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21 January 2018

A Testimony of the Bible

In the Bible are the words of LIFE and SALVATION. -Brigham Young

Recently, there were some missionaries standing around with an investigator after church, teaching him a discussion. They were talking about the Bible. And, to my dismay, I realized that they were telling the gentleman that it's not as valuable, not as good as, not as important as, not as inspired as the Book of Mormon. I could feel the resistance rising in the man, as they told him that this amazing book of holy writ that he cherishes is... not that important.

I really can't blame the missionaries; they were teaching the same thing that I've heard in numerous Sunday School classes, sacrament meeting talks, and other conversations in the Church over the years: We believe the Bible to be the word of God -- but only as far as it's translated correctly... and it's not very correct: The Book of Mormon is the word of God. It's not an uncommon attitude to encounter in the various classes. Our missionaries are young; they teach investigators the things that we teach our children and our youth. There's a big problem with that in this instance:

This idea that the Bible is "less than" other modern(better) scripture is false doctrine.

Say it again: "We believe the Bible to be the word of God."

There is no book on earth that has had more effort put into correct translation, time and time again. It is as good as human efforts can make it. Yes, there are translational challenges with the Bible; there is also a wealth of tools available to help us through them. The translators, in every case that I have ever read about, knew full well the weight of the responsibility of translating the word of God. Some of the men who translated the Bible from Latin into English are martyrs for the cause of Christ, and ought to be remembered and honored as such. William Tyndale(1494-1536) is one of the martyrs, and his selfless work has been the basis of every major English language Bible. Elder Christofferson told his story in Conference a few years ago, then said this:

In Tyndale’s day, scriptural ignorance abounded because people lacked access to the Bible, especially in a language they could understand. Today the Bible and other scripture are readily at hand, yet there is a growing scriptural illiteracy because people will not open the books. Consequently they have forgotten things their grandparents knew.
-D. Todd Christofferson, The Blessing of Scripture

He is not the only one to say good things about the Bible:

In the Bible are the words of LIFE and SALVATION. -Brigham Young

Without the Bible, there is no Book of Mormon: Joseph studied the Bible; that's what lead him to want to know what church to join. It was from the Bible that he learned that God will answer questions. It was the Bible that taught him that there should be one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. It was the Bible that his mind returned to again and again, as he pondered the question of which church he should join in the two years leading up to the First Vision. The Bible continues to be integral to our faith. So much of what we know of Christ's own words comes from the Bible. The Scripture Citation Index tells us that the book of Matthew alone has been cited in General Conferences nearly 10,000 times.

Without the Bible, there is so much that we lose. If we behaved as if we believed the things that people occasionally say or imply about the Bible, then we would have to give up:
And that's just the stuff that's easy to list quickly. The loss of the Bible would be a staggering blow. Hundreds and hundreds of pages that detail the dealings of the Lord with His people, that shed light on His character, that give us His commandments, show the blessings of obedience, and the consequences of sin. I am always so sad when I hear people belittle the Bible, as if it was of little value. Sometimes I think that we fall into the same trap that people are warned of with the Book of Mormon. Let me paraphrase a little:

"A Book of Mormon! A Book of Mormon! We have got a Book of Mormon, and we don't need the Bible anymore."

Is that so very different from the true reading of this verse?

A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.
-2 Nephi 29:3-4

If they are condemned for rejecting the one volume, would not we be under at least equal condemnation for rejecting the other? And, isn't that what belittling and denigrating the Bible is: rejecting scripture? At the very least, it's treating it lightly.

In fact, the Lord tells us that we are under condemnation for neglect of the Bible. Most members are at least passingly familiar with Doctrine and Covenants 84:54 to about verse 61. It starts out talking about the consequences of unbelief, highlighting the loss of revelation that comes when the words of the Lord are treated lightly, "which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation."And the Lord tells us that we will continue under this condemnation until we knock it off and pay attention to the scripture that He has given us:

And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon (v57) ...

That's as far as we usually  read, but the Lord isn't finished; there's not even a comma in the text to indicate some kind of pause. If we take it all the way out to the next comma, then it looks like this:

And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them...

Do you see it there? What are "the former commandments"?
There's really only one thing it can be. There's only one volume of scripture that predates the Book of Mormon: the Holy Bible.

The Lord is unhappy with the Church collectively because we neglect the Book of Mormon. He is also unhappy with us for neglecting the Bible. In fact, since it is so clear that the Bible is the only thing that could possibly answer for "the former commandments" we could actually probably get away with paraphrasing the verse like this:

And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the Bible which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—

There it is again: "the Bible which I have given them".
We believe the Bible to be the word of God.

Zedekiah is a name that we often learn as children, because he's mentioned right there in the first verses of the First Book of Nephi: "For it came to pass in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah...", but it's in the Bible that we learn the tragedy of Zedekiah's story, of his pride and his fear that lead to Jerusalem being completely destroyed, to him watching his sons butchered in front of him... moments before his eyes were put out. How is it that we don't use this story to demonstrate the perils of pride? How is it that we don't weep for the lost ones of Israel, the way that we mourn over the tragedy of the Nephites? And what thank we the Jews for the Bible which we receive from them? Do we remember their trials and travails, their labors, and their diligence? I know that I have not always love the Bible the way that I should, and I still do not feel like I know it as well as I ought to. Certainly not as well as I know the Book of Mormon, to my embarrassment. I need to do better.

Wherefore, because that ye have a [Book of Mormon] ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.
-2 Nephi 29:10 (paraphrased)

Prophecy talks about how the Bible and the Book of Mormon are to become "one in our hands", and President Packer talked about how the current English  LDS edition of the Bible, with all its study tools, is such an amazing resource. So much so that when they approached the selected printer in Cambridge, England about the project, the initial response was that it could not be done. But of course, it was. He tells a bit of the story of the obstacles they overcame to make it happen, and they he says this:

The stick or record of Judah—the Old Testament and the New Testament—and the stick or record of Ephraim—the Book of Mormon, which is another testament of Jesus Christ—are now woven together in such a way that as you pore over one you are drawn to the other; as you learn from one you are enlightened by the other. They are indeed one in our hands. Ezekiel’s prophecy now stands fulfilled.
-Boyd K. Packer, Scriptures

We are the beneficiaries of this prophecy. We have opportunities and tools that no previous generation has had for studying the scriptures, for weaving them together so that they become not only one in our hands, but one in our hearts.

But we must open the books. All of them.

I love the Bible. I am very grateful that the Lord directed me to start writing about the Bible. I was so overwhelmed at first; I told him that I wasn't enough, I don't know enough, and I'm so grateful that He encouraged me to jump in anyway, in spite of my fears. I have only done a serious in-depth study of a few of the Psalms, but at the same time I've been reading the Bible chronologically with my children, and I have learned so much. My love for Christ, and my understanding of Him and His role in the Father's plan, has deepened. I love the truths that I find in its pages; they are in no way inferior to the truths found in the Book of Mormon. We talk about how the entire Plan of Salvation is in the Book of Mormon; it's in the Bible too: the whole thing.

I love reading the Bible. I love my LDS edition -- and I love my chronological edition. The chronological edition makes the story come alive to me, and placing the characters in their story, in the sweep of history of the House of Israel, gives so much meaning to the truths that their prophets were teaching to them -- and to us. I love the way that the Psalms lead me to Christ, that they open the words of Paul for me: Paul has always been a tough one for me to puzzle out. But Paul loves the Psalms, and so do I, and I am learning to love Paul, too. Joseph Smith loved the Apostle Paul; a scriptural index to the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith lists over 1,000 references Joseph Smith made to Paul’s writings in his own teachings.1

The Prophet Joseph Smith even gave us a physical description of the Apostle Paul: “He is about five feet high; very dark hair; dark complexion; dark skin; large Roman nose; sharp face; small black eyes, penetrating as eternity; round shoulders; a whining voice, except when elevated, and then it almost resembled the roaring of a lion”. 
-"Paul", Ensign, August 1999

I love the Bible. I have a testimony of its truthfulness, and of its incredible value. Our canon of scripture would not be complete without it.

In Tyndale’s day, scriptural ignorance abounded because people lacked access to the Bible, especially in a language they could understand. Today the Bible and other scripture are readily at hand, yet there is a growing scriptural illiteracy because people will not open the books. Consequently they have forgotten things their grandparents knew.
-D. Todd Christofferson, The Blessing of Scripture


18 January 2018

This Week: Miss Kitty Turns Five

A peek into what we did this week in our classical LDS homeschool.

All year, we've been telling Miss Kitty how long it is to her birthday. She asks frequently:

"How long till my birthday?"
"It's a long time; about 9 months. Which means that it's about 36 Sundays."

I don't think she counts to 36 yet, but that seems more meaningful to her than the number of months.

"Is my birthday almost here?"
"No, it's still a long time. It's summer, and then fall will come, and we'll have Halloween, and Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and the New Year will come, and THEN it will be your birthday. It's around 24 Sundays."

"My birthday is far away, isn't it? How many Sundays to my birthday?"
"Still a whole bunch. First Daddy has his birthday, then Hero, then Jesus, then you. That's about 20 Sundays."

Sometime after Halloween, the number of Sundays got low enough that it started to be close enough to be numbers that are meaningful to her. This was pretty exciting. And then something even more exciting happened just this last Sunday night at bedtime:

"I only have ONE SUNDAY LEFT until my birthday comes!"
"Well.... actually, today was that last Sunday. There are no more Sundays before your birthday: your birthday is on Friday. That's only five Sleeps away!"
"No more Sundays? Only five Sleeps??"

Oh yes, this was an excited girl. And that's the biggest news of the week: Miss Kitty is turning five at the end of the week. And she's making Big Plans: she's having friends over to make crowns (made out of paper, with stickers) and play in a fort (a really big fort), and eat a cake (because we usually eat cake on birthdays) with ice cream.

But, even with all that excitement, we still did some ordinary things. Turns out, the Birthday Girl loves school so much that she thanks God for it in her prayers. That makes me smile, more than a little bit. She has been known to cry if she doesn't get to participate in school, so her "preschool" is more intense than it would otherwise have been, if it wasn't so important to her: I'm certainly not going to tell her, "No, you can't learn with us," particularly not when it matters so deeply to her to be included in the learning. I am in the business of feeding hungry minds, even if the mind is "too little" by the standards of the "better late than early" crowd.


Classical Charlotte Mason homeschooling
Photo courtesy FreeImages.
Last Saturday, we got up at the crack of dawn and went out in the frigid weather to watch Bald Eagles with a group that does a local recurring citizen science project. It was pretty cool, both literally: it was -2F with a -20F windchill when we left home, and figuratively. The kids were super excited. We saw several eagles, including some adults and some juveniles. We'll probably go back and try it again next month. By summer, sunrise will be painfully early, but this month it was right at 7am, which is not so bad, and next month we should have warmed up some, and only be slightly earlier.

Classical Charlotte Mason homeschooling
Both the boys and I did a nature journal entry on Cow Parsnip, which gives a rash similar to Poison Ivy. Hero needs to learn local poisonous plants for scouts. He'd previously done Poison Ivy, and I was thinking that I'd have him do Poison Oak next, but it turns out that there's not much of that in our State at all, so I've got a list that I found that was done by the Extension Office, and we're working through that. Three of the five plants (Cow Parsnip, Wood Parsnip, and Wood Nettle) I'd never really heard of, so this will be great. Plus, Cow Parsnip is one of the plants that I'd wanted to learn for the HerbMentor Know Your Plants course that I'm fooling around with. It's from the same family as Queen Anne's Lace, which is super common around here. I'm loving learning the plants by families: the course uses Botany in a Day, and if I ever manage to get through it (it's self-paced, which is a blessing and a curse), then I'll know tons more when we go outside and see plants.

We also looked at a piece of strawberry leaf through our microscope, but I forgot to take pictures. That was really interesting: I love seeing the tiny parts and pieces of the plants. I find plants fascinating at any level.

We're following the hymn rotation from By Study and Faith, and we finally started January's hymn, On This Day of Joy and Gladness -- such a pick-me-up for January's dim, chilly weather!

We had some snow. Always a joy. The kids shoveled the sidewalks. And the lawn. No small amount of the white stuff got thrown at each other... and the window where I was standing and watching from! It was especially nice to see the dreary January grass recovered after the thaw last week. Plus, if it's snowing, it's not that cold. And that's always nice, too.

Classical Charlotte Mason homeschooling

One of the cooler developments this week is that I figured out how to go about using the flashcards for our Latin program much more effectively: I set them up the same way that our scripture box is, so that we aren't trying to do all the cards every day. Which isn't an effective way to do flashcards... we don't do them. And so we aren't actually learning the vocabulary. But the new system is working much better: it's quick and efficient. We really focus on only a few words at a time, and we're getting the hang of how to learn this challenging language. We're still only on lesson 5 after six months; this should allow us to make better progress. I like that. Progress is important.

Classical Charlotte Mason homeschooling

We also made good progress working on hiragana this week, using post-it notes. They are easy to mix up to make words, to drill the letters we've learned to far, and to practice putting in order. I think that this method is going to be more successful than things we've tried in the past, which is exciting: it's about time that the kids started toward literacy in this language, too! We're making clear progress in speaking (slow progress, but clear nonetheless), and I'm looking forward to helping the kids break into some of the picture books we've got.

Classical Charlotte Mason homeschooling

Also, in this week, there were books. Always the books. What a wonderful gift that God gave us, when He gave us writing.

Classical Charlotte Mason homeschooling

12 January 2018

Using Art to Teach Science

Using art to teach science in the Charlotte Mason homeschool.

Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth.
-Isaiah 40:26

Charlotte Mason has a reputation for being heavy on literature, and perhaps somewhat light on science, but I increasingly thing that this does not do justice to her methods. I do think, however, that her approach to science is going to be somewhat strange to modern parent-educators, as it's so very different from the model we grew up with in our public school education. But she herself gives no justification for the idea that you must choose a literary or a science education.

It is a wide programme founded on the educational rights of man; wide, but we may not say it is impossible nor may we pick and choose and educate him in this direction but not in that. We may not even make choice between science and the 'humanities.' Our part it seems to me is to give a child a vital hold upon as many as possible of those wide relationships proper to him. Shelley offers us the key to education when he speaks of "understanding that grows bright gazing on many truths."
-Charlotte Mason 6:157, emphasis added

In fact, Miss Mason frequently marries the humanities and to science: she leans heavily on the nature journal, blending art and writing with the training of the capacity for observation and questioning that stands at the heart of scientific inquiry. She's not the only one.

A century ago, drawing was taught as an essential skill for scientists, valued for communicating  findings, but also for enhancing observations.
-Rediscovering the Forgotten Benefits of Drawing, emphasis added

Using art to teach science in the Charlotte Mason homeschool.In our neck of the woods, January and February are typically too cold to be able to get outside consistently, or for any length of time: nature study outings are severely curtailed until spring. But we can use this season to train the skills that will enrich our experience when we can go back outside.  We've been focusing on making good observations.

Not too long before Christmas, I listened to a podcast (I've forgotten which one, unfortunately) that talked about how to teach brush drawing with watercolors. They suggested having the student pick a single color and draw -with a brush and not a pencil- a natural object that's been placed on a white piece of paper. The white paper simplifies the view of the subject, and clarifies the shadows. We did a painting like that, just before Christmas, of some flowers my husband had brought me.

Using art to teach science in the Charlotte Mason homeschool.

Last week and this week, we've painted an onion. When I first called the kids to the table, I wouldn't let them touch their pencils and brushes until after we'd all spent a couple of minutes observing the onion and sharing our observations out loud. The group sharing is a technique we picked up from John Muir Laws, which he recommends for its synergistic effect: one observation inspires another, and when there are more observations bumping around in your brain because you can hear everyone else's as well as your own, then you find more inspiration and often make new observations yourself. This is particularly helpful for my child that struggles to see well.

Using art to teach science in the Charlotte Mason homeschool.We did this same onion last week (these are our paintings from last week, Miss Kitty and Dragon on top, Hero and I at the bottom), and repeating with the same vegetable turned out to be really cool. There was obviously a lot the same about the model, since it was the same onion. But there was also a lot that was different: when I went to pick up the onion, some of the outer layers did like they sometimes do, and slipped off. So some parts are a different color this week, but the shape is the same, and the root ball at the bottom was the same.

Interestingly, the kids were also different: they brought new skills to this week's work because of things they learned last week. And that showed up in their drawings. Repetition of the exercise made it obvious.

Using art to teach science in the Charlotte Mason homeschool.Both of the younger kids learned some important things about color mixing last week, which showed up in this week's drawings. Dragon learned about planning the amount of paint that he mixes up, and how it compares to the size of space he wants to color. You can see that Miss Kitty is more aware of the lines on the onion this week. She was also trying to draw out a circle - traced a bowl - to make a nicer circle; she hadn't be happy with her original one (the red line) from last week. But she was much happier this week.

She copied the circle idea from Dragon, who had grabbed a bowl to trace, then abandoned the idea after he struggled to get it to trace nicely. Dragon ended up asking me to hold my hands so that my fingers made a circle, which he traced, and then I suggested a couple of adjustments to help it match the onion a little better. He also asked for help with knowing what colors to mix: "Mom, you onion color is like perfect! Will you tell me how to do that?" So I showed him which colors I had used, and coached him on how to get light and dark tones of the same color. He did the mixing and the drawing and deciding on how to do things -- which turned out great. He was so pleased with the side-by-side comparison of his two onions: the improvements in his work are so obvious, and success just feels so good.

Using art to teach science in the Charlotte Mason homeschool.

To me, there's so much more going on here than a couple of onion paintings. The kids are learning to see truly, to look closely. That's going to transfer when we go back out to the parks and work in our nature journals. That's going to transfer when they are looking through our new microscope. That's going to help them to do better when they are learning to cook (which is kitchen chemistry), and if they want to go on into "hard sciences" later on. Because seeing well does not come easily to Dragon, we've had several conversations this week about how a scientist needs to be able to observe things carefully, and pay attention to small details, in order to learn about what he's studying. And we've talked about how he'll be able to see his success at learning to observe by watching his art improve, because you must be able to see well to draw well. Between the success with his art, the new microscope, and the conversations, Dragon has for the first time announced what he wants to be when he grows up: a scientist. Sounds great to me. He's so curious about everything; he'd make a great scientist. And, in the mean time, there is some outstanding character growth going on here. Even if he changes his mind, these lessons in being able to see things deeply and truly, to be able to observe the world around him, these will be useful in a thousand different areas of his life.

Education is the Science of Relations'; that is, a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of––
          "Those first-born affinities
     That fit our new existence to existing things."

-Charlotte Mason 6:154


11 January 2018

This Week In School: Charlotte Mason Science

A peek into what we did this week in our classical LDS homeschool.

Crazy weather! First, we got warm enough to actually play outside. Which two of the three could do: there's an ugly cold going through the household right now, and Hero's still in recovery, so the poor guy had to watch through the window while the first days of decent weather... went by without him peeping a nose out. Bummer. It's supposed to not only stay above 0F, it's supposed to peak out at 45F... followed by freezing rain and a plunge back to 11F. Oi. Crazy weather.

A peek into what we did this week in our classical LDS homeschool.

Inside, there's been lots of science this week. We got a microscope for Christmas from Nana and Grandpa, and the kids are all over looking at both the couple of slides that it came with, and also checking out different things around the house.

A peek into what we did this week in our classical LDS homeschool.

Monday, when Dragon(8) begged for it, he and Miss Kitty looked at everything we've got, and they also persuaded me to try putting something on one of the blank slides for them: Hero was making slime, and they wanted to see shaving cream. Which looks... bubbly.

A peek into what we did this week in our classical LDS homeschool.

Hero's been watching YouTube videos, and hitting me up for things like glue and borax, and making slime. I think it's fun to watch him learn, and there's definitely a lot of learning going on. A failed batch before Christmas taught him that there's more to it than just putting the same ingredients in the bowl: measuring is a must. And he's asked about different conversions when he couldn't find a spoon of the correct size. And he's learning to clean up so that he keeps his kitchen privileges. 

And slime is just plain cool. This one is a "fluffy slime" -- hence the shaving cream.

A peek into what we did this week in our classical LDS homeschool.

It's fun watching him observe his older slimes, too. He made one before Christmas, and was gifted one by a friend of his, and those have changed and gradually stiffened, until he declared them dead and tossed them. But he's forming theories about what kind of slimes last the best, based on the observations that he's making... this is high quality science, and he had no idea.

Tuesday, we had a doctor's visit, and since our doctor is fantastic we drive for a ways to her, but that does a number on our school day. Fortunately, we barely ever go anymore. Turns out the concern, while valid, was over a minor thing, which is always nice to hear.

A peek into what we did this week in our classical LDS homeschool.

Dragon finished up two of his Tigers beltloops, and is working on his pinewood derby car: the big race is this Saturday. He's pretty excited!

We've been trying a new way to integrate our art and science: using our watercolors work to develop observation skills, because good observations are at the heart of good science. Where our outside time is so irregular at this time of the year, we try to keep Nature Study going with various indoor activities that help us learn more for when we can get out, and to develop our ability to see well. Because good observation doesn't necessarily come easily, but it can be practiced and learned. And, as art is a skill of the eye, not the hands, it's a perfect training ground: it's a different application of the same skills. So we did some group observations of an onion; the same one as last week, actually, and it was fun to see the way that both Dragon and Miss Kitty had improved their ability to observe with the practice. (Hero was under the weather, so he took a nap instead). One of my favorite things about these activities is that I get to practice my painting, too, which I really enjoy. This activity was so cool that I gave it its own post.

A peek into what we did this week in our classical LDS homeschool.

Dragon's been doing really well with his copywork and handwriting practice, too. Plus, I taught him and Miss Kitty to draw the five-pointed stars, which was endlessly entertaining for a few days. He's working on a poem from Victor Hugo:

Be like the bird, who
Halting in his flight
On limb too slight
Feels it give way beneath him,
Yet sings,
Knowing he hath wings.

A peek into what we did this week in our classical LDS homeschool.

Miss Kitty is coming up on a birthday, and it's showing in her school work. She's gaining fluency in her reading quickly, and she's doing better narrations more easily, which is fun to watch. This week, we read Beatrix Potter's Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle. The narration was adorable; she called the pocket handkerchiefs "piggy-winnkies" and all kinds of delightful things to Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle's name. It's so fun to watch the kids grow into reading, and start to become readers.

Not a bad week at all, really. All we really need is for Hero to shake the cold that's got him.


04 January 2018

This Week In School

A peek into what we did this week in our classical LDS homeschool.

Back to school! Yay!!!

Or something. We've sort of drug ourselves back through a sea of snot and stress. Oi. Not our best week. We got stuff done, but nothing flowed easily; everything required powering through and plenty of will power. But... it wasn't our worst. No major tantrums or fights. That's something. We're gradually finding our groove again.

I did my first phenology wheel over the Christmas break. It was fun. I plan to do one again... after this ridiculous below zero weather quits for a while. I don't want to mess around outside, particularly not since we found that some mildew got into my scarf and hat: they're the only ones in the box so far that didn't stop stinking when washed. Bummer. But I didn't love them, and now maybe I can find something that I actually like to wear. The search is on! But we're not doing nature study, not outside anyway, until the weather gets at least slightly more decent. Temps rising enough that windchills are above 0F would be a good start.

Phenology wheel from this week in our classical LDS homeschool.

They're so pretty, though, and I'm looking forward to building another one. The Charlotte Mason Nature Journaling group is all a-buzz about these. I'm debating doing a big one that would (theoretically) be filled out once  a week all year. That would be fun. If I could stay on top of it. It's hard to give myself permission to have blank spaces.

Things we accomplished this week:

We read things.
We did some math.
We did a little art.
We practiced the violin a little.
We kept trying, even when it wasn't perfect.

Exploring our microscope this week in our classical LDS homeschool.

We checked out the new microscope that Nana and Grandpa gave us for Christmas. It's pretty awesome. I figured out how it works (after the Daddy figured out how the batteries are installed), and got it set up. It's been a while since I did anything with one of these! The kids started learning, not only how cool it is to look at stuff under magnification, but also:

Don't Touch The Slide 

Exploring our microscope this week in our classical LDS homeschool.

That's an important lesson, as they discovered. Particularly the littler ones. Dragon was so excited about the microscope. He was the one that kept at me the most, while we waited for all of this year's holiday crazy to settle down, and he looked the longest, and took the more turns after the others had their fill. And he was the one that woke up this morning wanting to get it out and look at MORE STUFF through it. He suggested we go outside and get some leaves... I love his optimism. Not a lot of leaves around here right now!

In addition to his regular school work, I caught Hero reading the big book of fairy tales he asked for a while back, but then didn't get around to for months. That was fun. He's made some pretty good progress through it in not much time. It made me smile to see him seeking out good literature on his own. I'm glad that I didn't push him, when we got him the book: his relationship with these stories will be different for them being entirely voluntary.

Literature this week in our classical LDS homeschool.

Miss Kitty roared back into her phonics work. We reviewed the Learn to R.E.A.D Notebook and its Review Pack last July, and I discovered that she was not quite as ready as I'd thought: she was unsure of almost all the letter sounds when we started that. And she had to work to get them all. It's taken some time, but she's finally completed five lessons, and we're finally using the cute little books from the Review Pack. She was pretty delighted by them: first coloring, then reading silly things. I'm pleased with her progress: she'll be 5 in a few days, and she's doing quite well with her reading. 

Phonics this week in our classical LDS homeschool.

Observation is the heart of science, so I think the line between art and science is very porous. We practiced both observation and recording our observations with our watercolors. It's the second time we've done this kind of activity, and I'm very pleased with how it's working. 

Altogether, we're ending the week on a pretty positive note. We didn't freeze to death (in spite of windchills down to -24F, and a couple of days where it never got above 0F real temps -- and then the wind blew. It's been chilly. Just as well that we didn't have much in the way of outside commitments this week. At the end of the week, we're getting back into our routine, and remembering how school goes, and how to make this thing work.

01 January 2018

Commonplace Book: December

A sample from my commonplace book, and brief instructions for how to keep one.

A commonplace is a traditional self-education tool: as you read, grab a notebook. Write down things that embody Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Write down notable quotes, with or without your own thoughts about them. Write down the questions you have as a result of the text you are reading. You will find the book becomes a record of your own growth, and it becomes a touchstone for memory of things you have studied in the past. This is what Mother Culture is all about: self-directed, conscious self-education. These are a selection of the passages that I've included in my commonplace book this month:

一万回分かり始まります。(10,000 times; then begins understanding.)

Repeptito mater memoriae. (Repetition is the mother of memory.)

All abuse of power is essentially a rejection of feelings too painful for the perpetrator. Each insult, each trespass helps him see the fear of these negative qualities outside of himself, once again proving that he is not the worthless one.

Attachment to status is based on fear.

Status serves as a fighting machine around a vulnerable, hurt part of the self. Empowermet brings that part to light, safely, by acceptance and nurturance. Power hides that part, perversely showing the world aggression instead of strength, control over others instead of self-control, and dehumanization instead of respect.

I would remind you “walking bundles of habits” that there is a relationship between thoughts, actions, habits, and characters. After the language of the Bible we might well say: “Thought begat Action; and Action took unto himself Habit; and Character was born of Habit; and Character was expressed through Personality. And, Character and Personality lived after the manner of their parents.” A more conventional way of linking the above concepts is found in the words of C. A. Hill: “We sow our thoughts, and we reap our actions; we sow our actions, and we reap our habits; we sow our habits, and we reap our characters; we sow our characters, and we reap our destiny (Home Book of Quotations, p. 845)."
-Carlos E. Asay, Flaxen Threads

There is no reason why the child's winter walk should not gbe as fertile in observations as the poet's; indeed, in one way, it is possible to see more in winter, because thethings to be seen do not crowd each other out.
-Charlotte Mason, 1:86

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not in just some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we subconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
-attributed to Marianne Williamson

18 December 2017

Markers that Won't Dry Out {Review}

The Pencil Grip, Inc.

Magic Stix: markers that won't dry outWe had the opportunity to try out these lovely markers from the folks at The Pencil Grip. They said they've developed a new kind of marker: markers that can be left uncapped for up to a week and they won't dry out. At least, not quickly. Even having them be sturdy enough for a few hours would be huge; these are guaranteed for a week! We had the chance to try them and see how they did.

First of all, they color beautifully. Markers have always been a fan favorite around here, but with little kids, we frequently have problems with markers being left uncapped or partially capped, and then they're typically quickly ruined. While the kids are bigger now, and they do better with this, Miss Kitty is still only 4, and "doing better" isn't always the same as "gets the lid all the way on".

Magic Stix: markers that won't dry out
So, when the markers came, we did some coloring sheets. And then I decided to test the claims a little: I deliberately left a marker uncapped while we spent the morning at church. It was probably uncapped for between 4 and 5 hours. I feel like there is some difference in the smoothness of the coloring before and after, but it was still completely acceptable: it colors nicely and covers well. If I hadn't been deliberately comparing before and after samples, I don't think that I would have even noticed.

Most of the time, nobody makes a close inspection of our coloring pages before they're hung on the fridge or our art wall.

Magic Stix: markers that won't dry out

That wasn't the only time that one has been found with a cap not quite right. But they continue to do well. And the kids are happy to reach for them when they are coloring - the big kids as readily as the little kids.

Magic Stix: markers that won't dry out


NOTICE: I received this product free in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to post a positive review, nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations. 

13 December 2017

On Classical Education: Repetition is the Mother of Memory

Memory work, recitation, and a classical Charlotte Mason education

This post is part of a series:

Character is the True Aim
Cultivation of Godly Character
What is a Student? 
Make Haste Slowly
Much Not Many
Ordered Affections
Repetition is the Mother of Memory (this post)
Repetition and the Habit of Attention
Embodied Learning
Songs Chants and Jingles
Wonder and Curiosity
Educational Virtues
By Teaching We Learn
Classical Education is Like a Table

Between the time I've been spending working on Scripture Memory Work ideas for By Study and Faith, and listening to various podcasts dealing with memory work and recitation, and also doing our first effort at having end of term exams, I've been thinking a lot about memory and memory work lately. In listening to Dr. Perrin's lecture, Education and Memory: Repetitio Mater Memoriae, one of the striking things he said, paraphrasing John L. Gregory's book, The Seven Laws of Teaching, is this:

The last law is the law of repetition, the Law of Review... he says, "knowledge has been thought into the minds of the pupils, and it lies there in greater or less completeness, to feed thought, to guide and modify conduct and to form character, what more is needed after we have taught children? The teacher's work seems to be ended, but difficult work remains, perhaps the most difficult. All that has been accomplished lies hidden in the minds of pupils, and lies there as a potency, rather than as a possession. What process shall fix into active habits the thought potencies which have been evolved? What shall mould into permanent ideals the conceptions that have been gained? ... The law of confirmation and of ripening of results may be expressed as follows: the completion, test, and confirmation of the work of teaching must be made by review and application." And he says that, unless we are reviewing, we're really not teaching. He says that we should be reviewing as much as one third of the time. That's how important it is, to make learning permanent.

When we had the kids in violin lessons, we were fortunate enough to have fantastic teacher who used a fantastic method: the Suzuki method. The more I learn about Suzuki, the more that I like it. I've been listening to a number of things that Andrew Pudewa says about memory, and one of the things he talks about is the time that he spent in Japan, studying with Dr. Suzuki. And he tells a story about an Australian student who came in, and was given a bowing exercise, and asked to do it 10,000 times. The student, of course, presumed this was hyperbole, and did nothing of the sort. But at the next lesson, Dr. Suzuki stopped him after he'd played only briefly, and asked him if he'd done it. Upon hearing the admission that it had not been done, Dr. Suzuki's response was simple: "Please do." Mr. Pudewa later asked one of the Japanese students if she thought that Suzuki was serious, and genuinely wanted a whole 10,000 times of practice on this little bowing exercise. The girl said that of course he did. I imagine that, if you did a bowing exercise -or anything, really- 10,000 times, you would have made that learning permanent. Inspired by this story, I started doing certain martial arts exercises and counting them, with an eye toward eventually reaching 10,000 repetitions. I've done more than 5,000 now, and this is a powerful way to really master the fundamentals!

Mr. Pudewa then talks about the difference between the Eastern approach to repetition and the Western approach. In English, we have a couple of sayings that deal with repetition:

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. 
Third time's the charm.

So, third time's the charm, but after that, we tend to view things as drudgery. Unnecessarily beating a dead horse. In the Eastern cultures, they deal with repetition very differently. Mr. Pudewa shared a proverb he'd learned during the three years he spent in Japan studying with Dr. Suzuki:

10,000 times, then begins understanding.

The reason that we return to the classics -or to scripture- is that there's more there than can be learned in an afternoon. If, in looking at the Bible, we say, "Oh, yes, I read that," and then think that we are done, we have missed the most beautiful things scripture has to teach us: it is only through returning and rereading, pondering, and letting it soak into us, that we begin to understand its teachings. Likewise, it is foolishness to think that, after a single sheet of math facts our child has mastered them. Sure, he can show comprehension of a math topic in a single afternoon, but if we think we are done and never revisit the exercise then it's not going to stick. The learning will not be permanent, and he will not be able to call upon it to assist with later, more complected problems. Which is why our family does timed tests: 100 problems in 5 minutes takes a lot of repetition to work up to. The problems must be automatic, or they can't do them that fast. And automatic, permanently learned, perpetually available out of his own head, is exactly what I'm looking for with math facts. Interestingly, Hero(11) has learned a number of important character lessons in doing his timed tests. For instance, he will tell me now, as he's sitting down to take a practice test, about how if he stresses about going quickly, he knows that it will slow him down, so he just takes it as it comes, and tries to stay relaxed under pressure. I had no idea that making him learn addition and subtraction facts for timed tests was going to teach that, but it's a fantastic lesson. And he knows those math facts really really well.

As is the case so often in a Classical Education, the "academic work" is as much a vehicle for learning life lessons and character lessons as it is an end unto itself: being well prepared to meet adult economic goals is almost a fringe benefit. The most important parts of education all happen in the soul.

Here's a short clip from a moving talk that Elder Scott gave in Conference a few years ago: 

The same benefits that Elder Scott talks about from memorizing scripture, that of having it available to use, to be of comfort, to assist us in time of need, is also true of other things that we memorize.

Mr. Pudewa talked about how he would ask his violin students to continually be reviewing their old pieces, and that the result was that, once a student had completed the 10 book series, they had some 15+ hours of music memorized: they were constantly reviewing the old songs, with the result that if a Book 8 student (college level) was playing a Book 1 song, they would play it like a Book 8 student - much more beautifully and musically than what they had done when they were a Book 1 student. Additionally, having that much music internalized like that, he said, would give them an edge in activities like improvising and composing: it gives them a deep well to draw from when they want to become creative. After listening to this, when I was working up exam questions for my kids this week, one of the things that I am having them do is I'm having them play all their old Suzuki songs as well as all the folk songs they've learned. Although we haven't been perfectly diligent about review work, and certainly not systematic about it, when I had Hero play his Suzuki songs for me, he was able to get through all but one of them. I made note of the ones that were a little less polished, and we'll make those review songs that get focused on in the next term. I'll also have him play the folk songs he's learned before we complete our exams. Our usual practice routine for violin is that they should practice one new song, an old song, and an exercise, and that's the minimum that it takes to say they have "practiced". Perhaps it's not so surprising it's working so well: that that falls right in line with Dr. Perrin's suggestion that we ought to spend around a third of our time on review. Honestly, I wish that when I had been learning piano, I had done this. I spent years and years studying the piano, but if I don't have music, I can't play: I seldom memorized, and songs that had been "passed off" were seldom ever played again; in many cases, once they were passed off I returned the music to my teacher and never saw it again. The difference between that style of teaching and Suzuki teaching is already striking; I'm seriously considering working on memorizing more piano music, and it's definitely informing the way that I want to approach my banjo learning.

All this repetition, however, must be approached correctly: if we beat the information into the student, but in the process, beat the love of learning out of them, then we have failed. Miserably.

"The only way to produce a scholar is to produce a student who loves to learn!"
-Andrew Pudewa, "What Are We Really Doing Here?"

It's ok to use worksheets to practice your math facts, particularly if you have a child like Dragon(7) who asks for them. But if your child hates them, then it's ok to find other methods to practice math facts: we need to know our students well enough to be able to present things palatably for them. But we also need to know them well enough to recognize when they are not yet mature enough to realize, not just the value of a certain skill they will need later in life, but the beauty of a truth that we are presenting them.

Knowledge of truth, combined with proper regard for it, and its faithful observance, constitutes true education. The mere stuffing of the mind with a knowledge of facts is not education. The mind must not only possess a knowledge of truth, but the soul must revere it, cherish it, love it as a priceless gem. 
-Joseph F. Smith

Our use of repetition needs to be aimed to assist them to learn to love the truth that we are teaching, to assist them to see the beauty in the regularity of the patterns of mathematics, the wonders of the natural world, the heritage of beauty we share in the folk songs or classical music and art. It's ok if they don't start out loving math; part of the purpose of education is to order the affections, to learn to love the truth -- and math is full of truth. If loving the good, the true, and the beautiful  always came naturally we wouldn't need to be educated! So it's ok and even expected that there will be resistance at times. The teacher's job is to help the student see past their initial distaste.

Learning new truths is an exhilarating experience and a good teacher awakens that joy.
-Elder John A. Widstow, quoted in Teach Ye Diligently by Boyd K. Packer, p 194

Distaste for lovely, true things (such as math) is a problem with us, not the math. But how we meet that resistance, as we work through the teaching and reviewing that we do, it matters. In addition to overcoming distaste -teaching our students to love the lovely- we also need to help guard them against other pitfalls, such as pride.

When a tool we are using sends a child the message, "I know," and builds up that pride, and kills curiosity, and the desire to learn more, then something has malfunctioned. ... Something has gone wrong at that point. Even if it's just the interaction of that particular child with this particular tool of learning. 
-Brandy Vincel, The Late Great Memory Debate

I think that one way that we can try to avoid building up pride is to be choosy about what we memorize, and to remember the purpose for which we do it. It's not really about knowing all the Presidents or all the States and Capitols (though those may be useful); it's about educating the heart. We should choose how we spend our time with that in mind.

It's also interesting that Miss Mason didn't talk about memory work -the phrase actually doesn't appear in her volumes- she talked about "recitation", which she felt was accessible to all children. 

Memory work, recitation, and a classical Charlotte Mason education
Photo credit: David Vandagriff; used by permission.

I suspect that, not only is it accessible to all children, it's far more accessible to adults than we would like to think: we know, we have memorized, vast amounts of information. Every word you speak or write in your day has been not only memorized, but internalized to the point of being able to call on it mostly without thinking, at any point. Most of us can say what's on our minds with a great degree of nuance. There is a sizable body of memorized knowledge that you use to accomplish your usual daily tasks. Stories that you know, from the Three Little Pigs to the most difficult texts, if you can tell about them without looking at them, then you have them memorized. The same with the hymns you hum while you work, the songs on the radio, the sayings that your mother told you and that you now tell your own children. All these things are drawn from our memory: they are memorized. Most of them in the course of just living life. The trick, when intentionally self-educating, and in educating our children, is to harness those organic processes and use them intentionally. I think this is why Miss Mason chose to focus on recitation, rather than memorization: it pulls the things learned more towards the every day. She's signaling her intent that students should plan to use the things they are learning by heart.


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