Reading Aloud Changes Things

This week I had the pleasure of speaking with a group of moms of younger kids at our parish. It was a delightful morning of sharing, brainstorming ideas, and encouragement. I pray the Holy Spirit moved through our conversations and I hope my family’s story is of help to others. God is good!

We spoke a lot about things like…how do you homeschool when you have a bunch of littles? (like a ninja) How do you keep your sanity and part of “you” as you parent littles (dark chocolate until you wear out your pancreas…if you have other options, let me know) and where do you find titles of good books? (Eureka! I know that one!!)

I honestly don’t have the answers to a lot of questions of young mamas, because I still struggle with the same things as an old mama 🙂 I guess I’m kind of resigned to the fact that these kids need to eat every day…they need clean clothes every day, and the floor gets dirty…every day… and they fight and get their feelings hurt and they hurt my feelings and somehow this all shakes out to getting us to Heaven. This is our sanctification. I’m banking on it. SO, I do not have all of the answers, but I do know having a sense of humor is a must and that His Grace is sufficient for all of our weary hearts.

But Mamas…you have a super power right at your fingertips. It’s called READING ALOUD! This is one of the few things I am certain of…reading aloud is a game changer.

We’ve been “building our family culture around books” for years, way before Sarah and company used that as their tagline for the Read Aloud Revival website.  (Go check it out, my goodness, what an amazing resource.)

As a young mom, I’ll be honest, I was so clueless. I had the cutest, sweetest little red headed, 15-month-apart little bruiser boys ever.

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See?? I told you. And now they are in architecture and grad school. And they have beards. (Hand me a kleenex, sniff) But you know what I did a lot of when they were little? I talked on the phone…that’s the thing that used to be hooked into the wall with a curly cord and you ran around like a dog on the end of a chain, seeing if your kids were in mortal danger while you  went on and on and on about how tired you were and how you need more coffee and you wish Theodore the Tugboat was on twice a day because it’s so cute?? OH boy. What a waste of time, sorry kids. I still think Theodore is one of the best kids shows PBS ever did. Bring it back.

This is the thing…I didn’t know what to DO with them. I fed them, clothed them, cleaned them, but for heaven’s sake, you do that with a dog, and these were KIDS, MY kids. I needed to connect with them more than I did with that blasted phone to my ear. I loved them, I would die for them, but I didn’t know how to “play” with my kids. I mean, Legos? Matchbox cars? Uhhh…..what do you do with that stuff?

Enter….the library. One day, I took my boys to the library, right on the Eastside of Indy, Warren Library, the one I went to as a kid. And I picked out some books. Not great books for the most part, mostly Berenstain Bears, (cringe) and some Lego books, but I did see one that caught my eye. The artwork…it was so different. And I checked out Babushka Baba Yaga. Oh, I wept as I read that book….my little boys sat on my lap and I wept some more and read it again. What sweetness. I have to say, Patricia Pollaco changed my life with that one book. That’s the truth. While reading to my boys that afternoon, and many more after it, we connected. We talked, we laughed, I cried, they looked at me awkwardly (and now are acutely aware that if I pick up one of PP’s books, forget it, I’m a goner) and we repeated this over and over and over. This is not to say that every single time I read, it was angels and choirs singing with my cherubic little boys hanging on to every word. No…often I was sitting in the middle of Lego and Playmobil battles, looking over at my dirty kitchen and piles of laundry, trying not to panic that the place might implode if I didn’t get to those jobs. Sometimes the boys were quiet, often they weren’t…but we read away so many long afternoons, and something happened.

I started to become the mom I wanted to be.

I knew that books told stories and said things I was unsure of how to say, and they organically taught all of us about the virtues I didn’t even know yet that I wanted my kids to espouse. Before I had heard of Charlotte Mason, or thought about homeschooling, I knew that books, good books, were an important part of our lives. They fed me, they fed my kids, and we developed a common language of stories shared.

So, where do you find THOSE kind of books? The ones that don’t pander to your kids, or treat them like they are some wise guy hustling deals in the alley while their dumb parents open another beer?( I can’t stand the trend towards making adults look stupid in kids books, especially the dads.)

Here’s my short list of resources to find great books for your youngins.

Honey For A Child’s Heart–love this one! This isn’t just a list of books, (it does have a great bibliography) but also a beautiful encouragement to bring beauty and Truth into your children’s lives.

The next two books I am linking are written by my friend, Cay Gibson. I’ve know Cay for years online, and one day, need to meet her in person!! She’s written some pretty terrific books about books…I’ve found them most helpful. Go over to her blog at Cajun Cottage and check out “Picture Perfect Childhood” and “Catholic Mosaic.” Those are SO WORTH it. Lots and lots of lists that are by month and Liturgical season. Pure Gold!

Another one of my friends, Maureen Wittman, has gathered loads of titles to teach certain subjects using living books. Yahoo!! For the Love of Literature: Teaching Core Subjects with Literature is most helpful.

Two books that I’m making my way through and am so impressed with:

Books That Build Character and The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature. Both of these have great titles that inspire virtue without being a sappy morality play. Kids pick up on that, you know? They sense when things are getting preachy….and thumping them on the head with “you better do it this way, or else, little naughty boy.” I like thought provoking and complex stories, not “Now we will read a book on perseverance for those who can’t do the dishes without whining.”

Just to keep it real, yes, we do have Spot and Curious George books. We have Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. You haven’t lived unless you’ve listened to Nancy Drew audio books. I LOVE those. But that’s another blogpost about audio books. I do make a point of investing in the good stuff for our family library, and some of the other titles I’m not as excited to purchase, (Angelina Ballerina, and Disney princess stuff) they can occasionally check out from the library.

So what are some of your favorite books? I’ll be back soon to shares some of our beloved ones.

Thanks for visiting!

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Yeah…see..it wasn’t always reading quietly on my lap with four boys. Lots of swords…lots.

 

Death Examined, Life Revealed

When I saw that Well Read Mom’s first selection for the new season was Leo Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilych” I might have groaned just a teeny tiny bit. Goodness, another Russian author? I tried to finish WRM’s Spring selection, “The Brothers Karamazov” but with moving twice in four months, I just couldn’t cross the finish line with that 1,000 page haus. It was a great exposure to an iconic work, but man oh man, I had a hard time walking with the “Brothers K.” What I really enjoyed was listening to the audio book. It was terrific. The Russian names, which kind of trip me up when I am reading them, make so much more sense when I “hear” them vs reading it.

I did read Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” a few times, and somehow, Tolstoy’s writing didn’t upend me quite like Dostoyevsky. I trust the foundress of WRM, Marcie Stokman, with my reading to-do list, so I forged ahead.

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Yo! Go try to top this one for the “Funkiest Front Cover” award for the Russian Collection of Short Stories Category. Sixties were great. man. I have no idea where this came from, it was just on my shelf. Perks of marrying a philosophy major.

I am so glad I picked up “The Death of Ivan Ilych.” First, it is substantially shorter than most Russian literature I’ve been exposed to, given that it is a short story. I think it took me just a few hours to read.  It is hard to say that I love Ivan Ilych, like I love “Kristin Lavransdatter” or dark chocolate, but it is a must read. (Every dead Russian author has just now collectively rolled in their graves that I compared them to Sigrid Undset and dark chocolate.)  The Russians specialize in powerhouse reads, yes? They know just how to cut to the quick, even if they often take a 1,000 page pre-game tour through the land of sin and carnage. When they get to it, they lay us open and expose our weaknesses like my Southern friend, Flannery O’Connor. There’s no wiggling out of this one, Folks. We are all going to die. Maybe Flannery, due to her chronic illness, felt death’s stare just like those in Russia, who were dodging the bullets of Revolution or battling against starvation, oppression, pride, themselves and vodka. Their lives were often either brutally hard or brutally shallow. And there is always the mystical air of Orthodoxy that permeates their culture, reminding them of where they have come, and where they will go back to…

So, I’m not giving anything away here when I say this main character, Ivan….dies. Tolstoy deftly moves through his stages of denial, grief, anger, indignation, all of it. And finally, we witness Ivan’s awful realization that his life was shallow…and he wrestles with that until the end. It is ugly, but necessary. We recognize our own selves, our pettiness, our ambition.

“It is as if I had been going downhill while I imagined I was going up. And that is really what it was. I was going up in public opinion, but to the same extent life was ebbing away from me. And now it is all done and there is only death.”

Ivan’s family and friends all continue to play the game of life in charades, a perfectly orchestrated power struggle of vying for the next important rung on the social ladder. The True Story is revealed to him, and while terrifying, there lies his freedom at last. I was touched by the way Tolstoy uses Ivan’s young son as the innocent, the one who’s authentic grief and love accompany Ivan ever so briefly. There is no gore in this story, no scary medical scene, but you follow Ivan’s devastating inner turmoil throughout. I appreciate that it’s never melodramatic in a cheap way…the Russians don’t write cheap lit.

Friends, be brave, be fearless, pick up Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilych.” It will stick to you like grace, because that’s what the Holy Spirit does.  He works through authors like Tolstoy to get us thinking about our own lives, our own well lived journey.  The ending of our story can be affected by the reading of this story.

Come back and tell me what you think.

A Reflection on Books

I’ve been thinking a lot about books. When we moved twice in the last six months, it was unpacking our beloved books that made our rental, and then our purchased house–a home. As I sorted through boxes and boxes of books, and filled up shelves, I smiled and shed a few tears, reminiscing  over the years we’ve spent reading these books. They are our constant companions, our friends, and beloved family members. The packers that originally boxed up our home in Michigan repeatedly said, “Wow…ya’ll love books, like, really LOVE books, don’t you?” I told them I don’t have many nick knacks, and I decorate with Kids and Books.

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Two of many bookshelves throughout the house. The Titanic is pretty cool, too!

As we are finally settling in to our new home and beautiful state of Georgia, I would like to start posting lists of some of my very favorite children and adult books. After home educating for over 18 years, I have so many lists in my head, so many literary “friends” I want to share with you. I have said many times, good literature is so efficient. It reveals our humanity to us and changes culture. And we all agree culture needs a bit of overhaul, yes? So, this is how we do it: get on our knees in prayer, get holy, and lead an examined life that includes great literature. Read what Bishop Conley of Nebraska has to say about reading and culture, his beautiful words will inspire you. Here’s an excerpt:

“Good literature forms a worldview: it offers us insight into our families, our communities, and ourselves. Great literature offers us insight into our relationship with God and the world.”

One of the ways I am settling in here is starting a Well Read Mom group in my new hometown. I have participated in Well Read Mom for two years, and really, I can’t praise it enough. Check out the link and see the kind of goodness going on over there. I will be the first to admit I didn’t finish every single selection from the past year like I did in previous years.  Our move was intense and left little time to read. The point is to be exposed to the great books and have discussions with the group that go beyond the usuals. I might not have finished  Brother’s Karamazov, (not YET) but I will never forget those characters and I’m glad to have been introduced to, what many have called, the greatest novel in history. WRM’s founder, Marcie Stokman, has only one rule, no apologizing for not finishing the book and come to the meetings anyway for stimulating conversation. Her audios are so informative and inspiring, they are worth the time alone to participate!

A few of my other favorite places to walk literary rabbit trails:

Circe Institute: a plethora of articles, podcasts, and other resources that point towards Truth and Beauty.

Read Aloud Revival: Sarah does a lovely job of helping us “build our family culture around books” and brings a joy that is infectious to all things books. I have really appreciated her podcasts and book lists over the last few years.

Ambleside: a free, Charlotte Mason based curriculum has a terrific list of books for all ages to use for educating your children, but the lists are great for ideas no matter what your educational choice is for your family.

Mater Amabilis: a Catholic, Charlotte Mason inspired curriculum, which, again, has some terrific books lists.

Emmanuel Books: A terrific site with lots of lovely historical fiction and curriculum choices as well.

So, look for some more posts on books soon….lists…musings…and hopefully you will share your favs here as well. My goal is to link arms with you and talk about the important things, through the lens of terrific literature.

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Out exploring beautiful hill country in Northern Georgia.

 

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My return to blogging….again.

I need to sweep, and hate to sweep, so I saw this as the opportune time to return to blogging instead of doing something I really NEED to do, like cleaning. Do people call it “sweeping” or “vacuuming” in the South? This is important because I just moved to the beautiful state of GEORGIA!!! People, I am a true Southerner now. For those of you who knew me in Michigan,  you sensed this all along, didn’t you? Here we are, soaking up the sunshine and beautiful Spring…and probably inhaling a boatload of yellow pine pollen. I love our new state. I miss Michigan and Indiana (my home state of 40 years) but wow, I love it here. One of the first things I did when my husband started talking about the possibility of moving, was to look up how far Milledgville was from Atlanta. I told Jim we could move after seeing that Flannery O’Connor’s Andalusia Farm was less than two hours away.

We recently went on our pilgrimage and let me tell you, it was overwhelmingly beautiful and really just about perfect. Let me show you all about it, ok? Look at that sky! These photos are all unedited, it really did look this way!

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Why do I love Flannery O’Connor so much? She is such a quirky writer, completely Southern, completely Catholic, who takes her Faith seriously but herself….not so much. When I read her work, I hear the voices from my childhood. While we are Hoosiers, our Southern runs deep. These are my people she narrates back to me. She is so spot on with the neurotic that makes us all crazy sinners. But she also dishes out that moment of Grace, usually with a foghorn and a wink. I laugh hard and think hard when I read not only her fiction, but her own words from journals and letters. She really had me at Hillbilly Thomist. If you don’t particularly care for her fiction, check out her Prayer Journal or other non-fiction works.

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She sat here…recovering from her three hours of writing every day. Flannery was like a disciplined soldier with her writing schedule. She sat in that straight back chair, with her joints hurting much of time from Lupus, chopping away at that typewriter, putting us all in our place.

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I was a bit taken aback by the paint peeling and the general shabbiness of the place, but the staff assured me there is a long term plan to bring it all back. Since it’s on the National Registry of Historical sites, I am sure there are certain protocols to follow, let alone that dang thing called money. I loved the two ladies working at the house, they were engaging and knowledgable, and excited to see us. Of course, I had to get the Flannery t-shirt to help their bottom line. And again, I am sure she’s smirking all the way from Heaven.

The kitchen had all sorts of fun retro things in it, although all of it isn’t necessarily from Flannery’s time period. The staff pointed out that Flannery DID buy the fridge, just not all of the cute pyrex. (Probably has lead in it anyway, right?) This house was originally a few rooms in the front, and was expanded a few more times. It was quite charming and surprisingly, not musty or “old” smelling. Of course, I notice these things. It just needs some paint and it will be back to its original cool.

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We had a fine time at the aviary, talking sweetly to the peacock, asking him to show us his plume. He was not impressed with us, and his lady just looked on, agreeing that he is that stubborn. We WERE impressed by the fact that, at one time, Flannery had over 50 peafowl on her property. That’s some peafowl devotion and love. The staff said Miss Regina, Flannery’s mother, did not like the birds. They had a penchant for her flowers. Eventually, iris flowers were planted all over, their bitter taste not much appealing to the birds. You can purchase some iris bulbs for your home, straight from Andalusia’s own stock. I will be doing that after we move to our more permanent home.

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“Just show me your feathers already!!” — says a very impatient Lily.

We reluctantly left and moved on to where Flannery did her undergrad study, at Georgia College. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a beautiful campus. It was breathtaking.

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I have to say, I think Lily was the most impressed with the chocolate chip bagel with cream cheese that she inhaled at her first visit to the Einstein Bagel on campus. She’s ready to declare her major…bagels.

At Georgia College, in their Russell Library, there is a very large room dedicated to O’Connor items. I love her baptismal gown, the personal letter she wrote, and her desk and typewriter! They had several quotes from her and her characters stenciled on the wall…quite amusing and a testament to her wicked wit.

After visiting the college, which I secretly wanted to attend after walking around- it was so beautiful, we moved on to Flannery’s grave site. What a lovely cemetery, with several well known historical figures buried there.

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And finally, we visited her parish, Sacred Heart Catholic Church. What a perfect little church, with the Communion rail, a choir loft and nice woodwork. I’ve attached a picture of what the parish looked like back when Flannery attended….at least they left the Communion rail, yes? So far, it’s been rare for us to see Catholic churches in Georgia that look like the older, more traditional interiors we are used to. It was a welcome surprise to see this tiny jewel and visit Jesus inside. Lily and I lit candles and prayed for all of your intentions!

What a perfect day. The weather was beautiful, the people were friendly, and we all had a great time. I did save the quirky, best story for last. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of our next stop, I was driving and we were all a bit taken aback by the magnitude of what we saw at the very end of our day. While at Andalusia Farm, I mentioned to one of the staff that I had my teen son read “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” as we made our way down there.  Let’s sum up his review by saying…he did NOT like it. I figured since he is such a “Walking Dead” fan, that this would somehow resonate with him. It did not. When I mentioned this to a few people at the Farm, someone laughed and said, “Now ya’ll know they filmed part of that right here in Milledgville, at the old lunatic asylum.” I tried not to drop my jaw down to the floor when “lunatic asylum” just rolled off  like, “Sweet tea on the front porch.” Wow. Ok…so of course we had to go check it out with that introduction. Oh my goodness…that’s a blogpost in itself. I’ll just link to an interesting story. Georgia Central State Hospital Again, great history lesson for the posse in the car, as we discussed treatment of mental illness through the ages, and how things have changed in recent years. The buildings were incredible, and sadly, in such a state of disrepair. I wish something could be done to redeem it and make it usable in some helpful way for the present day. It seems like such a shame that the campus sits still and quiet.

Friends, it was an amazing day. While moving has been hard, and continues to be unsettling at times, there is so much to do around here, that we are feeling more like Georgians each day. We will be making a return trip to Milledgville.

My First Podcast!

Just popping in to share a podcast that I did with Kerry Olvera over at Catholic Homeschool Moms. You have to forgive my frequent “umms,” as I pause to get my train of thought, every five seconds. 😉 Kerry is doing a terrific job over at Catholic Homeschool Moms developing a podcast support for homeschooling mamas in the thick of littles and bigs and lots of busy-ness. The ladies she’s interviewed so far have a really wide variety of experiences. All are passionate about their Faith and will inspire you as you go about your day. Like Kerry says, “It’s like a homeschool conference in a podcast!”

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A little trip to the nearest lake to gather shells and watch birds.

I am also in the thick of planning our year. Well, I had better step it up since we start in a few weeks. Anyone else getting nervous, panic stricken, I mean, excited about the new year? In the trenches with you!

Habit of Being–Reflections on a talk by Cindy Rollins

In my early days of both mothering and home education, I tended to make idols out of the wise older women who had gone before me. This many years later, I know that we all are as fragile as tissue paper some days, make that a LOT of days for many of us. I am now drawn to homeschooling mothers who are for real, who don’t necessarily display their battle wounds for all to see, but exude both the realism called “living in the trenches,” and the hope of the One they call Beloved.

That all said…I got all flustered fan girl when I saw Cindy Rollins sitting at the Friday evening retreat last week. (cue blushing) I think I even compared her to U2’s  Bono…Oh my goodness. See? We can still be silly giddy girls in our late 40’s! But Cindy is definitely someone who has been in the trenches of decades of motherhood and homeschooling her eight boys and one girl. Her humility and graciousness, in person, was just what I expected after following her online for a while now.

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Cindy in the middle with my new friend, Pam!

These days, we hear the truth spoken less and less in the public square. It is refreshing to hear it loud and clear by people like Cindy Rollins and the organization she is affiliated with–Circe Institute. Cindy reminds me of the “why’s” of home education. I am grateful for the opportunity to have met her and hear her speak in person. I promise I’m not putting her on a pedestal, just passing on what the Holy Spirit lead her to say at our retreat!

Habits

Cindy’s talk was titled, “The Habit of Being.” She started off with this quote from the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, “Habit is ten times nature.” We aren’t in the business of changing a child’s natural inclination of being an introvert, or chatty, or spontaneous. That’s not what this refers to. I suspect that would be against CM’s first principle stating children are born persons, unique and individual ones at that. But, we must develop habits that encourage discipline in our children. This allows children to develop as God intended with their own personal gifts. Gifts are cultivated when habits are cultivated!  Habits formed well make for a surer path.

Modeling Good Habits

Cindy says that the best way to teach good habits is through modeling them! This is actually more important than WHAT we teach.  If you know my family, habits are…difficult. I just wanted to insert a “let’s be real here!” moment. We are not well-disciplined in some areas partly because of our medical issues and creative mindsets. We are very good at “rolling” with it. But I can see this year, we need to work on some habits of attention and discipline. This starts with me! I’m continuing to form my habit of morning prayer. This seems like a no-brainer, but after spending many years jumping out of bed and running to suction a little one’s airway with their trach…my prayer time was really “Ok Lord, let’s go!” and immediately tend to the urgent needs of a medically fragile child. While I am really no less busy, the tone has changed in some ways, since neither child has a trach or feeding tube. Now, I need to discipline myself to get up and immediately spend quiet time in prayer before the house gets a movin’. 😉 This is one way I can model to my children the discipline and habit of prayer.

The Habit of Narration

Another point Cindy made was that narration is a perfect tool for synthesizing new material. For narration to be the efficient mode of learning that it truly is, the habit of attention needs to be formed in children.  The goal for older children is to narrate every day. This is something that is developed over time, not mastered in a few days! She said there can’t be a habit of “hit or miss” with narration for it to be effective. For most of us, this means short passages read with good attention. It would follow that the narrations should be short as well, not overwhelming the child, but forming the habit of reading a passage once and then being able to narrate from that one reading. Read more about narration here.

Small Habits

Cindy stressed that small amounts of quality school time tended to faithfully over the long haul is way more effective than running to and fro chaotically, trying to make up for “lost time” by frantically pushing facts into their heads. Small habits add up to a lifetime of learning. In the end, that is what we want…children who are life long learners.  I think we can get there by tending the Garden of Small Habits!

Anchor to the past

I loved her idea that we need to “anchor” our children to the past, a past that the current culture eschews so much. By anchoring in the past, we can show our kids that ideas truly have consequences and consequences ALSO have ideas. Culture shows us this time and time again. Right now, we are living in a “post consequence” time of bad ideas. I had to chew on that one for a while. Wow. While we don’t run from some modern educational resources (math curriculum, etc) there is a richness  and depth with older works that is hard to find these days.  I see this in many things: Liturgy, hymns, Catechism….

Humility

Another point of Cindy’s to consider is that classical education should be humbling to us and our children. It’s ok not to know everything! In  Karen Glass’ book, “Consider This,” she makes the same point that the underpinning of classical education is humility! Without humility, we become unteachable!

Moral Fatigue

When we develop good habits, we limit our decisions that need to be made, thus decreasing “moral fatigue.” When we are constantly having to make decisions, we “drain” our moral bank. Again, wow! This makes so much sense and furthers my resolve to develop the daily habits that can not only make life run smoother, but allow learning to happen unencumbered by chaos. I write all of this knowing that, again, having special needs kids has its own set of rules that make following certain habits hard. But…I’m going to pray to be led to start with the ones that God wants first. Prayer…right there…first.

Poetry

One of Cindy’s long habits while raising nine children was to read poetry during her morning time. She said, “Don’t explain poetry, just read it, and re-read it! Let them puzzle it out.” I love poetry, so it’s not hard or intimidating for me to read poetry to my kids. BUT…I do have to restrain myself from tramping all over the reading time with imposing my own reflections. I usually will read a poem once. Then, I’ll ask the kids to listen again, and to be listening for a line that particularly resonates with them, they don’t have to know the why or how, just that they like how it sounds. This takes away the “Oh, I need to explain why I like it” fear. Now, they still DO explain a lot of times why they like, or even love a certain line. But, that choice is their’s to be made. One of Lily’s favorite lines from poetry last year was by Emily Dickinson:

“Hope is a things with feathers…” 

To hear her little breathless reading of Dickinson’s words was one of the highlights of my year. Lily couldn’t verbalize why she loved it, but that’s more than ok. I’m convinced that good poetry resonates with us because it speaks the quiet language of our souls that has become increasingly difficult to hear since The Fall. But, lines like the one above whisper of it, that intimate and beautiful relationship with Our Creator, yes?

Again, the reality is, poetry isn’t necessarily “loved” by all of my kids. But I believe so strongly in it because poetry “sticks” its landing. The images are powerful tonics that we draw on for the rest of our lives. Cindy said this herself, relaying a story of how one of her boys, in the military, was on a ship that was undergoing quite a difficult time. Things were extremely tense but as he stood a long watch, he recited the poetry, Shakespeare and Bible passages he had heard all throughout the ongoing “Morning Time.”  This young man, and those around him, drew strength from the timeless truths in such things. It calmed everyone and they persevered. As Cindy reflected throughout her talk, it just takes a small amount of work, like reading poetry, done diligently, that forms the habit of attention and bears much fruit.

Closing Thoughts

“Routine is the condition of survival” says Flannery O’Connor. Yes, Flannery O’Connor, who lived with the debilitating effects of lupus, and died at the young age of 39. Her life was cruelly impacted by her illness, but in spite of that, she cultivated the habit of daily prayer and morning writing, every single day. What an inspiration to us all!

Cindy closed with this–duty and service are habit-forming and, ultimately, build the Kingdom of God.

Thank you so much, Cindy, for stepping in at the last moment and speaking at this retreat. It was a gift to us all! And thank you, again, to Ambleside Online for the beautiful retreat!

We Are Educating Minds! A Retreat Visited….Part One

My goodness, I was so amazingly blessed to be able to go to the Ambleside Online At Home Retreat this past weekend.  It was a nice “God-incidence” that this retreat was indeed, “At Home” for me– as in, back home in Indiana! I had just joined Ambleside Online Forum  last month, and found out about the retreat, and immediately signed up to go. While I have always used AO as a “resource” I plan on using AO as the foundation for this year with all three kids at home.

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The lovely panel discussion was very for real and helpful.

I’d like to review the talks that were given in a series of blog posts. It truly was a rich feast of ideas. This was so much more than a “Oh, yeah, you can homeschool, Girls, Go YOU!” kind of retreat. Friends, the word, “epistemology” was used in the FIRST talk!! We got our philosophy hats on, and were challenged by the bigger ideas behind a Charlotte Mason style education.

The first talk on Friday evening was given by Karen Glass. Can I say she had me at “Anna Karenina?” Karen referred to a scene in AK where philosophical questions regarding the distinction between the brain and mind were made in an intense conversational scene. I’m going to admit right here that in 17 years of homeschooling I have never contemplated this. But why is this important to a humble homeschooling mom of five to think about as she does laundry, cooks and writes up lessons? Because it is really at the essence of who we are and what we are doing here.

The Mind is a LIVING ORGANISM! 

So, what does that mean for us? It means as we are working out how we are to order our days, we keep in the front of OUR minds that our children’s minds need the food of rich ideas. Living organisms do not live on exercises and workbooks. When kids are hungry, we don’t say, “Go exercise!” We feed them good food. We should be basing our educational processes on what we believe about our child. And what do we believe? Our child’s mind needs to be fed. We lay out a feast of ideas and we allow them to take in and digest what they consume. We don’t digest it for them.

Here’s an example. Memory drills are exercises, right? But this is not truly educating our child, to simply have them memorize facts to be regurgitated back out on a test sheet. Memorizing certainly has its place, but not over the feast of ideas. Memorizing is fine for developing our brain’s capacity, and again, these things have their place just like other exercises, but they aren’t FOOD. The brain is an organ. It does need food and exercise. But the mind is a spiritual organism, it needs, more than anything, the spiritual food of ideas.

Karen gave an example of how if a child’s shoe size is a little small, we don’t step in and  micromanage the child’s foot growth. There isn’t a plan of “exercise” that will increase the foot’s size, in which we do exercises and then religiously measure the growth of the foot after each exercise. We just do the next right thing. We feed the child good food, buy good shoes and trust that their feet will grow in time. It made me think of “foot” binding that the Asian communities did long ago. They wanted the shape and size of women’s feet to be something they weren’t meant to be. They bound those feet into awful contortions and these poor women were in pain and had deformed feet! Do we do this with our children’s education sometimes? Nervously trying to shape their brains solely into college material? Is that what this is all about? No….we are feeding minds for the Kingdom!

We look at what the child is, a spiritual being with a spiritual mind that needs to be fed good ideas. BUT…it is NOT for us to digest this food and plop it into their little gaping baby bird mouths. We don’t nervously hover over their heads, seeing to it that each “idea” has taken root. Instead, we TRUST the process.

The process includes this–we set the table with living books, with poetry, with beautiful music, with the right order of math, science and studying nature. And we accompany our children throughout the feast. We develop, with our children, the habit of consistently sitting AT the table, trying new foods….but never pushing and using our “authority” to insist on more and more.

So what does this look like in real life? Let’s get one thing straight right now…Charlotte Mason’s ideals have not perfectly played themselves out in my house for the last 17 years of home education. Real life has happened in the last 17 years. But I can say as a “veteran” home educator who has graduated a few guys from our humble abode, Charlotte Mason’s ideals have always shaped my ideals.

This year, I am, as Karen Glass said in the talk, “trusting” the process. Part of that trust is in the fact that the proven, most effective form of education takes place in the literary and storytelling form. Think…Jesus…and the parables. He didn’t tell His story and then go, “Now…you got that, right?” and micromanage the response. He spoke Truth…He answered questions….but He also let people percolate on His Word, and to hear those words with their own ears, with their own living minds.

For us at home, this means reading the good books to our kids, but not chasing after reactions, nervously saying, “Did you GET that??” Instead, we develop in our children the habit of attention. We start slowly with this formation. In younger kids, this means reading aloud and discussing the book. In older kids, it’s reading aloud, or having them read a selection from a book of historical fiction, and having them orally narrate (or “retell”) the passage. Narration, worked on slowly but consistently, becomes the evidence of knowledge digested, absorbed and made one’s own. The child does eventually work up to written narration. I’ll talk about that more with a post about Lani’s narration talk. 🙂

I want to speak from my own heart about something I wrestle with when I hear some of these kinds of wonderful talks. I have a few children who have learning differences. They just don’t learn the way a lot of kids learn. Learning can be downright HARD. But when I really examine the last several years…what was really hard was when I started insisting on things they weren’t quite ready for….pushing “exercises” over ideas and relationships.

-It looks like this-

I’m really nervous about one of my kids not reading when they are of that “age” when they should, by golly, be reading! My anxiety causes me to, through gritted teeth, insist my agitated child do those phonics workbooks, “JUST ONE more PAGE!” looking at my child as a project to finish. Sigh. Yes…they do need to learn to read. Yes yes yes. BUT, they also need to see beauty. They need to sit on the couch with me and read “The Secret Garden” much more than they need “just ONE more lesson of phonics since we are SO behind.” Yes…the short phonics lesson…do it. But never at the expense of the good stories, the picture studies, the beautiful poetry, the nature walk. They need our RELATIONSHIP first before they need the phonics lesson.

My youngest struggles with reading. Her little life has been filled with lots and lots of medical drama. I respect who she is as a PERSON first,  a lovely child of God who also happens to have medical issue and learning delays,  (remember, that is Charlotte Mason’s first maxim, children are born PERSONS!) While it might take longer to learn to read, it is equally important that she is fed ideas that grow her mind, not just her phonetic awareness. Do you see the difference? Education does include things like learning to read, obviously that is critical to brain development. But on equal ground with that (and I dare say, even more important) is the feeding of her mind. I will continue to read saint stories, and do picture and nature study. I will continue to gently guide her with math and reading…I will calmly trust in the process. God knows all of her needs more intimately than I do. He will guide us as we prepare the feast.

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I am truly not doing Karen Glass’ talk the justice that it deserves, so I am going to encourage you to buy her book, Consider This. I purchased my copy at the retreat, and am already furiously taking notes and pondering her wisdom. This Charlotte Mason jewel is at Karen’s website.

I want to close out with what Karen said at the end of her talk Friday. Believe in our minds. Believe in our children’s minds and what they are created to do.

Trust the process of leading our children to the feast and the Holy Spirit working with those ideas specific to our children’s needs in which He will work and animate. Take courage in our convictions! Root those convictions in God’s great mercy and love for us and our children. We are feeding those minds that God Himself breathed His life into, He will lead us where we are suppose to go!

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May God richly bless all of those ladies and their families from Ambleside who sacrificed so much of their time and efforts to put on a truly edifying retreat.

I will be back soon with Cindy Rollins’ talk: “Habit of Being.” 🙂