Monday, March 20, 2017

My Grand (Unrealistic?) Charlotte Mason Outdoor Life Challenge!

The more I've been reading Charlotte Mason on "The Out-of-Door Life for the Children," the more I've been thinking.

March branches

This emphasis on outdoor life and nature study was one of the major attractions of the Charlotte Mason method for me in the first place. I've always loved nature. (Well, maybe not the bugs, as those of you who know me well can attest to!) I've known its power in my own life, both as a child in the wilds of the Northwest Territories, and as an adult now in Prince Edward Island. I'm convinced of the need for our family to be more connected with the natural world, and this not only from Charlotte Mason, but from others. I've seen the crippling effects of what Richard Louv calls "Nature Deficit Disorder," and I do not want this for my kids.

And I've been thinking, what would I look back on and wish we had done more of this year? More math? More narration? More read-alouds? (All good things, yes.) What element of a CM education would I kick myself most for not fully trying to implement?

I keep coming back to this: outdoor life.

Yes, that involves "nature study," but it's so much more than that. Mason's vision goes way beyond a once-a-week nature walk. (And yes, I'll admit, there are weeks we haven't even done that. Many weeks. Try most of the winter!) I don't want to get the guilt train going for anyone. But when I think about what I really want for our family, and what I'm really willing to put some effort into, it's outdoor life.

Ah, the wonder of spring... coming soon to a backyard near you.

Much as I love nature, I also have bookworm tendencies. Bookworms like cozy fires, in my experience, and warm mugs of coffee. Indoor inertia can set in all too easily. It's nice in here, after all, with our blankets and books, and coffee and books, and computers and books...

But I know there's more! And I want more! How much more?

Well, that's actually a scary question, because I know Charlotte Mason's answer. Gulp.

Let me quote:

"'I make a point,' says a judicious mother, 'of sending my children out, weather permitting, for an hour in the winter, and two hours a day in the summer months.' That is well; but it is not enough. In the first place, do not send them; if it is anyway possible, take them; for, although the children should be left much to themselves, there is a great deal to be done and great deal to be prevented during these long hours in the open air. And long hours they should be; not two, but four, five, or six hours they should have on every tolerably fine day, from April till October. 'Impossible!' says an over-wrought mother who sees her way to no more for her children that a daily hour or so on the pavements of the neighbouring London squares."

Impossible! says an over-wrought mother with a baby who needs a nap, and kids who need clean underwear (again!), and a family that needs supper on time, and errands to run in town, and Facebook to check . . . not to mention Canadian "spring."

This was last April at the beach. Oh boy, we look cold!

WHAT?!? Charlotte, are you kidding me? FOUR TO SIX HOURS?!? You have no idea what my life is like.

{Insert firm but kind British voice here}

"Let me repeat, that I venture to suggest, not what is practicable in any household, but what seems to me absolutely best for the children; and that, in the faith that mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them."


To be honest, if this was just a "Charlotte Mason thing," or me wanting to uphold the purity of some hundred year old method, it would probably not be enough to get me in the business of wonder working. But, like I said, it's not just Charlotte Mason. She's just one more voice encouraging me in the direction I think we need to go.

Let me say that I am quite interested in Charlotte Mason's particular method of living the outdoor life and educating the children in nature study. I feel like I want to give it my best shot, her way, and see what comes of it. However, I make no promises. (FOUR TO SIX HOURS?!?)

And I am actually rather hesitant to put myself out there (here) and announce to my half dozen readers my grand plan of nature study. BUT, I'm doing it in the hopes of some accountability, if only for myself.

So, this is what I'm thinking. Our next, and final, term of this our inaugural year of formal lessons begins in April, which also just so happens to coincide with that whole "April to October" guideline of Ms. Mason's. (Weather differences between the UK and Canada aside. At least we have the "tolerably fine day" clause to fall back on. Phew.)

We are going to begin our very own "Charlotte Mason Outdoor Life Challenge" from April till June. Yay! 

(Just so you know, I am literally making this up as I type.)

Looking ahead to June green. . . 

The Challenge will include the following goals:

1. Spend a portion of our day outside together. 

(Note, I did not say spend 4-6 hours outside every day! At least not at first!) Part of this will be for free play, and part of it for learning, or "nature study," gradually implementing more of Charlotte Mason's methods as we go.

2. Have a snack or lunch outside on fine weather days. 

This is one way Ms. Mason suggested upping the outdoor hours and increasing joy in our lives as a family. As long as the scary bugs stay away, I should be ok...

3. Dust off the nature journals and make regular entries. 

We haven't made many entries since last fall. I make no commitment to dry-brushing or any particular technique. Only to developing the habit of regularly recording our observations. (I would love to learn, but I also know that my learning curve has its limits! Slow and steady wins the race, to quote a tortoise.)

4. Make outdoor play our default play. 

I have a hunch that going out to play will reduce the amount of tidying needed in the house! Bonus! As well as providing the kids (and myself) with the many benefits of outdoor play, of course.

5. Continue my own nature education. 

I will continue reading through Ms. Mason's thoughts on the subject, as well as choosing one nature study book that I will read for my own insight and enjoyment during this term. (In addition to the kids' lesson books.)

June! It will come!

Don't worry, there will be more details to come on just how I plan to go about doing this. (I am still very much thinking about just how I plan to go about doing this!)

What I really want to know is, are there any other homeschool moms out there that want to do this with me?!? It doesn't have to look exactly like my challenge! Your goals may be different! But does anyone else want to have more of an outdoor life to finish off the school year? If so, comment below! We can do this. :)

(And if all I end up doing is talking to myself over here, I'm totally ok with that too. Right? Yes.)


"Take Them!" The Mother's Presence in the Child's Outdoor Life

There is much to be said about the mother's role in outdoor life. From the first few sections of the chapter "Out-Of-Door Life for the Children," I've noted several things that have stood out to me about the mother's presence. 

To begin, mothers should not be content only to send their children outside. When at all possible, they should take them. 

"In the first place, do not send them; 
if it is anyway possible, take them. . ." (p. 43)*

The Mother's Presence Is Purposeful

Once outside, the mother plays a key role in the child's experience of nature. Her presence is necessary, but it must not get in the way of the children forming their own relations with the natural world. 

"They must be let alone, left to themselves a good deal, to take in what they can of the beauty of earth and heavens; for of the evils of modern education few are worse than this - that the perpetual cackle of his elders leaves the poor child not a moment of time, nor an inch of space, wherein to wonder - and grow. At the same time, here is the mother's opportunity to train the seeing eye, the hearing ear, and to drop seeds of truth into the open soul of the child, which shall germinate, blossom, and bear fruit, without further help or knowledge of hers." (p. 44)

There is a delicate balance to be struck here, and I suspect it is rather an art to be developed. 

On the one hand, leave them alone. On the other hand, take the opportunity to train and "drop seeds of truth." Part of the mother's role is to discern "the right moment" for these things (p. 47). She should not overpower the children with "perpetual cackle!" Neither should she ignore them. Her presence must be purposeful

One way I think about the relationship between mother, child, and nature, is that the mother is the one making the introduction between the child and nature. Nature is not in her power. Neither is the child. She helps facilitate the connection, and then steps back and lets the living world do its work with the child. Note how much of this happens "without further help or knowledge of hers." 

We are not present to control. We are present to connect. 

The Mother's Presence is Encouraging

Another aspect of the mother's role is to encourage an interest and love of the natural world, stemming from her own pleasure in it.

Charlotte Mason writes that, "every child has a natural interest in the living things about him which it is the business of his parents to encourage" (p. 58).

The parents' influence, one way or the other, is vital. She goes on to say, "few children are equal to holding their own in the face of public opinion; and if they see that the things which interest them are indifferent or disgusting to you, their pleasure in them vanishes, and that chapter of the book of Nature is closed to them" (p. 58).

Our enthusiasm for the natural world is catching! So is our indifference. Joy and wonder in the marvels of creation are part of the atmosphere of education, and the tone is set by us. Are we curious? Do we have a reverence for life? Do we take joy in the wide world around us? Do we prioritize our day to spend time outside?

Too often we moms have allowed the distractions and duties of life to sever our own connection with nature. We suffer because of this, but so do our children. If we don't make it a priority in our adult lives, our children may view it as something to be discarded as they get older. It is well worth it to rekindle this connection in our lives, for our sakes and theirs.

The Mother's Presence is Enlightening

Charlotte believed that mothers and teachers should know about nature!

"The mother cannot devote herself too much to this kind of reading, not only that she may be able to read tit-bits to her children about matters they have come across, but that she may be able to answer their queries and direct their observation. And not only the mother, but any woman, who is likely ever to spend an hour or two in the society of children should make herself mistress of this sort of information; the children will adore her for knowing what they want to know, and who knows but she may give its bent for life to some young mind destined to do great things for the world" (p. 65).

Not only is our enthusiasm for the natural world important, so is our knowledge of it. It doesn't mean we have to be experts, but it does mean we should be expanding our knowledge of the natural world.

The purpose of this knowledge is not so we can endlessly lecture our children about every bug, rock, and tree they encounter, but so that when they ask, or when the moment is right, we have those seeds of truth we can drop into their minds. We have names for things. We have a framework for understanding the world around us. We have a basic nature vocabulary we can begin to share with our children.

One thing I would like to do is develop my own booklist of nature reading. Besides reading to know about the topics the children will be studying, I want to read for my own interest and delight. Perhaps one book a term for me?

The Plan in Action:

~ Go out more with the children. The end goal would be to go with them "every tolerably fine day from April to October." (It's still March! Wet and windy weather prevails. But it will get better...) I'm not sure it's realistic to expect this of myself every day. I would have to work on rearranging our lives a bit more for that to happen. After all, sending them out is better than them not going at all. But I'd like to make a steady improvement in this area. And as the weather improves, I hope my track record will as well!

~ Go out and generally enjoy myself. I think if they see me delighting in our backyard wonders, that's an "atmosphere" that will catch on.

~ Make a booklist of nature books for me to read. Plan to start one at the beginning of April (when our next term begins).

* All quotes taken from Volume 1: Home Education of The Original Homeschooling Series by Charlotte Mason, The Charlotte Mason Research & Supply edition.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Needing More Nature

March is a tricky month. The sun can be tantalizingly warm, lulling you into a vernal daydream . . .  the next minute you are hit with freezing rain in the eye! I find it a difficult month to get outside with the kids. Our nature study over the last few months has been mostly out of books. The kids have done a lot of playing out in the snow by themselves, which is great, but I haven't gone out with them too often. I know this needs to change! It's better for all of us!

We all went out this afternoon. The sunshine helped. We wandered by the river, taking time to observe these early signs of spring. We looked. We listened. We poked and prodded. The kids climbed trees. Ivy hung out in the back pack. It was wet underfoot and windy overhead, but we dressed for it. And it was great!

Spontaneous tree hugging 

The mud slide

I've been re-reading Home Education by Charlotte Mason (Volume 1 in the Original Homeschooling Series), particularly the section "Out-of-Door Life for the Children." One of the things that drew me to the Charlotte Mason approach was this huge emphasis on spending time outdoors and nature study. We are almost 2/3 way through our first year, and I feel like I've only skimmed the surface of what our outdoor life could be as a family. Sure, a new baby in the mix has its complications. But as Ivy gets older and other aspects of schooling get more comfortable, I feel more able to take on a challenge in this area.

"In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother's first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it spent for the most part out in the fresh air" (pg. 43).

For the rest of March, I want to read all I can about this aspect of home life and education. I have this grand idea formulating in my head, but I want to think it over before committing, or at least before making it public!! But I think I will do some brainstorming and some plotting along with my reading. I'm hoping April will see some significant, positive changes.

Accomplishment! He got up here all by himself. 

Of all the things I could look back on this year, I think I would regret most not going "whole hog" with a robust outdoor life. It's foundational.

I will end this post with a few pertinent quotes from the very first paragraph of the section mentioned above (pg. 42).

"For we are an overwrought generation, running to nerves as a cabbage runs to seed; 
and every hour spent in the open is a clear gain, tending to the increase 
of brain power and bodily vigour, and to the lengthening of life itself." 

I am, with Charlotte, inclined to make "a new rule of life:"

"Never be within doors when you can rightly be without." 

For more about our home education journey and approach, click here or on the "Little Homeschool" tab at the top of the page!


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Snow Drop by Arden Gallant

This is a poem that Arden wrote earlier this winter. She wanted to share it with you!

The Snow Drop

The snowdrop grows through the snow.
The sunflowers wilt.
The winter is cold.
But Christmas is better,
better than snow.

But the frogs hibernate.
The polar bears stay awake.
But we have a warm house.

Leaves wither.
We eat porridge for dinner.

We have a warm, toasty fireplace.
Geese fly to a warm place.
Everything's cold, cold as ice.
Warm hot chocolate!

It gets darker earlier.
The lights go on in the night.
Everyone goes to bed in their warm, cozy blankets.

You can see the smoke from outside of the house.
Play games.
Sitting by the fire is nice.
Make snow angels, make snowmen, make snow seats.
Warm potatoes in your pockets.
Warm bricks by your feet.
It's nice to have a snuggle.
Wait for friends to play in the snow with you.
Babies first start to walk in the snow.
Go on cozy, warm trains.
Presents by the Christmas tree!
Play in the snow.
Play with dolls, play with soldiers.
The best thing of all is a cozy, warm sleigh to ride in.

Snowflakes fall, so beautiful.
Apples fall to the ground.
A little bit of sun can be nice too.
You can paint inside, go on a sleigh in the snow.
Birds stay and go.
Get ready for Christmas!
Squirrels collect acorns for spring.
Evergreens stay, other trees go.
Leaves fall.
Fall is nice, but winter is better.

Light candles at Advent and sing songs.
Some days it's windy and cold.
Some days it's sunny and nice.
Carving pumpkins is really fun!
Sit with your babies.
Decorate for Christmas.

by Arden Gallant

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Figuring Out the First Year

This homeschool mom is still trying to figure things out over here! That's what the first year is all about, right? Still loosely following Ambleside Online's Year 1, but with enough substitutions, modifications and deletions to not really be a true AO-er. I've been fascinated by the podcast discussions of A Delectable Education, especially regarding history rotations. And then there's my penchant for the Moore's Better Late Than Early approach. Kids want to spend all day playing in mud puddles? Go right ahead! I am still very much aiming for Charlotte Mason's timeless principles though! And working my way through her writings. Perhaps I am a . . . Free Spirited CMer?

And then there's the whole personality type thing at play. I'm an INFP, mostly! And apparently, I dislike both risk and systems! Ha! It is actually very true. So, I don't want to risk doing something that hasn't been tried before (thus the need for some outside input or structure or historical precedent), but I don't want to be tied into anyone's system (thus the need for modification and making things up as I go and room for flexibility). Did I mention I'm also slightly impulsive and easily distracted? I have to feel my way, and leave lots of loops open, only sometimes I forget which loops those were. Oy! Sometimes I tend toward INTP, which means I spend lots more time on research than actually implementing ideas! But I want to have the right idea before I implement. Do you see my problem?

Anyway, things are actually going fairly well, and perhaps I'll share soon a bit of what we're actually doing around here, as far as booklists and lessons go. Just now it is past my bedtime though, and I'd better get the best start on my day tomorrow by going to bed now. If I can shut my homeschool brain off, that is . . .


Friday, February 17, 2017

January Winter Fun

Here are a few shots from this past January.

Inside . . . 

A window on the wintery world


We had a several day puzzle marathon. I think we did 7 in total. 

Outside . . .  

On a cold, sunny day we went on a walk on the old pier in North Rustico. This is one of our favourite (and closest) beaches in the summer, and we get a lot of mileage out of it in the winter too!

It was a windy day, and the waves were really crashing up over the walls.

Taking cover from the waves. I got hid hard in the back with one of them when I wasn't paying attention!

This one loves rock climbing.

And this one loves sliding down the frozen dunes face first!

Ok, just to let you know, all the kids were enjoying this particular moment! Everyone knows snow is insulating, right?!

Rescued by Daddy!

Happy winter to everyone!


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Snowy Day Miscellany

I've missed blogging. I've missed capturing the beauty in our everyday lives and chronicling our family's little adventures. Blogging helps me keep perspective. It helps me look at our life in a positive light. (And I think that's really important in the depths of winter!) I've struggled with defining some kind of purpose for this blog. But I think it's mainly just for me, and if anyone else gains any joy from what I post, then great!

The big reason I haven't been blogging here is because our main photo library isn't accessible to me during the day when I have a few spare minutes to pull something together. I need to figure out a way around that.

With that said, here a few photos from our snowy February day!

We started a science experiment last night. We put out two containers of water, one with salt water and one with plain tap water. We wanted to see which would freeze first. We meant to check them before bedtime, but forgot! It turned out alright though, because in the morning, the results could be clearly seen.

The fresh water (top) was frozen solid, with a layer of snow on top of the ice. The salt water (bottom) was still completely in liquid form. Now we just need to figure out why . . .

Another learning opportunity arose when the kids discovered Battleship in the basement! It's a little tricky for them, but they are learning how to plunk in the coordinates.

Today is also another storm day! We've had a few in the last couple of weeks, and the snow is really piling up, much to the delight of all in the house. I took these pictures from the warmth of the dining room. :)

Here is one of my book stacks. I'm going through A Mother's Rule of Life for the second time, and am just getting into The Karamazov Brothers for bookclub. It's a doozy! I'll have to dig in some more tonight. Winter evenings are perfect for big books!

I hope to be posting more regularly! And maybe even playing some catch up!


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Hearth Aflame

"Peasant Woman By A Hearth" by Jozev Israels

As I was flipping through the carol section of the hymnbook the other day, humming merrily along, I stopped to sing through the words of "There's a Song in the Air." This verse in particular struck me:

"In the light of that star
lie the ages impearled;
and that song from afar
has swept over the world.
Every hearth is aflame,
and the beautiful sing
in the homes of the nations
that Jesus is King!"

I love the hearth imagery, which is why I chose the name "Little Hearth" for this blog way back when. Back then I was living in a tiny apartment over a shop on an old main street in Ontario. We were newly married, and I was just getting the hang of setting up and keeping up my own little home. I had no fireplace, no literal hearth, but I wanted our home to be a place that was lit from within. I wanted to create a place of coziness and cheer. I wanted our home life to glow with a spiritual flame. 

Now, we live in a sprawling old farmhouse on PEI, which I can hardly describe as "little!" Instead of an apartment, we have what we like to think of as our own little homestead. We have a couple of acres, a flock of chickens, and a few children. Our lives have expanded. But in many ways the vision is the same. 

Warmth. Cheer. Gathering. Sustenance. Light. A welcome refuge in the darkness. 

This vision is still my desire and prayer. That the hearth of our home would be aflame with the light of Jesus. If I were to choose the name of my blog today, I think I might just have called it "Hearth Aflame." 


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Fall Seed Hunt

As part of Mud Puddles to Meteors' 30 Days of "Fall Outside," we went on a seed hunt today. This is what we found.

Speaking of seeds, we also recently discovered this delightful book:

Planting the Wild Garden
Kathryn O. Galbraith & Wendy Anderson Halperin

It's a beautifully illustrated introduction to the idea of how seeds get "planted" in the wild. We enjoyed looking at the pictures together. When we went outside for our seed hunt, we imagined how the different seeds might get around and where they might end up!

We also enjoy this book about seeds:

A Seed Is Sleepy
Dianna Hutts Aston & Sylvia Long

This is part of a growing series of introductory nature books. While it is more of an overview and doesn't dive deep into one area, I feel it presents the "idea" of a seed in a living way - with beauty, poetry, and wonder. The facts are fascinating, and it is an overall fun book.


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