Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Creatures in Exile


Creatures in Exile 
Caitlin Beauchamp


Winter was so long, friends. In its damp final days, we jostled against each other in small rooms, aching to be turned loose into sun and wind. At last came an afternoon mild and golden. I sent my children outdoors shoeless, feeling that all our trials were over. And yet even out in the open air the indoor squabbles persisted. Everyone wanted the tricycle; everyone wanted one specific bucket; one child wanted to be alone in the sandpit and the others wouldn’t oblige. Call it desperation or wisdom, but all I could think to do was go to the creek. 

Our creek forms a little greenbelt through the neighborhood. It is narrow and shallow and sometimes nearly runs dry, yet it has carved a quiet gully for itself, sheltered by a scrubby wood. We stepped through an opening in the trees behind the neighborhood playground and began the steep descent into the gully, working our way slowly under low branches and over exposed roots until the little path leveled out and joined the main trail through the woods. We followed this upstream along the bank of the quiet green creek.  Somewhere ahead of us, almost obscured by the undergrowth, a lighter flickered in the hands of a young teenage boy. Pot smoke lingered in his wake. He walked ahead out of sight, and we turned onto an ascending path that carried us to the crest of a little waterfall. Above the fall, the creek bed widens to a shelf of craggy shale; here we settled in. My children scrambled over rocks and roots and splashed in their rainboots through the low, puddling sheet of water, in a world of their own. Already, the peace of the place had descended on them.  

My three small children and I find too many ways to get at odds with each other at home. For one thing, there are so many objects lying around to be scattered and misused. Then there are the burdens created by my expectations and visions. We mothers dream of lovely days, orderly and meaningful, with an aesthetic imbibed, perhaps, from the curated lives of internet strangers. One of my children just recently joined our family through foster care; in the wake of such life change, it becomes clear how impossible these aspirational images truly are. We do not frolic along a pristine riverside, charmingly dressed in linen and accessorized with butterfly nets. We go to the creek in humility and desperate need, and one child is still wearing pajamas. 

But in the simplicity of the creek we find refuge and solace. We have nothing particular to do or see or accomplish. There are rocks and sticks for everyone, few expectations, and plenty of space. There is also plenty of trash; we live in the city, after all, and this creek bears many different kinds of use. Below the waterfall, a permanent island of litter stagnates against the creek bank—fast food packaging, cigarette butts, bottles, beer cans. Still, always at the creek we are ministered to by things plain and true—water, stone, juniper, moss, sun and wind and the quiet passage of time.

The more I learn about the land beneath my overgrown city, the more I ache for it—the felled woods, the golden-brown prairies embroidered with green, shady streams. First came settlers and farmers, then the postwar housing boom raised a crop of little houses, row after row after row. Thank goodness, this creek and bit of woods were left to us. Here, in nests and burrows and shallow pools, a remnant remains of the old wilderness—armadillos, tortoises, hawks, even a few coyotes, caught on home security cameras prowling the neighborhood at night. These are creatures in exile, huddled here along this graffitied creek bank because it’s the closest thing they can find to the wild land they were made for.

I think about the coyotes often. I lost a cat to them once; I wasn’t over-fond of the cat, truthfully, and meanwhile the lurking presence of coyotes in suburbia is invigorating. I wonder if somewhere in their cells they hold ancestral memories of the prairie. I wonder if they feel the burden of their exile. Perhaps this is simple projection of my own longing. It seems to me that some of the solace I find at the creek is in the suggestion of what it was once, when the land was wilder. The creek itself is in exile, in a way—cut off from its sources, polluted, siphoned through drainage pipes where it becomes an inconvenience.

Reader, this is all a parable. It seems to me that we too are creatures in exile, burdened with longing for something lost. We live in an era of change and uncertainty; we feel unmoored from cultural memory. This sense of disconnectedness is the hallmark of modernity, prominent in our culture since the upheaval of the Great War. As mothers and educators we sense it keenly. When we think of the education we wish to give our children, we feel inadequate. Who will show us the way? There is too much we never learned ourselves, too much our communities have forgotten. We feel isolated and uncertain and we grow restless, searching hungrily for resources to bolster us. We accumulate stuff: more philosophies, more curricula, more picturesque manipulatives, more podcasts, more mentors, more activities. Still, our uneasiness and longing remain.

But it’s too pat a conclusion to say that our sense of lostness dates back neatly to the turn of the 20th century. In truth, we have been in exile almost ever since the world began, since the garden gates closed behind our first parents. We were made for a place more whole than anything we’ve known; deep in our souls, we’re always longing for Eden, our first home. Perhaps beneath our restless parenting aspirations and our nagging discontent lies this homesickness, though we seldom think to call it by name. Perhaps in calling it by name, we might find liberty. So: let us confess together that we secretly hope to restore ourselves and our children to Eden by our own heroic efforts. Let us also confess together that this was never possible. 

We stayed at the creek for two hours that afternoon. As the light began to fade, we gathered ourselves up and retraced our path through the trees. “I wish I was a creature so I could sleep here all night,” my daughter said as I lifted her down off the rock ledge where she had been quietly playing. How I wished it too, for I’d begun thinking of what waited for me at home: lunch dishes still on the table, breakfast dishes in the sink unwashed, foster care paperwork to complete, scattered toys, a sofa piled with laundry, the same old behaviors to discipline. It had been the kind of day that makes a mockery of all our brightest aspirations as mothers, homemakers, educators. And yet, our time at the creek gave me fresh courage, because it reminded me that while our children’s needs are profound, they are also simple. They thrive on good stories, rich relationships, hours of water and stones and sunshine.  They do not need our restless quest for the just-right resource, the elaborate system. They need us to learn to abide, to sink roots into a life that is deep and plain and true. 

As I write this, our creek is the scene of an active police chase. A car theft gone wrong, or so says neighborhood gossip, and now the suspect is hiding in the greenbelt somewhere while squad cars and a helicopter circle. Somewhat irrationally, my immediate prayer is that the moss won’t be badly trampled. Our creek isn’t pure, idyllic, or without risk. And yet the wild creatures find refuge there, and the trees spread their trash-tangled roots out along the water, and my children are given exactly what they need. 

Even so, havens of refuge remain for us while we are in exile. There are still deep places to be found, where goodness, truth, and beauty pool like water. These springs are muddied and imperfect, and they will never fully satisfy our longing, but they are full of blessing just the same. Meanwhile, let us not wish away our longing. If it is a burden, it is also a gift, pointing us to the Savior who is Himself the living water. He is making all things new, and He will lead the exiles home. 


~ Caitlin Beauchamp was among the first AmblesideOnline graduates. She is the daughter of AO Advisory board member Lynn Bruce, and was entirely schooled at home with Charlotte Mason methods from K-12th grades. Caitlin holds a BA and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Texas at Dallas. She lives in Texas with her husband (also homeschooled), their two children, and sometimes a foster child. Caitlin is a writer and poet, and a regular contributor to Afterthoughts blog. Instagram @caitlin.beauchamp.

~ Painting by Sheila Atchley- a momentary glimpse of a work-in-progress, as yet untitled; ink on primed wood, 2019. Used with permission. Discover more of Sheila's art and writing at sheilaatchley.art and on Instagram @sheilaatchleydesigns.


Thursday, March 14, 2019

Reading Challenge!

Challenge and a Quiz: Consider this excerpt from a PR article:

 "So many mothers say, "I simply have no time for myself!" "I never read a book!" Or else, "I don't think it is right to think of myself!" They not only starve their minds, but they do it deliberately, and with a sense of self-sacrifice which seems to supply ample justification. There are, moreover, unfortunately, only too many people who think that sort of thing so lovely that public opinion appears to justify it. But does public opinion justify anything? Does it justify tight-lacing--or high heels--or bearing-reins for horses? It can never justify anything which leads to the "Oh, it's only mother" tone in any young person. That tone is not the right one. But can it be altered? Each mother must settle this for herself. She must weigh things in the balance. She must see which is the most important--the time spent in luxuriously gloating over the charms of her fascinating baby, or what she may do with that time to keep herself "growing" for the sake of that baby "some day," when it will want her even more than it does now. The only way to do it is to be so strongly impressed with the necessity for growing herself that she herself makes it a real object in life. She can only rarely be helped from the outside.

The resolute planting of Miss Three-years-old in her chair at one end of the table with her toys, of Master Five-years-old at the other with his occupations, and fascinating Master Baby on the rug on the floor with his ring and his ball--the decided announcement, "Now mother is going to be busy"--will do those young people a world of good! Though some of their charms will be missed, they will gain respect from mother's time, and some self-reliance into the bargain, while mother's tired back gets a rest, if only for a short time, either on the sofa or flat upon the floor. Then she can listen to her children, and perhaps do a little thinking--not about frocks and foods, but about characters, and how to deal with them; or she can take a book, and "grow" that way. This would do something, but not enough.

Mother must have time to herself. And we must not say "I cannot." Can any of us say till we have tried, not for one week, but for one whole year, day after day, that we "cannot" get one half-hour out of the twenty-four for "Mother Culture?"--one half-hour in which we can read, think, or "remember."

 The habit of reading is so easily lost; not so much, perhaps, the power of enjoying books as the actual power of reading at all. It is incredible how, after not being able to use the eyes for a time, the habit of reading fast has to be painfully regained. The power to read fast is much to be desired, and the people who read every word are left sadly behind by the people who read from full stop to full stop at a glance. This power is what our children are gaining at school, and this power is what we are losing when we refuse to give a little time out of our lives to "Mother Culture."

 It is worth anything to get and to keep even that; and to do it, it is not a bit necessary to read "stiff" books. The wisest woman I ever knew--the best wife, the best mother, the best mistress, the best friend--told me once, when I asked her how, with her weak health and many calls upon her time, she managed to read so much, "I always keep three books going--a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel, and I always take up the one I feel fit for!" That is the secret; always have something "going" to grow by.

 If we mothers were all "growing" there would be less going astray among our boys, less separation in mind from our girls. It would seem as if we mothers often simply made for ourselves the difficulties we find in after life by shutting our minds up in the present. What we need is a habit of taking our minds out of what one is tempted to call "the domestic rag-bag" of perplexities, and giving it a good airing in something which keeps it "growing." A brisk walk will help. But, if we would do our best for our children, grow we must; and on our power of growth surely depends, not only our future happiness, but our future usefulness."

From this PR article: https://www.amblesideonline.org/PR/PR03p092MotherCulture.shtml 

 Quiz:

What, if anything, are you reading for yourself and your future usefulness? I was struck by the assumption that we are to be concerned with their future usefulness at least as much as happiness. Is your future usefulness even something you're keeping in mind as you plan your days and weeks? It certainly wasn't for me.

Are you reading each day, or each week? It seems that far too many of us are not.

As we could see in the article, this isn't a new problem, although we do have some new challenges contributing to the problem.

 Are you reading from a book more than from social media?

If you are finding time to read, share some of your tips for how to make sure this happens.

 Challenge:

 *Carve out some time each day to do a bit of reading, thinking, remembering. When my kids were young I sometimes read while they ate, or I listened to an audio book while I showered, or I kept a book or a few pages printed from an online book in the bathroom for quick snatches of reading when I was in the comfort room. Read while nursing, or while sitting outside while the children play. What are your hacks for squeezing in some reading time?

 *Choose 3 books - a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel. One of them can be an audio book, but try really, really hard to make one of them a print book. Feel free to share your titles here, or in the forum (we have several book discussions in the forum) or on this Good Reads Group: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/13589-charlotte-mason
Here are 3 of my current titles:
1. Stiff book: Inferno by Dante (this has been on my want to read or currently reading list for at least Twelve years.  I am determined to finally finish this year.
2. a moderately easy book: How to Read Water: Clues and Patterns from Puddles to the Sea
3. Barchester Towers, by Trollope

 * Check your computer time. Tony Reinke in Twelve Ways Your Phone is Changing You says that the average person checks their phone 81,500 times each year, or once every 4.3 minutes of our waking lives, https://jdgreear.com/askmeanything/christians-engage-social-media/
 Consider an app to limit or track social media time. If you already have a good one, let us know. Check here for other ideas: https://blogs.systweak.com/5-best-apps-that-track-social-media-usage-app-to-limit-social-media-use/ or here: https://www.inc.com/jeremy-goldman/6-apps-to-stop-your-smartphone-addiction.html

Do not be discouraged about wherever you are.  Everybody has to start every journey from the place where they are currently standing.  I am currently typing this in bed in my pajamas.  My first step to going anywhere when I finish this is to put my feet on the floor.  But I *DO* have to put my feet on the floor to move on with my day.  The choices I make today influence what and who I will be tomorrow.

  That's where some of you are.  It's okay.  Just put your feet on the floor and work on making a plan to start from where you are and move forward from there.  I hope you'll join us!


Previous Challenges:

Challenge 1 is here.


Sunday, November 18, 2018

AO: Challenge the Seventh

Previous challenges:

Challenge 1 is here.



We concluded the text portion of the previous challenge with Miss Mason's disclosure that she is labouring 'to disclose for public use' the way to give children that 'attention, interest, literary style, wide vocabulary, love of books and readiness in speaking' which unlocks an education so rich and meaningful it continues long after school days are over.  She is excited about this, and she is sure of her ground.  This is volume 6, written fifty years after her first volume and after decades of work.  These methods are not mere theories.  What she writes about has been tested in real, practical, boots on the ground, teachers in classrooms, parents and governesses and tutors in homeschool rooms experiences.  Mason required families who signed up with her PNEU schools to submit exams to the PNEU office for grading. She was strict about this, so she could see the results of these methods put into practice in homes, cottage schools, experimental schools, boarding schools, around the world.

  It is true most of the P.N.E.U. members were indeed middle to upper class with educational and financial advantages we would consider upper class in most western cultures today.  However, many of them were also deeply philanthropic and active in social reforms and either started or contributed to schools for working class children, continuation night schools for children who had to work for a living, small country schools for the children of miners or other disadvantaged workers.  There are articles in the Parents' Reviews about reaching out to help mothers in the slums.  During World War I, at least some of the teaching students from the House of Education made it part of their work to run girls' clubs in London, specifically to give at risk girls skills and interests that would keep them off the streets, and the used such P.N.E.U. methods as they felt would reach the girls where they were.  Miss Mason was serious about helping as many people as possible by sharing what she could about putting her methods to 'public use.'  It is for this audience that she wrote volume VI- the general public who may not have previously known about her work.  She explains here her audience, her experience and justification for reaching out to this new audience:

"I am anxious to bring a quite successful educational experiment before the public at a moment when we are told on authority that "Education must be . . . an appeal to the spirit if it is to be made interesting." Here is Education which is as interesting and fascinating as a fine art to parents, children and teachers.
During the last thirty years thousands of children educated on these lines have grown up in love with Knowledge and manifesting a 'right judgment in all things' so far as a pretty wide curriculum gives them data."
Now she explains some of the differences in her approach, the things that justify her bringing this old/new idea before the public, what it is she wants done differently.  Note that this 'new' thing is not necessarily 'new' in the annals of education history. It could be 'new' in the sense that the British school system wasn't doing this anymore.  
She wants the children prepared for school by having heard stories in good English. She does not want their schoolbooks limited to the restricted vocabulary limitations of what they can read for themselves.  So while teaching them the nuts and bolts of reading, she wants them to be *hearing* well written stories and literary passages beyond their ability to sound out on their own: 
I would have children taught to read before they learn the mechanical arts of reading and writing; and they learn delightfully; they give perfect attention to paragraph or page read to them and are able to relate the matter point by point, in their own words; but they demand classical English and cannot learn to read in this sense upon anything less. They begin their 'schooling' in 'letters' at six, and begin at the same time to learn mechanical reading and writing. A child does not. lose by spending a couple of years in acquiring these because he is meanwhile 'reading' the Bible, history, geography, tales, with close attention and a remarkable power of reproduction, or rather, of translation into his own language; he is acquiring a copious vocabulary and the habit of consecutive speech. In a word, he is an educated child from the first, and his power of dealing with books, with several books in the course of a morning's 'school,' increases with his age."
It is from these excellent books, in advance of their reading skill, that children will gain the expansive vocabulary that is one of the foremost tools for gaining more knowledge.  Consecutive speech is the ability to communicate clearly, in order. It is not just a pleasant and useful habit- it is the sign or an orderly mind, of clear thinking. 
She knows there are going to be objections to her method, she has heard them- and, oh, so have we, so many times, in exactly the same words as the the next sentences Mason writes:
But children are not all alike; there is as much difference between them as between men or women; two or three months ago, a small boy, not quite six, came to school (by post); and his record was that he could read anything in five languages, and was now teaching himself the Greek characters, could find his way about the Continental Bradshaw, and was a chubby, vigorous little person. All this the boy brings with him when he comes to school; he is exceptional, of course, just as a man with such accomplishments is exceptional; 

Not all children are the same, we hear, and Mason heard.  Some children are advanced in quite astonishing ways, such as this youngster who joined Mason's PNEU correspondence school.  
Of course not children do not all have a matching set of gifts, strengths, weaknesses. That has little to do with the application of Mason's methods, however, because of the areas in which all neurologically normal children (and adults) do have in common:

"I believe that all children bring with them much capacity which is not recognized by their teachers, chiefly intellectual capacity, (always in advance of motor power), which we are apt to drown in deluges of explanation or dissipate in futile labours in which there is no advance."
All children may not be duplicates of each other in precise abilities. But all children have great potential, often un-known by their elders.  The current (to Miss Mason) method of doing school tends to suffocate those natural intellectual gifts, or waste them- by wasting their time with lectures and useless busy work.  That busy work, by the way,  may amuse and entertain the children, but that doesn't mean it informs and educates them. "There is no advance."  Have you thought about what this might mean?  I'm wondering. How much advance is there is filling out worksheets? Making pretty designs and collections of scripted information on file folders using scissors, glue, and some tape is fun for children with certain artistic bents.  There is nothing wrong with fun.  But what direction does it go, and how far? Is this something you do as an adult to learn, to process information, to communicate information to friends or employers? With narration, there is not level at which it is a bit babyish or immature to narrate. You can take narration up to the next level, and it becomes composition, and then essays, and more. Whatever work projects you assign to your children, what is the advanced version? How will they advance in this area? What will it look like?  Maybe, if there is no advance which takes them into their adult lives, it is not work worth assigning for school, no matter who they are.   And while all children may not be alike, we are all more alike than we think:

 "People are naturally divided into those who read and think and those who do not read or think; and the business of schools is to see that all their scholars shall belong to the former class; it is worth while to remember that thinking is inseparable from reading which is concerned with the content of a passage and not merely with the printed matter."

Regardless of individual strengths and weaknesses, the business of education is to help the learners read and think.
If this is not happening, neither is education.  Of course, other things are happening, too:

"The children I am speaking of are much occupied with things as well as with books, because 'Education is the Science of Relations,' is the principle which regulates their curriculum; that is, a child goes to school with many aptitudes which he should put into effect. So, he learns a good deal of science, because children have no difficulty in understanding principles, though technical details baffle them. He practises various handicrafts that he may know the feel of wood, clay, leather, and the joy of handling tools, that is, that he may establish a due relation with materials. But, always, it is the book, the knowledge, the clay, the bird or blossom, he thinks of, not his own place or his own progress.
[His focus is on the work, not on himself.]"
His focus is on the work, not himself, not his grades, not his scores, not how much he is beating the other students nor how far behind. These things are irrelevant to the actual work he is doing because the work itself is valuable and meaningful for its own sake.

"I am afraid that some knowledge of the theory we advance is necessary to the open-minded teacher who would give our practices a trial, because every detail of schoolroom work is the outcome of certain principles. For instance, it would be quite easy, without much
vol 6 pg 32thought to experiment with our use of books; but in education, as in religion, it is the motive that counts, and the boy who reads his lesson for a 'good mark' becomes word-perfect, but does not know. But these principles are obvious and simple enough, and, when we consider that at present education is chaotic for want of a unifying theory, and that there happens to be no other comprehensive theory in the field which is in line with modern thought and fits every occasion, might it not be well to try one which is immediately practicable and always pleasant and has proved itself by producing many capable, serviceable, dutiful men and women of sound judgment and willing mind?"

It's not enough to just use the same books- if you are mucking them up with vocabulary tests and multiple choice questions, rote memory and grades which are compared to those of the other children, that is missing the point of this form of education, and removing its value.  You need the principles, and the student needs to be the one doing the learning. 

"In urging a method of self-education for children in lieu of the vicarious education which prevails, I should like to dwell on the enormous relief to teachers, a self-sacrificing and greatly overburdened class; the difference is just that between driving a horse that is light and a horse that is heavy in hand; the former covers the ground of his own gay will and the driver goes merrily. The teacher who allows his scholars the freedom of the city of books is at liberty to be their guide, philosopher and friend; and is no longer the mere instrument of forcible intellectual feeding."
"Vicarious education."
What does an vicarious education look like?  It looks like somebody who knows hwo to read and to think, and who does it.
  Who should be working the hardest at the children's education?  The person doing the reading and the thinking, and that should be the student.
The teachers or the students themselves?  How do we see to it that they do the work? By giving them the books, the real books containing real knowledge and ideas, not just lists of facts that other people put together in textbooks, and then by giving them the work of thinking- which happens with narration.

This concludes this first set of AmblesideOnline Challenges.  By now you should have read from the opening page of Volume VI to the end of the first chapter, which is more material than it seems like. Most books today have a whole idea perhaps in an entire chapter. Mason's books are densely packed with multiple ideas worth thinking about on every single page. 

By now, you should know some of the plants in your own backyard or neighbourhood, something about the different categories of leaves, and you should be comfortably singing folksongs.  You have been reading for your own education and personal growth several times a week.  I hope you have attempted the forum.

There will be other challenges- I am preparing to move from the Philippines back to the U.S. and the holiday season is upon us, so I won't be working on another set of challenge posts until sometime in January.  However, you should continue to challenge yourself. I hope you have grown through this series.  I hope where you are now is a little further in understanding and practice than you were two months ago.  I hope you've been encouraged.

Here are some challenges to work on for the next couple of months.

1. This is an open-ended challenge to consider.  Let me review a handful of Mason's statements:
a. "One discovers a thing because it is there, and no sane person takes credit to himself for such discovery. On the contrary, he recognizes with King Arthur,––"These jewels, whereupon I chanced Divinely, are for public use." 

b. For many years we have had access to a sort of Aladdin's cave which I long to throw open 'for public use.'

c. The public good is our aim; and the methods proposed are applicable in any school. 

This has been a cherished goal of the AO Advisory for all many years. We also want to help you put these ideas to use, first in your own lives, homes, and families, and then, if at all possible, in some other public use.  Use these methods and ideas to reach out to children in your neighbourhood, churches, and community, the people God brings into your life.   Will you pray with us for all our eyes and hearts to be open for these additional opportunities? I can't tell you where or what they may be. Here are some I know of:
Start a story hour at your library or volunteer to help at one. Or do this with your church. Or ask if you could try this at a local homeless shelter or battered wive's shelter.
Foster care- officially, or unofficially.
Foster care respite care
Mentor family for drug rehap program (look into what is available locally and see if this is something you can do)
For that unofficial foster care-  Maybe there is a single parent or a struggling family that would benefit from you offering to do something fun with their kids once a month.  Take them to a park. Tell them a story, a fable from Aesop's, or the story of the three little pigs or Goldilocks. 
Visit a nursing home as a family and sing for some of the residents. Or bake cookies for the staff.
Plan a meaningful craft activity and invite another family over to do it together.
Volunteer to hold babies in the NICU. 
Serve a meal 
I'd love to hear of any other ideas, suggestions, or examples!  Not all of these will work for every family in every season, of course. You may be the family in need!  This is not a guilt trip, it's a list of hopeful possibilities for some time in your life.

Challenge 2:  Try something in the century-book, century chart, timeline department.  There are multiple ways to approach this. Start simple. In my family what we did most frequently was a family timeline essentially composed of duct tape on a large set of pocket doors. We used half of an index card and sketched figures or events on them and taped them to the appropriate lines on the wall.  My goal was to do this once a week. The children chose from their own readings, although sometimes I would ask them to choose from a specific book.
 If you want some help and ideas on timelines and time charts- see this thread in the forum- Forum: Timelines and History Charts

Challenge 3: for nature study look at Moon cycles.  One thing to do is to pick one night a week to look at the moon and then sketch it on a calendar- look at the moon November 21, for instance, and then sketch it on the Nov. 21 square of your calendar.  Do this for at least one month, preferably 2, and see hat you notice.  You can also make a chart: Moon cycle chart

Challenge 4: Read something for you.  One of the sweetest, most practical and helpful of the PR articles I have ever read is a paper delivered to a PNEU group by an older mother whose children are apparently grown.  The title is "The Limitations of Theory," which is delightful in itself, but even better is the title she says she considered- "Experiences of a Muddler".  The goal expressed in this paper is perfectly in keeping with the goals of these challenges, 
" to encourage parents to confer together, and that the papers read need not always be didactic treatises, but might sometimes be homely chats on what is interesting us all so much—the training of our children."

Challenge 5:  Start working on some Crafts for Christmas gifts.  We have quite a collection here in the forum: Forum: Christmas gifts to make

Challenge 6. Consider working together on memorizing a poem to present to grandparents, or adopted grandparents, or residents of a nursing home, or for a little family party for Christmas or New Year's. Or start a poetry night.  Here's how the author of Please Don't Eat the Daisies conducted their poetry night (get a tissue). 

Challenge 7: Read Karen Glass's recent series called The White Post.   You don't want to miss these!
And don't forget to narrate!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Challenge 6


Previous challenges:

Challenge 1 is here.


Last challenge we read about:  Hmmmm.  What did we talk about?  Take a moment to review in your own mind.  Something about conduct, character, reading, anything else come to mind? :-D

We ended with Mason asking this question: 
"We go round the house and round the house, but rarely go into the House of Mind; we offer mental gymnastics, but these do not take the place of food, and of that we serve the most meagre rations, no more than that bean a day! Diet for the body is abundantly considered, but no one pauses to say, "I wonder does the mind need food, too, and regular meals, and what is its proper diet?"

Now we'll read her answer: "I have asked myself this question and have laboured for fifty years to find the answer, and am anxious to impart what I think I know, but the answer cannot be given in the form of 'Do' this and that, but rather as an invitation to 'Consider' this and that; action follows when we have thought."

No do this or that, but principles to consider, thoughts to think and ponder- and the practice will follow from carefully thinking through the principles. 

"The life of the mind is sustained upon ideas; there is no intellectual vitality in the mind to which ideas are not presented several times, say, every day. But [we may ask] scientific experiments, natural beauty, nature study, rhythmic movements, sensory exercises, are all fertile in ideas? Quite commonly, they are so, as regards ideas of invention and discovery; and even in ideas of art; but for the moment it may be well to consider the ideas that influence life, that is, character and conduct; these, would seem, pass directly from mind to mind, and are neither helped nor hindered by educational outworks."


So we want our children's minds to feast upon these ideas that influence the character and conduct of our lives.  Where shall we find this mind-food?

 "Every child gets many of these ideas by word of mouth, by way of family traditions, proverbial philosophy,––in fact, by what we might call a kind of oral literature. But, when we compare the mind with the body, we perceive that three 'square' meals a day are generally necessary to health, and that a casual diet of ideas is poor and meagre. Our schools turn out a good many clever young persons, wanting in nothing but initiative, the power of reflection and the sort of moral imagination that enables you to 'put yourself in his place.' "


Here are three specific goals of a CM education- initiative, the ability to do some self-reflection, and, again, the goal of imagination (as we saw in a previous challenge) is empathy.  In order to attain these goals, the children need a full and varied diet of ideas, in regular servings and generous proportions:


"These qualities flourish upon a proper diet; and this is not afforded by the ordinary school book, or, in sufficient quantity by the ordinary lesson. I should like to emphasize quantity, which is as important for the mind as the body; both require their 'square meals.' It is no easy matter to give its proper sustenance to the mind; hard things are said of children, that they have 'no brains,' 'a low order of intellect,' and so on; many of us are able to vouch for the fine intelligence by children who are fed with the proper mind-stuff; but teachers do not usually take the trouble to find out what this is. We come dangerously near to what Plato condemns as "that lie of the soul," that corruption of the highest truth, of which Protagoras is guilty in the saying that, "Knowledge is sensation."

Wait, who does she quote here?  PLATO?  But I was told.... oh, never mind. I won't be snarky any more. 

"What else are we saying when we run after educational methods which are purely sensory? Knowledge is not sensation, nor is it to be derived through sensation; we feed upon the thoughts of other minds; and thought applied to thought generates thought and we become more thoughtful. No one need invite us to reason, compare, imagine; the mind, like the body, digests its proper food, and it must have the labour of digestion or it ceases to function. But the children ask for bread and we give them a stone; we give information about objects and events which mind does not attempt to digest but casts out bodily (upon an examination paper?). But let information hang upon a principle, be inspired by an idea, and it is taken with avidity and used in making whatsoever in the spiritual nature stands for tissue in the physical."

 "Education," said Lord Haldane, some time ago, "is a matter of the spirit,"––no wiser word has been said on the subject, and yet we persist in applying education from without as a bodily activity or emollient. We begin to see light. No one knoweth the things of a man but the spirit of a man which is in him; therefore, there is no education but self-education, and as soon as a young child begins his education he does so as a student."


Information vs ideas, thoughts, principles. 
  And what are we do to in this?

"Our business is to give him mind-stuff, and both quality and quantity are essential. Naturally, each of us possesses this mind-stuff only in limited measure, but we know where to procure it; for the best thought the world possesses is stored in books; we must open books to children, the best books; our own concern is abundant provision and orderly serving. I am jealous for the children; every modern educational movement tends to belittle them intellectually; and none more so than a late ingenious attempt to feed normal children with the pap-meat which may (?) be good for the mentally sick: [This may refer to Montessori, who built her approach based on her experiences working with mentally ill children. Charlotte Mason was so alarmed at the way Montessori's ideas were sweeping the educational world, that she wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper, which you can read about here.] but, "To all wildly popular things comes suddenly and inexorably death, without hope of resurrection." If Mr. Bernard Shaw is right, I need not discuss a certain popular form of 'New Education.' It has been ably said that education should profit by the divorce which is now in progress from psychology on the one hand and sociology on the other; but what if education should use her recovered liberty make a monstrous alliance with pathology?"

Mason is definitely speaking of Montesorri here, but there are still greater principles for us to keep in mind.   The alliance with pathology here is likely a reference to the fact that Montesorri's method wer born out of her initial work with disabled children who were institutionalized, and thus needed some more basic approach to begin with.  Be careful that our cherished tricks and tips, too, do not come from a pathological view of children and education, but from a whole, sane, and sound foundation.

"Various considerations urge upon me a rather distasteful task. It is time I showed my hand and gave some account of work, the principles and practices of which should, I think, be of general use. Like those lepers who feasted at the gates of a famished city, I begin to take shame to myself! I have attempted to unfold (in various volumes [Home Education Series.]) a system of educational theory which seems to me able to meet any rational demand, even that severest criterion set up by Plato; it is able to "run the gauntlet of objections, and is ready to disprove them, not by appeals to opinion, but to absolute truth." Some of it is new, much of it is old. Like the quality of mercy, it is not strained; certainly it is twice blessed, it blesses him that gives and him that takes,* and a sort of radiancy of look distinguishes both scholar and teacher engaged in this manner of education; but there are no startling results to challenge attention. [*Portia, from The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I] Professor Bompas Smith remarked in an inaugural address at the University of Manchester that,––"If we can guide our practice by the light of a comprehensive theory we shall widen our experience by attempting tasks which would not otherwise have occurred to us." It is possible to offer the light of such a comprehensive theory, and the result is precisely what the Professor indicates,––a large number of teachers attempt tasks which would not otherwise have occurred to them. One discovers a thing because it is there, and no sane person takes credit to himself for such discovery. On the contrary, he recognizes with King Arthur,––"These jewels, whereupon I chanced Divinely, are for public use."

And what are the results? 

"For many years we have had access to a sort of Aladdin's cave which I long to throw open 'for public use.' Let me try to indicate some of the advantages of the theory I am urging––It fits all ages, even the seven ages of man! It satisfies brilliant children and discovers intelligence in the dull. It secures attention, interest, concentration, without effort on the part of teacher or taught. Children, I think, all children, so taught express themselves in forcible and fluent English and use a copious vocabulary. An unusual degree of nervous stability is attained; also, intellectual occupation seems to make for chastity in thought and life. Parents become interested in the schoolroom work, and find their children 'delightful companions.' Children shew delight in books (other than story books) and manifest a genuine love of knowledge. Teachers are relieved from much of the labour of corrections. Children taught according to this method do exceptionally well at any school. It is unnecessary to stimulate these young scholars by marks, prizes, etc. After all, it is not a quack medicine I am writing about, though the reader might think so, and there is no IS. I 1/2d. a bottle in question!

Over thirty years ago I published a volume about the home education of children and people wrote asking how those counsels of perfection could be carried out with the aid of the private governess as she then existed; it occurred to me that a series of curricula might be devised embodying sound principles and securing that children should be in a position of less dependence on their teacher than they then were; in other words, that their education should be largely self-education. A sort of correspondence school was set up, the motto of which,––"I am, I can, I ought, I will," has had much effect in throwing children upon the possibilities, capabilities, duties and determining power belonging to them as persons. "Children are born persons," is the first article of the educational credo in question. The response made by children (ranging in age from six to eighteen) astonished me; though they only shewed the power of attention, the avidity for knowledge, the clearness of thought, the nice discrimination in books, and the ability to deal with many subjects, for which I had given them credit in advance.

 I need not repeat what I have urged elsewhere on the subject of 'Knowledge' and will only add that anyone may apply a test; let him read to a child of any age from six to ten an account of an incident, graphically and tersely told, and the child will relate what he has heard point by point, though not word for word, and will add delightful original touches; what is more, he will relate the passage months later because he has visualised the scene and appropriated that bit of knowledge. A rhetorical passage, written in 'journalese,' makes no impression on him; if a passage be read more than once, he may become letter-perfect, but the spirit, the individuality has gone out of the exercise.

An older boy or girl will read one of Bacon's Essays, say, or a passage from De Quincey, and will write or tell it forcibly and with some style, either at the moment or months later. We know how Fox recited a whole pamphlet of Burke's at a College supper though he had probably read it no more than once. Here on the very surface is the key to that attention, interest, literary style, wide vocabulary, love of books and readiness in speaking, which we all feel should belong to an education that is only begun at school and continued throughout life; these are the things that we all desire, and how to obtain them is some part of the open secret I am labouring to disclose 'for public use.'"

This is exciting stuff.  I get wriggly and happy every time I read it.  Think of all this delicious knowledge, the Aladdin's cave she is describing.  We want this for you and your families!



Challenges- This time, just for fun, I'm suggesting some points for each challenge and you add them up.

Reading- Charlotte Mason is a literature based curriculum.  There is no way to really get through this and do it well if we don't read.  It's okay to begin even if you aren't much of a reader, but to be honest, it's not going to be at all easy to continue if we don't work on this.  We cannot start any sooner than now, and we cannot work on this any better way than to read a little bit every day, steadily, consistently, over time, little by little, line upon line, precept by precept. 
  • Read and then narrate the above post. 5 points, 10 if you leave a comment with your narration.
  • Pick some mom-culture to read- it can be a Parents' Review article, something from one of Miss Mason's books, a book in the curriculum schedule or anything else.  Assign yourself a set number of pages to read a day and work toward that goal.  2 points for every day you meet your goal. 5 points if you meet your goal for the week (whether or not you met your goal each day). 
You need to aim for reading some of it every day, advancing week by week. 
Do this, and when you finish the book and choose the next one, I guarantee that you will find the next book easier than the one before.  And after that you will find the next book just a little bit easier than the one before.  And one day soon you will re-read that first book for pleasure and be surprised at how easy it is for you!


        Advice: In all of the suggested readings, please don't worry about the notion that you are not a reader, that you find this or that reading too hard, too challenging, very difficult.  "Not a reader' is who you were, it does not have to be who you are, forever.  You can change this.  This is what I want you to work on- pick something to read that is just a little more challenging, just a little harder, a bit more difficult than what you usually read.  For one person, this will be Shakespeare, for another it could be one of the Narnia books or Little Women, for another it will be this post, for another it will be Understood Betsy.  IT DOES NOT MATTER. Here is what matters:
It needs to be a living book
It needs to be more complex than what you normally read, but just challenging enough- not incomprehensible. 



AO Forum-   Why?  Because the most thoughtful, in depth, parent to parent discussions are found here in the forum and we care a lot more about your privacy than Facebook does.  Also, we have a teen discussion area, and if you have a teen, they just might love the chance to chat with other teens reading the kinds of books they are reading.

  • Register.  Here.   Choose a log-in name and password you will find unforgettable.  Spend 20 minutes just browsing, looking here and there.  Don't try to do anything else. Just read, randomly scroll, click, read some more. 5 points


  • Another day, visit the book discussion area and browse again.   To visit the book discussion area, click here-- https://amblesideonline.org/forum/forumdisplay.php?fid=34  Six points

  • ANOTHER day, click on 'today's posts' (you'll find it on the front page of the forum a bit to the right of center, somewhere in the top 1/4 of the page, or click here- https://amblesideonline.org/forum/search.php?action=getdaily) and scroll down to see the latest posts people have made. The first column is the title of the thread or post that somebody has made, and the user name of the person who posted.  If you over your mouse over it, you can see the first line of their post.  The next column as the area of the forum, or its address, if you will, where that post can be found.  Don't stress over any of this, just browse, wander, read a little, skim a little.  Only spend about 20 minutes at at a time doing this until you feel more comfortable.  five points

  • If you want to post anything at all, go to the general Q and A section- click here: https://amblesideonline.org/forum/forumdisplay.php?fid=9 look for Post Thread (over to the right beneath the welcome area). ten points for posting!




Principles:


  • Mason wrote a pamphlet introducing her methods to those who were unfamiliar with them.  Karen Glass would love it if you would read that pamphlet and answer a couple questions for her (feel free to comment to this post).  In your opinion, can you read it today and feel like you have a better understanding of the answer to the question "what is a CM education?" Would we be justified in suggesting to people in the future, "reading this will give you a good overview of CM's ideas and philosophy?" 20 points for reading.  Ten points for answering one of these two questions.
You can read the abridged version from Mind to Mind here:http://www.amblesideonline.org/CM/BasisNationalStrength.html

You can read The Basis of National Strength in full here: https://www.amblesideonline.org/CM/vol6complete.html#300

Practices-

  • PlutarchYou are invited to come join us for a Plutarch book discussion on the AmblesideOnline Forum in the Book Discussion area of the Forum.

ETA: We will be starting Demosthenes on Monday, Oct 8, as he is this term's life. If that seems too quick, please plan to join us on Nov 12 when we start Cicero.
Sign in to the forum first in another window, and then come back over to this tab, rightclick one of these links and select open in a new window (or tab):
 https://amblesideonline.org/forum/showthread.php?tid=37474
 https://amblesideonline.org/forum/showthread.php?tid=37477
10 points for joining.  15 points for joining, reading, and commenting. 

Music: What are you singing?  If you've been following our challenges you should be doing a folksong at least three times a week now, and you should have done at least one of Heather Bunting's Children of the Open Air tutorials.  If you're keeping up- keep on keeping up.=) 

  • Sing every day.  Try a folk song to wrap up a math lesson or when transitioning from foreign language to the next topic.  Every day!  If you use the youtube videos to learn the songs, remember that the kids do not have to see the video- they are to be listening and singing along, not watching. Print the lyrics, hand each reader a copy, and sing along together, weaning yourselves from the accompaniment as soon as possible.  1 point each school day (M-F) you sing a folk song.

Folksong youtube playlist:  Here's my folksong playlist for this year. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2j-Ai4pQ4f0&list=PL2IR3x_bkyR55kU2uGplZrY5b3gq-bXRR


  • Hymns: http://amblesideonline.org/Hymns.shtml  Follow our line-up, print out or write out a copy of this term's hymn(s), listen to it on youtube while trying to sing along. Once you have a good idea of the hymn tune, turn off the computer and sing.  This should take maybe five or ten minutes at most.  Try taping copies of the hymn lyrics to your kitchen wall near the sink or stove, on the refrigerator, in the bathroom on a door or near the mirror, over the bed, on the kitchen table under some plastic protective covering- any flat surface convenient to you, so you can easily sing out your new hymn at other times.  Hymn singing is a great transitional activity after Bible or science studies. 2 points for each day (M-F) you sing a hymn.

  • Children of the Open Air: Sol-Fa Subscribe to Heather Bunting's Children of the Open Air youtube channel.  Pick a tutorial and watch it a couple of times this week. 5 points for watching once, an additional point for each additional watch.


Nature study:


Most of us know that we tell mammals from birds by certain characteristics- fur or hair vs feathers, live births vs eggs, nursing young, etc  Plants are also identified by sorting out a few basic characteristics, which sounds a bit daunting, but once you get started, it's not as difficult as you imagined.  It's a matter of pattern recognition, and God wired our brains for pattern recognition. It's just that most of us never got past "what colour are the flowers?" so it's unfamiliar.  The unfamiliar always sounds scarier than it is, so we're working on making it familiar. 

The colour of the flowers is the most visible, but it's not the most important thing to know in order to learn to identify plants.  In order to develop our plant I.D. skills, we first need to notice some other plant characteristics. In these challenges, I've been asking our players to notice some of these other important characteristics.   Things you need to notice include characteristics such as the shape of the leaves, the way the leaves grow on the stems, the shape of the stems (all plants in the mint family have a basically square shaped stem), the number of petals on a flower (all mustard family members have four petals and six stamens, 4 tall and 2 short) and the edges, or 'margins', of the leaves.
  • Identify smoothe, wavy, and lobed leaves in your area.  If you do not live in the tropics, add toothed or serrated to your identification.
To aid in this pattern recognition, above you'll see a handy chart of leaf margins- or edges. Look at the edges of the leaves of the plants, trees, shrubs, weeds available to you first hand. Look at a few plants in your yard, neighborhood, local park, plant nursery, or visit an arboretum. See if you can identify how the edges of the leaves would be described. Find a leave with smoothe or 'entire' margins. Find a lobed leaf. Look for a wavy or sinuate leaf. This is not much more complicated than learning the difference between a triangle and a rhombus and you did that once, so know that you can do this, too. We believe in you!

These two sites may help you as well: https://home.onehowto.com/article/the-different-leaf-margins-and-their-names-5969.html

https://home.onehowto.com/article/the-different-leaf-margins-and-their-names-5969.html

However, nothing at all will help like getting outside to look at an actual tree and the real leaves on real plants. That is far more important at this stage then memorizing terms. 

Interesting sidenote: If you live in the tropics, you probably won't see many serrated edged leaves. In a year and a half of living in the Philippines and looking at trees and other plants several times a week, often some of the same trees at least once a week for the last year- I have not noticed that, but now that I think about it, it's true! 

See what you notice outside near your own home (Hint: If it's very hot, do this in the morning or evening, bring out a chair and a fan and a dishpan of cold water. Gather leaves, sit in the shade (use an umbrella if you need to bring your own shade, have the fan blowing and your feet in the dishpan of cold water and sort your leaves by their margins.
Points for Nature study:
Five points for each day you go outside.

Ten points for identifying a new plant, insect, or bird, 5 points for trying but failing.
One point each for each category of leaf you find.
Ten points for drawing in a nature journal.

I've added a point system to this post just for fun (Thanks, Leslie, for the idea!)

120 or more points:  You are a SKYLARK!  Keep on soaring and singing.

100-119 points- You are an adorable baby skylark chick.  Keep on growing!

75 to 99 points- You are a beautiful, shining, precious egg.  Stay warm, safe, and nourished.  You'll hatch soon if you just continue with what you are doing.

40 to 74 points-  You've got a great nest started! You can work on the egg next.  Keep on building and growing.  You can do it!!

19-39 points-  In the hole, there was a tree, the prettiest tree you ever did see, and the tree was in a hole, the hold was in the ground, and the green grass grew all around all around, and the green grass grew all around!  That's a habitat, an environment you've been creating, and it's a good start.  You can't have the bird without the tree and the green grass and grubs for the bird to eat, so this is a great start. Just keep going from where you are now.

1 to 18 points-  You've got the green grass, and the hole, and now it's time to work on that tree!

0 points- We love you.

Seriously.  As I typed this I've prayed- let this not be a discouragement, but rather, a bit of laugher, a cheering up, a warm helping hand, and for those who have had those rough horrible weeks (or years) that I, too, have experienced, Lord, love them, lift them, nourish them and let them feel and know your love and infinite compassion.  Healing, Lord, I beg of you, healing of lacerated spirits and souls, worn down and worn out with seriously hard things, with medical diagnoses that turn the knees to jello and the bones to zero at the bone, with hardship and heart-ache of every kind, whether it be relationships, sickness, sadness, poverty, disaster or all the other painful realities of this world.  What matters most is, of course, your relationships- first and foremost with your creator, then with your family and those around you.  God bless you and yours in those most important fields.

This little quiz does not define anybody, of course.  It's just meant to be a fun little exercise to help with the challenges.   Even within that narrow restriction, what matters most is not racking up all the points, but considering whether or not you would have more points this week than previous weeks or months  if you awarded yourself points in the same way?  What would the trend look like if you made a graph? Are you reading a bit more than you were six months ago? Is the reading you do now more challenging than the reading you did six months ago?  Are you singing more?  Are your children singing?  Do you know a plant in your area that you did not know last year or last month?  And how much do you care?  Keep on working and growing with us, feeding your mind regular servings of nourishing food, and a wide variety!


Monday, September 24, 2018

Challenge 5


Previous challenges:



Challenge 4 is here.
This week's challenge: Read this post!  Scroll down to the end for a few more.=)

 If you have been following along these challenge posts, congratulations!  If all you have managed to do is to read the four previous blog posts in the challenge series, you have now read through the introduction and preface of volume six, which contain the principles as well as other gems.  


This week we'll start with about the first half of chapter 1, which is titled "Self-Education."  Mason begins by stating what she does *not* mean by self-education.  She does not mean self-expression.  She says there's no objection to training the body, hands, eyes, ears, and voice in various means of self-expression, and she agrees that "all these possibilities of joy in living should be open to every child."  However, she says, even though even the PNEU schools may themselves use many of the then-popular forms of training body, eye, and voice, etc. to creative forms of self-expression (dance, projects which give dexterity and precision to the hands, train the voice to interpret beautifully, and so on), she has a caveat:

"...yet is our point of view different; we are profoundly skeptical as to the effect of all or any of these activities upon character and conduct."

Character.

Conduct.
That's a pretty broad field, isn't it?  Basically she's saying what we're looking for is that education which effects who we are, and what we do.  It carries with it the connotation of a standard against which we measure- "Anything goes" is not compatible with the development of character and conduct, and neither is 'you do you,' or  'just be yourself.'  Neither are we seeking little clones of ourselves.  It is also important to remember that Miss Mason advocated respecting the children's personalities and personhood. We are educating our children (and by the way, ourselves) to 'Be a better version of ourselves.' No wonder this is the title of one of her six volumes on education.

This course of self-improvement does not focus on externals because "A person is not built up from without but within."

It does not seek a better self through shopping and external improvements because:
"...all the educational appliances and activities which are intended to mould his character are decorative and not vital."

Vital here should be understood as being used the same way we use it when we speak of the vital organs, necessary for, pertaining to life- we wish for living, inner change of the heart and life.


Next Miss Mason explains some logical propositions to us, 'corollaries' or related truths,  some if, then statements.  If  a child is a person, then that means...


"consider a few corollaries of the notion that 'a child is a person,'and that a person is, primarily, living...."

In other words, if it's true that a child is born a full person, then it follows that, as with other living creatures,  growth happens naturally given normal conditions. We don't have to do anything extraordinary for normal growth.  When we look at the physical body we understand that the most important material for growth is the stuff the physical body takes in and assimilates (digests), not the stuff that is applied from the outside.  There's nothing special you have to do for physical bodies to grow normally, although there are things you can do from the outside that will *hinder* proper physical growth.   All the attention in the world devoted to external development is irrelevant if nothing is *taken internally.*  The body must have food. Well, this is all so obvious that we wonder why she even bothers to explain it.  Her point is that the mind, too, is living.  Therefore, the mind must also have its food, and as the mind is a living organism that grows, "the life of the mind is sustained by what is taken in," what the mind digests, assimilates.

She says she believes this is the only analogy that helps us properly understand mind- comparing it to a living organism that must take in and absorb its own proper food in order to grow.  Now she's going to tell us about a different, but very popular analogy, and she has, for Charlotte, a quite scathing criticism of what she considers utterly wrong-headed about it:

"the well-worn plant and garden analogy is misleading, especially as regards that tiresome busybody, the gardener, who will direct the inclination of every twig, the position of every leaf; but, even then apart from the gardener, the child-garden is an intolerable idea as failing to recognize the essential property of a child, his personality, a property all but absent in a plant."


I confess, 'that tiresome busybody' always makes me laugh, every time I read it.  What is the well-worn plant and garden analogy she is talking about?  What is 'the child-garden?'  Everybody knew the 'child-garden' was simply the English translation of a popular movement which had swept across England and America and was promoted with zealous enthusiasm, the kindergarten (kinder is, of course, German for child, and garten is German for garden). CM is not being at all subtle here.  Children, says Charlotte firmly, are not to be compared to plants, not even pretty little flowers in a charming little garden.  They are persons, with their own personalities. We have no authority to direct the inclination of every twig of their being, and because they are persons and not topiaries, we won't be very successful at it even if we try (although we could do great harm).


 Charlotte points out that both bodies and minds need fresh air, must have food or there is no growth, require a balance of activity and rest, and both grow their best when their diet of food is 'wisely various,' that is, not all the same old thing. 
If you're in doubt as to what she means by mind, she isn't limiting this to the brain and knowledge- she says by mind she means 'the entire spiritual nature, all that is not body.'  "We go round the house and round the house," she says- I take this to mean the body, the case for the mind, but we never actually consider the needs of the mind, we don't even go in.   "we offer mental gymnastics, but these do not take the place of food, and of that we serve the most meagre rations, no more than that bean a day!"

There's a useful thought to hold onto at the next curriculum fair- is this shiny new thing going to feed the mind, or is it mental gymnastics?   

We are all about nutrition and diet these days, (and her day, too, human nature is a wonder in its unchanging sameness).  But we never stop, says Charlotte, to give the same attention to mind that we do to nourishing the body.  We need to be asking ourselves, "I wonder does the mind need food, too, and regular meals, and what is its proper diet?""

Can we look again at her definition of mind- 'the spiritual nature' basically, everything that is not the physical part of our lives.  


She addresses this in at least two of her principles as well- the 20th principle (as found in volume VI), which begins "We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and 'spiritual' life of children" and the 9th principle, which says, "9. We hold that the child's mind is no mere sac to hold ideas; but is rather, if the figure may be allowed, a spiritual organism, with an appetite for all knowledge. This is its proper diet, with which it is prepared to deal; and which it can digest and assimilate as the body does foodstuffs."  Knowledge, real knowledge, the stuff in living books, works on mind and spirit because there is truly a separation there.

If mental gymastics, dance, gymnastics, games, external applications and devices, and so on are not food for the mind, then What is food for the mind?  We'll look more at what Charlotte says about that next time. 

This is more than enough to think about this week.  So lets go to our challenges for the week!

1. Read this post and think about it.  Go to http://amblesideonline.org/CM/vol6complete.html#023 and read to page 25 (if you've been keeping up, this is only a couple of pages)- what strikes you?  Read ahead a little.  The best advice I ever got on reading CM or any other good book is to assign myself a set number of pages a day and just make sure I read them.  Make it one page if that's all you can do.  Start somewhere.  This week, read a little bit more than you did last week, and set yourself an attainable goal for how much to read- you can average it out over the week if need be.

2. Singing: have you been keeping up with the previous week's challenges? Sing a folk song or a hymn.   (or better yet, both!) at least 3 times this week.     Keep it up!

~Subscribe to Heather Bunting's Children of the Open Air youtube channel.  Listen to this one: https://youtu.be/BdTzhgxZI2U or pick another one.  Do just one lesson this week.

3. Nature study: Did you pick a tree to look at?  There's a Kopok tree we pass on our way to church her in the Philippines, and I look at it every week.  Every week I notice something different.  Tie a ribbon around the branch of your tree and check that branch a couple times a month.  
What do the leaves on one of the trees near your house look like?  What do the leaves and petals on any other plants near your house look like?  Shape, size, how do they grow, edges of the leaf smooth or lobed or serrated?  Is it darker on top than underneath? Vein pattern? Just notice.
Draw one thing in a nature journal this week.  You can do it!
Do you have access to a pine tree to observe?  Read this thread in the forum and join in!
https://amblesideonline.org/forum/showthread.php?tid=8560


4.  The forum- If you have not joined the forum yet, give it a shot.  Once you've joined, you might dip your feet in at entry level by just looking at the most recent posts of the day- click on the button toward the top right of center that says 'View Today's Posts', then scroll down and see what people are talking about.

Have you read Leslie's Patio Chats?  These are short vitamin bursts of CM information that will take less than 20 minutes to read.  You could subscribe to them at the forum: https://amblesideonline.org/forum/forumdisplay.php?fid=100 

Once in, you might enjoy this thoughtful discussion about the role of the teacher in the high school years:   https://amblesideonline.org/forum/showthread.php?tid=35253&highlight=mind+food
Or perhaps building fortitude to deal with hard topics: https://amblesideonline.org/forum/showthread.php?tid=34539&highlight=mind+food
There is a terrific discussion here on writing skills for the kids in years 1-3 and how that should or shouldn't happen: https://amblesideonline.org/forum/showthread.php?tid=32613&pid=480220#pid480220
Btw, did you know the forum has a special chat area for AO teens?  And we have special groups for families with special needs, for gifted, and for families in the adoption/foster care world.  


5. Feed your mind.