Thursday, February 12, 2009

Week 21 in Review

Week 21 in Review.

This was the first week in the last trimester of our year : ). I wrote a bit about our changes for this last twelve weeks in this post and I've written about the daily details over on my learning notes blog: here, here, here, here, here and here.

So far, the transition has been going well. Charlotte Mason wrote about how a child of five could be "inexpressibly interesting in his deep, reverent interest, almost excitement" in listening to the Bible and this really was close to Paddy's reaction this morning. I suppose it was partly because these are stories he has been hearing in a more childish version ever since he was a toddler but I was surprised how he got right into the flow of the old-fashioned language. Again quoting Charlotte Mason who says we tend to underestimate the children, if we are not careful.

This sort of weak literature for the children, both in any story and lesson books, is the result of a reactionary process. Not so long ago the current impression was that the children had little understanding, but prodigious memory for facts; dates, numbers, rules, catechisms of knowledge, much information in small parcels, was supposed to be the fitting material for a child's education. We have changed all that, and put into the children's hands lesson-books with pretty pictures and easy talk, almost as good as story-books; but we do not see that, after all, we are but giving the same little pills of knowledge in the form of a weak and copious diluent.

Teachers, and even parents, who are careful enough about their children's diet, are so reckless as to the sort of mental aliment offered to them, that I am exceedingly anxious to secure consideration for this question, of the lessons and literature proper for the little people. ....

We see, then, that the children's lessons should provide material for their mental growth, should exercise the several powers of their minds, should furnish them with fruitful ideas, and should afford them knowledge, really valuable for its own sake, accurate, and interesting, of the kind that the child may recall as a man with profit and pleasure.

I had almost forgotten one of the side benefits of reading these kind of books to the children; that I enjoy them so much myself. I actually had a childhood where I read most of the childhood classics (thanks to my parents) and so reading them to my children casts a glow over the whole day.

I have been trying to slow down, to let the books themselves do their work and not be in a rush to connect dots and move on to the next subject. Last time I dipped into the Ambleside pond I ran into trouble because the books seemed too unconnected from each other and the readings seemed too short, so the effect felt scattered to me and to some extent to my kids, I think. I'm hoping to avoid that pitfall this time. I think part of it is a difference in the way I'm thinking after this long hiatus. I think I was seeing the readings as like firing shotgun pellets -- it seemed scattered to me. But it doesn't have to be that way. Charlotte Mason compares it more to seeds. Some fall on the shallow soil, but some don't. I'm also thinking in terms of pebbles dropped into a pool -- how even though the initial splash is short and small, the ripples go outwards and connect with other ripples.

This sounds like it's all about me, but I think that was the problem before.... that I didn't wait for the books to do their own work with the children. I wanted to see instant results, or do the work of connecting things for the kids. But when learning has stuck with my kids -- the kind of thing the older kids remember through the years and the ideas that have grown and borne fruit in them -- it's generally been in the spaces, the silences. It's interesting that both Charlotte Mason and Ignatian educators warn against "erudition" -- lengthy explanations and lectures, the "talky-talk" of the teacher. I suppose that's a good place to be quiet now : ).

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