This past week my social media feeds have been inundated with those classic back-to-school snaps. Some in brand-new uniforms and that wide-grin-excitement that accompanies the idea of a new year of adventure, while others are not so enthused with the idea of back-to-school life. Some of my school-children-friends I am thrilled for, some I prayer for because of their personal struggles with school life.
This past week is our first official week of school in Queensland, and traditionally while many of our friends and family head to their first week of school, our family head off camping.
This year we headed back to one of our favourite places along the Sunshine Coast coastline. Great Sandy National Park. We sleep, we walk, we swim, we surf, we read. We watch the sunrise, the sunset, and the stars. We spot turtles, dolphins, and fish. This is my favourite way to celebrate the beginning of a new year of home education (aka not-back-to-school).
By the time these first weeks roll around our planning is completed and our books have trickled in over the summer holidays and slowly fill their places on our bookshelf. This first week is the time to simply dive in, and open our new books and new plans to begin putting the idea into practice. We experiment with different ways to interact with, share, and respond to our books. For any workbooks or textbooks in use, we figure out our study-pace in order to reach a particular goal by the end of the term, or the year. Hopefully by the second or third week we usually figure out the daily plan and work amount that sets us up with a suitable rhythm for our family life.
My youngest daughter will soon be 16 and is entering her final two years of homeschooling. At this point in our homeschooling life I tend to take these final two years as a block and my planning encompasses possibilities for both years. We consider personal hobby and lifestyle goals, habits that need work as they prepare for adulthood, Bible study tools and Christian living study guides, vocational interests, and further study/training paths and what we might need to work on to give them the best start at the beginning of their adult life.
The process of working out the goals and resources for these areas includes research on my part (based upon a series of conversations with my teen regarding interests, study goals, and vocational plans), presenting options to my teens as they choose from those selections, and then putting together a schedule to give an outline to our week. Then we roll up our sleeves and go to work.
One big aim in these final years is independence and self-discipline in the area of study. Independence and self-discipline in the area of lifestyle is something we focus on more fully after our official homeschooling years have finished. With regards to study, however, my teens hold responsibility for completing their work independently and in a timely fashion. I help with guidance, review, and project direction. This has worked really well with my first two daughters, my third daughter works best with someone working alongside her, so my challenge this year will be to recognise that trait in her personality and support it, while giving opportunity for practiced independence and self-discipline - which she will need in adulthood.
These final years reveal our most practical goals in life and learning. We cook, we clean, we study, we schedule, we work, we enjoy hobbies and time out with friends. Underpinning this very practical focus is growth in wisdom and virtue as my teens are guided towards greater independence in habit, thinking, relationships, work, and study.
Forward we go!
The countdown begins. Over our holiday break, squeezed between our lazy-sunshine-days, I have tidied and organised our bookshelves, put in my new book orders, and sketched out some ideas for our weeks. In these final two weeks I will be laying out a new weekly schedule, and organising our shelf dedicated to our study books and notebooks. We are entering the modern time period this year and my planning base is the Combined Year 10/11 Lite from Ambleside Online.
One of the many questions I come across regarding both Charlotte Mason and Classical methods of education is the concern of how it works with a non-reader or a non-academically inclined child or a child with special learning needs. This youngest daughter of mine is a non-reader. She has thrived with handicrafts, outdoor hours, nature study, keeping a book of centuries, drawing, and music. Narration and reading are tricky.
Beginning with this young person in front of me and her personhood, I have kept to the perspective that I cannot make her a reader or an academic. Nor would I want to. I want to engage what lights her up and gives her joy, and with regards to literature, reading, and narration I want to give her enough so that she can build her abilities in this area, that her soul will continued to be nourished by ideas, and that she can build a good cultural and historical knowledge based in order to interact thoughtfully with our culture. With this in mind I begin with the lite versions of AO, and then I tend to lighten them again as I personalise our study plan with this precious young woman in mind.
We work on a four-day weekly schedule. She works one day a week and we attend our local homeschool study group (Green Path Scholars) one day a week. Weekends are for surfing, hobbies, and church. This leaves 3 at-home study days for us to enjoy together.
The organisation principles of the three core areas of knowledge that Charlotte Mason suggests is an excellent base to work from when planning books and learning activities. Knowledge of God; Knowledge of Man; and Knowledge of the Universe. These also work well in a planning format for HEU Documentation as it demonstrates how our current Key Learning Areas fit with these classical principles of Charlotte Mason.
Knowledge of Man
(Language; Humanities; Arts; Lifeskills)
Mystery of History Volume IV (History)
A Short History of Australia (History)
Faith-Based Family Finances (Lifeskills)
7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens (Lifeskills: Audio Book)
Valley of Gold by Jackie French (Literature)
The Wave by Todd Strasser(Literature)
Animal Farm by George Orwell (Literature)
Les Miserables (Movie)
To Kill A Mockingbird (Movie)
Uncle Tom's Cabin (Audio Book)
God's Smuggler by Brother Andrew (Biography)
One Blood by Ken Ham (Citizenship)
GK Chesterton (Essays)
Well May We Say (Australian Speeches)
Australian Prime Ministers (Government)
Artistic Pursuits (Drawing)
I have always loved stories and reading. Until I was introduced to Charlotte Mason, reading was an individual pursuit. A pleasure reserved for escape, relaxation, and personal quiet time to rejuvenate my introverted heart. Charlotte made me realise that stories and reading were meant to be shared. They were meant to be discussed. They were meant to grow my mind and my heart. They were meant to connect me with the great ideas, people, and history of my culture. They were meant to show me how to live and how not to live.
I had to learn how to develop healthy reading habits that would cultivate connections with my children, that would help me teach my children, that would enable us to grow in understanding, wisdom, and virtue. I had to learn not only how to read aloud, but how to love reading aloud. I had to learn not only to read actively and slow, but to love reading actively and slow. I had to learn that narration, memorising passages, remembering, asking questions and discussion were more than just tools for a mechanic form of comprehension testing.
When my children were young I slowly grew into this new world of rich and rewarding reading through the resources of Five In A Row (a literature guide for parents to enjoy with their children) and occasional notebooking projects. When they became teens, I needed to learn how to read more deeply, ask good open-ended questions, and how to approach more challenging works of literature. Keeping a Commonplace Book, utilising guides like the Omnibus series from Veritas Press, and mapping the settings of the stories were some things that assisted me while I continued learning how to guide my teen's learning through literature.
This past year I have been digging more deeply into the art of active reading, discussion, and Socratic dialogue. The CiRCE Institute Close Reads podcast have really assisted me in this area. I have been listening to the Pride and Prejudice and the Perpetual Feast podcasts, giving attention to the ideas drawn out, how the presenters respond to each others ideas, and the use of questions to deepen understanding, thought, and discussion. I drew from this modelling as I discussed Jane Austen and Homer with my teens.
Sow the Habit
When we plant a garden, we begin with nourishing the soil and sowing the seed. Nourishing the soil of learning through reading begins with reading aloud, making time to read, and enjoying books. This process may include contemplating movies, art work, poetry, and music that has been created in response to literature.
Introducing narration and discussion begins with the classic Who? What? When? Where? Why? We can ask Should X have done Y? We can explore who a particular character reminds you of and why. We can discuss our favourite parts, characters, and events. At the end of the year we can talk about our favourite reads, and our most challenging reads. A creative teen may create their own music, art, poetry in response.
Art of Discussion: 3 Tips
1) Begin with a core question or theme. Allow teens to share what they understand, quotes that relate to the core question or theme, written narrations that respond to the core question or theme. Uphold the atmosphere of humility and respect - discussion guidelines may include not talking over others, not arguing in pride (respond with a thought or question to clarify thinking), no distracting behaviours.
2) Respond to their ideas with thoughtful questions. Can you explain what you mean by ... What leads you to think ... If I hear you correctly you said ... What do you think about ... Ask them to compare the statement they made back to the original idea... Can you compare this idea with an analogy...
3) Wrap up with a summary, share a truth that you have learned through the discussion, or a question to think about.
Socratic dialogue is a lesson that grows naturally out of narration and discussion. It happens when you listen to what your teen is saying and respond with questions that allow you to become a co-inquirer with your teen into truth. The ability to engage with Socratic dialogue grows with your ability to listen, respond, ask thoughtful and genuine questions. It is a deep and challenging way to learn.
In 2016 I have focussed on sowing the habits of active reading, narration, and introductory discussion with my teen students. In 2017 we will wade into practising the art of discussion as modelled in the Close Reads podcasts (adjusted to suit my teens) and learning to look for those Socratic moments.
"Pretend with me that I have a big apple tree in my backyard and that every year it buds and grows apples. But just as the apples are ready to be picked, they rot and fall to the ground. After several seasons of this, my wife comes to me and says, "You know, Paul, it doesn't make much sense to have an apple tree and never be able to eat the apples. All we ever end up with is brown mush on our lawn. Can't you do something with our apple tree?" So I think and ponder and come up with an idea. I tell my wife that I am going to fix our tree and that I will be gone for about an hour, picking up the things that I need.
Before long I return to the yard carrying a step ladder, a pair of branch cutters, an industrial grade stapler, and two bushels of apples. I carefully cut all of the rotten apples off the tree and staple bright red Delicious apples to it. Delighted that I have fixed the problem, I call my wife out to the yard to look at the tree.
Ridiculous? Yes! Ridiculous because I have not solved the problem. The problem was more that a fruit problem. There is something fundamentally wrong with the tree itself, even to the level of its roots, that needs to change. I have exchanged good fruit for bad fruit, but the tree itself is still unable to produce healthy fruit. What's more, the fruit I have artificially attached to the tree cannot last because it has nothing to give it life, healthy roots that can nourish it."
from Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens by Paul David Tripp, p49-50
This story is based upon the parable found in Luke 6:43-45, and I share it here because it strikes a deep, resounding chord with me as a mother. When my children were young, my parenting began with a desire for them to simply be good. Polite, caring manners, appropriate behaviour, respectful, and so on. These are all good things, but as most parents learn at some point in their family life, sometimes these fruits show themselves to be stapled, not part of the plant. Stapled fruit reveals itself by falling away when my children are away from my parental guidance and face peer pressure, temptation, or a simple desire to follow their own inclination. As the real aim of parenting is to shepherd the hearts of my children, I need to consider this fallen fruit and consider the heart of the matter. I need to turn my attention to the soil and roots that nourish my children's hearts, souls, and minds.
Sometimes training our children in good habits is little more than a fruit stapling exercise. Which none of us truly desire. I think that if we are able to ignite our children's moral imaginations, remember always they are persons created by God, get to know them and work with them, and think through life with them, we will be well on the way to nourishing their roots so their hearts bring forth good fruit. Whether that fruit be oranges, apples, pears, or passionfruit.
This is something I will be contemplating this week.
Today is the day.
The day to box-up Christmas and pack it away. Yet it is also the day to store the memory of Christmas, its lessons, its truth, and its beauty, to remember throughout the year ahead when I need it.
The day to clean up after New Year celebrations. Yet it is also the day to remember the joy and the hope that seeing in the New Year with loved ones offers, and live the memory of that hope and joy in my new everyday that will count as 2017.
The day to leave behind my in-between-week of Boxing Day Test Match Cricket, living low and simple, to just be, in that in-between time that hides in the bookends of Christmas and the New Year. The day to embrace what lies ahead while remembering the joys, the sorrows, and the truths of my yesterdays. The day to get back to business.
Our official homeschooling life begins again in the first week of February. So we still have four delicious weeks of Summer to live. In between lazy sub-tropical summer days, and all that they mean, I will be organising, cleaning, and readying resources for our year ahead (well, at least the term ahead anyway). I will be preparing my heart, mind, soul, and living space for the learning and working that lies ahead for me and my youngest daughter (it's just the two of us now) in 2017.
I mentioned in a previous post a lesson that is really making itself felt to me, at this season in my life. This lesson is the place of habit and memory in learning - genuine, deep, life-changing learning. Habit training (something that appears significantly in the works of Charlotte Mason) is something that I have not had the heart-space or mind-space to tackle consistently in my children's childhood years. And in all honesty, it shows. In my life and learning, and in my young adult and teen children's life and learning.
Now my daughter's are beautiful and delightful young women to be with - albeit far from perfect. Like everyone they have character flaws, strengths, and weaknesses. And if I had been more diligent in habit training in their childhood, there would be areas of improvement in their character traits and habits, but they would remain imperfect.
Perfection is not the goal of habit training. Manners and socially acceptable behaviours are not the goal of habit training. But I am beginning, now, to consider what habits really mean to learning and life - practically, intellectually, relationally, and spiritually. I am beginning to see played out, time and again, how a persons character affects the quality of their learning and how they can either encourage or discourage learning in their peers by their own habits and character.
This year I will be digging deeper into this idea of habit. What it means, how to develop it, the effects it has on those in our circle of life and learning, how it relates to our personal understanding of and relationship with God.
Reading slow. Narrating. Commonplacing. Thinking. Asking questions. Discussing with friends. Practising in my life, parenting, and teaching.
I begin now. Kicking off with CM 101 by Brandy Vencel, CM's volume on Character Formation, Laying Down the Rails, and You Are What You Love by James KA Smith. Not all at once of course. We'll see what rabbit trails open up after these. Anyone like to join in?
* these links are not afilliate links