Preschool Nature Study: A Beginning in Wonder, by Briana Elizabeth

My very first memory is of sitting on my nana’s lawn in a sea of white and purple violets. I was mesmerized by how all of the purple splotches on the white faces were different on each and every violet. I would pick bouquets of them by the fistful, carefully layering the leaves around the outside. I still love violets and when I see them in my lawn, I dig them up and replant them, tucking them into places where they are a bright and happy face in dappled shade.

Sometimes I would find Red Efts crawling around the leaves where the woods joined her lawn, and I’d crawl after them on all fours, amazed that their tiny little fingers could carry them so far.

I turned over every rock in her flower garden looking for Eastern Red-backed Salamanders, and if I was particularly lucky, I would find a fat, shiny Yellow-Spotted Salamander. 

Nana had bird feeders all around the house, placed so we could watch the birds eat as we sat, and she knew the names of all of them and their songs. She knew who were mates and who was building a nest. I often would find bright blue robin’s eggs cracked on the ground, telling me another brood had been hatched.

I spent my days playing outside while she read or cooked, and she would answer my questions or name things for me when I brought them to her, from nuts to leaves.

 

Today I’m an avid organic gardener who loves her flower gardens, hatching mantis sacs, and watching the butterflies. We sat on my mother’s deck the other day and listened while the hummingbirds that frequent her yard had wars, dashing, darting, and chirping at each other through it all. My children sat too, amazed that those small little birds were so willing to be that close to us.

The wonder that I still carry with me, that I am cultivating in my children, is the gift of nature study.

Nature study doesn’t need a curriculum that must be accomplished by the end of the year. It needs time to wonder. It needs the space to look at a thing in awe.

I had the privilege as a child to play outside, but if that is not your housing arrangement, a houseplant can provide just as much wonder — think venus flytrap or Christmas cactus or spider plant. A leisurely walk in a park would, as well. My nana was able to teach me the names of all of the trees, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing to go on a walk to collect some leaves and bring them home to identify them from a field guide or on the internet. Doing a leaf rubbing and finding out why some leaves turn colors would round out the lesson (do you know why?). I had one friend who did a nature study on a cantaloupe seed that had sprouted in her sink disposal when her children found the plant growing up out of the drain!

Take them out on walks and tell them about the bees, how they make honey for your oatmeal and toast by gathering pollen from all of the flowers, and how the dandelions of spring are some of their first foods. Teach them to be gentle with the little bees, and wonder together at which flower he might choose next and why.

 

If you want, there are some amazing books you can add in for your nature studies. Field guides for mom or dad go without saying, but then there are books like The View from the Oak which is a great book to help us learn to wonder about nature. If your child has a fascination with owls, for instance, use your local library to read about them and perhaps visit a zoo for an end-of-the-year treat. Watch the moon and look for the stars with Glow in the Dark Constellations or bring Frogs, Toads, and Turtles to a lake with you.

But the most important thing of all is that you make time to do it and be present while you  do.

 

Brianbrianaa Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

Blessed Be the Interruptions, by Briana Elizabeth

 

When my twins were three months old, I got pregnant with Child Number 6. He was born almost within the same year as his twin sisters. So, at one point in time, I had three toddlers in the house while I was trying to school their three older siblings who were 5, 9, and 13.

I would be lying if I told you I remembered those days. They were a sleep-deprived blur. They were days of crunchy things underfoot, endless nursing, laundry never being done, dishes almost never done, and my husband gone 16 hours a day because he was building a business to support us. We were ships passing in the night, and when he did crawl into bed, we almost always had a kid or two sleeping between us and our touching feet became the most comforting of hugs. We were in the thick of building our family, and he needed to know that I was holding the fort down while he was out there slaying dragons for us.

Through all of this, and despite all of it, those older three were homeschooled. Not only were they homeschooled, but they became excellent students who learned Latin, and Logic and are pretty well-read.

I have NO idea how I did it. None. I remember fighting over The Scarlet Letter. I remember fighting over Traditional Logic. The younger one even learned to eventually read and do basic math in those years. And I did it in a 1000 square foot house.

Much more, I remember buying chickens and how much fun my children had learning about them and caring for them, and then how we learned to butcher them together because we were trying hard to be farmers. They remember eating all of the peas out of garden before I got to harvest one. We remember a baby squirrel jumping on one of the twins and her giving a blood curdling scream that sent me racing into the yard to find her, and then putting that squirrel in a cage and learning how to feed it. They remember fishing, and learning to ride bikes, and life being very home-centered because that was all I could manage. We remember lots of days at the park.

What am I trying to tell you? That it will be OK. The children will learn, and just “sticking to the basics” is fine. The house will recover. Believe it or not, your marriage will be strengthened, because you trust your team member even more and take pride in what you’ve built together.

So, I’ve some ideas to help you do something with those toddlers while you ignore the laundry, and the dishes, and the crunchy things underfoot.

Create a flow. Call it a habit, call it a loose schedule. Whatever you do, don’t let it dictate to you what must be done. It’s only there to establish a routine to your day. Now is when we eat. This is when we rest. Now is when we learn. This is when we read aloud.

Get a baby yard. They will not die if confined. Do we? No, with confinement we learn creativity. Boundaries are safe things. Even use baby gates to fence off one safe room for them.

Minimize the toys that you put in the play yard/room. Can you imagine what your house would look like if you allowed three toddlers to keep every toy anyone ever gave them? Pack some up and rotate them every week or two.

Make yourself a busy board or two. Think of what fun this could be to make together! They are wonderful things that help fine motor skills, encourage problem solving, and are very Montessori. Make them smaller and switch them out if you can. Make tactile books for them with different surfaces. Get them a broom and dustpan and show them how to sweep.

Bring them into your schooling when you can, for the read-alouds (let them be busy in the room while you read aloud), and for art and especially for singalongs and nursery rhymes. Pull up their high chairs to the table and give them some paper and some watercolors. Make sorting games. Have your older children help you make these! What fun they will have helping and screwing things onto the busy board. This is a wonderful lesson in parenting, too, and for appropriate expectations for children.

Don’t forget to have fun days and school on the floor or in blanket forts! Let the older ones have some time schooling independently where they can, but always remember to check their work! I always had mine bring me their work them they were done.

Adjust your expectations. Stop comparing your season of life to a mother who has older children. Give yourself grace: this is a hard thing you are doing, and instead of criticizing yourself more, how about you pat yourself on the back more?

Find God amidst the pots and pans. St Teresa of Avila told her nuns, “Don’t think that if you had a great deal of time you would spend more of it in prayer. Get rid of that idea! God gives more in a moment than in a long period of time, for His actions are not measured by time at all. Know that even when you are in the kitchen, Our Lord is moving among the pots and pans.”

Know that this is your vocation and that this hard time will only be like this for a short time in the scheme of things. All of my children were out of the house for a weekend recently,  and let me tell you I was bored and lonely. I know that those days seem far off to you, but they are right around the corner. My youngest is only 8. I remember back when they were small thinking that if I was alone in a room for a day I would have done nothing but stared at a wall in silence and been content to do just that. This too shall pass.

Remember to bend when a child asks you for something. Your day is made up of a hundred small requests and demands on your time. God as our parent is always barraged with questions and requests from us, and is always patient and long-suffering.

This is a high calling, to be a mother. Don’t let it pass without letting it change us into the people we want to become.

 

Brianbrianaa Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

Handwriting: Learning Cursive First, by Briana Elizabeth

 

I taught my children cursive first. Not because I thought it was superior, or because I read the studies saying cursive made kids smarter. I taught them cursive first because it’s easier. Yes, that’s right, cursive is easier to teach than manuscript. Why? It has fewer strokes.  And it actually uses more of your brain, and is beneficial for cognitive development.  But mostly because I’m lazy.

My lefty son was the first child child I taught cursive (my older two learned cursive in their public school). It was very frustrating until I learned that his using a pencil made him ‘push’ and that a fountain pen enabled him to ‘pull’ like a righty would do. This lessened wrist fatigue and enabled him to write more and for longer periods of time. If you’d like to start a young child with a fountain pen, I recommend the Pelikano Jr which comes in lefty and righty. If you’re starting with older children, try the Platinum Preppy which is very affordable and comes in lots of fun colors.

Now, for teaching the actual letters, we went with the French styled cursive, which I am partial to.

The French Cursive book starts out with letting the children copy simple strokes, then moves them on to letters. I cheated a bit though, so let me explain. For example, the French styled ‘a’ uses three strokes, but I  taught them to not take their pen off the paper. So don’t be bound to it.

Once they graduate from the French stroke and letter booklet, we found Seyes ruled notebooks (which is the lined paper you see in the above picture) for their copy work. There are some free printables that you can use to practice on.

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We love doing copy work this way. My children are very proud of their handwriting and their notebooks which, when finished, will be beautiful books of poetry that they will be able to keep for the rest of their lives. Children can respect beautiful things, and they can be taught to use these tools with care. I taught mine that they were not allowed to scribble in their copy work books, and they were supposed to respect them.

There is something very reverential about writing poetry in a beautiful book, with a beautiful writing utensil, and the children actually are proud of being trusted to use them. But best of all there is a gravitas during that portion of our schooling, which gets done almost as a morning benediction for the day.

 

Brianbrianaa Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

Parents Are Teachers: No Operator's Manual, by Briana Elizabeth

by Briana Elizabeth

It’s a joke of motherhood, that these children we have came without operator’s manuals. Then, when you have one of them figured out, you have another that is the complete opposite.

They break our hearts, and they make us cheer, and they keep us up too late at night, and they throw up on us…yet we still keep having them! Mothers, who’ve given birth and KNOW what they are getting into, still decide to have more children because just look at them, and how they make our hearts burst within our chests.

But wait, you never got an owner’s manual. You didn’t get a certificate saying that you had attained the skills to successfully raise a virtuous person. You have no Parental Degree. How are you even capable of this?

Love.

And I would argue that that same love is what enables you to homeschool them successfully. Love, and the acting on that love — the drive to do your best by them at all times.

How?

Firstly, you know your child better than anyone else. You may not actualize all of that knowledge, but you can tell when you’re pushing too hard, when they’re not working to their hardest, what they like and dislike, and when they just need some food and a nap.

You want the best for them. I know there are questionable parents out there, but I have yet to meet a parent who wanted their child to fail. Having children makes us want them to do far better than we have done, and we would do anything to give them those possibilities.

Being a part of some large homeschooling communities over the years, I have seen parents from every walk of life successfully homeschool their children. Poor and uneducated themselves, to the multi-degreed and even teachers who have decided to teach their own at home.

Apart from the love you bear for your own child, you will need to be able to learn with them, perhaps ahead of them so that you can teach them. And though it’s hard work, it’s not impossible. Midnight feedings are hard, yet not impossible. Changing a bazillion diapers is hard, but not impossible. Raising kids is hard, but not impossible!

So what I am saying is that homeschooling is a continuum of parenting with all of the hard work, the losses, and the benefits. And just like  parenting, the good of love outweighs the hard work. You don’t have to be perfect, or have the perfect curriculum, or the perfect house. You have to want the best for them, and be willing to work hard for that best with them. Just like parenting.

 

Bribrianaana Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

Review: Primary Language Lessons, by Briana Elizabeth

 

I have long been a user of Emma Serl’s Primary Language Lessons and Intermediate Language Lessons. My children are wonderful writers, and I fully give credit to Emma Serl’s books for their ability. However, their only drawback has been that unless you understood what the lesson was trying to teach and had a firm grasp on grammar yourself, you wouldn’t be able to use them with the same success. This is why I was always very hesitant to recommend them to beginning homeschoolers. They are not lessons that you read through, fill in the blanks and check the answer key. The teacher has to be a fully active participant in drawing out in the student what the purpose of the lesson is.

I am hesitant no more. Cynthia of Primary Language Lessons and has done the hard work of not only making a wonderful workbook for the student, but also wrote Teacher Helps in the appendix of the download that will show the parent precisely what the lesson is about. There are beautiful pages for dictation, and she has also left the picture studies as the original. The structure and art are so pleasing and in keeping with the hardbound format that the workbook fully keeps with the tradition of Serl’s work. And, she has done all of this for an amazing price of $8.95 for each grade.

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The wonderful thing about using the same curriculum for each student is that it builds the family culture, and the homeschool culture, so when I told my very last student that she was going to be starting Primary Language Lessons just like her older siblings, she was so proud. The download was easy to print out, and all we had to do was punch it and tuck it into a binder. My daughter thoroughly enjoyed the lessons and I had to made her stop plowing through them. (Plowing through is not the aim of the workbook, even if they can. It’s a multi-threaded approach to language arts, and each portion is very important to the whole of the student’s learning!)

In closing, it is with great confidence that I recommend Cynthia Albright’s Primary Language Lessons. She’s done an amazing job with the product and given the homeschooling community much needed help with what was to begin with an almost perfect language arts curriculum.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this product in exchange for my honest review on the Sandbox to Socrates blog. Opinions expressed in this review are the opinions of myself or my family and do not necessarily reflect those of the Sandbox to Socrates blog. I received no compensation for this review, nor was I required to write a positive review. This disclosure is in accordance with the FTC Regulations.

 

brianaBriana Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

What Does Creativity Have to Do With Classical Education? by Briana Elizabeth

 

What if I told you everything?

Stratford Caldecott in his book Beauty in the Word renames the Trivium’s Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric as Remembering, Thinking, and Communicating. Or Jenny Rallens in her video The Liturgical Classroom and Virtue Formation uses Lectio, Meditatio, Compositi and talks about the idea of Compositi being ‘honey making’.

Both Communicating and Compositi are creative.

As I was thinking about these ideas and remembering Bloom’s Taxonomy, I was getting excited about creative projects I could bring into my homeschooling! I’m a creative person; I could totally think up projects for each subject that would segue well with what my kids were studying. Unit studies, lap books, crafts! But the more I thought about that, I started to wonder, is that really the type of creativity that Bloom’s Taxonomy is speaking about? Is that true Communication and Compositi?

If I make a project for my children to use with their homeschooling, who is being creative? Me? And am I dragging them through something that doesn’t add anything to their learning?

I had already done that a few times by following a few other curricula, and what I learned that no matter what the projects were, my kids forgot them. I came to the conclusion that the only person being creative in these situations was me. It was another moment for me to realize that homeschooling is not about me, what I want to do, or what I think is fun. It’s about what is best for them, how they learn, and even if writing out Latin words in Light Bright pegs on a rainy afternoon sounds like fun to me, my kids might not think so.

I had circled back to my first question: How do I foster this top tier of creativity in my children? Is this even compatible with classical home schooling? And then I thought about when I had seen it in my children. After a semester on poetry (and years of poetry copywork), one of my daughters started writing her own poetry, without any prompting from me. Another had written her own poem and made a cross-stitched picture of it. My sons loved drawing their own comic strips and I had seen what they had learned in our medieval studies making their way into the strips. Another son used what he learned in the poetry semester to write music and obtain a merit badge. All of this was totally unprompted by me.

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What I had given them was the scaffold to be creative. I taught them the skills (rhyme and meter) and gave them the tools (hearing poetry and a deep well of ideas).

Now, how can I more purposely build a scaffold, and foster even deeper creativity? What kind of schoolwork is making the creativity for them, and what type of schoolwork is giving them the ability to create with the skills and tools they’ve learned? What type of schoolwork enables them to behold glory and represent that glory in their own medium?

Something I am going to be trying is Charlotte Mason’s Book of Centuries. I recently read one of the best books on Charlotte Mason’s practices that I have ever read, aside from Charlotte’s own series, titled  The Living Page by author Laurie Bestvater. It is a book I am going to tell everyone about. What seemed like a murky idea in Charlotte’s books that I never quite understood, Laurie has teased out with a lot of research and devotion to her task, and she writes about it with eloquence.

Why the book of Centuries, The Nature Notebook, a Commonplace Book, and a Timeline Notebook? Because they are scaffolds. Here are the tools and here are the directions, but the end product is fully up to the student. It is about what they have assimilated through their reading and learning,  and taken as their own to be expressed on paper as only they can.

As an artist, a blank canvas can be intimidating. How much easier if the art teacher tells you to draw a still life in monochromatic colors, or complimentary colors? The notebooks have rules to follow which give the child support, and parameters. Freedom to create comes with parameters.

If you do narrations with your children, you have provided the skills, and the tools, you built the scaffold, and the narration is the creativity. The picture narration your child draws is the creativity. But you have also given the scaffold. You have read a story — the child is supplying an oral narration on that story. Or the child is giving a picture narration of the story. You’re not handing them a blank page and telling them to create. You’re not creating for them, and asking them to somehow ingest that lesson as their own.

This is something that I am going to be checking myself with from now on. Have I given them the skills? The tools? Have I built the scaffold? Or have I created something for them and asked them to fill in the blanks? I need to keep reminding myself that this is not about me, this homeschooling journey is about them. My job is to build the scaffold.

 

Briana brianaElizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

Why Classical Education? Along An Old Road, by Briana Elizabeth

 

I grew up in the receding mists of the 60s. Because of that, and living with grandparents who survived the Depression, there wasn’t much time or thought given to extras. Presents came on Christmas and birthdays. Food was plentiful but simple. I didn’t know what McDonald’s was until I was in my early 20s. When I asked for a drink, I was given water, and if I asked for Hawaiian Punch, I in turn was asked, “What’s wrong with water?” Bread was always whole wheat, and peanut butter was always natural, the thick kind you had to stir together each time you used it. We took a lot of vitamins, mounded up in custard molds and handed out each day.

When I grew up, I found out that though I now had the choice, I disliked white bread. Fruit drinks seemed awfully sweet, and water suited me fine. I don’t remember the last time I ate fast food. I have a cabinet filled with vitamins, and every day I give my children their small mounds (I keep my eyes open in thrift stores for custard molds).

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

Now, of course I tried a few fast food burgers and soda. I drank some bug juice at parties. But in the end, my tastes were trained to enjoy wholesome food.


What does this have to do with classical homeschooling?

I was raised with readers. My parents’ friends went to exclusive prep schools and colleges. I remember as a child listening to their conversations and being in awe of how they saw the world and what they knew. They loved art and music, they played instruments, they enjoyed nature and were amateur naturalists. They had paintings and specimens on their walls.

When I was in high school, I was privileged to have English teachers who loved Shakespeare and literature. My sophomore English teacher read us the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales in Old English, and I was enchanted. My senior English teacher had us read books like The Brother’s Karamazov, Narcissus and Goldman,  and Shakespeare. We did nothing in class but read and write. I was also given free reign of the art room – pottery wheels and kilns, stained glass, and paints of all kinds. We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim. I saw Les Miserables on Broadway. In my archaeology class, I was able to actually throw a spear with an atlatl. I was also able to study music for eight years and grew to love classical music because I had to play it. Knowing what I know now, I am privileged to have had that in a public school. I wish every child in public school could experience that.

I lived in a town that had a private prep school, with granite turrets covered in ivy, greens where we would play frisbee, and waterfalls with bridges over them. I was a ‘townie’  but those ivy covered stone walls meant something to me. Even though I was receiving a decent education, I wanted even more. I know what that deep longing is now. It was the heady allure of Rivendell.

“This is what the LORD says: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16a

I had been brought up with truth, beauty and virtue, only I didn’t know it. I wasn’t taught what it was, but I was given the chance to experience it, to dwell in it, and it had made its impression on me.

When I pulled my son out of public school, I had no idea what other types of homeschool methods were available, but I wouldn’t have bothered to look at them anyway, I knew what I wanted, though I didn’t know the name of it. I also knew what I didn’t want, which is half the battle. I didn’t want what the public schools were offering. I had been trained up as a  child, and I didn’t want to depart from it. I had only read a few Great Books, but I knew there were more. I had overheard heard those conversations  as I fell asleep in Adirondack chairs, looking up at the stars. I wanted that and so much more for my children.

Now I spend my days giving them what I was only able to glimpse. I hope that they give my grandchildren more than they received. I determined to ask for the ancient paths – they were good, and I had walked for time enough to learn why they were good. They began before me, and they will go on far after I’ve left this earth. My great-grandchildren will have the opportunity to walk on them.

I chose classical because I see beauty in its transcendence. Because the ego, me, saw by grace that there was something bigger than I was, and we were offered to join with it. How could I refuse?

 

 

Brianabriana Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

A Step Off the Bow, by Briana Elizabeth

 

A few years ago, I dropped history as the spine of our homeschool.

I know, I know, this is a controversial thing to do amongst classical homeschoolers. If you would permit me to explain why….

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It started as most life-changing things do, as a trickle. There was a huge thread on a classical homeschooling board about philosophy, literature, history, and homeschooling. Then there was the book I was reading, The Philosophy of Tolkien by Peter Kreeft. And, finally, there was a catechism class I was teaching, and that is where all the pieces started to come together.

It was a class of about sixteen eighth graders. All public school children, stuck with me, the homeschooling mom. They were a rowdy bunch, but my way of teaching is to have discussions with them, and for the most part, they were happy with that. As discussions go, there were rabbit trails, and personal anecdotes, and the volley back and forth of ideas. Of course as a teacher, I bring in references to other things: science, literature, history–whatever would elucidate my point, and to make an abstract more concrete for my students. At that time, the CCD class was in the medieval ages, exploring the idea of social justice, and I threw out a reference to Robin Hood. In return, I got a blank stare. Hmmm. I asked if they’d seen the Disney movie, and sang a bit of the Chanticleer’s song. Nothing. “Stealing from the rich to give to the poor?” I asked. A few eyes lit up; okay, we might be getting somewhere.

That whole discussion eventually set me on another path of discussion and into a thunderstorm of thought. Did they know fairy tales? I asked what fairy tales they knew. Not many. From there, I started asking about books, and apart from new modern hits, they had read almost none. This is why teaching them was so hard. I would bring up a well-known reference, one that should be a culturally understood reference, and they didn’t know it. It had been happening often enough to be noteworthy, and I wasn’t making the connections of why, but as I kept asking, the whole of it was becoming overwhelming. It would be no exaggeration to say that they had to start with nursery rhymes to backfill why they didn’t know.

I actually went home after that class and drank. I had just spent an hour with children who had no literature in their lives, no connection to the inheritance of Western Civilization they were a part of, no idea who we were as a people, and no poetic imagination.

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I started asking my children, do you know Little Red Riding Hood? Pinocchio? The Steadfast Tin Soldier?

Their answers weren’t much better. But why? I mean, I’m a homeschooler. How did we end up with this huge, gaping hole? Shame on me. Then I realized, we had ended up here because historical literature had always been a priority, pushing out classic literature. At one point, I had five children under five, plus the older two whom I had pulled out to homeschool were in older grades, so that when we ‘started’ schooling we jumped in at fourth grade and seventh with nary a nursery rhyme to be found. Then, when I was done with their schooling for the day, and taking care of the littles, you can imagine what extra reading got done. “None” would be the right guess. I had left that portion of the older children’s education up to the public school.

So, out of my reaction, we dropped history.

For us, it was the right thing to do. I am only one mom, their only teacher, there are only twenty-four hours in a day, and I need to sleep. So did they. I couldn’t have five separate read-alouds for five different grades. Because I wanted what we read to matter, it couldn’t be swept away in an ocean of three hours of daily reading; it would all get mushed. So something had to be prioritized, and literature was what I chose. Why? What I was reading gave me the answers.

“Philosophy makes literature clear, literature makes philosophy real. Philosophy shows essences, literature shows existence. Philosophy shows meaning, literature shows life.” Peter Kreeft, p22 The Philosophy of Tolkien.

And, a few paragraphs later he says, “Literature incarnates philosophy. You can actually see hate when you read Oedipus Rex. You actually hear nihilism when you read Waiting for Godot. As the acts of the body are the acts of the person, as a smile does not merely express happiness (the nine-letter word does that) but actually contains it, so literature actually contains or incarnates philosophical truths (or falsehoods).”

“All literature incarnates some philosophy. All literature teaches. In allegory, the philosophy is taught by the conscious and calculating part of the mind, while in great literate it is done by the unconscious and contemplative part of the mind, which is deeper and wiser and has more power to persuade and move the reader. Allegory engages only the mind while great literature the person, for allegory comes from the mind, while great literature comes from the whole person.”

“Literature not only incarnates philosophy: it also tests it by verifying it or falsifying it. One way literature tests philosophies is by putting philosophies into the laboratory of life, incarnating them into different characters and then seeing what happens. Life does exactly the same thing. Literature also tests philosophy in a more fundamental way. It can be expressed by this rule: a philosophy that cannot be translated into a good story cannot be good philosophy. “

Peter Kreeft, pg 22-23, The Philosophy of Tolkien, emphasis  mine.

Can’t historical literature do that? Yes, it can. But choices had to be made. Caddie Woodlawn or Narnia? Guns for General Washington or Pinocchio? Toliver’s Secret or Little Women?

All of them are good, but what is best? Choices had to be made.

Did I want them to learn history through historical fiction books, or did I want them to learn everlasting truths through literature? Could the historical fiction do both? Yes, it can, but it doesn’t always, and those classic children’s books were classics for a reason: they embodied human nature, they fed the moral imagination, and they nurtured poetic knowledge.

Most classically home schooled children will pick up Robin Hood when they study the medieval ages, so again, why was I bothering to drop history as our spine? For me, it was where the emphasis was put. And, I have to say that as they enter the middle grades and high school, literature and history re-intwine, but in a different way.

Then I started learning about Humane Letters. My intuitive decision to drop history as our spine was right. As I learned later, it was right because I needed to replace it with Humane Letters. Humane Letters is the study of philosophy, history, theology, and literature.

“Truth is symphonic.” said Hans Urs von Bathazaar.  The symphony is the whole of Humane Letters; philosophy, history, theology, and literature.

At this point, though I know there is a difference between the Humane Letters and the Liberal Arts, within the classical homeschooling community (outside of Norms and Nobility) I’ve rarely heard either of those terms differentiated. I would love to hear a discussion on the terms and their implementation with emphasis on curriculum choices in the classical homeschooling community, but that’s a discussion for another day.

With a liberal arts emphasis you also eventually hear of Adler’s great books or Dr. Senior’s ‘good books’. From reading his books, I don’t think Dr. Senior would recommend Adler’s idea that the Great Books be read apart from instruction or in a vacuum. He was much more of a Christian humanist.

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In his article The Great Books: Enemies of Wisdom, Frederick Wilhelmsen brings a strong argument against the Great Books and, in turn, against some of the neoclassical homeschool curriculum.

“But behind these pious intentions [the Great Books]–as good as they might be– repose three presuppositions, sometimes not expressed formally, but always exercised in the classroom: (1) disengaging the meaning of a text equalizes philosophizing; (2) the teacher is little more than a midwife whose role consists in leading the student to read texts and who is supposed to disappear, so to speak, behind the texts; (3) these books speak to the reader across the centuries altogether without any need to locate them within their historical contexts. Wisdom is not in the professor and wisdom is not in the tradition; wisdom is in the Books.

Let me attack these presuppositions in turn:

(1) Intellectual delicacy is needed to understand that the first prejudice is a fallacy. The understanding of the meaning of a text is not equivalent to the exercise of what Dr. Joseph Pieper felicitously called “The Philosophical Act.” Quite evidently, no one can become a professional philosopher who has not mastered the skills involved in reading a text. But a scholar who is not a professional philosopher–for instance, an intellectual historian–can do this very well without his being able to affirm the truth or detect flaws in a philosophical argument. Philosophical reasoning, on the contrary, consists in forming presuppositions into premises yielding conclusions. This habit is by no means reducible to the first set of skills. The philosophical act, therefore, can be exercised upon a text, but it does not have to be: it might be exercised on the report of a text, on a problem presented in isolation from texts, or on any issue which demands philosophical penetration.  The explication des texts hunts for “meaning” not “truth.” “[snip] The great books approach tends inevitably towards producing the skill needed to read intelligently a philosophical work, but it does not, of itself, help turn a man into an incipient philosopher.”

(2) Weighing the second prejudice, we must note that the very location of philosophy as a discipline shifts from the personal nourishment of habits of thinking about the real mastery of a number of philosophical classics. Concerning this latter, little need be said; Bergson once wrote that it takes a lifetime to master as many as two great philosophers and the very best we can do with the rest is to gain a gentleman’s awareness of their role and importance within the development of Western intellectuality. It were better to know one of them thoroughly than to know all of them superficially. No deep principal guides this observation: it is based simply on the economy of time given an undergraduate in a handful of courses dedicated, in a hurry, to his philosophical education.  [Multum non multa?]
[snip]

St. Thomas Aquinas spoke of a kind of sin – probably a minor sin – which is “curiosity,” wanting to know what may be worth knowing in itself but which is foreign to the destiny a man has given his own life. He was thinking of the cleric who ignores the things of God and busies himself with “pure” philosophy. But long before Aquinas, Plato pointed out that a mark of the philodaster, the false philosopher, was his knowing “many things” but knowing none of them in depth.”

[snip]

(3) Weighing the third of these prejudices–the conviction that books make sense to students without being located within the historical context that gave them birth and in abstraction from the living tradition in which they play their part–we must note that a kind of philosophical fundamentalism asking to its religious counterpart has insinuated itself into many departments of philosophy given over to Great Bookism. Yet very few, if any, philosophical masterpieces speak by themselves to the contemporary student. This is specially true when they are read, as they are, in translation.” pg 328

Please, go read the whole paper. I have brought out what is relevant to this article, but the whole is full of gems.

I must admit that when I read this, I had three reactions. The first was great sadness–where do we go to receive this education for either our children or ourselves? Secondly, I rolled my eyes. How does Wilhelmsen propose we begin to rebuild this lost education? Who are the rebuilders? How do you rebuild the educational system of an entire country? And thirdly, I was angry because it seemed he would have us burn all of the good for the pure. Nevertheless, I agreed with his diagnosis.

So, how do I apply what I’ve learned?

I adopted the curriculum put forth in David Hick’s Norms and Nobility. A friend who read it, and who classically homeschools, described it as elegant. It is.

I will write about the practical changes I made in my next blog post.

Briana Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

What Is This Rest, And Where Can We Find It? by Briana Elizabeth


There have been a few blog posts around the internet lately on a phrase that Andrew Kern is famous for, “teaching from a state of rest.” It’s one that has left many a homeschooling mother scratching her head for hours; frankly, I’ve only been able to understand it as a few ideas have come colliding together in my own heart. Though there are many soft and grace-filled posts on the state of rest out there, this is not one that is soft. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adopted sons, and partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life. Sometimes grace comes in the form of a clue-by-four: this post is for those who need a little more definition in how this works out in our lives, people like myself.

Other blogs have wonderful posts on this idea and how to attain it, but I’m going to come at it from another angle: that rest starts with observing our unmet expectations and what those expectations mean, and what they shine a spotlight on. I’ve written before on Sandbox to Socrates about homeschooling being a spotlight on what can be wrong in our households; in this case, homeschooling can be a spotlight on what is wrong in our hearts.

There is a great homily on Audio Sancto called  Sloth: the Vice of Homeschoolers. When I didn’t understand the meaning of the word sloth, I was pretty taken aback by that title.

sloth

noun ˈslȯth, ˈsläth also ˈslōth

: the quality or state of being lazy

: a type of animal that lives in trees in South and Central America and that moves very slowly

Sloth is often summed up as laziness, but a truer definition is not doing what we are supposed to be doing, when we are supposed to be doing it. The cure for being slothful is knowing our place (you will hear more on that in the audio homily), which is doing what you are supposed to be doing, when you are supposed to be doing it.

Meaning, if your house is spotless, but the children’s education has fallen off the pier, that is sloth. If you have been running around like a chicken with her head off, but you are supposed to be resting, you are being slothful. If you are bound up in unmet expectations of your child’s education, are buying heaps of curriculum in hopes that it will be THE thing that gets them into Harvard, if your heart is anxious (when you are supposed to be resting in trust) you are being slothful. If you are piling worksheet after worksheet in front of your child because more of any work = success, you might be slothful.

Sometimes when sloth doesn’t look like laziness, it is shining a spotlight on our idols. What makes us anxious? Impatient? Angry? Bitter? Most of the time, it is unmet expectations. Unmet expectations of what? That our children would be gifted students and they are ‘only’ average? That the work would be easier? That our days would look like some fictionalized ideal in our heads? That the monotony of the day wouldn’t make us think that if we were out there, with a career or job, we would be doing something useful with our lives? That someone, anyone, would be a better teacher than we are?

Do we have more pride in our teaching ability, rather than trusting our children’s needs being met through us? Are we anxious and fearful of doing the wrong thing because everyone else is doing something different? Comparisons lead us to constantly question ourselves and the paths our families are on. Are we questioning our vocations as mothers and homeschoolers because the outside world looks prettier and more rewarding when our egos are are bruised because we’re ‘just’ stay at home mothers?

Look, sometimes we DO need to just clean up the house, and get the meals on the table, and put our noses to the grindstone, to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps because we’ve fallen. But even then, there is rest. There is rest because of trust. There is trust in the calling, in the vocation in our lives that is marriage and the upbringing of our children; trust in the love of Christ because he will not lead us astray; trust that when we DO get off track, He writes straight with crooked lines.

readinglesson

In the end, with sloth it all comes down to ego, to what we think what should be–and wasn’t pride the first sin? Us forgetting who God is and our place. In Him.

So. How do we teach from a state of rest? By repenting. Sometimes when we think of repenting, we think of sackcloth and ashes. But that’s not what it is. It means to turn around, to change your mind. Doesn’t that sound much easier–to walk toward something better? But part of repenting is acknowledging that we need to change our minds. Let’s not be so stuck in our ways that we are unable to change our minds.

“‘The beginning of salvation is to condemn oneself’ (Evagrius). Repentance marks the starting-point of our journey. The Greek term metanoia…signifies primarily a ‘change of mind.’ Correctly understood, repentance is not negative but positive. It means not self-pity or remorse but conversion, the re-centering of our whole life upon the Trinity. It is to look not backward with regret but forward with home–not downwards at our own shortcomings but upwards at God’s love. It is to see, not what we have failed to be, but what by divine grace we can now become; and it is to act upon what we see. To repent is to open our eyes to the light. In this sense, repentance is not just a single act, an initial step, but a continuing state, an attitude of the heart and will that needs to be ceaselessly renewed up to the end of life. In the words of St Isaias of Sketis, ‘God requires us to go on repenting until our last breath.’ ‘This life has been given you for repentance,” says St Isaac the Syrian. ‘Do not waste it on other things.’” Met. Kallistos Ware

Perfection in Handicrafts and the Dignity of Work, by Briana Elizabeth


“Take your needle, my child, and work at your pattern; it will come out a
rose by and by. Life is like that – one stitch at a time taken patiently
and the pattern will come out all right like the embroidery.”
~ Oliver Wendell Holmes.

(There is the possibility of me coming off as a cranky knuckle slapper in this post. That is not my intention in the least, though I acknowledge it still might happen.)

This post is a conflagration of many readings and ponderings of late, concerning the topics of Charlotte Masondistributisimguilds, and the question of how we develop a good work ethic in our children. How subjects like that shake up and come together in my brain normally centers around my life as a wife and mother as I consider homeschooling and how these things apply to us. Homemaking and homeschooling are my life as it is right now, this is my vocation.

When I first started reading Charlotte Mason’s writings on handicrafts for children, I was almost…insulted by them. What did she mean that crafts should not be futile, or that slipshod work should not be allowed?

My mind immediately returned to the memory of being eight years old, of having rows and rows of knitting ripped out because I had dropped a stitch. I was reminded that I put my knitting down, never to pick it back up until the age of forty! The well-meaning teacher ripped it all out in hopes of teaching me not to do slipshod work, but instead she frustrated me to the point of not knitting for years.

Knowing what I know about Charlotte Mason, I cannot believe that method and outcome were her intent.

Instead, what I have come to learn through her readings, and through teaching my own children, is that anything less than the best effort given is laziness, and a habit of laziness can become a devastating character flaw.

First, let me offer a disclaimer. I know that you know that to give a child something so far above their ability is cruel. That is not what we are talking about. We also need to know that in this day and age we far underestimate the abilities of our children, which in turn is an insult to them.

Could I have knit well at eight? Absolutely. I have seen pictures of little girls knitting at three. But the woman teaching me didn’t realize that at the beginning she needed to sit by me and watch over every stitch. Then, when I had well mastered a row of single stitches with her at my side, then she could have let me attempt one row by myself. Not because I wasn’t capable of more, but to catch my mistakes before a single wrong stitch caused eight inches of rows to be ripped out.

How often do we do the same? Show the child something quickly, because we have a task we think more important, then leave them alone with it and yell when they finish incorrectly. But the true lesson that was lost was the opportunity to make something beautiful, to do something perfectly, to build on that success with more work done well, to learn perseverance of doing the work correctly through struggle, and, in the end, to cultivate the habit of a good work ethic with the prize of something beautiful to be offered to society.

So because we don’t have the time to sit by the child and teach them with patience to do the work correctly and perfectly, we shop the plastic self-stick aisle of the art center, and later in the week throw out the clutter we have just created. Instead of creating habits of attention, perseverance, perfection and pride of work, we teach them that what they make is useless, to be thrown out, and (I think most sad of all) not a thing of beauty. We throw trash in the trash, so therefore their work is not worthy to be kept. Even if we throw it out with stealth while they’re asleep or out of the house, the lesson is still the same.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever. ~ Dickinson

By now you might be thinking, “So what does she want me to do, keep every little thing that all of these kids make?” Not at all. You don’t want a room filled with everything they made. They might think they are special little snowflakes and that every item is so precious and twee. By keeping everything, we then make little idols out of our children, and altars out of their work. No, no, no. In the middle lies sanity, as usual.

If we teach perfection of work and the perseverance which grows into a good work ethic, we will also be teaching beauty of craft, pride of work, and high expectations of craftsmanship. We will teach pride of belonging, because if the child’s work is useful to the family, there is a pride of community and the joy of having something to offer. This dignifies the child, and that is so much more than making an idol out of them.

So now that I have built my case for perfection of work, how do we go about building this habit in our family?

We do as Charlotte so wisely taught us.

Four succinct points should be kept in mind when selecting handicrafts and life skills.

  1. The end product should be useful. The children should not “be employed in making futilities such as pea and stick work, paper mats, and the like.”
  1. Teach the children “slowly and carefully what they are to do.”
  1. Emphasize the habit of best effort. “Slipshod work should not be allowed.”
  1. Carefully select handicrafts and life skills to challenge but not frustrate. “The children’s work should be kept well within their compass.”

(taken from ‘Home Education,’ p. 315)

If a person were a member of a guild, would slipshod work be allowed? Who would want to purchase it? Would you want a sofa that fell down when you sat on it? A table that was lopsided? Gems that were cloudy, jewelry with solder bubbles, ill-constructed clothes, bread that tasted horrible?

Welcome to the consumer society that purchases those things all day long and twice on Sunday and all in the name of economy.

This is all the more reason why we teach our children the relationship between hard work and quality of product. They will not only become craftsmen, but will gain an honorable work ethic and become wise consumers who understand the value of a thing well-made.

This is not only a post for you, but for me. To remind myself that handicrafts should not be relegated to the place of worksheets. It’s not something to fill up time; it has a far nobler task. Handicrafts are so important that time should be made for them.

Handicrafts lessons overflow into every other area of schoolwork. The same structure is something to be emulated throughout our homeschool. The habit of attention, to persevere, to not allow laziness, to work to the best of our abilities, to immediately fix a problem with a lesson instead of waiting until days of mistakes have gone by, to take pride in work well done, and to perceive beauty and rejoice in it — these are the school lessons taught through learning a skill. I could even go on to write an article on grading, and how it shouldn’t be necessary when work is assessed with these principals in mind. That paper will wait for another day, though.

Don’t think that handiwork is only for girls, either. If you search and think about it, there are many things your young men can do. Each year for Christmas, I insist that my children make each other gifts. Yes, that sounds mean, for what if they are talentless? Aren’t I just putting pressure on them? Well, sometimes, yes, I do. Not that they are unable to do quality work, but, sometimes they need help thinking about what they would be able to do. For instance, this year, I bought my boys wood burning kits, an art otherwise known as pyrography. Three are all kinds of books to help, also. Then, I went to the craft store aisle where they sell the little wooden hinged boxes and they chose what they wanted for their siblings. For patterns we used the Dover coloring books we had accumulated over the years. My youngest son who is ten chose the wedding of Thumbelina for his little sister’s box, and it is amazing. I made sure he knew that he was not to rush. I spent a few hours with him teaching him how to make the tracing,  how to wisely choose what part of the picture he wanted to use, and to know that this was something he was to do to the best of his ability. He rose to my expectations, and your sons can do the same. My oldest son, who’d never heard of woodburning before, took such a liking to it that he is now wanting to design his own custom art guitars.

There are a number of other things that would be wonderful for boys, such as soap making, whittling, (think of Jonathan Toomey or the art of decoys!) or if you have the means, to give them time in a carpenter’s shop learning how to make birdhouses and simple frames. Of course there is painting, and drawing, and many men now knit and sew.   I think for boys in particular, starting off with knitting a scarf can seem too easy, but scarves are the best for learning the basic knitting stitch. My boys love knitted hats, and are proud to wear them, so a basic man’s hat pattern on Ravelry would also be a good start. Don’t forget to check YouT ube for tutorials! For sewing, I would begin with a flannel pant pattern. JoAnn’s has pattern sales where you can buy them for 99 cents, so wait for the sales. Next year I think I am going to have the boys learn stained glass. My Papa was a tool and dye maker, an avid hunter and fisherman, and in the evening he would disappear down into the basement to make the most beautiful stained glass works: window panels, lampshades, and even little bugs for window sill decorations.

For girls there are now wonderful kits available, also. There are knitting, crochet, and of course they may also like their own woodburning kits! There is embroidery, felt ornaments, softie sewing kits, cross stitch, more embroidery, wool felting kits , old arts such as flower pressing,  and of course, painting and drawing. For girls who would like to sew, there are very simple 4 piece shirts that would be easy to teach, quick to work up, and they would get to wear them for a long time.

For small children who are still perfecting their motor skills, I would suggest some felt and larger needles. They can make sweet Valentine’s hearts, felt birds, even working themselves up to more creative pieces. And don’t forget ornaments, easy for beginners, but with much room to grow in difficulty.

If you have any other ideas  please leave them in the comments. And now I’m off to knit.