The Connected Child

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Guelder Rose Berry

Thought breeds thought; children familiar with great thoughts take as naturally to thinking for themselves as the well-nourished body takes to growing; and we must bear in mind that growth, physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, is the sole end of education.

Charlotte Mason

I’m sure I’ve heard and observed murmurings of great connected conversation from my children over the 9 years we’ve been home educating, but my third born, Micah, has really brought home to me the beauty of what Charlotte Mason called the ‘science of relations’. We offer our children a feast of lives and love and literature and they make the connections and communicate them through their voice and life.

This is a beautiful thing to experience.

Earlier on this year we were taking a family walk across Hartshill Hayes Country Park in Nuneaton, the view from the top is idyllic; the rolling hills of the English countryside dotted with farmhouses and cows took our breath away. Micah stood quietly for a while soaking up the view and then confidently declared “Mummy, look – it’s like a Constable painting”. We’d been studying the English painter for over 6 weeks using the picture study portfolio from SCM, taking a couple of minutes every week to silently soak in and stare at brush strokes and themes; the children then one by one narrate what they see, how they feel and what they think about this week’s particular painting. I then hang the print somewhere around our dining room for them to glance at throughout our day, for it to linger in their minds and touch their hearts.

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Snowberry

And it’s these books and sounds and collections and conversations around the table; the repeated rhythm of an educated family life that make a lasting imprint on our children’s minds. We stay well away from dumbing down the capacity of thought and understanding that our children have; great art, literature and lives create ‘higher thought’ – a rolling hill dotted with a farmhouse and cows becomes a live Constable painting, how rewarding is that?

I’ve learnt to listen to the chatting whilst walking, gathered around the table or driving along in the car; my 13-year-old stopping the chat to point everyone to look at the glorious early evening moon, or whilst sharing about Wordsworth’s life and poetry my 5-year-old remembers that “Beatrix Potter also lived in the Lake District”, my eldest son relating our reading of history to our old testament bible reading or one of my favourites; how the 1805 nursery rhyme ‘baby bunting’ referred to in Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s ‘Each peach pear plum’ reminded my youngest son of the story of Moses as a baby caught in the reeds.

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Harvest Moon

Thought really does breed thought, and just as we trust the process of nutrition in our children’s bodies, whether we sneak a handful of spinach into a blended pasta sauce or hide courgette (zucchini) in their breakfast muffins (or maybe they take it gladly), we must trust the process of feeding our children the wonderful feast of literature and lives that Miss Mason suggests; it will produce in them not only incredible ideas and great thought but also “developing capacity, character, countenance, initiative and a sense of responsibility” (C M Mason, vol 6)

I collect these connections like treasure; I’ve learnt to trust the process of observation and narration and see the beauty whilst on this journey of experience in these educating days. These off-hand comments from my children come like wild flowers picked by a grubby toddler; thrust into my hand and heart as the most natural thing in the world, but for me – I smile and place another gem in the trove knowing their minds and lives are richer and fuller.

“…how full is the life he has before him?”

Charlotte Mason

 

The Simple Feast

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We spread an abundant and delicate feast in the programmes and each small guest assimilates what he can – Charlotte Mason (Vol. 6, p. 183).

The delectable ‘feast’ is one of the appeals of a Charlotte Mason Education; the variety of stories and lives and lessons to fill our children’s hearts and minds excites me and brings joy as I plan for their learning days.

After a long summer of adventures, camping, conversations around back yard candles and firelight; after days of late nights and later mornings, unplanned food thrown together, memories from car to beach we’ve kicked off our ninth ‘formal’ learning year this week (because everything is learning right?). I leaned more towards a ‘soft launch’ allowing the children to adjust, orientate and for me to communicate our new course of travel over a few days; then it’s heads down, ears open, hearts ready to soak up what our year may bring.

Despite my slow approach to launching straight into all of our subjects and schedule, in spite of a splattering of summering still humming in the background like a busy worker bee; as I sat and reflected on our day I was overwhelmed by the impact of what I had served up.

So here’s our day, a very normal day but a day where I paid attention to conversation; I noticed voices and opinions, actions and reactions, methods and themes of play and I can heartily say there was no veneer – this was a feasting day!

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I yell the children downstairs as I finish preparing breakfast to the quiet soundtrack of our beloved British radio favourite ‘Classic FM’; Dave noticed one track was from the film ‘Love actually’ before he left for work.

We gathered around the table and I read ‘Kindness’ by Naomi Shihab Nye and discussed the contrast of sorrow and kindness, heartache and joy and how they are synonymous to each other. We talked about her starting to write poetry at 7. This caught Micah’s attention and he went on to talk about Roald Dahl’s writing hut. Micah later set up a writing table in our garden to write his books. He was inspired to not allow the fact that he is a child hinder him or hold him back from publishing a story…

We then looked at our first Murillo painting; each child narrated and Nyah was the only one to notice the dog in the bottom right hand corner of the painting. We discussed the angel up in the sky on the right hand side being there to signify a miracle, a true work of God. We discussed Roman architecture, disciples, how the angel looked like a unicorn and how there was a possibility of the guy on the balcony being a spy (smile).

We then read from the Bible; we read the beginning of the story of Joshua attempting to enter the Promised Land, going in as spies and Rahab helping them – one child commented on Rahab telling the king that they weren’t there anymore but knowing she had hidden them. Why would she lie?

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As I read to the children Micah drew his version of Murillo’s painting (unprompted) in pencil.

We read together John 3:16 and committed to memorising it this week.

They bickered – I addressed it; I spoke to them about peace and how to make good choices of when to speak, stay silent, and why not to react to their siblings.

We prayed; everyone prayed.

We then got on with work in the house; folding laundry, wiping down the bathroom, making beds, brushing teeth, emptying and refilling the dishwasher.

Then it was heads down for listening and learning independently (if old enough); I talked through with Nyah and Joel their schedules, books and expectations – they then got on with grammar, copying out poetry and fables, map study, foreign language, reading Shakespeare – the maths launch is tomorrow for the older children.

I orientate Micah with his new schedule and eight year old expectations; he goes on to copy out a quote about nature, begins to study his list of spellings, starts to study a map of Europe and watches an online maths lesson.

Our youngest learner Sienna starts ‘life of fred’ (‘living’ maths) and learns that x always equals x and y always equals y. No matter which way round 5 + 2 is (i.e. 2+5), it will always equals 7.

We read A A Milne poetry together and she chose some ‘beautiful’ words to copy out and add to her homemade flash cards. We read a nature story and looked for more interesting words.

After a group effort of hashing lunch and a pot of tea together we fell straight into our quiet reading half hour; between us we had the pages of Pride and Prejudice, Five children and It (audio), Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, a biography about Louis Pasteur and Krista Tippett’s ‘Becoming Wise’ open and being lapped up.

We also realised we hadn’t quite finished ‘Miracles on Maple Hill’ before the summer break so I read aloud one of the two chapters we have to finish the book.

My younger children interspersed their reading and listening with games, songs, dancing around the garden, playing ‘Hulk’, making potions and being ‘scientists’, Lego and lots and lots of drawing.

Micah scribed a ‘book’ at his writing table and also had a bit of time playing a game on his Kindle fire.

We observed an Orb Weaver spider on a huge web wrapping up a fly, we found honey fungus growing under a tree, we noticed the life cycle of a ladybug was happening on a bush right in our backyard after one of the children spotted a pupae on a leaf.

The September sun was warm enough to play long and hard outside.

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The day turned into early evening and dinner was prepared; the table was set, Dave came home and together we all breath and eat and connect and converse about our very normal day.

It is the duty of parents to sustain a child’s inner life with ideas as they sustain its body with food – Charlotte Mason

No Shame

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“The parent’s chief care is, that that which they supply shall be wholesome and nourishing whether in the way of picture books, lessons, playmates, bread and milk, or mother’s love.”  Charlotte Mason

I was speaking this morning to a small group of employees and volunteers at a local Christian charity; they’d asked me to come in and share for thirty minutes or so at their weekly day time church gathering.

As part of my introduction I mentioned that I spend my days home educating my four children; I went on to take the session and enjoyed spending those moments sharing life with this lovely group of people.

At the end of my session we prayed, I was applauded and thanked but from the corner of the room I spotted three pairs of wise eyes wanting to grab my attention. Sat around a table near to where I was stood were two retired teachers and a husband of one who also was intrigued by my passing introduction as a ‘home schooling mum’.

For the next twenty minutes or so as kind workers cleared our table of coffee cups and plates with remaining uneaten bits of bacon sandwich they threw question after question at me about ‘how that works’. By my estimation these beautiful souls were born in the 1940’s, they reflected on how they handled a classroom of forty plus disciplined students singlehandedly in their teaching days who knew the consequence of a slipper or cane if they fell out of line.

I passionately spoke of our home educating journey, our days, our rhythm and our philosophy; they almost tried to bedazzle me with the ‘socialisation’ issue but I was armed with years of wisdom (and quick answers) that left them smiling.

One of the gentlemen asked how I taught my children about music and art of which I’m sure he didn’t expect me to answer “yes, we study a different composer and artist every six weeks”; he revelled in our dwelling on habits, character and memorisation and went on to recommend various lesser know but impressive galleries in a nearby city.

About 10 years ago I was sat amongst a gathering of women, I guess a kind of discipleship group with women at a similar age and stage of life as I was. One of the ladies in the room had started her home school journey and was being challenged on her decision; I felt for her as she fumbled through an explanation of where they were at but ended with “I realise my children are missing out in certain areas”. I didn’t know much back then but that answer just didn’t seem  quite right. The UK has come a long way since then, in most area’s in the country it doesn’t have to be such a lonely journey. Despite my recent audience not being very aware of the growth within home education, most people have either heard of someone or know someone who educates their children at home.

As I smiled my way through my answers, drew my wise new friends in with my joy I realised the deep work God had done in my life over these past eight years of homeschooling my children. I was confident in my convictions, reassured in the pedagogy and philosophy of our learning days and encouraged by the fruit I see in my children every day.

There is no shame in choosing the road less travelled; there’s something quite therapeutic about relaying our journey to new listeners, I don’t get involved in debate or argument about whether we made or are continuing to make the right choice but I’m happy to share our story.

It’s a story of adventure, intrigue, surprise, hard work and I most definitely anticipate a happy ending!

Maybe this summer is a good time to refresh and remind yourself of where your home schooling story began.

My Living Books Life – Celeste Cruz

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Instagram: Leahvboden

Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.

–Henry David Thoreau

Like many homeschooling moms, I have always been a lover of books.  I’m embarrassed to admit how many Baby-Sitters Club books lined my shelves, but I also gobbled the good stuff: I re-read my Little House books until the covers fell off and rejoiced over the vintage hardcovers passed down to me from my mom’s childhood.  In high school, I earnestly dipped into the classics and developed an intense appreciation for poetry. From there, I jumped into my college studies with enthusiasm: I double-majored in English and Humanities, minored in Art History, and earned a graduate degree in Literature.  I spent those years gulping Milton, Eliot, Dante, Austen, and Shakespeare (especially Shakespeare!).  I poured it all right back out into the students I was teaching and into writing—and all the while I was gulping more. I hit a healthy balance of the poetic and the analytic: I knew how to love a book and the ideas it contained, and I also knew how to pull it apart to marvel at its inner workings; sounds like a Living Books Life, right?
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Instagram: Leahvboden
But actually, my true Living Books Life started after that.  I was pregnant with my oldest daughter and spent my first trimester sick in bed, where I read all the books Lucy Maud Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott ever wrote.  I also started reading another female writer, Charlotte Mason.  In the months and years following, in the midst of the daily chaos with a brood of young children, I undertook a new kind of reading life, one that looked more like Miss Mason suggested.

If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

The difference? I delved into the beautiful habit of slow reading multiple books across genres and subjects.  Living books are meant to be savored; slowing down allowed me time to process to commonplace alongside, to discuss with others, to ponder, to wonder, to connect with the author and his ideas, to notice how the readings connect with one another in that wondrous web governed by the Holy Ghost.  Those connections are best understood by reading liberally—and that moving beyond literature and grabbing books about math, cultural commentary, theology, and the sciences.
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Instagram: Leahvboden
And something else was different too: that slow, broad, relational reading changed my perception of success. No longer did I measure my reading life by how many books I finished or how many pages I wrote on them. In those gulping years in an academic environment, I perpetually felt a combination of buzzed and burned out.  I still get that buzz sometimes—a lot of the time, actually. This is an exciting life of learning! But rather than bouncing between two extremes, I am continuously fed, soothed, invigorated, challenged, encouraged, and blessed.  My new goals are to cultivate virtue, to notice details and delight in them, to meet great minds, and to build knowledge of man, nature, and God.

It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.

–Oscar Wilde

A Living Books Life promises that we might have life—and might have it more abundantly. One can only approach such a promise with a posture of humility and gratefulness. I cannot adequately express my deep thankfulness for the lessons learned on this road of self-education, with Miss Mason as my guide. And the best part of it all? I get to live this with my kids. Abundance indeed.
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Instagram: Leahvboden
Living books are meant to be savored; slowing down allowed me time to process to commonplace alongside, to discuss with others, to ponder, to wonder, to connect with the author and his ideas, to notice how the readings connect with one another
20140824_180303-001Celeste Cruz is mommy to eight children under age ten. Once upon a time she was training to be an English professor; now, she can often be found chasing her little ones while schooling her elementary kids. (Some days are more successful than others.) When she has her hands free, she enjoys distance running, nature journaling, traditional Catholicism, exploring her native Northern California, and beach-combing with her husband of thirteen years. She moderates for the AmblesideOnline Forums, fits her life into small squares on Instagram, and shares the joys of a Catholic Charlotte Mason home education at Joyous Lessons.

Don’t Let Comparison Kill You!

The Braids

An excerpt from ‘Moments On Mothering’ – Reflective inspiration from one mother to another

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I often must sacrifice my own needs and desires for the purpose of giving my children what they need and modelling for them the depths of Christ’s love – Sally Clarkson

I was recently scanning Instagram – I like to read the ‘bio’s’ which tend to reveal what you’d like the world to know about you, to draw you in and win you to their world. Leave it blank, quote Mother Teresa or form a mini Curriculum Vitae – it all speaks. I came across one mother somewhere across the globe who was adamant that she wasn’t going to post ‘pretty pictures of folded laundry’ and luscious lavender trailing across her deck; neither was she going to quote ‘dead people’ but she was going to reveal her #reallife. The thing about that is that I can just look up and see my piles of dishes, unmade beds and unbrushed heads. I can smell the reality of my occasional unkempt life every time someone opens the fridge (it’s no.2 on my ‘to do’ list: clean out fridge) but I use Instagram because I am.

I am who I am – I’m a beauty seeker and treasure keeper; whether that’s in the form of a photo, a quote, a pine cone or a pre-loved coffee cup; I need these layers of simplicity to form in the quiet of my soul. Laundry will always be with us but that sunset that swept you away, that look of elation on your 4 year old’s face when the first snow fell and the page of that book that rocked your world, yes – I’m all about that. I’m all about celebrating the small, the seemingly insignificant; a well-crafted web of words, written or read that forms like a wax seal upon the envelope of another ‘normal’ day.

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We talk about ‘real’ and being authentic; we shout about our messy lives as if we have to prove to each other that these things exist – but mama I know. My day is filled with cleaning up spills, managing their (my) emotions, cleaning up dog mess from the yard, fighting off the temptation to scroll the day away on my phone, playing catch up and recovering from the repercussions of not finishing my ‘to do’ list last week! Yep, I’m there – I know it and I live it.

I am who I am – I’m a beauty seeker and treasure keeper; whether that’s in the form of a photo, a quote, a pine cone or a pre-loved coffee cup; I need these layers of simplicity to form in the quiet of my soul

The fact that I bare my soul through a book and a tea cup is a moment’s glimpse of treasure amongst a measure, of normal and beautiful…I’m not running away from being dutiful.

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My daughters and I have long hair; my eldest daughter likes to show me fancy braids on YouTube and we bumble along attempting to recreate them to some success. I was admiring (following, stalking – call it what you will) a displayer of braids from across the social media airwaves over a period of time and was quite abruptly stopped in my tracks and was shocked by what I discovered; her beautiful, long, blonde, thick, luscious, always looking fabulous locks were FAKE!! I trawled and discovered a video of her attaching her magnificent mane to a pretty average mop and naively sat there with my mouth open yelping “Nyah her hair is fake”, to which she obviously replied “yes Mum, how could you not know?”, to which I replied (mostly to Nyah but somewhat to said YouTuber) “but mine is real”. It’s sometimes messy and thrown up into a top knot, it’s sometimes blow dried and carefully curled, it generally gets in the way. But it’s real.

Mess is real and so is beauty. Unkempt and cluttered is real and yet so is neat and complete.

My favourite social scientist, awesome TED talker and shame researcher Brene Brown says “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it” and we run so much don’t we? We hear our songs in other musicians lyrics, we read our stories in other writers pages, we gaze upon art that came from our heart but we stay in the shadows, hiding under labels of ‘it’s all been done, said, painted or created before’ – but you, you have never been seen. It’s time to get our authentic selves out from under the duvet and step forward as it’s your time too.

We all have a story worthy of being told.

It’s time to stop being afraid of what might be and what could be and who you think you should be. Between the gaps of school runs, chopping onions and polishing taps there’s a dreamer. You’re pushing buggies and forming melodies and imagining words on a page or colours on a canvas or feet gently choreographed in movement to move people and lives and hearts. And if there’s time for this, there’s time for that.

That idea you can’t shake, that recipe you’re pining to bake is real and true. It’s you.

There’s so much of ‘us’ that we set aside for a time, especially in early motherhood, which is good and right because it’s all about sleep reserving and flying mushed food swerving. But stop looking longingly at that woman who’s creating and helping and doing and walking and see yourself as alive and able to do and be, at the right time; authentically and fully. Be you.

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So next time you’re scrolling and aching over a picture of perfectly folded floral napkins or a well kempt 3 year old wearing a floating dress and cute laced boots;  when you click onto Instagram tomorrow and she’s all over it again with her beach views and pastel hues – celebrate with her. That mama has carved some time out of her life just like yours to take a picture, savour a moment and share it with you.

Doesn’t that change our perspective? She’s not trying to portray perfection – she’s choosing a selection of important moments or creations that will mark her life and make her smile.

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Want to read more? Go over to Amazon and download your copy today; don’t miss the great $2.99 (£2.12) sale on now!

 

To Walk And To Wonder – Words & Pictures

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Every hour spent in the open is a clear gain, tending to the increase of brain power and bodily vigour, and to the lengthening of life itself – Charlotte Mason

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In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt ― Margaret Atwood

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“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more”
― George Gordon Byron

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“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

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“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”  ― Rachel Carson

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“…and then, I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?” ― Vincent van Gogh

The Marvel Of Motherhood

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Pregnancy and motherhood are the most beautiful and significantly life-altering events that I have ever experienced – Elisabeth Hasselbeck

So, here’s a peek into my collection of essays on motherhood that I published this time last year if you haven’t read it yet – thought I’d post the introduction to give you a little taste of what the book is all about, and then you can hop over to Amazon whilst the $2.99 (£2.07) sale is on and download it for yourself! Enjoy, Leah x

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This collection of creative pieces comes to you after 12 years of mothering but also after many more years of dreaming and carving out the time to write. This merging of passions has enabled me to begin to process so many of the incredible elements of the motherhood journey and I’m so excited to bring you along with me.

I was introduced to motherhood just over 12 years ago in a pretty basic delivery room in Leicestershire; I knelt up on the metal framed bed with my assiduously labouring and sweating body wrapped around a bean bag masking my groans and cries. Sometime after 10pm the midwife passed a bloody, wet and wriggling being under my legs and into my arms. I looked down through this surreal experience with tear filled eyes and quietly whispered to my new-born daughter “I knew it was you”.

And this prolonged, agonizing but incredible experience was all worth it, it felt right and raw; with my new found birthing expertise and her intoxicating suckling smell we could take on the world! And thus began my parenting journey. I went on from the Leicestershire labour ward to birth three more children; two of which were in the comfort of my own home.

The mothering experience continues to encompass so much of the birthing journey, as Ann Voskamp so eloquently puts it: “And the realization — that a mother’s labour and delivery never ends and you never stop having to remember to breathe.” And these moments of breathing and reflecting and remembering are what I’ve hoped to capture in this compilation of writings.

This collection of creative pieces comes to you after 12 years of mothering but also after many more years of dreaming and carving out the time to write. This merging of passions has enabled me to begin to process so many of the incredible elements of the motherhood journey and I’m so excited to bring you along with me.

When I think back over my primary years of being a mother I could easily laugh or cry in equal proportions around the decisions I’ve made, the conversations I’ve had, the theories I’ve believed and the paths I’ve chosen to walk but thankfully with each lesson, victory, challenge and failure it has shaped the mother and woman I am today.

These musings are in no way parenting advice or a motherhood heist; I’ve promised myself that I won’t write a ‘parenting book’ till my kids are at least in their 30’s! Each essay or poem is a reflection of my journey and personal observations as I’m living out this mayhem of maternity whilst doing my best to love my children, honour God and enjoy the ride.

Each piece should take you no more than 10 minutes to read, so even in the midst of sweeping and peace keeping, pour yourself a cup of tea, pull up a chair and let me tell you a story.

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Why We Nature Journal

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As soon as he is able to keep it himself, a nature-diary is a source of delight to a child. Every day’s walk gives him something to enter: three squirrels in a larch tree, a jay flying across such a field, a caterpillar climbing up a nettle, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider dropping suddenly to the ground, where he found ground ivy, how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, how bindweed or ivy manages to climb – Charlotte Mason (Vol. 1, p. 54)

Nature study is such a central part of the Charlotte Mason philosophy, allowing our children to be free to experience the great outdoors on a regular basis, to breathe in God’s creation and makes connections of their own is foundational to the methods we use.

Keeping a nature journal or diary is a wonderful way to help our children (and ourselves) deepen the connection with what they have seen and experienced out-of-doors. Nature journaling doesn’t require us to have a degree in fine art, a perfect knowledge of all things in nature or the most expensive tools and paints; nature journaling requires a little bit of time, attention and a lot of heart.

The Four R’s Of Nature Journaling 

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We journal to:

REFLECT

Reflecting is a form of asking questions of what we’ve seen and the connections we’ve made; we can make lists of what we’ve observed, copy out sections of poetry or prose that relate to our observations or a short entry on how our time out-of-doors made us feel. Nature study is not a mere page in a science book describing the facts of another living being, nature study is a beautiful opportunity for us to make a connection for life with part of God’s creation.

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RECORD

Nature study, especially for our younger children is a wonderful foundation for all scientific study and research. Our journaling process can be the beginnings of learning about the parts of a flower, the life cycle of a frog or the fascinating phases of the moon. Allow your children to develop their own style, fill their pages with wonder and not get too perfectionist about it!

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RESPOND

Our connections with God’s creation can cause a physical, emotional or spiritual reaction (or all three); my heart leaps with joy when I see a baby lamb skip, a spring crocus pushing up through the hard winter ground or the sight of Mr. and Mrs. Blackbird busy in my yard building their nest. Our journal can mark our emotions through the seasons, bring joy and spark gratitude.

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REMEMBER

Sketching, tracing, copying, writing or even sticking magazine pictures in our journals mark a seasonal journey of what we’ve observed through the year. What a wonderful, memorable collection of words and images to look back on through the years of our precious lives and our children’s education at home.

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Keeping a nature journal has been part of the rhythm of our home educating for the past 8 years but more recently it has become a part of my own personal life; my creative expression as a mother and educator but most importantly as a lover and appreciator of God’s creation.

You can follow my photo journal here on Instagram

 

 

 

 

My Living Books Life – Catherine Shelton

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…reading a wide selection of living books has not only increased our children’s vocabulary and knowledge of the world around them but has also given them a thirst for more living books and a general love of learning.

I’ve always loved books, and started reading fairly early. As a young girl I devoured the Famous Five series and pretty much anything by Enid Blyton. I remember being discovered by my parents, more than once, reading under the bedcovers with my torch, long after lights were supposed to be out. My favourite book was ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte, perhaps because I shared a name with the heroine.

Fast forward many years and I found myself at Oxford University studying Maths and Philosophy, reading Descartes, Aristotle and Aquinas. Around that time I felt God was calling me to overseas mission, and so I lapped up all the missionary biographies about heroes such as Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael and Elizabeth Elliot. I loved reading about their amazing adventures and their passion to know God and to make Him known. It wasn’t long before I was at Bible college, meeting my future husband and then heading off to Russia to work in Bible translation – the ultimate ‘living book’!

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There’s something about living overseas that makes you filter out ‘twaddle’ like never before. With limited room in our suitcases and no access to libraries or Amazon (we didn’t discover the wonders of the Kindle until later), books became really precious and we only brought the best books into our home – ones we knew we’d read again and again and recommend to others. That applied to our children’s books too, especially once we started out on the wonderful journey of homeschooling. We had to plan well in advance what books we really needed, acquire them while we were back home on furlough, and make sure we had room in our suitcases. When we had to return home for good, 11 years later, at least half of the 15 bags we were allowed by British Airways were filled with books we couldn’t bear to part with.

It’s a bit harder to fight against the twaddle now that the kids have access to their local library here in England, but we keep up our focus on living books as much as we can. One of my favourite childhood memories is of my mother reading ‘The Hobbit’ to my brother and me on holiday one year, so last summer I took that as our holiday read-aloud. The children were enraptured. My then 5 year old claimed it was his favourite part of the whole holiday! We’re now about a third of the way through ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and my son has been inspired to write his own book – ‘The Adventures of Bobo’ – which he works on diligently every day and illustrates too. My daughters are enjoying the likes of Anne of Green Gables and Caddie Woodlawn.

The children were enraptured

One of the things I love about home education is that it gives our children time just to read. All six of us are at our happiest curled up on the sofa with a good book – even the one-year-old pretends to be reading and knows how to lick her finger to turn the page! I’ve noticed that reading a wide selection of living books has not only increased our children’s vocabulary and knowledge of the world around them but has also given them a thirst for more living books and a general love of learning.

All six of us are at our happiest curled up on the sofa with a good book – even the one-year-old pretends to be reading and knows how to lick her finger to turn the page!

The writer of Ecclesiastes may well have said “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.…” (Ecc 12:12) but I like to think he wasn’t talking about living books!

 

 

Catherine Shelton (1)Catherine Shelton and her husband have been married for 15 years and they have four children, aged 11, 8, 6 and nearly 2. In a former life she worked as a secondary school maths teacher and then later as an exegetical advisor in a Bible translation project in Russia. After living overseas for 11 years the family had to return to the UK, and Catherine now continues to home educate her children full-time using the Charlotte Mason approach, specifically following the Ambleside Online curriculum. She also enjoys writing and can be found blogging over at www.catherineshelton.net. Catherine de-stresses from busy family life by training for half marathons and by spending time at the beach near where she now lives in the south of England.

Education Is An Atmosphere – Compost Not Topiary!

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The child breathes the atmosphere emanating from his parents; that of the ideas which rule their own lives – Charlotte Mason (Vol. 2, p. 247).

The Charlotte Mason philosophy hands us a guiding principle to fuel our homes and the education of our children; it was summed up in three words: Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.

Today I want to unpick what Miss Mason meant by ‘an atmosphere’

The following are notes from my recent Periscope broadcast on ‘Education Is An Atmosphere’.

In our 21st century ‘mummy wars’ culture we can so often hear the word ‘atmosphere’ as a threat, we feel intimidated and we run and hide under our huge pile of laundry away from bickering children and unwashed dishes!

I want you (for a moment) to put those thoughts behind you and open your heart and mind to what you’re actually doing in your Charlotte Mason influenced home school – and I’m sure most of you are doing it already!

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When Miss Mason talked about atmosphere she wasn’t talking about candles, quiet and classical music (although that may add to the atmosphere of your learning environment) she was referring to three things:

  1. The ideas that rule our lives, these spill over to our children
  2. The thoughts that fill their days, what do they draw from consciously and subconsciously?
  3. The authentic environment that surrounds them, our life grows upon ideas – how is the soil? Not fake or watered down to ‘child’s level’ but understanding that they are capable of great thought growing responsibility. Let them grow in a natural, not fake environment

Education as an atmosphere starts in our heart – the overflow is from us the parent; the way we see view our children (born persons), how we value their learning and living and taking responsibility for the ideas our children breathe in and the seeds that are implanted in their fertile soil

The difference between using Mason’s philosophy as a guiding principle in our homes as opposed to a traditional educational pedagogy is that we’re not seeing our children as a topiary project, clipping away when the growth doesn’t look like it should and trying to shape them to fit our family garden. What we’re doing is mixing ingredients for compost, we’re preparing soil to plant in, we water faithfully and watch our seedlings germinate and grow – as wild as the flower may look!

We’re getting our hands messy, we’re on our hands and knees turning soil – not dressed up pretty clipping an end result!

Mason quotes Coleridge (Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an English poet, literary critic and philosopher who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and a member of the Lake Poets) who said “from a seed successive ideas germinate”.

Mason said this “ideas may invest as an atmosphere rather than strike as a weapon”; fill their atmosphere with living ideas, put them in front of delightful things, surround their days with worthy work, wonder and God himself knows where those ideas will land, what they will connect with and what they will produce

God himself knows where those ideas will land, what they will connect with and what they will produce

Ingredients in your mind compost:

  • Prayer underpinning and hemming everything
  • Passion for life and educating your children, reading, studying, learning yourself (mother culture)
  • Purposeful and intentional living – consider the thoughts you are surrounding your children with
  • Pursing peace at all times – this will impact the laundry pile, the battles we choose and the sleep we get. Daily questions ‘does this make for peace’? Maybe that is candles, classical music and moments of quiet – maybe it’s throwing the kids in the car with the skateboards, going to the park and being loud (she talks about that too – organ exercise!) You know your children…

We all know the natural conditions under which a child should live; how he shares household ways with his mother, romps with his father, is teased by his brothers and petted by his sisters; is taught by his tumbles; learns self-denial by the baby’s needs, the delightfulness of furniture by playing at battle and siege with sofa and table; learns veneration for the old by the visits of his great-grandmother; how to live with his equals by the chums he gathers round him; learns intimacy with animals from his dog and cat; delight in the fields where the buttercups grow and greater delight in the blackberry hedges.”  – Charlotte Mason Vol. 6, p. 96