Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Parents and Children: Chapter 7

From Charlotte Mason's The Original Home Schooling Series, Parents and Children (Vol. 2)

Chapter 7: The Parent as Schoolmaster

Here is my narration of Chapter 7, and some of my thoughts. (Read my thoughts on Chapter 6 here.) Charlotte Mason continues to talk about the responsibilities and role of parents.

Get a Backbone!


Mason begins this chapter by talking about the expectation that the "schoolmaster," or teacher, will make children "sit up" once they get to school. There are parents who believe, for a number of well-intentioned reasons, that children should be allowed what amounts to free reign until the time comes for a teacher to make them behave in a school setting.

However, Mason challenges this idea, wondering how on earth the teacher is supposed to make the child "sit up," or behave, "after a good deal of mental and moral sprawling about at home" (pg. 60).

The success (and pleasure) a teacher has with a child at school, depends in large part on the self-management the child has learned in the home. She uses the example of a backbone to illustrate, rather humorously, the point.

"No suasion will make you 'sit up' if you are an oyster; no, nor even if you are a cod. You must have a backbone, and your backbone must have learned its work before sitting up is possible to you. No doubt the human oyster may grow a backbone, and the human cod may get into the way of sitting up, and some day, perhaps, we shall know of the heroic endeavours made by schoolmaster and mistress to prop up, and haul up, and draw up, and anyhow keep alert and sitting up, creatures whose way it is to sprawl." (pg. 61-62)

In the end, Mason believes it is the parents' role to develop this backbone from the beginning. Otherwise the teacher is left with remedial work, which will be far less satisfying and far less successful.

Mason also notes a difference between mechanical habits and earlier "vital" habits. A school may give a child a certain structure, and certain habits, but these are merely social props, and will only be of use as long as the child is in school. Without the social props, children will revert back to earlier habits. No, she argues, children need to be "put under discipline from infancy" (pg. 62).


Don't Be Like This Guy


She then uses the example of Edward Waverley from Scott's novel Waverley as an example of "mental sprawling."

Waverley acquired knowledge "in a slight, flimsy, and inadequate manner." He was not moved to knowledge by natural curiosity, but needed strong gratification. He had neither alertness of mind nor self-restraint. "He does nothing to carve out a way for himself, and he does everything to his own hindrance out of the pure want of the power of self-direction" (pg. 63).

I really like how Mason puts the crux of the matter. Waverley was brilliant, "but 'I ought' had waited upon 'I like' from his earliest days."Ouch.

Waverley was spoiled. The failure in his personal life was a result of the failure in his education.


Parents Can't Pass the Buck


Mason is adamant that parents cannot leave it to others to bring their children up properly.   Parents must "give their children the discipline which results in self-compelling power" (pg. 64). What is more, there is a limited window of time to learn this power of self-direction and self-mastery! If the child hasn't grown a backbone by the time they get to school, they won't likely grow one there either.

The early years are not the time to leave children to "nature," and trust time to turn everything out alright in the end. Discipline begins at the beginning. The kingdom of nature is not enough. All children have an inheritance in the kingdom of grace, which implies training in virtue. Parents must plant and foster the fruits of this second kingdom.

That is what discipline is.


Education is a Discipline


Mason says the first function of parents is that of discipline. This responsibility cannot be fobbed off on teachers.

Mason also says education is a discipline. And what is discipline? Certainly it is not penal punishment, which is "the last resort of the feeble." Such punishment is only a tiny part of the picture, and shouldn't even be necessary if we are doing the rest of discipline right. (There's a convicting thought.)

A clear definition of education is key.

Education is not the acquiring of knowledge. Rather, education should "deal curatively and methodically with every flaw in character" (p.g 66). Education is essentially the cultivation of character. And this cannot be left to chance, to life circumstances, or to a schoolmaster. It's the job of the parent.


Defining Discipline


Discipline is not punishment.

Discipline is a state of being - a state of following, learning, imitating. And God has ordered the world so that children are first of all disciples of their parents. Now, all good disciple makers should have a plan for instilling certain principles in their disciples. There should be "steady progress on a careful plan" (67).

Disciples aren't made by force. There are 3 ways disciples are "lured" (haha, love the word):
1. By the attraction of the doctrine
2. By the persuasion of the presentation
3. By the enthusiasm of the (other?) disciples

So, "the parent has teachings of the perfect life which he knows how to present continually with winning force until the children are quickened with such zeal for virtue and holiness as carries them forward with leaps and bounds" (67).

Well, that sounds nice, doesn't it? Simple? Sure, no problem...

All you have to do to make your little sweetie a partaker of the Divine nature is there in the summary of 2 Peter 1:5-7. Just cultivate faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, kindness and love, systematically!

BUT HOW???

Ah yes, Mason says, that's too big of a topic for this chapter! (No kidding.)

Well then. Read on.

She does offer a little gem of wisdom at the end, in reminding parents that "every quality has its defect, every defect has its quality" (67). She encourages parents to examine their children, and see which high places need to be lowered, and which valleys need to be raised. She talks about this sort of examination earlier in the chapter, where if a certain character defect is noted in a child turning 5, the parent should put a plan in place to deal with this by the child's next birthday (and not assume the child will simply grow out of it).

It's a good reminder to be paying attention to our children's progress in their life of discipleship. We need to be mindful, and intentional. One of the driving thoughts of this chapter is that disciples don't make themselves. Discipline must be purposeful and continual.

~~~

So, if I could sum this chapter up for me in a few memorable statements, I might say:

Give your child a backbone.
Education is the cultivation of character.
Parents need to be purposeful disciple-makers.

But this disciple-making task really does seem huge when I think of it. Education is not a part time pastime. It's not something we check off for the day when we put the school books away. It encompasses all of life. All of parenting. All of family culture. Education is cultivating and curating virtuous character. And that is no small thing. (I suppose that's why there are 6 volumes to this whole home education series??)

The ultimate goal of Christian disciple making is participation in the Divine nature. I went back to 2 Peter 1 (which Mason doesn't actually reference directly, assuming her readers will know the passage she is referring to) for some context around those verses. That is also where the phrase "a partaker of the Divine nature" that she references on pg. 67 comes from. What was most encouraging to me at this moment, however,  was found in verse 3.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.

It's not my power that will accomplish this. Yes, God has given me the task, and I need to be purposeful and faithful. But the power comes from Him! That is a good thought to rest in when it all seems too big for me.





Thursday, March 1, 2018

Snap Joy :: Winter Lover

Here's our littlest winter lover. She only cries when she has to come in




Sunday, February 25, 2018

Mason's Parents and Children: Chapter 6

I'm going to try writing out some of my thoughts from Charlotte Mason's book Parents and Children, which is Volume 6 of The Original Home Schooling Series. I am reading this right now along with our Charlotte Mason study/support group. We began the volume last September, and are slow reading our way through it at a rate of one chapter a month. I'm hoping this "narration" will help cement the ideas in the long term storage section of my brain!

Chapter 6: Parents as Inspirers - Primal ideas derived from parents



This is the fourth and final chapter dealing with the role parents as inspirers. To review:

Chapter 3: Parents as Inspirers - Children must be born again into the Life of Intelligence
Chapter 4: Parents as Inspirers - The Life of the Mind grows upon Ideas
Chapter 5: Parents as Inspirers - The Things of the Spirit

Mason states throughout these chapters that the highest role of parents is as revealers of God to their children. In the previous chapter, Mason outlined some of the things we shouldn't be doing as parents, especially in regard to fortifying them against doubt. (Review of what not to do: leave them to time and chance, or fortify them with proofs and evidences in such a way that their faith and the truth rests on these. What we need to do instead is give them both a hold of vital truth and an outlook on current thought, so they are equipped to navigate the doubts when they arise.)

"To bring the human race, family by family, child by child, out of the savage and inhuman desolation where He is not, into the light and warmth and comfort of the presence of God, is, no doubt, the chief thing we have to do in the world." (pg. 50)

This is our chief work, our most momentous work, our highest function as parents. Parents are the primary agents of God's work in the world.

We do this work through the instrumentality of ideas. (Mason is big on the power of the idea, almost as a living thing. When she says that "education is a life," she means primarily the life of ideas. It is ideas which set the course for thought and action.) Knowing this, we must be careful both in our choice of ideas (the what), and the conveyance of ideas (the how).

As an example, she takes a popular idea of her day - that the Bible should be read to children first as a human book, to be read as history, poetry, hero stories, etc., and then slowly move up from this human take to a divine understanding. She thinks this is a mistake however, and that the Bible should be presented from the beginning as divine and therefore authoritative.

Next she goes on to talk about the limits of reason and the importance of primary ideas. Basically, if children get the wrong primal idea about something from the start, they will go on and follow that idea to its "reasonable" and "logical" conclusion. Mason then gives an excursus on how just this thing happened with the crucifixion of Jesus. It was perfectly "reasonable" for the Jews to put Jesus to death, given their system of thought, and the ideas that they had grown up with as children. The error did not come in to play in the crucifixion, rather, the error lay in the primal idea that religion was to serve the nation. This shows how "reason," once it seizes upon an idea, will carry that on to its inevitable and "logical" conclusion. The crucifixion was perfectly "reasonable," and indeed seemed "right" to the Jews, given the ideas that fed into that action.

"The Crucifixion was the logical and necessary outcome of ideas imbibed from their cradles by the persecuting Jews. So of every persecution; none is born of the occasion and the hour, but comes out of the habit of thought of a lifetime." (pg. 54)

All this to say, that it is of vital importance to get the primal ideas right in the first place! (And though she doesn't refer again to the earlier "current" approach to Scripture, we can infer that she rejects it on this basis. If Scripture really is divine and authoritative, it should be presented that way from the start.)

And where do these primal ideas mainly come from? Why, parents of course! (Only in our day and age, that may not be largely the case. Which is a whole other discussion.)

"It is the primal impulse to habits of thought which children must owe to their parents; and, as a man's thought and action Godward is 'The very pulse of the machine,' the introduction of such primal ideas as shall impel the soul to God is the first duty and highest privilege of parents." (pg. 54)

There is great power in these ideas that are formed from the cradle, where they actually become part of the atmosphere of the child's early life. Parents are educating their children in the ways of God right from the start with atmosphere, discipline of habit, and the life of ideas.

Mason then goes on to talk about some of first approaches to God in a child's life. She talks about the importance of:

1. Regular morning and evening prayer. "Nothing could be more suitable and more beautiful than these morning and evening approaches to God, the little children brought to him by their mothers." (pg. 55)

2. Parents praying out loud in front of children throughout the day. Mason thinks more can be done by a mother communing out loud with God, "so that the children might grow up in the sense of the presence of God" which would lead to "glad and natural living in the recognized presence of God." (pg. 55)

3. Outspoken gratitude. In particular, voicing our thanksgiving is a powerful practice that children will pick up from parents. If we speak out our joys and gratitude, children will too.

4. Using endearing terms in prayer. Mason believes children should use familiar, endearing language in their prayers, so that we don't put up a barrier between them and God. She suggests using "Dear God" as an address. "Let children grow up aware of the constant, immediate, joy-giving, joy-taking Presence in the midst of them." (pg. 57) Knowing God intimately as a loving Father will protect them against many temptations of "infidelity."

5. The "Shout of a King."  By this she means children growing up with a sense of God as King in their midst. Even in her time, she laments the loss of this concept in modern civilization. (How much more is this true in our day.) I would classify this as one of the "primal ideas" that Mason talks about. From this idea flows a host of other ideas and attitudes -

"There are, in this poor stuff we call human nature, founts of loyalty, worship, passionate devotion, glad service, which have, alas! to be unsealed in the earth-laden older heart, but only ask place to flow from the child's. There is no safeguard and no joy like that of being under orders, being possessed, controlled, continually in the service of One whom it is gladness to obey.  ... [A] king, a leader, implies warfare, a foe, victory - possible defeat and disgrace. And this is the conception of life which cannot too soon be brought before children." (pg. 57)

She then goes on to talk about how children know what it means to be in this fight of light vs. darkness, good vs. evil, Christ vs. the devil. Children have a keen sense of their sin and their need. Their little hearts need healing as much as ours. In light of this, "they should live in the instant healing, in the dear Name, of the Saviour of the World." (pg. 59)

~~~


A few things stand out to me in this chapter. Namely,

1) the parents' role in cultivating an ongoing atmosphere of the presence of God in the home,

2) and the importance of the primal idea of the "shout of the king."

The first presupposes that the mother is practicing the presence of God herself, and then opens this reality to invite her children in with her. These things are "caught" just as much as "taught." The presence of God is THE foundational atmosphere and underlying reality for all Christian education.

The second is definitely an unusual concept in our day and age. I'm sure the language would make many, even Christians, uncomfortable. It is inspiring to me though. I've experienced this in my own life. I'd like to be more intentional somehow about this in our home. I know part of it is atmosphere, and atmosphere comes from the primal idea. So this is probably something I need to contemplate more in my own life, and it will ooze out from there.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Letters to Arden - February 3, 2018


Dear Arden,
I saw a picture of you yesterday from three years ago. You were dressed in a pink bodysuit, pink tights, pink tutu, and pink slippers, ready for your very first ballet class. If I do the math, you were only four years old. Your smile showed excitement, and just a hint of uncertainty. You were about to step into something new.
Looking back, you seem so small. I remember someone telling me at that age, to step back and remember just how little “four” is. I’m not sure I saw it then. Not sure I could have seen it. You were the firstborn, the big sister, the first to grow into everything. I remember some of the struggles we had. I remember not knowing what to do. I remember feeling small and unsure. Most of the growing pains were mine.
And I’m sorry, little girl, if I handed you some of my burdens. If I put all the expectations for the success of my parenting on your behaviour. If I tried to mould you, like a lump of clay, into some image in my mind’s eye.
I see your four year old face looking back, or is it forward, at me, and my heart melts a little for all the ways I’m sure I failed you. Forgive me daughter, I knew not what I was doing.
And now you are seven, going on eight. You’ve changed your ballet slippers for shoes with metal soles, and you are tapping and stomping your way through the world. I still don’t know what I’m doing. You are still the first, and everything is new for us!
But maybe I can remember how little you are, even now. I pray I can step back and see you for who you are. I pray I can see the smallness, and enjoy it for all that it is.
And maybe I can drop the burden, and stop using you as a measurement of myself. Maybe I can release the muddy hold, and give you to the hands of the skilled Potter. Maybe we can learn together from our Father what it means to grow, yet keep our childlike hearts.
Let’s dance together, little girl. Let me see you smile.
love Mom

Friday, February 2, 2018

Imagination and Getting Outside in Winter

Winter so far this year has been a sloppy, schizophrenic mess. We've had a mixture of snow and rain, freeze and thaw, and all the varied precipitation in between! We go from wonderland white one day, to soggy brown the next. It's not our ideal as far as winter goes (we like lots of snow that stays around!), but it hasn't stopped the kids from getting outside.



Yesterday they had a blast making a whole kingdom of castles and houses out of the wet snow. They spent a good 2 hours out there, and were quite thrilled to show me all they had done. I took a few pictures with my phone.

Since the colder weather began in the fall, we've managed to get a consistent habit of outdoor play in place - one slot in the morning, and one in the afternoon.

Jack's best castle, stocked with pinecones for small animals in need.




Every morning around 9:00, I send Arden and Jack outside to play. The goal is one hour. I've sent them out in pretty much everything. Blizzards, rain, snow, -20C, mud, wind, you name it. The key is the right outer clothes! We've kept full snowsuits and head-to-toe raingear handy. On the coldest and windiest days, I've shortened the time to 20 minutes. Lots of days they've come to the door asking to come in early, but if it didn't look like they were in danger of frostbite, I just sent them back out! They know where the sheltered parts of the yard are.

The great thing is this morning time has become a true habit now. They don't resist, they just expect it, and most days they are excited to go out. Sometimes I'll go out for a few minutes and take Ivy with me, but that might depend on her nap time and if there are chores I have to finish up.

Arden, the main castle, and the pinecone forest.


On afternoons that we are home (which is most days), I also send them outside for another hour or so. This doesn't necessarily happen at the same time each day, but the kids have also come to expect this, and know that if they don't head on their own accord, I'll send them at some point. If I haven't got out in the morning with Ivy, then I make an effort to go out in the afternoon. She loves going outside, which I love to see, and is quite put out if she doesn't get to put her snowsuit on when the big kids do.

I think this time is so important for their development, in many ways. Besides the obvious benefits of fresh air and exercise, they are making consistent, long term connections with nature. It doesn't always look like formal "nature study," but they are forming a relationship with nature nonetheless.



Charlotte Mason says in Home Education

"[T]here is no sort of knowledge to be got in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves of the world they live in. Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things." (pg. 61)


Time outside also gives them space, time and freedom for imaginative play. I don't think it was a coincidence that we read a few wonderfully rich bedtime stories the night before this snow kingdom creation.




Stoking their imaginations with great images and ideas through literature fuels both their desire and enjoyment to "go out and play." Outside they have the freedom to explore and enact the worlds in their heads. Its the science of relations at work. The snow halls they make might just house Urso Brunov and his little bears.


~lg






Friday, January 12, 2018

A new term, a hungry hawk, and January thaw

We getting settled back into routine again after our Christmas break. The weather has been wild this week. We've gone from -20s earlier this week to +13 today! The kids are loving this January thaw, but I just wish it would stay cold and snowy.








The kids are making good use of their MEC rain suits anyway! (We use them for 4 seasons here!)

My outdoor life goal for this term is to get the kids outside twice a day, aiming for an hour at least each time. (On the really cold days, I've cut it back to half an hour.) And I am also trying to get out for one of those times with Ivy as well. She wants to be outside with the big kids whenever she can!

We've had quite the week for nature study. This bird of prey made an appearance in our chicken coop! We think it is an immature red-tailed hawk. It must have been hungry, because it chased one of our chickens into the coop and killed it there, where we found them both. While we feel sorry for the chicken, it was fascinating to observe the hawk.








For this term in school, we've started a few new books, which is always exciting, including The Little Duke for Arden (her favourite subject is history), and The House at Pooh Corner for Jack.



In other exciting news, Arden has really picked up with her reading. She read the first two books in the Imagination Station series and has just started The Boxcar Children by herself! She is also participating in the Read-Aloud Revival 31 Day Challenge this month, which is proving to be great motivation.




Happy new year, and here's to more semi-regular blogging! :)


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Christmas 2017

I'm a little overdue, but while the atmosphere of Christmas still lingers, I wanted to post some pictures of the family festivities.

Trimming the Tree

Ivy's first year helping with the tree!

Beautiful Arden

Everything is magical when you're 21 months old


Reaching to get the angel on top...
Somehow a pipe seemed a necessary accessory (no tobaaco in it though!!)
Like father, like son!



This was the year of silly pictures. Couldn't get these two to keep a straight face!


Ivy in the glow


The Christmas Tree Sleepover

It's become a tradition in our house for the kids to have a sleepover under the tree one night. Mom gets to read the bedtime stories, and Dad gets to sleep on the couch with them for the night. :) This year we read through Tolkien's Letters From Father Christmas, which was a lot of fun for the kids this year, especially the North Polar Bear's escapades.

 


Only pretending to sleep at this point!




Christmas Eve

Traditional tourtiere pie

All the candles at last

At the Christmas Eve Service

This is the "Rhythm Band," made up of the youngest members of the church! This picture makes me laugh!
The whole family (including baby Jesus!)

Just before bedtime


Ready for the morning


It's Practically Here!


This year we had a quiet Christmas to ourselves. Well, perhaps quiet isn't the appropriate word! There was rather a lot of noise, of the merriest kind. Squeals over gifts, Handel's Messiah blasting on the kitchen radio, Super Mario Odyssey in the living room. It was a Gallantish sort of noise. We did get outside for a little while in the afternoon, and all enjoyed a walk into the woods with a light dusting of snow. We capped the day off with a good old gingerbread house smash.

Joy is here!

Catkin!

Sugar and Super Mario

Our very own elf!

Jack's new Perplexus

Morning cuddles





Everyone's excited to start the game!

By the end of the day, it was a white Christmas





~lg
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