Tag Archives: everyday homeschooling

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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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.

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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 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?

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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…

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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…

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Filed under Masonian Educational Methods