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.
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.
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!
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.” 🙂