Tag Archives: coming of age

The place of virtue in the Christian home

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how children become the adults they become. Specifically, I’ve been pondering the ways in which ‘unpleasant’ things like responsibility, duty, and honor are learned. I know that some families have specific instruction in these topics, selecting stories or studies that focus on a specific character trait. But people were responsible long before someone wrote a curriculum about it. People displayed duty and honor without being told they should be dutiful and honorable. Even people who aren’t Christians can be and are responsible, dutiful and honorable… How? How have some people been able to instill these qualities in their kids? Install? Perhaps it’s just gleaned?

I have heard a lot of derision against the idea of Christian parents raising ‘righteous pagans’ almost as if we parents, by the quality of our parenting, can somehow convert our children into Christ-followers (look- no saving relationship required! Just be sure to read the Bible every night and don’t squash their little spirits and souls and they’ll love God!).  I don’t believe we can ‘raise up’ Christians. We can certainly ‘raise up’ church-ified kids who know how to talk the talk, but we cannot create salvation in our children. Ultimately, their spiritual state is between them and our Father.

So what does it mean to raise up’ children in the way they should go? What can it possibly mean since people don’t inherit holiness or salvation from their parents?

I’ve been thinking a lot about those righteous pagans. Sometimes (thanks Literature degree), I think about Dante’s ‘virtuous pagans’ who occupy the first (least horrible) circle of hell. These people are composed of the good people of the world who don’t know Jesus (perhaps an imagining of where He went during His 3 days in the tomb?). People like Virgil and Homer and Ovid- people who did nothing ‘bad’ and actually did some good things and yet, due to the basic corruption of all flesh apart from Christ, cannot enter Heaven…

Can Christian parents do anything BUT raise virtuous pagans? Since we can’t ‘save’ our kids- they need their own personal relationship with Jesus to do that (and we don’t control their hearts)- what ‘s the best we can do for our kids?

I’ve been thinking about my parenting instincts- why is it important that my kids learn to clean up after themselves? Why is it important that they know how to complete a project, offer people basic respect, understand how to accept ‘No’ without a melt down? It’s because the BEST I can give my kids is virtue- not holiness.

Virtue (perhaps Dear Charlotte would have called this magnanimity?)- is the ability to choose a way that is higher than base flesh. It’s the ability to exercise some control over the corrupt flesh. Virtue tells the man- Christian or not- that he must provide for his family and be faithful to his wife, even if his flesh pulls him toward self-indulgence and lust (second and third circles of hell, by the way). Virtue is what tells a woman she should give out of her own need and strive for a patience, even when she wants to hoard her money and scream whenever her will is frustrated (fourth and fifth circles). Instilling (allowing children to glean?) virtue in our children does two things for them:

First, on a completely material level, virtue allows our children to live quiet, peaceful, secure lives whether they become Christians or not. Since we can’t ‘bestow’ salvation, regardless of how well we parent, virtue literally IS the best we can possibly do for our kids. Virtue is what creates reliable employees (who then have some job security and basic material needs met), peaceful families (who then have fulfilled personal lives) and strong communities (who are then able to care for one another when times are hard). Virtue is the key to peace with this world.

Second, practiced virtue is a support to a Christ-following lifestyle. The child who has been taught to complete a task in honor of his parents has an easier time completing a task in honor of his God. The girl who understands what it means to deny her flesh and clean her room even when (especially when) she doesn’t feel like it, will better be able to deny her flesh and honor her God even when (especially when) she doesn’t feel like it.

Our witness of God’s intervention in our own lives is lived out in spirit and truth, word and deed in front of our children every day (Lord please cover my failings!) to invite our children to remember their Creator, to accept His invitation to make them new. But a careful and intentional focus on virtue is  the most loving gift we can give our children of our own power. Let’s not overlook it.

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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.

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Lessons Learned In The Meantime…

It’s been weeks since I’ve posted and, as of today, it’s been weeks since we’ve ‘done school’. I look at my wonderful 36 week curriculum schedule with all my subjects neatly lined up and realize that we’re weeks ‘behind’. I say ‘behind’ even though the beauty of this system is that it holds a fantastic amount of flexibility for my family. We can easily move days around, or work within a specific subject- it’s just awesome like that (thanks to the original Ambleside Online moms who actually created the schedule)…

And yet, I’ve been feeling ‘behind’. Life has gotten in the way of school. Oh, I know that education is the sum of what our children take into themselves and that includes all the lessons learned along the way that are not planned or scheduled, but still, lately, I’ve been asking myself what has been worthwhile during this pause in our official schooling? What have my children been learning while we’ve been away from school?

At the end of March my 15-year-old niece came to live with us. The situation has been unsettled and there is much healing to be done in her heart and mind. When Selena came to stay, all of us in the household had to make adjustments. School time became shorter as I handled phone calls, doctor appointments and therapy sessions. We think that perhaps this week the custody agreement might be finalized and Selena might legally be in our care for the forseeable future.

I ask myself ‘what have my children learned from this new living arrangement’?  It doesn’t take much to see they’ve learned that there’s enough space and love for everyone in our home and that no one gets left behind. They’ve seen that we all matter and that doing the right thing is sometimes hard and requires sacrifice. The atmosphere of this home lately has demonstrated that family is deeply important, but that ‘doing’ family isn’t always easy. Sometimes there is conflict, and we need the Lord so much to know the right way to behave and respond.

Then, about a month ago, our little family traveled to my in-laws to assist them after my mother-in-law’s knee surgery. Since they live just south of Erie, PA we took the opportunity to do some Charlotte-y things like visiting the lake and collecting lake-stones from the beach, spotting red-winged blackbirds for the first time, and visiting a small homestead to discover how the family lives almost completely self-sufficiently (lots of handicrafts going on there!).

Alex, Selena & Fae at the Lake

But during this trip they also learned how to sit quietly next to a fragile loved one and just spend time together. They learned that their presence and beautiful hearts can truly lift the spirits of someone going through something hard. They learned that we can all work together to get the job done and that fun happens in spite of hardship.

The day after we returned from our 9 day visit with the in-laws, I traveled to Albany, NY to collect my youngest sister and her two children. She has an almost 2-year-old daughter and her baby girl is about a month old now. For the past two weeks, we played host and opened our home to them. In this case, my kids learned something about generosity and being hospitable. They learned how to expand their circle of two to include their young cousin. They watched my sister faithfully care for her sweet newborn. They saw how we simply swept them into our daily life and made more room at the table. I think they saw how joy can come from giving one’s self to others. We all cried a little this past weekend as we waved goodbye to the plane that carried this precious little family away to Florida to my mother and grandmother.

As I sit here writing about some of the lessons I think my kiddos might have been receiving from Brian and me (and, mostly, from the Lord Who is their Great Teacher), I realize that the past two months have been opening and deepening the way my children understand family. They are seeing how we, their parens who are trying to live a life that is pleasing to our Savior, seek to serve and care for those around us. I am not patting myself on the back- doesn’t scripture say that even pagans care for those who care for them?- but these are good lessons for any child to learn…

These past months have been filled with lessons about faith, family, service, love, hardship, pain, joy and hope. The kids have learned these from real life instead of our beloved living books, from the script the Father has provided instead of the curriculum I’ve out together. And I’m ok with that; I’m ok with Life being my children’s Teacher.

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Little Boys, Young Men and the Church

Earlier this week, I came across this article by David Murrow which discusses why young men seemed to have abandoned the church. As the mother of a five-year-old son, I spend a LOT of time thinking about how I want my son to grow up, how I hope to share my faith and what kind of history I want him to have when he leaves home to make his own life. The idea that something is ‘chasing’ young men away from the faith piques my curiosity. Along with several other issues, Murrow lays the responsibility for this phenomenon at the feet of female youth leaders and the accompanying tenor of their groups which, he says, alienate young men and Sunday school programs whose design either ignores or oppresses boys’ inherent make-up.

Murrow says that Sunday school systems are geared toward girls/women in that they require verbal, social interaction in which girls usually excel and boys sometimes don’t . He says that the system itself is hostile to how boys learn…  Hmmmm- as a homeschooler, this sounds familiar…

Sunday schools ARE systems based on government school models. Children are separated from their parents, age-graded, and are set homogenized tasks that are generally acknowledged by some outward reward like stickers or points. Now, I think there are some very nice things that children can learn in Sunday schools, but as a homeschooler, I have a hard time defending a system that is not Biblical (there are no Sunday schools in Scripture) and is based on a system that I believe is inherently flawed.

Give it your best guess- is this a Sunday school class at church or a government school class?

Sunday schools do not personalize a discipleship program geared toward each boys’ unique abilities and interests, just as government schools don’t personalize the academic education of their students.  Why would we expect a system that doesn’t work on even an academic level to have deep impact on a spiritual level? Just because Christian materials are used and people of honorable intent do the teaching doesn’t mean there will be significant differences in outcome. If the best students are generally held back by the lowest common denominator in public school, doesn’t it stand to reason that the same thing would happen in any public school based educational system? Sunday schools don’t encourage kids to excel or to explore deeply as God leads. That’s just not how the curriculum is designed.

Murrow goes on to say that women-led youth groups which focus on feelings, emotion, and expression alienate young men. Whether women should be teaching or in leadership positions over young men is a different post entirely (lol!), but the idea is the same as it is in Sunday school: where is this kind of discipleship- this kind of spiritual training- found in Scripture?  It’s NOT. There is no such thing as youth culture in scripture. The Bible doesn’t cast young people as a strange breed of human, separate from the main body of believers (or unbelievers) and needing special (and often ridiculous, twaddley, insulting) programs to introduce them to Christ.

So how *are* boys and young men designed to hear and respond to God?

C’mon, homeschoolers- we know this, right?

God designed people to learn in *families*. Children learn how to be fully socialized, integrated adults (of each gender) by modeling their behavior and ideas after their parents and the other trusted adults in their intimate family circle. For a Christian family, the child is introduced to Jesus through family-based evangelism, that is, the parents/adults model a relationship with God and encourage the child to make a decision to follow Jesus for himself. The actual relationship is between God & the child (oh, how like dear Charlotte’s assertion that the teacher must not interfere with the young student’s interaction with an author’s great thoughts!).

Boys learn to be men by watching their fathers, uncles, brothers and trusted family friends being men. By being *with* their adult male family as they minister, study, fellowship and lead at home, in the church and in the wider community. This is how God designed human beings to learn and is fully supported by those Deuteronomy 6 verses we Christian homeschoolers love so much.

Imagine a church in which every boy  is personally discipled by his father (or a primary surrogate if his father is not present for any reason) and several other strong Christian men. The young man ministers along-side his father when his father responds to some need in the Body, he has continuous opportunity to discuss personal issues with his mentors and to receive guidance from them, and he has authentic relationships with these mentors so that his true personality, gifts, weaknesses and callings are apparent to them. He can’t hide or be polite- they KNOW him and they love him. As this young man grows and becomes a man himself, he is accepted as an equal- fully integrated within the Body as an adult member.

Multi-generational, God-loving, world-changing... and oh so manly!

Young men aren’t abandoning the church/faith because they don’t like talking in Sunday school, or because youth group worship songs are too sappy or because they don’t get their flesh tickled enough by the girls at church- young men are abandoning the church because the church is utilizing non-Biblical methods of instruction. The problem isn’t that the church doesn’t understand ‘maleness’, the problem is that the church doesn’t understand God’s design for family-centered discipleship and, therefore, young men haven’t been taught how to BE men in the church.

If we want to see young men staying in church and influencing the Body in wonderful ways, we have to make sure families worship and learn together so young men know how to BE the church as they come to maturity. We have to return to New Testament styles of worship and discipleship and we have to recognize that God’s design for family is perfect for bringing children up into Him…

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Family Reading: Lions and Spiders and Bears, Oh My!

Ok, so this is a quickie post. Between the holidays, my computer breaking (fie on you, fan motor!) and being on call for my job (as a doula) I’ve had almost no time to work on the second part of my 20 Principals post as I’d wanted. But that’s coming soon! (Really!)

I thought I’d quickly share the books that my family has used as read alouds since last summer. We just began ‘formally’ schooling Alex in September, but we’ve been doing family read alouds… well, forever! However, we transferred to real chapter books which have a story that is carried between chapters in August or so- so I’ll count these.

1. Edgrr, The Bear Who Wanted to be Real, by Alexandra Kurland.

This was cute. The story tells of a toy shop group of bears who find themselves out on an adventure. The father-figure bear, Kenyon, tries to take an unruly bear, Edgrr, in hand. Edgrr has a harrowing experience in the woods when he attempts to be a real bear and he learns the value of being ‘home’.  My kiddos enjoyed this and it certainly qualifies as a living book in my eyes as the language is not at all dumbed down.

2. Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, by A.A. Milne.

A no-brainer. These books are whimsical, funny and gentle. My son laughed out loud several times and both of my children now have a special place in their hearts for the denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood. My advice is to read the first few stories to yourself first so you can get an idea of the pacing and sentance structure. It threw me for a loop for the first couple of stories, but once I understood the cadence of the language and syntax, it made for wonderful, lively reading. If you are anything like me, you WILL cry at the end of The House at Pooh Corner when Christopher Robin gets ready to leave for boarding school (sniff!!)

3. Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White.

Another excellent book. My son loved this and was able to remember details from the book much more clearly than we expected. Funny and sad all at once- wonderful coming-of-age, circle-of-life feel.

4. A Bear Called Paddington, by Michael Bond.

This one I purchased at my local library’s ongoing book sale and then searched around Ambleside to see if it was recommended. I turned up nothing so decided I’d best just plunge ahead- and it was wonderful! Again, intelligent language and humorous adventures of an adorable, marmalade-loving bear from darkest Peru (who knew!). The way Paddington misinterprets everyday circumstances had me in stitches and I was totally delighted whenever Paddington gave someone a ‘hard stare’. Great book- can’t wait to read it again when Fae is older.

5. The Little Bear Treasury, by Else Minarik.

Lovely drawings, whimsical stories, but in all honesty it was a step down for us. By this summer, I expect that Alex will be able to read this book on his own, so it just felt too simplistic for our read alouds. The children both listened intently, but the chapters ended so quickly and with such little drama, I think they, too, wanted ‘more’. Ah well, a lesson for me- stick to books that are labeled for children aged 8 to 12 and we’ll have just the right level for my 5 and 2 year old for our read alouds (lol!).

6. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis.

Yes, dear Reader, I have initiated my children into the wonder that is Narnia. I sat in my bed with my children snuggled around me and read the first line: “Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy.” and immediately started crying and couldn’t continue reading for a few minutes (grin). You see, the Chronicles embody everything I hope to pass on to my children- imagination, intelligence, adventure, goodness, justice and a heart that longs after Aslan/Jesus (to me, Aslan is a fictional Jesus in Lion form). I deocrated my childrens’ nursery in the Chronicles complete with full-sized lamppost nightlight and pencil drawn/pastel colored reproductions of the pictures from the original books. I hung a banner with a picture of a castle and underneath I hand-stenciled ‘Cair Paravel’. A framed parchment map of Narnia set on one wall and a framed pencil drawing of Aslan’s face rests above a reminder that ‘he’s not a tame lion’… Sigh… So much of my soul resonates with the simplicty of Narnia and I’m now sharing this beautiful story with my children. If you haven’t read them, start with LWW- read them in the order they were published (not in Narnia-chronological order). You have to discover Narnia just as Lewis himself did!

So it’s been about four days that we’ve been reading LWW and both kids simply love it. My son has already been making comments (unsolicited!) about how the witch was tricking Edmund and how he wasn’t nice to his sister, Lucy. He’s listening and the ‘moral’ of this story is going to deeply impress him (thank you, Lord!!) He will hear the gospel message here- sin has us frozen, sin corrupts us, but JESUS is our hope and our salvation and He has a wonderful plan for us!

A note: we actually own this Easton Press copy of The Chronicles of Narnia. This is also the first time my kiddos are getting to read from one of our ‘fancy’ books. How nice to have a special set of books as we share this special story!

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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!

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Lucy Looks into a Wardrobe- an introduction and educational history

So how did this homeschooling journey first begin?

I wasn’t raised in a homeschooling family. I went to preschool, then on through the public school system without a thought- an unexamined education. There was never any question about how kids were educated. You were born, you went to school and then you went to work. Homeschooling was absolutely unknown in my home. It simply didn’t exist.

My elementary school experiences in school were… well, probably typical for an overweight girl from a poor family. I had my circle of friends, mostly other girls who weren’t intimidating to me because I knew we were on just about the same rung of the social ladder. There were times when I was bullied by the ‘popular kids’, times when someone would make a hurtful comment to which others would laugh hysterically, times when I was never actually picked for a team because I, as the last person not chosen, defaulted to the ‘losing’ team. It hurt. I learned to approach social situations with caution, always evaluating what others might be thinking about me so I could opt out before exposing myself to possible ridicule and humiliation.

Academically, I was a mess. I always scored very high in language abilities, very low in math abilities. I rarely tested well and almost never completed classwork or homework. But it was the cultural environment of school that had the most lasting impact on me. Public schools have a culture- it’s why Kindergarten exists. At 5 years old, most kids go off to Kindergarten to spend a year learning how to raise one’s hand to speak, to walk in a line, to defer to any adult who presents as an authority figure. But I was never quite able to comprehend the reason everything in school was the way it was. I always felt I was just a little out of step. While it did have some fun moments, mostly, I found school an unplesant place…

In second grade, I remember standing in the school lunch line contemplating whether I could afford a Nutty Buddy. Realizing that I was short ten cents, I replaced the icecream where it belonged. Suddenly, my teacher appeared at my shoulder, whispering, “I’m so glad to see you put that back. When the nurse weighed you earlier, we saw you weigh almost a hundred pounds!” I was mortified as I realized she’d been watching and judging my food selections.  I was also slower than the other kids in math. I vividly remember on the last day of school, other kids turning in their completed math workbooks while I still had chapters to go. I was behind, would never be able to catch up and I felt shamed.

In fourth grade, I was called to the school nurse and was told I had to bathe more often. My teacher thought I smelled. She then demonstrated how to use deodorant as if I’d never seen the stuff before. This was a crushing humiliation for a girl who was going through precocious puberty. I had greasy hair, pimples, was the only 4th grader who needed to wear a bra and now… I smelled. So much so that I, apparently, needed a ‘talking to’ from a stranger about my hygiene.

Here I was in 5th grade. Weren't those earrings awesome?

In fifth grade, we were given an assignment to write a short story. I was completely enthralled- my story involved cousins who had met for the summer at their families’ beach cottage falling through a hole in a sand dune and entering an alternate world. I scribbled away feverishly, page after lined-yellow-draft-paper page, and watched the action unfold before my eyes. After 45 minutes, and just as things were getting good, the teacher came over and declared it was time for science. After all, I didn’t “need to write a book”. I completely shut down due to this criticism and never returned to finish it.

I have a vague memory of some kind of intervention by my mother (age 24 at the time and totally unable to be an advocate for her daughter), my teacher, the school psychologist, the principal and many other people I didn’t know. We sat there, around a conference table, and they wanted to ‘talk to me’ about my ‘problem’. Problem? I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. I, very simply, wanted to be left alone. I didn’t want to perform for strangers (almost every teacher I’d ever had remained a stranger to me). I didn’t want to spend my days avoiding humiliation at the hands of classmates and their ‘kick me’ signs (really? Who does this actually happen to?) I just wanted some mental and emotional space to work out the vast changes that were happening in my body, my emotions and in the psyche of an 11 year old girl… My mother, Lord bless her, declared before my authority figures, “See, Angie? They’re not acting this way to be jerks as you said.”  I had never said such a thing and all I could think was ‘Oh my God. What will they do to me because they think I called them ‘jerks’?’

Throughout my formative years, I lived in quiet terror every day I went to school. It was a constant, grating, grinding stress that lead me to missing days upon days of school. I was terrified of being attacked- by other kids or by those in authority over me- for not meeting some incomprehensiable expectation that was being held up for me. I was terrified of being humiliated by my peers. I was confused about what the teachers wanted from me (I remember being given an IQ test in Kindergarten and being confused as to WHY I needed to take this test. What was its purpose? It’s value? It made me nervous because I didn’t know what they expected from me, what was being measured). I clearly remember thinking “Only seven more years of school,” as I graduated up into junior high.

Surprisingly, things were easier after I entered middle school. My cognitive abilities began catching up with my physical adolescence- the other kids also began catching up. In fifth grade, I was one of the three tallest kids in my grade; in seventh grade, I was one of the shorter. I was granted some autonomy by the powers that be and was able to choose some classes and clubs to attend during the school day. I remember VERY fondly one called “SSR- Sustained Silent Reading”.  While many of the kids in the class got stuck there because their first choices had filled up, it was a joy to me in seventh grade.  As I entered highschool, I was able to tailor my schedules even further to allow me to be with friends in classes I enjoyed. I began enjoying some of my teachers- even became very fond of several of them.  I ‘got through’ school socially by avoiding situations in which I might be eviscerated and academically by taking as many singing classes as possible.

The strange thing is, until I began considering this blog post, I’ve never considered my school experiences to be out of the ordinary. I didn’t like school, but I don’t have a deep hatred of my school days. Looking back now, I can’t believe some of what happened (and the above is only the tip of the iceberg), but I’ve never been reactionary toward public education because of my difficult time in public school…

But back to homeschooling. When I came to faith at age 16 my world expanded. I started attending church and began running into peers who did  have experience with homeschooling- either themselves or someone they knew had homeschooled.

The idea of homeschooling intrigued me. Education without the continuous oppression of the ‘system’? Learning without having to worry about a peer humiliating you as you try to walk across the cafeteria? What would that be like? Could it be possible that I could actually get out of here?!?

I was a junior in highschool and I wanted to be homeschooled. I imagined myself reading through textbooks, filling in workbooks, writing papers and sending them ‘off’ to be graded by someone. In truth, I was imagining a correspondence course handled by the public school system- public school at home- they would supply the work, I would do it, they would grade it. Ultimately, the Lord called me to remain in public school. I was a believer and there were few of us in my school. I was ‘leading’ a school-based bible club (could a 17 year old who knew almost nothing lead anything?) and I didn’t want to miss opportunities to tell others about my faith in the 18 months or so I had left…

Following the Lord would take me on an academic journey I couldn’t fathom at 17. I was eventually called to go to college (we just didn’t do that in my family) and while there, I realized I’m smart. In college, my thoughts, my ideas mattered, they had value and weight- every professor I had asked me to think about the material being presented and to give an opinion of it. Support my opinion with the material. Present my opinion in a rational, organized and persuasive way. I flourished in college- I wound up being invited to join honors English and history classes, was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa (an academic honors society) and even managed to get As in two math classes. I loved everything about college. I loved being given permission to consume the best of human thought, to digest it and to render a judgement about how well the thought accurately represented or expressed the actual thing.

Was Othello a believable character? Are children in high quality daycare centers better off than children with low quality home environments? How has the ideology of Eugenics influenced the 20th century and where does it continue to influence society today? Is it possible that God created the world through evolution? Does the dot on that James Joyce manuscript have any meaning? What did Jesus mean when He said “Ego Emi” in John? Is justice possible in our society? What is civilization? How will Deconstructionism influence the church in the 21st century? Can science exist without faith? What kind of president would Bugs Bunny be?

And as I left college (with a BA in English Literature), I began looking forward to marriage and having a family of my own someday. When I thought about what my life would look like as a mother, I just knew I wanted my children to love learning the way I’d grown to love it. I wanted them to have the empowering, liberating kind of education I’d been so blessed to receive in college. I knew that if I could offer my children the kind of education that would enliven them the way my college education had done for me, I would be giving them a deep blessing indeed.

Before I was married, before I was ever pregnant, before I held my oldest child in my arms for the first time, I knew I’d be a homeschooler.

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