Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Homeschooling :: Beginnings

I have often toyed with the idea of writing about homeschooling. After all, it takes up a huge amount of my time and my thoughts and has become a formative piece of my life. But I never really felt like I had anything to share. There are so many others who have already discussed homeschooling in ways that capture the essence of what we strive for more perfectly than I could ever hope to.

However, I was recently reminded by my sister-in-law that even though there's nothing that hasn't been said before, no one has heard it from me yet. So I am setting out to write about homeschooling as it exists in our home. There will more than likely be quite a few posts, since I've found, after thinking about it, that I actually do have a lot I'd like to share. I do not offer these posts as advice, nor do I pretend to know what I'm doing (this is definitely a learn-as-you-go sort of project!). I am just sharing our journey.


In the beginning, when my eldest child was only a baby, I had a dear friend who was studying to become a teacher in a Montessori school. She was passionate about Montessori philosophy and gave me a few books to read on the topic. I read them eagerly and was amazed to discover that very young children are, in fact, capable of much more than I had ever thought to give them credit for. I thought about trying to send my son to a Montessori school, but it turned out not to even be an option, so my next idea was to keep him at home. At least at home I could try my best to provide a Montessori-like environment and I would end up with a kid who was able to develop in the way that was most appropriate for him and which would allow him to flourish. (At least, that's what I told myself. The fact was I was very eager to show the world how smart my kid was and since Montessori methods promised good results, and since all the homeschoolers I knew were very smart, I decided I wanted that).

So I began to research homeschooling. I went to the library and checked out every single book I could find on the topic. The book I remember most clearly, and which started me down the path I'm on, was Cathy Duffy's 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum. I read it cover to cover and took the quiz about my preferred educational style. The results said that Classical and Charlotte Mason were most in line with what I wanted. I had never heard of either one. So I wrote down the books recommended for more information on those two methods and went back to the library.

I read The Well-Trained Mind by Jesse Wise and Susan Wise Bauer first (which book henceforth will be referred to as WTM). And I loved it. Here was everything I needed all laid out nice and neat and furthermore it would produce really smart kids (by this time I had had another baby). I also read Charlotte Mason's Home Education  and liked it very much, but at the time it was sort of overshadowed by WTM so I don't really remember much of my first impression.

I'm not sure I can lay out the next series of events in a logical sequence. I had another baby and was testing the waters with the beginnings of pre-school activities (I'll talk about what we did for pre-K for another post most likely). During this time I joined the WTM forums and I gleaned an unbelievable amount of information there. I became familiar with all sorts of different curricula and really just had a blast reading about the experiences of other homeschoolers as they puzzled out curriculum choices and shared their opinions about various programs and ideas being tried in their own families.

It was there, at the WTM forums, that the path twisted in a way that I would never have anticipated. By this time I was pregnant with my fourth baby. And one day, while browsing the forum, I stumbled across a thread begun by someone whose username I recognized because I'd bought some books from her via the Orthodox Christian Classical HSers yahoo group. So I opened the thread and I'm not being overly dramatic when I say that one click of the mouse changed the course of my life.

The title of the thread was totally meaningless to me because it mentioned the CiRCE institute, which I had never even heard of. There was talk about how one can provide an education along the lines of what Andrew Kern speaks about. Here was something else I was clueless about - who on earth was Andrew Kern? Someone shared a link to one of his talks, titled Analytical Learning, and my mind was blown.

Blown away. At one point while I was listening I cried. I cried because he was talking about what, deep down, was the ONLY thing I really wanted for my children: to hear the words "Well done" spoken to my own children at the final judgement. And I realized that if that's what I wanted, then I needed to assess every. single. thing I did from there on out in the light of that goal. My guiding question became "Does [whatever I'm currently doing] bring me closer to my goal or does it move me away from it?"

(I'll talk more about where this question has taken us in upcoming posts. I can't promise that these posts will be regular or frequent, but I will do what I can.)

Wednesdays with Words : The Art of Teaching

Linking up with Dawn for Wednesdays with Words.

I recently finished reading The Art of Teaching by Gilbert Highet.  This particular passage really caught my attention. 

Do we use the words "inherit" and "heredity" to cover up our feeling that parents ought to think very carefully about how and what to teach their children, although most of them do not? Do we wish to imply that it will be all right without planning, that what we wish our children to learn will get into them somehow, through their pores perhaps? If so, we are wrong. We know that the world is full of people who are unhappy because they are vague and confused. Yet we often miss the priceless chance of teaching our own children something sure and reliable. The commonest answer to this charge is that we don't know ourselves what is sure and reliable. But that is not true. By the time we have reached the age of thirty-five or forty,  and our children are becoming old enough to be taught the difficult questions, we have found answers which satisfy us as a working basis. Good. Let us teach them to our children. They will criticize them, attack them, and discard them, for a time at least. Good. We have done our duty. We have given them a basis to work on for themselves. They can accuse us of teaching them wrongly (although not usually deliberately of cheating them), and of trying to thrust our opinions down their throats (however gently we teach them, they will say that); but they cannot say we neglected them, wasting forty years of our experience and fifteen years of their lives. 

Monday, August 25, 2014


I had a conversation the other day with a friend of mine who is expecting her first baby. She was telling me that she was going to really make an effort to take care of herself when her son arrives so that she will be better able to care for him. Then she asked me if my own needs were being met and if I was taking care of myself. I told her that I'm doing fine and that even when I feel like things are hard God does provide and I am able to make it through the tougher days, and then the conversation moved on.

But since that conversation I've been thinking about this quite a bit. Taking care of myself is essential when I have four children and a husband who depend on me. I can't really care for anyone well if I don't get enough sleep or if I'm not getting enough of the right kind of food or exercise. I have heard it said over and over that it's important to carve out "me" time in my life so that I can have a chance to recharge and refresh myself in order to be able to give of myself to my family. And I find it to be true. I am a much better wife and mother, and person in general, when I don't feel stretched thin and at the end of my rope.

I have found though, that even if I try very hard to get enough sleep and eat right and have the time I need to refresh, there are still days when all this is just not enough. There is something inherently exhausting in trying to civilize four different savages, each with their own struggles and desires. Sometimes that exhaustion kicks in after less than an hour of being awake and I can't see how I'll ever make it to the end of the day. There are times when I feel like I need to be more alone than usual and being an introvert in a house full of small bodies that need attention all day is another layer of exhaustion added on.

It turns out that "taking care of myself" isn't really all that there is to be done here. It turns out that even if I do everything "right" - go to bed on time, eat 3 square meals, exercise, spend as much alone and/or couple time as I need - this weight that comes with motherhood is still too much for a mama to carry. I cannot do this alone. I am not meant to do this alone.

The fact is that marriage, and the motherhood that comes with it much of the time, is a path to salvation. My inadequacy is not something to be ashamed of or to resist or even to try to change. Rather it is a reminder for me: it is a call to repentance. It is a call to surrender everything - squabbling children, dirty dishes, a need to get away from it all - to my Christ. It is call to humble myself and to open my life to receive healing; to receive His mercy. Repentance as a state of being and as a condition of the heart allows me to surrender my own will and my own needs to His will so that He can meet my true needs. And He is my only true need. Apart from Him I need everything; with Him I need nothing.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Glory to God

Glory to God....
... for sunny days when it was supposed to storm all week. 
... for plenty of time to ease back into a normal routine
... for unexpected new books! 
... for time to play outside with my children.
... for having lots of time to spend with my husband. 
Glory to God for all things! 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wednesdays with Words :: The Little Prince

Thank you to Dawn for hosting Wednesdays with Words! I've missed this and I'm glad to share again.  

We are currently reading The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. It's my first time through this beautiful little book and I'm finding that it's very sweet and quite refreshing. 

My favorite passage so far (I've included more of the passage for context, but you can skip to the italicized part if you want - that's what I really wanted to share):

"... if you tame me, my life will be filled with sunshine. I'll know the sound of footsteps that will be different from all the rest. Other footsteps send me back underground. Yours will call me out of my burrow like music. And then, look! You see the wheat fields over there? I don't eat bread. For me wheat is of no use whatever. Wheat fields say nothing to me. Which is sad. But you have hair the color of gold. So it will be wonderful, once you've tamed me! The wheat, which is golden, will remind me of you. And I'll love the sound of the wind in the wheat..."
The fox fell silent and stared at the little prince for a long while. "Please... tame me!" he said.

"I'd like to," the little prince replied, "but I haven't much time. I have friends to find and so many things to learn."

"The only things you learn are the things you tame," said the fox. "People haven't time to learn anything. They buy things ready-made in stores. But since there are no stores where you can buy friends, people no longer have friends. If you want a friend, tame me!" 

and then a bit later, more wisdom from the fox:

"People have forgotten this truth," the fox said.  "But you mustn't forget it. You become responsible forever for what you've tamed..."

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Here and Now

I recently read and enjoyed Sarah Mackenzie's ebook Teaching from Rest (If you are a homeschooler and have not read this book, you really should!) In the book she brought up the idea that multi-tasking can really make it difficult to live right now, in this moment.  When we are trying to juggle the responsibilities of teaching, laundry, cooking, cleaning, lessons and other outside activities, (not to mention trying to fit in some down time), it becomes very difficult nearly impossible to focus on what is right in front of us right now. Sarah's advice is to make an effort to focus on what it is we are doing at this moment in time, and to keep our attention on it until it is finished. In other words, she suggest that we pay attention to what we are doing.

Of course this is great advice. But like many pieces of great advice, it's not so easy to live it out as it is to say it. Paying attention to things is a habit that must be cultivated and carefully kept. If one has already formed a habit of inattention, then it takes great effort to overcome it.

Drifting from one action to the next, or even from one thought to the next without purpose and without mindfulness takes us out of this moment altogether. Where or when we are I'm not sure, but it's not here or now.

If we allow ourselves to follow all the trails and threads of distracting thoughts as they occur our vision becomes blurred and we fail to see Christ in our midst. We are so busy running ourselves ragged that we don't have the ability to stop and see Him or hear what He has to say. Yes, we might read our Bible and say our prayers, but if our attention is not used to being held on one thing it's not so easy to even pay attention to what we read or what we pray. 

And if we can't be fully present then we are missing something big. Because here and now is where Christ is. The eternal I AM.