Friday, July 18, 2014

Scheduling notes for the AO/MA 2014-15 school year

Hi Friends,

Many of you are in scheduling mode right now and asking for help, so here is our routine/schedule for the upcoming school year using AO Years 0, 2, 3, 12. (Mater Amabilis years Prep, 1B and Year 2 of 1A)

Page one is the schedule, which I based on my combined experiences at Basic Combat Training in the US Army and with Carmelite monastic life, because I'm crazy like that... and it works. True story.
Page two is the gritty details... what exactly we are up to.

As before, we have three formations (we call them consilium)-- one in the morning, one after naps, and one in the evening.  I'm toying with the idea of having afternoons be poetry AND music and opening up the evenings more because we always have company at night... we shall see as we go along.

I'm schooling three elementary children, tutoring one high school senior, and entertaining a toddler, and "academics" go til noon. Haven't used this much yet (although it's close to what we did last year) so it may need some tweaking, but this is the general plan. I'll keep you posted as far as how it seems to be working.

A couple notes:

I don't combine years. Each kid gets cycled through time with me, youngest to oldest. Kids can get up whatever time they want and join me in that morning routine as long it's AFTER 6:30 and BY 7:30. Obviously, there are days where.... yeah. It's not happening. That's why we school year roundish (we break for advent, lent, and a month in the summer but usually keep "schooling" lightly because CMing is a life.

We don't snack. Meals are an event around here. They take a while, and since we cook from scratch, they require prep. Also, we ALL nap. If you're not sleeping, you are having a "quiet time." That's when freereads goes down.

Wednesday nights we do a book study/bible study or prayer group in the community so that is pretty open. Workbaskets are just random tups full of whatever handicrafts the kids are into at the time (Sewing, knitting, spinning, woodworking, whatever)
The "phases" are what they do to make soldiers in BCT, and I use it in the same way-- as a guideline to help me know how to provide the right environment/ oversight to each kid. Kids are cycled through as needed.

In keeping with "Education is a discipline, atmosphere, and life" we aren't going to do much breaking from good habits this year to see if that helps with the Mondays. ;) As before our observation of the Hebrew Catholic liturgical year makes for a good mix of ordinary and holy moments throughout the week.
Hydration just means I make sure they drink some water.... and I think the rest is pretty self-explanatory.
Don't be put off by the military mindset.... our days feel relaxed and it plays out as naturally as breathing.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments!
Good luck, I'm praying for you in your planning!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

No excuses

I don't usually post much about fitness, mostly because there is nothing tangible that I have to show for it.
Though I've grown really interested in fitness and it has become a huge part of my life, it isn't really my place to say much at this point---  I am light years ahead of where I was, but way behind where I want to be.

Lately, however, I've been reading a lot of threads on facebook from mothers who want to lose weight and get in shape---  but say that they don't have the time to do it.
The sheer amount of responses from people in the same situation commiserating with one another is an indication of how common this problem is.
I posted a comment response one day in yet another thread about it on facebook that was poorly received by most people in there. What I said was: "I understand how hard it is. You will feel better if you just. do. it."
Let's just say that wasn't received very well.

And what I read in response to my comment, I realized, was a literal flood of excuses....excuses I've been guilty of making myself in the past.
Hence this post.

Before I begin, let me just repeat that I used to be that mom. In fact, on down days, I still am!!
So much.
I truly understand the struggle.
Maybe more than others. ;)

Do you relate to this great picture of normal motherhood? I do.

This is motherhood, in a nutshell.

My husband works long hours, and is often gone for days at a time. When he is home he doesn't "take over," to alleviate my duties much. He's not what I would call "easy-going," and requires a lot from me.
I have a lot of kids and they are all really young. They also require a lot from me.
We don't have any money for gyms or babysitters. I don't drive. We don't have a lot of equipment.
In the past, on most days, I could hardly get my teeth brushed in the morning or take a five minute shower, without someone getting injured or destroying my house,  let alone carve out an hour, or even ten minutes to "take care of myself."
(I'm exaggerating, of course, but these were my thoughts when I was really low.)
The days dragged on, but somehow time passed so quickly. The baby weight stayed. There was never the time to do anything about it.

My husband began to get frustrated. The weight was not attractive on me.
He and his friends have always led a very healthy lifestyle. They get together and work out. They work out at work. Supplements and nutrition are a normal part of their daily conversation.
They have favorite bodybuilders, something I always thought was lame and weird, to be honest. I didn't think muscles were interesting or worth spending time on.

But it was clear I was slightly depressed and basically felt like a robot in my daily life.
Where he and his friends were basically pretty happy, inside I was hurting at the suggestion that exercise was the answer to my problems--- I hadn't WANTED to be pregnant over and over again. I didn't love much of anything about being a young mother of many with everything that goes with that. Didn't anyone care about what I did want??!
I was determined to embrace motherhood, but to be honest, it felt just a teeny little bit like hell itself.

And then here was the real struggle: the absolute LAST thing I wanted to do was to make a priority out of exercise.  Exercise, in my mind, was punishment. It was more hell, not less.
It was something I needed to do in my five minutes of precious free time-- but not something I wanted to do.
In fact, it was something that I hated doing, that I felt made me miserable and was hard and uncomfortable.
I didn't want to sweat. I didn't want to change my clothes. I didn't want to go run. To be perfectly honest, all I wanted to do was collapse and wake up when my kids were older and my husband was happier to see me, or hide in the pantry and eat chocolate.

Most women seem to agree with me. There are more posts about fitness from men than women in my newsfeed on any given day, and WAY more posts about accepting fat and imperfections from women than men. We just don't seem to WANT to exercise.

When I thought about it, I did want my husband to respect me more, to love me more, and to want to spend time with me more, but I wanted it to be for "who I was," (which, btw, wasn't who I was when he married me, right? I was significantly larger, grumpier, and more tired, lazy, and whiny.)

I also wanted to enjoy my kids, and not feel drained by them. I wanted more energy. I wanted time to myself. I wanted to reach some personal goals. I wanted to have more confidence and fewer tears. I wanted to rewind life and be young again. I wanted some peace and quiet. I wanted to stop time-- maybe even to rewind it.

Here's what I learned when I finally gave up and started doing it: Exercise is the fountain of youth.

It is a confidence builder. It is the healthiest and most beneficial form of "me time." It will give me the energy I crave. It is a powerful form of meditation. It boosts my mood and relieves my pains and aches. It is an intellectual and spiritual pursuit, as well as a physical pursuit.
It reminds me of why I'm alive. It heals me. It gives me time to think and gets me away from the chaos and craziness of regular, daily mom-life.  And most importantly, it teaches me some powerful lessons about life: that everything I want to achieve requires sweat, patience, dying to myself, and perseverance. Slowly it is becoming my place of peace.

Enjoying a quiet morning run in nature.

No magical thing happened when I finally admitted that I had been weak, lazy, and wrong.

I didn't suddenly find the financial means to join a gym. I didn't find a perfect babysitter who I trusted and was free. I didn't suddenly discover that my hopes of losing all that baby weight with a 20 minute yoga video twice a week were founded in science. No. Nothing got "easier."
Except my attitude. And my strength.

I had made resolutions year after year, just like everyone else. I had told myself I would just give it a try for a day, a week, a month. And then stopped.
I'd give it a half-hearted attempt (like, five pushups) and then collapse. I'd tell myself I was doing OK for "a start." Then I'd skip it for a few days.
I had told myself that yoga was going to be my thing... the thing that worked. And I would do it, and love it. But I couldn't escape the other aspects of fitness that yoga wasn't addressing.
I still needed it, it wasn't going to be as enjoyable as a yoga class or as sitting on my butt on my couch, and I knew it.

Thankfully, it turned out that God was on my side because I also have a husband who is a bit of a pain and who pushed me. A lot. The instant he saw me take ANY interest in exercise, he would begin to push hard.
He would come home from his night shift and say to me: "get dressed, I'm going to take you over to the river trail for a run." There is no arguing with that man. (Believe me, I've tried.)
After many years of this, one day, out of desperation, and even out of anger...I tried it his way.
And it clicked.

The first few days I was surprised to learn that I felt good, but it wasn't a habit. A couple weeks later, it began to become a habit, but I noticed that I felt worse. When I felt worse, I didn't want to exercise.
This is normal--- but it felt like everything conspired against me. Every time I would make a small amount of progress, something would happen to stop me in my tracks. I began to despair. I wanted immediate results. When I would experience a wall, I'd just give up, and my husband would get frustrated. I could tell he'd almost given up on me, and I'd be tempted to give up on me, too.
After a while I got resentful, too, because the only time I could find to work out was after everyone, including he, had gone to bed.
The resentment affected my relationships and the lack of sleep affected my emotions.

I've always need a push to get moving on stuff that doesn't "feel good."
When I was younger, my brother, intent on joining the military, would fling me out of bed and scream at me to move faster as I ran down the street in his company.  He'd pile rocks in two backpacks, strap them on our backs, and then leave me in the dust, where I'd complain about being hot and tired while he'd do laps around me. In Basic Training my drill sergeants were so frustrated with me. They knew what I was capable of, but found that motivating me was almost impossible. Unless there was a fire under my butt, I wasn't going to do anything I didn't want to, not even for the US Army, and I nearly became the only private to graduate BCT who couldn't even do a dang pullup on my own.

My husband has the same problem. He can't make me work out. I have to want it.
So unless I was spending copious amounts of time in research mode studying up on motivational fitness ideas and methods I WANTED to try, I was a blob on the couch. It just wasn't "me."

I had to learn to give that up.
And in doing so, I learned an important lesson: motivation is half the battle.

One night I learned that a celebrity I had always admired and who happened to be extremely fit had had the same kinds of hold ups. His physique was amazing and I had always assumed was something that had come to him naturally.

That night, I read in an interview that he had had to be pushed every step of the way (Sound familiar?) and all of the tremendous things he had overcome along the way humbled me.
Eventually he learned that the only way that fitness was going to happen was if he worked and did things he didn't enjoy or feel like doing.
He had often had to work out at 10:30 at night, after exhausting trips and tours, and long after everyone else was asleep. Eventually, the hard work payed off and today he is famous for his singing ability, and even more so for his physique-- which prompted his encouraging, positive attitude and work ethic, which in turn have made him a dedicated husband, father, and friend, and a powerful witness to godly living.

It reminded me that my husband has the same story. He wasn't naturally fit, but in exercise he had learned many important life lessons, and he had found a lot of healing from the difficult things life had handed him when he was a child.

The more "success stories" I read like his, the better I felt about exercise. I stopped feeling so alone. I stopped feeling like the whole world was against me, and instead I started feeling like I was part of a family of the strongest people on earth. Super-humans.
And they were actually all around me. My neighbors. My co-workers. People I passed on the street.
Instead of tearing me down and making me feel inferior like I had thought they would, time spent with people or reading about people who were extremely fit always built me up and encouraged me not just to win at fitness, but at life.
I learned I didn't actually hate these fit people all around me. I admired them--- and with good reason. And the harder I tried, the more bonded we were, even though I'm not even CLOSE to where they are at in the physical realm.


I started to find motivation in the funniest places-- in fitness professionals who had obviously reached success in their goals and overcome a lot to get there. I started following bodybuilders-- both men and women-- who posted about their fitness experiences on facebook and twitter, and reading their blogs.
It was weird, at first, because these were people I used to find actually physically repulsive, but I found amazing encouragement in their stories.
All of them had achieved incredible things with dedication, hard work, and persistence. Many of them had found healing from  their past.
And they really found joy in sharing those lessons with others, which in turn, helped bring a little sunshine and light to the world around them.

This gave me the strength to keep at it.
I wanted my kids to admire me like that one day, too. And I wanted my husband to be proud of me.
Still, every single step felt like work. Sometimes it was fun work, but many times... it was still drudgery.... at least before I got started.

And then one day, it happened.

I randomly weighed myself (I had not been weighing myself regularly on purpose, so as not to get discouraged) and learned I had lost a lot of weight. 20 lbs!

I went shopping and realized I was down a couple dress sizes for the first time in years.

In the mirror, I started to notice definition in my muscles where before there had been none. I could see muscles I had no idea I had.  Definition was appearing! It was so exciting!!!

My successes were really funny at first. I wanted to tell everyone, but at the same time, I couldn't believe they were things that I was dealing with.
The flap in my lower belly where pregnancy after pregnancy had left it's mark was suddenly lifted, instead of hanging over.... leaving me with great hope that it would one day actually flatten out and disappear. (ewwwww!)
My breasts, which had sagged from the heavy weight of nursing endlessly suddenly started sitting a little higher.
Picking up my baby was easier. And I could wear jeans again!
I discovered I had never, ever lifted with my legs, or squatted to pick something up and wondered where these movements had been all my life.... they were so helpful! Suddenly tasks around the house were less drudgery and became easier and even more fun. They hurt less and were over quicker.

A short while later, I again sustained a couple of serious injuries due to exercise.
Then came the failures.
For a time, the injuries felt like they had stopped me in my tracks. I let days and even weeks go by without doing anything of value in my workouts. I even stopped working out altogether. I stopped eating clean.
The weight came back.
I realized that exercise-- like life-- would always be like this. There would always be something.
I couldn't let that stop me. I had to keep pressing forward, making progress, being patient, being consistent. Admitting mistakes, learning from them, and letting them go. Working hard.

Just like homeschooling.
Just like housekeeping.
Just like my career.
Just like my relationships.
Just like my faith.

As I write this, I have a problem in my bicep which is relatively serious and is preventing me from even normal activity, let alone lifting weights. I am also having a problem with my ankle.
Now, instead of being depressed that I have to workout, I'm finding it extremely depressing not being able to work out. I'm also finding that I cannot allow myself to be defeated.
I've been sitting on my butt crying about it for a few weeks now.
But the truth is, as I write this, that though my bicep may not be working at the moment, my legs are. I can wiggle my toes. I can always do something. This bicep problem has felt like my undoing but in reality, I just need to assess the situation, develop a strategy, and continue to make progress.
No excuses.

I'm at an age where I'm starting to see that health is not a guarantee. I watched my grandfather and my father in law die of cancer. It was horrific. I am seeing friends and acquaintances who seem perfectly "normal" and healthy have heart attacks. Awful. On a practical level, I don't recover from a long night as quickly. I don't feel as "ready" when I wake up. I worry if my body can handle "one more baby." I'm in my thirties.
If I hadn't done it before, it's definitely time now to take my health seriously. I want to be around for my grandkids!!

In writing this, I realize I have been a little harsh.
I had to be because I am preaching to myself as much as to the rest of you.
Exercise is hard. It is painful.
It is intense. It causes suffering.
But like everything else in parenting and in life, you have to get past the suffering to see the glory. Those who don't even try will never know the sweetness of success. Those who don't make efforts consistently will not see the value of effort in itself. No effort gets no results. There are no excuses for not making an effort. These things are all true--- and only those with great strength to overcome hardships will believe me, because they are the ones who will try.

Don't have that strength? I didn't think I did either.
But you can't be awesome unless you DO something awesome.
There was a day this past winter, where I found myself starting a run at 7:30 in the morning in below freezing weather. I was cold, and I was furious, because my husband had dropped me off and nagged me to death about going even though I hadn't wanted to go. Now here I was, alone in the woods, and I had two hours to kill before he'd be back. If I wasn't going to freeze, I could either run home or run the woods, and since I didn't want to see him, I chose the trail.
I ran because I was cold.
As I ran, I picked up speed.
As I picked up speed, I got hot, and took my sweatshirt off and tied it around my waist.
There was no one on the trail for miles.
Suddenly, I realized there were two figures up ahead.
Embarrassed because I hate running in public, I realized they were two special forces soldiers. (I live in a military town.)
They were also running, and in shorts and tee shirts, despite the weather.
Instead of laughing at me as I had feared they would (I always think people are laughing at me when I run in public) I was surprised to find that they congratulated me. And smiled. One of them told me I was brave. They even looked back at me as if they thought I was attractive.
The thing was, I wasn't brave! And I was certainly NOT attractive.
I hadn't wanted to be there, I was grumpy, I couldn't feel my face, and I was just taking one step in front of the other. I was sweaty and smelled bad. I was wearing frumpy clothes because they were comfortable to run in.
But when I passed them, it hit me.
I may not be strong, or tough, but I was alone on a trail in freezing weather, running, and the only people running with me were SF. I wasn't in shape, I wasn't good at it, but I was just doing it. And I was the only one doing it besides them.

This changed my attitude tremendously. I began to see that those guys didn't get tough because they were just born that way. They had trained themselves there. They had worked tirelessly... in the cold, in the rain, when they were sick, when they were tired.
And it had been worth it, because when I had passed them on the trail, even from a distance I had said to myself: "Uh oh. Those guys are huge. Those guys are tough. Those guys are powerful."

They had never really had my respect just because they walked around with certain badges on their uniform. I see that every day, and it means very little to me.
That day, though, they got my respect because I saw them out running in shorts and teeshirts when I knew it was hard and it was early and it was cold, and it was uncomfortable and it was Saturday morning, and they were getting older,  and it was many other things that made what we were all out there doing DIFFICULT.

Only instead of being frustrating-- it was incredible! I fed right off their energy and ran faster and better after they had passed. I felt awesome.
When I got home, it made me want to do it again the next day. And when I did, and saw another woman on the trail, obviously a mom because she was pushing a jogging stroller and looked like she hadn't slept much.
That day I gave her the same kind of encouragement I had received the day before.
Her whole countenance changed. She knew what she was doing was good, and right.
And worth it. She held her head taller and her stride grew more vibrant.
I have found that God always sends me a little encouragement just when I'm ready to quit, in this same way.

So believe me when I say that I know the struggle. When I walk down the street right now, people don't say to themselves: "Hey, that woman is really in shape!"
But that's not the point. The point is that I know what feels healthier and what feels unhealthy.
I know what helps me and I know what hurts me.
I know, now, what it "was" like and what it "will be like."

Today, before the day goes by, see if you can't just get out there and do it. Even for moms-- ESPECIALLY for moms, exercise is critical.
Catholic wives are called to have babies. Lots of babies.

Drop and do a pushup every time you cross into your kitchen.
Put the baby on the floor next to you and do three sets of 20 situps.
Squat while you do dishes.
Ask your husband to watch the kids for ten minutes and sprint up and down your driveway the whole time.
Don't lie to yourself. An "active lifestyle" is NOT the same as exercise.
You don't need a program.
You don't need a fancy gym in your garage or the perfect diet.
You don't need a husband who gets on your case, or new friends.
You don't need new clothes.
You don't need anything but motivation, a little bit of knowledge,  and the will to do better and be better than you were yesterday.
You aren't competing with anyone but yourself.
It isn't just hard for you. It's hard for everyone.
So, mamas, get out there...

and just. do. it.

To get started, here are 10 tips I've learned along the way.

1. Lift weights, as heavy as you can safely lift them. Get help, at first. This is the number one thing women tend NOT to do, but which yields the best results, hands down. As I have progressed in fitness, I have begun to notice how much time is wasted in exercise endeavors that do nothing for people-- or that do something which could be easily done in a shorter amount of time if they would just add more weight.
2. Pay attention to form. Watch YouTube videos and read articles to learn how to properly do exercises, which muscle groups to work, and how. Injuries are not fun.
3. Have a plan. Stick to it. If you have no idea what you're doing, ask someone you admire for their plan, and follow it for a while.
4. Take a rest day. Vary your routines. Have fun.
5. Alternate abs and cardio. Ideally, do them on an empty stomach first thing in the morning. Weight train at other times during the day.
6. Eat a clean diet as a lifestyle. Having a cheat day can help, at first. Take supplements if they help, but remember that in health, processed food is the enemy.
7. If all you have is 20 minutes, read up on how to do tabatas.
8. Get the whole family involved. Get motivated. Find favorite athletes and read their motivational posts. Participate in fitness events locally and online.
9. Don't be afraid to ask for what you need--- and to take advantage of the time you have. And don't be afraid to make fitness a priority, instead of a back burner activity. I promise you, it will be worth the time you are sure you are "wasting." It will give you the things you are looking for outside of exercise.
10. Don't stop when something comes up, even if that something is a pregnancy. Especially when that something is a pregnancy! Keep moving.

I'm praying for you! Please pray for me. :)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

On children and the wild.

Recently many of you reposted this article on facebook, and a few of you sent it to me or linked to it on my timeline.
Here are my thoughts.

Obviously, I am 100% pro children spending the MAJORITY of time outdoors, and I'm huge on masterly inactivity (un-managed play in the context of clearly defined rules and cultivated habits of obedience, attention, and truthfulness.)
I want kids outside, especially doing nature study. As much as possible.

I do think there needs to be a space where they can make their fort, and I do think nature can take it. Yes. I remember all too well the disagreements I had with my father in law about what the kids should and shouldn't be allowed to do outdoors.
He wanted them to play outside, but it seemed that every activity they took up worried him. I understood his concerns, but felt strongly that they should be free to build and be, even at the expense of a few shrubs or flower beds. We can re-seed grass, but those lessons learned outside digging are priceless.

On the other hand, I also think that equally important, is the need to teach children from the youngest of ages that they have a place in nature. They are both "over" it and "in it."
They must learn to take authority, yes, but also they must learn their place in it and the impact of their decisions. I watch them, year by year, in this dance.
The first bug they notice-- something alive that isn't like them. The first time they discover a bird won't come to them. The first time they realize a flower is delicate and easily broken. The first time they get stung, or bit. The first time they fall out of a tree. The first animal they bury. The first decaying animal they discover and attempt to pick up. The first dandelion they reach for that dissolves into a stem, seeds flying on the breeze.

I go on nature hikes with many, many children and I find that most of them don't have a sense of their own *smallness* in nature, which is one of the best lessons nature can teach us-- that we can not control. We can build, but nature can destroy it in an instant. We can know everything there is to know about survival and still encounter the one thing that takes us down. Now, this is a lesson learned best over time, and gently, and typically not through "free play in the woods," of course. But there are other lessons as well.

Take the time to teach them tracking, or to learn how to read scat,  for example- a skill that can both feed them and give them ample time to escape disaster.
Take the time to teach them to bird stalk-- not only because they will find in the birds a perpetual friendship that grows deep over time, but also because it can help them find shelter, listen for danger, and prepare for weather.
Take the time to teach them about the stillness of the mountaintop, the roar of the waves, the music of the forest. Let them hear nature talk so that they learn to quiet themselves.
Let them learn to sit and observe quietly, to return to the same places each day or week, or month and be greeted by the same friends in nature-- that tree or rock or stream or animal who, with the seasons, looks and acts differently to adapt to it's environment.
Teach them that to want to take an animal out of it's environment and make it a "pet" is the seedling of objectification-- one of the greatest evils of this world. More rewarding than a pet is a free, wild animal that loves you, and who you love. (Are you coming with me on that one? It is one of my favorite lessons that so many people seem to miss.)

It frustrates me to see children (and inexperienced adults!) rumbling around off-trail, touching things. Conservation of resources is an important lesson, as is stewardship, and rule-following for the good of all. People are perpetually "ruining it for others" with careless wandering through protected areas.

It is also dangerous. Here in the Carolinas 80% of what's "out there" will damage you, and I'm constantly amazed to see kids-- and parents-- wandering through poison ivy, over potential snake zones, and through dangerous spiderwebs. Children will get ticks, they will get ant bites, yes.
But by all means, teach them how to avoid  these things and don't just let them loose to learn through each injury. The results could be deadly.

It also frustrates me to see children who have not been taught that nature did not create neat trails of concrete with porta-potties and water fountains placed at equal distances through the woods.
Many children hardly notice the difference between a pristine, protected and untouched field and a garden. Many children's only experience of nature is a weekly trip to the botanical gardens.
Take them to state parks and wild areas. From time to time, camp with them in sleeping bags far from campgrounds and folding chairs. Let them see the stars far from the city lights.

But.... "Leave no trace."

This is the motto of every bushcraft enthusiast and naturalist, and one it is our duty and responsibility to hand down to our children.. It is a lesson I seldom see being taught to children these days, even by park rangers. It is one the ancients handed down to us-- those precious ancients who in every country were chased out of their wildlands and into captivity and eventually into their own private hells by those who left a trace.

"Leave no trace" ensures safety. It also ensures conservation of beauty, it ensures friendship with nature and also survival for future generations and for those around us now. "Leave no trace" is the essence of a relationship with nature, but because of the nature of Man it must be balanced with our primal call to "Forge a Path," a vocation which also cannot be ignored.
We are men, and not animals.
We will travel. We will discover. We will conquer. We will build. We will settle. It will be glorious! We will hopefully take only what we need, replace what we can, and live in friendship and harmony with that with which we can co-exist peacefully.

For me, the most important thing in life is to find balance, and spending time with children in nature is one of the best ways to teach this important lesson.
By all means-- let them play and explore! But never forget to teach them, to train them, to hand down the lessons of the ancients who came before us and successfully lived WITH nature. The world has enough disrespect, destruction, and thoughtlessness.

Put them in nature to give them a sense of wonder, awe, and humility.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Hymn- Heyr HimnasmiĆ°ur

Forgot to post this month's hymn, written in 1208!
Lyrics onscreen in English and Icelandic.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A psalm for those who despair in the presence of liturgical abuse

Psalm 94  English Standard Version (ESV)
The Lord Will Not Forsake His People

94 O Lord, God of vengeance,
O God of vengeance, shine forth!
2 Rise up, O judge of the earth;
repay to the proud what they deserve!
3 O Lord, how long shall the wicked,
how long shall the wicked exult?
4 They pour out their arrogant words;
all the evildoers boast.
5 They crush your people, O Lord,
and afflict your heritage.
6 They kill the widow and the sojourner,
and murder the fatherless;
7 and they say, “The Lord does not see;
the God of Jacob does not perceive.”

8 Understand, O dullest of the people!
Fools, when will you be wise?
9 He who planted the ear, does he not hear?
He who formed the eye, does he not see?
10 He who disciplines the nations, does he not rebuke?
He who teaches man knowledge—
11 the Lord—knows the thoughts of man,
that they are but a breath.

12 Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord,
and whom you teach out of your law,
13 to give him rest from days of trouble,
until a pit is dug for the wicked.
14 For the Lord will not forsake his people;
he will not abandon his heritage;
15 for justice will return to the righteous,
and all the upright in heart will follow it.

16 Who rises up for me against the wicked?
Who stands up for me against evildoers?
17 If the Lord had not been my help,
my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
18 When I thought, “My foot slips,”
your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.
19 When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul.
20 Can wicked rulers be allied with you,
those who frame injustice by statute?
21 They band together against the life of the righteous
and condemn the innocent to death.
22 But the Lord has become my stronghold,
and my God the rock of my refuge.
23 He will bring back on them their iniquity
and wipe them out for their wickedness;
the Lord our God will wipe them out.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Freaky Fridays: On Waldorf Education

It's been a while since I've had a Freaky Friday entry, but today is the day!

A woman I recently met, who we'll call Sara, shared this testimony today of her experiences with Waldorf education, that I thought were indeed helpful to share. Although I am personally not familiar with Waldorf's theories, and despite the fact that I have many friends who were raised in Waldorf schools and seem to have enjoyed themselves tremendously, I have always felt a little tug to just stay away. I'm glad I did.

She writes:

"It's been on my mind to share my cautionary tale about my experiences with Waldorf and "Waldorf inspired" homeschooling since I discovered something in the past week.
Waldorf education and methods cannot be separated from Steiner's Anthroposophy, an occult science. It permeates everything. Under all those gently colored images is something really dark. I was involved in Waldorf off and on from 2011 until this year.
So many Christian and Catholic moms are doing Waldorf inspired homeschooling or incorporating elements of it into their existing curricula that I think it's important to let people know what they could be getting into.

It's a common refrain by the Waldorf community that Anthroposophy is not taught to children in the schools. It is true in that they do not receive didactic instruction in a subject called anthroposophy. What Waldorf leaves out is that every single element of curriculum and methodology is anthroposophical in nature and intent. The teachers are all educated at anthroposophical schools and read anthropos texts including Steiners visions for education.

Teachers are taught to do inner work in order to communicate with spiritual realms in order to facilitate the actual goal of Waldorf education: to help the child first fully incarnate their soul into their body and then to help guide the soul toward an improved reincarnation in the hope that the "whole child" will be pure enough to shed his body and enter the spirit realm.

Even though I was going to homeschool, the anthroposophical influence was very strong. The "gentle" curriculum that I purchased included "inner work" for mothers. At first, I thought this meant self improvement. Not so much. I was invited to join groups to study Steiner by other homeschooling moms.

Some of the biggest proponents of Waldorf homeschooling are very anthroposophist and want to lead you in.

Anthroposophists also believe that Jesus was a sun god, aka Apollo. So, all the so called Christian festivals they celebrate are actually not about Jesus.

Some argue that they can use the elements of Waldorf without being Waldorf. Maybe this is the case, but I think it is important to share exactly why Waldorf does what it does. Each aspect of Waldorf education has an underlying spiritual importance in anthroposophy.
Some examples:

Stockmar Beeswax Crayons: Yes, they are beautiful. But when you purchase them your money goes to an anthroposophical company in Germany. Each color has an intentional occult significance.

Soft colors in the classroom, play silks, expressionless dolls, songs for every activity are how early childhood Waldorf educators create a "dream like" atmosphere in order for the still incarnating little ones to remember their past lives.

Gnomes and fairies. Cute but actually considered to be real beings. This is taught to children as part of the science curriculum.

Wet on Wet Watercolors are meant to create colorful hazy forms that represent Steiner's view of the spiritual realm.

Nature Tables are intended to be altars to the spiritual world that is concealed by the natural world. Hence the fairies and gnomes that are usually displayed along with the various images of nature.

Delayed academics, while not evil on its own, the purpose of it in Waldorf education is to keep children focused on the spiritual world until they are able to fully incarnate into their bodies at 7.

Festivals that appear to be Christian in origin have an underlying occult significance.

Form drawing (with the beeswax crayons) is a method toward clairvoyance.

I really want to share this because once I learned how evil Waldorf really was/is, I realized why I'd felt so oppressed spiritually during my time with it. I started believing that the world in front of me wasn't real but was an illusion like The Matrix. I was terrified all the time. Making nature tables and having a rhythm of the day, painting wet on wet water colors, reading the inner work stuff, and singing all those verses were not making me feel peaceful at all. It made me feel dark. So, now that I did some research about it, I realized why.

I want to save you from that by sharing some of what I learned."

I want to thank Sara for speaking up about what she discovered. Have you had any experiences with Waldorf, and would you like to share them below?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Schedule for The World's Story by Elizabeth O'Neill

A very brief post that might help some of the Catholic users of Ambleside Online.

We LOVE the Synge and Hillyer books, but both have some issues that need explaining. In fact, I have a great sadness over the Synge books in particular, which our family LOVED until we got to the reformation portions.... then we knew we had to stop using them. That being said, I'm sure many families could simply read them and discuss, but in our family, it wasn't an option.

My husband feels strongly that especially in the young, formative years  I should use Catholic history books, because they tend to be more honest on BOTH sides of the main issues (Schism, Reformation, etc.) and to have a more Christ- centered (Vs people-centered) view of History. As we know, though, quality Catholic history texts are hard to come by. For the first two years this was a real conundrum for me.

However, I recently participated in editing a new edition of the book The World's Story by Elizabeth O'Neill. It's excellent, beautifully bound, very well-written and perfectly Catholic--- fair and balanced. I highly recommend it for world history and it is in fact scheduled for around fifth grade on Mater Amabilis. (Can't find my camera charger or I'd take some pictures to go with this post.)

Anyways, I scheduled it into the first five years of AO to replace the other history books (Synge or Hillyer's histories) as best as I could. My Year 1 this year has missed his chance to hear it and my Year 2 has missed a lot of it, since it just came out, but I will be using it for our family from next year onwards and wish I would have known about it before!

The reading is heavy in Y1 (two sections per week) but AO says on the website that it purposely left the schedule light to add in some history, so that should be fine.  The sections are also very short so two sections could make up one reading time.

Because The World's Story is set up both like a world history AND a bit like a world geography in some places, the readings don't always correlate perfectly, and in some years hardly at all, but I am quite sure that Charlotte Mason would have approved nevertheless, as it gives a complete, fair, and balanced survey of world history and the child will be able to make his/ her own connections as they read the rest of the scheduled books on AO.

So, without further ado, here is a schedule for using it with years 1-5. As with AO's schedules, one asterisk denotes Term 1, two for Term 2, and three for Term 3. In Year one, there are 23 readings per term (about 2 each week), but as I said, the readings are short and could be done in one sitting. The reading level is advanced--- this is a middle school text-- but that should be no problem for children who are using Ambleside as is.

*Chapter I-VI
** Chapter VII-XII
*** Chapter XIII-XX

(after Year One the readings go down to just one every other week or so, approximately 7 per term.)

*Chapter XXI- Chapter XXIII The Great St Bernard
**Chapter XXIII - Chapter XXV
***Chapter XXV- The Great Poet Dante to XXVII Joan of Arc

*Chapter XVIII - Chapter XXXI The Great Kings
** Chapter XXXI The Reformation in England - Chapter XXXIV
*** Chapter XXXIV The Great Civil War in England - Chapter  XXXVII Peter the Great

* Chapter XXXVIII- Chapter XL
** Chapter XL The First Colonist in Canada- Chapter XLI The End of Slavery
*** Chapter XLII - XLIII the Execution of the King

* Chapter XLIV- Chapter XLV Florence Nightingale
** Chapter XLV The Making of Italy- Chapter XLVI The Explorers
*** Chapter XLVI Mungo Park- Chapter XLVIII Our World Today

Monday, February 24, 2014

Knowledge vs wisdom: Why you need the seven liberal arts

During a conversation about the difference between the liberal arts and the humanities, a friend sent me this article to read yesterday, called "The Great Books... Enemies of Wisdom."

At first, I was taken aback by the title. I glanced at it briefly.
I almost skipped it, thinking to myself.... yeah, yeah, yeah.
It doesn't take too many reads around the homeschool forums to realize that the most verbal advocates of a non-Great Books education actually love the so-called Great Books, and frequently teach/ use their authors.... in context.

But I read it, and I'm so glad I did. It was like the missing puzzle piece that I was looking for to help me connect the ideas in my mind about education, as well as the nail in the coffin for me when it came to other "classical" homeschooling ideas I watch mothers who home educate throw around.

Making a case for a true classical education in the Catholic tradition.... an education where the ability to THINK is the precursor to anything, the article points out so clearly what we homeschooling mothers keep trying to put our finger on when we grasp at "educating" our children. We don't like the modern education system because it is obviously a fact-dumping ground.
We want a "classical" education because it trains our children to think clearly.
We know and understand that great ideas are what counts.
We know they are to be found in books. But if we're honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge that just reading these authors is only half the picture. Following a train of thought is one thing. Adding to it is another. Having your own, original train of thought? A feat that can't possibly be taught just by reading a booklist. (For those of you who do ambleside, you could compare this to teaching the booklist without teaching grammar, latin, arithmetic, etc. It's half an education, which is no education at all.)

That's because a Classical Education is a set of skills taught to the student-- reasoning skills that inevitably lead to seeing the world around oneself clearly.

Without these skills, the "Great Books" are only a shadow of the possibilities of a child's education. I know, because I'm married to a man with these skills. He studied philosophy, whereas I was raised on the Great Books. I "know" the humanities, but I don't always understand the ideas being shared without tremendous effort on my part.
My husband, on the other hand, understands whatever ideas come at him very clearly, and is able to use reason to quickly reject or apply these ideas on the basis of truth-- But he has less of a general knowledge of names and faces. Whenever we grapple with ideas, he sees the big picture, and I often see only what is right in front of me. I often know something is important, whereas he understands WHY it is important.

I wanted something better for my kids than the education I received, which though enjoyable and much better than what I saw others around me doing, was not thorough enough to help me be WISE, only knowledgeable.

I wanted for my children to experience the type of education that will help them to follow in the footsteps of their father, who is able to reason. Reason leads to truth, and if my greatest concern is that they know the truth and thus be free, then I need to teach them to reason, not just to know facts.

This is why a liberal arts education became so important to me.... but not a "liberal arts" education in the modern sense. I love a good book discussion, but only when the minds holding the discussion are sharpened tools at the ready.

The real liberal arts, of which there are seven (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, Music), are the instruments which sharpen the tool of the mind. Once formed, the mind can attack any idea and seek out the truth and effectively find it.

Back in 2008, The Classical Liberal Arts academy put out a similar article, titled "Why the Great Books Aren't so Great." I remember reading it and I would ask you, if you liked the above article, to read it yourselves.

I am now more convinced than ever that the CLAA is offering to students something which you cannot find anywhere else in the homeschool setting. I would encourage you all to give it a shot and see if it doesn't change the way your children think. After all, isn't that the goal?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

7 Tips for teaching handwriting

We have tried a lot of different things around here (Getty Dubay, traditional French Cursive lessons, Handwriting without Tears, CLAA.... to name a few!) to teach handwriting, mostly because I was just feeling my way around the how to teach aspect.
We are finally settling into a kind of rhythm, and it seems to be going pretty well.
Perhaps sharing what I've learned along the way will be helpful to someone.

1. First, determine a style of cursive and a style of print writing and plan to stick to it.

This was hard for me because I grew up learning two styles-- Slanted American-style cursive and French cursive, which is straight up and down and round. I wanted my kids to learn both, and their schoolbooks require that they learn both, since we bilingually homeschool. Also, French cursive was important to me and American cursive was important to my husband.
What I learned is that they don't need to be able to WRITE in all the different styles to be able to READ in them. ;)
So just pick one, and focus on that. We decided to stick with New American Cursive.

2. Second, work at both simultaneously.

I was convinced they needed to master printing before cursive and couldn't get them moving fast enough in printing since I wanted to teach cursive in first grade. Duh.
It is both necessary and good to get them working in both at the same time if you want to do both early. We do our copywork in print for now and practice penmanship in cursive. This will change starting around third grade.

3. Go slowly.

Even if all the child does in the beginning is a perfect letter formation, let them work using the habit of perfect execution. It is good practice to have them go back and circle their best work, as well, in the beginning. And keep lessons short-- 10 minutes max. Handwriting is not a subject-- it's a precursor to actually communicating.  Don't draw out their lessons and frustrate them with writing from the beginning. Instead, have them take their time and go slowly for short periods of time each day.

4. Use copywork and make it enjoyable.

Using Charlotte Mason's principles--- copywork becomes fun and not a chore. Let them select the sentence or paragraph to copy on their own, from a good book they have read.  I do copywork alongside them to show them that EVERYONE can enjoy working on their skills. Let copywork become a habit, so that when you add dictation they already have the skills necessary to succeed at it.

5. Help them to understand WHY they need to write.

CLAA is the best program out there for this--- to help them clearly understand why writing is an important skill. Don't just teach them to write. Help them to see why writing is necessary.

6. From the beginning instill in them the habits of attention and perfect execution.

All it takes is a little bit of work on the parent's part to encourage them to pay close attention and to work to the best of their ability. I have found that when I FORCE the learning, they stumble, but when I encourage them to use these habits in an "I'm on your team, isn't this fun" kind of way, It is much easier to get them to work well.

7. Select good quality paper and pens.

I encourage the use of pen (so that they can't go back and erase mistakes--- although this frustrates them it also causes them to pay attention) and give them good quality paper and pens to work with. I grew up writing with a fountain pen, which is -- to me-- an important skill. The fountain pen requires them to write correctly because they can break the nib or mess up the paper if they don't form the letters properly. It also allows for fast writing, which is a critical skill in my homeschool where we do dictation often and take notes as we read. I encourage you also to use the kind of paper you will use to write with from the beginning. No need to spend a lot of time and money learning to write on different types of paper,  with different colored lines and such, as children are perfectly capable of LEARNING to write neatly on normal, lined paper... whatever your paper of choice may be.

If you plan on teaching print first and then cursive later, I strongly recommend the Getty Dubay program, which uses CM's principles except for ONE... it lacks the "good literature" element by having children copy silly sentences and facts. However, the children don't notice and love doing this program, and by love, I mean LOVE.

If you plan on teaching cursive from the start, I recommend the Memoria Press New American Cursive series. My preschoolers start by tracing dry erase charts of New American Cursive, Capital and lowercase print letters. When ready, they move on to the workbooks (There are three) which are pricey, but IMO worth it if you can afford them for the extra practice they provide. If you can't, the dry erase charts WILL suffice if you keep at it. We also use Memoria Press' copybook series in the very beginning, simply because they take all the hard work and do it for me, providing excellent scriptures and poems for the children to copy in an easy to use workbook. This goes against CM's principle of having them select their OWN copywork, but in my experience the children enjoy these tremendously and will have plenty of time later (these end in third grade) to choose their own copywork.

*Note: before they begin handwriting, have your preschoolers do what the French call "graphisme," exercises that improve hand-eye coordination. These include tracing drawings, making spirals and drawing lines across the page.

Monday, January 13, 2014

New Term... let's go!

Term two starts for us today.

We have so many great books lined up and are so excited. This is the second year in a row that our term breaks have matched up with the liturgical year almost perfectly (Term 1 breaks for Advent and Christmas, Term 2 breaks for lent and Easter, Term 3 breaks for a month of summer vacation.) It has been wonderful... just enough time to do some serious partying with family and friends, some spiritual reflection revolving around the liturgical season's events, and to get in a good house scrubbing. Had we not also been dealing with my husband's father's death, I think this would have been the perfect situation.

Not making many changes, but I'm cutting down our morning time  a little bit this term in an effort to be more efficient with individual time. They really do work better alone than in a group, I noticed. At least in this stage.
For the kids, I'll be teaching a CM community knitting class each week, and they will resume their bi-monthly Wayside co-op activities.

I'm also scheduling a Great Books study group weekly for the adults in addition to the CM and Bible Study we do each week. My hope is that at least once a month we can keep up getting together to discuss Great Books, too, using the Socratic Method.  On weeks when people don't come, I plan on reading for an hour, and either blogging or discussing what I'm reading in our facebook group.

It seems to me that this is a fun way we can keep the older young people and adults involved in the "education is a life" aspect. I've really enjoyed the times we've had young graduating homeschoolers or college students join us at CM study groups or Bible Studies, and I'm sure they will be equally enjoyable to have around in a Great Books study group. This is also an opportunity for us parents to pre-read books we need to be sending down the line to our high school students. Many parents in the community here have not ever been exposed to the Classics, so this is a great opportunity for growth for everyone.

Anyways, happy schooling to you all! Looking forward to a great term!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Musings on morning time

As our Advent break draws nearer to the end, I've been reading, one by one, the Ordo Amoris posts on Morning Time. I am doing this because our own morning time, which evolved naturally over the last two years as I noticed that we did a lot of great work in the mornings, has a lot in common with hers. Being older and more experienced, I want to learn what I can from her to make it run more smoothly.

Overall, her posts have been very encouraging, and helped to solidify what we were already doing naturally, and to give me a vision for what it was and could be in the future (as my kids are still very young.)

Around here we call our family meetings "Consilium" which means "council" in Latin. It also means advice, wisdom, judgement, plan, and purpose. Seemed like it fit.

On my schedule, Consilium I happens after breakfast and liturgy of the hours but before individual work, chores, or personal hygiene.
Consilium II happens around the lunch table, and Consilium III happens around Fika, our tea / snack time. I'm a big planner, so each section is already pre-planned. We *try* to do each consilium each day, but since we don't always get to it, I also love that consilium is in addition to their normal, everyday work. It's an addded bonus, but it IS where we do the bulk of our growing/learning/family educational culture stuff.

In our house, Consilium I consists of our "calendar meeting" and the Connecting With History work. We open with calendar time, which isn't what other people do with a special time of that same name. Instead, we open our calendar, discuss upcoming events, and record firsts (first snow, first leaves falling, first steps, etc.) in our book of firsts. We also do a quick habits lesson, and a run down of any character type stuff that's been going on and needs to be addressed. Lastly, we go through one section of the Catechism and discuss. It's a family meeting.
Then we either read from a history book or a book of saints biographies as per our CWH day. We discuss what we have read and do map drills and pages in our book of centuries. We might act out a scene from history. CWH basically lays out the program, and we just follow along, doing something different each week. We also might do memory work from our history readings or the Bible. And we discuss the catechism, and it's relation to what we are reading.

Consilium II consists of Arts & Literature. We read a poem and practice reciting a poem we are learning, and then we read some literature, usually something of a "classics" kind of nature like Peter Pan, or Treasure Island. On Tuesdays, it consists of a Shakespeare reading, Thursdays, a Plutarch reading, and Fridays, a Picture Study and Composer study. Maybe a poet study if we have something scheduled for that day. The rest of the week we just continue in  a good lit book, often mythology or an epic poem.

Consilium III consists of Science & Geography. This is when we do nature study or outdoor geography, read geographical poetry and / or do experiments. If it's raining or we are indoors, I do a read aloud from The Story of Science or from a geography book I select that has a bushcraft/survivalism or travel type theme.

Consilium IV is not called that, nor is it official, but that's what it is. Sometime between dinner and bed we read the Bible and discuss it. We also fit in a folk song.

In other words, I break up my "morning time" into small chunks throughout the day, and since we pray the liturgy of the hours as a family (which consists of prayers, psalms, a scripture reading, and intercession) several times a day, we don't really consider it a liturgy. The two are intimately connected though.... praying the liturgy of the hours before Consilium prepares us to head into consilium in a different mindset.

In reading these blogs, I was a bit put off by her insistence that morning times are liturgy and I admit I giggled a little a I read about her frustration with forgetting to say: "the Lord be with you...." at the end.

As a Catholic family, we differentiate between individual actions and communal actions undertaken by the entire church but when we can we attempt to unite to the body of Christ, not divide from it. We already have liturgy, and we participate in the liturgies of the Church daily, so we don't need to innovate new --less perfect, less communal-- liturgies.  But there was something to her insistence that I completely acknowledge and understand. She is trying to emphasize that what happens in morning time is sacred. Something holy is happening as we struggle and endeavor to recite, discuss, and read and debate and grasp in peace. And that, right there, is something I completely understand.

I also understand her insistence on doing it in the morning. I don't know what it is about the morning. All I can say is that we have their attention. Something magical happens in the morning in their minds and in ours. That's why I chose to do history in the mornings. It's the one thing that catechizes them super profoundly, so I wanted to makes sure they got a double dose of catechism in the day via history study in the AM, when they are paying attention.

For me, by the time afternoons come around it's usually the time when they get rowdy, so having outdoor events planned for that moment is really great. It also allows me to do whatever work I want to  accomplish in the house while they flit around outside noticing things and looking them up.  I have thought about switching my focus to make Consilium I longer and more all-inclusive. My children at this time are all so young that I'm not sure they would be able to handle more than one read aloud at a time. All things are possible, but at this time I don't really see how I would do it.

These are some of our most treasured times together, and though it would be easier to just school them individually and move on, it's of infinite worth to me that these times build up the communal/family culture. My children enjoy the individual time they get with me, but they do the bulk of  their growing through our family interactions and work towards a common goal. We have a large family mindset, recognizing the value of interaction between us, and so for us.... that's what it's all about!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

There are no breaks from education.

In keeping with AO's idea of "terms," I try to set up our year so that we break for a month during Advent, a month during Lent, and a month for Summer. Breaks are hard on me... mostly because my kids need some kind of routine. By the time break rolls around we are usually ready to stop formal schooling for a while and to focus on the things that matter in these seasons, but my biggest challenge is to keep my kids from going squirrely.... they just seem to thrive on routine.

Yesterday, I resolved to watch them closely to see what kinds of things I could have them focus on that weren't "academic," persay, but involved in their overall character building-- things like good habits. I was surprised by what I saw.

Even though we are "on Advent break" from schooling, and although I have placed zero academic pressure on them during this season, here are just a few things I noticed that the children did either on their own or by asking me to help them.

My oldest (7): Read Act I of Shakespeare's Macbeth with a commentary, wrote a page in her journal about it, recited last month's memory work in science, poetry, math, latin, and catechism, made up math word problems, sang a memorized hymn, named two birds she saw in our yard accurately and looked up a new one, and studied for, took, and passed a classical latin pronunciation exam. With absolutely no pushing from me other than encouragement to "finish what she had started doing" before she moved on. (habits training)

My second oldest (6): Read and copied the names of candy bars from Willy Wonka, regularly spoke to me in French, looked up two science questions about the nature of matter, did math word problems my oldest made up for him, and narrated a Bible story he had just read to me perfectly.

My second youngest (4): Begged to learn Latin, traced and copied letters and correctly pronounced them, identified the letters in her name in various places throughout the house, spoke French to me, correctly identified a bird in the backyard, told me a story she invented that was quite good, used vocabulary that shocked even me, and and used proper math and logic to get out of eating her lentils.

My youngest (1.5): Spoke French and English to me, sometimes in full sentences. Demonstrated an uncanny awareness of her surroundings. Counted to three on her fingers.(!) Laughed hysterically at a line from Macbeth when it was read to her, and then repeated it over and over again. ("By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes...")

My only conclusion can be this: "Education is a discipline, an atmosphere, and a life."
I never cease to be amazed at the depth of wisdom in Charlotte Mason.
If you keep this maxim in mind as you build family culture, not only does education become a lifestyle but your children grow to delight in learning... to thrive in, and create for themselves, an environment that challenges them to learn more and to think better.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

On books, joy, and things

There is something I hear almost every day while skipping through Charlotte Mason blogs, groups, and forums that I find troublesome. I want to address it, but since I'm not sure I can put my finger on it, this is only an attempt at grasping at the description of a premonition with words I'm not sure will do it justice.
Charlotte Mason's methods, and homeschooling in general are gaining in popularity. And I admit that popularity scares me a little bit, for many reasons I won't bother with here.
Of the families I have encountered who follow CM's ideas, I find there are two camps of extremes that many people seem to fall into. The first, are those who call their schools CM because they use living books, go outside,  and finish by noon, but who don't bother to look at the other things which make up a CM education. The second are those self proclaimed "purists" who reject all forms of education and curriculum which stem from anything that wasn't explicitly described/mentioned/theorized about by Miss Mason herself in her own writings, to include questioning forms of classical methodology on the basis of a lack of commentary regarding said forms.  The truth, I suspect, like all things, lies somewhere in the middle.

I love Charlotte Mason's ideas, but I am not Charlotte Mason. Her ideas were her own, but came from her interactions with other idea-havers, I take those and try to push them to new places, following the same trail that has been forged, and sometimes glancing off the trail. Looking behind me. Enjoying the scenery. And that's OK.  My identity is secure, But I get the feeling that, while navigating the homeschool world, many women don't seem to have that same security of identity, and seem to be seeking after something more than just a means to provide their children with a delightful, complete Classical education. Women want leadership and practical help, and Miss Mason certainly offers that in a most marvelous manner, with wisdom and patience and great care. But I get the feeling, every so often, that people just "hear about Charlotte Mason" while researching, think to themselves, "I want that!" and then go about trying to purchase what they need to make it happen. They don't understand  that receiving a classical education is a paradigm shift, a thing that will literally require that the whole family get on board and start living what they claim to believe as true, important, and necessary. Charlotte Mason is not a style of curriculum. It's a lifestyle change.

Now, you've heard me blog about classical education, and you've heard me blog about catholic education. You obviously come here a lot to read about a Charlotte Mason education. And recently, I tried to put to rest the idea that these educational theories were at odds one with the other. The pursuit of truth and beauty is not UNIQUE to a CM education, although CM does it particularly well. At the same time, without the ability to *reason* no student will arrive at truth or beauty. The value of the Classical / Catholic education, on which CM's ideas are based, is that it formally teaches this skill. But the value of that lesson is only as meritorious as the teacher who has instilled in his student the love of learning, the reason for needing reason, and the purpose of life-- Catechesis.

CM students who have parents that don't get this are bound to have problems. The students will form in themselves an ability to discern and connect with the true and beautiful that is handed to them, but they will be lacking the ability to sort through ideas themselves and come to their own conclusions.... and to join in the Grand Conversation in a way that adds to the conversation and doesn't just take away from it.

CM's techniques can help all children to appreciate truth, beauty and goodness, but it takes the ability to think like a philosopher.... to think and parse and organize...... to be someone who can attack the status quo. She knew this! And she advocated the teaching of logic, only in her time she felt that it was adequate to surround the child with good books, and then to allow him to absorb critical thinking skills from his interactions with the authors. Her reasons for doing this were two-fold.

First, students raised using her methods had been taught to carefully notice, mentally organize, categorize, and express information as it came from the very beginning of their education. They had little need of formal teaching in doing so by the time they were older because this was how they had been trained. Critical thinking was a habit. Hard mental work was a habit.
Second, her students had read ONLY the best books. And these books had become as friends to them, mentors and guides. Many of the classical educators of her day were uninterested in the persons they were teaching.... only enamored with the method of classical education. Because of that, they failed to inspire a desire for truth and a love of knowledge. This is huge, because it was through the reading of the world's greatest authors, often in the original languages,  and through knowledge of the scriptures, combined with the respect of the teachers towards the children on the journey that children grew to become critical thinkers.... students who desired to know more, and who were able to work with the information they were given in such a way as to organize it and come to logical conclusions. The Bible itself helps us to understand this:  

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)
It does not say that God will do the work here. It says that WE will do the mental work.
CM parents who don't understand this will be raising lovely people who are self-motivators, hard workers, and beautiful citizens. But they won't be world-changers. They will still be followers.

Education doesn't happen by osmosis. The child himself must absorb and fiddle with and-- not regurgitate--- but process information. Recently, on facebook, I saw that an article written by a pope-hating schismatic condemning the Church-approved Divine Mercy devotion had begun making the rounds. I was distraught to find that in a group of homeschooling Catholic mothers, a woman posted the article. What was even more disturbing was to find that more than 2/3 of the comments from the beginning were from women who read the article and responded to it in this way:
"Oh my! I had no idea! I will stop saying the Divine Mercy Chaplet at once!"
None of them thought. Not logically. They were lemmings. Never mind that the very pope who leads their Church had handed out copies of the Divine Mercy prayers to visitors at his audience that week and exhorted them to pray it. Never mind that the Divine Mercy prayers are approved by the Church, and for a logical reason. No, they were satisfied to completely give it up-- indeed, to call it EVIL-- because they had read a convincing-sounding argument on the internet that said so. My mind was boggled.

In our day, things are much more complex than they were in Victorian England. Technology and the advent of the information age has made "knowledge" cheap and easy to obtain. But somehow people are more stupid now than they were when there were no smartphones to google questions. Their attention spans and ability to discern the underlying truths or lies of what they read are practically non-existent. It is maddening for the student of logic to walk through the clamoring earth, turning his ear to the left or to the right because illogical, false, and ridiculous conclusions are being formed in every direction and shouted from every hilltop.  Literally maddening. I'll get to that in a minute.

Suffice to say that logic is critical. Thinking is critical. Habits are critical.
The reason CM succeeds particularly well at speaking to my generation is because she lays out a map for the journey of the home educating parent. Not only does she vision-cast, but she gives practical advice. Not only does she theorize but she comes alongside her reader an expounds upon her theories. Her books are a compass and scale, her words a trail of delight through the dangerous and often confusing world of education.

Which brings me to my four-fold issue.
Daily, I come across women who, motivated by the promised joy that a CM education brings, attempt to "purchase" that joy-- or worse, steal it!-- without any hard work. And those who do have completely missed the memo.
Miss Mason's methods work because:

Life should be simple.
Work should be hard.
Prayer should be constant.
Only the greatest minds should be our friends and teachers. (Good books)

Life should be simple.
No, I'm not suggesting you buy a farm, although I'm quite sure that doing so would benefit every one of us. I am suggesting that a true classical, and therefore Charlotte Mason education requires a simple life. Gone are the excessive "extras" of modern life and back are the basics: good time management. attention to detail. remembering what's important. getting rid of stuff, clutter, and baggage. finding work that is meaningful. making do with what you have. Not taking on more than you can handle. Finishing what you start.
In following this idea, CM's student's are done early because we don't have endless piles of curriculum and things to sort through and accomplish each day. We don't switch it up every two weeks or every few months or even every year. We stick with ideas, and ride them through to the end.

Work should be hard.

A simple life is best lived in hard work. This is why people yearn for the family farm. We have work, we do it, and we are satisfied. This goes for mental work too, and Charlotte's students know this. We don't reward or punish the children as they work. We allow natural consequences and the satisfaction of a job well done. This builds confidence and.... surprise... joy.
Today people are lazy and obsessed with entertainment over work, chocolate and wine over sacrifice, naps and jammies over clean homes and diligence. This is not the way of the saints, and it certainly is no the way of joy! Is it any surprise that so many people in our world are medicated for depression?? Our minds AND our bodies are rotting away. Perhaps worse is the rotting of our minds, as mental laziness creates a seat for stupidity. A disciplined mind, no matter how simple, will always be superior.
In Chapter III of Ourselves, Charlotte Mason lays out quite clearly the enemies if the intellect: Sloth, poor intellectual habits, inability to stay in one field of thought, and an inability to connect ideas because of a lack of "well-rounded" knowledge. We all know that hard, physical work is good for our children, and even for ourselves. But let us never forget that hard mental work is the cornerstone of a truly CM education.

Prayer should be constant.
The elements of a simple life are perhaps best laid out in the monastic rules of Catholic religious life. I hear the Rule of St Benedict is excellent at demonstrating this, but I'm not as familiar with it as I should be. I live by a version of the Rule of St Albert of Jerusalem, who wrote it for the Carmelites.
Regardless, most of the monastic rules are perfect examples of a simple life lived, based on this principle: work, and pray. (You may have heard Catholics say: "Ora et labora!") I would add.... "detach," but this is not something that lay people can do in the same way that monastics do it. That being said, I assure you we can come closer to what they do than what we are doing now. Wink, wink. A life of prayer starts with a habit Charlotte Mason calls "thought of God," and which Catholics recognize as a contemplative life, one in which our awareness of God's presence brings about a change of heart and attitude. Prayer is sustaining, and food for our souls.... a way to acknowledge this "thought of God." And so we pray. Basing our schedules and routines off of prayer times rather than eating or playing times is a great way to discipline the mind and a practice of those who historically have achieved the greatest ability to think clearly.

And good books should be teachers.
I add this point as a fourth and most important point because it was so dear to Charlotte herself. Miss Mason's ideas about books should be read by each individual educator. Her methods can not be followed casually with any measure of success, as evidenced by the scores of unschooling "CM" educators busily fluttering around the internet desperate for new curriculum or new CM ideas "that work for them." 
We learn by imitation. I see my children do it every single day. If we do not give them the Great Minds, the Masters to imitate, who will they imitate? Would you rather your daughters imitate Penelope or Amelia Bedelia? Saint Joan of Arc or Judy Blume's Margaret? Would you rather your sons imitate King Arthur and Caractacus, or Harry Potter?
We who have heard Charlotte's thoughts on literature and who have smiled and agreed, what business do we have putting twaddle in the hands of our children? Why read a compilation created by a disordered thinker over a whole work written by a master? (Omnibus and Story of the World, I'm looking at you!) Discovering twaddle is tricky in a world full of books, but the best guideline I can give, and one I use in my own home, is this:
1. Does the book capture the interest of the adult as much as of the child and it is written in language that will not only delight, but also teach and instruct the reader(s)?
2. Does the book require that even the adult concentrate to extract it's full meaning?
3. I might even add an additional guideline: Is the book the original source of the ideas it conveys, or does it expound upon an original idea? And if it expounds upon that idea, does it do so in a logical way or is it building an illogical idea on top of the mental work of others?

And if you are following the other guidelines-- committed to a life of prayer, hard work, and simple living--- will you really have TIME to read twaddle, even "not quite" twaddle? Not a chance.
I was recently involved in a discussion between a group of protestant women and a group of Catholic women regarding the nature of the Church. It was a very upsetting conversation to me on many levels, but mostly because these are women who I have very much fond affection for. We had both read the Bible. They were sure of their position because of how they were reading the Bible, but I was certain they were reading the Bible incorrectly. I attempted to prove it with good books... by quoting the earliest recorded Christian writers like Ignatius of Antioch and Justyn Martyr. They remained unconvinced, I'm quite sure, because they couldn't even fathom the paradigm shift required in their thinking skills.... they had been taught one way: to follow rabbit trails of ideas, and I was trying to teach them TO THINK (to follow one logical trail of ideas) because if I could prove that Christians believed a certain thing HISTORICALLY, then surely they had to acknowledge that things had changed somewhere along the way.
These are "well-read" women, but they couldn't think because all their lives they had been reading books that were less than perfect, so that when they finally found themselves faced with logic, they couldn't recognize it and in fact, vehemently rejected it in favor of a fallacy they had repeated and repeated and repeated to themselves time and again by reading books which were good, captivating, interesting, etc..... but which weren't THE BEST BOOKS. They were used to reading books in the Christian Living section of the Bookstore. I was trying to point them towards the Church Fathers, original sources of ideas in their original form. Whole different animal. (It was reading the Church Fathers that led me to Catholicism, of course! I took them as my RIGHTFUL teachers.... and so should we all, not because I did but because they have the authority and place in history to teach us the BEST and TRUEST living ideas from which have sprung all other ideas about faith and Christianity!)

It seems like every day I read a new post by a homeschooling mother looking for ways to purchase.... or steal..... a CM education for their children, to secure joy without being willing to actually do the work of reading CM for herself and then applying it, keeping these four principles in mind. And yet these four principles are what constitute the bulk of a classical liberal arts education. These four things--- simplicity, hard work, prayer, and good books/teachers--- will lead to good thinking, and therefore to truth and beauty and the transformation of the world. I have even met people who felt satisfied and accomplished giving their children a list of "living books" to read each week and who all but ignored the foundations of good thinking--- grammar and arithmetic and logic! DESPITE Charlotte's own ideas, which I'm quite sure they never read for themselves.

So let me say it again, and I say it as much to myself as to anyone who might be reading:
You cannot purchase a CM education in a box. You cannot teach the classical liberal arts without setting up a culture of simplicity and order, hard work, prayer, and submission. You cannot be less than perfect, and then expect perfection. You cannot have children who love the outdoors, and not go outside yourself. You cannot have children who are kind, and not be kind. You cannot have children who are wise, and not seek after wisdom yourself. And you cannot be a Saint unless you seek to "be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48) God will help you.

Follow the advice of St Josemaria Escriva who said: "Work, and things will change! You will yield more fruit, and it will be sweeter than before."

"Classical" educators, in my mind, who enroll their children in sing-songy memory work co-ops in the hopes of creating something they refuse to be themselves will not succeed. Charlotte Mason educators, in my mind, who allow their children to read twaddle disguised as literature, and to lounge around reading and playing all day rather than taking their studies and their responsibilities seriously, will not succeed. This is NOT a statement against any particular program or book or series, but rather against sloth, laziness, and intellectual suicide.

I leave you with these brilliant words, even more important in our day:

"Nothing is more common in an age like this, when books abound, than to fancy that the gratification of a love of reading is real study....there are many, who certainly have a taste for reading, but in whom it is little more than the result of mental restlessness and curiosity. Such minds cannot fix their gaze on one object for two seconds together; the very impulse which leads them to read at all, leads them to read on, and never to stay or hang over any one idea. The pleasurable excitement of reading what is new is their motive principle; and the imagination that they are doing something, and the boyish vanity which accompanies it, are their reward. Such youths often profess to like poetry, or to like history or biography; they are fond of lectures on certain of the physical sciences; or they may possibly have a real and true taste for natural history or other cognate subjects;—and so far they may be regarded with satisfaction; but on the other hand they profess that they do not like logic, they do not like algebra, they have no taste for mathematics; which only means that they do not like application, they do not like attention, they shrink from the effort and labour of thinking, and the process of true intellectual gymnastics. The consequence will be that, when they grow up, they may, if it so happen, be agreeable in conversation, they may be well informed in this or that department of knowledge, they may be what is called "literary"; but they will have no consistency, steadiness, or perseverance; they will not be able to make a telling speech, or to write a good letter, or to fling in debate a smart antagonist, unless so far as, now and then, mother-wit supplies a sudden capacity, which cannot be ordinarily counted on. They cannot state an argument or a question, or take a clear survey of a whole transaction, or give sensible and appropriate advice under difficulties, or do any of those things which inspire confidence and gain influence, which raise a man in life, and make him useful to his religion or his country."

Cardinal John Henry Newmann
On the Idea of a University
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