Take Heed That Ye Offend Not

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As we think about parenting and the formation of the children, it is helpful to look at the places where Christ interacts with children and speaks about them in the Gospels. Really we find only a little bit here but because what He says and does sets up a principle for us, I think that we will find that it covers all circumstances.

What Does Christ Do?

In the midst of the disciples quarrel over who would be the greatest, He takes a child and sets him in their midst, telling them that they must be like the child and receive the child as they receive Him.

What Does Christ Say?

“Let the children come and do not hinder them….whoever offends one of these little ones it were better for him to have a millstone put about his neck and be thrown into the see…do not despise the children….”

So there is our model: to include and receive each of our children and to refrain from offending, despising, or hindering them.

What Does This Mean Practically?

When we hear the term “offend” we tend to think not of the action itself but of the emotional response of ruffled feelings and hurt that may or may not be a reasonable reaction. Offend is a verb first of all though, and it may be better understood here if we use the synonym of sin or transgress since the word translated as offend is one with a legal meaning in the original.

To offend in this sense means doing that which we should not or failing to do that which we should (sometimes called sins of omission and commission). Of course, this leads us into difficult territory right away, for we do not want to think of our parenting failures as sins against our children (and many of them are not intentionally so) and we may feel that it is impossible not to fail in these ways, and the children will be better off if we let them alone! We must not allow our own emotions to rule however, but in seeing ourselves and our children as Christ sees us we acknowledge our tendencies and seek to grow in holiness. And by seeing ourselves clearly we can be on guard and know when we must seek the forgiveness of our children for having offended them.

I think that the offense that comes because of doing something we shouldn’t will be related to our unique personhood and the things that stress us in ourselves and in our children and circumstances. I find that I am much more likely to deal crossly with the child who shares my weaknesses than with the one who shares my strengths especially when circumstances cause me to anticipate a stressful situation by pre-stressing about it! I am offending against myself by not acknowledging that a certain situation will be difficult and asking for needed help (omission) and against the children by snapping and snarling and not giving them the opportunity to be helpful (commission).

Similarly, the offense that comes from not doing something I should, is also first an offense against myself as I do not ask for grace to get up and do my duty of following up and parenting in the presence of my children – not hollering across the house but entering into the children’s presence as we grow in the family community.  The children also suffer when I am inconsistent in habit formation and in noticing what they do well.

Mother Culture is our life itself- the things that we do that we have to do and that have great potential for filling us as we become more perfect image bearers of Christ.  This is a growth time for us and we (and our children) are growing into the person whom we have been made to be and there is a joy in that growth which is often obscured by daily struggles.  I think it is a joy that we must fight to hold onto, by seeing ourselves and our children and friends as Christ sees us and by noticing the small improvements and the taking joy in the mere fact of our children’s existence. I think too, that if we base our joy in our children in their being (personhood) and not in what they do (or don’t!) that it becomes easier for them to know that we like them and rejoice over them regardless of behaviors.

To joy is an action and we may choose it.

The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.  Zephaniah 3:17

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The Gift of Unhurried Days

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It is 8 o’clock on a summer morning and only two children are awake! Our summer days have taken on a rhythm that allows the children to sleep and waken slowly, or to bounce from bed to pursue reading, or Lego creations, or bug hunting while I drink my tea and do a bit of this and that. Our days are full but unhurried as we work and play with a timetable to guide and assure that there is time for each of the “next things” that will occur.

With so many thinking about homeschooling or feeling overwhelmed by all of the turmoil in our current national life; I thought it might be helpful to think about schedules and how they can help or hinder us.

Schedules that Hinder

When the children were small I was keen to have a schedule. I naturally procrastinate and putter, and a schedule, I thought, would keep me on track and organize the children into doing what they should, when they should. I spent hours writing down a timetable in 15 minute increments and even more hours fussing and fuming when life didn’t fall neatly into those increments. Some days a task or lesson took five minutes and I had time on my hands and other days 55 minutes wouldn’t have been enough to accomplish even a part of the same task. My schedule was the most important thing and when the people the schedule was intended to regulate, didn’t regulate I was thrown into a frustrated tizzy!

This use of schedule while tidy and organized, forgot that the relationships and the atmosphere were more important than the tasks and neglected to serve those relationships. I adjusted and adjusted what we did, but the end was always frustration and tears because my goal for our schedule was to regulate behaviors rather than to provide space for building relationships while working at various tasks together or spending individual time on personal endeavors.

My schedule was a great hinderance to peaceful and joyful motherhood and family life because I was asking it to solve problems that were rooted in attitude and relationship.

Schedule as a Provider of Peace

Gradually, through study and prayer, I came to see that the schedule was intended as a tool that would release me from constant decision making over important minutia so that my attention could be free to focus on persons. The timetable mattered in the same way that the files in a file cabinet matter. It enabled me to see that there was time enough for everything without having to hurry. 

A block of time could be allotted for lessons or housekeeping and with a simple list of tasks that would fit within that time frame we could do as many or as few as that day’s relationships allowed. Each day has its appointed tasks and if someone is sick or my insomnia has left me seriously sleep deprived we do fewer things within a block.

Certain tasks (math, for instance) should be done daily, and within the time table there is ample time for those and for the riches and extras, but if a math lesson is super difficult and needs to borrow some time from Art or Laundry Folding it is not a huge deal. The timetable will give us space in which to “catch up” or another person will pitch in to help finish the task.

As each person knows their piece of the puzzle there is far less decision fatigue for everyone and while I still have to do a fair bit of follow up with certain children to be sure that tasks are done well, there is less push back as they don’t feel that I am fussing and driving them so much. The schedule provides us with structure that frees us to work at our allotted tasks or to play in peace as we know that there is time available for what we are doing and for the other things that we need or want to do. The schedule serves us.

Video Class:

As I often do during the summer I am going to do a little series of three or four videos over the next week. These videos will be a small class on schedule making; with some of the things I’ve learned over the years and some practical application and hand outs. As I usually do, I’ll do them on Facebook Live but then save the videos to Youtube and post them here along with any handouts.

 

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Persons or Collections?

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In considering the concept that “Children are born persons” we naturally have to consider the ways in which we perceive the children in our lives. There is a natural tendency to see the them as a groups: the big kids, the little boys and so on and this can be helpful at points. Or we may see them in terms of their attributes and behaviors: the diligent kid, the lazy one, the one who can fix anything. Again these can be a helpful way of seeing the children at times but they are hardly a way of seeing the individual persons, and if we cannot see the individuals how can we educate them in terms of academics suited to their uniqueness or form them spiritually with an eye to particular tendencies towards vice or virtue.

Do we see our children as persons or as collections of abilities, faults, gifts, problems and behaviors?

In other words:

Do we see them? Each child as the unique person that they are?

I think before we can see each child we need to ask if we see ourselves.

Recently I posted in our Mother Culture Group; asking each person to post the first three things that came to mind when they thought about themselves.  Many of the women posted either three things that were negative or that they expected others to see as negative. “Too loud” rather than ” I have a big voice and am exuberant in nature.” The expectation seemed to be that the negative aspects of personality and character were more definitional  than the positive aspects of those same traits.

There is definitely a place for being honest about our faults and weaknesses- we are broken creatures in a broken world, BUT we are also God’s handiwork from before time began each with our own, unique vocation of good works prepared for us before all time so that by His grace we might participate in the unbreaking of ourselves and of the whole cosmos.

Sit with that for a moment.

Created as God’s Handiwork

Before all time

With a unique vocation from before all time

To participate in the unbreaking and redemption of the cosmos

 

Does it change how you see yourself? How you see your weaknesses?

Does it change how you see your children?

 

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Growth: Hard Work, Holding On, Letting Go

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‘Tis the season of growth! Everywhere new plants are pushing up through the soil and people are changing what they did before to accommodate a life that is different than what they had planned.

Children are growing and changing too and by the time I got my coffee at 11 this morning, I had already settled 500 squabbles, 25 meltdowns, and given out 40 extra jobs for dawdling and bad attitudes! At least it felt that way.

I was reminded forcibly that for children some years are years of extreme growth while others are more steady and that extreme growth requires extra nourishment, extra support, and even some extra training and pruning if the full plant is to be strong, confident, and grace filled.

When I put seeds or seedlings into the garden, I don’t just walk away and hope that they will bear or even expect that they will. I tend them with water and weeding, with trellises and gentle training of vines and limbs along the paths where they will be best able to take advantage of the things I have no control over but which they need in order to thrive. Sometimes I don’t see results for weeks and then suddenly I can almost watch the plants fill out and grow taller between morning and evening.

It’s true of humans too- there is much happening under the surface for all of us and so there is much tending that needs to be done if we are to see timely and fruitful growth. This morning as I was working with a child who had chosen to do a certain chore poorly and now needed to do it well and even do a bit extra in order to bring their responsibility zone up to par, I started thinking about how hard it is to do the work of growing and how hard it is to walk alongside someone who is in a period of intense growth. How if we love someone we desire what is best for them and often that means that we must provide all that we can to help them succeed and then discipline ourselves to stand back and let them do their own hard work!

We cannot grow for someone else and no matter how much we may be able to see that if they would just ____things would go more smoothly, we really cannot make those decisions for them. If we try we may well find that we are actually hindering them from the very things that would enable them to grow.

It is a delicate balance as a parent. To see what would bring the child to being all that they were created to be, and to be able to provide them with the tools to reach that fullness and yet to hold back and let them try, let them fail, let them learn to root themselves deeply and reach out for what they need.

From Charlotte Mason’s “Twenty Principles of Education.” Principles 1, 3, and 4

There is a great deal of trust encapsulated in that simple phrase “Children are born persons.” We are invited to believe that our children have been given themselves and that we are called to love them, to disciple them and ultimately to stand aside as they take the tools we have given them and the grace they are offered and use it to be in fact persons living the calling that they have been given.

Understanding these concepts is foundational to parenting but how do we work this all out? How do we offer help to grasp the resources of growth and yet not smother the growth we are trying to encourage? We want the children to have the courage and strength to speak their minds and we want them to treat others with respect and courtesy- how to we set guidelines and give needed consequences.  How guide the personalities and yet not encroach upon them in any way?

It is a matter for much prayer, much patience, and yes, much growth on our parts. When I consider how I parent the current preschooler versus the way in which I parented the older children at that age, I think that I am kinder and more patient. When I consider the next few years as the older children grow through their teens into adulthood, I know that I have much to grow into myself as I try to help them.

Indeed, at this point in the parenting journey, I have many more questions than I do inklings of direction. My mind grasps the truth of holding on and letting go together but my heart cannot see how this might be in life with each of the personalities at play. I must grow myself in an intentional way in this area seeking out friends, books, and discussions that will help me to see each child and to love and help them as they grow. I must pray daily for patience and grace and then use the patience and grace I am given in order to grow. and I must let go of the results and recognize that none of the growth is the result of my effort, but is instead a gift as each of the persons involved becomes what they were made to be.

 

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A Sense of Place

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Where are your places? Where do you find yourself most firmly rooted? Where do you go when life is too much and you need to breathe?

Lately, I have found myself at sea, and without a fixed place or time for reflection, for working on my projects and plans, and  for rest. My husband is working out of our bedroom, the children have grown and their projects and pursuits seem to have taken over every corner of the house and yard. In each of my “spots” someone is sure to find me after a few minutes and , while I love my children dearly, sometimes a mother just needs a minute or twenty to organize her thoughts or just sit and be.

We have been here (mostly) at home now for almost two and a half months and I think in some ways it has been a blessing and in others it has been an amazing trial. For one thing, it is not a very big space, even when we add in the green space in the middle of our street (the cars go one way on one side and the other way on the other) and the park at the end of the street while large (700 acres) is really only useful for the older two children who can go and explore the creeks. The house is also fairly small, and we are all rather intense personalities who sometimes just need to be away from each other which can be difficult to manage.  On the other hand, being home so much has encouraged us all to be more creative in managing the space and more diligent in keeping it uncluttered and picked up so that we don’t feel crowded together. There has been much more enthusiasm for the garden and yard and the English Cottage Garden that I have had in my mind all this time, is finally coming to fruition.  There is a certain kind of settling in that has happened with the physical spaces we inhabit.

I see a similar kind of settledness developing in the spirits of the younger children. The limitations of being in this space with these materials has inspired them to try new things with what is at hand. They quarrel but there is an incentive to “make up” again when your sibling is the one available to play with. The uninterrupted rhythm of days upon days at home has been a benefit although I can see that my extroverts in particular are starting to suffer from the lack of social interaction.

There is something to be learned I think, about our interior geography from the way that we interact with our external geography. If we are constantly “on the go” within our physical location, constantly seeking out new places and new stimulation then our souls are likely also to be restless. If our souls are restless we are more likely to try to soothe them with new places to go, new friends, new vistas laid before our physical sight as we try to draw the eyes of our souls away from the anxieties, the regrets, and the frenetic activities that drive us.

What if we chose a different path?

What if we took that feeling of restlessness as a sign that there was a need to find rest- even to force ourselves to rest? What if – as mothers in community- we could say to each other “I am restless and ill at ease, will you hold space for me, help me to hold space for myself so that I can satisfy my soul by deep interior work?”

Holding space is sacred work- sometimes spiritual as we hold each other in prayer and love from afar, sometimes eminently practical as we bring a meal, dig a garden, take the children for the day, or stand with a friend and wipe their tears. This is the vocation of community- to hold one another in the midst of our own sorrows and struggles and in the midst of our rejoicing, to gather in physical spaces and make them sacred spaces by the way in which we walk in love together.

“Bear ye, one another’s burdens,” says the Apostle, ” and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

And in another place Christ himself tells us that to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength and our neighbors as ourselves is His Law that takes the place of the Law of Moses and the teachings of the Prophets.

Dear friends, how do you love yourselves? And how loving yourselves can you then love each other in the same way?

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Spontaneous Action Is Not Irresponsible!

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This morning I was very tempted to cancel lessons and chores and let everyone go their separate and very whiny ways! Our priest came over last night to bless the gardens since it was Rogation Monday and stayed to supper. The big boy had built a fire pit on the patio and we lit an inaugural fire and everyone stayed up well past their bedtimes. We all had a good time and felt refreshed by the fellowship but this morning was not easy or on schedule at all.

I have been reading about the idea of spontaneity as it was understood in the 1800’s when Maria Montessori and Charlotte Mason were developing their philosophies of education and I am glad I have been doing so, as  this morning I had the opportunity to take spontaneous action to improve our day, not by abandoning it to chaos but by making minor adjustments that would help us all to make wise use of our time and lower than usual energy.

Spontaneity in the 19th century understanding (and indeed in every time except our modern one that seeks to evade responsibility whenever possible) did not mean the random abandoning of grim responsibility in order to “have a good time” but rather the free choice of  a free will that knowing its own constraints chooses a particular action. So, for example, this morning I chose to adjust what we would do and at what time because of the constraints of our natural bodies being over tired and less able than on other days. This was a spontaneous choice because I was not forced to make it. I could have chosen to push through; sticking as closely to our usual schedule as possible. And I could have chosen to suspend some part of the normal activities of the day in favor of more rest. I could even have chosen to just let everything slide. Any of those choices would have been spontaneous choices and some would have been wiser than others.

As moderns we assume that spontaneity is frivolous;opposed to responsibility and common sense and we often struggle for integration of our selves when we want to feel free or choose an unusual action and think that this means that we are abandoning our hard won daily disciplines. Not so!

It is responsible and spontaneous to spend a beautiful day in the out of doors, working and playing and to save household tasks and spring cleaning for less lovely weather. Canceling lessons or taking a later start because the children are tired isn’t a lack of discipline. It is  understanding that bodies and minds need rest to work in harmony and that motherhood includes the liberty to give grace when and where it is needed.

“Whatsoever your hand findeth to do, do it mightily as unto the Lord.”

Carpe Diem!

Today’s sunshine is seized  to the fullest as an act of worship and tomorrow’s rain and indoor tasks can also give contentment and joy as we do the tasks we put aside yesterday, not out of guilt that they are undone, but understanding that we have the freedom to choose what we do and to suit it to the circumstances of our days.

Spontaneity is not a willful abandonment of duty and an excuse not to discipline our wills to do each duty as an act of love and worship. Rather it is the freedom of will to choose what is best in any given moment- what best enables us to live in worship and love by choosing one task over another, one duty to take primacy today and another tomorrow, one block of time for quiet reflections and another for action so that we recognize that each moment is a gift from our Father and like all of His gifts is to be cherished.

 

 

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Summer Lessons: Combining Masterly Inactivity and Structure

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Oh Summer!

How we love your long, lazy days and lack of agenda and how we grieve over the quarrels and claims of “I’m booooored”.

It is certainly true that idleness breeds mischief eventually and  while a holiday can refresh, we do truly need to work.

When we lived in the South in made sense to school through the year in 6 or 8 week chunks. The children were younger then, and lessons didn’t take much time, and schooling year round meant that when the city baked in July we could be indoors in the cool doing lessons and free to enjoy the lovely weather of early spring and fall.

Up here when the weather is so often nasty for weeks in the winter and is pleasant almost the whole summer long it has seemed more reasonable to take the summer off and school during the less pleasant months.

There were definitely some drawbacks to this approach; the most notable being that the children seemed to think that a break from lessons eventually meant a break from any effort or labour at all and by midway through the summer the resistance to helping in the household and the cries of “I’m booooored” swelled in equal measure. I was able to offset those cries and encourage people to work by arranging various pleasant expeditions to swimming holes and parks and by taking several summer trips, but these also had their drawbacks from my perspective as they greatly hindered my goals of accomplishing projects during the summer.

This year, the virus added an additional impetus to returning to our former plan of year round lessons broken into reasonable chunks and since the children are older, we have adopted the English method of three 12 week terms with a month or so off between them. This provides us with three holidays: Summer in August, Advent in December (something we have done for many years), and Easter in April (or thereabouts depending on the date of Easter).

This week we began again with a different  set of lessons from last Term:

Copywork

There is a set of prayers that I would like the older three to be familiar with. They are called “Arrow Prayers” and are short , one sentence prayers for particular situations. I think there are around 50 of them in the St. Gregory Prayer Book that we use at home, so I am writing two of them on the board in cursive each day and the children copy them into their notebooks. They are written in liturgical English so they also serve to enhance the children’s vocabulary and sense of style as well as teaching them that prayer need not be long and involved but can be quickly uttered whenever there is a need for grace.

The younger two have plenty of writing in their phonics books and also may choose to trace their dictated Nature Study narrations so I’m concentrating on good writing habits and not assigning additional copywork.

 

Math

Here we simply continue on with MEP. Currently, we are using Year 1, Year 3, Year 5a, Year 5b and Year 9. It’s quite a stretch for me to be teaching beginning addition and subtraction, beginning multiplication and division, advanced multiplication and division, fractions and decimals (the two ends of Year 5), and Algebra. It’s neat too because I can see the scope of the whole curriculum and how what is learned in one year naturally grows into a new technique in the years following.

We also do mental arithmetic during Morning Time and Daisy astonished us yesterday by adding up this problem: 9+3+2+4+2+9+2+8 to get 39! She made a couple of mistakes but was able to correct them herself when told they were wrong.

The younger two also have a number of Montessori math works and do those several times a week.

Bible

We read the Psalm for Morning Prayer together and the older three are reading Acts and writing short narrations for each chapter. Little kids and I read from their Story Bible as we have been throughout the year.

Nature Study

Since the weather is nice and we have a big park nearby, I’m making an effort to really engage with Nature Study each day. The younger two are using Exploring Nature With Children and I have the guided nature journal to use as a reference, while the older three are doing something similar using Exploring Nature Throughout the Year. I really like these two guides for Nature Study as they are simple, yet allow for expansion and have ideas for expansion as well as art and poetry weekly.

Additionally we are growing a good garden this year so some days Nature Study looks like this:

 

 

 

Other Studies

We also have a few studies going in various areas where I think extra practice is needed or someone has an interest. Typing and Science for the older three, Composer Study for everyone, singing our way through the Easter section of the hymnal, and keeping up with Latin and French Vocabulary to name a few. Not everything is done every day and we aim to be done by lunch time, and then have the afternoon for individual pursuits that are (mostly) independent of me (masterly inactivity).

Striking a Balance

It’s an interesting balance to try to maintain: enough intellectual stimulation that the imagination is also stimulated and the mind has fodder with which to develop ideas (this is, by the way, the concept behind summer reading lists), enough physical activity (and some of it strenuous and requiring effort to continue to build habits of the will, opportunities for wonder and beauty and selflessness that will strengthen and grow the soul. I find that I, myself, also need this structure. To find a balance for mother that fills my soul and centers me so that I can nibble away at my various tasks and projects. I try hard to be available and interruptible and yet to pleasantly hold a boundary of ” Mom, is working and you can solve this problem yourself.”

If the goal is to raise children whose feet are set in a large room, then I think it is also important to help them to learn to navigate not only their physical spaces but also the life of their own mind and soul. Masterly inactivity combined with a structure to the day gives them the freedom to explore and try and the boundary within which to do so. Already, I can see that the children have a better idea of what they want to do with their time since there is a constraint on how much time they have. Purposeful use of their time leaves them feeling that they have accomplished something and the satisfaction of accomplishment leads to joy and contentment.

As I reminded one of them this morning, we were made for a purpose and because we were made for a purpose, we are not happy for long without one!

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Who Feeds The Teacher? Mother Culture Is An Essential.

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“Do not let the endless succession of small things crowd great ideals out of sight and out of mind.” Charlotte Mason

I have been thinking about this issue of renewing ourselves this week, as a succession of small things have wearyingly presented themselves over and over again. It is all very well, to tell the children to go out of doors and blow the cobwebs out of their brains and to quote Kipling to them but what is a mother to do?

We bear not only the burden of the daily tasks but also the burden of the emotional load of each person in the household- the teen who is anxious about his friend’s little brother’s possible exposure to illness, the proto teen who desperately misses her friends and yet refuses to make contact in the ways that she can, and the younger children who are enough effected by all of this that they are more quarrelsome and fractious than is their norm. Not to mention husbands who are trying to work from home and stressing about that and a mother’s own load of anxiety and concern. Each of us bears so much responsibility and it is hard to find out where we could and should lay that down and where we can find food for our own souls that will strengthen us for this journey.

There are many who will say , “Establish a prayer life and lay those burdens at the foot of the Cross.”  or ” Offer up this suffering.” This is good advice and when one is able to lay these things down and to hold to a strong prayer life there is great grace there. Often however we have no strength to stop and pray, or our attempts to do so seem to reach no higher than the ceiling. What then? We cannot feed our families from an empty cup.

I think first of all we must acknowledge the struggle. We must say in our spirit and aloud, “This is hard and I am ___ about it.” or similar words. And I think we must acknowledge that there is a grieving process here. Not just ” I am angry over these circumstances” but also ” I am grieving my lost plans, my lost time to be alone and quiet, my children’s lost opportunities at school or camps.” Grief is real in these days and when we add it to the uncertainty of wondering what will happen next, of being unable to plan beyond the next few weeks, of wondering if those vulnerable and dear to us will succumb, of wondering whether anything we are being told is as true as we are being told it is, then grief tends to produce anxiety and unsettledness in us! It can and does overwhelm us and we are only able to do the things that we must in order to live.

Dear mamas! How shall we live like this? From whence shall we get the strength and perspective to do “the next thing?” Who will feed us?

I think this is where habit is such a strength. It is the habit of feeding our families, and teaching lessons, and seeing that chores are done that protects us from complete inertia. We can go through the motions of life and in going through the motions we can begin to find a place for the Spirit to speak life back into our dried up places. Do we recognize these habits as the small things that point to the great ideals by which we live?

How often do we say to ourselves, ” Making meals daily is a work of mercy.” ” Helping the children to settle their differences is the work of a peacemaker.” ” Snuggling the anxious teen is feeding his soul.”? Do we see ourselves as virtuous? Do we name our acts as virtues or do we just drudge on through our days doing what must be done?

When I look at my social media feeds I see so many who are practicing great virtue in the small things that they do each day. I see creativity, practicality, beauty, and great love in a time of great stress. Yet I know that many of these mothers would say that they are not creative, that they are struggling, that their anxiety overwhelms them. So I think that we must all speak these words of life to one another and to ourselves until we hear them.

And I think that it is so necessary to carve out little acts of kindness to ourselves. Small oasis of time in which we can pause and hold those times and spaces as necessary as meals or sleep.

In this time of isolation we may not be able to take an afternoon and go to a library or coffee shop to think and plan, but can we manage 10 minutes here or there? And having taken that bit of time for a cup of tea (my usual break) do we have a notebook sitting nearby to sketch or write in? Or a book to read even for a just a couple of pages? Can we put a quote on the kitchen whiteboard to catch our eye for a moment? This is Mother Culture.

We may think that we must have a swath of time in order to feed ourselves, and that is wonderful and fills us quickly, but when we are starving can we not feed ourselves in bits?

Someday (hopefully soon) we will be able to graze again like sheep instead of browsing like goats, but browsing produces good milk too and should not be rejected!

So Mama, what acts of kindness can you offer yourself today? Make a list of small things that you can do.  What is your “large room” of the mind and heart?

How can we feed each other’s souls or help each other to  feed our souls in this time of isolation so that each in turn can feed the souls entrusted to her?

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Geography Begins At Home

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Geography is the study of places, so we begin by helping the child to observe his own places and learn how they relate to him and to each other and to begin to see how they shape what he does in each place.  Geography is an important study because in it we learn that the physical shapes of places changes what we are able to do in them and we learn that some physical places can be changed to better suit us. By first studying the geographical features of the Middle East we are easily able to see that Ancient Egypt flourished as it did because there was no great struggle for physical survival thanks to the renewal of the Nile and that the Ancient Greeks were a seafaring people because the sea was easier to navigate for trade than their rugged mountains.

It is easy in our modern age to discount the wrestling that took place between our ancestors and the land in which they lived. Recently, I was reading Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie aloud to my littles and I noticed how much the Ingalls’ family migrations were tied to Pa’s desire to farm in a geography where he did not have to fight the land in order to survive. In the woods of Wisconsin, he had to first to cut down trees, then plow and plant around the stumps, removing what stones he could. All through the growing season he had to not only tend the crops themselves but also chops down the sprouts coming up from the stumps until they rotted enough that they could be pulled up and dragged out of the field.  His pleasure when he began to plow the sod in Kansas is such that Laura still remembered it decades later.

We tend to skip over the importance of that experience of geography because we don’t have the same struggles. In town especially we are isolated from the effects of climate and soil, as we are able to retreat into our homes and flip a switch to heat or cool them to our liking.  The study of geography helps to make us aware of the effects of physical features of the land in historic times and assists us to be more observant of our own physical surroundings.

Since we begin this study in the youngest years of formal schooling, it seems reasonable to begin with what the child knows best- his or her own place in the world- slowly expanding outwards as the child’s own horizon and understanding expands and at the same time adding skills and vocabulary with which to accurately describe what the child sees.

We begin with the home; asking the child to draw a picture of his own house and to tell something about it. If necessary to help him begin to tell we might ask a question like – “what color is your house?” but we are not looking for an accurate description here (how many rooms, what is each for and so on) but rather for what the child has allowed to make an impression on his mind or his imagination. What is important to the child and how does he make that importance known?  In these early years, we are learning the child as the child is learning to learn and we must be careful not to shape what the child is impressed by or loves by what we think a child of six should love or be impressed by.  “Children are born persons” and it is our task to recognize that essential personhood and gently guide the child to mold it through lessons, habit training, and home life so that when the child is grown he may indeed care deeply about the large room in which he has been set!

The child is studying the physical geography of his life and we are studying the spiritual geography of the child so that we can help him to “make the rough places a plain.” and we begin gently with a little lesson of ten or fifteen minutes. First a drawing in his notebook of his own home and then a little narration of his picture.  Later in the week we look at the picture again and he may add to it or do another picture to show other features that have been awakened in his mind by the first lesson. Or we might ask him to tell us about his home while we draw to his direction, which will probably produce much hilarity but also will begin his learning to describe accurately what he wishes others to understand. Again it is a short lesson but it stirs up the sediment of the brain to begin to look and to see and to tell.

“Education is the Science of Relations.”

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An April “Vacation”

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I often take time over the Christmas Holidays to evaluate our current year and put some ideas on paper for the next twelve months for school and for summer activities and travel plans. This year, I decided that I was not going to make my annual trip to Virginia for the homeschool convention in June, but that instead we would plan to have lessons for twelve weeks from January to the end of March, take April off to do yard work and plant the garden and then have a summer term in May, June, and July for twelve weeks. August would again be  a holiday month and we would resume lessons in September before the Advent holiday that we have taken for the past several years.

My original plan was to do at least some of our summer term on Cape Cod. My family owns a cottage on a pond there that various cousins and relatives use as it suits them and I thought that June on the Cape might be very nice. Not yet crowded with holiday tourists and as we mostly hang out on our pond anyway there isn’t much need for events or other attractions to be open. Of course, with all of this virus stuff that part of the plan is off of the list for the moment although if things ease up we may still go.

So here we are halfway through April and we have been busily digging new garden beds and renewing the old ones as well as getting trash out of the yard and shop and generally tidying up the place. The furnace man has come and serviced the furnace, I have an electrician lined up to improve the electrical service to Stuart’s shop and am hoping to get someone in to replace the rotten siding and paint the place.

I’ve been going through the basement and putting books into their right categories in the library and learning materials into the their right totes since everything had gotten rather muddled when we had our basement flood and foundation building project last spring!

I’m also deep in curriculum development for Discovering History With Notebooks. The full  scope and sequence for 12 grades of History and Geography studies is all laid out and I am working on weekly lesson plans and sources for the various pieces and parts as well as sample notebooks for each level. I am drawing heavily on Maria Montessori and Charlotte Mason for the order in which history is presented and the ways in which students and teachers interact with it so that Form One begins with themselves and their personal geography and history:

Form 1: Ages 6-8

  • Year 1: Geography of the Natural World
    • Term 1-My Home, Neighborhood, and Town
    • Term 2-My State and Region
    • Term 3-My Continent, Continents and Oceans, The Globe
  • Year 2: Land Forms, Maps, Seasons, Weather
    • Term 1-Land Forms, Map Making
    • Term 2-Maps, Compass, Distances, Scales
    • Term 3-Seasons, Weather
  • Year 3: World Geography
    • Term 1- North America – The United States 2 states per week beginning with the child’s state
    • Term 2- North America- The United States 2 states per week plus two weeks with three states
    • Term 3- Canada, Mexico, Central America

and by the end of Form Five (High School) students have a solid grasp of History in general as well Church History and the History of Philosophy and Theology:

Form 5: High School: The Making of the Modern World

  • Year 1: 1600-1800
    • Term 1-The 17th Century
    • Term 2- The 18th Century
    • Term 3- The 19th Century
  • Year 2: 1900-Present
    • Term 1- 1900-1950
    • Term 2-1950-2000
    • Term 3-2000-Present 
  • Year 3: The History of the Church
    • Term 1-Early Church to the Protestant Revolt
    • Term 2- Reformation, Counter-Reformation, Enlightenment
    • Term 3- The Church in the Modern Age, 1870-Present
  • Year 4: Philosophy and Theology Through the Ages
    • Term 1: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, St. Paul
    • Term 2: Talmud, Church Fathers to Aquinas
    • Term 3: Enlightenment, Marx, Modern Criticism, Psychology

I am really happy about how the project is coming together- there are plenty of sources that are free to use or inexpensive so I hope that this program will be easy for people to use and bring a depth to study and discussion that will equip students for life.

I remind myself frequently of that wonderful word from Miss Mason:

“The question is not, – how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education – but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?”

The study of human action and Divine Providence that we call the Study of History  is surely a significant part of that “large room” and I hope to help families to see the Beauty and Wonder and ultimately the Truth contained in this study.

 

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