Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Catholic Natural Learning, Fleur-de-Lis Update

In past posts I used the symbol of the fleur-de-lis to illustrate my personal approach to home-centered learning.  This popular French motif has traditionally been used as a Christian symbol representing either the Holy Trinity, Jesus, or, due to the lily's association with purity, the Virgin Mary.  In my concept of Catholic Natural Learning, the base of the fleur-de-lis (that which ties the petals together) is Catholic Faith Formation. The lower parts of the flower represent the Holy Family--Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.  Religion is the foundation upon which education is built, as was discussed in the previous article.

Initially I had designated the three upper petals of the flower to represent the philosophical methodologies of Charlotte Mason (CM), Maria Montessori, and unschooling.  I am still utilizing the first two.  I will give you a brief overview of how we implement both of these.

I rely heavily upon the use of living books as advocated by Charlotte Mason.  These include high quality fictional literature, as well as non-fiction works that are written in story form by a single author who is passionate about his topic.  There is little, if any, use of textbooks or workbooks.  Most subjects are narrated. That is, the child is read to or reads for himself and then gives either an oral or written composition of the material.  Narrations have always been an integral part of our lesson times, but at present my daughter doesn't find them enjoyable to give, so for now I'm not requiring them. She does, however, enjoy doing picture studies, which are another form of narration.  Copy work is regularly done from Catholic prayers, the Bible, or Emma Serl's Primary Language Lessons.  

As a former Montessori classroom teacher, I can tell you that to transfer the Montessori Method to a home setting would require a great deal of space, intensive teacher training, and a huge financial investment. However, none of this is necessary in order to use select Montessori resources which you believe would facilitate your child's learning. Many Montessori materials can be handmade, such as the popular sandpaper letters, and lesson plans are available online. Similar, less expensive materials can be found by companies such as Melissa and Doug. Currently we are using the Montessori moveable alphabet for phonics training and word making, in conjunction with a set of phonics cards and a dry erase board. We use a clock with moveable hands along with a Time and Money workbook, and real money as well.

Key tenets of Montessori philosophy, such as treating the child as a person and educating him for life, including the nurturing of his spirit, can be incorporated by anyone, and these are also core ideas of Charlotte Mason. As Montessori is a very tactile, "hands on" type of method, the use of tools such as math manipulatives; building activities such as Lincoln Logs and Legos; putting together puzzles; and practical life experiences such as dish washing, orange juice making, and folding clothes are things easily incorporated in the Montessori spirit.

Honing one's faculty of observation is also a primary Montessori element. In the home, you can prepare the environment to provide developmentally appropriate activities that the child is free to choose from. Establishing learning centers with materials for such things as creating artwork, making music, doing science experiments, and for use in dramatic play encourages self-directed projects. The parent/teacher has the opportunity to observe and "follow the child" in exploring her interests, finding her gifts, and supporting her in the more challenging areas.

So what of unschooling? I have determined that creating an atmosphere of learning all the time can be established using natural methods such as CM and Montessori, making the inclusion of unschooling unnecessary. All of the promise of a joyful way of family life can be had without the dogmatic baggage that comes with unschooling and the generally anti-teaching attitude of many unschoolers.  And the truth is that unschooling does not qualify as a method at all; rather, it is a philosophical mindset. I do not believe that children should shoulder the primary responsibility of deciding what, when, and how they will learn, especially in the extremes of radical unschooling. This idea goes against the Christian vocation of parents as the primary educators of their children. Since the unschooling Gestapo will insist that one can't partially unschool, it makes sense to avoid the issue altogether.

What I have chosen instead for the 3rd petal on the fleur-de-lis is relaxed homeschooling, a term coined by Mary Hood. Relaxed homeschooling is also a mindset rather than a method. Hood has described it as a middle path between the opposite ends of unschooling and the traditional school-at-home approach. Upcoming posts will illustrate how I apply a relaxed mindset with the particular methods of Maria Montessori and Charlotte Mason in the context of Catholic education.

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