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23 June 2016

Love Me Some Nature!

There are a a lot of parts of our usual school routine that have softened for the summer. But Nature Study isn't one of them. We've been outside more this summer than any before. I probably haven't been outside this much since I was a little kid. It's fantastic. And I don't feel at all bad about "neglecting" our books: soon enough winter will return, and going out will be much more difficult. And when it gets below 0F, I'm just not interested. So we're savoring summer while it lasts! 

And it's been such a lovely summer already!

I saw these Sandhill Cranes closer than I ever have before. I was driving when I saw them, and couldn't linger, but I did pull over and watch for just a minute. Apparently, there was something tasty in those weeds; the cranes were pretty intent. 

The water lilies at "our" preserve are blooming. They're so beautiful! We've enjoyed them for several weeks now. The buds, which I'd never noticed before, are pretty cool looking. Our pond has been just so pretty the past little while. This is its best time of year. 

At home, my gardens are less neglected than usual, though there's still plenty they could have done. I made my first-ever lavender harvest, and felt a little silly for ever being intimidated by doing it. It's easy and they make such pretty little bundles. I've got them drying now, which will give me longer to figure out what I'm going to do with them. I've got some peppermint and lemon balm from the garden as well, which is fun. If I get organized, I want to pick some plantain and dandelion and dehydrate them as well. Messing around in the garden is tons of fun.

Near the end of last summer, one of my girlfriends gave us a huge bubble maker. She'd made one for her kids, and whipped one up for us too, because she's awesome like that. We stashed it for the winter, and Hero remembered it the other day, so we finally got it out while my sister and her kids were over. It was a hit! I didn't take very many pictures, just this one of a smallish bubble, right before my nephew ran through it. They probably spent an hour messing with the bubbles. There's been regular bubbles all week, well. 

So many good things going on, and we're just soaking it all up! Hope your summer is as lovely as ours is so far!

17 June 2016

School Outside

I've heard people talk about doing school outside, and wondered how they did it. I still don't know how I'd make it happen at the park. But we're figuring out how to do it in the yard, and it's very pleasant.

Recently, I've been much more careful about my lesson plans, even going so far as to lay out our books the night before. It's not much trouble, but it smooths out the day remarkably. We can go smoothly from one activity to the next, without stopping to search for our books. And because I put away the books as we finish, they're in their right places when I go to lay them out last thing at night. (If I could be as on top of my dishes, I'd be golden!) So when we decide to do outside school, it's a simple matter to grab the piles and take them to the outside table. Read alouds, poetry, memory work, and all similar work are easily carried to the swing set and happen while the kids are climbing and swinging. It took a few tries, but we've got the hang of that. It's a bit slower than doing it inside, but it gets done, and the extra sunshine and birdsong are totally worth it. 

The thing we're working to figure out now is the seat work. It's harder to sit and concentrate outside. Math and maps and so on.  On these days I usually offer the kids the option of working in or out, and they've been choosing outside. No surprises there. So they're learning to sit and work for brief periods while they're outside. It's nice to be able to both be outside AND avoid the summer slump from taking too long off. Setting up the work, especially the math, the night before, is critical to our recent success at being outside so much more. We don't do it all the time, but when we do, it's so nice.

Being outside more is a win in my book!

10 June 2016

20 Principles: Evidence of Things Not Seen

This post is part of a series. Feel free to visit the series index for more thoughts on Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles of Classical Education.

Education, like faith, is the evidence of things not seen.
-Charlotte Mason, volume 6 page 39

She is referencing the familiar verse from the beginning of Hebrews 11:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.
-Hebrews 11:1

This idea of close kinship between faith and education stopped me in my tracks, and I've come back a number of times to ponder over it.

Education. Evidence of things not seen. Like faith, the seed from which knowing springs. After a while, it started to make so much sense.

Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is not something ethereal, floating loosely in the air. Faith does not fall upon us by chance or stay with us by birthright.
-Neal L Anderson,  Faith Is Not by Chance, but by Choice

Education is also not some ethereal, loosely floating thing. Education also doesn't fall upon us by chance or stay with us by birthright. Both exercising faith and becoming educated are choices that we make, and which need to be made on an ongoing basis, or you lose the progress you have made.

Miss Mason is right: faith and education have a lot in common.

That which was born of the spirit, the idea, came first and demanded to confirm and illustrate. "How can these things be?" we ask, and the answer is not evident.
-Charlotte Mason, volume 6, page 39, emphasis original

It is the unseen, the mysterious, that leads us to questions; that arouses our curiosity. Real education of genuine students -the lighting of a fire, not merely filling the mind with facts- is student-driven at any age, whether the quest is to an adult's quest to know the intricacies of the immune system, or a child's drive to know what makes the sky blue, why the geese fly in formation, and how the doorknob works. 

"We do not teach the principle of faith [or education] merely for what it will do for one in the next world. We believe that there is real practical value in mental concepts which increase one's self-respect and effectiveness here and now. To believe that there is an all-wise Father in charge of the universe and that we are related to him, that we are in fact children of God with the "hallmark" of divinity upon us, is to live in a different world from those who believe that man is a mere animal concerned only with requirements for creature existence, which must end at death. Because of low aim, the lives of such people lack trajectory and vision and fall short of their spiritual capacity."
-Hugh B. Brown, October 1969

08 June 2016

Scripture: Color and Sort

Brother Bednar gave a talk, A Reservoir of Living Water, that I go back to over and over. I have learned tons from this talk, and I have no doubt that I will learn more from it in the future. In the talk, Brother Bednar explains several ways of studying the scriptures:

I now want to review with you three basic ways or methods of obtaining living water from the scriptural reservoir: (1) reading the scriptures from beginning to end, (2) studying the scriptures by topic, and (3) searching the scriptures for connections, patterns, and themes. Each of these approaches can help satisfy our spiritual thirst if we invite the companionship and assistance of the Holy Ghost as we read, study, and search.

He spends some time explaining each of these types of scripture study, and as part of the explanation of searching for connections, patterns, and themes, he shares this: 

If you promise not to laugh, I will tell you about one of the simple ways I search for scriptural themes. I do not advocate or recommend that you use the same approach; different people use different methods with equal effectiveness. I am simply describing a process that works well for me.

He then describes how he studied the spirit and purposes of gathering. First, he created a list of all the verses that use the word gather, then marked similar verses with the same color, cut apart his verses in order to sort them into piles by color, then into smaller sets within that. 

I confess, I did smile when he described the process. 

Then I tried it out. 

This is an intense type of study! I've been pondering what humility is, in the scriptural sense, for quite some time, so I made that my topic. Turns out the scriptures have tons to say about humility. To make a list of all the related verses, I went to LDS.org and searched for both humble and humility and copied the results into my word processor. Even after I reformatted things to get the most possible onto my page, there were still pages and pages of verses. Many more than I was expecting. So I got out my scripture crayons and started trying to group the verses that are similar by color. 

It's harder than it sounds, actually. Some are pretty easy to pick out: there are verses that deal with the blessings of humility, and verses that deal with the consequences that arise from a lack of humility. But a surprising number are tricky to categorize, and the process is a slow process with plenty of stops to ponder what the verses are saying and how they ought to be grouped. 

As I was going along, I noticed that there's a list -which will clearly be a relatively large list- of actions that are associated with being humble: things humble people do. I've started putting these things into a list in my scripture journal. 

But, in addition to making my list (it'll make a great scripture chain when I'm done), I kept coloring. And it kept being challenging. I changed the color of some verses, added a few more colors to my options, and gradually got more of my verses colored, though some of them continue to be tough to categorize. I think that the students listening to Brother Bednar might have been less inclined to chuckle at him, had they realized the amount of work he was describing! I work on my Psalms study projects probably once or twice each week, as time allows for a deeper dive into the scriptures, and this project is taking quite a few sessions! Happily, it's a type of project that waits its turn nicely. 

At this point, I decided that white is a color, and it might be easier to sort the remaining verses if I could get all the uncolored ones together, and go through just those.   

So I found some scissors and started cutting. Right away, I realized that it would be easier to work with these if they weren't so long and skinny: next time I'll set up some columns on my page. It's quite the pile of skinny little papers. 

One of the interesting things is how much I have learned already, even though the project is far from complete. I've learned several things that humility is not -- notably, humility is not an excuse for beating ourselves up. It's not even really about our lowness or unworthiness in relation to the highness of God's perfection. That isn't one of the themes that I'm finding and coloring as I do this project. Satan always has a counterfeit, to distract us from the real thing, and to injure us when we're expecting growth. Self-devaluing is a counterfeit, and will harm us, where genuine humility will lift us toward our potential as sons and daughters of the Most High. 

I'm not finished with the project, yet, but I have learned a whole bunch already, and the project got somewhat derailed, and sat and waited for several months, so I thought that I'd share what I've discovered already from this method of study. 

Have fun coloring! 

04 June 2016

20 Principles: Children are Born Persons

This post is part of a series. Feel free to visit the series index for more thoughts on Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles of Classical Education.

The very first thing that Charlotte Mason asserts when laying out her thoughts on education is that children are "born persons". Which is to say that they are not blank lumps, filled by education and training to become fully human, fully individual, at some later date. They do not slowly differentiate from all other blank babies as they experience and learn, rather they arrive from God as fully differentiated individuals. She says,

...a child is born with a mind as complete and as beautiful as his beautiful little body... his mind is the instrument of his education and that his education does not produce his mind.
-Philosophy of Education, vol. 6, p36, emphasis original.

And I find myself thinking, "Of course! Our children are not created at birth, but they are God's own spirit children, entrusted to our care. This is why our prayers begin, "Our Father in Heaven."

The doctrine is simply this: life did not begin with mortal birth. We lived in spirit form before we entered mortality. We are spiritually the children of God. This doctrine of premortal life was known to ancient Christians. For nearly five hundred years the doctrine was taught, but it was then rejected as a heresy by a clergy that had slipped into the Dark Ages of apostasy.
-Boyd K. Packer, The Mystery of Life

Mercifully, he has restored this truth in our day. This idea of man being a child of God is all throughout the Bible:

For in him we live, and move, and have our being ... For we are also his offspring.
-Acts 17:29

... all of you are children of the most High.
-Psalm 82:6

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ ... For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son...
-Romans 8:16-17, 29

And the Bible (as well as modern scripture) also makes clear that our spirits existed before the creation of the world.

Where was thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? ... When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
-Job 38:4,7

So of course children are born fully persons, with their own personality and their own mind. They were persons prior to conception, when they existed as Spirit children of God.

But what's beautiful about Miss Mason's work is the way that she -and the Ambleside Online moms- have spent time on this question:

"So, what?"

Children are born persons, so, what do we do about it? How should that shape the way we teach, the way we parent, and the way we interact with the little ones around us? So, what are the practical implications of this idea?

In no particular order, here are some of the practical applications that I'm mulling over this afternoon:

Being patient. This can have a lot of implications, but I'm thinking specifically of giving them enough time to think it through and come to a conclusion or decision. One of the forum moms put it so beautifully in the discussion of this principle:

This prodding for the instant correct response doesn't respect the ability of the child's mind to be able to make these connections for themselves. This is why fill-in-the-blank style comprehension questions fall so far short. And the other point it raises is that we need to give adequate time for the child's mind to work, to chew over the ideas they have heard in order to make a response. It is so easy to want the narration instantly because you have other things to move on to, but when we remember that child are born persons, we give them the time to collect their thoughts in order to share what they have heard.

There's an interesting conversation about "prodding" on the forum, Tania's comment getting right at the heart of it, but by no means the only worthy idea. Not only is it easy to want -and prod our children for- narrations (and other school work) instantly, but there's an application for this as well when dealing with behavior and discipline. Our Heavenly Father has given us a space in which to work through things, make our conclusions, and act on our choices. We ought to do the same when we are working with our own children. We need to remember: they are persons. And we need to get out of the way, rather than hovering and smothering their self-reliance, and  (all with the best of intentions) stealing opportunities to act for themselves on the opportunities they with which they are presented. Helicopter parenting - and helicopter teaching - does the child no favors at all, and it's a painfully easy trap to fall into. And a tough balancing act to not go too far the other direction and end up mired in permissiveness and its ill effects. We talk about the path to Eternal Life as a straight and narrow way -- but the scriptures, often as not, use the word strait, meaning narrow or constricted, and I frequently feel that correct action is poised, balanced on the knife's edge between two extremes. In this case, the extremes parents must avoid are being too permissive, on the one hand, and smothering the decision making process on the other; correct action will be at the sweet spot between.  In the schoolroom, this means that while we are responsible for presenting ideas, what Miss Mason calls "spreading the feast", the actual learning is the child's responsibility -- and not the parent's or the teacher's. 

Another way we can apply this idea that children are fully persons is to respect their Agency. As parents, we are charged with teaching certain things -- but we need our children's input. If they are to reach the amazing potential that is implicit in being God's offspring, then they need to be actively involved in shaping their lives, and even their educations. If that sentence feels a bit scary (it sometimes does to me) then we need to do some careful examination of both ourselves (I struggle with being a control-freak), and of the teaching our children have had this far. Ultimately, our children are self-determining, and the nearer to adulthood they get the more autonomy they will and should have. In the schoolroom, this means that while some things are required, we should also be honoring their interests, and making room for their passions.

Finally, whereas our children are God's children first, we must welcome Him into our educational process and seek His help at every step.

Neither the alphabet nor the multiplication table should be
taught without the Spirit of God.
-Brigham Young, quoted by Karl G. Maeser, Educating Zion, p2

03 June 2016

Psalm 10: Repellent Vices

This psalm is another one that I read and re-read before it started to come into focus. One thing that I'm starting to really appreciate about studying and blogging about every single psalm is that it makes me slow down and really see them: I have to be patient and persistent in searching for what the Spirit will teach me about these chapters. It can be frustrating, but I am finding that it's yielding some lovely results.

So I re-read the 10th Psalm. Again. And this time, I'm noticing a whole lot of what not to do. This psalm has a lengthy list of vices, sins, and behaviors to guard against.

  • persecuting the poor
  • boasting
  • not seeking God
  • scoffing (puffing) at your enemy
  • overestimating your own strength
  • speaking curses
  • speaking deceitfully or fraudulently
  • murdering the innocent
  • setting your eyes against the poor
  • lying in wait to catch the poor
  • thinking God doesn't see you

There's a lot in there. I think it's interesting how many of the items on this list deal with how we treat the poor, and generally how you treat those who society suggests are of lesser status -and less status typically goes hand-in-hand with the idea that they are less valuable, which of course is completely untrue. But how we treat the "invisible" people - the cashier, the teller, the housekeeper at work, it matters. It really is true: you can tell a lot about a person by watching how they treat the waitress. 

So. Vices. We should be getting rid of them. But we don't talk about them much in our day. We don't have a good long look at deceitfulness (and the rest), to see how ugly it really is. I've also recently been reading a lot from Charlotte Mason, a 19th Century educator who has inspired a homeschooling movement, and she talked about the value of seeing the contrasts between virtue and vice, and I think it is her words that have made it so that I can see this list of vices and sins more clearly. This is what she said:

In the Arena Chapel at Padua, we have Giotto's Faith and Infidelity, Love and Envy, Charity and Avarice, Justice and Injustice, Temperance and Gluttony, Hope and Despair, pictured forth in unmistakeable characters for the reading of the unlearned and ignorant. We have the same theme, treated with a difference, in what Mr. Ruskin calls the "Bible of Amiens," where Humility and Pride, Temperance and Gluttony, Chastity and Lust, Charity and Avarice, Hope and Despair, Faith and Idolatry, Perseverance and Atheism, Love and Discord, Obedience and Rebellion, Courage and Cowardice, Patience and Anger, Gentleness and Churlishness,--in pairs of quatre-foils, an upper and a lower, under the feet of each Apostle, who was held to personify the special virtue. But we know nothing about cardinal virtues and deadly sins. We have no teaching by authoritative utterance strong in the majesty of virtue. We work out no schemes of ethical teaching in marble, we paint no scale of virtues on our walls, and no repellent vices. Our poets speak for us it is true; but the moral aphorisms, set like jewels though they be on the forefinger of time, are scattered here and there, and we leaven it serenely to happy chance whether our children shall or shall not light upon the couple of lines which should fire them with the impulse to virtuous living. It may be said that we neglect all additional ethical teaching because we have the Bible; but how far and how do we use it? Here we have indeed the most perfect ethical system, the most inspiring and heart-enthralling, that the world has ever possessed; but, alas, it is questionable whether we attempt to set a noble child's heart beating with the thought that he is required to be perfect as his Father which is in Heaven is perfect.
-Charlotte Mason, Teaching in the Branches

Looking at some of the works of art that she mentions, relics from a time when Bibles were copied by hand, and only the very elite had access to them, is interesting. In order to teach, they would paint and sculpt the virtues and vices on the walls of cathedrals: virtues to measure yourself against, and also demonstrations of how repellent vice is. There's a lot you can learn from the Bad Guys; I've written about that before. It's pleasant and inspiring to study virtue, and deciding to develop virtues is a hopeful, optimistic enterprise. But it takes courage to have a long look at your faults and to then head to the scriptures and study those faults.

I love, too, that the Psalmist didn't leave us with only repellent vices; the end of the chapter is an assurance of the Lord's care for those who follow Him, and hope for relief in Him.

Photo courtesy LDS Media Library

02 June 2016

Lego Transformers

We have a lot of Lego projects at our house. When we started getting the kids Legos, The Daddy and I had no idea how educational they are. We knew there were fun. And we knew they were cool. But we didn't realize how much spatial visualization and problem solving and that sort of thing goes into changing a pile of pieces into a creation.

My kids are way better at this than me. Which is pretty awesome.

So they've been watching Transformers cartoons (yes, from the 1980's, of Saturday Morning Cartoon fame), and now they're building Transformers. With Legos. That actually transform. It's pretty awesome. Check it out!

 Dragon made a Dinobot:

Hero made Metroplex - which is apparently a whole city.

And he also made Swoop, which is another Dinobot. This one is probably the most elaborate; it took the better part of three days to get it just right.

And, with all the excitement about Transformers and Legos and movie-making, Peanut had to make one too. It's pretty cute.

01 June 2016

ひらがな Post-its

I've been trying to help the kids, particularly Dragon, learn ひらがな, the Japanese alphabet, for a while now, and it's been tough. The difference in environmental exposure between that and the English alphabet is really apparent, and I'm really seeing the dramatic difference it makes for literacy to have stories, signs, and so on in the environment assisting with familiarity with the letters!

But we've hit on a method that's working: post-it notes. It was inspired by this clip from YouTube, where the lady has square papers that she writes on. 

And I thought, "I can find squares like that!" Mine are sticky on one side, but that works: We write, we scoot them around and make a couple 2-3 letter words, and then I stick them on the fridge. The plan is daily practice.

I've caught the kids looking at them a couple times. And, if nothing else, it increases the environmental exposure to Japanese that the kids are getting. Which is all to the good. It's a long trip to fluency, but baby steps get us closer!


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