Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Mother's Rule of Life

I am currently reading Holly Pierlot's A Mother's Rule of Life.  The premise of the book is taking the concept of a religious rule, such as nuns practice, and applying it to the vocation of a woman as wife and mother.  I love the idea of what I do as a vocation, which I have written about before.  Holly writes about being a Catholic homeschooling mother of five and how she brought order, and therefore peace, to her daily round.  She goes beyond developing a schedule to live by and extends the structure of her days into a deeper spiritual purpose.  Though she is not a fan of unschooling, I think that since I am on my own path to bringing greater meaning to the life of myself and my family, Holly's ideas will be a blessing.  I am already inspired to begin spring cleaning (including my email inbox)! The groundhog did promise an early spring, after all.

I want my days to flow within the framework of a flexible schedule.  Since I only have one child, I don't feel that I need every block of time sectioned out like Holly's. Once housework is caught up on and a system is in place to keep things in order, I can begin the bigger tasks of cleaning out closets and working on home projects. I know, we have visited this territory before, have we not? Yes, and we will need to come back to it twice a year, every spring and fall. We need to regularly re-evaluate what is working well, what isn't, and how to create the change we desire.

I spoke at length to my husband about unschooling, and he finally watched Astra Taylor's youtube video. We are on the same page about not wanting to be "radical" unschoolers. He pointed out that I have basically already been unschooling to a certain extent and thinks I should continue with Montessori and Charlotte Mason as a basis for the more formal lesson times. Because of some of the unschooling practices that we don't want to be associated with, such as letting children make all their own decisions, not only about what they will learn and when, but in every other area of life, he is hesitant to say that what we do is unschooling. I certainly agree that many people, especially in the homeschooling community, have very negative impressions about unschooling, and I don't want to misrepresent what we do. But I think that putting a qualifier in front of it, such as the word Catholic, would help correct any misapprehension.

By definition, Catholic unschooling requires that parents are actively involved in the faith formation of their children and in instilling good habits, morals, self-discipline, and responsibility. Children cannot be left to "self-regulate" or be allowed limitless access to TV, the computer, video games, technology, etc... I suppose there may be some Catholic unschoolers who give their children too much freedom in this way, but in that case they are not fulfilling the duties of their parental vocation and so are really practicing a secular version of unschooling.

On the other side of the coin, Montessori, Charlotte Mason, and John Holt all, in their own way, agree that the teacher/parent should not overly interfere in the learning of children, that much learning should be auto-educative, and that children should have a great deal of freedom in choosing those activities which most interest them. The adult can do some direct teaching but focuses mainly on facilitating the child's learning, whether that means answering questions, having conversations, locating the necessary resources, going places in the community, setting up lessons, or teaching specific skills when asked.

The Catholic Church's Mass schedule and the liturgical year provide a seasonal framework for ordering one's days, so Catholic unschooling will have a basic, intrinsic structure in this regard. Especially once Beezy and I are both taking Holy Communion, I want to add Wednesday morning Mass in addition to the usual Sunday morning (or Saturday evening). Praying the Rosary together and reading the associated Bible mysteries (stories) will be part of our curriculum. Doing copy work of Rosary and other prayers, as well as hymns and songs from Mass, and memorization of daily liturgical Bible readings will provide some of the practice of copy work and recitation. Right now Beezy has piano lessons on Mondays and religious education classes at church on Wednesday evenings, as well as regular play dates, so those activities also provide structure.

In general, I will apply the Montessori method to our Catholic unschooling by way of following the child and giving choices; role modeling desired behaviors and attitudes; encouraging practical life skills; a carefully prepared home environment that facilitates self-teaching and exploration of ideas; and close observation of the child to see who she is as a person, how best she learns, and what she is most interested in doing. From Charlotte Mason we will continue with living books and narration, keeping a nature journal, hand crafts, and spending time in the natural world and gardening. Since workbooks for math and phonics work well for us, we'll continue to use them, and we will take full advantage of library and online resources. I think this will all come together organically in a balanced system of learning and living in natural ways.

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