Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Charlotte Mason: Discipline

Our first discussion in the Charlotte Mason series. The aspect we're focusing on here is DISCIPLINE. According to the official Charlotte Mason webpage:

By “Discipline,” Charlotte meant the discipline of good habits — and specifically habits of character. Cultivating good habits in your child’s life make up another third of his education.

If I had to say, I would argue this is probably the hardest of the 3 to be consistent about. It's probably because as a sanguine I struggle with completing tasks. My husband, who is a melancholy, does not. He and Mary Poppins would be good friends saying, "Well begun is half done". As much as I struggle with completion, I admire the quality and see the need for follow-through and self-control in everyday life with the kids. 

My house would be a HUGE mess if I didn't start training my girls right now in ways appropriate for their ages. Even with routines in place it still can get away from us pretty quickly if I'm not careful. Our 3 year old puts her shoes on the stairs so they can be taken upstairs at bed time. She asks for a wipe before she gets up from the table and knows she has to have a bib on when she eats. She knows to put her dinnerware and cups in the sink and throw away her trash after breakfast and lunch. She tells people thank you when they give her a compliment. Of course she doesn't always do these things without whining or needing a gentle reminder (I realize she's only 3!), but because we generally do the same routine EVERY DAY I see her slowly understanding the importance of disciplining her mind, so that one day I will not have to be the one prodding her along. Granted, as parents we need to have discernment about what battles to fight, but I feel like as a general rule our society is too quick writing too many things off by saying "they're just a kid".  

One Australian mom of 9 children (who struggles with consistency too) said this in a blog post reflecting on Charlotte Mason's philosophy of discipline:  
Once I became aware of the impact we have on the lifetime habits of our children,  I became conscious that as I strove to; maintain a regular routine, to introduce healthy hygiene habits, to aid a child in forming a solid interior disposition and to led a faithful prayer life, our parenting was not a series of  isolated incidences of; "make your bed", "brush your teeth," "time for lessons to begin" and "Have you prayed today?," 
I don't want life to be a set of isolated incidents for my children or myself. My biggest struggle is knowing I can easily make everything an isolated incident  -- compartmentalize  if you will -- when I have the sense to create better order.  I don't want the general unstructured nature of schooling for our kids be to our detriment instead of our advantage. 

A blog post called Discipline Brings Freedom, outlines some practical ways that forming good habits can lead to less general stress. 
Discipline: Plug in your cell phone every night to charge it. 
Freedom: You don’t have to worry about whether your battery will run out in the middle of a call. Your family members don’t have to wonder whether they will be able to reach you. 
Discipline: Put things away as you finish using them. 
Freedom: You don’t waste time and energy searching for the items you need. The discipline of taking two minutes to tidy up each time saves you from spending half a day (or more) sorting through the numerous piles that have accumulated.  
However, let me be clear -- discipline is not just remembering to put your shoes back where they belong every single time. It's about developing character. When we teach children habits it helps direct them toward the BIG PICTURE. Education is a Discipline helped clarify this point:   
"It is more important to be honest, than to be smart.  It is more important to be kind, compassionate, loyal, generous, and loving than it is to learn anything a school can teach you.  If your habits enable you to learn, AND shape your very character, that makes habits a cornerstone and of great importance.  Based on the amount of time it takes most adults to break bad habits, we should realize that it is even more important to shape good habits and character in youth."
For instance, when I play games with my 3 year old I don't always "let her win". Some of you may think I'm heartless, but I really think it's part of training on general sportsmanship and humility. When she wins (like last night with Chutes and Ladders) I sincerely tell her congratulations, she played a good game, and cheer a good bit. On the times I win she has learned over time to say and do similar things back. That doesn't mean that when she gets older and can really "compete" in sports or games that I want her to be a pushover. I just want her to be prepared with proper self-restraint when she needs it and that winning or being "right" isn't the be all end all. That kind of discipline helps in being a team player, being a faithful student of school work and the Word, being an understanding friend, being a gracious spouse, etc. That kind of discipline helps form Godly character for the long-haul. 
I hope you all reading don't think I run my house like a drill sergeant or that I don't have an ounce of grace within me. I mentioned first that I am a sanguine/choleric, an ENFP in the Myers-Briggs world, which means I have a tendency to play before I do work and get easily sidetracked by things. A lot of days I can easily thrive on a lack of discipline. If you have a conversation with me, you know that I don't always craft my thoughts as well as I do my blog (I can edit this constantly so I appear focused, my mouth not as much...). My thoughts fly in a thousand different directions! Though I try mightily to trust the Lord in this area, I am sometimes haunted and daunted by the fact that as a stay at home mom I have to model discipline in the big and small things for my girls. Training my girls is as much as exercise for me as it is them which is why I am committed to doing it however imperfectly that may be.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

On the Gist of Things

I am scared to link to this article. I am afraid that if I read it one more time I might be tempted to shut down my blog because it covers so articulately many of my own musings. In it I found myriad things I have wanted to articulate about culture and reading habits. The issue of how becoming an image based culture (hence the infographic at the top) contributes to superficial reading and thinking is something I will tackle in my book review of The Disappearance of Childhood, a book that was prophesying about the digital revolution in 1982!    

But I digress... Did I mention the article was written by a beloved college professor? She has got the life experience and teaching experience to make this a very powerful piece about how much we can miss (i.e. the costs in various forms) by being lured into culture's pull to get the "to-go version" when we read.  

It's a weighty piece and you should read it because a) it's very thought provoking and convicting b) it's laced with mad advanced grammar skills c) if you don't you will succumb to some major irony (the piece is about cursory/incomplete reading and the implications thereof)

Here are some gems from On the Gist of Things written by Dr. Beth Impson. Please read it now!
Yet the gist of things leaves us with a shrug. If mere assertions could compel us to action, Dillard could have written “Life is like writing; it’s hard but it’s worth doing with passion,” and left it at that. But would anyone be moved by it, be challenged, be changed? Rather, we move on, dissatisfied, seeking something to ease the discontent that our own actions are fostering...
My student ended his challenge with the question, “Isn’t [getting the gist of it] all that matters?” It might be—if all that mattered in life were a grade on a quiz, or if the gist of anything moved us to think carefully, believe rightly, and act purposefully on both principle and compassion. This is the ultimate purpose of language, of communication—to move us to right belief and action.      

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Some Reflections on Newtown...

I remember in 1999 when Columbine happened. A high school shooting and I was a freshman in high school. The fear that swept across our school that day was palpable. We talked about the "trenchcoat mafia" and wondered if we could be next. We started thinking about students who were capable of pulling something similar. It felt like our mortality was suddenly right before our eyes. We were young and scared and didn't know what to make of something so heinous, so calculated. Who could want notoriety so badly that they would be willing to kill the innocent? Many of us took to very confused praying, still asking questions about safety, suffering, and the sovereignty of God.       

In 2012 I am reminded of that fear as I fast forward 13 years later where I am no longer a student, but a mom of two young girls. On Friday, I scrambled to make any sense of this atrocious act and asked my husband why someone would target an elementary school. He said that if you're seeking attention, what better way to get it than to do the unthinkable? A sobering reminder of the depravity of man, making me long for the day when He will make all things right. 

As I hug my girls, my heart grieves for those families. All weekend as I have been playing and eating with my family, I've had this wave of sadness for those in Connecticut who are without that privilege. Those families that are trying to hold it together for their other children when in reality they don't feel like even getting out of bed. I ache for the community of Newtown.  

I am humbled by the heroism of the staff and teachers who tried to stop the killer. Those who hid children in classroom closets or bathrooms at the risk of losing their lives. I would hope that any of us would do the same thing for the innocent children under our care.

My prayer for Newtown and all of us is: 

  • That we will have open doors for our community to grieve and share prayers and questions. 
  • That we would be able to have conversations about Christ, the Hope that is within us. 
  • That we will have discernment in how we react and approach each conversation with people about the subject of suffering.     
  • That we will not be quick to offer solutions on issues like gun control, the proper way to school children, mental health, etc. We all have opinions, but politicizing helps no one in the face of grief and horror.
  • That we will not take everything that the media says as fact and spread it around. A lot of things are not fully known until the dust settles.   
  • And finally a fervent prayer that gets to the very heart of things... A Prayer for Sandy Hook and Us All

What prayers are on your heart? 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What Are We Reading For?

While looking for Charlotte Mason information, I ran across a blog where the author says she frequently hears defeated parents at her local library saying, "Well, at least they're reading, right?" which led her to question the purpose of reading. 

Is reading something (no matter how bad it is) better than not picking up any kind of literature at all? Should our kids read for knowledge or pleasure? Both depending on the occasion? Both simultaneously? 

Some thoughts of mine: 

  • I agree with the 1st comment on the blog that says clearly there is a difference between reading something that is "dumbed down" (i.e. too easily comprehended) as opposed to something that proudly promotes vice (i.e. a 50 Shades of Grey type novel). Ideas have consequences (especially bad ideas that make us and our needs the center of the universe). A bad idea read and taken to heart is not much different than seeing the same bad idea played out on TV. So is ANYTHING really better than nothing?     
  • Even the most avid reader isn't always in the mood to read War and Peace type novels. Reading can be done in all different kinds of contexts. For instance, I usually try to read several blog posts a day because I think they help give a voice to certain thoughts rattling around in my head. Sometimes reading can be a short thing when you have time and others a more deliberate focus. Either way, I find that it's helpful to have someone (a friend, family member, spouse, etc.) to discuss the ideas presented in your reading. The "share" feature on most blogs has become a friend of mine.     
  • Some people tend to think that you can only be entertained by fiction because non-fiction is too dry, too factual. Actually, some of the most amusing books I have read in the last few years are non-fiction -- Truman, The Disappearance of Childhood, Just Do Something, Freakonomics. A little sarcasm, clear thoughts, and a good writing style goes a long way in non-fiction :)       
  • My husband contends that a good book imparts both knowledge and joy. He said he could read data all day long and get facts, but he'd rather read Malcolm Gladwell (someone who tells the data's story in a fresh, unique way). It's harder to see this when something isn't your favored genre, but the more you read the more you can sniff out a seasoned or amateur writing style, a helpful or corrupt idea, etc. You might be surprised by what you're interested in if it's presented well. I never thought I'd like economics, but I've found some gems thanks to my husband.     

Back to the original blog post... the author wrestles with these questions about reading, quoting Charlotte Mason along with other great thinkers. Toward the end of the post she says this:
Basically, if we want our children to read better literature, we are going to have to ask ourselves hard questions about what it means to 
1. Read widely 
2. Read well 
3. Read deeply 
4. Read with discernment
I agree with her list completely, and I know that will look different for every family. 

  • We have to get a variety of authors and styles into our children's hands
  • We have to provide and encourage lots of reading material over time 
  • We have to provide a way (I would say through their everyday education) for them to think critically about what they are reading
  • We have to do all this without creating reading burnout! :)  

What do you guys think? What do you read for? How do/did you accomplish reading goals for your family? 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Intro to Charlotte Mason

As most of you know because of our decision to homeschool, I am (in some ways) looking a philosophy of education from a different perspective than I was as a teaching candidate 10 years ago. I remember names like Horace Mann, John Dewey, Maria Montessori, and the like from my teaching classes, but I don't remember hearing much or anything about Charlotte Mason. My apologies to Dr. DeGeorge and Dr. Froemke if it's left my brain like so many other things these days :) 
Charlotte Mason was born in 1842 and was mostly homeschooled. Her parents died when she was a teenager and she went on to get a teaching certificate. She taught for 10 years (and then moved on to lecturing), during which she started working our her philosophy of education. She wrote numerous essays, articles, and curricula based off her ideas and observations of children. This blog post is a good starting place to get a feel for Charlotte Mason.         

As it happens, I went to a curriculum fair this year and sat and listened to a speaker talk about the Charlotte Mason philosophy. I really really enjoyed her talk and felt like she was articulating the conversations going on in my head and with my husband; she was organizing my thoughts about education! I don't know if this philosophy is the be all end all since we only have a 3 1/2 year old whose not formally schooling, but I sure do (in theory) like the ideas she presents. 

According to, these are the essential methods for schooling:
By “Atmosphere,” Charlotte meant the surroundings in which the child grows up. A child absorbs a lot from his home environment. Charlotte believed that atmosphere makes up one-third of a child’s education. 
By “Discipline,” Charlotte meant the discipline of good habits — and specifically habits of character. Cultivating good habits in your child’s life make up another third of his education.
The other third of education, “Life,” applies to academics. Charlotte believed that we should give children living thoughts and ideas, not just dry facts. So all of her methods for teaching the various school subjects are built around that concept.
I want to speak to each of these, so each of these topics will get a future blog post.  In the meantime, I found a few short blog posts on the Charlotte Mason website for you to get a good idea of where I'm heading with this: 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tradition Through Food

They say the more you engage all 5 of your senses the better you will remember something. What else can engage all of your senses like cooking? You hear, smell, feel, taste, and see what's going on in the kitchen.

In households all over the USA, people experience culture through food. Heritage and recipes are a thing much delighted in. If you read a lot of memoirs most authors mention their family's food somewhere in their narrative because it's ingrained in the psyche of their childhood memories.

Nowadays, I think cooking is becoming a bit of a lost art. We're all so busy that our Pinterest accounts are filled with the quick and easy (I include myself in this) instead of the methodical. I tend to go for the quick and easy and always get upset when Justin's dishes taste better than mine. He is methodical in everything he does and that obviously translates into the kitchen. He has shown me over our 6 years of marriage that through good habits and attention to detail you can always improve a dish. Justin's chef hero is Alton Brown (of Good Eats fame) whose niche is getting you to understand the science of cooking so you can understand how the components of the dish work together to achieve ultimate tastiness.

I aspire to have the discipline my husband does in the kitchen and hope to pass his culinary skills onto the girls (as well as myself) as the years go by. Right now we let our oldest (3 1/2) help us where she can in the kitchen (though on some days it frustrates me to death), let her sniff the spices in the cabinet, pick rosemary from our little herb garden, and sometimes watch cooking shows with her instead of movies. It's fun to see her recognize what the chefs are using, making, or describing. She's being educated early, but not by force; she wants to do these things!

Even if you're not an aspiring chef, it seems the Christmas season brings out everyone's culinary sensibilities and we think about dishes that we have had passed down to us. There are 3 dishes that excite my senses and say Christmas to me:
  1. Boiled custard -- it's not eggnog, folks! There's no nutmeg or alcohol. It's milk, eggs, sugar, and vanilla extract. It's SO creamy and SO rich. You don't need a lot to feel full. I'm not sure if my grandmother started making this, but we've served it at Christmas gatherings on her side of the family for as long as I can remember. I think of Mimi (who passed away a few months before our wedding) every time we drink a glass! 
  2. Jam Cake -- This was another of Mimi's Christmas specialties. It's like what fruitcake wishes it could be. It has the taste of so many dark flavors in one thick bite. No flashy colors of maraschino anything. The caramel buttercream frosting had to go with it as well. I've never seen anything like it served at any restaurant which is a shame.                    
  3. Congealed Salad -- Not sure how this one became a favorite either, but I love it. It's lemon jello, peaches, pineapples, pecan and marshmallows. We can't have any holiday get together without my mom making it. Justin always says the texture is weird, but that just means more for me.      

What are some of your favorite holiday foods? What are some of the habits or traditions you want to instill in your family?     

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Talkin' 'Bout My Education: Anne Hockenberry

Here's the first of a new monthly feature -- Talkin' 'Bout My Education. On the first day of each month, I will have a guest post from a friend who will discuss a topic of education. 

Our first guest is Anne Hockenberry, a very good friend (as well as her husband, Owen) from Bryan College -- we're talking since 2002! She currently works as an educator in the public schools for children with special needs. I hope you are encouraged by her reflections!

Any public school teacher can relate to this picture on some level. Though funny, it strikes a deeper cord with me when I think about education and it’s ramifications for our children. When my husband and I think about the possibility of having children and about their education, I have to make that decision based on my own upbringing as a homeschooler and current profession as a public school teacher. 
My parents homeschooled my four siblings and me for most of our elementary years and all of high school and I really treasure my childhood and the education I received. My husband had a similar educational experience to mine. However, unlike some people who come from a homeschooling background, I wouldn't say that homeschooling is a quick fix to the educational dilemma many are faced with. I have also witnessed the public school system as a teacher for the last 5 years and have seen many great resources and hard-working teachers who are dedicated to their profession. I am grateful that I can positively influence students’ lives on a daily basis and give some of them the stability that they may not otherwise have. Both of these backgrounds have given me varied perspectives on education and have caused me to wrestle with the idea of homeschooling our future children. 
But before we can even ask the question about how to best educate our children, we have to ask ourselves what we ultimately want for our children and who we want them to be as adults in this ever-changing world. The difficult thing about this is that every parent wants something slightly different for his or her child. Ultimately, I want those decisions for our children to be up to my husband and me not a school teacher or school system. As Christians, our primary objective is to raise children who have relationships with Jesus Christ. The decision to homeschool or not is secondary to our children’s salvation. However, teaching children at home makes it easier to instill in them Christian values. Likewise, I’m not interested in raising children who have the skills to pass a standardized test, but rather children who love the Lord and have the skills to be successful citizens, whatever that may look like personally for them (i.e. it does not necessarily mean having lots of high degrees or being wealthy). Homeschooling also provides a platform for creating life-long learners and developing a curiosity that it is difficult to cultivate in a public school setting. There is so much more freedom as a homeschooler to tailor education to the individual child’s needs. My husband and I also found that we gained the skill of self-motivation and independent work skills because of the educations we received. 
We consider all these things in making a decision to homeschool or not, but there’s also the personal aspect: I could go to school for 40+ hours a week and teach other people’s kids (as I do now) or I can invest that same energy into educating my own children. To me, the trade off is obvious. When it comes to considering whether or not I would homeschool my future children, I whole-heartedly agree with Rachel’s sentiment and I can’t do it all. I can’t invest in my children’s lives the way I would want to AND be a public school teacher. It’s clear to me that if we did have children, I would quit my job to stay home with them. It makes sense for me to have the primary influence on our children when I already have the skills and resources to teach at home.
So where is the dilemma for us? When we discuss the possibility of having children, we agree that the primary adults raising a child should be his or her parents. However, each child is so unique that there is not one best way to educate all children. As a teacher working with children who have learning disabilities, I have seen that individual or small group instruction can be some of the most effective; but some children learn better surrounded by their peers when they can participate in large group activities. Every child and situation is different and my husband and I are very open to the idea of sending our children to school if we thought it would be more beneficial for them. There are opportunities that are available to kids in public school that may not be as accessible to those taught at home. And there may be times when our child may need to have more social interactions than those that are available to homeschoolers on a daily basis. As parents raising children to be Salt and Light to the earth, there is also the dilemma that homeschooled children have fewer opportunities to witness to unbelievers. Speaking from my experience, homeschoolers can be very sheltered, and while this has its benefits, it can also limit Christian children from spreading the Gospel in a secular world. I don’t want to limit my thinking about education to completely exclude the positive aspects that the public school system presents.
Ultimately, it comes down to choosing what we think is best for each of our children individually and not making a blanket statement about whether one form of education is better than another. At this point, we can’t make a definitive decision because we don’t know who our children will be. However, I am grateful that when that decision needs to be made, I am equipped with perspectives from both educational realms in order to better inform our decision. With God’s guidance every step of the way, we don’t need to doubt that He will lead us.