Sunday, June 23, 2019

Meeting Charlotte Mason 2019

In late April, our local homeschooling association hosted their annual homeschooling conference and Cori Dean from Maple Tree Publishing had her beautiful vendor table arranged with many Charlotte Mason(CM) homeschooling and parenting resources. Many parents visited her table asking questions and looking for resources. After speaking with Cori Dean at the conference and the girls in our own CM study group, we decided to host another Meeting Charlotte Mason event to help explain the educational ideas to those from our own area. (We first held an event in October of 2017 which I posted about here.)
With some quick planning, we created a registration page and spread the word. Our speaking topics were designed to reach parents and teachers with young children who may be feeling the pressure to start using curriculum and workbooks right away. Our goal was to convey Miss Mason's ideas of childhood and education in a way that provided information and encouragement to these parents and teachers.
We enjoyed a wonderful evening meeting new people and reconnecting with known friends. I posted the two talks I gave Why Charlotte Mason? and Books and Stories for anyone interested. We did not get a group photo, but all of us working together set up and cleaned up in an amazingly short amount of time. I love these girls and I'm so thankful for all of them.
Below are some of the display tables we set up along with food and drink and a used book sale table. We also had a table of books just for parents and moms including books written by Charlotte Mason and about her, but I didn't get to take a photo of that display.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Meeting Charlotte Mason Part 2: Books and Stories

Earlier in June, the Charlotte Mason Study Group I am part of hosted an evening to introduce and discuss the education and parenting ideas of Charlotte Mason to interested parents and teachers. This is the second talk I gave on book selection and usage. You can read Part 1: Why Charlotte Mason? here.

Books and Stories

The Reading Mother
By Strickland Gillilan

I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea,
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth,
"Blackbirds" stowed in the hold beneath.
I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.
I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness blent with his final breath.
I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings--
Stories that stir with an upward touch,
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!
You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be--
I had a Mother who read to me.

I have two thoughts for you to consider as you turn your attention to the books and stories you will be looking for your children to feast on. Then we will discuss practical ways to build a home library for your family.

The first is Do read good books, but not in great doses.

Young children need good stories, but they also need much time to play outdoors and watch things for as long and as often as you can give them. And for that outside time, Charlotte Mason recommends “no story-books, no telling of tales, as little talk as possible, and that to some purpose” which she elaborates on in great detail in her volume Home Education in the section called Out-of-door Life for Children. (Home Ed. p.45)
“We older people, partly because of our defective education, get most of our knowledge through the medium of words. We set the child to learn in the same way, and find him dull and slow. ...But set him face to face with a thing, and he is twenty times as quick as you are in knowing all about it; knowledge of things flies to the mind of a child as steel filings to a magnet. And...with his knowledge of things, his vocabulary grows; for it is a law of the mind that what we know, we struggle to express. This fact accounts for many of the apparently aimless questions of children; they are in quest, not of knowledge, but of words to express the knowledge they have.” (Home Ed. p.67)
So look for good books and enjoy them together remembering that their imagination will take these stories a long way and become part of them.

The second is Do not moralize stories, but allow the child’s mind to see their own connections.
Author and Catholic Professor Anthony Esolen writes that the ‘book is a friend with an arm round the shoulder’ leaning in slightly, talking and pointing as you walk along.
Mason referred to a mother’s habit of engaging in talky-talk and spoiling the child’s opportunity to consider for themselves the author’s mind.
Imagine you are on a walk-about meeting people and in your ear is the voice of your assistant murmuring the names and information of the people you are speaking with. It’s distracting, it creates an artificial experience and it interferes with the work of the meeting of minds.
We want our children to do the thinking. We do not want to dull the sharpness of their youthful ideas and understanding with too much of our own ideas. Of course we may speak with them and share our appreciation for the ideas given to us, but our oral lessons and lectures should only be as Mason says ‘to help order their knowledge, to introduce, to illustrate, to amplify, to sum up.’
Speaking from experience, that is difficult advice to follow. Everything in me wants to explain and enumerate the material to my own satisfaction. Resist this urge and respect your child’s ability to think and relate to the ideas in their own way. Mason again, “oral lessons should be few and far between, and that the child who has to walk through life and has to find his intellectual life in books or go without, shall not be first taught to go upon crutches” (School Ed. p.229-230)
“For of the evils of modern education few are worse than this --that the perpetual cackle of his elders (and I would add peers) leaves the poor child not a moment of time, nor an inch of space wherein to wonder -- and grow.” (Home Ed. p.44)
As a side note, I want to mention books that contain facts and information.John Burroughs, an American naturalist and writer said this:“The child who’s only taught a lot of bare facts comes away from school without any love of books or knowledge. You see, unless we are quiet and simple, whether we teach or write, ideas are lost sight of, and you have only the rattle of words.”
Charlotte Mason makes a distinction between Knowledge and Information which goes like this:
“Information is the record of facts, experiences, appearances, etc. whether in books or in the verbal memory of the individual; knowledge it seems to me, implies the result of the voluntary and delightful action of the mind upon the material presented to it.”
Lesson books need to contain ideas for the mind to grapple with. Information fed in what Mason calls pre-digested morsels are not what she envisions students feasting on. So take care especially in the non-fiction areas that you look for well written materials and do not rely on reference books that overwhelm the reader with facts.
“Because knowledge is power, the child who has got knowledge will certainly show power in dealing with it. He/she will recast, condense, illustrate, or narrate with vividness and with freedom in the arrangement of his words.” (School Ed. p. 225)
So in summary, we want to be reading good books in small amounts without adding our own morals at every turn, but instead allowing the child’s mind to inquire of himself what he can do with the story given to him.
With all that in mind, let’s look at what makes a good book for a child to be free in relating to:
Here are a few things to consider from my experience:
1)Well written sentences and good use of vocabulary
2)Avoid formulaic plots and series
3)Provides ideas of family and virtue, neighborliness, care for the earth and creatures, evidence of humility and maturity in characters

And here are some of Charlotte Mason’s suggestions for Cultivating the Habit of Imagining:
Alice in Wonderland vs. The Swiss Family Robinson ('absurd vs realising of the unknown' (“They must have ‘funny books’, but do not give the children too much nonsense reading.”) (Home Ed. p.152)
Tales of imagination, scenes laid in other lands and other times, heroic adventures, hairbreadth escapes, delicious fairy tales in which they are never roughly pulled up by the impossible -- even where all is impossible, and they know it, and yet believe it.
If you’re prone to reading ingredient lists on your grocery purchases, consider the same scrutiny for the books that enter your home. Just as you would no more steer your grocery cart to the candy aisle with your menu plans, so too be more intentional about the quality of the books your children encounter.
Charlotte Mason gives us a task that may seem unnecessarily difficult: Not just any book is to be presented to children for their studies or enjoyment. And until your children can be trained to be content with a “no” to their book choices, it is best to remove them from the selection process. And by that I mean, they may not be able to go with you to the library or the local bookstore. I’m sure that sounds a bit crazy, but once you start looking at good quality literature and books, you will find many offerings in these spaces for children do not measure up.
I do not mean to turn you into a book snob, but remember the candy analogy I just mentioned? There are books that at their best are sugary trifles and at their worst, corrupting and rude bites.

Now onto the fun stuff, practical suggestions of how to find good books.
- use books about books
- use booklists
- go to used book sales and library discard sales
- look for other books by known authors and illustrators
- look for award winners (Newberry/Caldecott) and publisher’s imprints like ‘Reading Rainbow’ and ‘Picture Puffins’
- look at ‘customers also bought’ on Amazon
- use a social book reading site like LibraryThing or GoodReads to find booklists, just use discernment (recent list included Diary of a Wimpy Kid)
- join a Facebook group and follow Instagram hashtags

Meeting Charlotte Mason Part 1: Why Charlotte Mason?

Earlier in June, the Charlotte Mason Study Group I am part of hosted an evening to introduce and discuss the education and parenting ideas of Charlotte Mason to interested parents and teachers. Before we addressed the main topics of the evening, I gave a brief five-minute talk on Why you would consider a Charlotte Mason style of education for your children or students. This talk is shared below.

Why Charlotte Mason?

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I'm standing in front of you this evening not as a professional speaker nor as someone who has studied the methods and ideas of Charlotte Mason her whole life. But simply as a mom who desires that her children grow to live a life that enriches themselves and those around them. That the fruit of their thought life and the interests they cultivate will nourish their souls and further the Kingdom of Christ.
The only reason I’m up here and you are sitting there is because I’m old. And because I’m old, I have had time to make more mistakes and waste more time than you. My hope is that you will take the handful of ideas presented tonight and you will run farther with them than I have.
In order for you to do that, I want to briefly discuss three reasons why you would consider a Charlotte Mason method of education and then three reassurances no matter what you do after tonight.
The first reason is because you understand that your child is a person and therefore we have limits to what we may do for their education. We may not manipulate their emotions, desires or passions. We may however use a child’s natural environment, instruct them in good habits for life and provide opportunities to interact with the nourishing food of ideas.

Second, because you understand how a child must work for their knowledge. They must provide the habit of attention to the readings, they must provide the retelling or narration and thereby they are able to give themselves the reward, the connections formed between the ideas, people and places they meet in their lessons.
And who would want to steal from someone that glorious lightbulb moment, the moment where their memory and their mind work together to produce an everlasting idea that grows into a lifetime of thoughtful living?

And third, because you understand what kind of nourishment must be given to such a mind that is capable of doing all of this and the soul that grows and bears fruit. Children need to be given the choicest of morsels which we will discuss in more detail later this evening.
In summary, you understand that your child is a person who must ‘dig their own knowledge’ and who therefore must be given suitable places to go mining for ideas. It cannot be too often said that information is not education.
Therefore not just any book is to be presented to children for their studies. We must be choosy and we must see that it is good books that power the imagination, the images and the insight that form in our minds.
Now that we’ve looked at three reasons to take on this task and it is an enormous one in many ways, let me offer three reassurances that I hope will encourage you.

The first is to Worry Less.
There may be times it will look like you’re not doing enough, that you’re not doing the right stuff, and that you’re not doing it at the right time. You need to know that there will always be the temptation to look over at what your friend is doing, at what the school is doing and at what that neighbor kid is doing. And then you will worry, you will really worry. Try not to overthink this. Do what you are able and when you are able. Practice something like a calm consistency, a recognizable routine that allows for interruptions without panicking.
Give the best of yourself to your children and when something happens and it will, give yourself to extra prayer because the Mom Guilt will crush you into doing nothing except All Worry, All the Time. So be prepared to deal with the constant threat of worry overtaking this endeavor and remember the admonishment from Scripture to not worry, that you and your children are more important than Sparrows and even they are cared for by God Himself.  

The second is to Care More.
You will need to decide what matters most to you and your family: Satisfying outsiders’ requirements and concerns or satisfying the needs of your home and your children. There will always be someone who sees how it could be done differently, done better and done easier. As parents, the responsibility for our children is ours.  We love our children which is why we want to give them the world. We will gladly sacrifice for them, but it has to be our vision, our goals that keep us tethered to them. Be careful where you go for advice, whose shoulder you cry on and what voices you let stay with you. You need to care more for the sake of your children than you do for the sake of your reputation.

The third is to Look Ahead.
Your children will not always be this little, this likeable, this teachable. Consider the end goal of their education. What will your grown children care about? What will they have an appetite for? What will they want for their family? For their life?
When you embark on this journey together, you are cultivating a collection of family history and memories that will bring you into a continued relationship with your grown children, as God wills. Yet because we are only human, we do not know what their lives will bring. We cannot even know what will happen from one minute to the next.
We are called to do this work without being able to see around the corner and know for sure what the road looks like. So do look ahead, because only a fool does not plan wisely and intentionally for the future, but remember that these children have a life that has been mapped out by their Creator, who is not you. And one day, they will give an account for what they have done with their life and while our training as a parent is vital, it is not meant to weigh down our children with our expectations. Look ahead and be prepared for the day when they no longer need to obey you, but want to honor you as the Lord commands.
So I offer these three reassurances to you: Worry less, Care more and Look ahead. By God’s grace, you can do this.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Cultivating Beauty

* I wrote this article for our church's Resurrection Reads: Summer 2019 Newspaper and some of it was from an older blog post I had written back in 2012.

In Francis Schaeffer's essay, Pollution and the Death of Man, he describes lecturing at a Christian school whose neighboring property was what they termed a "hippie community". This property across the ravine included trees and farms where pagan grape stomps were enjoyed by the members of this "Bohemian" community. Francis Schaeffer's curiosity was stirred so he visited the community and met one of the leaders and enjoyed a conversation which included Schaeffer's views on the Christian answer to life and ecology. The leader complimented Schaeffer by telling him that he was the first person from "across the ravine" who had ever been shown the pagan grape stomping area, complete with a pagan image. I will let Schaeffer tell it now:

Having shown me all this, he looked across to the Christian school and said to me, "Look at that, isn't that ugly?" And it was!  I could not deny it. It was an ugly building, without even trees around it.
It was then that I realized what a poor situation this was. When I stood on Christian ground and looked at the Bohemian people's place, it was beautiful. They had even gone to the trouble of running their electricity cables under the level of the trees so that they couldn't be seen. Then I stood on pagan ground and looked at the Christian community and saw ugliness. Here you have a Christianity that is failing to take into account man's responsibility and proper relationship to nature.

Several pages later, he comes back to this thought as he writes how the Christian church can exercise dominion over nature without being destructive.

For instance, in the area of nature, we ought to be exhibiting the very opposite of the situation I described earlier, where the pagans who had their wine stomps provided a beautiful setting for the Christians to look at, while the Christians provided something ugly for the pagans to see.  That sort of situation should be reversed, or our words and our philosophy will, predictably, be ignored.
It is always true that if you treat the land properly, you have to make two choices. The first is in the area of economics. It costs more money, at least at first, to treat the land well. For instance, in the case of the school I have mentioned, all they had to do to improve the place was to plant trees, and somebody decided that instead of planting trees they would prefer to do something else with the money. Of course, the school needs the money for its important work; but there is a time when planting trees is an important work.

His account resonated with me. Christians should be providing something beautiful for the pagans to look at. When the hippie community looked across the ravine, they saw no culture worth pursuing, no nourishment for their souls, no ideas for their consideration. They saw ugliness and there was no relief from it, except to turn away. And while Schaeffer was writing especially about nature and ecology, this has implications for all of our endeavors as Christians.

Christian educator Andrew Kern defines education as the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty. I’ve added order to that for our family. We want to cultivate wisdom and virtue by nourishing our souls on truth, goodness, beauty and order so we may bring life to our family and to those around us.

We have a new home on a street in which new homes are still being completed. None of us have any landscaping yet. We are waiting for all of our lots to be graded, top-soiled and then sodded. It's part of the building package we paid for. I find this current tree-less, grass-less, plant-less situation depressing. If you've talked to me about our new house in recent weeks, I've probably mentioned it.
But the older homes behind our new development all have super green grass, small trees and shrubs, garden plants and bird feeders. We are living on their creation of beauty as we look out of our windows and notice the birds flitting from one take-away to the next. I'm tempted to pity myself most days without a garden to plant but my new neighbors have inadvertently shared their work of cultivating beauty and care for creation by giving us a lovely view.  I hope we can return the favor soon by creating order and beauty on our property.

Creating beauty is not limited of course to landscaping or education. When our daughter Kate was hospitalized as a newborn, the nurses made her crib area as cheerful as possible with a decorated homemade name tag above her crib, cute blankets and even the tape holding the tube into her nose was often cut into a heart or star shape. It was very touching to see this devoted care.

And of the many, many commutes I traveled back and forth from our home to hospital for those three winter weeks, it was seeing the Christmas lights on the trees and houses and beautiful stained glass windows lit up on the church that gave me extra hope and comfort as I drove home in the dark in the late afternoons. Those homeowners and church builders never knew how much cheer they brought me as their wonderful attempts at beauty shone out into the darkness. But I knew.
As a young girl, my mother traveled extensively throughout the United States with her family by car. She never forgot driving through an area of Appalachia in the southern US and seeing many unkempt homes lining the road and then seeing one house with a tidy and clean front yard and a few flowers bringing cheer to a difficult home life. As a young girl, she understood that even in the poorest of places, beauty can shine where there is desire for it.

As Christians, we need to cultivate a Christian understanding of the world  and we need to make it obvious, whether it shows in planting trees and flowers, making good music, writing lasting stories, building beautiful buildings or cooking wholesome food.  May it no longer be said that we as Christians have only contributed that which is sterile, but instead that we have sought to cultivate a culture of beauty through wisdom and virtue.

Forget-me-not flowers from my friend Rachel's garden