Friday, April 30, 2010

A Month with Charlotte Mason, #27

A housekeeping note: I had to decide whether to make the "month" end with April, or go for a nice round number of posts. I think I'll go for the round number.

When it comes down to personal application of Charlotte Mason's philosophy, we've done better at some things here than at others....and knowing that our homeschooling achievement isn't perfect is probably as it should be. We are human beings, after all, trying to take hold of what's offered but doing so, often, rather imperfectly.

Some people find it strange that the original PNEU programmes defined so strictly what was to be done at each level during each term, since Charlotte Mason talked so much about the individual. But was it as cookie-cutter a curriculum as that sounds? Let's look at that for a minute. Each student was assigned certain pages in certain books to read or have read to him/her. Each one had a certain number of memory assignments--though those could vary, they were things like "Two hymns by Keble." Each one was expected to keep nature journals and, when old enough, history records (century charts, books of the centuries etc.). Each one was expected to make certain handicrafts (such as "a child's dress.") Each one was to be learning arithmetic, French, etc., though it was thought more important that each one be making progress than that a particular level be reached each term.

So--yes, it was all laid out, and there was a suggested timetable of subjects, and Charlotte Mason felt that the PNEU was doing parents and teachers a favour by going through the publishers' lists and picking out the best in-print choices at the time--plus having a few books specially written by PNEU members and friends. But what wasn't spelled out in the programmes is more "suggestive," as Miss Mason might say: what the children were supposed to think about such and such a fairy tale, what ideas they were supposed to take from a passage of Plutarch, or what vocabulary and what multiple-choice-type facts they were to have learned from a science chapter. Susan Schaeffer Macaulay tells a story about her childhood visit to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and how she "discovered" a famous painting by Rembrandt. She points out that nobody told her to stop looking at it, or what to think about it, or even what it was about. She just absorbed what she needed from it. The freedom that was given within a PNEU term was not in the assignments (find three catkins and three tree buds) but in the ideas; in each student's "digestion" of all this material, in each one's response, and in each one's growth.

Still, I think if our own family has erred in our application of CM, it's often been on the too-relaxed end rather than in the too-rigid...the parent's and child's comfort zone pushes our own natures forward, but those laws of learning have a voice of truth that we can't ignore. I think that, for instance, often our Squirrelings go away too fast after listening to something read aloud, when according to Charlotte Mason's plan they should stick around to discuss it a bit more. For one reason and another, we've read school books aloud at an older age than is probably ideal, and we've delayed written narrations for the same reason-and-another. I've never sat under a tree with my knitting and demanded that they go look at some other tree and then give me a full description so that I can identify it--I probably wouldn't know what it was either. I thought the Squirrelings were getting a pretty good overview of what's in the Bible, and they could even sing the Old Testament and New Testament books in order, but then I realized that they still didn't know how to find even the books quickly, much less chapters and verses. (We're working on that.) I'm not sure if they know what a catkin is, or a fjord. And I sometimes think that we could have done better at cultivating habits of perfect attention from the time that they were small...although, being Squirrels, that isn't something that comes naturally.

I find the years...particularly the school years...slipping away too fast, and with them, the number of chances we have to start fresh, learn new habits, rediscover what learning is about. And, ironically, I seem to understand this education thing better as my Squirrelings get closer to leaving the nest. (Well, they're not THAT close yet, but you know what I mean.)

If I could give the Squirrelings one thing during the next homeschooling year--which will probably be Ponytails' last before high school--it would be to increase their love of learning, that sense Charlotte Mason described as "everything seems to fit into something else"--and to extend it to some of the areas that stay at the edge or just outside of their personal circle of relationships. History and geography, even with good books, are often too far away from their own world to seem real. Literature sometimes seems to have just too many pages; math is unending (I'd like to try some math journalling with them), and French verbs are just made up to pester people. Isn't the boredom of doing something because somebody's making you do it what we're trying to avoid? So do we then make our curriculum easier, drop books or subjects, expect less, if this way doesn't always cause a sort of earthquake of learning? What do you do when, after all your well-thought-out planning, your kids find more to discuss from an Arthur episode than from a history chapter?

The lesson I've had to learn myself is to be patient with both the teacher and the students; and not to take the teacher's striving for "nice lessons" too seriously. (Charlotte Mason said much the same thing--that we cannot depend too much on our own wisdom in presenting lessons.) I've come to the conclusion that some students, in some subjects, will be like lettuce, springing up quickly and obviously; others are more like carrots under the ground, that must not be yanked up before they're ready. I've also had to remember that squirrels have a habit of taking acorns but then burying them to be used much later.

These are the things I saw the younger Squirrelings doing today: catching a Red Admiral butterfly...and letting it go again after we figured out what it was. Noticing that the centres of forget-me-nots look like embroidery. Finding forget-me-not poems in two Flower Fairies books. Designing a crocheted hair scrunchie. Helping cheerfully with chores and projects. Practicing on a yard-saled recorder. Standing in the driveway singing. Playing MultiEight (online word game) and beating the grownups (I think that was yesterday). Putting together an awesome photography/Powerpoint nature assignment with music. Improvising orange-cream cheese filling for blintzes. Re-reading Magic Elizabeth (this makes several times). And yes...playing on the Stuffed Animal Site after school work was done. We celebrate our childrens' growth in the sometimes unexpected places, and trust for the rest...

Which doesn't mean that there still isn't room for teacher improvement as well. Definitely there are things in which I'd like to boost our CM-ness, without violating the uniqueness and particular gifts of these Squirrelings. But that'll keep for another post.


Sarah said...

Such a nice post. I think that one of the hardest things we can do as parents and as teachers is to find the delicate balance between our ideals and our reality. I sometimes wonder if some of what CM writes is more about her ideals than the reality of what happened in the classroom.

There was something you said about history and geography seeming too far away to be real, and literature seeming to be too many pages, and the horrible complexity of French verbs that makes me wonder if what you might be looking for is travel? I don't know if you've been able to travel with your kids, but I know that when I was able to go to England, as an adult, it was like the whole of my education (and everything it lacked) became suddenly much more relevant. I was able to visit the places I had read about, walk the roads famous authors walked, and see the places where history had happened (Roman baths, anyone?). I wonder if being able to visit the sites of what they have been studying might make as big an impact on your Squirrels?

Unknown said...

I have really enjoyed all the Charlotte Mason posts. Thanks for sharing all the information with us.

Mama Squirrel said...

Sarah, interesting idea! Unfortunately travelling hasn't been something we've managed much. But you're right, seeing something for yourself is definitely more exciting.

Ang said...

I really enjoyed this post. It's definitely going to be a "re-read and ponder" post for me.
Sarah had an interesting idea on incorporating travel. What is adding enjoyment to geography for us (besides reading Hillyer) is quick day trips around our state with stops at museums, train depots, antique stores.
It may be a boy thing but my two really enjoy google walking around the world. Thanks to google, they've been to China, Alaska, New York, France and google-walked past all their family' and friends' homes. My 10 year old is into aviation right now and we found a flight simulator from Microsoft. So now they are flying past Mount Rushmore, the Eiffel tower, the Statue of Liberty and in and out of airports all over the world. They are learning the earth is available to them, even if, for now, it is just in books and the computer.
Thanks again for these CM posts, really giving me some things to think upon.
Ang in OKC

Mama Squirrel said...

Thanks, Ang--that sounds like a fun idea too! My video-loving Squirrelings would probably really enjoy "Google-walking."

Javamom said...

Fabulosa, Mama Squirrel. The four or five of these posts that I have been catching up on are refreshing me to finish well with our last two teens, ages 15 and 17. I was beginning to think that I couldn't do this anymore. We've homeschooled all four from the beginning, and almost completely in the Spirit of CM's methodology and ideas.

Marrying off the older two in less than one year has sent life in obvious, distracted directions while we had our final bit of time with them as they turned a page on a chapter of our/their lives.

Thanks again!