Monday, July 23, 2012

Marking Time or Making History?

For as long as I have been homeschooling, just the last twenty-five years or so, summer has meant all the usual seasonal activities--change of routine, vacations, swimming, family visits and outings, gardening, and leisurely reading. Even if we continue formal school lessons, the pace is relaxed. However, as the teacher, school is never far from the back of my mind.

I like the summer space to be able to ponder what has been accomplished and what should be tackled next. There is time to investigate and research ideas and books for the coming year. Some of my evaluation is to consider correction, what should be done differently, more effectively or more intentionally.

The best part is thinking about the books to read in the coming year. I realize that my growing, changing  children are now ready to enjoy dearly loved books. I pull out lists I've made of books I've heard about or always wanted to read. Eventually though, I have to make decisions. Selection time often brings a little anxiety because I want the best, the most challenging, the most appropriate, the most living books I can find. This is more crucial to me than it once was.

In the past, my uncertainties and insecurities often resulted in relying on someone else's recommendations--usually someone I respected as a teacher--to choose some curriculum package. Over the years, I again and again realized that, though my children faithfully plowed through a few such courses and I could check off that subject as accomplished and cross it off my list of "must study" subjects, in moments of honesty, I had to admit my children weren't personally engaged in those kind of programs and only completed them to please me. At the end of the year, I cleared the desks or shelves and, likely as not, tossed such work in the trash, unwilling to take up space saving the workbooks, feeling guilty over the wasted expense. I knew we would never pour over those courses again with nostalgia, refer to them again for refreshment, or repeat them again with another child. Other people's choices for curriculum didn't fit my children's needs, spark their  imaginations, or feed their souls. More and more I came to understand that school wasn't a burden, but a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, that it should bring joy and enthusiasm. Life is meant for living every day, not to move through just for the sake of closing some door behind us to push on to some vague and unknown something in the future, like the witless rats in the maze.

Over the years, as I have read Charlotte Mason more and more, and used her methods more and more, I have come to trust her. Every observation and recommendation she made about the nature of children and why and how they should be educated has rung truer and truer. As a result, I no longer dread the coming school year or panic about what I haven't ordered in time. Instead, I make plans for how to make nature study more a part of our lives, which poet or composer to explore, which new people or places we should get acquainted with in the pages of living books.

Having our library at my disposal, packed literally to the ceiling with more books than I or all my children could take time to enjoy in the next ten years, or twenty, draws me like a magnet. The families in our library come here to do the same. I am not heartless enough not to think of all the homeschool mothers who do not have this privilege. Reading lists and recommendations online or in catalogs can be daunting, and receiving your selections in the mail sometimes disappointing. Teaching children is not a burden, but an honor. Lessons are not just matters of necessity, but matters of nourishment for a lifetime.

Recently, I have been reading the last half of Formation of Character by Charlotte Mason. Again, I have received reinforcement of the things I have experienced. My once eager little six-year-old boy now has three children of his own, little persons throbbing with life and eager to learn anything. I still have two young boys at home now and want the understanding of past mistakes and Ms. Mason's vast experience to guide my current school decisions. I know Mason's observations and advice to be wisdom, and well worth marking here's a pertinent passage:
He got something out of this random reading, bits of history and bits of fable, real, both of them, out of which his mind got its necessary food. Now, here is a point worth attention. How seldom do we hear of a famous man who got that food for his mind which enabled him out of his school studies! And how often, on the other hand, do we read of those whose course of life has been determined by the random readings of boyhood! We go on blindly and stubbornly with our school curriculum, as if this were a fact of no significance, because, say we, the boy will have chances after his school-days to get such pabulum as he needs; but life is not long enough to afford the waste of some dozen years, its freshest and most intelligent period. And, what is more, the boy who has not formed the habit of getting nourishment out of his books in school-days does not, afterwards, see the good of reading. He has not acquired, in an intellectual sense, the art of reading, so he cannot be said to have lost it; and he goes through life an imperfect person, with the best and most delightful of his powers latent or maimed. Why in the world should we not give children, while they are at school, the sort of books they can live upon; books alive with thought and feeling, and delight in knowledge, instead of the miserable cram-books on which they are starved?
Why in the world indeed. Are we viewing their education as a line to move along, administering chunks of information at regularly scheduled intervals, or a life to feed with living ideas? Are we giving them the educational recommended daily allowance, or, a lavish banquet? Jesus said He came to give life, a fulfilling life, an abundant life. He also said, "Let the children come to me and forbid them not." These are the school options we need to decide between.

For the joy of reading,



  1. Again another good post. Thanks Liz!

  2. This is so encouraging Liz. I'm just starting my son this year and consider myself privileged to have discovered Charlotte Mason at the beginning of our educational journey. I'm so looking forward to this year.

    1. Sarah, You are going to experience "school" in a way you probably could never have imagined. Enjoy the journey.

  3. So true, thank you for the inspiration!