Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Walking Lessons

Today I was going to take it easy on my early morning walk. It was cold outside here in the California Sierras (as I write this I can still hardly move my chilled fingers) and I was getting over a cold. Yesterday I didn't even walk at all.

Well, the wildflowers were so delicately vivid on the trail, and the cool air so exhilarating, that I took a new bend in the trail, ended up in some mystery location, and had to retrace my steps to get back to my own territory. I hiked almost 40 minutes on rough hilly ground, which is quite a step up from my usual 20 minute walk.

While I was walking, half-enjoying the adventure and half fretting to get home again so I could have time to blog, um, rest before my littlies were awake, I remembered how I used to read runners' magazines when I was a university student in Eugene Oregon (along with Boulder Colorado, it's one of the runner's capitols in the west).

That was where I first heard about varying the workout for best results. You can do it within a workout too -- I guess this is called interval training.

The next place I ran across this concept of varying intensity was, strangely, in Sonlight curriculum. Poring over their catalog, I noticed that they had a pattern of literature-reading -- some books would be challenging for that grade level, some would be rather simple for that grade level. Thinking this over, I realized it made a lot of sense. It reminded me of what Ruth Beechick said about allowing young readers just gaining fluency to read "easy" books. She said that too often, parents insist that their kids read only books on their grade level or above; when in fact, reading books below their level builds staying power, fosters confidence and enjoyment, and teaches all kinds of lessons that the child can't learn as well if he's struggling for comprehension.

I also noticed it in the Saxon math program (and in many other math programs too). You see a series of difficult, challenging exercises and then the book will move to something that's more easy and relaxing, like measurements, in order to give the child a more low-key way to practice the same concepts. It's gotten so I predict this to the children when they are wrestling with a math chapter, or sometimes, I even "make it so" by doing half-lessons or some review when they've come across something that is barely within their reach right then. The easier interludes give them time to rally their forces and lets their brain work under the surface to consolidate the new information.

With curriculum as in distance running, you can vary the intensity within a lesson or day, too. Charlotte Mason recommends interspersing more focused, intense "short lessons" with more expansive or mechanical or routine lessons, so that the kind and degree of intellectual work is varied in the course of the day. The Ignatian lesson plan calls for a variety of intensity within a lesson -- a warm-up time at the beginning, then a teacher's guiding and demonstration time, then some repetition, and a chance to independently study before demonstrating the results of the study.

I wish I had internalized this "vary the workout" idea earlier. When I first started homeschooling, I followed this pattern:

  • Jump into something full force
  • Plan to maintain or even increase it.
  • Exhaust myself
  • Get discouraged and wonder why I couldn't stick to anything
  • Give up, lapse back into default, until next time.
This even happened with unschooling and "real learning" and unit studies, so it wasn't just a matter of following an overly structured, school at home type curriculum. It was my approach, not the style used (so I would feel even worse when I read about how "easy" and "restorative" this or that method would be, because it wasn't for me!)

I did it with my kids too, expecting them to head upwards at a steady progression, rather than leap forward and fall back a bit, which is a much more natural pattern for growing children (you see it all the time with their developmental progress, where they will reach a milestone and then regress in that area or some other area).

I think that in our society, where the Dynamo is the symbol for efficiency, we think of "order" and "progress" in machinery-type terms. As a steady perpetual thing, where pause or slow-down means breakdown. But in God's system, it is not so. The seasonal year, the liturgical year, the course of the day, the seven days of the week, all have pauses and intervals and even shutdowns built in.

So my "walking lesson" for today, which I am half writing out to remind myself and half to help anyone else who has my melancholic perfectionist tendencies, is: When you are trying to reach a goal, whether it is to lose weight, get fit, educate your children, or finally get your house under control, consider building some rhythm and variety into the steps to reach your goal. As easy reading does for the child, it builds staying power, fosters enjoyment and confidence, and consolidates your progress and learning.


Betty said...

Wow! This was great! I too am a melancholic/perfectionist who often exhausts herself so much in the mere planning out of something that I'm burned out before I even start! Most of my wonderfully intericate plans come to ruin within a week of implementing.

It has been much better and realistic for me to work on rhythms and routine. I'm sitting here planning for next year and my eyes are going cross-eyed with it all. I look forward to reading more about this topic here!


momof3feistykids said...

I like this suggestion. I tend to feel I've failed if I don't maintain or increase the intensity of the workout from day to day.

I have noticed that Sarah tends to vary her reading a lot. She tends toward middle grade and "young adult" books, but sometimes throws some "little kid" books and more challenging books into the mix. It's something I am keeping in mind in planning for both kids next year.

Anonymous said...

Well articulated as usual. I love it when you think through stuff like this.

It occured to me that Melissa's "tidal" homeschooling fits this pattern somewhat.

Mary Vitamin said...

Terrific Willa!

Cheryl said...

As a fellow woman with melancholic perfectionistic tendencies, I want to say, "This post is perfect."

Faith said...

This is a great post! I think that when I have this problem, of not recognizing the need to moderate the intensity of our studies, this is where the philosophy of relaxed/unschooling or Waldorf really help me find a sense of balance. relaxed/unschooling because it makes me realized learning is going on all the time without me orchestrating it and Waldorf because of its emphasis on 'breathing in' and 'breathing out' rhythms. It recognizes that we must weave together in a healthy way the busy and the quiet times of life and that both are necessary for wholesome growth.

Kaber said...

great advice!

two of mine have dyslexia and I knew early on, it was very important for them to have plenty of books they can easily read. some weeks/momths that'd be all they read... the same wasy book over and over.

*** sorry if I have missed a few post... been out ill ***

Ladybug Mommy Maria said...

What an excellent post, Willa...

Karen E. said...

Ditto, ditto, ditto. Great post. This is definitely a tendency of mine -- to vary the intensity levels and to (try, anyway) go with the ebb and flow of life. Yes, Jove, I agree -- Lissa's tidal homeschooling definition is a summary of the same idea.

SuzanneG said...

Thank you, Willa. This was a great post, to help put into perspective those highs and lows, etc. of homeschooling as well as so many other areas of our lives.

Alice Gunther said...

Willa, I am so happy you are writing about this. I need it!