Saturday, March 09, 2013

Finding the Center

After a sabbatical, people tend to gain a deeper understanding of self, to realize their dreams again, and are certain in the path to follow or forge ahead through an unproven path of their own. I consider my unintentional sabbatical from blogging a combination of both. The perceptive among us have noticed that I changed the name of the blog from "Charlotte Mason Inspired Homeschool" to "Charlotte Mason Inspired Life". As I gain experience in homeschooling - next year I'll be entering my sixth year teaching at home - I find the boundaries between homeschooling and living life to be increasingly blurred.

What is learning, really, and what is it that children are supposed to know? Writing and reading? Absolutely. Science and math? Undoubtedly. Without negating the necessity of a curriculum grounded in words, numbers, content, and critical thinking - on the contrary, I'm venturing to think on what Charlotte Mason so simply and eloquently said, "learning from books and things". Not just books, not just things. A combination of both. Together. 

The raging debate in educational circles has been for years: phonics or sight reading? Why not both? The child benefits from both phonics as well as sight reading, and can make those mental leaps she needs to read better, faster. My oldest didn't need sight words. He automatically started getting the whole picture. He is, after all, a big picture kind of guy. My daughter hangs out in the details, and although she's getting the phonics aspect of reading, she's struggling with the sight words. She sees one part and makes the whole word that part. She needs help synthesizing the whole, putting it all together. I predict she will care more about spelling than my son does.  Since he sees the whole picture, he doesn't care about the details - the letters configured just so. 

Nature Study or Hard Sciences? You guessed it, it's both. It's not an if/or proposition. What I gather from Charlotte Mason's books is that an adequate amount of time in the schools of her day was spent dedicated to what we call nowadays the "hard sciences". People mistakenly believe that because she didn't write much on math and sciences, she didn't care about them. Nothing could be further from the truth. She felt that the math and sciences portions were given adequate attention already, the discipline and experiment-side being developed nicely. Ms. Mason wrote the books to fill a gap, fill a need for nature exploration and not only learning from books. Again, books and things. Children needed to explore, get hands-on, firsthand experience outdoors. How can children even care about this abstract, mysterious nature if they are cooped up in a classroom all day? I applaud school gardening efforts, and I want to see even more nature exploration in our public and private schools.

Back to myself, I have learned through hard-won life experience that everything exists in balance. Like a level, finding the center is where we belong. In the center is God, and our true selves. 

Extricating myself from clutter and screen distractions, I find myself yearning for the center, yearning for God. A hundred years ago, Charlotte Mason understood this yearning and shared her ideas about educating children about God, Man, and the Universe. Although we say humankind now, as we should, the basic premise is the same: we need all three. The knowledge of God through the Bible, prayers, and the building of a relationship with Him, in order to perceive Him and let Him guide you. The knowledge of Humankind through history, literature (the Great Conversation), the arts, the experiences, artistic expressions, and thoughts of others before us and with us today. The knowledge of the Universe - the realm of nature study, the sciences, the accumulated body of knowledge of nature, our earth, the planets, the universe. 

The tools we use to access and deal with these stores of knowledge are solid reading, math, and writing skills.

The center in educating our children is not neglecting any of these important aspects of knowledge, but embracing and cultivating all, in balance. 

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