Tuesday, July 29, 2008


If I had to summarize the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education, I would say that children crave living ideas, which they get from good books, and they make those ideas their own through retelling. I am trying to learn how to use this process. The best recommendations I have found are to start with short passages the child can easily understand, maybe material like Aesop's fables or fairytales. Tell the child beforehand that you are going to read the selection once, then ask them to tell you about it. After reading (maybe just a few sentences, or a paragraph or two), ask the child "what can you tell me about this story?". Another prompt might be "tell me what (character's name) did", or "tell me one (or two) things you remember". Try not to lead the child with questions, and not interrupt.
Well, that is the theory. So far when I try with Lily I can't get an answer unless I ask her specific questions--especially yes/no questions--precisely what I am trying not to do. It might be that she is just too young. Charlotte Mason does not recommend requiring narration (her term for retelling) of anyone younger than 6. But I actually think Lily can do it, once this perfectionist child understands there is not a right or wrong answer! She is very verbal and has an excellent memory. In fact, when my mom was here helping me move, Lily shared a room with her. I was surprised one night to hear Lily telling Grandma a story--one I had made up for her at least a week before, and she had only heard once. She told it with amazing recall of details. Now if I can just teach her to do that with her school readings... I have heard that consistency is key, although narrations don't always have to be verbal--an older child might do a written narration, a younger one might draw a picture. Or a child could act out a scene in person or with puppets or paper dolls or something. I really think we will enjoy this technique once we get the hang of it. We've always known that one of the best ways to really learn something is to teach it to someone else, and I believe that is essentially what narration is.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Esther was laughing yesterday, and when I turned around to see what was funny I found Luke standing on her chest. I suspect Esther is going to be something of a tomboy; Luke is always doing things like standing, sitting or (intentionally) falling on her, and she really doesn't seem to mind. It's a good thing because Luke is going to need someone to keep up with him. In addition to using his little sister as a chair or rug, Luke likes to jump over her and to pull her around by her hands or feet. Yesterday he pulled her into the closet in my room; I was watching and Esther didn't seem to mind, so I didn't stop him. I do make him stop if I find him standing or sitting on her, but generally I figure babies are pretty good at making their unhappiness known so if Esther isn't complaining she's probably all right. She actually seemed to enjoy being in the closet--it was a new place to explore! Now Luke in a closet might mean trouble...the other day Luke was in the walk-in closet with the door mostly shut, and things were Too Quiet. I went to investigate and found him systematically pulling all the clothes (the ones I had carefully hung earlier that day) off the rod and throwing them on the floor. Before our move I was packing boxes and piling them in a closet; I walked in the room once and found Lily and Luke both climbing up the box "mountain" to get to the top shelf of the closet--someplace they had never been able to explore before! Luke has a habit of going through the house and finding things to dump out--not to play with, just for the fun of throwing them on the floor!
I turned the radio on when I was driving the other day and Dr. Laura was on. She was talking about how boys are like dogs--they have lots and lots of energy that needs to be worked off by lots of running, climbing, etc. So now I'm going to stop writing and take the kids outside to run!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Back Online

We just moved in to a new apartment. I've been been packing, cleaning, unpacking... I'll start back into regular blogging next week. I'm planning a new internet schedule: Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday; all other days to be media free. we'll see how it goes.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Saturday Accountability 5 July 08

One of my reasons for starting this blog was to make myself accountable, especially in my homeschooling efforts. With that in mind, I am reserving Saturdays for a sort of week-in-review.
Our homeschooling activities this week consisted of reading "Little Pilgrim's Progress" and "Winnie-The-Pooh", probably a total of about 5 hours, and about 10 hours of outdoor time at the beach and parks. I do consider time the kids spend playing outdoors as school time. Maybe not in a traditional sense, but I absolutely believe it is one of the best things they can be doing for the development of their minds. Charlotte Mason wrote about the importance of what she calls "outdoor life" for children, and a more modern book by Dr. Jane Healy called "Your Child's Growing Mind" emphasizes how important physical play, such as the kind that happens outdoors, is for the development of children's thinking abilities. One story she told (either in this book or another, I can't remember right now) involved a father she met who was concerned about his daughters' difficulties with math. After listening to a workshop for parents given by Dr. Healy in which she spoke of the importance of activities such as tree climbing for developing the understanding of spatial relationships necessary for mathematics he approached her and said something like "my daughters haven't climbed trees. I'm going to go out and buy them some trees!" The story was funny, but I think the point is well taken. We cannot expect children to think and reason abstractly when they have insufficient experience with our concrete, physical world. So video games and TV and even too much reading are out and time at the park, or better yet on the beach, in the mountains, in the fields and forests, is in. I'll probably write more on this topic another time, because it has been very influential in my view of what and how I should be teaching my young children.
There is another side to accountability that I would like to track on this blog, and that is accountability in my personal life. A dear friend told me recently of a challenge she participated in with some forty other people, with points being accumulated for the following daily activities (as best as I can recall): Sleeping at least 7 hours each night, participating in two thirty minute exercise sessions, fifteen minutes reading a spiritual text, eating two servings of fruit and three of vegetables, not eating sweets, and keeping a daily gratitude journal. She said many of the participants in this challenge claimed the experience was life-changing. I thought I would take up the challenge personally, and post my progress on here. Like a good diet, I have of course planned to start Next Week :-) however, I will try to record how I am doing currently doing on these factors, so I will have something to compare my progress to!
Sleep: this is a hard one to track. I think I will aim for having a more consistent bed time for my kids and myself and track that. Right now we all tend to make our way to bed around 9:30. I would like to see that no later than 8:30 for the children, and preferably 9:00 for myself. I like to get up early, and when I can I go running with a friend at 5:15, s early bedtime is critical.
Exercise: Well, this week was pretty good--I went on three 50 minute jogs, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. But I'm not sure I did much on other days.
Scripture Study: I have been trying to do this in the mornings, although I don't think I am doing 15 minutes. I'm guessing I did some scripture reading five days out of seven this week. I was recently impressed by a woman who said that she believed giving her first tenth to the Lord included doing her devotions first thing in the morning. I would like to make that my standard.
Fruits and Vegetables: I'm better at fruits than vegetables, but I haven't been keeping track.
Sweets: I've been eating them
Gratitude Journal: I haven't started.
So, I have my work cut out for me this week. My only concern with this program was that I don't really consider vigorous exercise to be an appropriate Sabbath activity; I have decided that walking, especially with my family, would be a good Sunday activity though.
So, there is my report for this week with lots of improvement next week. The format of these report may change as I refine things. If anyone else would like to take up the lifestyle challenge with me I'd love to have company!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day

A day to celebrate! I am a true, flag waving, patriotic American. I believe in this country. Sometimes I'm depressed by the sleaze, double-talk, pandering, self-serving, irreverence, etc. that finds its way into our national culture. But I am also uplifted by the Faith, Courage, Service, and Generosity that are demonstrated by so many of my fellow citizens. I believe in America. I believe in the lofty ideals that led our founders to proclaim this land a land of libertyand that made our motto "In God We Trust". I am grateful for the freedom that lets me rear and teach my children in accordance with my own values and beliefs--a freedom not allowed in Germany. I am grateful for the freedom that makes it possible for me to worship God in accordance with my personal convictions, a freedom that does not exist in Saudi Arabia. I am grateful for the freedom to participate in the democratic electoral process in accordance with my personal convictions, a freedom denied in Zimbabwe. In fact, in spite of our many imperfections, I firmly believe that the United States of America still holds a unique place in the world: we have more true liberty and more moral integrity here than in any other country I am aware of. We are so very far from perfect--this election year has brought many reminders of that--but I would rather be a citizen of this country than of any other.
I pray that we may always be "One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all".

Thursday, July 3, 2008

What we're reading

I'm planning to add a bit more structure to our schooling in the near future, but for the summer I'm keeping things very informal. We've mostly been reading, which we would do anyway but I figure counts as school time. I've thought for a long time that the best things my parents did for me and my siblings educationally were reading to us and making sure we learned to play a musical instrument. They read all kinds of things to us. My mom tended to pick childrens classics, like the Little House Books, books by Louisa May Alcott, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and others. My dad read to us the books he enjoyed--JRR Tolkien, Pilgrim's Progress, William Blake's poems, the Old Testament. He had a good reading voice, and would read sometimes for hours at a time while we played with blocks or tinkertoys and listened. I still love to hear him read. He came to visit a couple of months after Luke was born and had a novel with him he had picked up for the trip. I asked him what it was about and he read several pages to me. It took me right back to my childhood and listening to him read. We also read Shakespeare together as a family, everyone who could read taking a part or two. I imagine this was why when I came across the educational philosophies of Charlotte Mason they felt very familiar to me--I grew up on living books, though no-one used those words.
Anyway, back to my subject. I am really enjoying having a child who is old enough to enjoy the longer chapter books that I enjoy reading. I started reading the Little House on the Prairie series to Lily about a year ago, and we have since read a number of great books: C. S. Lewis's "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe", Tolkien's "The Hobbit", "The Voyage of Dr. Dolittle"; right now we are reading the original "Winnie the Pooh" and "Little Pilgrim's Progress"--an excellent retelling of John Bunyan's classic written for children. I get many of my recommendations from other homeschoolers and check the books out at the library. At some point I would like to have my own home library filled with really good books, but right now I don't have the space and am trying to keep clutter down as much as possible to meet the expectations of my minimalist husband!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these...

I often think of this passage from Matthew chapter 25 when I am taking care of my children:

31When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
32And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
33And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
34Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

How does this apply to mothering? Well, I figure it is a pretty good description of what I do every day--clothe the naked (once in the morning, once after an oatmeal spill, once after a potty accident, once after a bath...); feed the hungry (have you ever seen a nest of baby birds with their mouths open? that's how I often feel); administer to the sick and afflicted (nights when the kids have had the stomach flu come to mind). I like this passage because it reminds me that meeting all of these physical needs of my kids really is a matter of spiritual as well as temperal importance. And at times when I feel like my influence in the world is limited to my family, I am reminded that the opportunities to serve and make a difference within my family are more than sufficient for my small abilities. I'm not suggesting that our service should be limited to our families, but affirming that we really are doing great and important service right here within the walls of our homes. And if at some seasons in our life we have limited reach beyond those walls, I believe we will be blessed for choosing true priorities.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Thou hast set my feet in a large room

The title of this blog comes from the 31st Psalm, as quoted by Charlotte Mason in her writings on the education of children:

"Our aim in Education is to give a Full Life.––We begin to see what we want. Children make large demands upon us. We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. Thou hast set my feet in a large room; should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking––the strain would be too great––but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest. We cannot give the children these interests; we prefer that they should never say they have learned botany or conchology, geology or astronomy. 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? I know you may bring a horse to the water, but you cannot make him drink. What I complain of is that we do not bring our horse to the water. We give him miserable little text-books, mere compendiums of facts, which he is to learn off and say and produce at an examination; or we give him various knowledge in the form of warm diluents, prepared by his teacher with perhaps some grains of living thought to the gallon. And all the time we have books, books teeming with ideas fresh from the minds of thinkers upon every subject to which we can wish to introduce children." (Charlotte Mason's original Home Education series, Vol 3 pg 171-172)

I believe the rearing and education of chidren to be one of the greatest callings any person can undertake. The children I call my own are in fact children of our Heavenly Father, who have been entrusted to me to care for, lead and teach--the greatest stewardship he could possibly entrust me with. I call on His guidance to direct my efforts.