Monday, November 2, 2015

Monday Meditations ~ a purposeful gale

The chiefest values in life and character are not blown across our way by vagrant winds.

"Great truths are greatly won, not found by chance,
Nor wafted on the breath of summer dream;
But grasped in the great struggle of the soul,
Hard buffeting with adverse wind and stream."
~ streams in the desert, Cowan (318)

Monday, October 12, 2015

Monday Meditations - Philippians 4:6

Oh, for grace to be quiet... to be still and know...  can we gain anything by fretting & worrying?  Do we not unfit ourselves for action, unhinge our minds for wise decision?

Overheard in an Orchard

Said the Robin to a Sparrow:
"I should really like to know
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so?"

Said the Sparrow to the Robin:
"Friend, I think it must be
That they have no Heavenly Father
Such as cares for you and me."
~ E. Cheney

from Streams in the Desert by Cowman, Oct. 8 & 10

Friday, May 8, 2015

Charlotte Mason & STEM continued...

CM & STEM - Part II by Vanessa
{CM & STEM - Part I}

A couple of days ago I published a guest post where Vanessa began the discussion about the place of STEM in our current educational culture.  She shared just a few comments from some recognizable names and institutions to help us see that even in the academic realm as well as some professionals in the STEM fields support a broader approach to education - a liberal arts approach.  It isn't new and it is very much a part of a Charlotte Mason philosophy.  Vanessa continues today with some thoughts on unintended consequences...

What are some unintended consequences I see with a STEM focus in high school?  It has the potential to damage the atmosphere of our homes and it robs our children of the joy of learning for the sake of knowledge and puts the emphasis on results.  Volume 6 page 98 paraphrase: But a school may be working hard, not for love of knowledge, but for love of marks, our old enemy; and then young faces are not serene and joyous but eager, restless, apt to look anxious and worried. The children do not sleep well and are cross; are sullen or in tears if anything goes wrong, and are, generally, difficult to manage.  Charlotte Mason wrote that over 100 years ago but yet she is describing so many children today – yes children, not just teenagers.  I worry that we will end up with a generation that doesn’t know what they like, they don’t have hobbies because they weren’t given the time to pursue them. We don’t want our children to become like Darwin, do we?  Charles Darwin, as brilliant as he was, ending up losing “himself in science until he could not read poetry, find pleasure in pictures, think upon things divine; he was unable to turn his mind out of the course in which it had run for most of his life.”  Charlotte Mason made that observation in her sixth volume page 54.    How sad.  This extraordinary man became obsessed with one part of his life, science, and ‘forgot’ how to enjoy anything else.  I wonder what else could he have accomplished if he would have been able to stay balanced in all aspects of his life?   Why does Chevrolet have an online post that encourages people to become Renaissance Men? Is it because so many of us in society have forgotten how, or never taken the time, to have interests outside of work?  Have we forgotten how to relax and enjoy something for the sake of enjoyment?  If we give our children a liberal arts education that is a part of them.   Nevertheless, the only valid education is education that focuses on the mind. The main challenge is the huge amount of subjects to introduce children to. They have a right to them as human beings, and they need to find out about the things that they're drawn to as people and that they'll spend the rest of their lives pursuing further.” Vol 6 paraphrase pg 254.  A person that has had a liberal arts education already has wide interests, he doesn’t have to be told or taught how to do it or that it’s okay to have other interests. 
Don’t misunderstand, I am not saying to ignore the STEM subjects.  They are very important parts of an education are important but they are just parts – not all encompassing.  My children study all the STEM subjects but it is not their focus.  Science and math can be so much fun and are so beautiful once you see the ‘big picture’ but that’s a story for another day.  A liberal arts education is a very broad and encompassing education. 
I believe that all students can and should study science, technology, engineering, and math, they are very important but they should not be the focus of a high school education.  Education needs balance. No single subject should assume greatest importance at the expense of other subjects that a child needs to know about. Math is easy to test, and as long as education is ruled by test scores, we'll have teaching focused on training exactness and solving problems efficiently, instead of teaching to awaken a sense of awe in contemplating a field of knowledge where perfection lives with or without us.” Vol 6 page 231 paraphrase.
If we believe, as Charlotte said, that knowledge is ideas clothed upon with facts, and is the proper food for the mind then we need a liberal arts education; “a wide syllabus…intended in every point to meet some particular demand of the mind”.  “Education should be a science of proportion, and any one subject that assumes undue importance does so at the expense of other subjects which a child's mind should deal with” Vol 6 page 232.  The forces that work continuously in a liberal arts education are: attention, assimilation, narration (composition/communication), retention, and reproduction” Vol 6 page 259.  That is what is needed in today’s world.  
So, in actuality, I believe a CM education prepares our children for any and all career paths.  They have a broad base of knowledge in several things, they have the powers of observation, attention to detail, and the ability to question and use critical thinking which are very important for today’s careers – both STEM and non-STEM.

Thanks for your insight and sharing some current support for a more balanced life & liberal arts approach to education!

I think it is an important topic to discuss and consider.  We need to have real information and real discussions to help correct the misconception that a CM approach isn't strong in STEM subjects.  Just because there isn't a specialization focus doesn't mean it isn't included.  In fact, a liberal arts education means all students cover all subjects.  Students who love history also study chemistry and fine arts and maths; students who excel at maths cover literature, biology, and Shakespeare.  The wide and broad curriculum is for all students to see the beauty and breadth of all God has made and all Truth is God's Truth and in neglecting any of these, we neglect the character and beauty of our God...

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Charlotte Mason & STEM

Hello CM friends!
I am sure you are all aware of the push toward the STEM studies (Science, Technology, Engineering studies, Math) these days... If you have older students, you are probably feeling some stress regarding academic choices.  I have had many conversations lately about this with teachers who follow the educational philosophy and methodology of Charlotte Mason - lots more on CM education here if you are wondering what that looks like  ;-). 

I have asked my colleague and experienced CM educator, Vanessa, to share about CM and STEM...

Am I setting my children up for failure by choosing a liberal arts education in 2015 and not STEM? 
This question has been raised lately among many parents – even some who follow Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy because we are raising our kids in 2015 and we are told that STEM is it.   We have been inundated with information all around us from ‘news’ articles, well-meaning friends and family members, and even some Government officials telling us that a STEM education is necessary for success; my local library has STEM activities geared towards first graders.   STEM is important and has its place but it needs to stay there (in its place) and allow for balance in our children’s lives. 
Why don’t I have my children focusing on STEM classes in preparation for career?  In Volume 6, A Philosophy of Education, page 235 Mason writes, “I don't need to convince my readers that a generous, liberal education is the natural birthright of every child, like justice, freedom of religion, liberty, or fresh air.”  That sounds good but do we believe it?  Vol 6 page 3: As a matter of fact, it is the man who has read and thought on many subjects who is, with the necessary training, the most capable whether in handling tools, drawing plans or keeping books.  Following Mason’s method I am providing my children “unequalled mental training…for any study or calling under the sun — the powers of attention, of discrimination, of patient pursuit, growing with his growth, what will they not fit him for?” Vol. 1, p. 61.  Mason believed, and there are those today who believe, that a person could be trained for any career – even a STEM career and would succeed because of (not in spite of) the liberal arts background.
I do not believe a STEM focus is necessary for success, especially not in high school.  It appears as though I am not alone.    Forbes Magazine Online John Ebersole writes, “What is clear, however, is that a STEM degree is not necessarily a requirement to work in these fields and that having a technical degree isn’t a predictor of lifetime employment in engineering and scientific positions.” A recent survey conducted for Northeastern University showed that “despite the recent focus on STEM degrees, most Americans and particularly business leaders say it is more important for graduates to be well-rounded and possess broader capabilities such as problem solving and communication skills.”  Wesleyan University states on their website that “Medical schools welcome students with a liberal arts background. A liberal arts education does not exclude the scientific and quantitative knowledge required for medical school. Rather, it includes such courses within a larger intellectual context. Wesleyan graduates are able to analyze and integrate new material precisely because they are already familiar with more than one field of learning.”  The Association of American Medical Colleges has made a strong statement about the value of a liberal arts education:  "The medical profession needs individuals from diverse educational backgrounds who bring to the profession a variety of talents and interests...All [medical schools] recognize the desirability of a broad education: a strong foundation in the natural sciences, highly developed communication skills, and a solid background in the social sciences and humanities."    Steve Jobs said “it’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough – that it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing”. Andrew Benett wrote that “what I have found is that people with degrees in subjects such as history and literature—and, yes, even philosophy—tend to possess many of the qualities, skill sets, and aptitudes that are in highest demand in my own industry (marketing communications) and in others that rely on creative thinking and foresight.  Do we need more convincing?

Stay tuned for Part II of CM & STEM by Vanessa...

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Nature Study Connection

So, if I didn't know better, I'd say this guy has a really cool mustachio :-{

Some CMer friends of mine (Charlotte Mason Education folks) were on a nature walk today and these little guys showed up and were discussed.  I was sad I missed the walk, but the discussion reminded me of some thing I had learned from a story about an bio-agricultural fiasco...way back while doing biology with my freshman in high school. Yes, we used what would be termed a "children's book" (along with many other resources from children's books to books written for adult scientists) and you know what?  I connected with it as an adult and still remember it.  (No snide thoughts about what that may or may not say about my adult status!)  I'll share and you can go and do your own research if it sparks your curiosity...

It sounds like you all had a wonderful day!  I'm so sorry to have missed :(.

A note on the Asian beetles, could be in one of the links I haven't read yet, but they are not indigenous and were introduced to control pests for crops (corn I think).  Unintended results... That worked apparently, but because of their protection mechanism (smell/taste and shell) their predators are lower (some birds won't eat them I think).  I was told by my pest control guy, (sorry, I know that's a grave offense :)), that their migration pattern will mean less infestation this year and forward. Haven't seen as many inside yet, so maybe so. Asian beetles are orange instead of the ladybug red and they also bite :(. Once introduced, you can't send them back. Think Asian carp, kudzu, starlings. There's a great book in the biology study guide about toads in Australia - yes, it's people in general, not just Americans. The book is Toad Overload by Patricia Seibert. I think there might be an object lesson there with unintended consequences :).

Now, I'm just sharing something I learned through my reading. If you are interested, you can look it up. Just because I saw the connection, and you and I might find it interesting, doesn't mean you have to add it to what your kids are doing. It might just be something to keep in mind IF they ask about it or it actually fits into a specific study. Don't Overload your children with a bunch of extra information, there might be unintended consequences :)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Life-long Habit

Quote for the day:
Adults should realize that the most valuable thing children can learn is what they discover themselves about the world they live in.  Once they experience first hand the wonder of nature, they will want to make nature observation a life-long habit.  ~ Charlotte Mason, Volume 1, p. 61

Giving your children the opportunity to discover this for themselves fosters the habit of being outside and gives them a gift of time and space for thinking thoughts, considering Truth, seeing beauty and finding their place... for a lifetime.  Even when my children were teens, they gravitated outside when they needed processing time.  Now, it is a blessing to see my adult children hang out on the deck together or go outside and lay on the driveway at night to see the stars.  Creation is part of that wide room where our feet have been set and it reminds us of the bigness of our God...

Monday, April 20, 2015

Outside with our Children - resources

A MOPS Talk...
A Conversation with Young Moms – Part III
{A Conversation with Young Moms - Part I}
{A Conversation with Young Moms - Part II}

Some resources and fun things to do outside are listed at the end to encourage you as you play in the open air and splash in the puddles!

Here were our questions to get us ready to head out of the house and into the world around us.

How can you be more deliberate in planning free play outside?  What are some ways you can make that easier?

What benefits do you notice or would like to see from being outdoors with your children?

Think of some times when you see how playing together strengthens your relationship with your child and the family.

How can you help foster an interest in the created world?  In what ways can you see being outside as an opportunity to help foster a love for the Creator?

All Things Bright and Beautiful
by Ms. Cecil Francis Alexander

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,

All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

Practical ways to make it easier to get outside.  Some ideas and resources.
Here are some of the resources, book, and activities I shared when we were together.  I hope you are inspired to get outside!

Children don't need to be taught to wonder, they only need opportunities to walk in its path. ~ Walking in Wonder: Nurturing Virtues in Your Children by Elizabeth White...
and my friend Marcia would add that they need an adult to be willing to wonder beside them. She says…
I encourage people to put their phone away and get down on the level of their child to see things up close.  And bring a few treasures back home to display on the kitchen table for memory...

Create a Nature Table/shelf when you bring those finds back home.  It's easy; use a coffee table and place everything on a tray to set it apart from the other items.  What about an area on a placemat in the center of your kitchen table?  Use some clear mason jars if you need to keep something contained like pebbles or sand or crumbles leaves and acorn caps.  Teach your child to be gentle and let them feel and touch and experience.  Encourage them to look and tell and draw about what they see. 

It's spring.  It is supposed to rain!  Puddles ARE fun to jump in & why not? Dress appropriately for the temperature, put a tub of water by the back door to wash feet and some towels to dry up with and make sure the washer is ready for a new load--no excuses, out EVERYONE goes! 

Right now is a great time to take yarn, embroidery threads cut into strips, small strips of cotton fabrics and put them loosely in a suet frame and hang it for birds to use for nest building.  Then see if you spot any material from your stash in the nests when you go on a neighborhood walk.

Even really little ones can scoop birdseed into a feeder and will love to see who comes to your tree to find food; maybe even some squirrels might try to get your seeds!  Merlin Bird ID is a great app for your phone or ipad that Cornell University has created to easily identify that bird you just saw.  I use it all the time when I'm traveling to new areas with new birds I don't recognize.  It's easy enough to use if you are just getting started noticing birds with your children too!  Then you can look him up in the bird guide when you get home.

If you are planting a garden, grow some kid friendly plants too.  Sunflowers usually grow well if the bunnies don't eat them before they get bigger.  (I usually grow ours inside in cups until they are 10-12 inches tall, then transplant them.) Just one or two by the fence or up against the house will work.  If you are ambitious and have plenty of room, grow a sunflower hut like ours.

Get everything ready ahead of time.  Put your 'Nature Back Pack' together with a couple of water bottles, a few nature guides, some colored pencils and basic spiral drawing pad.  Add some hand wipes and a bug jar--what more could you need? It is a good start anyway and will certainly get you to the park or around the block and back! Get all those outside walking shoes together in a basket in the garage or front closet then they are ready to go next time little feet get too antsy to be inside or everyone is grumpy and needs fresh air!

If you need something to get your nature inspiration and creativity going, you can find many ideas here: & Outdoor Hour Challenge, The Kid's Nature Book by Susan Milord, or Nature All Year Long by Walker are great for year round ideas.
Discover Nature Close to Home by Lawlor or The Handbook of Nature Study by Comstock are two of my favorite resource books for moms.   

Wild Days, Creating Discovery Journals by Rackliffe is wonderful if you can find a copy and Red Mountain Community School has a Calendar of Firsts (see posts: Signs of Spring & Calendar of Firsts follow up) that is a wonderful way to keep track of when things happen in nature each year.  Or just start your own on a wall calendar or a spiral notebook!

I'll share some of my favorite kid's books in a new post of Nature Stories for Children that spark imagination and curiosity.

But remember you don't need specific plans.  Be simple! You don't have to have an elaborate project.  As a matter of fact, it's better if you don't!  Remember - unstructured free play, not mom's 'fun' project!  Just do whatever strikes your child at the moment.  Hop, run, roll, jump, climb...take a walk.  That's the point anyway, getting outside to begin to notice the things around you and the sounds and smells and intricate details that it takes time to learn to look for and discover!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Outside with our Children - continued

A MOPS Talk...
A Conversation with Young Moms – Part II
{A Conversation with Young Moms - Part I
{A Conversation with Young Moms - Part III
When you asked me what I did in school today and I say, 'I just played.' Please don’t misunderstand me. For you see, I am learning as I play. I am learning to enjoy and be successful in my work. Today I am a child and my work is play. ~ Anita Wadley, 1974.
The physical, mental and emotional benefits to being outside with your children are truly a good thing as we discussed in Part I.
But most important is the Spiritual benefit to being outside with your little guys.  My friend Marcia often encourages parents to get outside with their children: 
In nature, we can begin to wonder about our creator and the love he shows through the natural world he provided/continues to provide for us...It requires slowing down.  Removing the clock.  Straying away from plastic the natural world unencumbered... 
She shared a resource with me to share with you from a book, Walking in Wonder: Nurturing Virtues in Your Children by Elizabeth White. 
If we refuse to nourish ourselves on what is edifying and elevating, we will inevitably be fed by what is not, as the popular culture of American, in all its shallowness and falseness, seeps into our unguarded hearts daily.  If we do not counteract it, if we fail to set the loftiest things before us, we will inevitably let our souls remain choked with artificiality and cheapness.  We will remain mired in the fatal shoddiness of our world and ourselves. 
As our children grow and as they enter our system of education which is information-focused and performance based…most of our children will “know all about” things, but without a broader perspective that you as moms can bring to that.  Many will never “know of” things which begins as you foster the wonder they have now and introduce them to the created world and the God who created it and them (see C.S Lewis’ essay on Meditations in a Tool Shed).  You see they, and we, are in danger of knowing ‘about’ God, but not really knowing Him personally. To really know, we must have a relationship and it must be personal to be true; it can’t be someone else’s understanding to be meaningful; it can’t be something we repeat in a report about things we have studied… it must be integrated into our lives and be part of what we know and who we are!  Our relationship with Christ only comes this way.  Our children are coming to know God through hearing His word in Bible reading, but also as we speak of and introduce them to the things he made—the created world.
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature, has been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. ~ Romans 1:19-20
They need to be in the created world to see, observe, learn and know—to be taught by the Creator Himself.  
Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these?   He who brings out their host by number, calling them by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power, not one is missing. ~ Isaiah 40:26

When our children observe and wonder in and about nature, it brings to them that sursum corda—our hearts lifted in praise—an understanding and declaration of the praise due our Creator God.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Outside with our Children

A MOPS talk...

To moms who have been battling pent up energy in their little ones during the cold winter, the spring weather is a Godsend!  Getting outside is easier after being cooped up from winter.  And it’s a good time to start a habit of getting out regularly for walks and just free play outside.  Get some appropriate gear, good shoes and clothing for both your children and yourself and go outside with them!

A while back I gave a MOPS talk (Mothers of Preschoolers) on fostering a love of reading in your child--I will go back next month and write on that one. (I wrote a while back on Reading Books with Little Ones).  Those of you at the talk will remember that it all starts with fostering a love of stories and learning to see those stories all around us.  There are so many stories unfolding outside if we would take the time to actually get out there in that open space with unstructured time to see them!

So besides the obvious benefit to you as a mom, I thought I would give you some support from recent studies for the benefits to your child...physical, mental, emotional & spiritual benefits. 

Physical, Mental & Emotional:

·       Exercise in a natural environment is shown to have greater benefits than in an artificial one (Peninsula College of Medicine, 2011) – climb trees, walk ravines, go on a neighborhood walk…

·       Several experimental studies in recent years show mounting evidence for the cognitive benefits of exercise (Exercise for Children: The Cognitive Benefits, Dewar).  Research consistently shows aerobic exercise boosts BDNF for brain cell growth, stimulates new neurons and genes for brain plasticity.  It can give children better focus and control.  Many tests show that children actually perform better in all kinds of cognitive areas when they are active.  It is also shown that ADHA kids may have better self-control as a result of exercise.  Apparently there is a caveat—it doesn’t show to work as well with forced exercise; it has to be voluntary and FUN to reap the benefits:

Structured activities—like team sports or dance lessons—may be fine options. But so are nature walks, tree-climbing, roller-skating, and playing hide-and-seek.  In fact, play-like exercise is good for the brain. Perhaps the most effective exercise for children is free, unstructured, physical play.

·       These same findings are corroborated in other research says David Elkind (Can We Play?, 2008) who emphasizes the importance of physical play for children’s learning and development.  The pressure has ratcheted for parents who are trying to make schooling choices for their children and are concerned by the oft repeated notion that their child will be behind and won’t be ready for kindergarten without the push of academic preschool.  That is what some in the education industry maintain, but what does early childhood development research show?

Spending one third of the school day in physical education, art, and music improved not only physical fitness, but attitudes toward learning and test scores. These findings echo those from one analysis of 200 studies on the effects of exercise on cognitive functioning, which also suggests that physical activity promotes learning. In recent years, and most especially since the 2002 passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, we’ve seen educators, policy makers, and many parents embrace the idea that early academics leads to greater success in life. Yet several studies by Kathy Hirsch-Pasek and colleagues have compared the performance of children attending academic preschools with those attending play-oriented preschools. The results showed no advantage in reading and math achievement for children attending the academic preschools. But there was evidence that those children had higher levels of test anxiety, were less creative, and had more negative attitudes toward school than did the children attending the play preschools. So if play is that important, why is it disappearing?
I included a couple of stanzas from a poem entitled, JUST PLAY to consider.

When you see me combing the bushes for bugs, or packing my pockets with choice things I find, don’t pass it off as JUST PLAY. For you see, I am learning as I paly.  I may be a scientist some day.

When you asked me what I did in school today and I say, 'I just played.' Please don’t misunderstand me. For you see, I am learning as I play. I am learning to enjoy and be successful in my work. Today I am a child and my work is play.

Anita Wadley, 1974.
While researching for my talk, I found this wonderful article, “Kids with autism benefit from outdoor classroom” by Andrea Gordon, 2013.  It tells of Kindergarten teacher, Maia Crowther, who was inspired to implement an Outdoor Classroom Project at her school.  She tells the story of how this happened and the amazing results for both her students and the kindergarten classes for autistic children they partnered with!

[Crowther] says she’s never seen young students so motivated and engaged. After she instigated the outdoor classroom project last fall, the two full-day kindergarten classes took turns using the space every day. Each also partnered with one of the two kindergarten classes for children with autism. They spent at least 75 minutes a day outside, sun, rain or snow, and much longer in warm weather. On a typical day of the school year, more than 30 children can be found pouring and scooping at the water centre, playing dress-up, making mud pies or studying ants. In winter, they make ice sculptures, snow angels and learn about melting and freezing. When the rain comes, it’s all about puddles and worms.  Mounting evidence shows hands-on outdoor learning boosts physical activity, mental health, brain power and attention. It also enhances learning by building on children’s curiosity and firsthand observations. 

Some other research suggests that eliminating play as is the trend in preschools and elementary schools may have serious ramifications on a child’s emotional development as well states Professor of Psychology William Crain (Education for Meaning and Justice, 2010).  One study found that not only does “preschool play enhance cognitive capacities such as problem solving and creativity, [but also] the ability to see things from others' perspectives”. And “The American Academy of Pediatrics worries that children who are deprived of free play become depressed and stressed out”.
Another important issue for playing with your children is the benefit to your relationship with your child and family. A guide titled, “The Importance of Play in Early Childhood Development”, from the MSU education department talks about the family relationships that are developed in playing together.

Play connects children with their imagination, their environment, their parents and family and the world.  Parental involvement in a child's world of play is not only beneficial for the child but is extremely beneficial to the parent. Playing with children establishes and strengthens bonds that will last forever. Parent-child play opens doors for the sharing of values, increases communication, allows for teachable moments and assists in problem solving. Playtime provides opportunities for the parent and child to confront and resolve individual differences, as well as family related concerns and issues. Finally, it allows the parent to view the world through the eyes of a child once again.

In Part II & III, I'll talk more about the Spiritual impact of being outside with your children and give you some resources to inspire you to be outside!