Saturday, December 19, 2015

Weekly Resource: Restful Teaching

The Circe Institute is offering up one of their fall conferences in video format online.  It is 4 1/2 hours for less than $10!!!   The topic is Restful Teaching and it is AWESOME.  I am an Andrew Kern groupie so I have listened to most of what he has taught in the past.  This series adds in Matt Bianco and it is a great addition.  If you are used to tangents and randomness as they talk you will be impressed - they are trying VERY HARD to follow an outline.  It is the clearest presentation of some of the key concepts Kern has talked about for years that I have seen.  I love how you can see the layers of his thought grow!  That's how we all should be.

I love Circe material because it makes you think.  It also constantly leaves me with quality questions that I can use to help myself stay focused and evaluate.  The questions so far include: 

Where is the Lord in this? 

Am I listening to the Sirens or the Muses? 

Is this content, skill or truth?  Am I teaching and assessing accordingly? 

Will my children be able to recognize the truth if they see it? 

How does skill develop into an art and lead to virtue? Am I moving my kids in that direction? 

Honestly, I just got it yesterday so I have only listened to the first half but it is so helpful.  Next week we are going to start planning a new coop for the fall.  This discussion has really helped me know how to better organize our planning and help us more clearly communicate as a group.  Perfect timing. 

I can't wait to listen to the other half of the series.  I can't believe the price point and I don't know if that will change soon.  I'll update you once I finish the other half! 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Wednesday With Words: Laurus

After reading this introduction and review of Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin I was intrigued.  I got it from the library on a whim.  It is so out of my normal reading that my husband even questioned how it showed up.  So far it's been good - adult fiction - something I don't read often.  It is set in medieval Russia and so far I am still learning about Laurus' youth and young adulthood.  There is plague, death and tragedy - so it isn't really a "fun" read but it is not gory.  I was hampered in my reading by a nasty stomach bug, but I will carry on.

Here are some of the quotes that have struck me so far:

Since this obviously interests the boy, why not tell him about it?  Christofer (Grandfather) asked himself.  
One time they came to the shores of the lake and Christofer said:  The Lord ordered the waters to produce fishes to swim in its depths and birds to soar in the heavenly firmament.  All of them were created to navigate their appropriate elements.  The Lord also ordered the earth to produce a live soul, for four-legged animals.  Animals were docile toward Adam and Eve until the Fall.  One could say they loved people. But now that is only in rare cases; somehow everything went wrong. 
Cristofer, the grandfather, is an herbalist and healer and he so naturally shares what he knows with his grandson.  I love the way they respect the natural world and see it for healing.

Another after a tragic loss:

You have a difficult journey, for the story of your love is only beginning.  Everything, O Arseny, will now depend on the strength of your love.  And, of course, on the strength of your prayers too.  
I imagine this is one of the key themes of the book.  I am not much further than this statement in the book but I think this is pretty much true for all of us in some ways.

See what others are reading over at ladydusk.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Norms and Nobility: Leisure Misspent

Much of the talk around education these days is about rest and leisure. I have not yet read Leisure as the Basis of Culture - but I intend to soon.  David Hicks explains it this way in Norms and Nobility.

Indeed, the theoretic life, is the life of virtue, so long as we mean by virtue all that the Greek arete expresses: the life that knows and reveres, speculates and acts upon the Good, that loves and re-produces the Beautiful, and that pursues excellence and moderation in all things. 
The life of virtue  has nothing to do with one's prospective pleasures, possessions or practical affairs, but concerns the manner in which one is prepared to spend one's leisure hours. 
Predictably, as science took a technological turn and as education began to preparing students for work rather than for leisure, for the factory rather than the parlor, the school itself came to resemble the factory, losing its idiosyncratic, intimate and moral character. 
The 1828 Dictionary 

Leisure - Freedom from occupation or business; vacant time; time free from employment  

Entertainment - Provisions of the table; hence also, a feast; a superb dinner or supper. The amusement, pleasure or instruction, derived from conversation, discourse, argument, oratory, music, dramatic performances, etc.; the pleasure which the mind receives from any thing interesting, and which holds or arrests the attention. 

Amusement - entertainment of the mind, pastime; a pleasurable occupation of the senses, or that which furnishes it, as dancing, sports or music

Today's dictionary

Leisure - free time, use of free time for enjoyment 

Entertainment - the action of providing or being provided with amusement or enjoyment.

Amusement - the state or experience of finding something funny.

I highlighted the "from employment" and "for enjoyment" because it gets at the crux of the difference. Rest from employment was the point of leisure in the past and there were a variety of ways that could be spent.  Today, the definition tells us that leisure is "for enjoyment" which many of us equate with amusement and entertainment.  In some ways,leisure today is defined as a selfish thing, in the past it wasn't so clear how you were to use it.  You'll also note that entertainment and leisure in the 1828 dictionary include a strong relational element, engaged the mind and required attention. However, our age has a whole different type of amusement that does not require any of these things of its participants,  

Hick's work and these definitions point out two key ideas to me.

Leisure calls you to a decision

I have conflated leisure and amusement in my mind, they need to be separated.  Free time (leisure) does not have to lead to amusement - it can lead to enjoying beauty and goodness through the arts. The way that Hicks describes art and virtue working together in the first quote.  However, as I share the the arts  - visual, music, drama, and literature -  my children view them as WORK (because it is school time) not LEISURE.  They see things that are amusing - Minecraft, Splatoon, Super Why, - as the proper use of their free time (leisure). I need to redefine these activities as amusement and the other as culture creation - but both are FREE TIME (leisure) activities.  By not fully understanding how to use (and that I can choose to use) my family's leisure time well - my children are "Amusing Themselves to Death" (another book I haven't read but would like to).

Even though the arts are not "extra" in educating my children, I have not taught them how this is to be pursued as leisure and not work.  To enjoy a book, painting, good discussion or piece of music will require some work - but it should be a restorative, fulfilling work. Leisure allows a choice - something that builds culture and character or amusement and entertainment. I need to practice making better choices and helping my children to do likewise.

Leisure time (not work) as an indication of Virtue

If, as Hicks suggests, how we use our free time demonstrates our virtue; then we have LOTS of work to do around here (mom and dad included).  Are my free time choices cultivating my mind and the culture of my home or are they hollow entertainment and amusement?  Am I attending to culture making for myself and my family during my leisure time?  This issue is humbling me!  I don't think I have really thought about how much choice I have in this issue. I know I have not taught my kids to be discerning in this area.  I think this issue of using your free time is like looking at your spending habits - how you do it truly shows your priorities,  That is helpful to me - especially as I start thinking about "New Year's resolutions" and planning.

Since my education was geared towards work, I have always thought of how I do my "work" as the key to showing virtue.  However, Hicks and classical thinkers turn that on its head.  Not that you should act unethically in your work, but rather that willing yourself to do what is right when you have freedom (of time) shows who you are and what you value.

We don't fall into the "school as factory" model that Hicks describes, but I think we have been following a different subtle and destructive path.  We have believed that our children need and deserve some amusement - they empty kind - because they are kids. This ties in with Hick's discussion of whether we are preparing them to be adults or are "child centered"?  By allowing my children to spend their free time in amusement I am not cultivating culture or character in them.

I needed to name these concepts and now I think I can better understand that we do "spend" our free time (leisure)- the choice is either in culture creating activities or amusement.  If preparing students to use their leisure time wisely is the aim of classical education maybe I should stop undermining my own efforts!  

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Weekly Resource: Wayfarers

I am a huge fan of almost anything that Kathy Jo Devore develops.  I have used her English curriculum for three years now and still love it.  She has started introducing some basic composition skills in book 3 and uses a progym approach to teach writing - I am excited!

Last year, she put out a full curriculum using a 4 year history cycle called Wayfarers.  It is WONDERFUL!  It has a two page spread for each day and includes science, history, math, art, Bible, language arts, geography and the rest laid out over the course of a week.  Her free online samples are extensive (80+ pages) and include the introduction which provides some of her philosophy, why she made particular choices, common tweaks and then shows EVERYTHING outlined to read at each level for that year!  She also includes a few sample days so that you can see the format.  You can choose whether you want the print or digital version - depending on how you work best.

There are a few unique parts of her curriculum:

1.  Geography- She has reading choices scheduled that center around geographical locations.  So, while history follows the thread of Western development, her robust geography track includes reading, map work and activities to help educate children about "the rest of the story".  I was introduced to authors I had never heard of and we have enjoyed the books on the list that we have read so far.

2.  Supporting notes - She has interesting notes, thoughts and background information for key parts of the curriculum each week.  These notes help you go a bit beyond what you would get out of just reading the story.

3.  Preschoolers - Each week she outlines an activity or two that you can do with the preschooler set to help keep them busy and working on age appropriate skills.  She also includes the books outlined in her free Pathways program (reading suggestions for PreK/K kids).

4.  Easy to read - Each two page layout includes what kids are studying at every grade level (she divides them into three - roughly elementary, middle and high - but aligns them with grammar, dialectic and rhetoric).  It really is open and go (if you have the living books to go with it) and not too busy.  If you are looking for comprehension questions, themes and a "teacher's manual" this is not it. She provides great books with integrated themes and encourages narration and commonplacing.

5.  Read aloud series - Each history cycle also includes a few read aloud stories that are just good books.  These "free reads" are series I want to read anyway - Madeleine L'Engle, Narnia, Lloyd Alexander, etc.  It is scheduled a few times a week so that you make it through the books.  If I was more organized, this is the perfect thing for dad to read to the kids. 

6. Science for non- science kids - Her high school science suggestions encourage you to have a working knowledge of science but are not lab heavy with outrageous college level expectations.  I think this is in keeping with her CM philosophy and few places have resources for this type of approach.  Of course, if you have a science nut then you can use something else.  I appreciate knowing what options will provide a good science foundation.  Also, she includes resources that come from a young earth, intelligent design and evolutionary perspective in the upper grades.  That way you can determine what best fits your family and know worthy resources that differ from your own take.

7. Options - She uses a "spine" for history and science (with a schedule) and then has a TON of optional reads (also scheduled in case you want one but really read/ use them as they work for you).  This is a great approach because if you do the spine your bases are covered, but if you have a super reader or extra interest or time you know what books to get from the library.  She also has a few different options for the spines - her own, of course - and then some other programs that are similar.  

If you want a good sense of her philosophy and approach you should read "A Walk in the Park".

I did buy all three volumes of Wayfarers: Ancient this past year (the program is broken up into 3 - 12 week terms).  I started off trying to use it but I am a part of two different co-ops that have different "core curricula".  I know - foolish!  So, I have not been able to follow Wayfarers and everything else and stay sane.  I have used some of the reading selections and they are great! I also struggle following someone else's schedule - because I am actually trying to follow 3 different program schedules. How do I get myself in these messes!?

There are two key things that she does not include - but are easily overcome.

1. Foreign language study.  I think that you can choose the language and program you like and add it into the mix.  I think there are too many options and circumstances for her to include it - so better to just allow the family to decide.   I think they have studied Latin in her home but knows that isn't for everyone.

2.  Content memorization.  This is the classical side of me coming out. She includes poetry, maxims and Bible verses in her Language Arts program that can easily be used for memory work.  However, I have found that I like to have some content related memory work to make the main points "easily accessible" to my kids.  Obviously, if she's done everything else I could easily add memory work. Instead of spending time messing with her schedule maybe I should concentrate my efforts on adding this personal preference.  

Although I couldn't make it work this year because of my craziness - I potentially have another 18 years of homeschooling ahead.  If you are looking for something that uses living books, is fairly open and shut, covers everything from art to zoology and uses a four year history plan - THIS IS IT!

Just a note -  Many of her items are sold on and if you sign up for their "newsletter" they send out their sales.  Often they have sales from 25% to 30% off for print materials.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Norms and Nobility: 2 Questions

I am glad to be back thinking about Wednesday with Words again.

I have started reflecting on ideas and passages in Norms and Nobility by David Hicks.   My last post talked about a story formed life being a classical approach.

Today, I want to look at this striking quote.
In his quest for the best education, the ancient schoolmaster possessed two advantages over the modern educator.  First, he knew exactly what kind of person he wished to produce. . . Second, he agreed in form upon an inquiry-based or knowledge-centered - as opposed to child-centered - approach to education.  Whether he was a philosopher hoping to elicit knowledge or a rhetorician hoping to implant it he ignored the "child" and appealed directly to the "father of the man" within his student. 
Much of this chapter is dedicated to "what kind of person" the Ideal Type would produce.  The fact that our culture doesn't have an "ideal type"is telling.  Honestly, this quote caused a bit of a problem for me because it spoke to the root of my issue.  What am I trying to produce?  I do think it is my job to plant and leave the "production" up to the child in relationship with God.  But my "ideal type" will focus my planting efforts.  What am I planting? Why?

It helped me realize that I am still caught between the "American education" system ideal and the Christian ideal type (Jesus) and they are NOT the same.  Maybe, in some mythical past, they had some similarities but today they are very different.  I am at the point where a clear choice must be made and I have not wanted to decide (remembering the root for that is kill).  The time has come - one vision must die.  I need to burn my old yoke and submit to the new.

I also thought I had gotten over the "child-centered" approach to education.  His discussion made me realize I was falling short.  He asserts

The healthy child wants to become an adult, just as the mature adult wants to be an adult. 

Well, I am not sure that is true of our society.  So, even what seems like a basic assumption is going against the grain.  The work required to call children into adulthood is not built into our educational approach any longer.  We marvel at the colonials as they regularly took on large responsibilities in their late teens.  There are many reasons, beyond this discussion, why this is no longer, but I don't think our essential nature has changed - societal expectation and preparation has.
Of towering importance to the child are not the playful, innocent moments remembered by an adult who nears death, but the hard-won progress he makes as a child toward his image of adulthood.  He measures his greatest achievements and most agonizing defeats against this image.  When his teacher holds out to him only an image of how 12-year-olds ought to think and act, his hope of growth wavers, and he becomes restive and inattentive. 
Guilty!  I am guilty of making excuses based on age, personality, learning type, gender, whatever. Instead of constantly pointing them ahead towards what they are called to become, I make excuses so they don't have to do the hard stuff.  In part, because at home, I have to deal with the attitude, tears, frustration.  I must have a clear vision of maturity that I call myself to and hold out as an example for my children.  My indecision is killing the wrong thing - without vision, people perish.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Norms and Nobility: Story Formed

As I consider David Hick’s work Norms and Nobility, I do not intend to trace his argument for you. Instead, I want to highlight a few ideas that encourage me to further consider my teaching and my children’s education.  The first is his idea of the formative power of mythos or story.  

Earlier this year, I read Ministry of Motherhood with a group of moms.  If you follow Sally Clarkson (Own Your Life) and Sarah, her daughter (Caught up in a Story), you might be familiar with this idea of a story formed life (listen more on RAR). 

I think it is essential that we realize that this is not NEW; in fact, Hicks argues it is the basis of a true Classical education.  

The mythos (story) represents man’s imaginative and ultimately spiritual effort to make this world intelligible; the logos sets forth his rational attempt to do the same.  


A good myth, like a good map, enables the wanderer to survive, perhaps even flourish, in the wilderness.  

Are the stories in your home equipping your children to survive in the wilderness?

This idea of story isn’t about writing your story for empowering or even re-writing it for the sake of healing.  These are two popular trends in understanding and using story today and there is value in them.  However, Hicks calls us to a use of story that is more fundamental than that - mythos creates an Ideal Type that lays an outline for behavior, action and attitude.  

If Hicks is arguing that this is the basis to Classical education, why does this seem so novel?  Is there a proper way to use story in this formative way?  We need to reclaim this tool of learning for ourselves and our children.

Story is essential to a "good" grammar stage

Currently, when many of us think of the “grammar” stage or grammar within the trivium it can be boiled down to memorization and facts. Kids can remember a lot of things so lets take advantage of it! I was reminded as I went through the 5 Elements of a Classical Homeschool course of this much more fitting definition from The Liberal Arts Tradition.  

Consider, for example, what a reader should know in order to properly interpret The Aeneid, and one will intuitively grasp the nature of grammar in its classical sense.  

When I heard this I thought of the muses playing together.  That is the point; and they call this stage "musical education" in the Liberal Arts Tradition for that exact reason.  Stratford Caldecott, in Beauty in the Word, calls it remembering.  Memory is the mother of all the muses.  For me, this wider definition of grammar is freeing. We are learning facts and information so that we better understand the story - the story is the point!

Story is not optional or extra, it is essential to who we are.  As Andrew Kern frequently points out, God, our creator, gave us many stories and then the law.  He created us to learn from story and example. So, if grammar is really about stories, how do we do it well?

Which stories

As Christians our ideal type is Jesus. So, how do we present Him to our children. 

Traditionally, Christians memorized the Psalms - it was the song book of faith. It reflects many Biblical stories and shows how we pray and interact with God. Its serves as a template and many Psalms point towards Christ.  Many of them aren't pretty and show the anguish and struggle of faith - something our kids need to know about.

Charlotte Mason encourages us to memorize the parables.  Why would that be?  She understood the role of stories. Knowing a parable can speak to us over and again - sometimes we are the prodigal son and sometimes the older brother.  The story calls us to reflect and can be a “map” when we are wandering. Jesus spoke in many parables but he only explained one. In our current age, we often try to memorize random, key verses (often with a head knowledge but no heart) and apply them like band aids. Band aids haven't yet healed a wound.

She also encourages that children be read the Gospels over and over again. This testifies to her faith in seeing Jesus as He is, in Scripture, as enough to instruct them in what the Christian ideal type is. Often we add extra, good things (catechisms, adaptations, object lessons) but fail to do the one essential thing - read the Word. This has challenged me to just read it to my kids chapter by chapter (maybe I'll even do what Dwane Thomas suggests and have us listen to it in Latin as well)!    

Additionally, in a standard Mason curriculum, Plutarch and Shakespeare, in the original, are introduced in 4th grade.  To our current mindset this doesn’t fit.  We aren’t sure what to do with these stories - aren’t they above our kids?  They can’t possibly analyze them well.  All the better, because they are included, not for comprehension, but for formation and maybe even transformation.  I checked out a book on Plutarch’s educational philosophy but ran out of time to read it - I intend to get it back (I’m not too concerned that anyone else out there cares).  Plutarch literally wrote the classical book on Ideal Types. Shakespeare's works provide us with a wealth of characters - fictional and real - that can inform our lives. By setting Ideal Types in our child’s mind we are calling them to enter into the possible and giving them examples of ideals in action.

We don’t bat an eye about giving children the definition of courage and then asking them to follow it up with copywork (maybe even a Bible verse).  How much better to read a real story (not a contrived one) about someone who was courageous (or not)? Which will you remember longer?  We have eliminated story as a legitimate educational tool because you can't measure the impact of a story. Fortunately, we can show you that they clearly know the definition and even wrote it out! You have to decide which is more meaningful to you and your child in the long run.  

Teaching the story

Before I started re-reading Norms and Nobility I decided our house needed more artwork.   Here are two that I picked out: Norman Rockwell - Age of Romance, Llull - The Tree of Science:


I now see how these two represent different ways to approach story.  The first is the classical way - imagining you are in the story, a part of it, submitting yourself to its influence.  The second is more analytical - it is a virtue tree from the middle ages.  It is trying to help logically illustrate and analyze parts to make a whole.  It's much like using a plot outline from day one to "enjoy" a story. I like what Hicks says

myth defies analysis, especially in instruction, and happily usually survives it.

There is something to knowing the plot outline of a story but that doesn’t bring us closer to the Truth.  When I was in 6th grade I went to see Field of Dreams and I was caught up in analyzing the mystery of it all. I saw it again and realized I had missed the whole point.  By analyzing it, I missed the relationship.

How do we draw children into the story so it can help form them?

First, I think of the power of narration. Retelling brings them into the story and makes them think about it.  However, this natural interaction allows the relationship to develop between the child and the story without outside expectations or interference (read comprehension questions).

Second, do your kids play the story? Young children naturally become St. George or whoever they are reading about. Watch them and see what they are learning by the way they are playing. Older kids will play with stories in different ways - telling jokes, quoting lines, using it in their writing and conversation, etc.

Third, the art of questioning. There are a few key questions (none original to me but some I can’t exactly trace):

Andrew Kern’s favorite (explained by Buck Holler) - Should (this character) have done (this action)? 
ex: Should Martin Luther have burned the papal bull?  
What other (character or situation) does this call to mind or remind you of?
ex. Do Charlotte’s actions remind you of another character or person?
Do you see (virtuous attribute) in this story?  
ex.  Do you see honor in this story?
How is this (character or situation) like (another character or situation)?
ex. How is Ebenezer Scrooge like Donald Trump?

With young children I would use these basic questions, as students get older using the five common topics (this blog post is a wonderful example) can go a long way. See how these questions draw the reader into the story and ask for analogic answers.  These are life long learning questions that will yield fruitful analogies, deep conversation and bread if you end up as a “wanderer” in the wilderness.  

Children will naturally wonder if they have what it takes to be like the Ideal Types that they hear about. Are they hearing about someone worth being like?

Although I have heard about mythos, story, as fundamental to forming character, and really the point of education, for quite a while, I just couldn't grasp it. I was thinking analytically - lets break it into chunks and work on these parts. Good stories are analogies and dissection leads to death; much like explaining a good joke, ruins it. They are meant to be received whole and often speak to us in ways that we can’t articulate.  We need to let that be okay in us and in our children.  The fruit we want is a life well lived, not a momentary answer well crafted.

I hope my children say “Once upon a time in a story I . . .”  

Friday, December 4, 2015

New Year!

If we follow the church calendar we just started a new year!!   I have decided that writing does help me think and remember so I am back at it.  A few things that have come my way this year:

Artios Academies - Despite my promise that I would not teach while our daughter was still an infant, I ended up teaching.  I love teaching history!  I even get to teach middle and high school students. There are so many things I want to do in this class but just haven't had time to pull together.  It will come though.  Artios uses a history spine and includes art, drama, music and literature!  I love the focus on the arts it is so good for my kids.

Afterthoughts on The Liberal Arts Tradition has been a great series looking at how CM and the Liberal Arts tradition work together.  I read the book when it first came out (in post baby #3 stupor) and was blown away.  Unfortunately, I cheaped out and got it on kindle.  This is a book you need to have on paper so I might have to get again.  This series has been a great review of the key ideas behind a truly liberal education.

Teaching Science so that Students Learn Science by John Mays - This little book packs a powerful punch.  He explains why science is a mastery course and clarifies some confusion about the role of faith and science, theory and hypothesis and other key issues.  He clearly outlines what skills and knowledge a secondary science curriculum should include to equip students to discuss and understand science well.  Before 7th grade he advocates mostly nature study, science experiences and journal keeping.  His chapter on creating a course for mastery is instructive for any subject.

I have also enjoyed listening to the Teaching from Rest periscopes and am so glad that Cindy Rollins has returned to helping us younger moms over at the Mason Jar.   I also read Consider This and The Living Page.

5 Elements of Classical Homeschooling is a great course put together at Expanding Wisdom and has been VERY helpful to me.  She does a fabulous job of blending philosophy with practical concerns. I think I might take this course about 10 times!!

It's actually this last resource that drove me back to reading Norms and Nobility.  Everyone discusses it and I read it once upon a time, but it had been too long.  I think I read it while I was still trying to fight for my own thoughts instead of receiving wisdom from others.  For the next few posts I will be looking at quotes that have really struck me from this work.

Really, I lost my way for a while.  I was going through motions but lost my vision and in some ways was perishing.  The works above are helping to regain focus and energy and remember WHY we are doing this crazy thing called homeschooling.

This year has also brought us a new house and in a few weeks we celebrate the baby's 1st birthday.  She is such a joy and such a blessing to all of us!   May your new year start with expectant waiting!