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.

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Why Classical Education? From the Well-Trained Mind to Charlotte Mason, by Megan

 

I made the decision to homeschool when my oldest child was two. Even though I had several years to plan, I immediately began scouring the internet for curricula. I was overwhelmed by the numerous options. I wanted to ensure that my children received a better education than my own but I didn’t know which path would get me there.

I asked for help on a homeschool forum, and someone recommended The Well-Trained Mind (WTM). I got it from the library and couldn’t put it down. This was exactly what I was looking for, but didn’t know existed! It was how I wish I had been educated.

I loved the idea of laying a foundation that could be built upon in greater detail further down the road. It seemed so logical, so obvious once I’d read it, yet so completely different than my own experience that I never would have come up with it on my own.

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Two of the biggest reasons drawing me to this method were how Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise handled History and English. In the public elementary school I attended growing up, Social Studies started with the child and they learned about self, then their community, then their state, and then their country. Social Studies in 7th-12th grades were a convoluted mess. Between 6th and 12th grades, I took four and a half years of American History and only one year of World History. In the WTM method, History is done chronologically from beginning to end and the cycle is repeated every four years. And every time it repeats, the historical facts make more sense as they build upon they foundation the students already had. I loved this idea that History could actually make sense!

I listened to Bauer’s method of English instruction here. I loved the methods of copywork, narrations, and dictation, and her explanations of why they were so important. I could understand the skills they taught and appreciated that they’re developmentally appropriate for younger children. I could also see how students will take those skills and build upon them as they grow, and learn to be persuasive writers by college. That made me hopeful because I feel like I struggled so much in college whenever I had to write papers.

After a year of this method, I began to realize that although it was exactly what I wish I had had, it wasn’t working very well for my son. Apparently, different people enjoy learning in different ways. I started learning more about Charlotte Mason’s take on classical education and we’ve added some more of her methods. I still get chronological history, copywork, narrations, and dictation (among other things), but I’ve tweaked how we approach them. He’s behind in some areas and ahead in others. I get to tailor his education to his needs and it works out very well. I still love the WTM as a guide and a starting off point whenever I need curricula suggestions, but I love the natural learning of Charlotte Mason’s approach.

Even though we’re still in the “sandbox” stage of our homeschooling journey, I feel confident that we’re on the right path. We may no longer strictly follow WTM, butI know my son is getting a high quality education. It’s a proven method and my friends who are much further along in this process are there to encourage and support me. With their help, I am able to see the big picture of where I want my children to be in ten years.

 

Meganmegan–Megan is mom to three children: Pigby (boy, age 7), Digby (boy, age 4), and Chuck (girl, age 2).  She loves history, ballroom dance, and crocheting.  She made the decision to homeschool when her oldest was three and they’ve been on this journey ever since.

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.

In Defense of Twaddle

by Jane-Emilytwaddle

Twaddle is Charlotte Mason’s term for junk literature — books that are unworthy of attention because they are drivel.  Easy series books, comic books — everything that is more brain candy than solid nutrition.  It’s a wonderfully expressive term, too.  I just love calling things twaddle, don’t you?

Living books, on the other hand, are good literature that provide real mental stimulation, an imaginative journey that sticks with the reader.  While I certainly agree that living books are the best kind, I have developed a strong opinion that twaddle has a worthy place in a child’s library and should not be avoided.  So here is my theory — in defense of twaddle.

Any parent of a small child knows that little ones love repetition.  A preschooler will ask for the same book over and over and over again, until the long-suffering mother is ready to set a match to the thing.  Susan Wise Bauer often talks about this love of repetition as a child’s way of figuring out what things in the world stay the same, and what things change.  In a big world where so much is completely unpredictable from a child’s point of view, the fact that Green Eggs and Ham always ends with the fellow eating green eggs and liking them is a happy confirmation that some things don’t change.

As the child grows older, she learns to read.  She is no longer quite so interested in reading the exact same story over and over again, but she still enjoys repetition throughout the grammar stage.   Reading is very hard work that takes a lot of energy at first, and a child learning to read is navigating quite a bit of unknown territory.  Easy series books — stuff like Magic Tree House, Junie B. Jones, and the worst of the lot, Rainbow Fairies — provide practice with reading skills and story structure while remaining comfortingly predictable.  You never have to worry that Jack and Annie will get stuck; they always make it home.  Rachel and Kirsty will always be able to help the fairy and defeat the goblins.  Comic books will do the same thing.  There are no nasty surprises, and meanwhile there is enough variety to keep things interesting as the child absorbs vocabulary, develops reading ease and speed, and enjoys reading.  Twaddle provides repetition with variation, and that is the perfect formula for a beginning reader in the grammar stage.

I want to say it louder: twaddle provides repetition with variation.  It’s the next step up from reading the same picture book over and over again.

Meanwhile, it’s your job as the parent to require a little quality challenge as well.  Reading excellent literature aloud to your child stocks his mind with language that is far above what he can actually read.  It teaches him to appreciate a really great story with good writing, and allows him to focus all his energy on listening and comprehending.  At this age and for years to come, your child will comprehend more through listening than he will through reading, so you can read a complex story to a beginning reader very happily.  Reading aloud is an important activity for a long time, longer than we usually realize.   (I have a theory about that too!)

Of course, you can andtwaddle2 should require your child to read quality literature for school time.  This is where you can make sure that she reads living books if she isn’t reading them on her own.  If she is reluctant but it isn’t that it’s too difficult for her, try having her read aloud with you, alternating paragraphs.

I am a great believer in requiring some reading and allowing free choice for more reading.  A child ought to have both, and my preference is for more freedom than not.  I get so discouraged when I see children who have to do so much required reading from a list (for, say, the Accelerated Reader program, which I really dislike) that they never get to choose their own books!   It’s hugely important that a child have some autonomy about what to read, and in my opinion that should include the freedom to read twaddle.  Exerting too much control over a child’s reading choices can so easily crush the joy out of it.

So I say bring on the Rainbow Fairies, insipid and saccharine little nothings that they are.  They’ll be outgrown soon enough, and the child will go on to better things, having practiced the skills that make more difficult reading enjoyable.

Addendum, 10/18/13: Neil Gaiman, intelligent fellow that he is, agrees with me, and incidentally manages to pack in a lot of other things I also agree with.  Please enjoy this wonderful speech he gave at The Reading Agency.

Jane-Emily homeschools two daughters in California.  She is a librarian who loves to quilt and embrjane-emilyoider, and she’s a Bollywood addict.  Her favorite author is Diana Wynne Jones. She blogs about reading at Howling Frog Books.