Tag Archives: charlotte mason

Alex’s Year 0 In Review- Geography

Yesterday I sat down to look at our schedule to see where exactly we are in our school year. Imagine my surprise when I discovered we actually aren’t behind (regardless of how I felt about the schedule the night before). We’re currently in week 34 of our 36 week ‘regular’ school year.

So now I’m reflecting on the work that we’ve done this year- how far we’ve come, what worked and what didn’t. Since this was a kind of ‘practice’ year of the Ambleside Online curriculum (as will be next year- Year .5), it’s so nice to be able to sit back and think everything through so I can make adjustments for next year (even though we’re schooling year-round and will beginning a summer term soon)…

Geography is exciting to me personally. I enjoy learning the topography of countries and regions and about the culture of the people who live there. I’ve been excited to introduce geography/cultures/social studies to my son (and daughter- Fae always follows along).

This year, I decided to slowly read through Jane Andrews’ ‘The Seven Little Sisters Who Live on the Round Ball That Floats in the Air’. Yeah, it’s a mouthful. Seven Sisters contains stories of little girls & their families who live in different regions of the world. The regions covered include those belonging to:

  • The Little Brown Baby- South America OR South East Asia/jungles (we chose South America)
  • Agoonak- the Arctic circle
  • Gemela- Arabian desert
  • Jeanette- Switzerland/mountains
  • Pense- China/rivers
  • Maneko- Africa/grasslands, and;
  • Louise- Germany/river valley

We would begin each section by looking at a huge map of the area. We’d discuss the physical characteristics of that area (climate, flora, fauna, natural resources which are all conveniently pictured in our atlas) and we’d compare the location to where we live on the little globe we own (I’d use words like ‘moving east’ or ‘south of where we live’). This generally took about ten minutes, but the kids enjoyed looking at the maps and talking about what animals could be found in the area. Then I’d begin reading about that Little Sister- each section begins with a short description of the Sister herself. After the first reading, I’d print out a picture from the internet of a girl in cultural dress that could be the Sister we were discussing.

This picture was placed in a manila file folder- we wrote the Sister’s name and her region next to the picture. This is the beginning of a Charlotte Mason-friendly ‘lap book’ (my apologies to those who create *real* lapbooks. *Real* lapbooks are beautiful, detailed and very directed. Ours is none of those things.)

Our first ‘lapbook’

We’d read for about 5 minutes twice a week. When we finished, I’d ask Alex what he remembered from the reading (proto-narration) and we’d jot down words around the picture. The next time we would read, we’d look at our picture of the Sister and would read/discuss the words we’d selected thus far.

I supplemented/supported geography lessons by selecting story books from the library about or from each region. I genuinely enjoyed some of these books and will have to write more about them later. We also have a world folk tale treasury- I would select a few folk tales from each region and would read those as well. This worked well as these picture books became our ‘Free Reading’ for the year. Sometimes, we’d watch a cooking or travel show that focuses on cuisine from a particular region (the cooking and travel shows on CREATE/PBS were wonderful for this purpose!)

What did I like about Seven Sisters? It’s written beautifully directly TO the child and my kids began talking about each Sister as if she were a real child they know. Used as I described above, I found this book a good ‘spine’ upon which to begin discussing world cultures with my kids.

However… I do not think I will be using this resource the next time around with Fae. In my opinion, the book stereotypes each region/culture and is, in some places, blatantly racist (for example foot-binding of little girls is discussed in the China section and in the African section, the narrator says that ‘we’ should not consider Maneko’s “wooly” hair beautiful. In fact, if Maneko knew any better, she’d want to be just like us). Yikes. It’s even worse when I write it out like that… And yet, that’s how the book reads. I found myself editing SO much and being genuinely disturbed by the way other cultures are presented by the narrator.

If I had it to do over again (and I do with Fae), I am going to use the supporting resources as the main resources. We’ll select a region, look at the map/atlas and will read lots of picture books and folk tales from that region. For Year 0, that’s plenty as far as geography is concerned.

Advertisements

5 Comments

Filed under Daily Life with Dear Charlotte, Masonian Educational Methods

Poetry Surprise

As you know, we are currently doing an informal Year 0 since Alex is in Kindergarten. One of the topics I’ve been so excited to broach with my kiddos is poetry. As suggested, we began Term I with Poems and Prayers for the Very Young by Martha Alexander. The kids seemed… tolerant… of the poems. Sometimes they expressed enjoyment, but mostly the words seemed to wash over them and- as Alex is too young to require narration- I’d just let it lie. I knew the words, the rhythm and some of the images were working their way into his mind…

Term II brought us A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. The children did not connect *at all* with the poems in this book. I’d find one that seemed really delightful and would read it several times over a few days hoping for a spark of interest- nuthin’.

Well, I deviated from the recommended Year 0 selections for Term III. But, as a dear friend reminded me when I dithered about using an ‘unapproved’ book, this is *our* education we’re giving to *our* children. It’s ok to make a substitution to include a selection that is particularly meaningful to us.

And so we began Term III Poetry using Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. I don’t know what others think of this poetry collection as far as meeting dear Charlotte’s criteria for living books. It is written by a single author who is passionate about his subjects. But his tone is markedly different from the other poetry we’ve read. It’s… saucy. It’s clever. It explores the magic of the everyday and reveals the character of children in a way I haven’t seen in any other poetry.

But my favorite- my absolute favorite- thing about the poems in WTSE is the way they promote the endless possibilities that are available to us in life.

Consider the poem my kiddos are memorizing this Term:

 The Invitation

If you’re a dreamer, come in.

If you’re a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a hoper, a prayer, a magic-bean buyer

If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire.

For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.

Come in! Come in!

Ok folks, when I read this poem to Alex and Fae, their eyes grew round as saucers and they held stock-still. My whispery, conspiratal delivery invited them into to the world Silverstein has created that delights in children and understands both their wonder of the world and their sometimes less-than-perfect behaviors. It’s been only a few weeks and we reread this poem every day. The kids enjoy it so much, that even Fae- who is TWO- almost has it memorized. She recites it to me before she falls to sleep at night.

A few days later, we read this selection:

Listen to the Mustn’ts

Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the dont’s.

Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts.

Listen to the never haves, and then listen close to me…

Anything can happen, child, anything can be.

This is poetry to inspire and to amuse. Yesterday, we read The Farmer and the Queen:

“She’s coming,” the farmer said to the owl.

“Oh, what shall I, what shall I do?

Shall I bow when she comes?

Shall I twiddle my thumbs?”

The owl asked, “Who?”

“The Queen, the Queen, the royal Queen,

She’ll pass the farm today.

Shall I salute?” he asked the horse.

The horse said, “Nay.”

“Shall I give her a gift?” he asked the wren.

“A lovely memento for her to keep?

An egg or a peach or an ear of corn?”

The wren said, “Cheap.”

“But should I curtsy or should I cheer?

Oh, here’s her carriage now.

What should I do?” he asked the dog.

The dog said, “Bow.”

And so he did, and so she passed,

Oh, tra lala lala,

“She smiled, she did!” he told the sheep.

The sheep said, “Bah.”

Alex is IN LOVE with this poem. He asked me to read it to him about eight times yesterday. He does all the animal responses (in funny voices, of course) while I read the main text.

And this is what makes me love WTSE most of all. My kids are anxious to hear the next poem. They are engaged with the images, the stories, the ideas. They are having a conversation with Silverstein himself and are sharing a view of the world. I couldn’t have asked for a better response to any poetry we will read in the future.

My kids beg for poetry. That’s pretty awesome.

5 Comments

Filed under Daily Life with Dear Charlotte, Masonian Educational Methods

HDJT?: Thinking Through Biblical Education and Charlotte Mason

Since we decided to homeschool many years ago, I’ve run into many different kinds of homeschoolers. Some of these wonderful ladies have very passionate views about their preferred methods and I’ve listened carefully as they explain their way of seeing things. Some of these moms (I don’t spend much time chatting with the dads!) are very ‘school at home’ having text and work books for just about every subject with the odd activity thrown in here and there. Others come from a very ‘unschooling’ point of view and have deep convictions about that life philosophy.

But, as we’ve just recently begun ‘formally’ homeschooling Alex, I find myself paying much closer attention to the educational opinions around me. Within the last month, I came across this article and this one both of which beg the questions ‘what does it mean to be educated?’ and ‘what kind of education best educates?’. I am absolutely the kind of person who takes information in and then lets it simmer for a while. Often times, I will suddenly come to a resolution about something I didn’t even know I was wrestling with. Perhaps this ‘eureka!’ moment is actually the small voice of a loving God who whispers in my ear telling me to go this way or that?

So all these conversations, blog posts, and articles spinning around in my mind came to a screeching halt when I asked the question: ‘HDJT?’

How Did Jesus Teach? Jesus, our Master, our Teacher, our Creator has certainly done some teaching. Surely, if the question is ‘What is the best way for humans to learn and grow?’ the answer must be found when we ask ‘how does God teach us about Himself?’

So then some verses that might be applied to education came flooding into my mind (not exhaustive, of course):

Deuteronomy 6:6-9: And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

Ephesians 6:4: And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Proverbs 22:6: Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

And we not only have the ‘command’ verses above, but the example of our Master Himself when He walked among men. Here’s an excellent blog post that discusses Jesus’ method of teaching. Jesus taught in parables. He purposefully sat in a position of authority to teach the masses and then intimately explained the truths He wanted to communicate to the disciples in a smaller setting.

Jesus’ teaching method was both didactic and exemplary.

Jesus had certain truths He wished to communicate. He was specific, purposeful, intentional. There were truths about Himself He wanted to teach and He made a point of doing so, the best examples of which are the Sermon on the Mount and His many parables. And God has always done thus- in the garden, He told Adam not to eat the forbidden fruit; He wrote out the Ten Commandments for Moses and the children of Israel; He sent prophet after prophet to specifically instruct kings in what they should and should not do. God instructs purposefully.

God also teaches by example. He sent His Son- God With Us, Emmanuel so we could know Him. He walked with the disciples for years teaching them how to respond to the world around them and how to do right before Him. He used every moment and the happenings of the day to continually reinforce to His followers how to belong to Him. God uses life to teach us about Himself.

So what do these truths mean to someone attracted to homeschooling in general and to Charlotte Mason specifically?

Some educational methods assert that the best way to educate a child is to simply get out of the way. Do absolutely nothing to purposefully influence the development of this unique human being- God has gifted children with a ‘personality DNA’ in which is written the kind of person that child should be and no one should disrupt the emergence of that person. In these methods, there shall be NO formal instruction. The child shall learn whatever s/he will because they are following that ‘personality DNA’ and will learn as God brings into their lives the things they will need to know in order to follow His calling on them. These parents read Proverbs 22:6 as “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  The focus of education here is the child’s pursuit of self-knowledge and self-expression. Parents who subscribe to these methods believe that children will live what they see- children of Christian families will soak up that atmosphere and will follow the examples set before them, eventually- Lord willing- coming to know and serve Him. This sound a lot like Charlotte’s ‘Education is an atmosphere’ and I can’t argue with this idea: Children will learn what they live.

I have concerns about this method, however. How can a fallen being follow their own personal inclinations with no purposeful instruction and be led toward God? Does flesh lead to God? What about learning self-discipline? Self-sacrifice? Respect for others? Humility that others have something vital to teach? Does this method live up to the fullness of education that God uses? HDJT?

If I am asking the question “How should I educate my children?” and scripture gives answers like: diligently, nurture, admonish, train- well, how does this kind of philosophy fit with those scripture? The specific verses above reveal that the parent has an active role in a child’s education. WE are to be diligent. WE are to nurture. WE are to admonish. WE are to train. There are things that we are to be doing concerning raising/teaching our little ones. Any educational method we adopt must fit these descriptions or we are not in line with Biblical commands to parents concerning the raising of children.

Other educational methods assert that children are blank slates- they will become what they are molded to become. So drill commences and the child is instructed not only on facts, but also on how to think about those facts. Their learning is carefully constructed to the point that the child’s mind doesn’t really interact with the provided material- the child is only expected to memorize and regurgitate the information at the appropriate time. They follow the instruction in their text books and fill out all the blanks in the workbooks and once that has been completed, they are left with no other instruction. How the information applies to life is not explored. Parents who subscribe to these methods read Proverbs 22:6 as “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

My concern about these methods is that they are focused on only the academic portion of a child’s development. Spiritual development can be woefully overlooked to the point that a child could be performing in school masterfully and yet not be learning the lessons of how to live for Jesus. Does this method imitate God’s educational method? Again, HDJT? Will we allow our text books to be ‘christian’ and our words, attitudes, entertainment be whatever pleases the flesh? Do we think we are teaching our kids about God because we have purchased a Bible curriculum from a Christian homeschooling company? Remember that in the Deuteronomy verses above, we see that it is NOT only instructional time that teaches our children. Every moment of the day- what we do when we wake, what we talk about as we go through our day, the attitudes we display and revel in- all these are our children’s teachers as well. If we are to be educating our children, if we are to train them toward the Lord, we need to be diligently guarding what they take in from their environment. We need to be sure WE are walking rightly with the Lord so they have a good example to follow, just as the disciples followed Jesus…

Will it be any surprise to you, dear reader, that I find Charlotte’s methods of education most like that of our Lord’s?

A Masonian education is both didactic and exemplary. We are specific in that we select materials for their ability to teach both facts and morality. Children are taught to trust their own thoughts because we do not prescribe what MUST be thought by them. The creativity and ideas of others are respected and are celebrated. The spiritual development of our children is the foundational lessons Masonian parents see to in the forming of good habits in preschoolers. We also ensure that the child’s environment is optimal for their development, filled with things that are intended to shape the child’s experience. And we allow for lots of free time so the child is free to explore the unique callings and giftings God has placed on his life.

A Charlotte Mason education looks the most like Jesus’ discipliship method as revealed in scripture; it is both intentional and exemplary honoring both that the child must receive from others and also that the child innately has much to share with the world.

3 Comments

Filed under Masonian Educational Philosophy

The End of Term I Review

Now that we’ve started Term II, I wanted to share a quick run-down of what I feel I did well during Term I and what I need to work on this Term:

The Good:

*We actually did school- we followed a daily/weekly routine and completed just about everything I’d set for us to do. We didn’t rush, the days seemed well-paced and the kids (mostly) enjoyed the material we’re using.

*The kids LOVE having things to do each day- they love the stories, the music, the specific time spent pursuing learning & the Lord together. They like that we have a ‘plan’.

* We got the basics in AND I was able to keep up with a lot of the things sometimes considered ‘extras’- fine art, classical music, hymns, folk songs, nature study.

*We had fun!

The Bad:

* I totally failed to teach any Art this past Term. I had ‘Drawing with Children’ carefully scheduled and just never did it. I had it planned for Fridays when Brian is home and would be able to watch Fae so I could concentrate on helping Alex with his markers. Somehow, Fridays became ou ‘running around’ day filled with nature walks, gym classes, doctor appointments- all the things we aren’t able to do throughout the week. There never seemed to be quiet time for us to take a breath and focus.

*Although we did nature study regularly, Alex rarely journaled it. What is it that dear Charlotte says?- a lesson not narrated is a lesson lost? Well, I’d wanted to have Alex journaling his nature observations and eventually adding pictures of his finds. But again, see above. There never seemed to be time on Fridays for ‘seat work’.

*Didn’t complete a single handicraft with the kids. Had a goal of helping to improve Alex’s pre-writing fine motor skills using handicrafts. I had decided to have him carefully color a beautiful coloring book of forest life, but… well, see above.

*We never included reading a book together into our evening routine. Admittedly, this time is packed with scripture reading and seasonal activities, but I just envision us all snuggled up together reading a ‘family’ book.

The Plan:

*Am going to drop art for now. Perhaps next year when Fae is older and I can direct her attention more fully, I can attempt to do art with them. The ‘Drawing With Children’ classes have been taught to children as young as 4. Hopefully, Fae will be able to do her own version of what I work on with Alex and we can do art together.

*Am going to encourage Alex to use more photography to note his nature finds. If we can get into a habit of nature photography now, in the future, he can use his own photos as a way to populate his nature journal with drawings later.

*Am going to focus on family handicrafts instead of something Alex does himself. We made chocolates together today and I’m putting together a handicraft plan for December. Think we will perhaps choose one type of craft to work on together each month and will go with that.

Sigh- Can't you just see yourself melting into this?

*Just spoke with Brian this evening about changing our bedtime routine. After the kids are in PJs and have had their teeth brushed, we’re going to snuggle up in our bed to read to them each night before we put them down. I have several beautiful Childcraft story books that Alex has been enjoying. I also think that Andrew Lang’s ‘Fairy Books’ would be wonderful- I know Ambleside has the Red & Blue books scheduled, so we can concentrate on the 10 other books Lang collected.

Anyway, that’s my take on this past Term & my plans for improving our time together! How are things going in your homeschool?

6 Comments

Filed under Daily Life with Dear Charlotte, Uncategorized

Rewording of Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles- Part I

The longer I live with dear Charlotte and steep in her words and wisdom, the more I realize I have to learn. A Charlotte Mason style education is not an easy thing to grasp. It is not easily explainable in just a few words or a blurb in a homeschooling magazine. I’ve been studying Charlotte’s ideas for about three years now and I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface! When her ideas capture us, we must have patience with ourselves and enact her methods as we understand them and see their value in our families.

However, Leslie Noelani, one of the wonderful moderators at Ambleside Online, took it upon herself to reword Charlotte’s ’20 Principles’ for the modern reader. These 20 concepts were listed in the front of each book Charlotte published (she wrote many) and give us a very good overview of her philosophy. This is very different than methodology, which we’ve been discussing in our ‘Wonders of the Last Sea’ threads. Anyone can take a book list and take a string of methods and put them into practice. What makes a Masonian education, in my opinion, is an internal agreement with Charlotte’s reasons for choosing those books, for using that method. The thought process and belief system behind the methodology give life to the method. I’ve been thinking through these lately and have been deeply impacted- again- by the depth of the insight dear Charlotte had concerning education. Well, let us begin:

Each child is unique and is born with the innate ability to become exactly who God has called her to be...

1. Children are born persons – they are not blank slates or embyonic oysters who have the potential of becoming persons. They already are persons.

Let that sink in a moment, let it rest in your mind. Are the implications of such a statement becoming clear? That children are people, with thoughts, needs, desires, opinions, hopes, fears, and dreams is a revolutuonary thought- even in our modern time! This is the entire basis for the Attachment Parenting movement around the world- that children are people whose needs should be respected. This is far more than an educational theory- this impacts to the very core what it means to be human; it colors our ideas of who deserves to be treated as I would like to be treated as our Master commanded us. If my child is a sentient being- a person- then she deserves intellectual respect (in addition to every other kind of consideration).  This means that I cannot assume that she has no ability to think until I teach her to do so or until I fill her mind with tons of facts so she has something ‘worthwhile’ to say. As Dr. Suess wrote, “A person’s a person, no matter how small”. Indeed.

This fundamental respect for the child is the basis upon which the other nineteen Principles are founded.

2. Although children are born with a sin nature, they are neither all bad, nor all good. Children from all walks of life and backgrounds may make choices for good or evil.

As I said above, these Principles are more than educational theory- these describe a basic world-view. This is why it is so diffucult to explain what a Masonian education is- we can describe what it looks like (methodology), but describing the inspiration means digging into the very way we see the world, our most basic beliefs about people, our nature and our possibilities.

In this second point, Charlotte is reminding us that each child we deal with is a fallen being, BUT is a fallen being with hope. Any of us, no matter who we are, have failed. We have sinned and have done horrendous wrong. But we are also capable of great good and compassion. In Jesus, we all have potential to be better than we are on our own. I think this statement also calls to mind the idea that there is no kind of education that is unattainable for anyone. The meanest street urchin in Brazil can make a choice for good regardless of his background- his potential, in Jesus, is not limited by his past. Also, the most privledged child may have the greediest bent. Origen does not portend destiny.

3. The concepts of authority and obedience are true for all people whether they accept it or not. Submission to authority is necessary for any society or group or family to run smoothly.

God has ordered the universe. He has ordered the planets to revolve, He has ordered the flower to grow, He has ordered parents to raise their children lovingly and has ordered that those children heed the authority of their parents. We, every one of us, exist under authority, even if we disregard it. God is Master, Jesus is King. Due to His kindness, some of us turn and acknowledge this relationship of ‘Ruler’ over ‘ruled’.  But He has passed on that authority to parents as well. We are to reflect the Lord to our children- both His love and His authority. Just how we do this depends in large amount on how we personally perceive God.

In my family, we see both His lovingkindness and gentleness and His awesomeness and fearsome-ness. He is our dear Savior, our Brother, our Father and our Friend, but He is also the Holy One, The Alpha and Omega, the great I AM. We can be perfectly safe, secure and loved, and yet understand that our God will not be mocked. Because God is nuanced in His relationship to us, we try to be similarly balanced with our children- free and ample with laughter and praise and grace, but firm where we believe it is needed.

Loving parents value their child's view of the world...

4. Authority is not a license to abuse children, or to play upon their emotions or other desires, and adults are not free to limit a child’s education or use fear, love, power of suggestion, or their own influence over a child to make a child learn.

There’s just so much to unwrap in this statement! We are not to: ‘abuse‘- children are not to be belittled, criticized or bullied into compliance; ‘play upon emotions or other desires’– we can not manipulate our children using rewards or promises to obtain their cooperation; ‘limits– we are not to decide when our children have had enough education. They must pursue their God-given educational inclinations and abilities to their furthest extent. This says to me, we should not be teaching our children that they only need ‘so much’ education and that will be good enough for their adult life. God instills the desire to learn in children, we must not come between that desire and the fulfillment of that desire because God has determined for that child what & how much s/he needs to know;  ‘use fear’– children should not be concerned about punishments or reprecussions for not attending to lessons, nor should they fear that they will not be allowed to learn unless they are completely compliant; ‘use love’– so often, I’ve heard people say that a child will do something if you only love them enough. What they are really saying is that the child will feel guilty if that thing is not done due to his love for the parent. Our love for our children should not be manipulated as a means to an end. Love is too pure a Person to be used to gain compliance; ‘power of suggestion’– I think this has to do with being an intermediary between the child and the Great Thought in the material being studied. We are not to direct a child toward a particluar interpretation of the work in question. We are to encourage the child to think his own thoughts and to support them from the work itself…

I believe that the basic two thoughts being communicated to us by dear Charlotte above are that 1) Kids have been created to learn and are pre-wired to do so according to their particular, God-given programming, and that 2) we shouldn’t try to force them to learn in any specific way.

In the next part of this series, we’ll discuss what parents CAN do, according to dear Charlotte, to help their little one’s learn…

6 Comments

Filed under Masonian Educational Philosophy

The Wonders of the Last Sea- exploring ‘narration’

A few weeks ago, we started our discussion of dear Charlotte’s teaching methods in a discussion about living books. To continue, let’s turn our attention to the second of Wikipedia’s methodologies- narration.

One of the most attractive attributes of a Masonian education is the lack of ‘busy work’. Busy work consists of all the many trifles that modern education insists upon to better drill a fact into a child’s head. A child reads a passage and then completes comprehension questions to show whether or not the child has understood. A math fact is learned and then is repeated ad nauseam in various ways just to be sure the child has really mastered the lesson. Busywork is all the things that the child is ‘put to’ to prove that the child has, indeed, ‘got it’.

Charlotte found this kind of repetition unnecessary and insulting to the child’s intelligence. Instead, she advocated narration as the only reinforcement of the lesson. What is narration? Simply put, narration is the act of retelling in one’s own words exactly what one remembers. Narration is a powerful tool in a child’s education.

Think about the times you have learned something. The information was received and taken into your mind. But if you later had to teach someone that same information, your understanding, your relationship with the material changed. It went from being a surface fact (something you remembered until the test and then tossed away), to being something your mind had really chewed, mulled over, and synthesized so it could be communicated to someone else.

The child listens, absorbing the story into himself...

Narration is not used to test a child’s knowledge. It isn’t used to discover how much the child forgot about the passage, rather narration is used to help the child reinforce the connections she has made with the material on her own. The teacher is not enforcing an agenda of comprehension- that is, that the child will remember what the teacher/adult thinks is important about a passage- instead the teacher is helping the child deepen her own connections and think through what has just been read. Leading questions should be avoided, as should correcting the child during the act of narration. If a child doesn’t mention a fact or seems to have misunderstood it, the parent may simply do a short ‘recap’ of the story immediately prior to the next reading (the next day, etc). If a child is simply lost, put the book aside for a month or two and try again later; the child may not be ready for that particular work.

I often think of professional wine tasters and how they differ from the casual drinker. The casual drinker tosses back the wine, notes how it tasted and if he liked it or not and then it is forgotten. The experience has left no lasting impression on him and an hour later he couldn’t tell you much about it. But the professional sommelier first looks at and smells the wine, chews it, interacts with it before rendering an opinion. And the professional is able to remember the experience, the nuance of the drink- it has become part of his overall wine experience. If it is an especially good glass of wine, he may be able to recall it years later.

The child can express her connection in many valid ways...

Narration can be accomplished in many ways- orally (where the child retells what he knows), in drawing/painting/sculpting, through play acting with figures or as actual play, and, after the age of 10 or so, in written composition (indeed, narration is the basis for fine essay writing in the future). Any way in which the child expresses a connection with the material is valid narration.

But what about evaluation? How can you be assured that your child has actually understood the material? Well, how do you know an adult understands the materials she’s teaching to you? As the person is speaking, you can hear an internal consistency of information. A clarity of reasoning that makes sense in context. A teacher in a classroom full of students may need worksheets and tests to ascertain if each student has understood the material, but a parent in a home with a limited amount of children will certainly know if a child truly understands what she is retelling.

My son is only five, so I am not requiring narration from him yet- dear Charlotte recommended that a child have no formal schooling until age 6, so I am holding off on asking for narration. However, even in our ‘informal’ schooling, Alex retells parts of his day. It’s interesting to me to see what he remembers hours later, which ideas and facts he connected with.

A Young Girl Reading- our current picture study

Narration seems simple- too simple to be an effective learning tool. But over a hundred years of history and many parents of graduates attest to the effectiveness of this method. As a child grows into adolescence, narration takes on more of a conversational tone. The child still retells, but then the parent may ask questions to draw the child deeper, may correct and challenge what a child has shared- as the student becomes an adult and has much practice forming a viewpoint, an opinion- the conversation becomes more like adult conversation. The teacher has simply refrained from usurping the child’s own mind prior to her learning how to use it.

I look forward to many conversations about books, politics, morality, science, literature on and on and on as my children grow…

Leave a comment

Filed under Masonian Educational Methods

The Planting of the Tree- urban sprawl, apples and nature study

I have to say that, before encountering Dear Charlotte, I wasn’t much of a nature lover… Or, let me restate that- I have always felt an affinity for the outdoors. I remember as a small child curling up under a honeysuckle bush in my front yard for playtime. My sister and I packed the earth down so hard under that bush, it shone like linoleum. We’d take toys under the bush and would spend hours making mud pies and stealing the neighbors daffodils to decorate them (the neighbors were not charmed). It was during this outdoor play that I once dared my sister to bite a worm- she did (the power of an older sister!).

I remember taking long walks around the “Yellow Brick Road” (what we called my street as it had inexplicable yellow paint-spray marks all over when we first moved in). It was shaped like a ‘P’ and had only one entrance/exit. For many years, there were only about 10 houses on the street- much of it had been left wild and there was still a swamp around the circle from us. My grandfather took us to the swamp and we saw wild turkeys, turtles, snakes, minnows and many plants with berries, pickers, & leaves shaped like elephant ears. This ‘wild land’ was the playground for my family. The trees hung with vines and we literally swung from them for fun. My uncles created a dirt bike track on some of the unused land. My grandfather went fishing in the stream near the swamp. Deer were a common sight and we would often walk into the woods directly onto the lands and trails of the wildlife preserve that abutted the neighborhood property (in truth, this was the Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary named for its most famous resident, John James Audubon).

I remember the land remaining this way until I was 12 years old when the developer decided to put in new homes. Our playground became a neighbor’s back yard and within a year, all ‘our’ land was gone… But, to a burgeoning adolescent, it didn’t seem to matter all that much. I retreated indoors and stayed there until my son was about 2 years old.

Like the proverbial butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, I took Charlotte’s advice and began taking nature walks with my family. I revisited all the parks and trails of my youth and have begun to rediscover the ‘wild’ within me. I feel more centered, more myself when I can hear water running and birds chirping all around me. I feel most alive when the wind is playing in my hair and the sun is lightly warming my face. I feel connected to all that God has done in my past and all He is calling me to in the present. How does simply being outside do that? Doesn’t scripture say that all of creation testifies to God? He somehow seeps into my soul when I get outdoors bringing peace and refreshment with Him…

Now, I live in an increasingly suburban area. When I was a child, there was a lot of land that remained either farms or simply undeveloped. But when I was about 12 a new highway opened and all along that corridor, housing developments sprung up like cancers, eating away all the natural space. Now, my county has ‘open space’ preserves to keep some areas undeveloped, but much of the country is now cluttered with cookie-cutter houses and suburban sprawl.

I admit, I do like the convenience of having stores close by, but I am ready to leave it all behind. Dear Charlotte helped me to see that my son has no where real to play. All our trails are maintained, carefully designed to allow speedo-shorts wearing bicyclists to share the path. It isn’t that the trails aren’t pleasant- they are- but they are also so very… planned. I am reminded of Charlotte’s warning not to come between the child and the author of a book by giving too much pre-digested explanation about the idea being out forth. As my child’s teacher, I am to introduce my kids to the author and then stand aside while they have a conversation: “Have you heard of William Penn?”; “Let me explain what happened to Beauty in the Beast’s castle”; “I’ll tell you about Agoognak and her wintry home”… Just as I should stand aside so my children can experience these ideas themselves, I’m beginning to feel that the county planners have come too much between my children and Mother Nature. All the trails are planned just so to allow passers-by to enjoy such-and-such a view. Flowers are planted and trees trimmed to give a specific effect at a specific point of the walk… There are some spaces that remain more natural, but… we are just so constrained by the artifice and management of it all…

Add to that, the fact that we have no private outdoor space to allow the children to wander and explore, no safe zone where little children of 5 and 2 can be set free to meander and explore at will, no place to build forts or plant gardens and… well… our situation needs mending.

Until the move is possible, we are making do as best we can by studying nature at farms, the less manicured trails and by visiting what nature centers/zoos we can locally. This is made difficult by having only one vehicle, but we are getting by. Today, for example, as our van was in the shop, we brought nature study into our home by continuing our apple study out of Anna Comstock’s ‘A Handbook of Nature Study’.

Forgot to take a picture of our apples before slicing for the taste test!

My husband selected 4 different varieties of apples; Red Delicious, Ginger Gold, Fuji and Honeycrisp. I followed the directions in HNS and had the kids look at the apples side by side. My son described their skins and I pointed out some color variations on each of their peels. We noted much about the general shape of each apple and then took small pieces to sample. It was so wonderful to be able to clearly note extremely distinctive flavors between apples! Alex was amazed! We gave each apple a new name based on its flavor composition.

These seeds were thrown off the porch in hopes of an apple tree next year!

We then cut each apple open and observed how the seeds in apples sit in little cavities (I described them as each having their own bedroom in their little apple home) and we then noted that the seeds- regardless of variety- were of similar color and size.

The kiddos munching apples. Fae had the Fuji and Alex wanted the Red Delicious. My favorite was the Honeycrisp!

Finally, Alex journaled his observations for the morning. It was a really nice time together- fun, educational and experiential.

Alex's nature journal. I was impressed with how he noted the subtle color variations on some of the apples.

Until we can get into a home that will allow us more space to roam and be without the input of joggers, hikers, dog-walkers, etc., we’ll have to do the best we can to get outdoors and explore- even if that means coming inside!

2 Comments

Filed under Daily Life with Dear Charlotte