31 August 2009

1001 Ways to Build an Attention Span

Okay, so maybe one thousand one was a bit of an exaggeration, though if you all fill up the comments with additional ideas, we might get there. I have been considering the concept of attention span throughout my short {so far} stint as a mother. I like thinking and wanted to raise children who are capable of it, but I was distressed by what I was seeing out there in the world. There are many, many children who cannot seem to attend to anything other than whatever suits their fancy for the next twenty-seven seconds.

So, our family set out to build a way of life in which the children would develop the skill of attending, for we do believe that it is a skill. This is not to say that there are not biological factors. For instance, we once had some friends who had a daughter who had brain damage. She had been adopted from a mother who used various street drugs throughout her pregnancy, and we were all pretty sure that she would never be able to attend completely. However, the family had developed in her the skill far beyond what other families would have accomplished. My point here is that even a child who is damaged deserves the opportunity to learn to think at the level of which they are capable.

I do not pretend that this is an exhaustive list. I am actually hoping that much is added in the comments. With that said, there are some things that I think are worth discussing.


Let's start with habits. One major facet of attention is the idea that it is a skill. We are born with little to no ability to attend, and life teaches us {or doesn't, as the case may be} how to develop the skill of attention. Here is my list for developing the skill:
  • Turn off the television. Also, the DVD player and the video games, if you have them. I am not saying that watching TV is immoral or whatever, so please don't misunderstand me. I also don't make a habit of condemning friends for turning on a video once a week so that they can catch their breath.

    However, comma.

    If I had a child showing signs of ADHD, I would turn off the electronic media completely, with no exceptions. The child might throw a fit, declare himself bored, and do whatever else he can to torment his mother for turning it off, so this is not for the faint of heart. Much easier to never let them get addicted in the first place.

    Before I go on, I want to try and briefly explain why this would be a good step. In essence, these forms of media train the mind to experience the world in a flashy, disordered way. They also train the viewer to indulge the self. This combination, regularly offered to a growing young soul, is asking for trouble. The mental activity required for keeping up with a video is totally and completely different from that required to read and think through a good book. An exception may perhaps be made for old Mr. Rogers videos? I'm still considering this.

    Suffice it to say that ADHD and the flipping of subjects in television and videos and games have something in common.
  • Read stories. Some children just need practice. Start with shorter stories, and work up until a five-year-old can attend to a chapter book without pictures. His younger siblings will be able to listen to them even earlier than he can.
  • Let them be bored. Bored children eventually begin to have thoughts. If we entertain them, we are relieving their minds before the boredom has born any fruit.
  • Train talkative children to be quiet. One of our children went through a stage where said child talked and talked until my ears bled. It was too much. I remember asking an older, more experienced mother what to do, and she said she had more than one child for whom she set a timer and required them to keep their silence. Some of these children are hardly able to make it two minutes {ask me how I know}. But they can be trained. Once they are trained to close their mouths, something I found helpful was to go over the Proverbs that extol the man who listens, and condemn the fool for excess talking.
  • Ask good questions. I am trying to learn to do this. Someone told me to do it, and I can't remember who. The idea is that you can help keep a child's mind on a subject for a longer period of time by engaging him in discussion about that subject. So don't just read a book and then go do something else. Instead, read the book and then ask the child what his favorite part was, or what he remembers. Narration helps, too.
  • Keep a nature journal. A child will look at something in nature, and consider it longer, if he is drawing it, labeling it, adding a quote about it, and so on. Ideally, this is not some sort of grueling activity, but rather a chance to really look, to really see, and so to savor.

    Come to think of it, the ability to savor something is tied to the skill of attending.
  • Art Narration. This is a lot like the nature journal. When a child studies a piece of famous art, he typically will not look at it very long. When he attempts to recreate it, he studies it, and also files it away in his memory. The act of art narration will keep him on his art subject longer than mere viewing.
  • Live a slow life. When life gets rushed, children are often dragged around. I remember when I realized that on rushed days, I didn't give my children time to practice skills like dressing themselves or washing their own hands. There was no time! In not having time, I was also teaching them the habit of not attending, for there was no time to think about anything other than the next thing.
  • Get the wiggles out. Little boys especially are bundles of energy. Trying to get them to sit still when they haven't done anything physically to burn off their wiggles will be difficult. My son and I rise at 6:00 a.m. {unless there is sickness in the house), and walk for about 30 minutes. Actually, I walk, and he rides his bike. This has a settling effect on him, and I wish I had thought of it earlier.

    I have a friend who used her giant trampoline in like manner.
  • Be generous and give them something worth attending to. This is what I have learned most in reading the works of Charlotte Mason.This woman made sure that everything she gave the students to think about was actually worth thinking about. In a cluttered world full of gimmicks, this might be a little more challenging. This is why I consider myself forever in the debt of Ambleside Online.

What else?


I know that I just wrote a theology of nutrition that explained how free I believe we are in Christ, and how good a world God made for us.

However, comma.

There are a lot of children who are fed something that the FDA "approved" of as food that God did not say is food. With that said, I think that food is something we need to consider when dealing with an ADHD child. If I had a child like this, I would eliminated these foods, in particular order:
  • MSG. Also known as: monosodium glutamate. Also known as hydrolyze protein, autolyzed yeast extract, and/or soy isolate.
  • Red 40. Actually, I would say here all artificial colors and flavors, but if you have to choose one, choose Red 40. I cannot tell you how many mothers I have met who find that their children are better behaved when they are off of Red 40.
  • White sugar and white flour. The idea is to give the children things that are nutrient-dense, especially toddlers who don't eat much of anything. Highly processed foods tend to be mostly-empty calories, which is why I'd avoid them.

And then I would feed them food that God made. Period. Give them nourishing food. Feed them eggs or chicken with the skin on, for the brain is made of fat and cholesterol. Give them fruits. Give them vegetables. If you want to give them a superfood, try cod liver oil, which is a wonderful source of brain-building Omega 3 fatty acids.

Every time I have encountered ADHD children, barring extreme circumstances like the one I mentioned above, I have noticed that their diets consist of artificial foods rather than real ones. Eating real food is an important cornerstone of health, even brain health.

What do you do?

How does your family build an attention span? What do people you know do?

Read More:
-1001 Ways to Build an Attention Span {Part the Second}
-Lessons from Charlotte: Paying Attention is a Mental Habit

28 August 2009

Turning Hearts Toward Home

Si and I are nearing the end of our current reading journey. The current chapter we are studying in To You and Your Children is an essay by G. Mark Sumpter {pastor of Faith Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Oregon} titled The Church's Ministry of Nurture to Children, Youth, and their Families. It's been a fascinating read, especially since it began with a history lesson which explained how the model for "doing church" was hijacked by the parachurch structure, something which flooded the ranks during the Youth Movement of 1880-1930. Don't you remember the Blah-Blah Volunteer Societies in the Little House books? That was the very beginning of this new way of organizing church services and methodologies for conducting the business of the church. Churches, fueled by American individualism and pioneerism, began to see themselves in this spirit of volunteerism {1880s} and by the 1930s, we had the model we see today: the effectiveness of a church's youth ministry is judged by how well it conforms not to Scripture, but to the framework of the parachurch model {which is, incidentally, a model existing outside of the normal authority of the Church}.

Though the history lesson was interesting, that wasn't really what I have been thinking about. The second section in the essay deals with recovering a thoroughly biblical grid for thinking about the relationship between the church and her lambs. One of the verses focused upon is Malachi 4:5-6, where the ministry of John the Baptist is foretold:
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.
We can know that this foretells John the Baptist because this passage has a mirror-image twin in Luke 1:16-18:
Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
The chapter goes on to flesh out what the implications of this passage in regard to family ministry within the Church, but I have found myself mulling it over in regard to my interactions with various children in general, and my educational endeavors in specific.

What we are told here is not prescriptive, and yet it would be foolish to think we cannot learn from the passage what it looks like to "make ready a people prepared for the Lord." It is interesting to me that making people ready involves healthy families--families in which the hearts of fathers and children are turned mutually to one another. I think we have learned through observation that when the relationships between children and fathers fall apart, the culture becomes very difficult to preserve in general.

Malachi pointed out earlier {by implication} in his prophesy that divorce, for instance, threatens the passing of the faith from one generation to the next. He explains that God made the husband and wife one because he sought godly offspring, and the treachery of the husbands toward their wives seems to threaten this.

I don't want to read anything more--or less--into the text than is there, but suffice it to say that I found myself thinking that turning the hearts of children toward their fathers was a beneficial thing as a general principle, and I wondered what exactly that would look like. We have the added dynamic this year of Neighbor M., who visits us for a few hours most mornings. What does it look like for me in regard to my interactions with her?

When it comes to my own children, there are times when they grumble or complain. Perhaps they disagree with their father in regard to something or other. Perhaps they complain that he is at work when they would rather he be at home {they became used to his presence during his recovery period at home this summer}. I found that, after reading and thinking, I was convicted that I should use these complaints to encourage the children outright in their relationship with their father. Instead, for instance, of just saying, "Yes, I miss Daddy when he is at work, too," I can explain how God commands a man to provide for his household, and are we not happy to see Daddy obeying the Lord in this way?

When it comes to Neighbor M., I simply decided I should seek ways to bridge her visits at our home with her life with her family. If she makes a craft, I can suggest that she take it to her mommy. We can delight with her in what she shares about her family {she has a wonderful family}. I can encourage her to use what she has learned {this week we talked about forgiveness} at home in her own household.

It is such a simple thing, really, the idea of supporting family relationships as we interact with children, and yet I have witnessed people before who have not taken this seriously. Instead, they decide to befriend and commiserate with the child. I am not speaking here of extreme circumstances, like abuse, in which our response must be swift and in defense of the child. In normal life, with its normal challenges, the goal should not be to improperly endear children to ourselves {as teachers or nursery workers or whatever}, but instead to support a child's family relationships.

This is one-sided, to be sure, for naturally the turning of the hearts of the fathers to the children {and also to the wives of their youth} is imperative for a healthy culture within the people of God, but my thoughts pertain primarily to my own opportunities. Who do I interact with throughout my day? Where is the reach of my influence? It is here that I must seek to apply what I have learned.

27 August 2009

Microhomestead Report: Photos from the Harvest

My garden isn't really anything to brag about this year. Our soil isn't all that great, plus when Si was in the hospital I only weeded once, which shaded out some plants that normally require this thing called sun. Nevertheless, we had a couple photos that seem worth sharing. After this, I promise to quit all of this self-indulgent nonsense and get back to talking about books and ideas.



As I was saying...photos. I'll start with the most impressive, which is my father's tomato harvest {not to be confused with my tomato harvest}:

This was just a little something he picked one Saturday morning. He said this casually, while searching my kitchen for my harvest, which was severely lacking, to say the least. I am blaming it on blight.

Or maybe neglect?

Moving on.

By far the most exciting thing we planted was carrots. I know what you are thinking. How can a carrot be exciting? Well, first of all, the sugar ants ate the corn, so they didn't have much competition. But also, we planted a variety pack, and never knew what we were going to dig up. We'd throw them in a bucket and run show Daddy:

There were pale ones that looked like large parsnips, traditional orange ones, and then there was this:

This, dear friends, is the Cosmic Purple Carrot. I grew it because, when you cut it up, it looks like this:

We call these Carrot Rainbows.

What an amazing variety God has made upon the earth!

And He also made this incredible thing called diotomaceous earth, which will soon be surrounding each and every stalk of autumn corn...before it is too late. Those ants get greedy sometimes.

26 August 2009

Because Number Four is One

I try not to let a birthday pass around here without musing about it a little. Of course, Number Four is a little more difficult for me to muse about than the others, for a variety of reasons. During his birthday party, right before the cake, Si decided to remind everyone of the horror of his birth, placing special emphasis on the part where he "watched him die" and the resuscitation process.

And then we all tried to sing Happy Birthday without weeping.

Truly, I try not to think about what happened as I still can't do that without tearing up. He will forever be our miracle baby.

Si made a good point, though, when he said that not only is it a miracle that we all get the opportunity to celebrate O.'s birthday and first year of life, but it is also a miracle that we all were there to celebrate, since Si himself ended up being a miracle this summer.

I feel like these two miracles were basically bookends on a year of life in which we learned a big lesson: God is truly Sovereign.

I, certainly, am not as in control of things as I used to think I was.

This past year has also been a bit of a grieving process, as, right after O. was born, we were told that we would not be having any more babies. {That's right. I was still open on the table in the operating room. This happened after O. started breathing and before the doctor and anesthesiologist began to compare iPhones.} Since he was my fourth C-section, we were only mildly surprised, but the process of letting go of the normal rhythm of our lives, of always having a toddler available for cheer, of always having a baby to rock...it has been a year of saying goodbye to this.

I have felt silly for describing it as a grief, for I know how many women would love to be blessed with even one child, and here I am with four. But I think I was hoping we'd get to Number Five.

So here we are, a complete family. O. was definitely our crowning event, defying science in the name of God's glory in grace. He is a joy, even with his little frog hop, and we are so grateful to have our family together, all members accounted for.

I am just hoping that the coming months have a little less drama in them.

25 August 2009

Happy Second Day of School!

Okay, so it is accurate to say that I am overhauling the schedule. What kind of horrible person doesn't plan to serve a snack to such a young crowd? When, at the stroke of 10:00 AM, they all began clamoring for something to eat, I recognized my error. When I thought {yesterday} about the need to read the story of Polycarp's martyrdom today, the prophet in me predicted that this was not the sort of thing for the ears of little girls so young. So all of this coalesced into a revamp plan, one which was mostly painless. Here is take two of my Average Day Chart:

Average Day Chart 2009-2010

It wasn't really 45 minutes, but I was being lazy about fixing the rows. The two events before the new outside playtime have been taking a bit longer than anticipated. When the Ambleside readings are appropriate for the girls, I'll be pulling them in and serving snack indoors. But they responded well to an opportunity to stretch their legs, E. could narrate undisturbed, and I felt like they paid better attention after a break than yesterday when I tried to stretch them too much.

I made sure I wrote down why I was changing the chart on the old chart, which I'll save for future reference.

Moving on.

Good news: all the children are sick.

Other good news: I have some bad pictures to share with you today.

First up, the timeline on the wall:

I was having trouble fitting it into a photo because it stretches down a length of wall that is in an awkward position when it comes to photos. The area is too wide to be an official hallway, but it is too narrow to be used for much of anything other than a passage to other places. We have lined it with bookcases on one side and a bench on the other, which works well, especially for little people with a desire to read twenty-five books in one sitting. Above the bench, but below some frames, I stretched the timeline.

Yesterday, King Harold I of England made his way to the timeline, first of a long line of kings we'll be enjoying this year. Here he is, out of focus:

Incidentally, the timeline is twelve feet long. The century markers were printed on cardstock. Since we are primarily studying the years 1000-1600 AD, each century is allowed two feet.

I have blank walls mostly everywhere due to a combination of lack of funding and also commitment issues. The other day I was sighing over the art collection we're studying this term, wishing we could have something that beautiful on our walls, when it dawned on me that we could! So I took the copies that I usually hide in the back of my binder and bought some cheap frames that hold standard paper {8.5 x 11 inches}. Perfect! Now I can change them every term, a constant rotation of beautiful things to look at:

Finally, I will leave you with a photo I call The Problem Globe. But first, a little background. I have always wanted a real globe. I adore globes and maps, especially if they are shades of brown which make them look antique or at least respectable. My father gave me a globe and I cannot for the life of me figure out where to put it. I hope to eventually get two chairs, and then a table to go with said two chairs. Perhaps the table would be big enough to hold an old globe? I don't know, but I can't bear to get rid of it because first of all I love it and second of all I really am using it for school. Just yesterday I showed the children where England was, for instance.

I feel myself justifying this.

Anyhow, right now the globe is on a chair in the corner of my dining area. Perhaps we will study geography during dinner?

Should I feel guilty about this?

24 August 2009

The First Birthday Frog Cake

If you are curious about why I chose to bake a frog cake {not that any of us have anything against frogs}, the reason is: our son O. crawls like a frog. He does this very efficiently, so that he rarely bothers to crawl in the standard fashion, even though he has proven himself capable. When Si was in the hospital, a mother of six dropped off a meal. When she saw O. crawling {or hopping, more like it} she stared at him for a while, and then said that she had six daughters, none of whom had ever crawled like that.


He is his own person, this is for sure. All other babies in our family walked at the age of 10 months, but he likes to hop around the house, even now.

All of this is to say that a frog cake was most definitely in order.

As is my tradition, I'll show the steps for making this cake, which is a combination of a number of cakes I saw pictured on the Internet when I googled "frog cake" last week.

In order to recreate this cake you will need to double your standard cake recipe. Bake two standard size cupcakes, one 8-inch round cake, and pour the remaining batter into a 9x13 rectangular pan, which will make a fairly tall base, as these things go.

You will also want to double your standard frosting recipe. Take out about half, and tint it an appropriate shade of blue for a pond. I used a pale blue and added in a bit of green to give it some depth as I didn't want to go out and buy a special blue for this occasion.

Frost the base blue, then stack on the round cake off-center.

I'd like to take a moment to thank my sponsor, Josiah, for doing most of the frosting job this time around. I was still sick, and, in order to save time and get to bed earlier, Si graciously frosted while I mixed up the other colors. Not every husband will do this sort of thing; God has been gracious to me.

That round cake is going to be your frog's head. You'll want to grab about half of your remaining frosting and tint it a very bright green. If you make a lot of cakes, it is worth it to invest in a couple shades of green. I use tons of green for some reason.

After this, take the remaining frosting and divide it. You will keep a third and leave it white, and take the other two-thirds and tint it green. I used a darker green color so that the leaves weren't the same color as the frog.

Take the two cupcakes, and slice a portion off of the side {about a third}. You will then lay them on their sides to make giant frog eyes. Frost the front of the eyes white, and the backs {think eyelids here} green like the body of the frog.

Using a leaf tip, add some "pond foliage" around the base.

Plain brown M&Ms for eyes, green peanut M&Ms for toes!

Using a star tip, add a few simple flowers here and there.

If you are like me, you are unpracticed at adding a message. Do it anyhow. Make sure you work in the word "hoppy."

"Hoppy 1st"

Now try to keep the 2-year-old from digging in
before the party starts!

20 August 2009

What's For Dinner?

We are currently in a transition stage. Baby O. will be one year old in a couple of days, and he is beginning to eat table foods. I haven't talked about this much, but O., too, ended up with some major allergies. I have my theories on why, but I won't go into those. The important part is that I was able to recognize the symptoms early and quickly go and visit our beloved doctor, where his allergies were eliminated without further issue.

However, my reading and researching of allergies and possible causes made me determine to keep O. off of grains and legumes for his entire first year. We almost made it, introducing beans at a Basque restaurant last Saturday night. He loved them, in case you were wondering.

So as I said we are in transition. First, we have the transition from pureed foods to table foods. This is the point where I always want to make foods that even Baby can eat, and stop baking separate meals. Second, we have the allergy issue. We will begin introducing grains at this point, but we will keep away from gluten until 18 months of age as a safety precaution.

I was delving through my Nourishing Traditions cookbook, searching out Baby-friendly recipes. And now I am halfway through my preparation of dosas, a traditional Indian food. The book calls them Indian-style Pancakes, though I prefer to call them dosas so that the children don't expect me to serve them with syrup.

Dosas are essentially one part lentils, two parts brown rice. The other ingredients are minimal. I am quite fond of lentils {the most nutritious of all legumes} and use them liberally in our meals. This particular recipe takes two full days to prepare. I began last night, soaking the whole legumes and grains in two separate bowls in a combination of water and white vinegar. Mid-morning, I drained them and blended them with a bit of salt and warm water in my blender, until I had a thick batter. Then I poured the mixture into a huge glass bowl, and now it is sitting at room temperature on my kitchen counter, where it will remain until tomorrow evening.

This process is a method of fermenting the food. To put it simply, fermentation puts thousands of microorganisms to work, predigesting the food before you ever eat it.

My cookbook contains a quote in the sidebar from Handbook of Indigenous Fermented Foods which explains the beauty of dosas:
Because they are easily digested, they are often used as food for infants and invalids.
Hence, my interest. A first-grain meal that is easy on the digestive tract, with extra nutrients unbound and ready for absorption and assimilation was exactly what I was looking for.

We'll be serving these "Indian pancakes" not with syrup, but with a yogurt sauce made from plain yogurt, lemon juice, salt and garlic. My children have found this process interesting. I'm just hoping we all find the meal...tasty. I figure we are safe since all of the ingredients are things we regularly consume, just not in this particular form.

Are you trying anything new for dinner?

Quotables: The Gift of Good Land

The Gift of Good Land:
Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural
The United States subsidizes the transport of wheat to Peru in order to get rid of its surplus. This drives down the price of Peruvian wheat. Peruvian wheat growers, as a result, now grow barley, which they sell to brewers for the making of beer. This is the result of Public Law 480, Food for Peace, which provides "cheap food for hungry countries," but can seriously disrupt local production. Which is paradox number two: charity to a hungry country makes it dependent on foreign imports for bread, but makes it independent in the production of beer.

--Wendell Berry, An Agricultural Journey in Peru {1979}

19 August 2009

On Comas

I've been thinking about comas lately. There is a young man in our congregation {not my husband, this time} who is in the hospital {and will be for a very, very long time}, which is what has brought it to mind. To be honest, I find it difficult to read updates on him, as it brings back memories that are not quite distant enough.

So, as I said, I've been thinking about comas. Specifically, I have been considering how little I understood them before now.

I thought that, when I saw my husband in an unconscious or semi-conscious state, that he was really going through something tragic. I felt so bad for him. I spent time worrying about him, and I don't mean worrying about losing him {though of course I did that as well}, but I mean worrying about him. I worried that he was sad or in pain. I worried when he was cold. I worried when I saw him struggling.

I am not saying that my concern wasn't appropriate, for I would have been stone of heart to feel otherwise. Compassion is the natural daughter of love.

However, comma.

What I didn't realize is that he wouldn't remember any of it.

I suppose I don't have enough experience with comas to know for sure that they are always like this, but I do know that the neurologist seemed to understand this fact. He felt compelled to constantly remind my husband how serious his condition had been, and he would say, "Of course, you don't really know this because you weren't there." On the word there, he pointed to his head.

During a coma, the mind wanders. In this particular instance, it collected no memories along the path. Because of this, it isn't as traumatic as an onlooker {like me} would perceive it to be.

The trauma comes later, when the patient wakes up and discovers all the time that has passed, when he has to fight to get stronger, when he has to accept any permanent damage that might have been done. This, my friends, is where the trauma lies for the patient.

Conversely, the trauma for the family of the patient is during the coma itself. Everything after the point of crisis has passed comes as a relief because they are just happy the patient is there at all.

But you can see how this might cause the patient and the family to sort of miss each other, for lack of a better description, in the experience. The paths of family and patient, which were so intertwined before the ordeal, diverge at the point of unconsciousness, and it takes a while to come back together. It takes a while for the family to realize the the patient is shocked and they are, upon awakening, entering their own experience of trauma. It takes a while for the patient to realize that the family went through anything at all.

Si now calls comas a severe mercy, for who would want to remember any of that, anyway? And who would want to experience the agony of the fight when they could, simply, sleep through it while their body did the work? It is like choosing between having surgery with or without the pain meds. The choice is obvious.

And when I made the choice to put my husband in a chemical coma, the choice was obvious in its own way. I didn't think he had the will to fight at that moment, and sleep brought needed relief.

This is such an odd lesson to have learned, really. It still feels like, for a while there, I was living someone else's life. Or someone else was living my life.

Or something.

So what does coming back together look like? For us, it meant hovering together over a calendar when he came home from the hospital. We read through Twitter updates and pieced together the time he had lost. I don't know what it would look like for someone else, but I suppose my point in writing something bizarre like this is that, if you ever have a loved on in a coma, it is probably important to know that coming back together is a process which takes time.

18 August 2009

Stages, Phases, and a Dash of Epistemology

Si and I are still plugging along in our reading and discussion times together. It has been nice to be study-buddies lately, which is sort of how our relationship started in the first place. I thought I'd take a break from my compulsive typing up of copywork papers and nursing my cold, and instead share a quote that struck me from our reading this weekend:

To You and Your Children:
Examining the Biblical Doctrine of Covenant Succession
[W]ise parents know that preschool children are shaped, elementary-school children are taught, teenage children are directed, and adult children are advised.
This line caught our attention, and so we read it more than once. The wisdom here is something to consider when determining how we will spend our days with our children, and how we will interact with them. I have noticed over the last year or two that my relationship with my oldest has naturally changed. We were, without knowing it, entering a teaching phase. And yet all of my littles are still being shaped, and I see that, too.

The same chapter containing this line includes the idea that parents, first and foremost, teach by their example. They teach by what they do. The reader is cautioned not to create a home in which the tone of the home is in direct contradiction to the teaching of the home. The author writes:
Setting a consistent example that dear children will instinctively follow is the way to get instruction down into the bones. The rationalism that we inherited from the Enlightenment has trained us all to think that everything that we really "know" is that which can be objectively measured and doled out in credit-hours. We have created a great illusory mechanism for making ourselves think that we know how people actually know things. And we identify what they know in terms of what we can measure. We quantify knowledge in such a way that at a parent/teacher conference a teacher can say, without any sense of embarrassment, that a child received an eighty-seven percent on his last English assignment in poetry, as though a poem were like six yards of fabric, or five pounds of flour...[T]his kind of knowledge, the easily measurable kind, is the least important knowledge we have. And it is not the kind of knowledge that children acquire in the home by imitation.

15 August 2009

Term 3 and Summer Read-Alouds

It is probably obvious that we weren't able to spend as much time reading as usual this summer. For us, the hottest parts of summer are often spent with our books. However, this summer has been more mild {if this is global warming, I'm in favor of it for sure}, and for the first half of the summer, I hardly saw my children at all. Any books read aloud were read to Si in his hospital bed, which it turns out only I remember.


So, usually I put this list in a cool Amazon widget, but when I looked back at old posts, the widgets don't contain the lists any longer, which is a real disappointment, so I'm going to do this the old fashion way and paste each book into the post individually.

Here is the list. Any book under fifty pages was read at least three times.

Saint George and the Dragon
by Margaret Hodges

Little Britches:
Father and I Were Ranchers
by Ralph Moody

Twenty and Ten
by Claire Bishop

Make Way for Ducklings
by Robert McCloskey

The Birdwatchers
by Simon James

The Secret Garden
by Frances Hodgson Burnett

by Sterling North

That last one has some content that might be a bit questionable for children this age in that it conflicts with our faith, but the beauty of reading aloud is that the reader can skip right on over it. Wonderfully written books can be read in spite of one or two defects. When the children are older, we will read it in full and discuss the ideas, but for now we will saturate them in beautiful works without worrying about false ideologies {in this case, humanistic evolutionary theory}.

Reading The Secret Garden with my son was interesting. I wondered if he would reject it as a "girl book," but he didn't! Instead, he loved all the gardening detail and pretends to be Dicken and charm animals. Lately he and his sister have been charming a stray kitten, and I really wish they wouldn't.

14 August 2009

The Simple Binder

I am using a binder again this year, and I still love the system. It is simple; it keeps us organized and on task; it gives me momentum when I have none...It really works for me. The best part is that it doubles as my record-keeping mechanism. So, except for work samples that I will be putting into folders as we go along {in preparation for our end-of-the-year open house with friends and family}, we are ready to go.

So...What's in the binder?

The binder contains only three tab dividers. But before the dividers, the first thing I see when I open it is my Average Day Chart. If I change this during the year, I still keep the old one because I like to refer to them as I plan for the next year. I have been keeping Average Day Charts for many years now, well before we began really homeschooling. In general, this charting system works for me.

The first divider is for attendance. Technically, I could just write attendance into my other sections as I go, but I like to have it all in one place. I use an attendance chart that I printed for free from ChartJungle. Right now, I only have one student that, legally, needs me to keep an attendance record. But as the years go by, I will keep adding to the list and printing off more pages. Instead of checking boxes, I actually write the date in a box each day and keep a running tally on the side. California private schools observe 175 days of school per year, and that is what we shoot for, though sometimes we go over by a few days.

The second divider contains my plans for Circle Time. The third divider contains my plans for Ambleside Time. The only difference between my plans for Ambleside Time and the Ambleside Weekly Reading Schedule that is available online is that I have made a few adjustments {adding in what we skipped from Trial and Triumph last year, cutting out Shakespeare, etc.} and also broken the weeks up into individual days.

My binder also has inside pockets. Here, I stuff odds and ends that I might need, everything from a printout of folk song lyrics, to a note telling me that the baby took his first steps, or a recipe for dinner. When they are adequately stuffed, I go through and organize the contents, throwing or filing slips of paper as appropriate.

I wish I could remember who gave me the binder idea. I know I didn't think of it myself, and I feel like I owe someone a thank you card.

Quotables: Angels in the Architecture

Angels in the Architecture
by Doug Jones
and Doug Wilson

Whenever the subject of worldview comes up, we Protestants--especially we Reformed Protestants--typically think of philosophy. And that is really too bad. We think of intellectual niggling. We think of theological lint picking. We think of the brief and blinding oblivion of ivory tower speculation, of thickly obscure tomes, and of inscrutable logical complexities. In fact, a worldview is as practical as garden arbors, public manners, whistling at work, dinner-time rituals, and architectural angels. It is less metaphysical than understanding marginal market buying at the stock exchange or legislative initiatives in congress. It is less esoteric than typing a book into a laptop computer or sending a fax across the continent. It is instead, Wilson and Jones assert, as down to earth as inculcating a culture-wide appetite for beauty, truth, and goodness.

--George Grant

13 August 2009

2009-2010 Average Day Chart

I've been working on my Average Day Chart, trying to figure out how I am going to manage my time. This year is going to be different, as there is a neighbor girl {henceforth referred to as "M."} who will be joining us in the mornings. And people say homeschooled kids aren't socialized. Our children and M. will be together most every single day! M. is approximately four months older than A., but she is an oldest child, and a bit more advanced. On the chart, it looks like A. and M. are doing the same thing at the same time, but that isn't necessarily so. Because they will have different levels of ability, they will be doing different, similar things at the same time. So, for instance, if they are working on writing letters, A. might be on capital A while M. might be on little d. It just depends on where they are at.

Anyhow, here is the chart {two pages total}:

Average Day Chart 2009-2010

I apologize for the colors. They look quite nice in my spreadsheet, but every time I transfer files like this to Scribd, I end up with garish colors. I am not willing to doctor it. Also, the formatting is nonexistent on the second page. I don't know why. Does this matter?

In case you are wondering, we are doing Song School Latin at a slow speed. Our main goal is to learn to sing the songs and acquire the vocabulary. Only E. will be doing the actual workbook pages. I will probably spread chapters over two or three weeks instead of doing one per week, especially since I've only planned 15 minutes per day, and usually only four days per week.

I am trying to convince Si that we need to spend our Christmas money on Latin by Rosetta Stone and never buy another language program again.

During Ambleside Time, we will add any new necessaries to our wall timeline. I went through the year and prepared dated pictures for everything I could think of so that the children can simply take turns cutting out whatever we need to add that day. Perhaps someday I will have them draw pictures for the timeline, but to be honest one of my goals is to keep it beautiful and neat because it is on the wall of the main room in our house and everyone has to look at it for a full year.

Last year, we did spelling before Circle Time so that we were fresh for the subject. It was E.'s hardest subject at the time. Well, he has relaxed a lot and learned to enjoy spelling, but beyond this I cannot put spelling during the time that M. is with us. Too often, we went "over" in the time allotted, and since I am wanting to do a large variety of things with the girls, I don't want spelling to eat up our morning. Better to do it in the afternoons when most of the other children are sleeping and M. has gone home.

One of the things that I think is going to happen is that we get more done with M. here. I am determined to fit the bulk of school into the morning so that M. can benefit from all of it. At the same time, I also do not have a newborn, nor a pregnancy, for the first time...in seven years. So I don't have those things causing me to spread school out over a larger space.

I didn't put Q. on the chart, but she will be there. She will be required to join us for Circle Time. After that, I am going to see what she wants to do. If she wants to play, she can, but if she wants to join M. and A., I am open to that. I definitely plan to have her present for most of the Special Projects Rotation, which is what I'm calling all my random extras that aren't in Circle Time this year.

By the way, I switched out the folk song. I know, I know. I made a big deal about The Jam on Gerry's Rocks, and now I changed it? Well, I just decided that I wanted something more upbeat, and so we are going with an oldie but goodie, Turkey in the Straw.

12 August 2009

An Incomplete Theology of Nutrition

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

I Timothy 3:16-17
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12
Shortly before Si fell ill, I encountered the concept of a Paleo Diet {also called a Hunter-Gatherer Diet} for the first time. My intuitive self immediately had a mental red flag when I read this:
The Paleo Diet is a way of eating in the modern age that best mimics the nutrition of our evolutionary and genetic heritage - an ancestral, Paleolithic diet. For millions of years our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate combinations of lean meats, seafoods, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. But today in America, more than 70% of our dietary calories come from foods that our Paleolithic {Stone Age} ancestors rarely if ever ate ... and that modern humans are not genetically adapted to eat. The result is epidemic levels of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, arthritis, acne, gastrointestinal disease, and more.
What was interesting to me was not that someone managed to turn evolutionary theory into grounds for a diet, for I have seen this done with everything from theories of medicine to theories of education to theories of government, but that there were a number of Christian food blogs that were making reference to this diet without batting an eye or questioning its validity.

I told Si about the diet and he, being the critical thinker that he is, immediately told me to think about better things.

My researching self asked what better thing is there to think about than Scripture? I began to wonder if Scripture has anything useful to say about nutrition or, at the very least, food. Can you believe I have spent years asking Google about this, rather than God? Here is what I have learned so far. Part of this is a critique of the Paleo Diet itself, and part is broad observation.

  1. The underlying assumptions of the Paleo Diet are a rejection of what the Bible tells us is true. For instance, on the Paleo Diet website, we read:
    the introduction of agriculture and animal husbandry approximately 10,000 years ago occurred too recently on an evolutionary timescale for the human genome to adjust.
    This is patently false. Scripture tells us that agriculture, in the form of a garden, was invented by God Himself at the very beginning of humanity. A garden was mankind's perfect, God-designed environment. To say that we are not designed for agriculture is to deny the nature of creation and the created order.

    Animal husbandry was likely practiced by Adam, starting from when he named the animals, but was most definitely practiced by his son, Abel, who kept flocks. God made plants for man to cultivate that were designed to be food for us. It is a curse upon the land and its inhabitants when it is allowed or otherwise caused to remain uncultivated, which the Bible calls a wasteland. When God restores a land, one of the signs is that the land is no longer a wilderness, but again cultivated by man. In fact, a king who himself pursues agriculture is a blessing to his kingdom.

    There are so many folks out there who extol or romanticize this cave man/nomad existence. Culturally speaking, I would say that our departure from the family farm is probably one of our root problems. We no longer have kings who are connected to the land in any significant way, and as such they are lacking in certain types of wisdom.

    God designed man to be agrarian, not a hunter/gatherer. This doesn't make gathering wild blueberries sinful, but living as a permanent wanderer is not a blessing. That was a result of the fall of man and the first murder, and it is a curse.

    Objection? Perhaps God made the garden to exist in a more hunter/gatherer state, and I am reading into the text? I do not think so, and I will tell you why: God commands Adam and Eve to rule, or have dominion over, the garden. The Hebrew word here is kabash, and it does not mean to passively interact with the garden; it means to put into subjection, to rule, to subdue. The idea is one of taking something wild and making it tame.

    The word kabash is only used fewer than twenty times in Scripture. In Numbers, it deals with conquering the land and casting out God's enemies from it. In Jeremiah, it is used when people are subdued and brought into slavery. There is even a sense of violence to this word in that it is very forceful and man or God WILL have his way. Of course, in a pre-fall existence, there is no fight of man v. nature in the way we think of it now. However, the land was not intended to be wild, but rather tamed and brought under Man's express command. My assumption is that the Garden was probably big enough for 2-4 people. As the human family grew, they would expand the borders of the Garden, developing the land as they went along.
  2. The Paleo Diet seems to be very heavy on meat consumption. Scripture warns us about being with people who eat too much meat. It also says that there are certain circumstances that would make a vegetarian meal superior to a fattened ox, which was feasting meat for special occasions. Daniel proved the superiority of God Himself through a strict vegetarian diet for a time; his nutritional success came from God Himself, and not the perfection of his food.
  3. The Paleo Diet theory contains a broad rejection of bread, and especially wheat. Now, you know our history, that our children were once allergic to gluten, casein, corn, coffee, chocolate, caffeine, soy, and so on. It is sensible to avoid foods which cause problems with individuals. What I am uncomfortable with is saying that these things are inherently bad, for all people all the time. There are so many references to bread in the Bible that I cannot list them all, but it seems sufficient to say that it played an important role in the diet of the people of God, and it was not on the list of forbidden foods by any means.

    When God spells out the benefits of His Promised Land, He says that it is flowing with milk and honey, and is a place of wheat and barley, fruit, olive oil. We are commanded by Christ to pray and ask God for our daily bread.

    An important thought concerning bread is a little more abstract: Jesus is said to be the Bread of Life, or the Bread of Heaven. If we assert that bread is "bad" we are not just destroying physical bread, but also all of the symbolism wrapped up in the idea of bread. The very ordinance of holy communion is in jeopardy when we reject bread! I believe that there is a side of this that is an assault on the faith and a distraction from more important issues.
  4. Depending on who you read, the Paleo Diet often contains an outright rejection of dairy products. These are traditional foods for humanity since the beginning of human generations. For instance, in Genesis 18, when the LORD visits Abraham, among the foods served is not only milk, but curds, revealing that dairy products were regularly used as curd takes a bit of time to procure. (Incidentally, he also serves a quick bread, or at least a bread that wasn't fermented days and days.) Jael gave Sisera milk which she carried in a skin, even when he asked for water. When David's people were hungry and tired and thirsty, they were brought wheat products, and also dairy products such as curds, cheese, and also milk. Goat's milk is said to provide nourishment. It is only living on milk alone which is considered infantile and therefore inappropriate.
  5. The Paleo Diet often contains a vilification of legumes which seems inappropriate. These are things that Scripture tells us are food. Jacob serves lentil stew to Esau. Beans and lentils feed David and his people when they are famished. Lentils were farmed in large quantities. Ezekiel was commanded to eat a bread made from a recipe provided by the LORD Himself, a recipe that included not only wheat and barley, millet and spelt, but also beans and lentils. This sounds very similar to the bread carried by the ancient Roman army; it was fermented for a month or more before consumption, which, incidentally, digested all or most of the gluten proteins.

    It is not wrong for a person to avoid foods that make him feel badly. Jonathan Edwards, for instance, was known for keeping himself on a very strict diet because he was so sensitive to various foods. But that is different than standing up and saying that these things are unhealthy for the human race. The bulk of Scripture says that these things are created by God to nourish the body, and this is why I cannot accept the premise of the Paleo Diet.
  6. The Bible does not say that sickness comes from lack of vitamins. That is a human assumption, and peculiar to modern times. In Exodus there is an interesting passage connecting food with health, but in a spiritual sense rather than a nutritional sense:
    Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces. Worship the LORD your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span.

    --Exodus 23:24-26
    In Deut. 28:60-62, disobedience brings sickness and disaster as well. We see this constantly in Scripture, though sometimes it is disobedience of an individual, and sometimes individuals are reaping the consequences of cultural rebellion (Deut. 28:58-59, c.f. I Cor. 11:29-31). The LORD sent disease as judgment on the household of Pharaoh and all of the Egyptians in Exodus. Wasting diseases and fever are the result if Israel breaks the covenant (Lev. 26:15-17). Health and fertility belong to God's people when they, as a whole, honor and serve Him, keeping the covenant (Deut. 7:14-16). In II Chronicles, the Lord struck some of the kings with various diseases of bowels, feet, etc. And then in John 9 we see the man who was born blind, not from sin, but so God could be glorified in his healing later in life. It's not that I'm saying that vitamins or even bacteria are not involved, but that Scripture reveals other causes as well.
  7. Forbidding foods is a sign of a false teacher. In I Timothy, the warning against the binding of others' consciences concerning food is clear:
    Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

    I Timothy 4:2-5
  8. The Bible associates health, fertility, {even having a good breastmilk supply, c.f. Hosea 9:14} and long life with things other than diet. Namely, obedience, to God or to parents. Living wisely also. The covenant community keeping the covenant, even in the {seemingly} little things. Good news and a cheerful spirit can bring health to the bones or be considered good medicine. The simple favor of God is often a reason for good health, biblically speaking. And healing is said to come from God.

My "Food Philosophy"

All of the above is not to say that it does not matter whether, for instance, we eat real food or we eat something manufactured from inedible coal tar. God uses means; we all know this. But the Bible says clearly that eating in obedience to God has more to do with an attitude of thankfulness and a spirit of submission to the Lord than a list of dietary guidelines.

For instance, there is this interesting little tidbit in the New Testament in regard to foods:
God has created [it] to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.

I Timothy 4:3-5
There are two observations I have about this passage that, for me, form the foundation of how I have learned to view eating "Christianly."

First, "everything created by God." We have a whole hosts of things defined by a governmental agency as "food" which were not created by God. If I eat a rock and get a stomach ache, I am eating something which is not among the foods created by God. The same goes for Red 40, aspartame, and vitamins derived from coal tar. God created food for our bodies, but the industrial economy encourages us to eat something else.

Along these lines, but not in the passage above, is the idea that food, specifically animal products, can become "unhealthy" because the animals have eaten {or in this case been fed} against God's express design in the created order. A most extreme example of this is Mad Cow (or Creutzfeldt-Jakob) Disease. Man gets this from eating an infected cow. Cows get this by eating against God's design, which is to say that they were fed animal products when ruminants are designed by God to eat grass and shrubs. Eating outside of God's design hurts man and animal alike.

I am a radical and believe that God intended us to eat food as He made it. So, for instance, we eat milk that hasn't been tampered with {raw, not homogenized, organic--from a goat we raise as well as possible} and we eat whole grains. I don't think this makes us superior to people who choose not to do this, but I do think we need to ask ourselves if God really intended for milk fat to be blasted into teensy-tiny particles.

My second observation is something I deem far more important, as things go: Scripture says that food is something we are to be thankful for, and it is sanctified by God's word and prayer. The word sanctified here is agiazo, which means that it is cleansed and purified, set apart and made holy. Let's hear it for eating pure and holy food! That sounds as pristine as an unadulterated glacial water source in some isolated location in Greenland.

In general, diets like the Paleo Diet, or others like extreme food combining, tend to make us ungrateful for our food, real food that God made. We turn our nose up at bread made from real ingredients, or deem legumes some sort of cosmic mistake. This is quite far away from what the Bible says about eating in faith.

When it comes to food, God has certain things that He requires here: a thankful heart, prayer, and the Word...which is pretty much what He requires of His people in all things.

From personal experience, I can tell you that strict diets, even necessary ones, like the one our family was on during our fight with food allergies, are a form of bondage. They change the way you live. They dictate where you eat and who you eat with. They make you opt out of birthday parties because it is just too hard to make them work, especially with extremely small, extremely allergic children.

And yet now, here we are, out of bondage, and for a short while I was tempted to put us back into it, a completely inappropriate action for someone whom Christ has set free. I should desire slavery in nothing and seek freedom whenever and wherever it is possible.

A final thought, courtesy of Blog and Mablog:
Foodism in America constitutes a significant false religion, and there are way too many Christians who do not realize the extent of their syncretistic compromises.


[W]e have found ourselves saddled with a guilt-ridden, works-righteousness approach to our daily bread. How many Christians torture themselves with self-rebuke because they aren't "eating healthy enough?" They didn't have a whole lot of time for lunch yesterday, so they didn't walk the three blocks necessary to get that bean sprout sandwich, and instead just stopped at the street vendor on the first corner. Instead of feeling guilty, though, they ought simply to have thanked God for the hot dog. What? Too spiritual to thank God for a hot dog?

10 August 2009

The Darndest Things: I Said, He Heard

My son has been speeding through every book in sight and I was starting to get that we-need-more-books-quick feeling. What to do...My general policy is to pre-read everything he reads, but that becomes difficult if you have a speedy reader on your hands.

And then I remembered The Hobbit.

This book met all my criteria: approved by mom, and, though difficult, already read aloud as a family to promote his comprehension.

So I put the book on his desk in his room with a note on it which said something to the effect of, "If you would like to read this book, you may. I only ask that you read slowly enough to read every single word. No skipping around. If you need help reading or understanding something, please ask Mom or Dad. Love, Mommy."

When I said that he could ask for assistance, I was assuming, for instance, that he might not remember how to pronounce Gandalf's name, or an Elven word.

But no.

What he heard was permission to have a spontaneous book club whenever he liked.

It was 2:00 pm on Sunday afternoon. By 2:10 pm, he made his first visit.

"Are trolls bad?"

Ten minutes later: "Why do dwarfs see so well in the dark?"

Seven minutes later: "Are elves taller than hobbits?"

Twelve minutes later: "What exactly is a hobbit, anyhow?"

And so on and so forth for two hours.

When I got home today from taking Si to the doctor, do you think I was greeted by hugs and kisses? Oh, no.

"What's a gollum?"

It is going to be a long week.

08 August 2009

Quotables: The Paideia of God

The Paideia of God
by Doug Wilson
Unless we are careful, the return to classical education will be diverted into an earlier, rigorist form of modernism. This will not represent true educational reform; rather it will be just the next sorry chapter of the perennial teetertottering of Apollonians and Dionysians, going up and down, up and down.

{p. 77}
Mastery of a given word comes from having seen it functioning in countless situations, most of which the speaker has entirely forgotten. Someone who looked up a word in the dictionary, who memorized the definitions there, and who could tell you all about the day he learned that word and the circumstances under which he mastered all its definitions would have a wooden mastery indeed.

{p. 94}

Quotables: Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum

Designing Your Own
Classical Curriculum

by Laura Berquist
Catholic culture reached its highest development within Western civilization, but in the past thirty years that culture in which most Catholics lived and which seemed to them to be simply the unchangeable given of life, has collapsed in a vast secularizing implosion. Catholics who were formed by this culture, and intended to transmit it to their children, have discovered that they are opposed, not only by external enemies {an opposition they expected and were prepared to meet}, but also by an emerging managerial class within the Church, apparently devoted to accommodation and surrender.

In consequence, the old culture has vanished from most Catholic institutions, but it has not died. It is still alive in faithful Catholic families, not only those of aging believers who refuse to relinquish the past but also in young families who are consciously reclaiming it. These young parents recognize that their most sacred obligation to their children, after giving them life, is to educate them so that they can save their souls. They are doing what the monasteries did for Catholic culture in an earlier Dark Age--preserving it and passing it on.

--Donna Steichen in 1994

06 August 2009

Norms and Nobility: Chapter Three

Where, exactly, does learning take place? The answer to this question quite jumped off the page at me during my reading of chapter three of Norms and Nobility. I spent time reading one particular paragraph over and over while I tried to grasp all the ramifications, and I think this is important:
What a child can do should not be the sole judge of what the student is asked to do. "A pupil from whom nothing is ever demanded which he cannot do, never does all he can," wrote John Stuart Mill...The activity of learning takes place in a no-man's land between what the student can accomplish and what he may not be able to accomplish. This fact sets up a creative tension in education, to which both student and teacher must become accustomed and responsive.

At the Child's Level?

Norms and Nobility
by David Hicks
One of the ideas I have run into lately in conversations and articles I've read is that children must have everything catered to them at the exact "level" they are at, and this is often applied to school learning, Sunday School, music they listen to, books they read, and even the food they eat. We have, as a culture, manufactured an entire children's culture based on this premise.

And now we are complaining, as a culture, that men do not grow up and leave home and get jobs and take wives, that women spend time preening themselves like junior highers, that everyone under the age of 25 is incapable of an adult thought. These generalizations are not completely true, but I've read articles that assert all of these things. Perhaps its inventors did not anticipate that it would be difficult to graduate from "children's culture?"

We can see in our own lives that if everything we encounter is exactly catered to where we are at, we will not grow. We will not be stretched. We will not mature in the areas where we are petty. We will not defeat any particular ignorance we might have.

Now, we take a child, who was created to be in a state of dynamic growth, and we tell him that this is the world for him, and please don't bother the adults. These children will have stunted growth. They will be misshapen in some way by the end of their childhood.

The Place Between

I loved that Hicks said that learning occurs in that place between what the child can and cannot do or accomplish. This is a mysterious place, and as such should be approached with appropriate levels of respect and kindness, and also firmness.

I began to think of Box A and Box B. Inside of Box A is everything the child can already do, everything they already know, etc. {If you have a child like one of my children, then Box A isn't always certain and you might have to sort through it every once in a while to make sure everything is still there, but still this is pretty solid as far as metaphors go.} Inside of Box B is Everything Else, the whole entire world of ideas, both known and unknown. You will never get all of Box B into Box A no matter what you do.

In between Box A and Box B is space to play, space to explore, space to learn. I picture a little toddler, teetering over the edge of Box B, grabbing an item or two. The child plays with what she grabbed. She puts in in her mouth, she throws it in the air, she chases it all around. She gets to know it, becomes intimate with it. And then one of two things happen. She either puts it back in Box B, to be retrieved later on, or she gently drops it into Box A, to keep forever.

This is the art of learning.

Where is the teacher in all of this? In my opinion, the teacher, first and foremost, keeps the play space clean. In a highly technological world, this can be a real challenge. Secondly, the teacher makes sure that Boxes A and B both stay open so that the child can access them when needed. Perhaps most important, when a child spends way too much time in Box A, for whatever reason, the teacher gently takes the child to Box B and shows her its delights. This might mean that the teacher will, for a time, need to spend some significant time in the Learning Space with the child, helping the child explore whatever it is that has been taken out of Box B.

The teacher does not, by the way, ever, ever write a list of what is in Box B while keeping Box B closed. This is not learning, this is teaching to the test. Children are not robots that we can, for show and affirmation, program to list off the contents of Box B in order to pretend they are actually in Box A.

Creative Tension

I loved that Hicks mentioned the issue of tension. If you homeschool, there is tension in your home. People don't usually tell you this, but it is true. After reading Hicks, I would say there are three types of tension, which will occur in any model of education, from the one-room schoolhouse, to the big government institution, to the homeschooling of one single solitary child:
  1. Boredom. This is when the child is forced, for whatever reason, to continually sort through Box A. They are bored out of their minds, and they will start to act up or act out in some way. Perhaps the almighty State has said to the child, "You are in first grade. This is first grade work. Whatever you are interested in beyond first grade standards will have to wait." Or perhaps the family has not kept open any access to Box B. Perhaps the shelves are filled only with First Grade books and when the child looks longingly at Treasure Island he is told to wait until he is older because he couldn't possible understand its contents, so why should he try?
  2. Frustration. This is when the child is too deep into Box B and he's drowning. He literally can't do the work, and he feels like a failure. His biggest desire is to quit. Perhaps his reading level was high and so the school moved him up two grades, but every subject other than reading is another opportunity for failure. Or perhaps he is told that he must do a certain type of math at the age of eight regardless of whether or not his mind is quite ready for it. Or perhaps it has been so long since he has seen his Box A that it is shrinking to such a degree that anything he tries to bring over from Box B has no place, nowhere to fit, and so it bounces back out and we sigh and say that for this child "nothing seems to stick." Or perhaps the teacher has not maximized the playing space in some way, and so there is nowhere for the child to go with anything he occasions to grab from Box B, which is a different sort of failure, but failure nonetheless.
  3. Creative Tension. This is where the fun happens. If we can do our jobs as teachers, the children expend their energy bringing ideas from Box B and, after playing with them, finding them a place in their beloved Box A. We can call this tension, though, because sometimes the child will have to be forced to complete what they started. Sometimes, they will have to fight to master an idea from Box B. Children are not naturally virtuous, but they can become virtuous through practice. We teachers may have to help them practice perseverance, or bravery in grabbing something particularly challenging from Box B in the first place. With some children, we might have to grab something from Box B for them and inform them that it is time. The key is to do this while maintaining the creative tension rather than ending up over in the frustration category.

I don't want to be guilty of oversimplification, but I think this is helpful in a general sense. My plan for this year is to keep these categories of tension in my mind. When we have Moments in our schooling, I want to filter through the categories and discern what is really going on. Is this child bored, frustrated, or is this the good tension, the creative type? In addition to this is the question of whether I'm doing my job as a teacher: did I keep the playing field clear, or did I let it be cluttered up so as to interfere with the process? In our culture, I think the biggest clutter temptations for homeschooling moms are: going too many places during the day, allowing too much technology {movies/TV, computer games, etc., especially for young children}, feeding the children poorly {like sugar or food coloring impacting their brains}, and owning too many toys {a.k.a. overstimulation}.

Swimming School

This summer, my two oldest children were blessed by family and received swimming school. The school they enrolled in has, in my opinion, mastered these ideas in relation to swimming, probably without realizing it. Let me explain how it worked for our family. Our son and daughter were both not very water safe and so began at the same level.

The classes were very small {never more than four children}. The swimming pool was perfect for the classes in every way. The teachers knew exactly what they were doing. In short, they had maximized the playing field in favor of learning.

The children were not, however, confined to their level. We were not told that we paid for this level and this is where our children would stay until we dished out more money. This is the key to success, I think. Three weeks into lessons {weekly lessons for nine weeks is the standard}, our son graduated a level. This is the school's way: when a child is ready, they graduate that day. Parents head right to the front desk, where lessons for all of your children are rescheduled, if necessary, to get that child into the new class. A few weeks after this, his sister caught up to him and she graduated. The next week, our son went up yet another level.

This was so inspiring to our son, who now is saving for future swim school {they are year-round} because he wants to master all the levels. This awakened in him the desire to conquer, which in turn inspires his sister in her own way.

And I know that Box B is really getting into Box A because when I take them to their great grandma's house to swim, I no longer have to be in the pool with them to know they are safe.

Keeping the Goal in Mind

Raising up a generation is important work, and that is what we are doing. Education is shaping the future. If you are baffled at why our culture is the way it is, you must find out the philosophy of the classroom when that generation was in school {Abraham Lincoln said this, I think}. Or, Hicks quotes Bertrand Russell explaining this in reverse:
We must have some concept of the kind of person we wish to produce, before we can have any definite opinion as to the education which we consider best.
And so we begin with the end in mind, which means we aren't just focused on getting Box B into Box A. We realize that different playing fields produce different kinds of persons. Period. If we are going to possess, as a culture, a virtuous citizenry, we have to realize that the ends are results of the means, and the child's playing field is formative. As Hicks explained:
Isokrates' educative aim was to form an adult, not to develop a child, and his method was to teach the knowledge of a mature mind, not to offer relevant learning experiences at the level of his students' stage of psychological development.
And later:
Isokrates, like Aristotle, looked upon childhood as the crucial period for forming the life of virtue in a person.