For the Children’s Sake – A Book Review

This past year of homeschooling could be summed up in one word…crazy!  We started out great and had a solid six weeks of learning before life got turned upside down.  Between moving in the fall, staying with my parents for six weeks, moving again to Georgia, and then getting settled into a new community and a new church, which has an insanely busy schedule, school became strictly about survival, not about prospering!  During the stay at my parents, however, I had a little more time to evaluate and reflect on our current model of education and it was during this time that God began to give me a discomfort with the direction we were heading.  Our curriculum consisted of pulling together a variety of books, all sources listed in Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well Trained Mind.  Most of the books were great in and of themselves, but the pace and the methods (particularly large amounts of strict memorization) were just not working for Mikias.  He was getting more and more frustrated with school and feeling more and more defeated.  I was feeling more and more disappointed because we spent such large amounts of time just trying to grasp the basics of the information, that we never had any time for the fun extras like history activities and art projects.  Once we got settled in Georgia, I began to seriously pray about what God would have us do next year for school.  I knew something had to change but I wasn’t sure where to start.  But I love when we get to that place of not having a clue what God would have us to do and then He so clearly speaks.  I ran across this post on my friend Tara’s blog.  I had heard of Charlotte Mason before and even looked into her briefly, but I decided I needed to know more.  Funny enough, that same week I had lunch with a new friend from church who also home schools, and she randomly mentioned to me that she was in the process of switching to a complete Charlotte Mason education with her children.  I came home from lunch, e-mailed Tara and she recommended starting with “For the Children’s Sake” by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay to wet my appetite in Charlotte Mason’s educational ways.

I ordered it, and promptly dove in.  Its a book about education, but it focuses largely on the work of a Christian educator named Charlotte Mason (1842-1923) from Ambleside, England.   This post could never contain all of the wonderful ways that Mason thought of children and wrote of the ways in which they best learn.  But I will share the three propositions of her philosophy that have impacted me the most.  First, education is a life.  I need not look at our time in the school room as the only time that I am educating my children.  Instead, when I correct a disagreement and require reconciliation, I am educating my children.  When a child stands beside me with the mixer as we prepare a cake, I am educating my child.  When the children gather around the coffee table to tackle a load of laundry, I am educating my children.  When we discuss the verses of a favorite hymn, I am educating my children.  What a marvelous way to think of our everyday life…even in what seem to be the most mundane of days, my children are still learning and I am their primary source to learn of the world around them and the God who made it all.  But if I want to give them the best, I won’t only offer them great life experiences “but also the best mankind has produced in art, books, music, ideas and many more areas” (p.83).  Secondly, children are born persons.  Obvious, right?  But oh how often I fail to respect them in the individual ways that God has created them and appreciate who they are!

Charlotte Mason was, however, a realist.  She accepted the little child exactly as he was.  She did not romanticize him, but she appreciated him and looked with wonder at what she found (p. 14).

Lastly, and probably what I love most about Charlotte Mason’s method was her use of living books. Living books are whole books of well-written literature which are used in the curriculum instead of standard textbooks.  And typically they will always wet the appetites and tastes of young children far more than a bunch of mumble-jumble facts from a textbook.  So we work our way through good books about history, science, literature and we read fables and stories and poetry.  And, instead of taking a multiple-choice test or completing a worksheet, the children are then required to narrate back or re-tell what they have just heard.  I know…it sounds a bit out there at first, but a few days in and I’m already seeing how the principle works.  Once a child is required to tell back the information they have just heard (whether its a poem about your shadow or the landscape of Ancient Egypt), they have no choice but to train themselves to listen carefully, to internalize what they are hearing and to then make it their own by using their own choice of words to explain what they have just heard.  And once they’ve done that, they most likely won’t forget what they’ve learned.  Of course as they get older, the children will write out their narrations and not do everything orally.  Nevertheless, I’m finding it to be such a more effective way of learning and it especially seems to fit the way God has wired my children.

We are two days in to our 2012-2013 school year and I’m more excited about what we are learning and how we are learning it than I ever have been before.  Just today we spent an hour and a half on a nature trail, exploring whatever we could.  Molly Kate and Miles spent a good majority of the time fascinated with big black carpenter ants and before we left, Molly Kate made an entry in her nature journal with an amazingly accurate drawing of the ant.  During her observation, I gently guided her, encouraging her to see how many legs it had, how many parts he had in his body and told her the names of those parts.  She had the opportunity to watch it and linger over it and truly experience it…and she enjoyed it.  How vastly different from my science education where I was required to read about the ant in a textbook and then memorize and label its parts on a worksheet, never really caring much at all about where the ant lived or how fast he could move or the fact that my all-powerful God created so many different kinds of ants.

If you are considering home schooling your own children, I would highly recommend spending some time considering Charlotte Mason’s philosophies of education and I would recommend this book as a starting point.  I think you’ll find it fascinating and then be asking yourself, much like I did, why haven’t I thought of this before? It makes so much sense!

Madden turns 2!

So this is the post that made me miss my blog the most…not being able to record our children turning another year older, jotting down a few thoughts about how special that particular child is to our family and gathering some of the best photos from the day.  As I looked through previous posts, it hit me just how much of our family life is chronicled in these pages and how much I treasure having our history all in one place.  One of these days I’m sure I get around to actually publishing the contents in book form, but for now I’m happy to have a place record it all.  And I think my friend Tara is right…one day my children will love being able to look back and enjoy reading of their childhood adventures and all the ups and downs of our life together as a family who longs to love Jesus most of all.  So thank you to all of those who encouraged me to keep on…I’m grateful!

Okay…back to Madden! I cannot (really cannot!) believe my sweet baby is now officially a toddler! Somehow his infancy disappeared faster than I cared for and my little man is quickly turning into such a big boy.  Right around 22 months, his vocabulary took off and he talks from the minute he wakes up until the minute his head hits the pillow at night.  One thing we are particularly fond of is his habit of doubling and tripling every word…”dog-dog,” “Kai-Kai-Kai,” “milk-milk,” “hot-hot,” “cold-cold,” “hug-hug,” and “Kate-Kate-Kate” are some of my favorites!  I think 12 months to 36 months is my favorite stage of early childhood…they are just so stinkin’ cute at this age and Madden is no exception.  He wins over hearts all the time when he gives a teasing look with his big blue eyes or becomes silly just to make others laugh.  I cherish this little boy so much and the God who decided to bless my life with Him, even when I thought the timing couldn’t have been worse.  Madden is a constant reminder that my God always knows what’s best for me and what will result in the greatest glory for Himself and I love that such a reminder came in the form of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed cutie.

Here’s a few shots of his birthday…to make his day more special, we took a trip to the Atlanta Zoo with my mom and Dad (Nana and Poppa).  That evening we had cake and opened presents and by the end of the night, I think Madden had endured all the excitement he could handle!

Admiring the elephants with Nana
Being silly with Molly Kate!
Excited to ride on the caboose!
Madden’s lion cake…in an effort to make the cake a little more exciting than just a lion head, I went overboard with cake and we were eating it for at least two weeks!
Party time! Even though we only do small family birthdays, I enjoy decorating the kitchen up a bit so that our kiddos know these days are special ones!
Squeezing in some reading time with Mommy! He loves being read to and I’m so thankful for moments like these!
Family pic!
Madden’s famous pouty face as he poses with Nana and Poppa!
Delighted to be two!
He’s definitely a fourth child…he blew out his candle perfectly, never coming anywhere close to the flame!
Very pleased with his new train table (thanks Nana & Poppa!) and his Thomas train sets! He’ll sneak away to the basement just to play with the trains…all by himself!
This big kid enjoyed the new train table too!