Archive for the ‘Charlotte Mason’ Category

Awhile ago, a lovely reader asked me a question, “How do we transition to self reading when the level of listening exceeds the level of reading?” Great question and one that I have struggled with myself in the past.

My first child learned to read at age 5 and was reading very well, independently at age 6.  “This is GREAT!” I thought to myself.  There was really very little transition.  Way back then, I had loads of time for read-alouds anyway, so there was no problem.

Things were similar with my next child.  He took longer to become an avid reader, though competency came quickly.

Our third also learned to read at about age 5, but she seemed to need more time to be able to tackle more challenging material. This was when my own struggle started.  With five children now (two younger than her), it was more difficult to read-aloud.  In fact, it was almost impossible.  What was I to do then if I couldn’t hand her the Ambleside books and await precise narrations?

I struggled over this for a long time. My husband, who works in the public-school system, said to me, “If she isn’t reading really well, yet, I think that should be your primary focus since all other skills really hinge on reading well.”  Huh.  Very true.

I decided then that I would do several things. Until a child was reading challenging material quite well, I would:

  • pare down her Ambleside year until it was manageable for all of us (without guilt, which was the hardest part)
  • read-aloud only one selection each day from her Ambleside year
  • have older children also help with additional read-alouds, if possible (but if this was not possible, I would stick with just one, guilt-free)
  • provide her with an opportunity to build her own reading skills with two things:  short selections of material that was somewhat challenging for her and material that was well within her grasp

Finding simple reading material that is not too dumbed-down can be tricky. For our youngest children, I like Christian Liberty Press Nature Readers.  While the difficulty level is nowhere near something like Madam How and Lady Why, they meet a need that is different from the needs met by challenging literature.  The need for mastery.

I find that my children take off with reading not by conquering especially difficult books, but by not struggling for every sentence, by feeling competent and being able to read through something fairly quickly.

When I teach our little ones to read sometimes it is so slow going that by the time they finish reading “Mac sat on Sam,” they have forgotten what they have read. Yesterday, my five year old wanted to know why I kept getting her to practice reading ‘the fast way’.  I demonstrated to her what happens if we have to dig for every single word by reading a sentence one word at at time very slowly.  Neither of us could follow what it said.  Then, I repeated the sentence ‘the fast way’ and it was easy to comprehend.  She understood exactly what I was getting at.

So, while beautiful, challenging literature is extremely important, the content will be lost on children who are still emerging readers if they have to do too much digging. For me, getting through those transitional years involves paring down my expectations, and combining challenging read-alouds (or having the child listen to good recordings) with easier material.

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Child climbing

Image Courtesy of AndiH

Today, my 12 year old son gave me a narration of a portion of Charlotte Mason’s Ourselves, entitled, “Esquires of the Body:  Restlessness and Rest”  (Part 1, chapter 3).  The concepts are very simple, but incredibly profound considering many of our society’s problems today.  She often gets ideas right on target for today in spite writing 100 years ago!  In the Charlotte Mason realm, we often say she was ahead of her time.  It always impresses me to see the truth in this.

Below, I have shared with you the ‘Restlessness’ portion of my son’s narration.

Restlessness is one of the most helpful esquires of the body. It doesn’t want you to sit around and do nothing for too long.  Even babies have lots of restlessness.  If you see them awake, they never want to lie still.  They are always flopping their arms around and making noises.  So, restlessness keeps us healthy and it is good not to sit around for too long.  It is not that we should never sit around, we just shouldn’t be spending our whole day resisting restlessness.

(12 year old son’s note:  Sometimes when I am downstairs playing video games, I get all fidgety and actually can’t stand to sit down anymore.  Mom’s note:  After playing video games, his body goes berserk and we need to make sure he has a healthy outlet for his restlessness!)

Restlessness can sometimes be a hard master. You shouldn’t overdo your activities because sometimes you will start to not be able to stay doing one thing at a time and will always have to be doing something different.  Basically, people just give in entirely to restlessness and can’t concentrate.

While he was narrating to me, I was in awe of the timeliness of Charlotte’s words.  What happens when we have a bunch of children who have given in entirely to restlessness, through continual exposure to entertainment, combined with expectations of constantly resisting restlessness by sitting at desks for hours at a time?  We get a nation of children who must be drugged to keep them inactive.  What happens when children continually resist or are forced to resist the natural restlessness in their bodies (combined of course with modern ‘food’ — and I use the term loosely here)?  Childhood obesity.

Charlotte Mason is my hero.

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The Simply Charlotte Mason Blog is running a series of posts comparing the differences between the Charlotte Mason approach to homeschooling and other popular approaches. You might enjoy taking a look.

Charlotte Mason Method vs. Traditional Curriculum

Charlotte Mason Method vs. Unit Studies

Charlotte Mason Method vs. Classical Approach

Charlotte Mason Method vs. Unschooling

Also, since we are on the subject of Charlotte Mason today, you might also enjoy this wonderful post entitled, 10 Great Authors in Children’s Literature by SimpleMom.  I often remind moms that a book’s length or complexity does not indicate its worthiness as a living book.  The example I often cite is Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon.  This book is certainly a beautiful example of a short, simple, but living book.  I was glad to see her on the list at the SimpleMom post.

Enjoy!  🙂


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We are looking at the Parents’ Review article entitled Othello and Goose. This is an easy to read tale of a cat, Othello, and the household that dotes over him, attributing human characteristics to him as they go about their lives together.

One night, after a satisfying Christmas dinner, Othello is inadvertedly let into the cellar without his owner’s knowledge.  Eventually, the error is recognized, but not before Othello has taken the opportunity to decadently dine on the leftover goose.

Merry, the young owner, is horrified – afraid her mother, Mrs. Mirth, will want to get rid of Othello because of the incident’s revealing the cat’s true character.  She had always supposed the cat was honest but now the truth, that he is deceptive, has come to light.

After explaining the situation to Mrs. Mirth the household maid asks gingerly if she should whip the cat.  Mrs. Mirth resolutely says the cat should not be whipped, that it would only be cruel to do so.  For one, the time of the incident has long passed and the cat has completely forgotten.  He would see no connection between the punishment and any of his doings.  Secondly, he only acted in accordance with his nature.  It was in good faith — he simply wanted some goose, so he went to get some.

The article ends with several wonderful reminders.  Sometimes, children are punished when parents only consider the act without thinking of the thoughts or feelings behind the act. The author, Mrs. Firth, says two things that stand out to me:

Yet we some of us, whip our children for mistakes and errors which arise from their inexperience, and disappoint and grieve them by our displeasure when they have acted in good faith as far as their imperfect view of things would allow.

I would like to share with you a painful story from my own life.  It still makes me feel terrible now and this was nearly 8 years ago.  I had three children at the time.  My youngest, a baby of a few months, was lying on the floor and my son, age 3 1/2, and I were looking at her.  Suddenly, my son pulled her hair.  I was shocked!  “No!,” I shrieked.  “We don’t pull a baby’s hair!”  Seconds later, he pulled it again.  My mother bear instinct snapped and I slapped his hand.  Not being someone who generally used physical discipline, my son was shocked and heartbroken and started to sob,  “I was just trying to help her get the bit out of her hair, Mommy!”  Looking down, I saw the little bit of fluff in my baby’s hair and I started to cry, too.  In his own toddler way, he was trying to do something nice for her.  He didn’t see any disobedience because he was not pulling her hair — he would never pull her hair — he was helping her.  Of course, I gave him a big hug and asked his forgiveness. 

That time has always served as a reminder to me to make sure that before I discipline in any way, I have to the best of my ability all the information, including the intentions of the children involved.

The second thing that stood out to me was this quote:

Also might we not take into more reasonable and pitiful consideration the strong pressure of temptation on the weak little soul of child or cat, even when it has a half feeling that it is wrong doing?

This reminds me of one of my very favourite quotes in the whole Bible. It is such a favourite of mine that I have it copied in the very front of my Bible, so it is there to remind me each time I open it up.

As a father pities his children,
Sothe LORD pities those who fear Him.
For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.

Psalm 103:13-14

Isn’t that a picture of exactly what the author of the article is suggesting above? It isn’t that we overlook wrong-doing.  Rather, it is that when we place ourselves in an empathetic position, as fellow people who know well the temptation that exists, particularly when young and immature, we leave ourselves much less likely to be rash or harsh.  As well, we are much more likely to look at each situation not as an adversarial confrontation, but as an opportunity to teach, from one who is wiser and more experienced to someone who is inexperienced and lacks wisdom.

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This week, we will look together at the Parents’ Review article, Othello and Goose.  I think you will enjoy this article.  I chose it because I think that it will be helpful for mothers who would like to begin to cultivate (or re-cultivate!) the habit of calmness in their daily life with their children.  This story could also be read to children, which seems to be its original intention.  If I were to read it to my children, I would probably leave off the ending comments, which are not at all inappropriate, but appear to be meant for parents.  We’ll see you on Thursday for comments about the article.

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Just as our bodies cannot be optimally functioning without nutritious food and healthy exercise, our minds also need food and exercise. Charlotte Mason says that ideas are the mind’s proper food. I like to think of the mind’s proper exercise as being challenging context.  Great ideas can be expressed simply or with the clothing of literary language and challenging writing — the times we have to work to understand something. As we don’t need to constantly challenge our bodies with exercise, we don’t need to constantly challenge our minds, either. However, the mind that is never challenged is like the soft, sluggish body of a couch potato. It will very quickly become weak and accustomed to lack of use, desiring only to be lazy.

This is why I decided to begin to read through some of the challenging articles in the archives of the Parents’ Review and why I would love to have you join me. If you haven’t yet participated, I highly recommend beginning with this week’s article. It is not overly long (just over 3 printed pages) and it is not terribly difficult to understand. As with many of the articles, this one contains excellent ideas and timeless wisdom.

Alice Powell, the article’s author, writes that although almost no one wants to admit it, most mothers whose children do not turn out as expected are disappointed. She is not speaking of the appearance of horrible character qualities, but rather of everyday differences.  This disappointment seems to arise because parents (more often moms) long to see their children become like themselves. While logically, the idea of making a bunch of carbon copy human beings makes no sense, it nevertheless seems to be the desire of many parents.

Powell points out that because so much of the child’s future rests with the mother, she needs to understand that this disappointment probably results from:  poor parental management of a child’s early years and a failure to accept that each child is born with a distinctive character that cannot simply be parented into something else.

Talking with my friend, Rachel, yesterday, we both admitted that in recent years we had made a conscious decision to stop reading parenting books. Partly, we did so because we found the authors had, really, little wisdom and limited (sometimes no) personal parentng experience, offering ‘cures’ for parenting problems that didn’t work for many families.  Also for me, I found that parenting books often left me feeling inadequate and frustrated at my own inability to consistently carry out the suggestions. When a child disobeyed, at some point, I would inevitably be unable to come up with a good, natural consequence and would bark at the offender to go to her room. Sometimes, I would see books lying abandonned and would put them away myself instead of sacrificing a few minutes’ peace to follow-through and call the child in from outside to care for them himself.

Occasionally, though, I do need a reminder of some general priciples in parenting. With good principles to think on, I can do the practical working out myself. I think this article had a few of these ideas to offer.

Some things that struck me:

Nothing more galls and annoys a child than to perceive that their ‘yes’ or ‘no’ depends on his parents’ moods.

Gulp. I have been in an unstable mood for several months now (I think since I got my period back after our youngest baby’s birth). I can go from nice to irritable very quickly and have been doing way too much yelling lately, which is not really characteristic of me. A few days ago, I decided to make it a matter of prayer and attention. This concept hits home for me because I am sure our children have felt like this too often lately. Powell notes that children of moody moms learn to manipulate circumstances and manage their mothers to get what they want. Unfortunately, the more they do this, the more love is lost.

Hand in hand with this concept is the idea:

Respect is, after all the true foundation of filial love, and where that is wanting there can be no real affection.

She follows with the idea that moms often fail to earn respect because they “let little things disturb their equanimity,” and it is then impossible for her to maintain the calm, gentle composure necessary when dealing with children. Powell’s suggestion? Training ourselves in the habit of calmness in word and action.

I don’t know about you, but I could use a refresher in the training of this habit. Our 4th child was a great trainer for me in her early toddler/preschooler years. She was extremely sensitive to scolding and would burst into tears at even a hint of harshness in a parent’s voice. As such, I quickly trained myself in calmness with all the children. I can remember once thinking I could not think of the last time I had raised my voice to any of my children! As she has grown a little, and necessarily toughened up, I have allowed myself to slide.

I would like to devote some blog posts in the near future to the idea of retraining this habit in myself. I will give some practical ideas and some real-life examples from my home. (Trust me — there are TONS of calmness-training opportunities here!) I hope it will be inspiring and helpful to you as well as to me.

Thoughts on the article? Please share in the comments section. As well, if you’d like to participate in the discussion but haven’t read the article yet, please don’t feel like it is too late. Even if you print it and read it tonight, the comments are always open and I would love to hear from you.

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On Thursday, we will be looking deeper at the article, Disappointed Mothers written by Alice Powell in 1891. I encourage you to print it out and read it with a pencil in hand to underline/jot down comments on anything that strikes you. I would really enjoy reading your comments here on Thursday.

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