Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Overcome the Dread of Bedtime Reading ~ Choose Living Books

Which book would you rather read at bedtime: My Little Pony (our library provides a generous selection of about 50 of these pink books) or Winnie the Pooh?  I can tell you that My Little Pony bores me to tears while the end of "The House at Pooh Corner" makes me swallow my tears.  You also can probably recognize the difference between the twaddle and the living book.

A hallmark of a Charlotte Mason education is the quality of school books chosen for each subject. Simply Charlotte Mason shows you how to choose in "Choosing Books Like a Connoisseur" and describes facts vs. ideas.  Living Books Library  regularly gives insight into great book choices.  One of their articles I especially enjoyed was "Is New Always Better?" which compares twaddle and living books.    And here are five qualities of living books that I've gleaned from Miss Mason.

1. Living books are not twaddle.  Adults can enjoy well-written children's literature (anyone else avoid a certain square spongy character?).  And children can gain knowledge from appropriate grown-up reading.  School books as well as free-time fare can all be living books.  Some twaddle can be enjoyed in the same proportion that you allow candy versus wholesome food in your diet. 
2. Living books have inspiring content, feed worthy thoughts, and contain high literary qualities.  They don't present information committee-style with every ounce of personality drained from the text.  Growing up, I was home schooled with a well-known textbook curriculum.  I remember trudging through the science books trying to be interested and remember the information.  The history books, however, really held my interest.  I'd be curious to see how and by whom those two spines were compiled.  The narrative of history does seem to lend itself to more compelling reading. 
3. Old books, narratives, and Christian-themed books are not the only capable living books.  Math and science can become alive if put in the right hands.  God's truth is found all over creation and can come from brilliant minds who may not acknowledge the Source.  When I was in college I was given a book that was over 100 years old by a sweet elderly lady at church.  I read it out of gratefulness, but also because I thought all old books were great literature.  How wrong I was!  I slogged through the thing, but it was an eye-opening experience about what makes a book good. 
4. Living books pass ideas from great minds on to our own.  You might have a hundred friends sitting on your shelf right now ready to share their best and brightest ideas with you.  As my sweet Precious Moments book quips: "I'm thankful for my teachers too who help to stretch my mind and open up new worlds to me with books of every kind."* 
5. A living book shares knowledge or ideas that spark an interest.  A kinship is formed with the characters or even the author, and the ideas come to mind later in the day or years later in life.  You could probably all name favorite book characters.  I am particularly close to Laura Ingalls, Corrie ten Boom, and Hadassah. **

It's helpful to see compiled lists of living books to understand what to look for.  A few I use are Ambleside Online, Simply Charlotte Mason bookfinder, and Living Books Library.  This 5 article series by Where My Treasure Is was also helpful to me.  With so many excellent books widely available, don't waste too much time on twaddle.  Your soul and your brain will thank you!

Do you have a kinship with a book, author or character?

* "Let's Be Thankful" a Little Golden Book
** Hadassah is the main character in the Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

(Habit) Training in Truthfulness

Last year a homeschool group I was a part of starting meeting once a month to figure out habit training using "Laying Down the Rails."  We were kind of at a lost as to a plan.  Some ladies started using a chart in which they would give a tally mark anytime their child displayed the habit they were working on; at the end of getting a certain number of marks, they would receive a reward.  One lady started finding activities that helped her children practice the habit.  I finally settled on doing what I love to do most, which is to make a schedule!  There are several ways to help your child focus on a habit:

inspiring stories and poetry          Bible stories and verses 
                                        games and activities 

                                             quotes                            lesson time          
                           diligent watchfulness and encouragement

Truthfulness was our first habit to work on.  On my own, I read through the Truthfulness section in "Laying Down the Rails".  Twice a week we had a habit training session as a part of school.  I would read one of the main points from LDtR (there are 15 for Truthfulness) and summarize Charlotte Mason's words for the kids.  Then we would do one of the elements I had found.  Sonya Shafer (Simply Charlotte Mason) provides the quotes at the end of each habit, so that part was done. With more research and time, there are a lot of creative ideas and stories you could find, but here are some of the other elements I quickly found for the habit of Truthfulness:

~Read "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" and have the kids narrate it. 
~Hold a truth-telling lesson a la CM (explained in Charlotte's words in LDtR) where the child looks at the sky or landscape and then tells everything they saw without exaggerating or omitting details. 
~Have a message-delivering lesson a la CM where the child is given a message to tell Dad or someone else. The person told writes down the message to send back to you so you can check for accuracy. 
~Memorize Proverbs 8:7. 
~Object lesson: take a tube of toothpaste and squeeze some out and ask the kids if they can put it back in.  Let them try for a while.  The point is that once words come out of your mouth, you can't put them back in.  Words have consequences.  (A friend gave me this idea.)
~Read and meditate on Ephesians 4:25 and Proverbs 12:22. 
~Play the telephone game where you whisper a message to the next person in line and they whisper to the next person and you see how garbled or clear the message ends up.  This has more to do with how gossip can be spread, but it is a fun game for the kids to play. 
~We were reading through Pinocchio for school, so it came up naturally as an illustration throughout habit training time. 
 ~Add in the quotes and do the two activities suggested by Charlotte Mason several times, and you have enough extras to come alongside each teaching session.

Once I had the elements written down, it was easy to grab "Laying Down the Rails" and choose an item from the list on the days we had habit training lessons.  And of course we focused on that habit throughout each day reminding each other (gently, hopefully) to be truthful.  The most interesting thing to me was noticing how often I tend to exaggerate for effect or want to tell a little white lie to get out of an awkward situation!  These habits are not just for our children, that's for sure.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Your Family: Scattered or Gathered?

 "There is nothing I now desire to live for, but to do some small service to my children, that, as I have brought 'em into the world, so that it might please God to make me (though unworthy) an instrument of doing good to their souls." ~ Susanna Wesley

"No one can, without renouncing the world in the most literal sense, observe my method, and there's few (if any) that would entirely devote above twenty years of the prime of life in hope to save the souls of their children (which they think may be saved without so much ado); for that was my principal intention...." ~ Susanna Wesley

Our time as parents is fleeting, and the short time we do have is easily diminished by outside influences.  When you look back on your life as a parent, will you be able to say (though unworthy and imperfect) that you renounced the world and devoted your life and made much ado about the raising of your children?

These words from Susanna Wesley are almost a relief to me.  They tell me I can slow down and raise my children because it is an important job that no one else can do as well (since they are the children God gave to me).

We can tend to live as if everyone outside our family is more important.  Church activities, ministries, neighbors, homeschool functions, co-ops, field trips, classes, sports ~ how many, many things vie for our time!  And too many of them will take away that quiet growing time our children need.  Too much noise drowns out our voice as a parent.

After the birth of our fourth child, my role in church volunteering was almost nil, and I felt I needed to do something as a volunteer.  I decided to help provide individually wrapped desserts for a group of 75 people every week.  To my thinking, it would be simple and I could do it from home with my kids running around.  (Some of you may be laughing at my ignorance.)  It ended up taking our Thursday and some of Friday to complete and deliver these desserts.  My mood was stressful and the kids were mostly ignored and shooed out of the way.  Homeschooling did not get done.  I happened to find out that there were others who wanted to and could do the job, and I gladly bid adieu to that project.  Making an occasional meal for a sick family has turned out to be much more do-able.

All that to say, "Too much busyness is not good for the family or the children!"  Even busyness with good things.  Our culture tends to live in routine panic with constant pressures to join this or that activity (it might be good ~ but everyone is too tired to tell), buy this product to improve your life (does not improve ~ provides clutter instead), read this book to gain the secret to.... (adds to the already overwhelming information out there and causes confusion), add another new hobby (provides some fulfillment but may have been better at a different season of your life).

There are some great ways to keep the family together and provide guidance and influence to your children while they will still listen:

~Do family sports or classes.  I heard of a family who does Tae Kwon Do together.  Another acquaintance started a sports activity for families in which the dads provide the instruction and play the sport with the children of all ages.  I'm investigating taking family pottery classes.   
~Attend church services or a Sunday School class together once a month.   
~Do service projects together. 
~Plan family devotions. 
          ~Depending on your job or ministry, take a child or two along with you sometimes.
~Stay home!  Relaxed unplanned time is great for building your child's imagination and personal initiative.

This season of life will not last forever.  Your children need time with you now even more than they need to learn how to play soccer along with the 10 other things planned for the week.  Grab all the moments you can and gather the family together.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Finding Significance in the "Daily"

"And how rich is our life, too, when we perceive that there is no calling among men too lowly to have for its purpose the manifestation of Christ." ~ Charlotte Mason in Scale How Meditations

"Pleasant ways and kindly words and simple duty-doing, in these things of every day life Christ is manifested." ~  Charlotte Mason in Scale How Mediations

These quotes are at the beginning of my Common Book which I was thumbing through recently.  It struck me how often we want to accomplish dramatic feats in order to make our lives feel meaningful.  But instead life is filled with much "daily" even for those who seem to have glamorous and high-impact jobs or ministries.

As a teen, my sister and I spent three weeks with a missionary family in the Dominican Republic.  At that time I thought missionaries were super holy and spent all their time tending to the sick and preaching.  I was surprised how much life they had to live, just like me.  They had a house to clean and food to cook the same as everyone else!  Matter of fact, it seems to me those menial tasks may take longer for missionaries, especially when they are new to a culture and country and have to figure out how all of it works.

So how do you live day in and day out with the significance of your chores putting a smile on your face instead of the drudgery dragging you down?  Look at the friendly side of "daily."

~There is a comfort in routine tasks in times of grief or stress.  One foot in front of another without having to make too many decisions keeps you going. 
~Good character is formed through diligent, thorough, joyful habits.  Each task is a building block that makes an impressive structure when finished: a pleasing home and countenance for you and your family to look back on. 
~Pleasant and earnest thoughts have time to ruminate as you work with your hands.  Good music gives a pleasant mood; good reading gives you something to review and ponder; you have time for prayer for people who pop into your mind; you have time for contemplating problems and solutions in your life. 
~As a bird eats and sings, makes a home and cares for young, and God cares for such a little creature; so does He enjoy watching us go about our daily tasks though they seem to us unworthy of heavenly attention.  Our attitude toward these duties are part of how we bring Him glory even if no one else is around to see.

Laundry and dishes, baths and clean-up time, returning emails and writing thank-yous can all be a part of a God-glorifying life if we just change our perspective and live those moments fully.