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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Goodbye, Things (Book Review)



I had to wait awhile for my turn to borrow Fumio Sasaki's Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism from the library, but it was worth it. I'm not actually finished reading it yet, but I've been so inspired, I just had to share!

Fumio is a single, childless man who lives by himself in a small apartment in Tokyo. He was once a maximalist living with messy heaps of books, CDs, clothes, an antique camera collection that he never used, and various miscellany. He literally lived in the dark, too overwhelmed to open the blinds. He drank too much and squandered his time on video games.

When I was a single gal, I had my own small, cluttered, messy apartment. I didn't play video games or sit around drinking too much, and my lifestyle was interesting, active, and creative. But I can relate to how having too much stuff and living in chaos held me back from feeling as confident, capable, and joyful as I could have. And the thing is, decades later, living with a family in a much bigger space, I am still struggling with clutter. Yes, I've made much progress and have cultivated better habits, but I just wish I had discovered minimalism while I was still single!

I got a lot of help from Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but I must admit to becoming stalled and never finishing the project, which should have taken only six months. I think her idea of paring down by categories is genius. At the same time, there's something so encouraging about seeing an entire room that is finished.

I started with my bedroom, because the space where you sleep should be a sanctuary. Since I've been reading Fumio's book, I'm looking suspiciously at the books in my bedroom, which I did pare down, and thinking that more of them need to go. But I'm going to write a post specifically about book addiction later! I also have some jewelry on the my dresser that I could pare down, and there are a few things left in my closet that I ought to part with.

Fumio lives much more simply than I would want to. I find interior decorating to be a joy, and I like expressing myself creatively with my wardrobe. I'm not into the "uniform" look, which Fumio adopted from his minimalist hero, Steve Jobs. But even here, I can learn from the idea of honing in on a certain style and owning less clothing, making it easier and less time consuming to get dressed and do laundry.

This young man is not against housework, however. He loves keeping house, because the results of a clean, uncluttered home are so beneficial, and it takes him very little time to accomplish his tasks. Charlotte Mason would wholly approve of Fumio's emphasis on positive habit formation!

This week Ive been digging into my kitchen cupboards while my husband is working out of the house. A woman needs a well-functioning kitchen! I had gotten to a place where I wasn't inspired to cook anymore, and I think this decluttering and reorganizing process is going to take care of that problem. I'm looking forward to going to the farmers market and grocery store today!

It takes time, diligence, and persistence to pare down one's belongings and tidy one's home. But as Fumio has attested, it does change your life. He's a new man, and I want to be a new woman! I want to live better, more fully and meaningfully. Paradoxically, this means living more simply and being content with what you have.

The only criticism I have of Goodbye, Things is that Fumio tends to repeat himself, but I think he brings up stories again in order to make an additional point.

My laptop battery is running low, so that's my cue to get moving! Read Fumio's book so we can discuss!!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Minimalist Homeschooling





Now that we're about a month into our homeschool year, I can evaluate how the new, minimalist schedule is working out. I did so much planning beginning last spring, tweaking things (way too many times!) over the summer, and fretting about this thing called Jr. High. But I also prayed a lot, and that makes all the difference. I was very well prepared, so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised by how smoothly things are humming along. Yet I find myself amazed! I am converted to minimalism.

I decided not, at this time, to try to do a double history-based unit study, combining the Old Testament and Victorian England themes. We're sticking with ancient history, focusing right now on the Old Testament. We begin each lesson time with prayer and a Bible reading. Since we began with King Solomon in our Bible History book, the Bible readings are coming from the books he authored--Proverbs, Canticle of Canticles, and Wisdom. This also comprises our poetry study!

For literature, we're going the Charlotte Mason route and simply doing free reading. This means that my daughter got to choose from among 10 books of literary value that we already had in the house. She simply reads a chapter each day to herself and is not required to do vocabulary lessons, analysis, chapter questions, narrations, or anything but enjoy it! This is also a practice used in schools which is believed to be of great benefit for the child's language arts skills. (They call it Sustained Silent Reading, or SSR, 'cause you gotta have an acronym for a thing to be real, right? Here's an article on its benefits: http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/curr038.shtml.) Beezy also reads a novel of her own choosing each night before bed. One of my primary goals this year is to facilitate more independent reading.




We have covered a couple of chapters in A Child's Geography of the World (Hillyer) on the "Bible Lands" but won't continue with that until be get to the chapter on Babylon in Bible History in a few weeks. At that point Beezy will begin working on the Hanging Gardens of Babylon art project in the Draw and Write Through History book. In the meantime we are reading about prehistoric art in The Story of Painting (Jansen) and a book from the library. 

Our spelling words come from dictation lessons. Misspelled words are copied three times, followed by a test. We're also going to work through The Everything Kids Spelling Book, which I got from the library. I think it will be beneficial to go through the rules and get more practice in this area. Another major goal is to step up the writing skills, so in addition to dictation, Beezy has cursive writing (or copy work), journal writing, and written narrations. She also still does the occasional oral narration. Note taking, book reports, and literary elements and devices will also be introduced this year.

I think the rest of the schedule is self-explanatory, but don't hesitate to ask for more clarification in the comments! For those who are new to the blog, this curriculum is for my 7th grader. We have pared down our Catholic Charlotte Mason schedule and are trying out history-based unit studies. We are basically tracking 12 subjects, and a few more with extracurricular activities. Only 7 subjects are done per day. The liberal arts feast is being spread, but it doesn't feel like a circus trick to keep up with. In fact, this feels to me like the most perfect balance I've ever achieved!

 
Catholic Homeschool Schedule 2017–2018

Old Testament Unit

Daily Core: (Open with prayer and Bible reading)

- Total Math
- Free reading: Into the Land of the Unicorns (Coville)
- Piano practice
- Cursive writing (Seton)

Twice Weekly Loop:

- Grammar (CHC)
- Learn Spanish with Grace!
- Health: The Feelings Book (journal writing)
- Spelling

Weekly Loop:

- Bible History (Seton)
- Prehistoric Art (dictation)
- Religion (Seton)
- Nature Study: Some Animals and Their Homes (written narration)

Extracurriculars:

- Piano lessons
- Tumbling class
- Religious education class
- Choir and Musical Theater homeschool co-op classes

Monday, August 28, 2017

Toward a Catholic Philosophy of Education



While doing some housekeeping chores today, I turned on Catholic Radio and happily encountered a discussion on Catholic education. Unfortunately I missed some of it, but I was able to tune into large portions of the show over the hour. I didn't catch the name of the man being interviewed, but he was someone in charge of the St. Augustine homeschooling enrichment program in the Toledo, Ohio area. 

He said something that amazed me: The Mass is the center of a Catholic liberal arts education. I'd never heard it put this way before. Homeschoolers who take their children to daily Mass are on the right track! 

This program guest discussed the need for Catholic schools to return to a classical method of education. In one sense, he said, the purpose of classical education is the cultivation of virtue, the idea of how to live fully as a human being. He listed philosophy, theology, history, literature, mathematics, and the sciences as traditional liberal arts subjects. I think foreign language study was also included. I may be leaving something out, but that's what I remember. What we are talking about is the pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty for their own sake.

He explained that some people think that Socratic dialogue is classical education; but what that really entailed was Socrates talking at great length and then his listeners either agreeing or disagreeing with him! A liberal arts education more accurately draws the learner out with questions on the material, and subsequent discussions develop from them.

I have mentioned this point in previous posts as being at odds with Charlotte Mason, who did not believe in putting questions to the child. To be sure, we do not want to take on a quizzing attitude, but I think we do need to incorporate a few well-chosen questions now and again, while focusing on the conversational aspect. This would be a very Thomas Aquinas style approach.

I personally prefer the term "liberal arts" to "classical", simply because it encompasses a broader definition than the exclusively Trivium-focused or Latin-centered styles in vogue today. And I believe that a liberal arts education can be achieved whether one uses a traditional curriculum package, such as Seton Home Study; a guide to books and lesson plans which implements classical teaching techniques, such as Mother of Divine Grace; or a self-designed course of study such as that outlined in Elizabeth Foss's Real Learning. Catholic Heritage Curricula incorporates both "traditional" and "classical" education methods and is Charlotte Mason friendly.

The fine arts were also mentioned in the radio program as those pursuits which bring the joy of being human into our lives.

I find it very telling regarding the dubious course of modern American education, that entire majors in the humanities, such as philosophy, are being removed from universities, and others, such as English, are being drastically reduced. This is most likely in response to the Common Core Curriculum standards which are dumbing down education in America's schools. While technological and trade skills are immensely advantageous in finding a good job, as Charlotte Mason stressed, a liberal arts education should be the foundation for making one the best person possible, no matter what field one enters. 

From what I've been able to discern from extensive reading on the subject over the summer, and what the radio show helped to click into place, an authentically Catholic education could be summed up with three basic principles: 

1. Parents are the primary and principle educators of their children. 

2. The Catholic Faith must permeate the entire curriculum via an organized, liberal arts framework, serving to educate the whole person. 

3. A broad and general sense of what we need to know as human beings is transferred in a shared body of knowledge and wisdom, both in terms of what we can understand via human reason and what we learn from divine revelation. 

These principles could be elaborated upon, but I think that is the crux of the matter. They explain what is meant by scholasticism, the marriage of faith and reason which characterizes a classic Catholic education. I have to agree with Charlotte Mason in that the course of study should not be directed by the child's interests, though plenty of time is left in the day to explore those. I think in this respect, CM's philosophy is perfectly in line with Catholic teaching. Naturally, as the Church teaches, children will be allowed a gradual increase in independence and decision-making as they mature.

Last night I was listening to a podcast on youtube featuring Dr. Mary Hood on the topic of relaxed homeschooling. She put the obtaining of knowledge at the bottom of her educational goals. This would not be in line with a liberal arts education, and Charlotte Mason would certainly disagree. Charlotte believed that a broad and generous curriculum of knowledge was the very thing children needed to feed their minds and souls. They should be educated on the ideas of the best minds, chiefly through living books, but also by way of direct experiences and observations. 

What Mary Hood and Miss Mason would likely agree upon is the necessity of cultivating communication skills. Dr. Hood stated these as reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills. All of these are fostered in a liberal arts education. 

Can textbooks fit into this liberal arts picture? I think a combination of classical methods, using original sources and living books, along with some judiciously chosen, traditional text/workbooks is ideal. It helps to have a framework around which to build the course of study, especially if one wishes to base it upon historical periods. As the historical worldview needs to be specifically Catholic according to the Church, a selection of Catholic history text/workbooks is exceedingly helpful to the busy homeschooling parent. However, each of us will find the best combination of resources for our homeschools. My idea is but one among many.

In the homeschool enrichment program that the man on the radio directs, children learn about four blocks of history in a four-year rotation; so children of different ages are learning through the same period of history, but at different levels. Children of multiple ages in the same family can then discuss the ideas and facts being learned together! This sounds a lot like the history-based unit studies approach I am implementing this year. 

While you might have to dig a little harder to get a firm grasp on an authentic Catholic pedagogy, as opposed to the proliferation of material on various homeschooling methods, the Church does provide us with the only philosophy we really need in her catechism and papal encyclicals on education, parenting, and family life. We have the stories of the Bible and the saints to guide us in virtue. We can utilize a few classical techniques and choose from a number of Catholic curriculum providers (and the library!) to help us achieve our goals for our children. We can tailor the education to the individual child and to our unique family situations.

Most of all we need confidence as Catholic homeschoolers that we are doing the very best thing for our children, and Holy Mother Church gives this to us. The best thing we can do is to know our Faith well and to study the teachings of the Church on education. An excellent overview is given on these teachings in Catholic Home Schooling by Mary Kay Clark, founder of Seton Home Study School. 

What I'm hoping to accomplish with all this is to encourage Catholic home educators to let go of obsessing over philosophies and methods and to focus instead on being Catholic. "Liberal arts" does not have to become yet another label. If you are teaching and living the Faith with your children and providing them with a Catholic worldview in the curriculum, and giving them a broad and generous course of study oriented toward virtue, you can't really go wrong. And though it might seem counterintuitive, even a minimalist curriculum approach can thoroughly reflect the liberal and fine arts. But that's a topic for next time!!


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Old Testament/Victorian England Unit Study





Since Beezy's musical theater class with the homeschooling co-op will be putting on Mary Poppins, I felt inspired to create a Victorian England unit study. Yet I didn't want to disrupt the ancient history schedule I already had planned. (See the June 23 post, My Simplest Homeschooling Schedule Ever!) 

The solution I came up with was to combine the Old Testament and Victorian England units! I did not have a literary novel chosen for the O.T. unit, so Beezy will be reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which takes place in the Victorian Era. Chapter 80 of Hillyer's A Child's History of the World will introduce the time period, and other Victorian/Edwardian selections will be worked in. Beezy will still do the Hanging Gardens of Babylon art project from Draw and Write Through History, but instead of prehistoric art, she'll study Beatrix Potter. Nature studies will focus on the flora and fauna popular with the Victorians and featured in Potter's artwork. Our poet study is the lovely Alfred, Lord Tennyson.


I'll keep you posted as the unit develops. Cheerio!!


Vintage Catholic Daily Homeschool Schedule, 2017–2018

Term 1, Old Testament/Victorian England Unit Study


1. Hamilton's Arithmetic/Total Math

2. Piano Practice

3. Bible History/A Child's Geography/Child's History of the World
(sub in The Country Artist and The Royal Diaries: Victoria)

4. Spanish/Religion

5. Language of God/Handwriting

6. Nature Study: Some Animals & Their Homes/ABC's of Nature

7. Art & Poetry: Hanging Gardens Project/The Art of Beatrix Potter
(sub in Pressed Flowers Book Marks/Alfred, Lord Tennyson/Song of Songs)

8. Free Reading: The Secret Garden


Weekly:
Religious Education Class
Horseback Riding Lessons
Homeschool Co-op Choir & Musical Theater (Mary Poppins)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

No Baggage Book Review, Hygge, & a Day at the Beach



I just finished reading No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love & Wandering by Clara Bensen, a travel memoir I eagerly devoured in three days. I found it when I did a library search on the topic of minimalism. Clara is a 25-year-old who met Jeff, an older university professor, through an online dating group. A magical connection ensued, and a month after their meeting, Clara joined Jeff for a 21-day, overseas tour beginning with Istanbul and finishing in London. The catch: no baggage, no reservations. Jeff carried everything in his pockets, and Clara brought a small purse. They wore the same clothing for the entire trip.

I was immediately intrigued upon learning that Clara came from a loving, evangelical Christian home and was homeschooled. Her uncommonly good writing skills and obvious intelligence and wit were encouraging. She seemed to have no misgivings about being homeschooled, and she had a close relationship with her parents. Yet through the experience of college life she lost her moral compass. Upon facing the harsh realities of the 2008 housing market crash following her graduation, she spiraled down a two-year rabbit hole of mental illness.

Her prose is laced with profanity and stories of sex outside of marriage. I could relate to much of her twenty-something experiences, having been negatively influenced by the college culture myself, then becoming very depressed after graduating in late 1991 during a major recession. I too had grown up in a Christian home and lost my way. It's a cautionary tale. It's also an inspiring one.

I spent the day at a state park beach with my family and a friend of Beezy's this past Friday. I finally felt myself sink into summer. The tension I'd been holding in the core of my being melted in the hot sun and floated away in the waves of the lake. I wore a blue, cotton gauze dress I found at Good Will that is so comfortable and pretty I could wear it every day, just like Clara wore the same green frock for three weeks straight. Traveling so light was almost anticlimactic, so easy it turned out to be. I would not want to repeat her "couch surfing" experience, not knowing where she and Jeff were going to sleep from night to night. But I could imagine just a carpet bag of my possessions and maybe a house swapping situation, where I could cook and have a home base. And then make day trips to other destinations, rather than sitting on buses and trains for 24 hours at a time and hitchhiking.

So back to the beach. I've also been reading a few library books about hygge, the Danish concept of a certain experience of quiet happiness and comfort. Hygge, pronounced hoo-ga, is about simple pleasures, companionship, hominess and coziness, a strong connection to nature, and a feeling of deep peace and well-being. It's one of those ideas that's foreign to us Americans and difficult to define. But when I was sitting there on the beach, completely being in the present moment, with no shred of anxiety or irritation, enjoying the company of the people I was with, and even the strangers, I got it. This is hygge. 

Having found my summer groove not until the 2nd half of July, I am seriously considering not starting our homeschooling back up until after Labor Day. I know, so radical! Such a risk! But it has only been in the past couple of decades that the beginning of school got pushed earlier and earlier, till the kids are now slumping to the bus stop with their back packs in the middle of August. I have an appointment with a pain specialist for a consultation about my lower back, hoping that an epidural steroid injection might enable me to sit for long periods in a car again. I have a dream of traveling with my family in a RV and spending copious amounts of time in woods and meadows and by lakes and streams. Lots of people "road school"! Why not leave town at the precise moment that everyone else goes back to the grind? Even if we don't embark on an epic journey, we can do the day-tripping thing from our own home base. And we can keep on lightening our load of possessions and worries.

In addition to my blue thrift store dress, I also picked up a plum purple, Old Navy tank top. Purple was not a color in the stores this year, and the top was an item I desperately needed. I was thrilled to find two pieces of clothing that I absolutely love, in excellent used condition, for a total of $10. This is how I want to dress myself always, only in those items that bring me joy to put on. It's difficult to find clothing that one would put in the "love" category, so it logically follows that one's wardrobe would have to be minimalist.

The moral of the story is that there is hope for the fallen Clara, who most likely by her mother's ardent prayers (and unbeknownst to herself) made her way back to the land of the living. She was brave enough to take a risk on love. Surely she took too many risks, but she trusted her intuition and was willing to experiment with a different way of being in the world. She had the courage to face her demons head on. There is hope for the fallen you and me as well. I heard an adage once that dissolved me in tears, and every so often it whispers in the forefront of my mind:

At the end of your life, these three things matter most--
How much did you love,
how well did you live your life,
and how deeply did you learn to let go...




Friday, July 14, 2017

Authenticity.





Take heed and guard yourselves from all covetousness, for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.  Luke 12:15

It seems to me that the simplicity/slow/minimalism movement is at its heart about authenticity. Life in modern society is focused upon trying to be like other people--mostly people we don't know, people we see in magazines, on social media and television. Or if we do sort of know them, we want to be like the versions of themselves that they want other people to see and believe. Why do we do this, grasshoppers?

We don't know ourselves, so we think we need other people to help us figure out what we like and don't like, what our true style is, what our secret purpose is in life. We create fantasy selves.

If I don't orient my life around who I am in the eyes of God, then I truly don't know who I am. I'm not rooted, and I float around willy-nilly. I have to intentionally spend time, daily, in prayer, reading the Bible, and contemplation. I also have to spend time regularly in creation, going outside, noticing the birds, insects, and flowers, being active.

I have to see myself as a child of God and of Mary, as a sister of Jesus. As a member of the mystical body of Christ, which is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I have to make a concerted effort to see all others as made in the image and likeness of God. And if I miss Mass for whatever reason, things begin to fall apart.

When we declutter and pare down our possessions; when we eat local, organic food and keep a compost heap in our yards; when we strictly limit the time we spend plugged into devices; when we walk in the woods, have dinner together as a family, and stop making an idol of busyness, we become authentic. When we stop focusing on ourselves and tend to the needs of others, we become more of who we were meant to be.

We must stop wanting what other people have. We must quit trying to be like other people, or who other people think we are or should be. We have to recognize the addiction to possessions, and in a sense, to value things more than we do. A true materialism values quality over quantity and is content with having enough. Our society teaches us to see things as disposable and easily replaceable. This attitude then gets extended to people. It's imperative that we learn to appreciate what we have and be good stewards of our possessions; and to treat all people and creatures with kindness and dignity.

Searching for your "authentic Self" is a bit narcissistic, isn't it? Authenticity isn't self-conscious, and it doesn't need constant entertainment and novelty. Go deeper with what you have. Get outside of yourself and serve others. Lose yourself, and all the baggage, to find yourself. Rejoice and be glad.

Friday, June 23, 2017

My Simplest Homeschool Schedule Ever!



A couple of days ago I got our homeschooling "approval" letter from the local school superintendent. The paperwork for our state is of course necessary, but the approval can't be denied as long as everything is in order. Still, it's nice to have the formalities completed and not to have any loose ends hanging over my head!

I've been doing a lot of journaling lately as part of my contemplative, devotional practice. I do believe that as I pray over our homeschool, the Holy Spirit guides me, especially by way of intuitive insights. One day a couple of weeks ago while I was writing, I made a list of subjects--handwriting, math, piano, reading, art, and Spanish. Can you imagine what Charlotte Mason would have thought about a mere six subjects?!  I fleshed this out to seven daily subjects/books, based upon the unit studies I have planned. (Notice, there are no loop schedules!) I'll enumerate them first, and then explain how the system will work. 

1. Bible History/Geography
    (sub in Religion and Songs of Songs)
2. Hamilton's Arithmetic (supplemented with Total Math)
3. Cursive Writing (Seton)
4. Learn Spanish with Grace!
5. Language of God (CHC grammar)
6. Art Project/Nature Study
    (sub in The Story of Painting/Prehistoric Art/The Feelings 
     Book)
7. Piano Practice

The first unit I've created for the upcoming fall term is based on the Old Testament. Since Beezy already read an Old Testament historical novel this past spring term, King David and His Songs (Windeatt), Seton's Bible History: Old Testament will serve as her primary reading text. I will be reading aloud the relevant chapters from A Child's Geography of the World (Hillyer), for which Beezy will write narrations. So the first "subject" is actually History/Geography, alternating twice each in a four-day week. (Fridays Beezy will have Choir and Musical Theater classes with a homeschooling co-op.) 

We will finish the Geography chapters before the Bible History (which will cover King Solomon to the end of the book), so then Seton's Religion 6 for Young Catholics book will be subbed in (continued from this past school year), as well as passages from the Songs of Songs; incorporating copy work, dictation, and memory recitation. The Song of Songs is poetry, so you can see how more subjects are being worked in than initially meets the eye...

Art projects for this year will come from Draw and Write Through History, the first one being the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Art will alternate with Nature Study, for which we will be using Some Animals and Their Homes. When the art project is finished, we'll read the first section in The Story of Painting (Jansen, cave paintings), followed by Prehistoric Art (Hodges). From there we'll alternate between Some Animals and Their Homes and The Feelings Book from American Girl, which will be one of our Health topics. 

Obviously this is not a "true" unit study, because all subjects are not related to the central theme of the Old Testament. The next topic, Ancient Egypt, will be more comprehensive. I think that this approach is going to be rich and varied enough in subjects/books, while keeping to a more multum non multa, classical philosophy. We will go more deeply into subjects, and the course of study will be more unified. And all of the books for the unit can fit into Beezy's workbox, including her composition and nature notebooks! I'm hoping to keep each unit to about six weeks. 




In addition to the homeschooling co-op, Beezy will have weekly piano and horseback riding lessons, and tumbling classes. 

So what do you think of my new, pared down schedule for the 7th grade? I can't wait to try it out, but for now we are all about summer!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Good of Charlotte Mason



It may seem to readers that I've been very hard on Charlotte Mason lately. I felt the need to really pinpoint what the issues might be for Catholics, to be very aware of what elements don't mesh with the Faith and the Church's educational tradition. I do not mean to completely reject CM. After all, the Catholic Church is not opposed to new ideas. She does not insist upon any particular pedagogical method. It's entirely possible and permissible to take the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty found in non-Catholic resources. We simply need to be discerning. 

I was reminded of the good of Charlotte Mason when I received a Stories of the Saints reading comprehension book that I had ordered from Catholic Heritage Curricula for the upcoming school year. For the first story, there are 12 vocabulary words to define and 10 comprehension questions. This seems like a lot to me. For Seton's Bible History chapters there are only about four, fill-in-the-blank questions to complete. I imagine that Beezy would blanch at the idea of doing so much more work!

However, she does need to be doing more writing, and answering all those questions with complete sentences would give her that opportunity. At the same time, because of CM, I know about alternative language arts methods. I can have Beezy do copy work and dictation lessons from the text. I could have her simply write a narration, and in fact the Stories of the Saints book suggests topics for essays. I could have her give me an oral narration after the story, and then she could answer only those questions that she did not already cover. With the vocabulary, she would only have to look up those words that she didn't already know. In the introduction, the author suggests several options for how the book might be used. In any case we are not locked in to only one way of doing things. That is the mentality I really want to get away from.

What I love about homeschooling is that we can try different things and do what works best. Even if I required Beezy to fill in every blank and answer every question, the work wouldn't have to be done all in one day. A number of different approaches and writing assignments can be used to encourage retention of the material and enhance thinking skills. 

I think I simply needed to branch out with some new teaching ideas for the upcoming school year, to keep things fresh for both myself and my child. I've assimilated what I needed from Charlotte Mason and will probably have the occasional opportunity to revisit her. But I think that now, for the most part, we are on to new challenges and experiences. And we're just going to enjoy being the unique Catholic homeschooling family that we are!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Reason and the Catholic Mind



Those who...honestly accept the final effect of the Reformation will none the less face the fact, that it was the Schoolman (Thomas Aquinas) who was the Reformer; and that the later Reformers were by comparison reactionaries... For instance, they riveted the mind back to the literal sufficiency of the Hebrew Scriptures; when St. Thomas had already spoken of the Spirit giving grace to the Greek philosophies. He insisted on the social duty of works; they only on the spiritual duty of faith. It was the very life of the Thomist teaching that Reason can be trusted: it was the very life of Lutheran teaching that Reason is utterly untrustworthy."   --G.K. Chesterton  (emphasis mine)

In the words of a popular 1990s song, Woop, there it is!  I started reading Chesterton's St. Thomas Aquinas today, and already in the first chapter a fundamental difference between the Catholic and the Protestant mind is succinctly stated. And herein is further elucidation on the question of Charlotte Mason's appropriateness for Catholic educators.

Charlotte quite clearly did not trust in Reason, for the reason that the mind can logically defend any notion that it already believes to be true. In other words, we can easily fool ourselves. In this point I will agree. We can rationalize our way out of a nailed shut coffin. Today psychologists label rationalization as a defense mechanism used to justify bad behavior. It is a fallacy of reasoning, only superficially seeming to be logical. This is not a true use of the human faculty of Reason. But alas, Charlotte also disagreed with the training of the mind's faculties. She did not believe in the faculties of the mind at all.

This explains why CM discouraged Socratic questioning, why she wanted to leave the child free to come to his own conclusions. She seemed to believe that putting questions to the child's mind was encroaching upon his personality; and she argued that when given the ideas found in living books to feed his mind, he would not fail to come to the right conclusions on his own.

In the article recently discussed, "Thomas Aquinas and the Great Recognition," Art Middlekauff draws the distinction between Charlotte's educare, to nourish, and the classical educere, to draw out. Once again I must agree with Art--Charlotte was not a classical educator, in that her philosophy and method were not based upon the Greek and Latin studies of antiquity. He quotes her to prove his point:

Specialists, on the other hand, are apt to attach too much importance to the several exercise of the mental ‘faculties.’ We come across books on teaching, with lessons elaborately drawn up, in which certain work is assigned to the perceptive faculties, certain work to the imagination, to the judgment, and so on. Now this doctrine of the faculties, which rests on a false analogy between the mind and the body, is on its way to the limbo where the phrenologist’s ‘bumps’ now rest in peace. The mind would appear to be one and indivisible, and endowed with manifold powers; and this sort of doctoring of the material of knowledge is unnecessary for the healthy child, whose mind is capable of self-direction, and of applying itself to its proper work upon the parcel of knowledge delivered to it. Almost any subject which common sense points out as suitable for the instruction of children will afford exercise for all their powers, if properly presented.  (emphasis mine)

I do in fact agree with Charlotte to a certain extent. This is why I'm not truly "classical" either. As I argued in the last post, I don't believe that Latin is absolutely necessary for training the mind in the faculty of Reason. I don't think her science on the brain is quite right, however. We do know that injury to a certain area of the brain can affect a particular function, such as memory, and that certain kinds of exercises can strengthen such functions. She is right that the brain is more complex than originally imagined and works as a whole, but we now know that all brains are not created equal. The male brain is more compartmentalized; while the female brain is more complex, with a greater amount of connective tissue between the two hemispheres. No doubt we will continue to develop better understanding of the science of the brain as time progresses.

I agree with Charlotte's emphasis on nourishing the mind on living ideas, as opposed to merely teaching a child how to learn, which seems to be the classical emphasis. I think that what Charlotte achieved was a nice balance in this respect. For example, memory recitation was a part of her method, but the curriculum wasn't centered upon rote memorization. It wasn't limited to, or even focused upon, the trivium of antiquity. There is no reason that children should have to wait until high school and college to obtain knowledge in a variety of subject areas, to have intimate acquaintance with many ideas and things. Both are right, both are necessary--educare and educere. And this is the Catholic Way, isn't it, the "both/and" frame of mind? I would have to argue with Art on this point: the Catholic Way is not "classical" as defined by his terms. It's scholastic.

Thomas Aquinas reconciled Aristotle to the Catholic Faith. Faith and Reason could live together in harmony; in fact, could not really live apart. Now, you may be wondering, why wasn't this point obvious to me before, that Charlotte Mason was simply not Catholic, and that of course there would be areas of disagreement. The thing is, I'm only now coming to understand why that matters. It's not just "Bible only" Christianity vs. Scripture and Tradition. It's Charlotte's philosophical rejection of Reason against St. Thomas' validation of Reason. Charlotte placed too much faith in the self-direction of the mind of the child, perhaps to the point of magical thinking; and hers is a Bible-only, educare-only philosophy. Training the Reason is the proper antidote to rationalization. And in a proper Catholic curriculum, the marriage of Faith and Reason is inherent.

Clearly we must be guided to developing our powers of Reason and the ability to come to the Truth. Vatican II put a primacy on the informed conscience of the faithful in decision making. It wasn't until college that I realized how bad I was at making decisions. Being presented with the most trivial of decisions (ie., a restaurant menu) would fluster me. If the conscience has not been properly formed, then the faithful will likely make decisions in opposition to the teachings of the Church. Hence we have Catholics and other Christians who support abortion rights, who live together before marriage, who believe in homosexual "marriage", etc.

Vatican II presupposed that Catholics would be raised with the proper development of their faculties of Reason! That they would know both what they believed and why, and would be able to defend the Faith. That they would be, with grace, safeguarded against rationalization. We see the results of watered-down catechesis and the failure to develop critical thinking skills all around us.

Charlotte Mason got part of the picture right, and to the extent that she was right, we can emulate her. But we have to be very aware of the ways in which her philosophy is diametrically opposed to Catholicism, and we have to choose the Church first. I would go so far as to say that the truths she "discovered" were already inherent in Catholic philosophy; and the more that we understand the Church's teachings on education and everything else, the less we Catholics will need to depend upon her. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Project, Simply Catholic Homeschooling (and the Latin Question)




Happy June! What glorious weather we are having!! I am now the mother of a teenager, and we are about to host a big birthday slumber party. Our public pool will open next week, and it will be time to just relax and sink into summer. I have even already delivered my homeschooling paperwork to the local school superintendent's office!

I'm happy to say that my decluttering project, which I focused upon during Lent, is still in action. My terrible bedroom annex is finally presentable. It isn't finished yet, but it's no longer embarrassing. My daughter's bedroom is also slowly but surely being relieved of its burdens of stuff.

In addition to that project, and in relation to it, I'm going to apply the concept of schole, learning as leisure, to myself. I'm going to solve the mystery of what Catholic home education actually is! Here's the thing. When I first started homeschooling, I often came across the assurance that parents know their children better than anyone and are the most qualified people to teach them. And this, regardless of educational background. We could teach our children well without any type of certificate, training, or degree. I rarely see these sentiments being expressed anymore.

Instead, it's all about which is the best method or curriculum program, and whether or not you can--or must--do this or that as a Catholic (or an unschooler, or a classical or Charlotte Mason homeschooler, etc...). There is a potent sense of insecurity in the atmosphere. There is also much argument over what increasingly seems to me to be much ado about nothing. We have forgotten that we are not teaching curriculum programs--we're teaching children. Our children. Who we know better than anyone else. Remember?!

It seems to me that Catholic homeschoolers are, by and large, putting teaching methods and gurus before the Faith. Perhaps I'm wrong, and I hope that I am. The most pertinent question on our minds should be this: What does the Church teach us about education? What do the Bible, the popes, and the saints have to tell us? What particular guidance is being given us by the Holy Spirit? Do we even have the eyes to see and the ears to hear? Or are we too caught up in philosophical anxiety?

I'll tell you what. Let's get the Latin thing out of the way right now, and at least one problem will be solved. Yes, Latin plays a substantial role in the tradition of the Catholic Church. Yes, a curriculum centered around the Latin and Greek languages, literature, and history might be the most authentically classical one. And yes, studying inflected languages does help better one's understanding of English grammar; and yes, by all accounts Latin helps to develop critical thinking skills. But no, you don't have to study Latin to be a Catholic homeschooler. You don't have to re-create the Jesuit system of classical education in your home to be an authentically Catholic educator.

French and Spanish are both inflected languages, and there are others. You aren't obligated, however, to teach any foreign language to your child. He will need a certain number of years of foreign language study in high school if he's college bound. Before then, it doesn't have to be an issue. It's entirely up to you!

As far as critical thinking skills go, Latin is not the only way to get them. For me personally, Shakespeare was the ticket! Reading the Bard, forming a thesis, and proving it with the text at hand and within the historical context was the process that developed my ability to think for myself, and to back up my opinion with substantial evidence. This is what honed my writing skills in college. At any rate, I dare say that Jesus Christ excelled at critical thinking and rhetorical skills, without the benefit of Latin.

But is Latin worthy of studying? Of course it is! It can be a wonderful way of passing on the cultural heritage of Western civilization, and I have a library book all ready to teach me over the summer. We are raising our children to be lifelong learners, yes? If we do not get to Latin while they are under our roofs, they will have the opportunity to pursue it on their own at a later time. 

I feel like my critical thinking skills have been enhanced simply by becoming Catholic. The very process of learning the Catholic Faith itself has formed new pathways in my brain, to be sure! Along the journey, it occurred to me that Catholicism is very logical. As I've mentioned, a key figure in Catholic theology, philosophy, and education is St. Thomas Aquinas and his Scholastic Method of the 13th century, by which he successfully united faith with reason. It's becoming ever more clear why the Faith is at once both extremely rational and deeply mystical.

I finished reading Guide to Thomas Aquinas by Joseph Pieper and have a couple of other books going on the scholastics of the Middle Ages, which in fact include not only Christians, but Jewish and Muslim thinkers as well! I've printed off Pope Pius XI's encyclical, Divini Illius Magistri (On the Christian Education of Youth), and I've started reading Catholic Home Schooling by Mary Kay Clark.

I want to know what Catholic education is, pure and simple. And I do think it is much simpler than the mountains of methods that we've been forcing ourselves to climb.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Charlotte Mason & the Catholic Conundrum, Part 3



What conclusions can I draw to wrap up this discussion? I'm not here to tell anyone either to embrace or refrain from using Charlotte Mason's method of education. I found CM before I was Catholic, and since coming to the Church, I've gone back and forth regarding whether or not her philosophy is in any contradiction with the Catholic Faith. I think the evident confusion that she creates holds a key.

There is wisdom in Charlotte Mason, but perhaps it's too difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. St. Thomas reflected deeply upon Aristotle in order to reconcile him with Catholicism and the Bible. Catholics reflecting upon Charlotte Mason will likewise need to separate truth from error. But we are not St. Thomas. It seems better, in the case of mothers who have taken on the enormous task of teaching their children themselves, to rely upon the work that the Catholic Church has already accomplished.

I can't imagine that there is really anything particular to Charlotte Mason that can't be found in our own tradition, and with the use of common sense. And in that case, we are relieved from the burden of trying to "Catholicize" CM. My current exploration is toward an authentically traditional, Catholic education, derived from the Scholastic Method of St. Thomas and facilitated by history-based unit studies. This seems more open somehow than CM. Likewise, I'm studying Christopher Perrin's youtube talks on the 8 essential principles of classical pedagogy, which don't seem to place arbitrary limits on what one can and cannot do. The principles could be applied in any number of ways. I want an approach that doesn't force a "best" way of doing things. That freedom to simply be a Catholic homeschooler is calling me.

I was reflecting today on how Charlotte Mason helped me when I was struggling to teach my child to read. A phonetic approach just wasn't clicking. CM gave me the "permission" to try sight reading instead, and her advice on this matter in Home Education was very valuable. But then I considered that Beezy's reading finally took off when I had a light bulb moment about the set of Dick and Jane books we had sitting in a closet. I had learned to read with Dick and Jane! Charlotte would have surely considered it "twaddle", but in desperation I was willing to try anything.

Dick and Jane worked most likely as the result of the repetitive quality of the books, which fits in with the classical principle of repetitio mater memoriae! A google search led me to vintage Ginn readers for more advanced reading levels in the same sort of style, and they even produced a Catholic "Faith and Freedom" series. CM was surely a help, but the real solution came in the form of my motherly intuition, and probably divine inspiration.

What I'm getting at with this is that we all have our seasons in life. There is nothing wrong with having a Charlotte Mason season, from discerning what is true, good, and beautiful from her method and using those elements as a faithful Catholic. But I don't think that holding scrupulously to her entire philosophy is wise. I see a lot of Catholic homeschoolers on social media trying to make CM over in a Catholic image, to rationalize the very valid concerns that many of us have. And getting very defensive if anyone dares to question the appropriateness of the Charlotte Mason method for Catholics. Falling into scrupulosity over any method verges on idolatry. It takes our eyes off the focus of faith formation and the cultivation of virtue in our children. If it doesn't bring you peace, it isn't the right thing for you and your family.

Sarah Mackenzie is, after all, quite right. The goal with any method or curriculum is teaching from rest. The quest is unshakeable peace.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Charlotte Mason & the Catholic Conundrum, Part 2

The Triumph of Saint Thomas Aquinas


The fresco pictured here, "The Triumph of Saint Thomas Aquinas," is to be found in Florence, Italy, in the Spanish Chapel of the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella. Please see Art Middlekauff's article, "Thomas Aquinas and the Great Recognition," as our reference point for this discussion (http://charlottemasonpoetry.org/thomas-aquinas-and-the-great-recognition/).

Art tells us, "Thought to be executed by Andrea di Bonaiuto in the fourteenth century, these frescos unabashedly delight in the great achievements of the Domincan order." 

"The Triumph of Saint Thomas Aquinas" is the fresco beloved by Charlotte Mason which I mentioned in Part 1, a copy of which she had in her House of Education and which she said formed her "educational creed."

Rather than paraphrase Art's entire article, I just want to sum up what I think are the issues in what he has brought out for the Catholic CM educator. First, Charlotte never once in all of her writings mentions the name of Thomas Aquinas. In chapter 25 of Parents and Children, she calls the fresco in question, "The Descent of the Holy Spirit." According to Art, she does at times call it Filosofica della Religione Cattolica (Philosophy of the Catholic Religion), but in chapter 25 there is no acknowledgement that this fresco has anything to do with St. Thomas, the Dominican order, or the Catholic Faith. This is despite the fact that Thomas is the central figure of the painting; that he is in fact larger than all of the other figures and is seated on a throne; and that it is intended to represent the supremacy of the teaching authority of the Catholic Church!

Further evidence of her intentional avoidance of St. Thomas is the way that CM discusses the Florentines, the "Florentine mind," and the Medieval scholastics in chapter 25. She attributes the ideas that she sees exemplified in the painting, which captures her notion of the "great recognition" in picture form, as seemingly flowering from the people of Florence in general, rather than from the tradition of the Catholic Church.  

And what is this great recognition? It's the idea that the parents/teachers of children must recognize that the Holy Spirit is the supreme educator in all things, religious and secular, and that we must cooperate with the Spirit in order to effectively teach. There seems to be nothing "off" in this part of CM's philosophy. Yet she goes so far in chapter 25 as to suggest that a particular educational method might either "invite" or "repel" the Holy Spirit. The logic goes that since the Spirit is the giver of life, he would not cooperate with a teaching approach which is dry as dust, which is not living. The implication is that it is her method which will best invite the Spirit. 

The Catholic Church adopted the educational philosophy and method of Thomas Aquinas, who is regarded as the Angelic Doctor of unparalleled esteem, not that of Charlotte Mason. The Holy Spirit does his work through Holy Mother Church. The education of our children is supposed to be based upon Catholic Faith Formation. Charlotte Mason interpreted the fresco to her own liking, but more problematic, she based her notion of the Holy Spirit's cooperation on her own interpretation of the Bible, and her philosophy follows suit. 

When Jesus said, "Let the children be, and do not hinder them from coming to me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven," Charlotte applied this directly to her method. She tells us that we hinder the child by getting too much between him and the ideas found in living books. Let's consider narration, for example, a key CM method, which in itself is a practical tool for assimilating and remembering what is read. We are discouraged from having any influence on how the child's mind conceives of what he has taken in. We are to allow him to come to his own conclusions. Furthermore, the personality of the teacher should not have any play upon the child in his education. Her "charm" should be concealed, not used to any advantage. While St. Thomas would agree that discovery on one's own is the best way to learn anything, he also recognized that some things simply could not be learned without the guidance of the teacher, and that most people would have neither the time nor the courage to do so.

St. Thomas' method was distinguished by its conversational approach, presenting the material in engaging ways and leading the mind of the student to right thinking (the marriage of faith with reason). If we allow the books to be the primary educators of our children, then we are not following the Church's declaration that it is the parents who are the primary educators of their children! Yes, we do this with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But Charlotte's notion that a method of education itself will either invite or repel the Spirit isn't Catholic. We invite the Holy Spirit through prayer. We receive the graces of the Spirit through the sacraments and life of the Church. And teaching is an art that we need to do well. 

Charlotte's conception of the Spirit reminds me of the New Age "Universe," an impersonal energy that can be attracted (as in, the "law of attraction") and bent to one's will.

Some will say that none of this matters. That one can use CM's educational techniques, taking what one likes and leaving the rest. Homeschoolers subscribe to Charlotte's philosophy and method to greater and lesser degrees, so I certainly can't say whether a Catholic can use her approach in good conscience or not. As I've written before, there can't be anything inherently heretical with using methods like copy work, narration, dictation, short lessons, and observational nature study. 

At the same time, Charlotte herself insisted that simply using some of her teaching techniques was not enough, that we must indeed understand and apply the underlying philosophy. The method flows from the philosophy. If the philosophy is marked by serious error, then we do take a risk in employing the method. 

It's ridiculous to imagine that the Holy Spirit might be repelled by, say, the use of textbooks and workbooks. This gets back to the over-emphasis on methods. What I think we need to do is to read what the Church has written on the education of youth. Remember that we are the primary educators of our children, and act accordingly. Provide them with a curriculum which presents a unified, Catholic worldview--a curriculum with faith formation at its core, which will serve in the formation of the Catholic mind. 

You might take some aspects of the CM method to accomplish your goals. I think I have done this effectively in my own homeschool, but I also think that it could be done better, and without the potential baggage that CM might bring. Future posts will concentrate upon my findings.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Charlotte Mason & the Catholic Conundrum, Part 1



O Angelic Doctor St. Thomas, prince of theologians and model of philosophers, bright ornament of the Christian world and light of the Church; O heavenly patron of all Catholic schools, who didst learn wisdom without guile and dost communicate it without envy, intercede for us with the Son of God, Wisdom itself, that the spirit of wisdom may descend upon us, and enable us to understand clearly that which thou hast taught, and fulfill it by imitating thy deeds; to become partakers of that doctrine and virtue which caused thee to shine like the sun on earth; and at last to rejoice with thee forever in their most sweet fruits in heaven, together praising the Divine Wisdom for all eternity. Amen.


Here is today's question: What would happen if I simply dropped Charlotte Mason from my homeschooling philosophy? Why am I asking this question? I think it's the fault of St. Thomas Aquinas. After reading a couple of internet articles yesterday, I started wondering what had gotten me on the St. Thomas path in the first place. I could not remember. It just seemed as though his name kept mysteriously popping up. But then I realized the obvious reason. I had been praying ardently over my homeschooling vocation. Remember when I was saying that I just want to be a Catholic homeschooler and quit obsessing over methods? Evidently the answer is Thomas Aquinas.

Finding any information on what would constitute an Aquinas-based homeschooling method, however, is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. The most one will typically find is the term "traditional," usually meaning having text/workbooks for every subject, with the Catholic Faith running through everything. It seems rather dull to many people, and to Charlotte Mason homeschoolers in particular, who contrast living books with the dry dust of textbooks. But from my studies so far, Aquinas was not at all about uninspiring textbooks which merely give summaries and facts, and copious fill-in-the-blank questions. He was a university professor whose teaching method focused upon sincere dialogue. His scholasticism of the 13th century reconciled the reason of Aristotle with the Catholic religion--no easy feat! If he had not accomplished this miracle, the Church would have experienced an extreme crisis, a massive loss of Christian faith, so popular were Aristotle's ideas taking hold.

What I fear I've discovered is that Charlotte Mason pitted herself philosophically against the teaching authority of the Catholic Church that St. Thomas so clearly represents. For right now I'm just going to present you with the trail of my reading yesterday, the articles which led me to see the Catholic conundrum in regard to CM more clearly. First I read "The Formation of the Catholic Mind" by Dr. Ronald P. McArthur, which clearly illustrates the primacy of Aquinas in Catholic philosophy, theology, and education (https://thomasaquinas.edu/a-liberating-education/formation-catholic-mind). As Catholic homeschoolers we are most certainly concerned with the formation of the Catholic mind in our children. That must be our first priority.

Then I found Art Middlekauff's article, "Thomas Aquinas and the Great Recognition" (http://charlottemasonpoetry.org/thomas-aquinas-and-the-great-recognition/). You may remember that I had suspected some connection between Charlotte Mason and the scholasticism of St. Thomas, wondering if she had indeed been inspired by it. Middlekauff has shown that there is a connection, but his conclusion is that CM intentionally chose to distance herself from Aquinas and the Catholic Church. He refers to chapter 25 in CM's Vol. 2, Parents and Children, which addresses a certain Dominican fresco and the "great recognition" that CM says is imperative for parent-teachers. My reading of this chapter confirmed Middlekauff's conclusions. (You can find a link to all CM's volumes on Ambleside Online's introduction page.)

Now, Middlekauff has argued against the idea that CM's method is "classical," in opposition to Karen Glass' linking of CM to the classical tradition of antiquity in her book Consider This. I've written about this before and decided that it didn't matter whether or not CM is "classical," that it didn't affect how I homeschooled my child one way or another. But it seems with this Thomas Aquinas article that his concern may be that putting CM in the Classical Christian category would necessarily associate her with the Catholic scholastics of the Middle Ages.

What I suggest is that you read the two articles I mentioned and then read chapter 25 in Parents and Children, and we can come back to discuss the details in Part 2.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Pray. Study. Act. (and a Loop Schedule!)



May has always been one of my favorite months. Despite the unseasonably cool weather this year, the days are beautiful. Since becoming Catholic, the special honoring of Mary during this month brings me the greatest reason to be joyful. During the Easter season, we continue to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, and we do so through the eyes of our Blessed Mother. I'm currently reading a devotional by Rawley Myers, Embraced by Mary, which contains readings for every day in May.

Mary is our best model as mothers, and especially as homeschooling mothers. Like all of us, Mary suffered worries and grief in her vocation. She had the unparalleled responsibility of raising the Son of God! Imagine the courage, humility and patience required of her. We must do as she did and continue to say yes to God--daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. In order to follow the will of the Father, we have to pray. I am reminding myself of this today, because my patience has been tried and found to be wanting. Putting first things first, at the top of the list is a daily prayer life. If we try to go it alone, the ship will hit the rocks for sure.

The next right thing is to study. Primarily by this I am referring to the Bible. We also need edifying spiritual reading. So before you dive into your studies on educational philosophy and methods, seek out the words of the saints or contemporary spiritual writers. And don't forget to include a good work of fiction. Keep it simple. If you're reading Sacred Scripture, one excellent book on spirituality, and one enjoyable novel, plus one book on education, that's more than enough to juggle.

Once you've fortified your mind and soul (and don't forget to take good care of your body as well!), it's time to act. Trust that you've assimilated what you need to carry out your vocation, and that the Holy Spirit is there to guide you every step of the way. Make a plan, assemble the curriculum materials, and teach your child in the way he should go. Make faith formation and the pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty the foundation of your goals. Sometimes we fail to do the teaching well because we're trying to do it in some exact, "pure" kind of way. Instead we need to make the actual carrying out of our homeschooling lessons a priority, and stop comparing ourselves to other mothers. One learns to teach by teaching.




In my recent post about my "unit studies" plans (May 2, "Multum Non Multa & Homeschooling through History"), I promised to show you a schedule including the sources for ancient Egypt, and I was going to do it according to subject area. Instead I've created a simple loop schedule. I'm only including those books which we will be using to begin the first term in the fall, but as we go along some will be set aside and others will be incorporated. This schedule is for a four-day week and is divided into three sections: the Daily Core, Twice Per Week activities, and a Weekly Loop. Keep in mind that a schedule is a place to start, and mine is only a suggestion for your own process. You will find the best balance for you and your children as you go along.

Music will be covered via Choir and Musical Theater classes at a co-op on Fridays, plus weekly piano lessons. Physical education will also be partially outsourced. As usual, please post any questions in the comments!

Daily Core:
- Literature: Mara, Daughter of the Nile
- Total Math
- Piano practice
- Cursive writing (Seton)
- Language of God grammar (CHC)


Twice Per Week:
- The Harp and Laurel Wreath (memory recitation, copy work)
- Dictation/spelling
- Written narration
- Learn Spanish with Grace!

Weekly Loop:
- Religion for Young Catholics (Seton)
- A Child's Geography of the World and Usborne Essential Atlas of the World
- Draw and Write through History
- Science 7 for Young Catholics; Nature Study
- Bible History: Old Testament (Seton)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Homeschooling--Notebooking & Workbox Strategies

vintage train case workbox


You know how sometimes you can spend a very long time, hours even, surfing the net for homeschooling ideas, only to come up with nothing? Well, last night the search was worth it--I got the last bits I needed to allow myself to let it all go for summer, confidently prepared for Beezy's upcoming 7th grade year.

But you thought we were done obsessing over homeschooling philosophy and methods?! Though there will always be a little tweaking of the curriculum as we go along, discovering what works well and what needs to be altered, I feel good about my Vintage Catholic Home Education method. In producing a synthesis of Charlotte Mason, Classical Studies, and the Scholastic Method, I find that each helps to balance the strengths and weaknesses of the others in my mind, and together they form a holistic integration.  

What we are addressing today is the topic of organization. I've been wanting to move Beezy toward greater independence in her studies, but I haven't been sure how to do this, apart from the natural transition from me reading most of the books aloud, to her reading the majority of her own school books. 

One wise mother solved the mystery. She wrote that homeschooled children need to know when their work is going to be done, just like children who go to school know when their day is over. The solution is in something called a workbox. This system was invented by Sue Patrick (see http://workboxsystem.com/). The basic idea is that each child has a set of boxes, each box numbered in order of assignments, one task to each box. Some of the examples I saw online were stacked, plastic boxes with drawers. Once the child has finished completing the work in his boxes, he is done for that day. 

As I was reading about his system, Sarah Mackenzie's notebooking strategy came to mind. She spends a few minutes each evening writing the child's assignments for the next day in a spiral notebook. The child checks a box after he completes a task, and Mom checks off a 2nd box when she has inspected the work. Of course, some lessons must be done with Mom's help. 

I put the two ideas together, and I have the system set up to begin on Monday. We have a couple weeks left to this 6th grade year, so this will give me the opportunity to try it out and fine tune the details. My hope is that this process will end the whining--"How many more things do we have to do?"  "Do we still have a lot of things left to do?"  "Why can't we just be done?" 

The picture at the top of the page shows the vintage train case I set up as Beezy's workbox. Up till now I've had control of the clipboard with the list of the assignments. She now has her own clipboard with that day's assignments. She'll check them off as she goes, and I'll put a line through the check mark when I've inspected the work. Workbook pages that she will need to do will be on the clipboard, and the books she will be reading will be in the box. This will make her responsible for completing her lessons. She will be able to see what she needs to do, and she'll know when she is done!

I'm keeping a 3-ring Mother's Master Book of all the assignments on loose leaf paper, with work samples in pocket folders. The curriculum outline and general planning ideas also go in the book. So a portfolio is being made for our end-of-year evaluation by a certified teacher as we go along. I have my own clipboard with the schedule for the week printed out, and I just check things off as they're accomplished. It's a simple record-keeping system, and you could do something similar for each child in your family. You could either have a section for each one in the Master Book, or a separate book for each person, just as each one has his own workboxes. You could also create a "morning basket" for group read alouds and activities. 

Here are some more pics of all the things I've just described. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions!

 Monday's assignments on Beezy's clipboard


My clipboard with weekly schedule


Mother's Master Book



 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Multum Non Multa & Homeschooling through History



It seems that the classical principle of multum non multa (much not many) can be as confusing as the meaning of classical education itself. In podcast episode #11 at the Schole Sisters blog, the hostesses discuss what Pliny the Younger meant by multum non multa and how this applies to the homeschooling curriculum. They conclude that the idea would be to track less books, not fewer subjects. Therefore, Pliny is right in step with Charlotte Mason, being that CM advocated covering a broad spectrum of subjects while going slowly and deeply through the books themselves.

The Schole Sisters fear that there can be too much cutting back of the curriculum in the name of multum non multa. They see this happening with the "minimalist" homeschooling trend and also in The Latin-Centered Curriculum. (You can read this "Multum Non Multa" article by Andrew Campbell at Memoria Press for the strictly Latin-based interpretation of the principle: https://www.memoriapress.com/articles/multum-non-multa/.)

In his youtube series on the 8 classical principles of education, Dr. Christopher Perrin seems to agree that Charlotte Mason's philosophy fits within the classical framework. For example, CM would correspond the history, geography, and literature studies, in a similar way to Perrin's classical approach of putting subjects into "family" groupings. One book can cover three or four subjects. Perrin says that multum non multa is about achieving breadth through depth. But he differs with the Schole Sisters in that he advocates tracking both fewer books and a smaller number of subjects.

Whether or not Charlotte Mason is "classical," and if she is, in what way this might be true, will likely never be perfectly resolved. But if we start with the idea of corresponding history with literature and geography, we have found a great place to begin in designing the curriculum. RC History is a popular Catholic program which labels itself as both a classical and unit studies method. It is actually "neoclassical," with respect to corresponding the trivium with stages of child development. CM was definitely not classical in this sense, and neither am I. She also didn't believe in unit studies, in which all subjects are tied to a particular theme.

It just so happened that as I was planning my 2017--2018 (7th grade) curriculum, I noticed that the books I had chosen would allow me to expand beyond corresponding literature, history, and geography to include additional subjects. It wouldn't be a true unit studies method, but it would be a more comprehensive way of homeschooling through history; akin perhaps to the RC History program, but more streamlined, more multum non multa.

My favorite quarter of college at OSU was one in which the three classes I took corresponded to the same time period. I believe these were English, classics, and history courses (perhaps relating to the Middle Ages). This happy coincidence allowed me to experience first-hand how enriching such a living approach to learning can be. I so much enjoyed these studies done together that I wished my entire education would have been organized this way! I was able to make so many wonderful connections on my own, and I'm certain Charlotte Mason would have approved!!

I have so far planned units for ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and ancient Rome/early Middle Ages. In this way history will be studied chronologically, as CM advocated, and we will venture into the realm of Classical studies. We may get no further than the early Middle Ages, but that's okay, because we can pick back up where we left off for the 8th grade.

This way of scheduling organizes the material in a very natural way, and I can see now how the curriculum I've planned will flow in an organic manner. There will be both rhyme and reason present in our lessons! Not that there wasn't before, but going forward there will be a clearer picture, a better system in place, and more selective choices for the spreading of the feast. I think that subconsciously I had selected the books with following history in mind.

We already read the chapter on ancient Egypt in Our Catholic Legacy Vol. 1 (Seton) this year, but we did not dig deeply into this subject; so Egypt will be the first theme to be studied during Term 1 for the upcoming year. Beezy will finish reading the Bible History: Old Testament book from Seton for the history portion of the unit. (We are wrapping up history this year with King David and His Songs by Windeatt, along with the Bible History chapters on David.) The additional books will touch upon the other civilizations that were covered in the chapter on Egypt as well.

The following is a list of the books and specific chapters that will be included:

Bible History: Old Testament from Seton (chapter 21, "The Wisdom of Solomon," to the end)
A Child's Geography of the World by Hillyer (chapters 50-52, 54, and 64)
Mara, Daughter of the Nile by McGraw (plus mini-guide from Rainbow Resource Center)
Science 7 for Young Catholics from Seton (History of Science chapter 1, sections I and II)
Draw and Write Through History: Greece and Rome (The Hanging Gardens of Babylon)
The Meaning of Trees by Hageneder (Introduction)

It's possible that Jansen's The Story of Painting will be included, but I have misplaced the book! In the next post I will provide the entire Term 1 schedule, organized by subject area, and you will be able to see how each item in the Egypt unit fits. Until then, I hope this gives you some additional ideas for planning your curriculum. I'm really beginning to see how my synthesis of the Charlotte Mason, Classical, and Scholastic methods is going to work beautifully!!