I wanted to share with you that I am speaking at the wonderful Grace Gathering, a Catholic homeschool mama’s retreat, on April 21, 2018, at St Isidore Catholic Church in Grand Rapids. MI. This is a homecoming of sorts, I lived in Michigan for 8 1/2 years and helped start Grace Gathering five years ago. I’m super excited to be back for the five year anniversary of the retreat. The unique thing about Grace Gathering is its focus. It is not a convention, or a “how-to” homeschool kind of day. Instead, it’s about relaxing, reconnecting with the reasons why we home educate, and taking time to tend to our spiritual needs. The day also includes Mass, time for Adoration, a soul tending talk given by a priest , networking, a beautiful lunch and door prizes!
I will be telling encouraging stories, and focusing on Truth, Beauty and Goodness as the source of rejuvenation and Mother Culture we all need. Be prepared to laugh and cry! Ok, maybe be prepared to watch ME laugh and cry. I love to cheer mamas on in their vocations, and bring a unique perspective of homeschooling in less than perfect seasons, and still showing up every day to do the hard stuff, (sometimes with chocolate on my face and yarn scraps stuck to my shirt.) I am willing to share the imperfect, not as a badge of honor, but as a sign pointing to the Glory of God…that in my weakness and fragility, He works miracles.
Join the Facebook group here for more information about the event schedule and registration. Hope to see you there!
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.
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!
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.
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!”
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!
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.
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!
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.
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….
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!
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.
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.
“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!
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.” 🙂
It’s that time, yes? Planning fever hits most of us homeschooling moms about now. Or, has it already hit most of you and I’m the slow poke? That’s quite possible. I helped coordinate our local Catholic homeschool moms retreat last month, and have just now sort of recovered.
Creating margin…I’m intentionally trying to do that this year.
Having kids that are medically fragile has a special blessing attached. I often have my margin laid out for me by their very conditions. History or breathing? Math or breathing? Those aren’t too hard to discern in the moment. The problem is, I can get a little over zealous with my expectations for the upcoming year while they are healthy during the summer. I am still working at staying firmly planted in the day that I’m in, since that is where the GRACE is….instead of zooming ahead and loading our plans like a big fat baked potato with sour cream, (dairy free around here), cheese, butter, chives and bacon. While that sounds mighty good, sometimes we might be doing the simple potato with salt and that’s ok for a few days. I want to plan our curriculum with the full potato bar in mind, but also discern between what needs to be done and what would be NICE to get done. That’s hard, who wants to choose between bacon and sour cream??
I’m thoughtfully considering what is appropriate for our typical (always untypical) year. Yes…planning is good and virtuous! Being prepared is virtuous! But being attached to those pretty plans? No…not virtuous. I’m hoping to craft plans based on OUR reality. As much as I LOVE Charlotte Mason and Classical Education, I can’t make idols of these things at the expense of our family peace.
So, yes, I’m planning for this coming homeschool year, but I’m not going to overload it like I so often do…and I bet even then, I have to pull a few things out or rearrange our curriculum, that is a given.
Last year at this time, as I planned and planned a different kind of year using some different resources, I didn’t expect to have a child in the ICU twice between November and January. It threw us into a free fall for a while, but we recovered. This year, I’m not shying away from planning, don’t get me wrong, but I’m doing it prayerfully, I’m asking Our Lord, “What is it that you want me to do with these beautiful children You’ve entrusted to me?” And I’m keeping in mind that even my KIDS need margin in their days, sick or not! This is one reason why we don’t do a lot of organized outside things like coops or outside supplemental classes. We need to be home to HOMEschool, and for our family, that means not a lot of other “things” that take us outside of home. Those things are great, but not necessary. We spend a fair amount of time dealing with medical issues. We really don’t have a lot more time to be driving to classes when we need to get work done here.
One thing I feel I’ve been led to do is use Ambleside Online as one of my main resources. With the very wise counsel of my friend, Jen Mackintosh, I am choosing smaller amounts that we can do WELL. There is a very large selection of books to use at AO, but my goodness, there’s no way anyone could complete it ALL! See, that’s a real temptation amongst us, isn’t it? Cram and cram a bunch of stuff into our plans in the name of anxiety and comparison…only to fall flat on our face when our particular situation just didn’t call for all of that crazy.
So what to do when it all starts…to…slide…down…hill…
I’m having a basic outline for our year, and I’m also having a “Oh, here we go!” list. So, while I expect the kids to work diligently, there will be times when things go off rail and there are three kids with serious illnesses, or someone is having surgery, or recovering in the hospital or home. I might term this “Low Gear” time. (Did any of you grow up driving a stick shift? Does anyone know what those are anymore??)
When I get the “Low Gear” plan together, I will share more of this with you. I’m looking into some documentaries we can pick up during “Low Gear.” We tend to do things like that anyway, but to actually have a “grab bag” if you will, of “other” things to do when the typical day is overwhelming, probably isn’t a bad idea.
This seems to be especially important in children with chronic medical issues. There are just going to be weeks when they can’t do all of their assigned work. BUT…I don’t want it to be a video game free for all either. (THAT’s never happened, ahem) This is when we could pull out some short stories, some speeches that are straightforward and not difficult to read, or maybe work on just reading some great literature, saint stories or poetry read aloud as a family and calling it good.
And honestly, there will be days when even that doesn’t get done, because people are working on breathing…or healing…or coping. And that’s ok, too. There’s a lot to be learned in diligence, surrender, patience, and fortitude with chronic illnesses.
I hope to come back soon and share more of my specific plans for our 3rd, 9th and 11th graders. What are your struggles as you plan? What do you really like to use as your planning platform? Are you a paper and pen kind of girl or totally on your google calendar for everything or a combination of both?
I found Connie’s blog, “Contemplative Homeschool” a few years ago while looking into Carmelite spirituality and homeschooling. She wrote the book “Trusting God With St Therese,” which I read last winter. Connie’s writing is well crafted and I really enjoyed her book exploring St Therese’s spirituality, while relating it to her own life. When I heard about Connie’s new book dealing with choleric children, I was eager to read it.
Connie and I share something in common…we have four boys. I have my little pink caboose as well, but I know our households are very similar, both in noise volume and blessings. I have a few mixed choleric temperaments in my house, so this newest book was of interest to me. I have to say, as I read it, I kept thinking, “Oh, I wish I had this book 20 years ago!” But, no guilt, just happy to have it now. Take note, younger moms…get the book!
Does this sound like your child?
“He is a natural leader. He dreams big. He loves to be in charge. Give him a task that interests him, and he will eagerly pursue it on his own. He really likes to rally others to his cause and direct them towards a common goal. Although he is an extrovert, he does not just ‘hang out” with friends, chit-chatting. In social situations, he often has an agenda. It can be as simple as persuading others to play a board game that he really wants to play. He is decisive, outgoing, and self-confident. He is seldom afraid to stand up for the truth. He rarely gives in to peer pressure. He tends to speak and act without thinking.” –“A Spiritual Growth Plan For Your Choleric Child”
Temperaments are God-given, there’s no “right” or “wrong” one and each has strengths and challenges. Connie does a terrific job of describing what a choleric child looks like, and distinguishes between the four temperaments, with a brief description of mixed temperaments.
“What sets the choleric apart is his reaction to stimuli. Remember, the choleric responds immediately to stimuli that comes to him through this senses. He reacts strongly, and has a hard time putting his reactions aside.”
The book describes how to look at the sometimes intense, high maintenance choleric child as being on his own unique path to sainthood, while also focusing on the challenges he may experience along the way. Directly naming both the strengths (cholerics have MANY!) and the challenges, she puts forth a game plan to move the child towards self-awareness and spiritual growth.
Pride is choleric’s main struggle. Connie has terrific lesson plans that are very simple to execute which focus on necessary areas of growth unique to the choleric child. These include: humility, empathy, patience, thinking before speaking, respect and obedience, and learning what it means to be a “servant leader.” I love the concept of servant leader. Think St Paul, with his strong conversion story. Most cholerics are a lot like St Paul, once you get them pointed in the right and virtuous direction, they stay the course and bring a lot of people with them up the ladder to Heaven.
I love Connie’s voice in this book. It is always encouraging while looking, straight in the eye, at the challenges of having a choleric child. She doesn’t leave you to sort this all out on your own. She includes lots of examples of what conflict between parent and child might look like, taking into account both different and/or same temperaments. But even better, she also shows what resolution and “having a plan” looks like in both encouraging and disciplining the choleric child. These kids are masters at arguing their point. My husband and I have frequently used the term, “Irrepressible agenda!” while describing the determination shown by our choleric boys in trying to get their way. St Paul had a few irrepressible agendas as well, and once he got on the correct agenda, there was no stopping him!
Connie has put forth a helpful book list that is divided by both age and virtue that is highlighted in the book. She uses the male pronoun throughout, and no doubt, there are more choleric men than women, but when I saw the book Madeline, on her list for younger kids I instantly had a vision of what a young choleric girl looks like. That might, or might not, be a little bit like the writer of this blog. 🙂
Along with the lesson plans and book lists there are numerous Bible verses to have the choleric contemplate and memorize. They are so applicable! One of my favorite parts was the chapter with guided meditations. They are beautiful, simple but oh so effective! Connie had an art piece with the scene of Martha and Mary preparing for Jesus’ visit. The meditations that followed were thought-provoking while still being age appropriate for the children. The book is worth the meditations alone in my opinion.
In the end, having a choleric child can be challenging, especially if your temperament moves towards the melancholic or phlegmatic side, but God’s Grace is sufficient and the journey is made easier with Connie’s wise and helpful book. Be sure to check her blog, Contemplative Homeschool, where she writes really useful posts on developing and deepening our prayer lives. Also, she does plan on publishing more books on the rest of the four temperaments. I am looking forward to reading them! The covers get it right for each temperament, yes?
We really don’t take snow days around here, since we only need to walk into the front room or basement to “do school.” Lots of snowstorms we have sat on the couch, reading aloud and enjoying the fact that we were not “out in it.” Around here, near the Arctic Circle named Michigan, it gets COLD during the winter. It’s not like Indiana (our former home) where it snows and then you quickly go sledding and build your snowman before it all melts again. I think Indiana actually had an intense winter as well….but probably not quite the nearly 120 inches of snow we have endured.
When we get a warm sunny day here, like low 40’s…that’s a heat wave, Friends! The two youngers were out all afternoon building snow forts and sledding down the plowed up “snow hill.” I had visions of getting a lot of school work done, and we did, but more like lots of nature study. I love the flexibility to do this.
One thing I’m going to start soon is a Book of Firsts. Charlotte Mason really encouraged teachers/parents to help children to establish a relationship with the nature by recording the “firsts” of the year, first day of seeing a robin, first thunderstorm of Spring, first 90 degree day (in Michigan, that may be the one and only day!) You get the picture…I’ve seen a few beautiful examples of this online, and plan on reporting back here with what we come up with as our own Book of Firsts. I have a twinge of guilt that I’ve been homeschooling for nearly 14 years and have never down this. But, no guilt, right? We pick up what we have been given the Grace to do for this season, and march on.
How do you include Nature Study in your day? Or is your house often in a State of Nature?? (Us too, it’s ok!)
As is the case with our homeschooling venture, nothing ever stays the same. There is always something big to contend with, like two pediatric ICU stays in eight weeks, influenza sweeping through our house, knocking most of us down, especially Mama and the fragile asthmatic. I had pneumonia, he had a five day hospital stay. This was just after the wonderful marathon called “Christmas Week,” so we were already a bit raggedy.
So, how do you regroup after a lot of crazy hits the fan? This is how I do it. Slowly. I know the manic “post apocalyptic illness” frenzy. After sitting, or actually, slumped over on the couch for days, I had impossible lists popping through my head like fireworks. Or was that my fever? So, when I did feel better, I jumped up and started cleaning….for about five minutes…and back down I went. And homeschool?
Wait, I have kids???
Yes, it has been that bad
I always run back to my best homeschooling Friend: Good Literature. We dove back into reading the book: The Life of Our Lord by Marigold Hunt. My seven year old loves it. My thirteen year old listens as well, and I know he gets something out of it. We love the illustrations, which have a Byzantine feel to them. We’ve had some great conversations about the readings. I’ve learned a few things in Hunt’s descriptions of why Jesus used parables. This has also lead to some great discussions with Lily about the different layers of parables Jesus used in teaching His people.
Another book series we love in this house is The Cottage at Bantry Bay written by Hilda van Stockum. I read this sweet series, close to 14 years ago, to my older crowd. The nice thing about having a lot of kids across a wide age span AND sleep deprivation is you can read something years ago, and it’s like discovering and delighting in it all over again with the littles!! See? I knew there was a silver lining with sleep deprivation–book amnesia! The Cottage at Bantry Bay, along with Francie on the Run, and Pegeen, follow the O’Sullivan clan in Ireland during the 1930’s. Van Stockum uses a deft hand at interweaving the Faith into the Catholic family’s story, never heavy handed, but so authentic and delightful. Several times, I’ve wanted to run for a pen and right down different passages. There are so many rabbit trails to follow with books like these; history, questions like, “Why did Francie stay in the hospital for months with something that you’d go home in a day now?” looking at Google maps of Ireland, the different geography making up Ireland, or the time period transitioning from horse to car travel…so many things to discuss and look into together, this is how we love to learn!
A few more things we always head back to for regrouping after the storm, to rebuild the rhythm of our day beyond hospital visits, are poetry and art study. Now, don’t get panicky. This is not some extensive, crazy involved deal. I grabbed our beloved copy of Poetry for Young People: Robert Frost and picked out a few “winter” selections. This book is divided by season, it is truly a gem. We spent last year slowly making our way through the book, reading from it usually every week….sometimes putting it down and then coming back to it as the season started changing…nothing overly thought out, just making it part of what we do as a family….reading good poetry. What I appreciate with this series of “Poetry for Young People” is the poet biography at the beginning of each book, and the quick explanations of each poem, not overly so, but just enough so we aren’t lost with certain word usage or phraseology.
Art study has gotten a lot easier since I’ve purchased a few items from Simply Charlotte Mason. Simple is the key word here. Sonya has done a nice job putting together different art kits for several famous artists. You have the option of either buying a hard copy with the prints sent to you of the chosen artist, or you can download them. I’ve bought the hard copy, it just works better for us instead of me trying to print it out with the usually empty ink cartridges. In the kit is a short biography of the artist, along with a half dozen or so of the artist’s famous prints on nice quality heavy card stock. You will find in the booklet, along with the biography, a short conversation starter for each picture. I like that these prompts are simply starting the conversation, gently pointing out a few key symbols and points that the artist was using, and leaving the rest to discuss. We have used Van Eyck and are just starting Monet. Both my 7 and 13 year old sit in on this, together, making for some interesting conversation between us on the cozy couch.
So, there you have it: good literature, poetry and art–the trifecta of recovery after a long haul of interruption called Life. Saying to my shell shocked, tired kids, “Hey let’s go run to the table for Math, kids!” doesn’t quite invoke a positive response. Couch time with some of our fav friends, a better kind of medicine indeed! I also want to say that literature, poetry, and art aren’t the “extras” of homeschooling….they ARE home education. Yes, we put due emphasis on math and other areas of study, but I focus on the three areas mentioned because they are the areas with the most bang for your buck, the “beauty” that points to the Truth. We cover a lot of ground just through reading together and discussing what we read, including Catechism, history, science, geography and so much more.
What do you like to do in easing back into your homeschool routine after an unexpected break? I do have to say, dark chocolate, as always, is part of my recovery tool kit. Who am I fooling, it’s part of my daily coping and stress relief.