Friday, January 31, 2014

A Return to Charlotte Mason

If it doesn't bring you closer to Jesus, flush it.  When our priest makes a statement like this, it is in reference to private religious devotions, the teachings of the saints, and such. But this phrase came to mind when I was thinking about unschooling and how I have gone back and forth with whether or not I believe in it. I never became a radical unschooler or stopped teaching my child formal lessons, and there is no harm done. I learned a lot of helpful ideas and could see how unschooling intersected with attachment parenting, which I very much believe in. I also met some great people.

After looking into unschooling thoroughly and trying it out in various ways, I think I have put in enough time and observation to come to a verdict. Father J. is pretty no-nonsense, and I doubt he would have deliberated or reflected for so long about anything; but I have more than once been accused of over-analyzing... I think Father's litmus test could be used in many situations, so I asked myself, has unschooling philosophy brought me closer to Jesus?

The positive influence my study of unschooling had was to make me more aware of how my husband and I were talking to our child. It sparked the inspiration to bring more joy and passion into our daily life as a family, and as individuals. It encouraged me to keep a written record of all learning experiences, not just those related to formal lessons. I can keep all of these good things even as I move past the unschooling experience, which in the final analysis I feel to be contrary to my Christian parental vocation and not the best fit for our family as an educational method.

A member of the Catholic Unschooling FB group posted an article from Lori Pickert's Project Based Homeschooling blog recently, because she didn't like what the author wrote about the issue of unschooling attrition. I personally was very grateful for this post. I've been reading a little bit at a time from the blog and have Pickert's book on the way from Amazon. It seems like something that can be used along with other methods, and I'm sure I'll be writing about it.

I'm redirecting my focus now to the Charlotte Mason method. I never stopped using her teaching techniques completely, but I want to go deeper with them and expand what we are doing so that it will better reflect the "generous curriculum" and "feast of ideas" that she advocated for the children's sake. The blog Higher Up and Further In looks very promising on this front. I have also joined two FB groups-- "Our" Charlotte Mason Homeschool (with a slant), the slant being that they are Catholic, and Charlotte Mason Homeschoolers.

Some Catholics feel that Charlotte Mason held heretical views and that these are reflected in her philosophy, but her methods are her own spin (with an emphasis on nature studies, and replacing the study of Latin or Greek with French) on classical education, which the Church has always embraced. You can simply use what makes sense as a Catholic of her parenting advice and ignore what doesn't.

It is apparent that unschooling really resonates with some Christians, and if it brings them closer to Jesus, then that's great. Rather than continue to argue with anyone about the problematic aspects of unschooling for Christians and in general (I've already given ample space in this blog to speaking my peace), I will just wish them well and remove myself from those FB groups that tend to distract me from doing what will bring me closer to Jesus.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Getting Beyond Unschooling

I also think it would be a mistake to equate unschooling with never doing anything resembling school. Home educated kids do many of the same things done in schools--learn to play a musical instrument, watch videos, create art, read books, compose poetry, make things out of wood, play games and sports, write, ask questions, share their opinion, solve math problems, cook--the list goes on. The difference is that as home educators we can create our most authentic life possible and learn on our own terms, in our own way, in our own time. We can put God and family before academics. We have a myriad of choices, but if we close our minds to any "schooly" methods or materials, we have effectively blocked the path to open source learning.    --  Rita Michele

Why am I quoting myself today? This is a comment I made at the Whole Life Unschooling FB group. A mother is interested in unschooling but doesn't have her husband's support. She was wondering if she could combine homeschooling and unschooling in order to appease her husband but still give her children the benefits of unschooling. Surprisingly, many members responded in the affirmative. 

Group moderator and high profile unschooling advocate Dayna Martin seemed a bit unnerved by this, perhaps because by the murky parameters of its definition, unschooling cannot be done "part-time". Naturally she thinks the ideal is radical unschooling, but she conceded that a combination of traditional homeschooling with unschooling would be better than subscribing entirely to the mainstream. She shared that her kids learn by exploring their interests and passions without engaging in anything at all "schooly", but she also supported the mother doing whatever she wanted or needed to do. She indicated that curriculum materials and structure are fine if the child wants them. However, "forcing" those things, as the dogma goes, would surely be gravely detrimental. 

To her credit, Dayna aims at a nonjudgmental, balanced response, and I am not criticizing her personally. I am intending to show the difficulty in navigating this whole issue and am suggesting making a concerted effort to get beyond it.

Obviously, with my endeavor of implementing what I find to be good in the French lifestyle and way of parenting, I am leaning more toward the importance of consistent routines so that our lives have a framework upon which to authentically grow and bloom. I am thinking of a wooden, arched trellis that was once in my yard. White roses and purple clematis would climb the trellis and be displayed in all of their glory. When strong winds damaged this structure and we had to pull it down, the flowers didn't thrive. They needed to be able to reach a higher place to get enough sun and have a sturdy foundation upon which to stretch out and take shape. How's that for an extended metaphor?

In the extremes of radical unschooling there is a tendency to reject any methods or materials that even remotely resemble school or so-called "authoritarian" parenting. As a home educator, I feel inhibited by such a mindset. I feel like my hands are tied, because we wouldn't want to put limits on our children. We must give them total and absolute freedom in all choices, in every area of life. At the risk of beating a dead horse, this is not only in opposition to the Christian parental vocation, it's simply nonsensical and irresponsible. How can one parent with confidence while being told that he or she is merely a partner and facilitator in learning and life, rather than the primary educator, as the Church teaches?

We have seen the ugly truth of what befalls our society which increasingly rejects its historical traditions. Families, churches, marriages, job security, morals, ethics, values, education, and physical and mental health have all progressively weakened. Sure, there is such a thing as too much structure. I just heard today that children have 50% less free time than they did a generation ago. They are over-scheduled and over-stimulated. As home educators, we have more control over our time and what fills our days and our children's minds, hearts, and souls. Why would we want to abdicate our God-given parental authority? Here is our chance to direct the vine toward the sun and behold the explosion of Beauty. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Blue on Blue with a Southwest Flair

My mother-in-law lives in Albuquerque, NM, and she has gifted me with some lovely, handmade Native American jewelry, as you will see. After the following pics were taken by Beezy, I realized that I looked a bit like the American Girl doll Saige, whose story is set in Albuquerque! My mother-in-law gave this doll to Beezy for Christmas, along with two books. I have been reading the first one to her, and I think you will agree that this is where my inspiration came from!

sweater, Ann Taylor, Ebay
jeans, Gap 1969 Always Skinny
western style belt, Peebles
leather boots, Ebay
"Eye of Dragon" artwork in 2nd pic, Wayne Coryell

I have been living in these Gap skinny jeans as much a possible. They are super comfortable and flattering, and the quality is great. I have a black pair on their way! Though a girly-girl, I tend to favor something a bit rugged when it comes to boots. This water repellent, oil tanned pair that I've had for several years fit the bill and keep my feet warm and dry in this arctic weather we've been having. I wore this outfit for a visit with a friend I hadn't seen in awhile, who I hosted in my home.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Easy Broccoli Cheese Soup

I've been sick since Friday, but yesterday the sun came out and healed me a bit. It was funny, because I woke up early, coughing my head off, and tried to make a doctor appointment. No one at the medical center answered. I found out later we were under a level 3 weather emergency, so that explained it. At noon we went down to a level 2, so I headed out to run some errands, no longer feeling like I needed the doctor. I wanted those little clementine oranges, so I popped into the grocery and then had a craving for mushroom soup. Mushrooms are immunity building and healing you know, so I assume it was an intuitive eating thing.

When I was single and lived alone, I taught myself to cook some things by using recipes I found on the back of cans. These are usually simple and naturally include the item in the can. I was checking the soup label to make sure there weren't any really bad ingredients (as a vegetarian, I have to be on the lookout especially for lard). I was thrilled to notice a recipe for broccoli cheese soup also on the label. It was just like old times! I'm going to start doing this more often. Typically we buy organic, frozen broccoli at Meijer, but they were out the last time my husband went shopping, so I bought conventional. As usual, I altered the recipe a bit, so I'll just tell you how I made it, and you can tweak it however you wish.

Shopping list:  1 package 12 to 16 oz. frozen broccoli; one 26 oz. can cream of mushroom condensed soup; your choice cheese; canola or vegetable oil; milk or half & half; Better Than Bouillon or chicken broth; onion; garlic.
(Exact amounts of ingredients will vary according to the size soup you are making and according to taste.)

1.  Put a little organic canola oil in the bottom of a saucepan. Add one chopped white onion (I used a small one). If you have garlic cloves, chop them and throw them in. I didn't, so I sprinkled in some  garlic powder. I ground organic black peppercorns and added some organic thyme (good for respiratory illness!). Saute until onions are soft (about 3 to 5 minutes).

2.  Add bag of frozen broccoli and saute 2 minutes. Stir in one can cream of mushroom soup (this was Essential Everyday brand). The recipe called for 1 pound of processed cheese spread, cubed. I'm not sure what this is--maybe Velveeta? I grated raw, organic sharp cheddar cheese and added that instead, but nowhere near a pound. I didn't measure it. The recipe called for 2 cups of half & half, but I used organic 1% milk. And instead of 1 cup chicken broth, I used 2 teaspoons vegetarian Better Than Bouillon No Chicken Base.

3.  Simmer 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and soup is heated through. Serve with croutons if desired. Easy peasy lemon squeezy!!

The raw cheese was quite strong, and I was afraid Beezy and her cousin who was visiting wouldn't like it, so I threw some organic oven fries in to bake. As it turned out, they both liked the soup, but Beezy didn't finish hers because it was a little too strong. Her cousin thought it was really good, and my husband, who loves strong cheese, thought it was amazing. I was especially pleased thinking that the French would approve, what with their affection for creamy dishes, and good cheese, of course!
For dessert we had frozen organic berries, slightly thawed.

I like the French idea of making sure you have at least 3 courses for dinner. It makes trying something different less risky, especially when you have kids. If the girls hadn't been fond of the soup, they could have just eaten a small portion and would for sure have liked the fries and fruit. So give the soup a try and tell me what you think, or share a comfort soup of your own for cold winter days.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Belly Dance--What Can I Say, I'm Old School!

I am excited to be teaching belly dance classes again, and to discover that it seems to be helping with my lower back issues. I decided to return to Tribal basics, which is what I began with when I taught my first class back in 2008. I had learned Tribal belly dance in Columbus after becoming interested in seeing it performed a few times, most notably by Angie Never's troupe, Sacred Shimmy. When I found out that Angie was going to teach Tribal through my teacher Laylia's studio, I was so excited!  I had taken classes for some time at Habeeba's Dance of the Arts and had learned what was termed Egyptian Cabaret, but which I later came to determine was actually American Vintage Oriental. At my first Island of Isis belly dance retreat in 2003, I had experienced Dalia Carella's Dunyavi Gypsy fusion style and had fallen in love with it. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Laylia perform at the Ohio Renaissance Festival and sought her out for a series of both private lessons and group classes. Each experience offered something unique.

The Tribal format I learned was primarily that of Gypsy Caravan, which Angie had learned directly from the troupe's director, Paulette Rees-Denis. Of the belly dance styles I had experienced thus far, Tribal seemed the most natural to my body, and it filled in gaps in my previous training. Perhaps most importantly, it got me dancing from both sides of my body, whereas Habeeba's technique heavily favored the left side. When I moved to my current location, Tribal was the style I taught first. Eventually I created choreographies that might be called "Tribaret", a combination of the Tribal and American Cabaret movement vocabularies and stylization. I also incorporated some Gypsy elements in both choreography and my solo technique.

I was giving private lessons to a friend last year, and after spending some time working on classic steps, my intuition told me to try teaching her the Tribal style I had learned from Angie. This seemed to click for my student, and she progressed more quickly and easily. I currently have four returning dancers and three new students in my Tribal basics class. The new ladies are picking the movements up very well, and the returning students are happy to be back in the Tribal saddle.

After much instruction in the Tribal style, I had taught my troupe dancers classical Egyptian belly dance, including the Baladi Taksim, Golden Era style, and drum solo technique, inspired especially by Island of Isis instructors Bahaia, Hadia, and Ranya Renee. The focus on Egyptian dance was more challenging and demanded individual response to the music and creative self-expression. It required reaching into one's artistic soul, simultaneously having control of one's movements while improvising in the moment, without anyone else to follow and with no standardized format in place. Traditional Middle Eastern music is also more complex, with the variations in rhythm, tempo, and emotion all in one song.

As an instructor, it was really difficult to take the Tribal out of my dancers and lead them in developing themselves as soloists. No doubt it was frustrating for them as well! But I knew that in good conscience I had to expose them to authentic Egyptian belly dance, in which over the years I had received such amazing training from the teachers at the annual Island of Isis retreat in Loveland, Ohio. I had also taken weekly lessons from Aegela in Toledo. My heart and soul were immersed in the full orchestral compositions of the Golden Era, and I had to be true to where I found myself as an artist. It was imperative to share my newly found passion with my students, and we all needed to grow and break out of our comfort zone.

I am now questioning whether it is wise to attempt another foray into Tribal. I live in a low population, rural area, and it hasn't been possible to offer classes in multiple styles of belly dance, to allow students to choose their area of interest. It arguably takes a couple of years of dancing together as a Tribal troupe in order for each dancer to attain proficiency in both leading and following. There is the problem of inconsistent troupe membership, and in my experience, I only had one student who could effectively lead. I came to the conclusion that Tribal just wasn't working well for my class as a whole. We kept the chorus line idea for one of our numbers but otherwise left Tribal behind.

So yesterday I was searching youtube for inspiration, and the Tribal videos weren't resonating with me. I viewed one of my favorite Lady Morrighan videos (A Lady and her Belly) and noticed something interesting in the comments. She says that while her costume is Tribal, her movements are old school belly dance. I typed the key words "old school" into google and found a NYC dancer doing an American Vintage Oriental performance. That's more like it, I thought. At the end of the day, I found myself soaking in video after video of Soheir Zaki in the 1970s. I went to bed happy, satisfied at last. And in fact, I had also begun to look again at my Golden Era favorites in black and white...

 Soheir Zaki

Tribal belly dance, with its particular breaking down of movements and consistent musical rhythms, lends itself nicely to introducing beginners to belly dance. It works so well for drilling basic steps and combinations. But do I really want to invest the next two years in developing dancers to master this style, only to have students come and go, and potentially to end up finding once again that we never really arrived? To be honest, the overabundance of the buzzy mizmar and clanking of zills often used in Tribal group improvisation grates on my nerves, and the "sameness" of the dance is simply not currently providing me with the personal inspiration I crave. I appreciate its simple beauty and the difficulty of creating dance as a group, in the moment. I love the sense of community that Tribal belly dance fosters.

But then I watch Soheir, Fifi, Naemet, Naima, Samia, and the other Golden girls, and I am spellbound, transported, and filled with joy. The question, I suppose, comes down to whether I can take my dancers with a base in Tribal and segue somehow to classical Oriental dance with a minimum of pain and confusion. It seems possible. After all, there are various elements of Tribal belly dance that are obviously inspired by the Golden Era. For example, consider that a chorus line of dancers backing up the soloist goes back to at least the 1940s. Unlike with Tribal chorus lines, however, the Golden Era variety was choreographed, and the dancers each maintained their individuality. Could something like this be done while allowing every dancer to have a brief turn in the spotlight, therefore bringing together the best of both worlds? Also, if I use Tribal only for the purposes of teaching basics and drilling sessions, could we not spend the bulk of time developing solo skills?

Well, it all remains to be seen, and hopefully I will retain enough students this time around to find out! For now, it's a tentative plan, and we'll get where we are going one step at a time.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Winter Wardrobe Update

To get back to the cultivation of the essential wardrobe, how is your daily style working now that we are in the heart of winter? I eventually brought the remainder of my cold weather clothes down from the attic and mercilessly sorted through each piece, sending many more items to the charity thrift store. I can honestly stay that I'm pleased with what's in my dresser and closet. I also have an antique cupboard with shelves inside in which I store pajamas, long underwear, and work out/dance class clothes. I went through the cupboard this week and now need to make another trip to give away what no longer fits well on my body or in my life, or is simply past its prime. I still had dance clothes from 2002!!

With all I have sent on its way, I was surprised to find that my closet and dresser are still completely full. Of course, I have purchased and been given additional items, and naturally winter clothing is bulkier than summer and takes up more space. I am keeping a close eye on those items I gravitate toward most often, and I have no doubt that by the end of winter there will be a few more pieces that I will bid farewell.

One of my favorite Christmas gifts are fringed Minnetonka moccasins (#532). We typically have a no-shoes-in-the-house rule, but the hardwood floors are too cold for just socks, and these moccasins are so much more comfortable and cuter than wearing slippers. Some days they never leave my feet!

Slowly but surely, it's all coming together. When the sun doesn't shine and there hasn't been any fresh snow for awhile, it's easy to feel as blah and grey as it appears outside. Looking forward to getting dressed can be just the inspiration you need to add a touch of color to your days and put a little spring in your step! I'm already thinking about rain boots...

Friday, January 10, 2014

2013 Flashback

I finally got my photos moved from the camera to the laptop! My casual fashion looks from fall could still be used for winter, with a change of shoes and additional layers, perhaps. At any rate, I had promised you, so better late than never! Perhaps these will give you some ideas for looking ahead to spring, or work for those readers living in warmer lands...

Here is my nine year old daughter, Beezy, and I on the American side of Niagara Falls in July, after being detained at Canada's Immigration Office. Husband thought the Falls would be better on that side, but we had no identification for our child! It was a scary experience, and we were never so grateful to be back in our own country.

prescription Polaroid sunglasses
filigree gold hoop earrings, Peebles
Ann Taylor Loft tank with lace trim

Beezy was my photographer for the pictures to follow, taken early in the fall. I think she does a great job!

French terry sweatshirt, Style & Co., Macy's
Anthropologie lounge pants, Ebay
Skechers sandals
silver and pearl Rosary bracelet, Ebay
Our Lady of Grace medal on gold chain

 Ann Taylor Loft blouse, Ebay
Anthropologie leggings, Ebay

Minnetonka soft sole moccasins

 sleeveless t-shirt, Simply Vera,
Old Navy jean jacket, thrifted
denim shorts, thrifted
vintage necklace
silver filigree hoop earrings, Peebles
thrifted red purse
black patent flats, Famous Footwear

sleeveless abstract print t-shirt, Simply Vera,
short-sleeved empire waist sweater, consignment shop
cherry red ankle jeans, Simply Vera,
peep toe clogs, Bass outlet
gold hoops, religious medal necklace, & sunglasses previously pictured

Thursday, January 9, 2014

British Blogger Crush

Catherine Summers, Not Dressed As Lamb

Wednesday I spent way too much time looking for a blog to give me renewed style inspiration. Cara Loren is great, but I need a muse closer to my age. I would never wear sweats, for example, with the word DOPE in big letters down one pant leg. Finally, I found someone who had listed her favorite blogs by women over 40, and I fell in love with Catherine Summers of Not Dressed As Lamb. I adore her red hair, pattern mixing, and creative use of bright colors.

If you have been following me for some time, you may remember when I said that I wanted to be an eccentric British woman living in the country. Or dress like one at least. Catherine lives in the South West of England (Devon) and is a 41-year-old freelance writer and style blogger. She is a former Londoner turned small town girl. Yep, she's my cup of tea!! The quintessential wild English rose.

Those of you who personally know me will have no doubt that I will be able to mix the French aesthetic of minimalist classics put together in unique ways with the more whimsical and colorful English tendencies. After all, the essential wardrobe encourages mixing and matching your pared down items, paying attention to accessories, le no makeup look, and casual but always pulled together chic. You can be understated yet with a bold nod to fantastical fun. And I think that when it comes to evening wear, the French and the English both bring it on with grand panache.

Don't you just love Catherine Summers?! She says that her hair is very gray, so it is easy to color it red. I have always wanted to be a redhead, so maybe with my increasingly silver tresses, it is time to give it a whirl! Make sure you stop by Not Dressed As Lamb. Click on the "Outfits" category at the top of the page and enjoy viewing tons of great looks for this time of year, and in preparation for the spring to come!! I am certain you will be inspired...

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Sweet Life.

Today Beezy implored, "Will you make hot chocolate like I asked you yesterday?"  A couple of years ago my mother-in-law gifted us with Bellagio Sipping Chocolate, of the dark variety. A European style powdered drinking mix, it is truly decadent stuff. The perfect antidote to a cold winter day or for a late afternoon pick-me-up. Since we were running low on sugar, I made it with maple syrup from White Kitty Farm. Heat it up to taste with your favorite kind of milk, and you're on your way to a pure moment of bliss!

I went ahead and picked up some Domino organic sugar while Beezy was at her piano lesson. During the cold snap and level 3 weather emergency, I had focused on making soup and baking baguettes and banana bread. Being that 17 degrees (above zero) felt nearly tropical today in comparison to recent temperatures, and we were finally able to get out of the house, I wanted to make sure that in the event of another deep chill we would not be out of sugar! By the way, organic is just sooo much better than conventional white refined sugar.

Which brings me to my motto for the new year, the sweet life. No big resolutions, just the simple intention to keep life sweet every day. We are out of honey and low on maple syrup, so we need to plan a trip to see our friend Jerry at Maple Grove Farm. It was very telling when the blizzard was on its way and so many people made a mad dash to buy food. Shelves were empty of the basics, like bread, milk, and eggs. I marveled that these folks would not already have their cupboards and refrigerator stocked, being that we live in NW Ohio and it is winter. Yes, we have had some mild winters, but in general many people simply don't keep food in their homes, even those with children. They run out for fast food regularly, and they typically have nothing with which to prepare their own meals. This, most decidedly, is not what I would call the sweet life. Oh, real butter is another must-have-on-hand item!

So there's a good place for you to start in 2014. Just keep food in your house, real food, organic food, food that isn't highly processed, comfort food. Then when the deep freeze comes, you can stay inside and away from grocery store madness and simmer a nice pot of cocoa for the sweet loves in your life.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Sensible Food Habits from the French

Today after not finishing her lunch, Beezy asked if she could have ice cream. I thought it a good time to fill her in on my new plan for establishing better eating habits. I have written about the French approach to meals before, and for awhile I followed it. But bad habits die hard, and I had never actually shared with my daughter why I wanted to change the way we eat. In addition, I think I had made an effort to improve my own habits, but I hadn't completely followed through with her.

Basically, the French eat three meals a day, plus a 4:00 snack called the goute. It depends on the source as to which meal is largest. Breakfast my be just a tartine (baguette with butter and jam or some other topping) and coffee, or may be more substantial, but it is never skipped. Bread and cheese are usually part of lunch and dinner, and dinner has at least three courses. I think the last meal of the day is usually a little later in France, around 7:30 to 8:00, and dessert is traditionally served. Families sit down to eat dinner together, and just to emphasize the point, there is no snacking between these designated meals times.

After I told Beezy at lunch that she wouldn't be eating again until the 4:00 snack, she was willing to finish her soup (she had eaten a clementine orange and only half her soup), plus a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made with French bread left over from last night's dinner. For our goute, we had homemade banana bread. Beezy assisted by mashing the bananas and cracking and wisking the eggs. Perhaps after having a later dinner, she will not need her usual bedtime snack.

Now, radical unschoolers will let their children decide what, when, and how much they eat. They won't require them to sit at table with their family for meals. Children don't need structure, schedules, or consistency, they assert. While unschoolers are fond of criticizing "mainstream" parenting, in many ways American parents in general are becoming more and more like unschoolers. Of course, each family has its own way of doing things, and the above comments are not true for unschoolers across the board. Some only unschool in the area of education, and I discussed some thoughts about that aspect yesterday. By and large, if unschooling philosophy is applied to all areas of life, then the statements made above about radical unschoolers are generally true.

Interestingly, the formation of these eating habits would certainly be considered part of a child's education in France, right along with learning how to be respectful, polite, and obedient to parents. Correcting a child's behavior is not considered discipline, as we would call it in America. It is called education, which is not the same thing as schooling. We'll talk more about that down the road. What I like about the French idea of education is that parents are responsible for teaching children how to interact properly with others. They firmly and immediately nip disobedience and misbehavior in the bud, beginning with toddlers. The authority of French parents is established early on and consistently maintained. They are in control of the development of good life habits in their children. The more I think about it, the more the unschooling idea of children "self-regulating" is bizarre, untrue, and dangerous.

Once a meal schedule is established, a framework will be put in place for a daily routine that other activities can be worked into. Schedules can be flexible and need not be planned down to every 15 minute segment of the day, but having a general structure to our daily round has many benefits, which I will continue to explore. How we eat effects every other area of life. Isn't it worth getting it right?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Homeschooling & Parental Authority
Why French Parents Are Superior by Pamela Druckerman

I have spent a lot of time on homeschooling forums and have noticed a recurrent theme. Mothers are exhausted from fighting their children about doing lessons, so they decide to give up and try unschooling. Some unschoolers report more peaceful homes as a result, while others do not. Many times I have read about unschooling parents whose children say they hate them. Is unschooling, in the long run, truly a good antidote for rebellion in children?

Unschooling can mean different things to different people, and there is a wide spectrum regarding how much freedom children are given to make their own choices and decisions. Whether this method of homeschooling works or not depends upon who you ask. But let's just look at this question of educational lessons and children who don't wish to do them. Is it because the curriculum is boring or too easy? Is it because the child is having difficulty understanding the material? Is it because the mother herself is stressed out about it, so it isn't any fun?

Whatever the details of the resistance, there is a common denominator, which is the root of the resistance itself. Human beings are born with different temperaments, and certainly some kids are more naturally compliant than others. But as I've been saying in the last couple of posts, the core issue is the general abdication of parental authority that has seized Americans. Can you imagine the Ingalls children arguing with Ma about doing their lessons? If you read the Little House on the Prairie series, you know that Ma was kind, loving, and generous with her children. She was also strict by today's standards. Children respected their parents. And Ma and Pa respected their children as persons while at the same time expecting obedience to their authority. Was Laura Ingalls lacking in joy, creativity, or originality as a result? Was her spirit crushed? I think not.

In Chosen and Cherished, Catholic homeschooling mother Kimberly Hahn tells us this:

"How are we to fear the Lord? Psalm 112 gives us the answer: 'Praise the Lord! / Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, / who greatly delights in his commandments!' (Psalm 112:1) Like the psalmist, we worship in reverence and joy: The fear of the Lord links joy to obedience. Our children's obedience gives us a paradigm for our response to our heavenly father. At first they obey from fear of consequences. That is an acceptable motivator for a young child, especially with safety issues involved. However, we look for the mature love of a child who obeys from the heart--to please us, to honor us. This obedience flows from proper respect for us." (emphasis mine)

What a difference this is from the "partnership paradigm" of unschooling! The fear of the Lord is being linked to joy, respect, and obedience. Think about this. Even if in the short term you have a more peaceful relationship with your children because you don't "force" them to do lessons (or brush their teeth, or eat meals with their family at the table, etc...), in the long run you have created an insecure relationship. You have given up the authority given to you by God. We are supposed to role model the Christian fear of the Lord to our children. By learning to obey us, they learn to obey God.

Instead, what we have in America are parents who live in fear of the anger, disappointment, and negative behavior of their children. The bottom line is that however you are teaching your homeschooling lessons, the lessons themselves are ultimately not the problem. The problem is that you have given up your authority, or you never had any in the first place, and your child knows it. The solution is not to stop teaching lessons. If we are going to homeschool, we must be willing to try different approaches and materials until we figure out what will click best, and we have to work at the art of teaching with wisdom, faith, and patience. As Charlotte Mason advocated, develop the habit of obedience in your children and set out a bountiful feast of ideas.

If you read the article Why French Parents Are Superior linked above, you'll get some good ideas on how you can begin to establish your parental authority. It is our responsibility to do so. I am alarmed that many Catholic unschoolers have told me that unschooling is so very Catholic! How? When I hear Christian homeschoolers gushing over the likes of radical unschooling guru Sandra Dodd, it makes me cringe. It's a subtle deception that is simply not in line with the Christian parental vocation. Words like freedom, peace, and joy are being used to tempt parents away from doing the right thing. In fact, it bears a disturbing resemblance to the New Age deception that I have also been writing about.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Undoing Unschooling

I spent a considerable amount of time looking on the internet yesterday for information regarding how to detox from unschooling. I found next to nothing, no matter what key words I employed. Naturally there is a lot of information out there about how to "deschool" and "deprogram" from the effects of institutionalized education. Parents find that they have to deeply question their notions about what education means when they begin to homeschool, and if children have been pulled from the school system, they need time to decompress and to figure out what their interests are and what to do with their time. All of that makes sense.

But what if you need to undo the effects of unschooling? In many ways I have followed unschooling principles in my parenting, even before I actively researched this philosophy and purposefully worked it into our household. I was attracted to the promise of increased joy and creativity, a more relaxed and natural way of living. Ironically, this led me to an interest in the French concept of la joie de vivre, finding deeper meaning through living with more formality, elegance, and passion. Between the French lifestyle and becoming Catholic, I found myself longing for tradition, which is not something often advocated in the unschooling world.

So I am now onto ideas gleaned from French parenting. One hot button topic in unschooling is "food freedom". Children know when they are hungry and what their bodies need, so they should be allowed free choice concerning when and what to eat. French children, on the contrary, eat what is put before them. There is no snacking save at 4:00 p.m., similar to the English tea time. Families eat at table together, and there isn't a separate category of kid foods, like we have in America. Children aren't forced to eat everything on their plates, but they must try what has been prepared. Since French people don't graze all day, they are actually hungry at meal times. Including the children. And so they eat what is on their plates! Simple as that. Why is this so hard for us?

Just now, having not even eaten breakfast yet, my daughter began to open a piece of chocolate. The radical unschooling mother would have allowed this. But non. I did not. Eat a real breakfast, I said. Now she has an apple. Yesterday I made an omelette for lunch, which Beezy helped with by cracking the eggs and whisking them. She wanted just cheese in the omelette. I wanted broccoli, which she likes, so I added it, and also onions, which she doesn't like. I didn't mention that I was putting onion in. I used only a little and cut the pieces very small. She ate her entire portion and didn't even notice the onions! She was hungry because she had not been snacking.

This reminds me of a friend of Beezy's who has visited at our house. I was telling her dad that she had told me she didn't like vegetables, so I asked him for ideas about what foods she likes. He looked at his daughter and said, "You eat what's put in front of you. You know that." During dinner when she didn't want to eat her vegetables, I reminded her what her father had said, and she ate her meal without complaint. She wasn't the least bit upset by it, either.

Another story is a funny one from my own family growing up. My brother was a super finicky eater, and he had gotten alarmingly skinny. My mom took him to the doctor. The doctor set down a rule that my mom must follow. The kids were to eat whatever she cooked, and after dinner, the kitchen was closed. If you didn't eat your dinner, you didn't get to have something else later. After a couple of weeks, my brother was eating everything. This doctor was brilliant! It was his fault that the kitchen was closed, so my brother was mad at the doctor, not my mom. And my mom had the resolve to stick to the plan, because good mothers know what is best for their children, a truth that radical unschoolers would deny.

I have found myself feeding what amounts to an entire meal to my child at bedtime. This will not do. I think a small bedtime snack is fine, but it should not be a time to make up for not eating enough all day long. The bottom line is this: I am no longer going to make special food for children, neither my own nor anyone else's. They will at least try everything on their plates. I am going to cook with healthy ingredients that I enjoy, whether or not my child thinks she likes them. I am not a short order cook, and neither are you. Take charge of meal times! Sit down for dinner together as a family on most days of the week! Do not prepare special kid foods!! Do not allow snacking and grazing all day! But your family is too busy with extracurricular activities to sit down to dinner together, you say? Non, non, non, amie. Then you cut out those activities. Family time should be your priority, not wrestling, ballet, or gymnastics.

When my books come in that I mentioned in the last post, I will share the advice found therein and my own experiences, and together we can undo the unschooling/American lifestyle damage, if that is your wish.
Start today with baby steps. Start with developing good eating habits that will last a lifetime and provide precious, irreplaceable family memories.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

French Twist & Saying No to Unschooling

I just read an excerpt, linked above, from the book French Twist, by Catherine Crawford. I promptly ordered it from the library. It seems like just the remedy I need! The remedy for what, you ask? Oh, it's a book about an American mother's experiment in adopting the French parenting style, inspired by a French friend of hers. Crawford observed herself and parents in many American cities having lost total control of their children. By trying to keep her children always completely satisfied, and in line with the modern trend toward respecting children to the point of abdicating all authority, she found herself exhausted. While Crawford's daughter was throwing a tantrum in another room, the French mother gave this advice:  If there is no blood, don't get up.

This is what I need--a sense of humor about the whole situation. Now, my daughter is a pleasant person and she doesn't throw fits. But I fear that my foray into unschooling has only been helpful to the extent that I am feeling more and more like it doesn't sit right with me. In the long run, by abandoning the whole unschooling project, I hope to forge a better, saner path. While it provided me with much-needed inspiration, and I am grateful for that, it also gave me some guidelines on how not to parent. Gentleness and peace can be cultivated without subscribing to unschooling philosophy.

With my own child, it's the arguing, albeit with general politeness, that wears me (and especially her dad!) down. And particularly because she is an only child, it's the pressure to be the entertainment committee and alleviate any potential boredom that drives me crazy. How does this relate to why I think unschooling reflects a less than ideal parenting style?

Here is the type of question people ask on unschooling forums: "Should I let my 6 year old watch The Hunger Games?" Um, no, obviously. The scary part is that parents lack confidence to the extent that they go online and ask strangers for advice. And the type of advice they get is to allow the child to watch the movie, perhaps explaining first that children get violently killed, and the movie might cause nightmares. If it is scary, you can stop the movie and discuss it. Then maybe continue on, or maybe the child will decide that she doesn't want to see it. This isn't just an issue with homeschoolers. It is nothing less than a nationwide parenting crisis. My duty as a mother is to teach my child and protect her from harm, not merely to facilitate a child-led learning process.

I agree that it's a good idea to get at the root of undesirable behaviors, to respect children as people, and to give them practice making choices. But this new "partnership paradigm" in the relationship of parents and children, in my opinion, has gotten out of hand. It doesn't simplify life (at least not for me), and it doesn't necessarily make for a more peaceful home (as attested by many FB unschooling group members). It puts too much responsibility on the shoulders of children whose parents should be in charge. There, I said it. Parents should be in control. Control in the unschooling community is a very nasty word. This whole idea of "trusting" kids to know for themselves what they need to learn, when they need to go to bed, and what is okay to watch on TV is a big pile of schlock--like a sandwich oozing with way too much peanut butter and jelly, like Ally Sheedy's lunch in The Breakfast Club. Authoritative is not the same thing as authoritarian. Family relationships and our relationship with God should come first in any notion of education, and the parents should lead the way.

I have another book coming from Amazon written by a Catholic mom in the 1950s. It isn't a homeschooling book, but I need advice on how to raise my child in a Catholic home that makes some sense. Some good old-fashioned solid advice that allows a mother to say, "No. Because I said so." Now wouldn't that be truly radical?

French Actress Crush

On New Year's Eve my husband and I watched the movie, Now You See Me on DVD. The French actress Melanie Laurent, who I had never previously seen, plays an Interpol agent. She was blonde in this movie, but I found images of her also with light brown hair. I loved her quintessential French look. She did not appear to have been made over by Hollywood stylists, but rather looked as though she was wearing clothes right out of her own closet and had done her own hair and makeup. And of course it was le no makeup look! Her hair was usually in a casual bun at the nape of her neck, and she even wore the classic black and white striped shirt in one scene. Melanie is my new style crush. I'm in love!

Perhaps for 2014 you can choose a style muse. She doesn't have to be French, but she should be real. Someone who can inspire you while wearing a t-shirt and jeans. Melanie was subtly sexy, not overtly a bombshell. If you are a natural bombshell type, more power to you. Channel your inner Marilyn Monroe. But as you know, I'm going for that certain joie de vivre that manifests as an understated attention to detail, a quiet inner strength, an authentic passion for life framed by adherence to tradition. And come to think of it, Marilyn was nothing if not mysterious.

I am making no resolutions for 2014. I don't think that would be very French, do you? Aren't you already fabulous just the way you are?

Melanie Laurent