Two books…. one to overwhelm you with all things good and lovely that you will never be able to accomplish despite how much you really, really want to… and one to let you know that you don’t have to feed the 5000, you just need to “bring your basket.”
This all has to do with resolve. What do you really want your homeschool/family life/relationship with your children to be like? And how much do you really want it?
(Not that I am actually qualified to hand out advice in any expertly kind of way, but I did read a few books, so that qualifies me to throw out a few quotes here and again that are inspiriting to me with the hope that they will be inspiring to you as well. Knowing me, you know I’m not perfect at anything, but I do “bring my basket” and I am resolved to fill it with a few different things this year.)
The first book is called For The Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. It is not a homeschool book, per se, but a book on education, children, and families. Essentially the author explains the Charlotte Mason method of educating children. She expounds on understanding and respecting children as people (not just little minds and bodies to be molded however you want), giving children freedom, exposing them to real, “living” material instead of “twaddle” which is the dumbed down versions made for kids. She emphasizes getting children to think and communicate their own ideas by first learning and contemplating the great thinkers, musicians, composers, painters, poets, writers, etc. A Charlotte Mason homeschool spends half the day out in nature, sketching, painting, observing, or just enjoying and exploring. They learn to form good habits for the sake of being good and doing what is right. They learn “I am, I can, I ought, I will,” meaning they have value because God values them, they are capable and can persevere and work through any problem, they have the self-discipline to do things that they ought even when they would rather not, and they will do what is right despite unfavorable circumstances simply because it is the right thing to do. They sit together as a family every night pouring through the great works of literature. They have a deep appreciation for the abundant life and are able to understand, think critically, and apply difficult and complex concepts to their lives. The child “thinks, digests, questions, knows.”
They educate the whole child. There is no force or coercion, no grades or test, no artificial motivators or gimmicks. The purpose of the education is the help the child feel comfortable and secure in knowing, understanding, and interacting skillfully in the world around them (through the sciences, math, geography, political science, foreign language, technology, sociology, etc.) and then enrich their lives with beauty and truth and goodness (through music, art, poetry, nature studies, theology and Bible study, and literature).
(I bet they never cry or bite their little brothers, either.)
The way it is described all sounds just so perfect and impossible. I’m picturing children who frolic through fields of daffodils hand in hand while rainbows adorn the sky and butterflies land gently on their shoulders. Somehow the knowledge and wisdom of the universe seep into their brains. They are always attentive, always respectful, always thinking deeply and blowing our minds with their downright awesomeness. They are always eager to learn and crave more of the stuff I didn’t even get into that deeply in college.
The picture she paints is beautiful. And I want that. I want it very much.
But I can’t do that. I have 5 little children, a husband, church responsibilities, and I live in a little place called reality.
Ok, that was a little overly harsh, but although this ideal is magnificent and worth striving for, it is also a little discouraging and seemingly WAY out of reach. This book, although I do actually suggest you read it (because it is beautiful and it is possible and to paraphrase the author, even though we may not be able to give our children everything, at least we can give them something), can easily overwhelm us and lead us to the “I should be… but I’m not,” train of thinking.
And I don’t think that is helpful.
I like to remember what Barbara Smith, a previous president of the Relief Society, said, “Ideals are stars to steer by; they are not a stick to beat ourselves with.”
Book number 2 shows us how to not beat ourselves up with such sticks.
And if I knew how to do a blog giveaway, I would buy 2 of these and give them away with the understanding that once you are done, have highlighted all you want, you lend the book out to a friend so she can read it too. (Or he.) I have benefitted that much from it.
Teaching from Rest is written by Sarah Mackenzie, and I have wanted this book for a long time. Because this blog post is long enough already (and I’m not done yet!) let me just throw out a portion of the things I have underlined. This will give you a taste of the hope and the peace of mind that has led to my new resolve.
From Part 1:
“This work of homeschooling and raising hearts and souls and bodies is hard. It is more than I can do in my own strength… Some days that feels like feeding the five thousand. But He is not asking me to feed the five thousand; He just wants me to bring my basket of loaves and fish and lay them at His feet.” (preface)
“We’ve got to drop the self-inflated view that we are the be-all and end-all of whether the education we are offering our children is going to be as successful as we hope it is.” (introduction)
“What is keeping you from speeding through the reading curriculum, flying through the math book, checking off the lesson plans and maximizing efficiency? Usually the answer is: people. Can you hit the pause button on your frustration long enough to realize that people rank infinitely higher than anything else on the list? Have you considered that God may have scooted these people into view for the very purpose of slowing you down?” (page 2)
“The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life–the life God is sending one day by day…” (C.S.Lewis) “Surrender your idea of what the ideal homeschool day is supposed to look like and take on, with both hands, the day that it is. Rest begins with acceptance, with surrender. Can we accept what He is sending today?” (page 3)
“Remember your place, then. You cannot make the plants grow or bear fruit. You can only plant the seeds. You can water them, and steward them. You can cultivate the soil (education is an atmosphere!), thin them (a discipline!), and water them (a life!). It is only by our cooperation with the grace of God and the laws of nature that the seed becomes a plant and bears fruit. We don’t need to have anxiety about when the plant will grow, about how quickly it will come to fruition–our part is to steward it and do what we can to make sure it has the ability to grow rightly… We can fret all we want that God will not turn our tomato seeds into cucumbers, but to what end?” (page 12-13 emphasis mine)
“However, how we interact with our children while using the material matters more than whether or not we get through it.” (page 22)
“The trouble arises when we value the timeline over the child God gave us to teach.” (page 24)
“I may not have control over the character qualities my children have as adults, or even whether or not they believe in the truths I have spent my life imparting to them. I can ensure that my home is one of warm conversations, filled with stories and beautiful experiences. I can do everything in my power to create an atmosphere that nourishes them…” (page 28)
“Homeschooling is all about relationships, and relationships just aren’t efficient.” (page 50)
“Rest, then, is not the absence of work or toil. It is the absence of anxiety or frenzy.” (page 62)
“When you have a crisis moment and have to figure out which fire to put out first–always choose the child. It’s just a math lesson. It’s only a writing assignment. It’s a Latin declension. Nothing more.” (page 63)
Quoting St. Jerome “It is our part to offer what we can, his to finish what we cannot.” (page 70)
Quoting Andrew Kern, “School is not about school. Homeschooling is not about school. It’s about pursuing wisdom; it’s about becoming virtuous beings; it’s about soul transformation.” (afterword)
This books takes all the beauty and joy and nature studies and rainbows, butterflies, and harmony from the first book, and brings it down to my life… a perfectly “imperfect” one. When she says we need to bring our basket and lay it at the Savior’s feet, she isn’t saying just make a plan and have faith (without works) that it is miraculously (or magically) going to be done. No, she is saying do your best, fill your basket with all you can do and want and desire. And then bring it and use it.
But then when things go awry and you can’t do it all (and you can’t) then do not stress. None of us can do it all. (And God knew that when he put us on this earth and when he sent our little ones from heaven down into our arms as well.) Doing it all isn’t even the point. Being faithful and doing our best is. Remember what is most important. Have your ideals and reach for those stars. And rest in the peace of our Savior when, even after all we have done, the kids are still in their pajamas, they can’t tell Beethoven from Mozart, and their last nature study was going out to the mailbox and back… in their pajamas.
Start at the beginning.
Well, Today (for the next 3 hours at least) is January 1st and it is a good time for new beginnings. After reading these two books I have resolved to do many things, but a few things more consciously regarding our homeschool.
- Music and Art Appreciation – I know I say this every year. And I know I don’t really have time for it. But I’m going to make time for it. It’s just going to be 15 minutes a day before we start our “official” school day. Sarah Mackenzie calls it “symposium” and she uses that time for making sure she gets the “beautiful” in, and I’m going to too!
- Classical Reading. In Mackenzie’s final section of the book she talks about educating the teacher (you). OK, so I read a lot. But the last books I read (before these two) were the Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series. Entertaining, but not necessarily enlightening. (And come on, I hate all the boyfriend/girlfriend mushy stuff in the latter books.Totally could have done without that. Percy and Annabelle, get a room… when you are grown up and married.) So I am resolved to choose the enlightening. This year I’m going to read all the C.S. Lewis and Tolkien I can get my hands on. If I am expecting my kids to be able to read, contemplate, and comprehend the great authors, I need to read them too. (Lewis and Tolkien sounded like a good place for beginners.)
- Slow Down. Although it doesn’t necessarily sound that good, I like her point that relationship just aren’t efficient. I cannot multitask raising and educating my children. I like to think I am pretty good about doing a gazillion things at once and packing everything “in” to the day. But I’m going to stop cramming the educational nourishment down the kids’ throats and slow down so they can actually taste it and enjoy it. Depth over breadth, I guess you could say. And and at a slower pace.
- And if I fail the first week, I will try again the second week. And if I fail the second week, I will try the third week. And if I fail the third week, I will just keep on trying.
But if I fail the 12th week then it might be time to rethink my resolutions and simply, cut back, and pick just one. That is good, too.
“If you can’t give…everything, give… something.”
Happy New Year!