Wednesday, July 23, 2008

New Year -- preparing your brain

Homeschooling does not always follow the traditional yearly schedule, especially not in our home. However, I do look at each fall as the start of a 'new year.' I enjoy using the summer to prepare the groundwork for the year ahead and work to start the school year stronger and better than ever. Our schooling will never be perfect and I want to continue to strive to improve each year building on what I learned last year and flexing with the growing and changing needs of each child. Homeschooling affords us a unique opportunity to meet the individual needs of each son or daughter and I want to capitalize on that as much as possible.

Summer also gives me a little extra time to make sure that my house gets back in order and do some decluttering. I have had extra motivation in this department thanks to Handprints on the Wall, and while I have work yet to do, I feel confident that things will be in order in that department come September. With my house humming more smoothly, now I turn to preparing myself for the year ahead. Before I can think about the academics, or schedules, or anything else I want to implement, I need to make sure that I have my own focus, motivation, and encouragement flowing.

As the teacher in this one house school I need to set the standard, establish the atmosphere, and know where I plan to lead. Part of this leading means I must constantly learn as well. Reading plays a huge part in that. Each summer I try to read a book, or a few books, that will advance my knowledge as a teacher and seek out more books to add to my reading list for the coming year. Some years I need more spiritual encouragement and choose my books accordingly. Other years I want to get a peak into what my kids will be reading, so I take extra time to do that. This year I decided to sink myself into Charlotte Mason's works. I have just made it about a third of a way through the first volume of this 6 volume work, so this choice may well take me all school year to finish.

This first book in the series has done what I hoped it would do. It has encouraged, inspired, and motivated me as we prepare for the year ahead. It has given me practical ideas that I want to incorporate into my schedule, as well as general purpose and goals.

In the past I read through summaries of this work, but I like to get to the source of information and found that I could get the series, a book at a time, through my local library. So, here I find myself in the midst of the first book and I know that by the time I get to the end I will not remember all that I want to. I have started journaling about what stands out to me as I read. This way, I will have my own compact handbook of Charlotte Mason's works when I finish that I can refer to anytime I want to without having to check it out from the library, and without having to buy the set and have it filling my bookshelves.

Here are some snippets that have caused me to stop and think:

- Charlotte Mason talks about children starting out as beings with potential for both good and evil. Now, unfortunately, this almost made me stop reading, because the Bible clearly teaches that man is sinful. We are born with a sin nature inherited through the ages from Adam. However, I could still agree with her resulting actions in this regard, although I don't agree with her philosophical motivation. She said that because of this, we need to expose them to as much good as possible. On the other hand, I believe all the more strongly that we must do our part to expose them to God, His Word, and His creation because they have a natural bent against goodness.

- In the practical world, she encourages children to spend time out of doors as much as possible. While I agree with this, I am often lax to promote it. This coming year I want to get out more, hold class outside more, and keep my windows open more. I definitely see the difference when I have to go for my morning run inside as opposed to breathing the fresh air of God's great creation. She said even 22 hours inside each day is too many. I don't know if I can get out more than 2 hours every day all year long, but do want to make a conscious effort in this regard.

- The Mason method is well known for its nature studies and I have only half heartedly agreed before reading her book. Does it really benefit a child in modern society to know the difference between a white oak and a red one? A swallow and a tern? A daffodil and a buttercup? Then, as I read, I realized that what all of this really taught was the power of observation (and then drawing conclusions). So much can be learned from books, but they need to get out and see the real thing and determine for themselves what type of tree and flower they see. Look for the buds on the real deal, not just in a picture where someone else already found the perfect example and circled it for you to halfheartedly glance at and return to your own activity. We have already started our local tree study and I love that each child jumps in with their own level of learning and builds from there. It has already stretched their observation skills as we try to classify all the trees around us. More on our tree studies in another post . . .

- Charlotte Mason also talks at length about instilling habits in our children. Again, I don't completely agree with her philosophy, but gained valuable insight nonetheless. I don't think I would completely agree with anyone, but I can almost always learn from them, even if it is what not to do. She talks about the power of habits. How much of what you do everyday is habit? Getting dressed, eating, using the bathroom, etc. We don't need to think about how to button our shirt or tie our shoes. Habit truly does dominate our actions throughout each day. I do think that habit differs from character (just because a child always turns off the light doesn't equate responsibility), but they may be intertwined at times, and habits can be teaching opportunities for character.

- Growing good habits in our children takes diligent, consistent effort. I want to start easy, so I am going to work on having my kids consistently turn lights off when leaving a room. Her tips have influenced how I will approach this project. She said that we sometimes try to come up with rewards when instilling a new behavior, but the habit gained is reward in itself.
Nothing against sticker charts, and fun rewards, but I realized that I don't really need to 'come up' with anything. The success of the habit will instill pride and joy in the child without it, and sometimes the reward may become the focus of the change rather than the habit. I saw this in my own children some time ago when they kept their room clean to earn a prize. It worked, but then fell apart once achieved. A habit is for life.
And that, leads into the other point that stuck with me . . . don't let them slip when they start showing success in an area. Sometimes we grow lax and think since they do a good job most of the time, I won't worry about this one time they forgot. This starts the cycle all over again, sometimes from an even worse place. I must remain consistent throughout and consistent until the end.

That is how far I am in my Charlotte Mason journey, and what I have learned so far, and look forward to implementing in the coming year. I would encourage you to find a good book to read this summer to grow your own brain a bit and find the motivation that you need for the year ahead. I think it is so critical for homeschooling parents to be always learning and setting the example in that regard.

Here are some other books I would recommend:

- Teaching the Trivium by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn
- Lies Homeschool Moms Believe by Todd Wilson
- Let Us Highly Resolve by David and Shirley Quine
- Different Children, Different Needs by Charles Boyd
- Celebrate Home byAngie Peters (a great encouragement, especially for moms of preschoolers)

Again, while I may not agree with everything in each of these books, they have all helped me to continue down the homeschool journey at one time or another.

Any others to add?

Next in preparing for the new year . . .organization!

or more homeschooling thoughts, take a look at Happy to be at Home.


The Happy Housewife said...

This is a great book summary. I have read a few things from Mason before, but since I didn't agree with her philosophy I stopped. From what you have written I need to read her stuff and just disagree with a few of her philosophies.

Guinevere Meadow said...

We are thinking of homeschooling our son when he reaches school age, depending on how our financial situation looks. I'll keep these books in mind as we consider our decision further. thanks!

5intow said...


Homeschooling can definitely be a very frugal option, and now might be the best time to start reading (when you have years to decide how to implement all the great ideas). The library is a great source to explore all these options, or grab a cuppa and pull up a chair in the Education section in Borders!

Toni - I definitely don't agree with all Mason says, but have enjoyed reading anyway. I don't want to flood my mind with wrong thinking, but if there is enough good to be found I can filter it as I read. Always good to be cautious though.


jamie in rose cottage said...

Great post! I look forward to including it in next week's CM blog carnival!

Prince Andrew and the Queen Mum said...

I always say- there is only one perfect book...the Bible..and one perfect person Jesus... and I appreciate your post in this regard. I too glean much from CMs writing but do not agree to them 100%. good blog post!

Ritsumei said...

I am so with you on the philosophical struggle as I read CM's 1st book! It was right in the first couple of pages as she was talking about the relationships of families and the state that I almost put it down. She gets pretty out there sometimes. But in spite of that she's got some great practical ideas! Sounds like we're right about the same place in her books: I also just worked my way through the habits section. There is so much in there to contemplate.

When I read Teaching the Trivium I disagreed with lots of what they said, but it was a great read anyway because it made me think so much. I presume that with Teaching the Trivium & Charlotte Mason on your reading list that you've already seen Bauer's "Well-Trained Mind?" That was the first classical education book that I read, and I love it.

5intow said...


Thank you for mentioning the Well Trained Mind. That is one I read sections of at one time, but would probably benefit from a closer read. As you said, you don't have to agree with everything an author says to benefit from reading the book.

And, as The Queen Mum put it well, apart from Jesus and the Bible I don't know that I would be in 100 percent agreement with any person or book.