I wrote in a former postthat Charlotte Mason quotes the Psalm “You have set my feet in a wide room” and this sums up my aspirations for how I want to work with my children. I love the image of an open and free place free from “enemies” — and though the Psalmist was talking about hostile armies, there are plenty of forces nowadays that conspire to diminish the freedom and safety of a child’s body, heart, mind and spirit.
Here are some things I try to do daily with my little ones. I guess it turned out to be my version of Melissa’s Rule of Six but when I started writing it, it was just so that I'd have something to look at when I get that feeling that the little ones' lives are getting unbalanced. Having it listed, I can look and see what I've been skimping on recently -- and isn't there always something? The way I do it, not all of this gets done every day, but over time these are the main areas I try to focus on:
- Pray with them and share my faith with them. To me this is a delicate balance. Charlotte Mason says it is very possible to be too heavy-handed. She quotes Jesus: “Let the little children come unto me. Despise not, offend not, hinder not.” (Spurgeon article on this) She says that a little child has his own seedlings of faith growing and in many ways this is a personal affair between the child and his Lord — it’s possible to damage it by digging it up to see how it’s growing, so to speak, or by overwatering and overtending.
- Read to them. That’s a simple, fun and rewarding one, and reaps so many benefits. Among them is that I am often inspired by a wonderful, profound child’s story. Yes, I also get bored reading a Dr Seuss jingle or board book for the millionth time. It evens out though, and even the boring millions lead to wonderful moments like a child "reading" a book from memory or being able to REALLY read because he knows the words so well.
- Take them outside. Again, simple and rewarding, but difficult in my experience because there are so many household duties that seem to take priority. I find it helpful to leave spaces in my schedule, planned times to go out with the little ones. But it always runs that risk of getting crowded out of the day, so I am going to try to brainstorm for ideas of how to motivate myself to get out there. Having my own nature notebook has worked in the past, and so has bringing a small prayer book with me, or more recently, bringing my camera.
- Guide them — conversation, instruction in how to live, good example. This would be about all that I do to teach or mentor or instruct or role model — whether about growing in virtue, or tying shoes, or reading instruction, or social skills. It happens all the time and they are guided by my poor example as well as my good one, so vigilance and perseverance are useful words here.
- Work with them — this refers to meaningful shared responsibilites, whether in household duties, or extra projects, or service activities.
- Give them a variety of experiences - this covers the whole world, but starts where I am and where my family is. In other words, the glory of this category is in the particular moving out towards the universal . Anne Lahrson says to start with your own talents and interests and those of your husband and children and relatives and friends. I think that’s a good strategy,
- Play with them. Also, set aside time and space and occasion for Dad to play with them, or have siblings or cousins or friends play with them. But anyway, protect their play! This is another idea from Anne Lahrson that I find very sensible!
Obviously these categories overlap, but looking at them helps me see what areas I need to put on the front burner. For example, over the summer I realized that I wasn’t reading to Paddy very much. Now this area is going well, but it’s harder to get outside. Part of this is seasonal, of course, and part of it is affected by the circumstances of life — different things will take priorities at different times.
These basic categories move so naturally into the academics and life skills an older child needs. For my oldest, outdoors time led to an interest in nature study, which prepared him well for formal science. The outdoors also promotes physical health and energy and a contemplative understanding of God’s creation. Shared work leads to a sense of responsibility and confidence in one’s ability to make a difference. The mentoring category covers SO much but the essence of it is that the parents share who they are and what they are about. This reminds me to keep striving to become a better person myself. Kimberly Hahn reminds us that we are teaching by everything we do. The bright side of this is that we don’t have to sit our children down and say, “today we will learn about how to be truthful” We will live it and model it IF it’s really a priority in our lives. But of course, that’s also the challenge — that we can’t just check off “honesty” or “compassion” on our list of things to do today.
The variety of experiences often helps the child discover his abilities and interests. Some children will focus on a very deep interest, others will keep being “renaissance souls” and have several plates in the air at once even into adulthood.
Also, take a look at Melissa's Tidal Homeschooling.