Thursday, May 26, 2016

An Open Letter to Cheryl

Dear Cheryl,

     Thank you!  I didn't know, but you did.  I was young, full of myself and grand visions.  You were older, wiser and so patient with all of us.  It was racism - I see that now.  Then, I was too naive.  You had seen it before and I imagine you've seen it since.  I didn't realize or value the jewel that you are. You didn't fit into my understanding of life - I was on the college track to greatness.

    You were on the track to eternal glory.  You moved to our city with a master's degree in education to be near your child and grandchild.  You lived in a rented room and didn't even have a car.  You were my assistant in an after school program and a substitute teacher.  You were passionately following God.

    Why would a 21 year old without a degree be in charge when you so obviously had so much more experience, education and ability?  Even though I made a grand mess of things, you barely spoke a word and allowed me to learn my own hard lessons. You knew that your words would be a little like throwing pearls before swine - I wasn't in a place to listen.  I needed to be humbled and I was. I wish I would have asked.  Instead, I read books and looked to others - there you were ready and more than able to help. Patient. Kind. I didn't see, please forgive me. You did what I asked - served snacks - when you were able to do so much more. Faithful.

     The church was trying to help the poor in our community - but it was an us helping them mentality.  You always spoke to us about hospitality being something that decent human beings just do.  We were caught up in the socio-economic speak and our own "helpfulness".  You said your piece and went on.  I heard and remember. Gentle.  Just once I saw our conversation make you mad.   Righteous anger.

     That year you talked about God teaching you that you were part of His kingdom and sent to share His word - that you were an apostle in that sense.  I heard that message and saw you live it in a way no one else around me did.  Even when your son didn't seem to interested in your sacrifices.  Even when your employers didn't honor you. You didn't need a title - God had given you a mission. Joy. Self control.  Prayerful.

     That summer was amazing.  I began to realize my own stupidity and started to listen to your thoughts.  I was glad that I had abandoned my 8 year plan of getting my Master's of Art of Teaching and instead decided to pursue the unknown - trusting God.  I had watched Him meet you - maybe He would meet me too.  At the end of the summer I was a college graduate without a job - while my friends were heading into graduate school.  But that summer, we had seen the kingdom of God come near - together.  I think most other people missed it - but we were blessed by it.

    God used you as my quiet mentor. You were living a kingdom life and changed my view of what "success" is.  We parted when the program ended.  You were planning to head off to be with your daughter.  I moved into other non profit work.  I have no idea where you are now.

    That year with you changed so many things about me and my perspective.  You gently shared little snippets of truth and I probably missed most of them.  However, your patience in the face of my ignorance - that's what I remember.   Your willingness to serve the least of these - especially me in my haughtiness.  You threw a great birthday party for me with all the kids.  I was blessed. Humble. Patient.

    Thank you for sharing your life with me.  Showing His grace to me. Extending the kingdom.  Always having a song in your heart regardless of your circumstances.  For quietly forebearing an uppity and ungrateful college kid.  Over fifteen years later I still remember who you were in Him. You showed me the fruit of the Spirit in action that year.

Please forgive me.  Thanks is not nearly enough,



Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Wednesday with Words: Educating the Child at Home

I was tipped off about Educating the Child at Home by Ella Frances Lynch as I was trolling the Well Trained Mind boards.  Free, old google book about education - I love it!

Although published in 1914, this book deals with many of the same issues we discuss today (overcrowding, testing, child's needs not getting met, etc.)   The more I read older books about education the more I realize that there aren't that many "modern" problems - these issues have been with us all along.  Her arguments for teaching from home sound VERY familiar.  She also doesn't pull any punches - this is how she describes the rise of schooling:
It is, after all, nothing but a wholly artificial institution which is an outgrowth of the parents' shirking of their highest duty to unload it upon paid substitutes. 
YIKES!  Tell us what you really think?

She is also adamant that character education is first.

Teach these essentials: How to work; that "Heaven is not reached at a single bound"; that habits early formed determine character and destiny; that "genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains"; that "He that ruleth his own spirit is greater than he that taketh a city"; that tomorrow will soon be yesterday; that we must make our opportunities, not wait for them; that all work is ennobling, idleness unfruitful, degrading, abhorrent to Go and man. 
At what age then, should these essentials be acquired?  They should unquestionably be mastered before the age of ten.  (emphasis mine)

She further encourages us that

Her book discusses the issue of the day, in 1914, the difference between rural country schools and the now developing city schools.  She is an advocate for this aspect of "country schooling"
Promotions were not scheduled simply for year-ends, but came on whatever day the ambitious student proved himself ready to do the work of the next higher class.  
What if I did that at home?  She also explains that
Subjects are taught at the wrong time - fed on definitions and mathematics during the most imaginative early years, then later on with poetry just when the reasoning powers manifest themselves and demand different food.   Mathematics are taught as memory subjects, and literary masterpieces for analysis.   
Her discussion of poetry has been helpful to me.  I will probably have to post what I am learning about poetry from these older books later.

She is also an advocate for less is more, as she says:

Undoubtedly, by teaching four instead of eight subjects a day, we obtain such desirable results as: thoroughness, continuous thinking, and a knowledge of what is really essential.

I am not sure what to think of this.  Mason recommends short varied lessons through this age group because we can really only focus for about 20 minutes at a time.  In another article she discusses combining Bible, Latin and English together as one subject - an interesting thought.

Here is what really gets me - remember 1914

"The course of study is not planned with a view to the different stages of mental development."  in the effort to teach young children what ought to be reserved for an older age, subjects that call for reasoning-power and judgement, and therefore belong to the high school or later period have worked their way downward, step by step, until they permeate even the primary grades . . . 
On the other hand, the teaching of memory subjects, such as the languages, is long deferred, even to the high-school years.  Here again the remedy may be had for the choosing.  Up to the age of ten the child is concerned chiefly with recording impressions, observing, forming habits, getting himself adjusted to a world quite new to him, storing up information that in later years will be reviewed in the light of reason.  It is the seed-time, not the time of fruit-bearing.  (emphasis mine)
She emphasizes ten as the age of change.  My oldest is just now ten and I know I have not always done right by the stage he was in.  God will redeem but I want to do it differently with my younger ones.

Finally here is her set of questions for including materials in your curriculum.

Here are a few more that I just love - she is very quotable. 

I thought this was hilarious (I am the mom of 3 boys): 

And finally some encouragement as you wrap up this year and head to the next: 

Honestly, I am most inspired by her vision to change schooling.  Original thinking and great ideas that meet the real needs of kids.  I didn't touch on that here. So much in these few pages.

See what others are reading at Ladydusk

Sunday, May 22, 2016

After you blow - lessons from Mount St. Helens

My husband has been listening to a book on CD about the eruption of Mount St. Helens in the early 1980's.   The mountain was distended over 300 feet - visibly changing shape before their eyes - and everyone hoped that nothing would happen.  They were monitoring it but sort of hoping that somehow this huge bulge wouldn't blow.  Do you have something like that in your life?  Are you way out of whack somewhere and everyone (including you) is ignoring it?  Hoping that somehow it will magically disappear?

But then it doesn't.  It blows up and kills people 17 miles away who were just camping!  So glad it blew up on Sunday and not during the work week.  What happens in the aftermath?  Some things are going to blow up - we watch them grow and there isn't much we can do to stop it.

On disk 5 the mountain actually erupted (in a way that shocked everyone except for a scientist named Voight - who is related to Jon Voight and Angeline Jolie - no lie).  My husband filled me in on the battle to make a reservation of sorts.  They decided to let the mountain heal and to watch what happens as it does so.  Do you need space and time to heal after trauma?  Probably.  No one puts out a reservation sign for you - but maybe you should allow yourself that space and time.

Today we finished the last disk and it discussed the ways that scientists tried to predict and help the area "recover" after the devastation.  The hypothesis was that the scarred mountain would begin to regrow from the edges inward.  They also thought that they would "help" the process along by re-seeding it.  Finally, they tried to remove some of the devastation (fallen logs and such) so that it would be easier for life to start again. Scientists were wrong on all accounts. 

Mount St. Helens is now more biodiverse than it was before the eruption.  Why?  Because new plants blew in, took root in the rocky and craggy places, held on and life began again.  Some of those plants have survived while some of them just died and became fodder for the next group of plants and animals to take up residence.  New animals arrived on the scene too. But life didn't start on the fringes and move its way in.  Instead the pumice plain grew life in ways they didn't even think were possible and attracted totally new species altogether,  Looking from above the canopy looks pretty much the same, but on the forest floor there are all types of new and different life as a result of the eruption.

Isn't that funny? After a devastating event, new life grew up in places of bareness.  Isn't that just like God. To bring life where it doesn't even seem possible.  Not only that - but more diverse, fuller life. Of course, this happens over time, it is not a quick fix.

Scientists were looking to help mother nature be re-seeding the area with grasses. So, they flew planes over the area and dropped seeds.  Well, they picked the wrong time of year and the seeds didn't take.  Not only that, they all washed down the mountain towards the stream.  Near a water source they started growing like gangbusters.  This in turn spurred on a bumper crop of mice.  However, when the grasses died out - the mice started starving - so they started eating the bark of the newly growing trees and damaged them.

It makes logical sense that if we could just "replant' the old, what used to go there, that maybe it would help.  But that's not really helpful in the end.  It washes downstream and makes a big mess of things and can undercut the natural growth that is happening.

The final way to "help" was to remove the debris and wreckage.  This sounds like a good plan - create a clean slate and move forward.   However, today, the places that are growing best are the areas where the debris was allowed to remain. Why?  The rotting logs provided food for the next type of vegetation to grow.  The places that they cleared out took longer to grow back because the debris served a purpose the scientists hadn't thought about.

Take heart, if you still see debris in your life - whether from an overwhelming event like an eruption or just the gradual wearing away - let it rot and see what happens.  Let go of it and see what springs up in place of it.

Some lessons from the mountain: 

Admit to yourself that something has happened.  Eruption or otherwise - you will need time and space to heal.  Give it to yourself and ask others to do the same.

Expect new life to spring up in places you wouldn't expect.  From people you wouldn't think could bring life.  Possibly from places you've never been or seen before. (New spider species appeared from over 60 miles away)!  It won't come from the outside in - it will come from the craggy, hard places out.

Don't try to re-seed and create "quick fixes" with old ways, habits, patterns, ideas or thoughts.  Going back to those ways or quickly adopting someone else's plan isn't going to move you forward.  It will gnaw at and undermine the new growth that is springing up.

Finally, sometimes it takes time for things to rot in your life.  Man that stinks.  However, it provides the nutrients and fodder for the new to come forth.  Sometimes we do need to just clear out the debris but sometimes it is there for a purpose - it can actually help us to heal in ways we wouldn't expect.

No one wants to erupt - but sometimes life doesn't go the way we planned.  It gets messy.  Sickness, death, divorce, broken relationships.  They happen. Let's give each other space, grace and care when the eruption does happen.  It is not something that can be fixed over night but over time it can bring growth, diversity, and healing in ways you would never have expected.

In the end Mount St. Helens will take over 2,000 years (or more) to regain its former "profile".  Once the eruption happens there is no going back.  There is only going through.  May He be enough as you go through.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Planning Ahead: Artios Academies

Over the next few weeks I plan to share about what we plan to do next year.  This way, after the summer craziness, I can come back and find what I thought about as we closed out the year.

Today I am going to focus on Artios Academies and their offerings.  We were part of the first year in our city, but it has been around for over 10 years.  We were so blessed by the group and the structure last year. The tag line "Art. Heart. Smart" pretty much sums it up. When it comes to philosophy they are a mixture of Charlotte Mason and Principle Approach - they focus on the hand of God in history and biblical principles but use living books, narration and see the arts as a core part of student learning.  Lori Lane, the founder, just graduated her youngest son from homeschooling this year. She has been homeschooling for over 25 years and some of her children now help her develop and run the programs.

There are really two parts to the program.

1.  Home Companion Series - This is the program available to anyone who is interested.  It follows a 4 year history cycle  (Ancient, Fall of Rome to Renaissance, Early Modern and Modern). Each time era has a different manual for 3rd through 5th grade, 6th through 8th and high school.

To teach history, each manual has 28 weeks worth of readings, mostly from older "living" books, that are complied to give you a good understanding of the events and provide more than one author's perspective.  Each unit includes review questions, vocabulary, a list of people and events to know, key scriptural principles and encourages narration or notebooking as the primary way to interact with the text.  Most units include artwork that depict the person or event being discussed.  Maps are also throughout the text to help students understand where things are occurring. In middle and high school you could easily pair these readings with a program like "Lost Tools of Writing" if you desire to focus on essay writing skills.

In addition to the history, there is a literature, grammar and writing component.  Each era has about 6 books (per age level) scheduled throughout the year. These are quality historical fiction or novels, plays and speeches from the era being studied.  They have partnered with Analytical Grammar to use their method to teach grammar, but pulling from the literature that is assigned within the program.   Finally, each literature selection is paired with preparing a particular written response. These run the gamut from "how to", character analysis, research papers, etc.  The curriculum outlines different tasks that students should work on each week to prepare the paper.  Students practice writing in a variety of formats and to different audiences through this approach.

I love the literature selections, almost every book they assign was already on my "to read" list! The few that weren't, after reading the reviews, I know why they were chosen. I also like the number of books they use because it allows students to spend time in the book but also provides room for you to add other books as you see fit without overwhelming your older student.

They are currently working on a program to offer for the K- 2nd grade crowd.  I can't wait to see it.  

2.  Artios Academies  - If you have an academy near you, then you can also engage in art, music and drama that aligns with the time period!  Teachers are given a curriculum that outlines appreciation and activities for all 28 weeks that further explores the time period being studied.  So, in art they look at the works and a short biography of a famous artist and then copy their style or some technique that they used.  The same approach is used in drama and music. All of the arts are aligned with national standards so your students are studying the artistic discipline while also learning about its history. It is truly incredible.  I also find that they do a great job trying to make it age appropriate and by high school you can actually "major" in an artistic pursuit and work towards creating a college worthy portfolio.  Middle and high school students have the opportunity to enter into speech and music competitions and most campuses put on full theatrical productions.

So all academies offer 2 academic classes - literature and history (with the Home Companion Series as the text) and 3 arts classes - music, drama and art.  They meet once a week for 5 hours. However, many academies offer science (Apologia based), math (Teaching Textbooks) and various other arts related courses (choir, plays, programming, digital arts, etc.) for those who are interested.     They are working towards including foreign language offerings.

The Artios Academy teacher is expected to assign homework, provide engaging, hands on classroom experiences and discussions and correct papers and other work that is requested.  Grades are only given in 8th grade and above to assist with transcripts.  All the staff realizes that art, drama, writing, etc. are all a process and want to encourage students to try things out and develop rather than grade and judge.  Teacher training is extensive and focuses on the program philosophy, Biblical integration, tips on how to bring the disciplines alive and technical details with the online student homework system, etc. I love the director's approach to teaching.  She explains that she wants teachers to make sure the principles are clear but expects the good teacher to look at the suggested curriculum and say "I like this but I can add this" or "This is a good start but my students could really benefit if we change this a little bit".  That's the way I teach.

This program is just right for our family.  It provides accountability and structure, uses texts that we like, provides community and addresses the arts in a way that is holistic and encouraging.  It is equipping my children to understand the key role that the arts play in all our lives, develop their skills in these areas so that they can influence these fields if they are called to do that, and at least be discerning in their artistic choices and pursuits.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Wednesday with Words: Teaching Science

It is hard for me torest in what I am doing as we homeschool.  I am improving but this book is one of the few that I have read that made me think "Wow, we are doing okay at this."  It is the science education philosophy book from Novare Science, Teaching Science so that Students Learn Science by John Mays.   

This book focuses on covering the fundamentals of science for teachers (and homeschooling parents). He starts by defining science vocabulary that may seem basic but is essential to thinking clearly.  He then delves into helping students grasp these key ideas. He talks about the scientific process in a way I hadn't heard before but makes it very clear.  He goes beyond the "scientific process" and encourages us to teach 
Key concepts embedded in the Cycle of Scientific Enterprise are: scientific facts, theories, hypothesis and experiments and the roles each of these play in the ongoing progression of scientific knowledge. 
He clearly defines each of these ideas and why they are fundamental to the process.

As he discusses methods of teaching science he starts by discussing the verbal answers students should be able to give in science.  Yes, he doesn't just want calculating machines - he wants students to clearly express their thoughts about science in complete sentences.  He then dives into  the details of "quantitative matters" which introduced lots of good vocabulary and distinctions in science.

His key contention is that students need to be building layers of scientific knowledge and ability.  He puts it this way.

Thinking about it this way makes sense.  I just never understood what those fundamental skills would be in science.  Mays clearly lays it out in general terms in this book and his curricula continues this theme.  He also provides great tips for structuring a class and thoughts about how students should study for mastery in a science class. 

The next chapter covers his thoughts about science in the "grammar" stage.  This is the part that helped me breathe a huge sigh of relief.  He doesn't focus on cramming in tons of content but encourages wonder and play with scientific concepts.  The book includes a chart of the things that "a rising 7th grader" should know.  As I looked over the list I realized that my kids are pretty familiar with most of these concepts.  It also helped me see what ideas we might want to spend a bit more time discussing.  He doesn't outline a curriculum but he provides a general course of studies. 

His last chapters are a quick overview of the history of science, doing lab work and dealing with evolution in the science classroom.  

This short book covers a lot of ground quickly and well.  He taught for over 15 years in a classical school and his experience is obvious in his writing.  This could be great to support any science curriculum but obviously his is designed on these principles.  

See what others are reading at Ladydusk

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Wednesday with Words: Trivium Skills and Humor: Essential for Teachers

This past week I read the first section of Trivium Mastery by Diane Lockman.  I appreciate her no nonsense approach and obvious study of classical education from the roots up.  She rightly questions Dorothy Sayers' but especially the "neo" -classical education movement with it's 3 step approach that grew out of her essay (which Andrew Kern's recent talk is trying to encourage me to think of a different term for it).  She clearly explains why this interpretation is not what those of the past would have understood education to mean.

I do understand why she is not a "mainstream" classical education author because she reduces everything to skills.  There is a classical body of knowledge worth learning but she seems willing to forgo that as long as we are teaching children how to read, think and speak.  For me, who can get lost in big ideas and love it, her simplification is helpful.  Her reduction to skills provided the tools I need to better see the path and coach my children in these skill areas.  I have a pretty good handle on facts and enjoy discussions about truth and have tons of thoughts about worthy content - but skills - a bit tougher for this mama. So, God provides!

She also does a GREAT job breaking down the 5 Cannons by tying it to the historical practice but also helping you realize what that means for speech and composition today. I see many curricula try to simplify these ideas or give you bite size pieces but this is the best overview.

I am also reading through The Art of Teaching from Gilbert Highet (a more philosophical approach to teaching).  Be warned, some of the examples early in the book might grate against our politically correct norms, but that doesn't invalidate his experience.  He seems like the traditional classics professor in an overstuffed chair with a pipe giving you advice from his years of experience at Columbia - but he is the good kind - who tells stories.  He had a whole section on humor which was refreshing. 

He asserts that a sense of humor is a necessary quality of good teacher, but not for the reasons I would have assumed.  His reasoning is wonderful. 
The real purpose of humor in teaching is deeper and more worthy.  It is to link the pupils and the teacher, and to link them through enjoyment.  A very wise old teacher once said: "I consider a day's teaching is wasted if we do not all have one hearty laugh."  He meant that when people laugh together, they cease to be young and old, master and pupils, workers and driver, jailer and prisoners, they become a single group of human beings enjoying its existence. 
Isn't that good!  Then I reflect on my own teaching and our atmosphere around here and well . . .  I need to loosen up a bit.  We have been laughing more recently and it is good for us (my oldest and I watched The Sandlot on Mother's Day and that won me HUGE points).  Highet recognizes gregariousness and love of play as inherent characteristics of students and encourages the teacher to use this to his advantage. This is a small section, soon he dives into more traditional material about concentration and preparation, etc.  He does see it as key to doing what comes next well though. 

He ends his exploration of humor and teaching (where, among other things, he explains that sarcasm and belittling are NOT the humor he is advocating) with this thought: 
Togetherness is the essence of teaching. 
Thinking about that makes me reconsider my priorities!  It makes me think of the Ambleside International people's refrain  "It is good to be me here with you."   I think we all need that in our lives.

See what others are reading over at Ladydusk.


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Wednesdays with Words: A Running Start - Early Childhood and Athletics

A Running Start by Rae Pica is a thoughtful look at movement, sports and early childhood.  Her passion about movement and early childhood (0 to 8) is obvious and her discussion helped me to separate out kids' movement needs from athletics and sports.  This is difficult for me because I was on a tball team at 5 so that my 3 yo brother could play!  Everyone in my family, but me, played competitive college sports (my brother played in the College World Series - twice).  I was never athletically inclined and honestly I am not sure my boys are either.  Her discussion has helped me realize what is developmentally appropriate and how I need to help them develop in this area - without throwing them into a stressful sports experience.

She begins by emphasizing mastering the basics of movement - running, skipping, jumping, galloping.
The fact is, may children acquire the basic movement skills but only at the most rudimentary of levels.  And without sufficient instruction and practice, they remain at those levels throughout their lives.  This means they are unlikely to succeed in sports, or to be inclined toward lifelong physical activity. 
I realized that we have not really covered this well in our own home.  Her thoughts are easy to incorporate at home and I need to do it. She proposes that we tend to jump start them into sports without making sure they have mastered these simple moves first.  She also contends that many coaches don't teach the fundamentals of the sport very well either.  My parents were HUGE advocates of practicing the fundamentals (that may be why my brother faired so well) with the teams they coached - but I can see how this could easily happen.  After all, it seems so BASIC why would you need to teach it.  Currently my brother coaches a 7 and 8 year old baseball team (his kids) and he also focuses on the fundamentals and the parents love him.  So, my experience is different but I could see this not being a strength of most parent coaches.

Her statistics about when students typically are age ready to master a skill surprised me:
eye- hand or eye- foot coordination - 9 or 10 years old
distinguish an object from its surroundings - 8 to 12 years old
depth perception - around 12
understand rules, strategies and tactics - 10 years old 
Additionally, young children struggle to pay attention the whole game (witness the daisy pickers in the outfield).  Likewise, they literally can't hold many thoughts in their head at the same time (run, kick and aim while people are trying to steal the ball - that's tougher than it sounds, especially when you are 5!). They also don't understand many of the phrases we use (cover the base, choke up on the bat).  I hadn't really thought about how the things that we think are cute and funny might actually be stressful and difficult for our kids.  They want to please us so they will do their best but often what we are asking is truly outside of their physical and cognitive abilities.  The statistics above just drove that home for me!

Although these facts are interesting these were the two things that stuck out to me most:

I didn't realize they had a recommended age!  I can see why this is just from my own limited experiences with my children.  My oldest (9 yo) is able to play the game now.  The 6 yo is in sports so that we make sure he runs around on the weekend.  We play super laid back soccer here.  

She also discusses that organized sports replaces unfettered play - at least it used to. Realistically, I imagine most parents see sports as an alternative to playing video games. Sad but true. The physical activity of sports is better than sitting around but not nearly as beneficial as kids running around on their own.  This quote about the difference struck a chord with me.

I am not really sure where I land in all of this.  It is good for kids to learn rules and teamwork - but if they spend all of their week in school following rules, and then their weekends following more - when do they get to choose?  This alternative viewpoint is helpful because I have always been surrounded by the "start early" crowd.  Most of my friends have their late elementary school students in some type of pretty competitive sport.  What do you think?  

See what others are reading at ladydusk.