Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Habit of Finishing

We are using "Laying Down the Rails for Children" for habit training, and we always end a habit with some kind of celebration. This time the celebration was for mom ~ I told the kids I would blog the projects that they finished. They didn't feel that was sufficient celebration for themselves, so I've allocated last Thursday's trip to Saweet Cupcakes as their treat.

Habit training does not, of course, only happen during the period of using the lessons from LDtRfC (I like calling it Baby Rails myself, the name Sonya affectionately refers to it). What the lessons do for me is call my attention and the kids' attention to the habit so that we are more apt to think of it throughout the day and practice it.

So, Finishing was about having Integrity in finishing what you start. There were also good discussions about what is worthwhile to pursue and when are good times to quit something that is not worth finishing or shouldn't have been started in the first place. The kids each chose a project that would be theirs to finish during this time period.

Elizabeth made special cupcakes for a contest at a youth event in town. She spent about 5 hours on them and did the whole thing on her own. She won.

Phoebe worked on a paint-by-number of a horse. I helped her with it because it was an activity we could do together (and she's always asking me to play with her) and because I really, really love paint-by-numbers for some odd reason.

And Jonathan finished as much as he could on his sun-dial clock. We'll have to wait for summer for longer daylight hours. I must say that he was the least motivated to finish his project. I would normally be okay with that since it was his idea to try it out in the first place, but since we had decided this was an official Finishing task, he had to finish. It was kind of neat. We discovered a double shadow one day. The light reflects off the house and makes a lighter shadow coming opposite of the sun. I never knew it did that.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Finding a Balance for High Expectations

"Perfection" ~ the very word drains me. It makes me feel like a failure. It stresses me out. I love my Charlotte Mason, but the part about perfect execution causes me to pause.

I recently read Dr. Kevin Leman's Birth Order book. He talked quite a bit about perfectionism and he didn't seem to think it was a healthy thing. He mentioned an example of a child fixing his own bed. The mother walks in and says, "Oh, honey, you did a great job!" while she reaches to straighten out the wrinkles. Leman says this is a No, No. It creates perfectionist children who will grow up to carry that burden.

He also says that you want excellence instead of perfection. From his description I think that means that you do a job well enough for what it is meant for ~ it doesn't have to be perfect. For instance, the notes you take in class don't have to be perfectly formed letters with correct punctuation and sentence structure because they are for your eyes and brain only. But the resume you turn in for a job interview should look and read professional-like.

Charlotte Mason would say never to give a child a job that they can't execute perfectly and that children are capable of more than we think they are. I can see the wisdom of both sides. Maybe these "sides" aren't opposed to each other.

I've heard others use the term "best effort" referring to perfect letters or handiwork. So instead of perfect letters, you would look for a child's best effort. I usually look for correct formation of letters. They are sometimes squiggly or different heights, but I want the kids to be forming their letters the way they were taught. But then I see the near-perfect work that some kids do and wonder if I should be expecting more?

It's a struggle for me. I get stressed out if I feel I must have high perfectionist expectations and that can put a lot of pressure on the kids. I don't want a stressed out home school for us, so I'm trying to find some principles I can handle:

1 - The job should be within the child's ability. My 3 year old cannot form his letters. My 11 year old should be able to form all correctly and do it pretty dang well when required (such as for dictation). Handicrafts should also fall under this principle. (Although you should see some of our projects! They are far from perfect.) When you choose a craft too high for a child's ability, you end up doing a lot of the work. But...... 
2 - Sometimes a job takes practice even if the child is able. I'm not great at drawing. But I've been practicing during Nature Study, and my cicada this week was much better than my cricket last week. 
3 - Work on one or two things at a time. For chores, our kids help with all household duties, but we are concentrating on teaching them how to clean the bathrooms. So their room may be a bit dusty from my lack of supervision, but those bathrooms are sparkling! We'll move onto laundry and rooms and such after bathrooms are conquered. 
4 - Secure the ground under their feet. Show them what you expect out of copy work, crafts, habits, etc. Model it for them. Then watch and instruct as they do it. As they get it down, slowly back away and let them own it. Patience is key. And this instructing time will not last forever. 
5 - We all tend toward laziness, right? Kids will get tired of doing the job the way you taught them and will start cutting corners. Call them back. Make them redo (not you) and keep an eye on them for a while until they are back to doing their best. 
6 - Grace. God gives grace. We parents should give grace. God doesn't expect us to be perfect. He knows we won't be. That's why Jesus is our perfection. Our kids are little humans and will have bad days and get overwhelmed with our high expectations and will just want a break. Grace. Love. Hugs, snuggles, wisdom, and cookies.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

On Starting a Mason Education

Many people are overwhelmed when first beginning to homeschool using Charlotte Mason methods. Her ways are so different from our usual educative mindset. At first glance some may think they seem overly easy. But when it comes down to doing it...... It gets puzzling and overwhelming. So many times the advice is for the newbie to start slow with only a few subjects and then add in new pieces as they get a handle on the practiced ones. Pretty good advice.

But that got me thinking: Why is a Mason education so much harder to grasp? With some curriculums you can just sit down and start reading textbooks and answering questions and taking tests. That's not so hard. Our minds grasp this concept. Why is this not so with CM?

The answer is in the change of thought and perspective that Charlotte Mason brings. It doesn't come all at once. We've been implementing CM for 6 years and I'm still grasping some of the concepts. That also shows the living nature of her ideas though. You can begin implementing right away and get a lot of good out of it, but then continue to grow and glean and learn for many years down the road.

It's a little like eating healthy. You know fruit and vegetables are good for you and you really want to begin a healthier meal plan for your family. But it's different from what you're used to. It will take time and effort and experimentation to figure out dishes that are healthy and yummy. Taste buds will need to adjust. Parents will need to lead the way. But in a year you'll be further along than you are now and your family will be grateful for the effort.

Similarly (slightly), a Mason education takes some time to understand. Often the appreciation is already there ~ that's the reason it was chosen as the homeschool method ~ but a deeper appreciation will certainly develop. The concept about education being a lifelong process instead of something to check off a list and forget about will grow. The concept of loving knowledge and wanting more is hard to pass on to kids when we've grown up with the practical view. Allowing kids to thrive at their own pace instead of sticking to imposed grades is hard when you feel outside eyes upon you. Seeing accumulated meaningful knowledge emanate from the child instead of being spit out in list of memorization or written on stacks of papers is joyous for parents but a little nail-biting when portfolio review time comes. There are many more such concepts that are easily written down but hard to shift our thinking on.

So that's one reason families might start out a Charlotte Mason education slowly. It is a paradigm shift not expounded by surrounding academia. Most subjects take practice because they are done so differently. But with good practice, the wisdom behind the method shines through and your family will learn to love to learn again.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Friends

We're in the midst of finishing up some of our literature readings. As I'm reading to my third kindergartner Phoebe, I can't help feeling a twinge of sadness mixed with gladness. Glad that I have one more child to read these books to when Harrison enters Kindergarten. Sad that I only have one more child to read these books to!! You really can't stop time. 

Last week was a tough one. We said goodbye to Pooh and Christopher Robin: 
Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was still looking at the world, with his chin in his hands called out, "Pooh!"
"Yes?" said Pooh.
"When I'm - when - Pooh!"
"Yes, Christopher Robin?"
"I'm not going to do Nothing any more."
"Never again?"
"Well, not so much. They don't let you."
"Pooh, when I'm - you know - when I'm not doing Nothing, will you come up here sometimes?"
"Just Me?"
"Yes, Pooh."
"Will you be here too?"
"Yes, Pooh, I will be, really. I promise I will be, Pooh."
"That's good," said Pooh.
"Pooh, promise you won't forget about me, ever. Not even when I'm a hundred."
"Pooh," said Christopher Robin earnestly, "if I - if I'm not quite -" he stopped and tried again - "Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won't you?"
"Understand what?"
"Oh, nothing." He laughed and jumped to his feet. "Come on!"
"Where?" said Pooh.
"Anywhere," said Christopher Robin. *

Whew. That is tough to read out loud. I can't do it without the tears flowing. And of course your voice changes when you're crying so it all sounds kind of strained and high. But I do love those books.

We also said goodbye to Robin Hood:
"Little John," said he, "Little John, mine own dear friend, and him I love better than all others in the world, mark, I prythee, where this arrow lodges, and there let my grave be digged. Lay me with my face toward the east, Little John, and see that my resting-place be kept green, and that my weary bones be not disturbed." 
As he finished speaking, he raised himself of a sudden and sat upright. His old strength seemed to come back to him, and, drawing the bowstring to his ear, he sped the arrow out of the open casement. As the shaft flew, his hand sank slowly with the bow till it lay across his knees, and his body likewise sank back again into Little John's loving arms; but something had sped from that body, even as the winged arrow sped from the bow. **

There are about two pages at the end of that book that I can't get through without crying also. It surprised me when I read it for the first time to my oldest. I didn't know Robin Hood would die. I didn't expect it.

And so we come to the end and say goodbye to our newfound friends. These kinds of books my kids come back to again and again. I don't know if I'll ever pick up Winnie the Pooh to read all on my own, so I hope there will always be children in my life for me to read them to. My kids aren't the only ones who miss these friendships.

*"The House at Pooh Corner" by AA Milne
**"The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood" by Howard Pyle

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

"The Remarkable Ronald Reagan"

  "Wait! He was a cowboy?! (*swoon*) I LOVE this president!"

We've always spoken highly of President Reagan in our household, but little Phoebe learned some new things about Dutch from Susan Allen's book "The Remarkable Ronald Reagan" (illustrations by Leslie Harrington).

Susan takes children through the life of Ronald Wilson Reagan touching on the highlights of his life and presidency. The book is about 20 pages long with a timeline, sample letters, and quotes included at the end. I found the ending part very interesting (especially the quotes), but the kids found the story more engaging. Jonathan said after I read a funny quote, "I can't laugh at that because I don't know what it means." :-) I love reading the "Important Things Ronald Reagan Said" though ~ he had such a way with words. One of my favorite quotes:

 "The American dream is not that every man must be level with every other man. The American dream is that every man must be free to become whatever God intends he should be." 

Reagan is admired and respected in our home, so it was easy for us to get into the story to learn about his life. He had such a colorful life too! Movie star, cowboy, athlete, speaker, politics, president. What an interesting person. The book doesn't take long to read, but we did a lot of stopping for discussion, so it may have been more memorable if we read it over several days, especially if used as a school book. Each set of pages covers a new topic which opened up lots of questions from my kids: Was Papa alive then? Wow, so World War II wasn't that long ago. What does divorce mean? Where is California? Is a governor like the president of a state? Did you actually watch it blow up? Why is that boy sitting on top of that wall? And so on and so on......

The toddler of the family enjoyed the pictures. He crawled into my lap to get a good look and join in the family reading time. I would definitely use "The Remarkable Ronald Reagan" as an extra in our home schoolroom. My thoughts on Living Books can be found here, and I would say this book qualifies. It was engaging, written by an author who obviously loves her subject, and didn't talk down to the kids.

This review is a part of a TLC Book Tour where many bloggers give their opinion of the same book.  You can find more reviews of this book here at TLC Book Tours.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

PS I can hear my kids playing in the room saying, "He's a little chubby; we'll call him Dutch!" Funny kids. They picked something up from the book at least.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

It Feeds

Enjoying some river time ~ and it counts as school!

That's one of the things I love most about a Charlotte Mason education. It feeds me. It feeds my children. There are seasons of life that are more stressful than others, and I've found that I increasingly look forward to the schooling part of the day during those times. The poetry, Bible reading, songs, paintings, history and science and biography readings, even mathematics and copy work all provide calm yet meaningful nourishment for my mind. There is always something that takes my mind off of stressful worries of life and gives me good in its place to contemplate. The quality of the chosen books is probably the part that feeds my mind and soul so well. The books are not dry. They are not merely facts drained of life. They aren't read hurriedly so that the child can spend most of his time writing out answers to the questions that are asked at the end of the chapter. They contain ideas that we discuss which engages my brain as well as the child's. They are books I look forward to reading. I'm just finishing up reading Winnie the Pooh to one child, and I'm chomping at the bit to read it again to the next child, even though he's at least 2 years away from being ready for it. I'm excited to do school with the kids. It fills up my soul. It feeds.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Prayer and a Poem for Memorial Day

"Dear God we thank you for our founders who recognized that you created us as free men - that no man or government has a right to take that freedom from us. We thank you for the men and women who, throughout our history, have fought and died to protect and defend our freedom. From Lexington and Concord to the battlefields of Gettysburg from the beaches of Normandy to the citizen soldiers of Flight 93 we thank you for their sacrifice. Amen." (Phillip prayed in church today.)

Photo from

 The Stone Soldier

He stands his watch in the wind and the rain
Watching people come to release their pain
He guards those who lie beneath the stones
All those who made that final march home
Some come as old men with memories and scars.
Some fly home in coffins covered in stars. 
(See the rest of the poem by Silas Champion at FinbarsFiddle.)