him.
We prayed and I said goodnight and I turned out the light for him.  He sounded quiet when he said goodnight and I prayed for him as I left his room.

Later that night in bed, Shane asked me what had prompted Seth's conversation and beginning with the week's catechism question, I briefly recounted parts of our previous discussion. With hearts full of wonder and gratefulness, we fell asleep in the warm darkness.

*I know that this is not the most grammatically correct writing. Please overlook my mixing of tenses and other potential punctuation problems. I don't think I can rewrite it any better right now, but I felt it was important for me to write this down before I forgot our conversations from this week.  I write to remember, not to be remembered as a writer, if that makes sense.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

little girl play

Isn't she just wonderful?  We love her and she knows it.

Pretend make-up from here.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

February moments

She usually puts this crown on upside down and falling over her eyes, it lasted like this for only a second more and then it was cast aside for another activity.

Her days are spent mostly with either a pencil and paper in her hand or one of the many stuffed characters that hang around the beds and shelves in this house.  And always a story being told with whatever she is doing.

We have spent time watching the Olympics since the opening ceremonies and Seth has been very excited over every Canadian win. Loud cheering has been known to erupt and Kate enjoys all the uproar even if she doesn't quite get the reason.

Kate was told to go change her shirt when she spilled some breakfast on it. A few minutes later, she came downstairs wearing this pajama outfit cobbled together from Seth's drawers. We had a good laugh and she did look quite cute, but I did make her change into her own clothes just to keep her in line. 

The squirrels are dominating the new bird feeder and Seth was concerned that this little frisky red squirrel was not able to reach the lower part of the bird feeder so he left a trail of seeds for him to find.