Tuesday, May 31, 2005
I read the description this morning. A "small but mighty tool to initiate and develop relationships with others?" "Instantly get[s] past the barriers of resistance and ambivalence?"
Can't people just make toys anymore? Must everything be a tool for manipulating other people?
Excuse me while I go fire my Finger Blaster at the wall and refuse to use it to develop a relationship with anyone.
Monday, May 30, 2005
But some themes are emerging in common with several or all of them.
Respect the child as a human being, capable of freedom with responsibility. Children treated as a doll to be controlled, as a pet to be served and bribed, or as a wild beast to be caged, tend, eventually, to respond in kind. (Children treated as angels, on the other hand, tend to show just how fallen of angels they are.) Children treated as human beings--taught how to care for themselves, expected to help serve others, given responsibility and allowed to deal with the consequences--quickly learn how to be fully human.
Children need meaningful tasks from the beginning. Children need to do things that genuinely matter, not tasks we make up to keep them busy. Real work is what builds the right kind of confidence and keeps the child engaged in his learning. The Montessori book, especially, had some great ideas about how to do this even with very young toddlers, which I may blog more about as I try to prepare things for D1's next stage of life.
Children need faith that the universe is a logical place and the chance to understand its logic. This starts in infancy, with giving them toys that operate in simple ways that the child can begin to understand, instead of reacting arbitrarily. (That does in most of the "brain development" toys out there.) It continues in school by being careful not to give explanations that do not, in fact, make sense, which is sometimes hard for adults to realize because we have so long adjusted to the school way of explaining things.
Don't get between the child and the learning. One of the most common ways this happens is with too much praise or criticism. A child worried about getting the answer the teacher wants is learning little or nothing about the subject at hand--whether that concern has been created by the birch rod of old or the constant positive reinforcement of today.
Not that all praise or criticism is bad. D1 really isn't capable of understanding why she mustn't touch the books under the coffee table, so there I have to use her desire to please me as a motivator. But she doesn't need me interfering with "No, don't put your hand there," "Yes, that will work," as she puzzles out the right handholds to pull herself up. She can figure that out for herself--with a few falls, but the last thing I want to do is make her afraid of falling.
When she is done concentrating on the task at hand and looks over with the triumphant grin of one who has accomplished a great thing, then I can smile with her and enjoy the moment. But she didn't pull herself up for my sake--she did it for her own.
Another way we get between children and learning is with too much explanation or analysis. More often they need to be given the chance to puzzle it out for themselves, or to figure out what they think of the poem, not hear our blather on it.
Don't assume that the right answer equals learning. Many clever students make a very succesful strategy of figuring out how to game the system without bothering to actually learn anything. DOB and I were discussing one author's theory that formal math (worksheets and such) should wait until age 10 and both admitted that we went through years of handing in well-filled out math sheets without really understanding what was going on. I didn't understand most of elementary math until I was a teenager and was teaching it to my younger brother, and I was an excellent math student who loved the subject.
The best insights come from observing your own. No matter what the book says, you can't figure out what effect something is having on a child without watching them. For a classroom teacher or daycare worker, this is simply impossible. They have too many kids to watch at once. Parents have more opportunity and motivation, but I'm afraid too few of them give themselves the time anymore. It's often so much easier just to accept gratefully whatever will quiet the baby down, keep the toddler busy, and help the grade schoolers' schoolwork, without giving any consideration to what kind of person it is helping to make them.
But there, tucked among the instructions for hand-appliqued baby announcements and lavender-scented burp cloths, was a Useful Idea. One that would save me money, and give me more time.
Specifically, the suggestion was to sew a double long pillowcase with ties on the end. Inside could go two normal pillows and voila!--the full body pillow so valued by expectant mothers, which could be converted back to regular pillows when not needed. So, with the investment of $6 in pillows, a couple of scraps of fabric, and an hour of time, I am now sleeping much better.
But DOB is getting a little jealous of Mr. Pillow.
Friday, May 27, 2005
But we're still a long way even from most of the things on this list. Copywork? D1 isn't even interested in coloring yet, though she does like grabbing markers. I must think of other things to do to satisfy my educational urges. So here goes my working list of "Five Things to Do Before Age Five."
1. Organize our house and life for easier learning and living.
I can organize things, but it requires a lot of thought and labor on my part--I'm not a person who puts like things together naturally. And the last, oh, five years of my life have not been conducive to the time and thought needed to organize things, while they have created ever mounting amounts of activities and stuff that needs organized. Maybe this doesn't seem like the ideal time to do it, but it will sure be easier to do it now than while trying to do formal education.
DOB teases me because I'll spend the day pondering things like the advisability of studying sentence diagramming--sometime in 2017--but it's a defensive mechanism for me. I have about three times the mental capacity for making plans as I do the physical capacity for implementing them. If all my plans are about here and now, I get depressed because I'm not accomplishing anything. But I do need to pull back a little bit from planning seventh grade and worry about what to do with the old computer equipment in the office closet and where the toys should go. And then maybe I can start putting some school supplies in there . . .
2. Build relationships and habits
All education is about relationships, both with the subject and with the teacher. If I don't have my children's love and respect, they're not going to learn all that much from me--and what they do learn will be much less pleasant and worthwhile.
Similarly, the more I can build in them habits of obedience, working hard, keeping things neat, and paying attention, the easier it will be for them to study anything--their whole lives. And all of those are things that D1 can already be beginning to learn.
The most important habits, though, are mine. And the most important relationships I have to work on are mine with God (or I will never teach them what is truly worthwhile) and with DOB. Everything else comes from those.
3. Find resources
This is where I tend to get carried away, but it still is worth working on now. I don't want to get carried away with buying things for years down the road that I might not need, but there are books and materials I can start stockpiling. Even better are finding the organizations and people that will be helpful. And of course there are those great deals that one can't pass up . . . as long as I can find somewhere to put them.
Read to them: board books, picture books, chapter books, the Bible. Read to myself: books about education, books to educate myself (yeah, and maybe I should read some organizational books here, too). I'm amazed at how much D1 responds to books already. Her favorite, by far, is I am a Bunny, illustrated by Richard Scarry. I think she likes the beautiful illustrations of things she recognizes from outdoors (she loves going outside). When she sees me pull it off the shelf, she starts giggling.
5. Create a rich environment
I want my children's free time to be spent doing interesting and worthwhile things; things that will grow their mind and imaginations, things that will strengthen their bodies; things that will challenge their spirits. At this house, we don't even have a TV or anywhere to put it, so I have no choice but to find other things to keep them busy; and the sooner I think of things and find ways to keep them on hand, the easier my life will be in another year or two.
Yes, I think that will be enough to keep me occupied--even if I ever do have any extra energy left after the dishes and laundry are done.
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
- Found the pile of things-that-need-to-be-sorted-through from when DOB's briefcase had gotten overloaded, which had partly slid onto the dining room floor, and dug through it.
- Fell down twice, with moderate degrees of emotional trauma, due to trying to walk without holding on to things.
- Did I know-not-what to the open bag of oatmeal that I don't have room to store elsewhere, because I didn't have the energy to get up and see what she was doing.
- Learned how to round the corner on the coffee table (a difficult task, because our coffee table has funny horns off the end, as if its great-grandmother was a pagoda) and walk down the edge, thus
- Was able to dig through all the miscellaneous stuff that needs to be put away on the coffee table, including several days' worth of semi-sorted mail, and throw it down on the floor for even easier access.
- Tried to grab an inadequately-sized end table for support, nearly sending a full glass of water down onto a pile of books and magazines.
I looked at DOB and asked, "Where did she come from?" What happened to the little doll we used to have? When did she get replaced with this marauder?
Yes, the house needs to be cleaned. Desperately. When you take first-trimester mess and add free-stuff-that-doesn't-have-a-home-yet mess and two-trips-in-two-weeks mess, it's a daunting prospect. When you all have colds, it begins to look impossible. And D1's ability to get into messes is growing faster than my ability to clean them up.
It's only been two days since we got home. Patience, patience.
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
But those aren't the real reason. Or at least, not the one at the forefront of my mind.
The truth is, my real reason is a very selfish one. I love to teach. I really, really, really, love to teach. I love designing curriculum. I love reviewing curriculum. I love researching and preparing. I love explaining things. I love learning things and I love watching other people learn things. I love watching the lights go on as a six-year-old reads a whole book all by himself, or as a sixteen-year-old comes up with a whole thought all by himself.
When other little girls, I understand, were wont to plan the colors and bridesmaids for their as-yet unscheduled weddings, I was pondering which education philosophy would be best for my as-yet nonexistent children. (I never really did enjoy wedding planning, even when I was engaged. I still love reading about education philosophy.)
When my mother went to curriculum fairs, I went along and helped select most of the books for myself and my younger siblings. I taught my youngest brother to read, using probably the most labor-intensive reading program out there, The Writing Road to Reading. (I wouldn't do anything nearly that complex nowadays. Sorry to put you through all that, Joe.) I tutored math. I taught Sunday School.
In later years, I wrote a civics curriculum, became a guest speaker for schools and homeschooling groups, had my own booth at those enticing curriculum fairs and school conventions, and even taught a class at a private high school for a year. And whatever the age or setting or topic, I loved teaching.
For some reason, despite all this, I never gave very long or serious thought to studying education formally and becoming a licensed teacher. Partly it was my inherent dislike for systemization--I knew I'd never get along well if I had to follow orders. Partly it was intellectual snobbery--education courses are for people who can't handle actual substance.
Mostly, though, it was that what I wanted wasn't just to process thousands of children through the same grade. I knew how little time one teacher has in the whole course of someone's education. It frustrated me. Why just have one year's worth of impact on lots of children, while who-knows-whom was teaching my own children who-knows-what, when I could provide my own children with the best of everything from birth to adulthood?
And how could I bear to miss out on watching my own children through the adventure of learning?
So, there you have it. There are nobler people out there who don't care much for teaching and do it anyway because they know it's what their children need. If I felt that way (and no doubt there are days when I will), I would of course teach my children anyway, just like I write down checks I write even though I loathe the task (well, at least I try). Some things you just have to do for yourself.
But mostly, I don't think I'll be that noble. Mostly, this is going to be a whole lot of fun.
The week before last, when we picked up DOB at the airport after being parted for three days, D1 was naturally excited. And when DOB started peeling and eating a banana, nothing would do but that she should try some, too. She then discovered that she could actually take bites and eat it all by herself. The deed was done. Bananas are now her favorite food.
When she started to get hungry during a brief lull in the action at the YR convention last weekend, I had one along. Keeping an 11-month-old occupied during a day-long business meeting is a lot harder than keeping a 2-month-old quiet. Well before lunch time all three of us were thoroughly smeared with banana (fortunately DOB was not wearing a tie, but his sportcoat will have to be cleaned). I gave up on most of the afternoon activities and took her upstairs for a nap.
Now the only thing on earth she doesn't like is canned spinach, which I bought on accident. I don't blame her. God never meant for spinach to be canned. But I haven't gotten my nerve up to just throw it out yet.
Monday, May 23, 2005
I know there's several of you who were homeschooled yourself and who plan to homeschool your own kids. So I have several questions. First, why? Is it more experience based or conviction based? Is it for the same reasons your parents homeschooled or totally different reasons?
Second, Do you find yourself unusual among your homeschooled friends? Do they plan to homeschool? And if they don't, what do you think the difference is?
And how do you feel about your grandkids being homeschooled?
Of course, if you want to comment on how you'd never subject your children to the horror of homeschooling you went through, that'd be interesting to hear, too. Just keep it civil, to those present and absent.
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
It was rather the subliminal attitude towards learning it expressed: that learning is naturally a tedious process, but by dint of great creativity on the part of teacher and school, it can be sugarcoated enough to conceal itself as amusement.
Watching D1 tackle the most difficult of life's learning tasks, communication and self-propulsion, I can't say that "fun" is the word that often comes to mind. Certainly I do nothing whatever to make learning to walk and talk "fun." The job is full of frustration, repetition, challenge, pain, concentration, and moments of ecstasy when she at last does something she has been struggling to do for weeks. "Fun" is far too thin of a word for what she is experiencing.
Nor do I need to do anything to press her on to walk and talk. I rejoice with her when she succeeds at something new, but she knows already in herself that she has done something worthwhile. I don't need to hand out rewards to motivate her, or invent games to camouflage what I want her to do. She is learning to walk and talk for two reasons: her own body and mind compel her to try, and she sees people she loves and admires doing these things and wants to imitate them.
Come to think of it, there is quite a bit I could do to destroy the natural interest she takes in this learning. I could try to compel her to practice at times when she is not ready. I could try to hold her back from learning one or propel her forward in another according to what the books say the average child her age should be doing. I could keep her away from adults doing real things so that she had no idea what her end goal was or why she was doing it. I could keep her cooped up so that she never had the chance to stretch her muscles when she felt like it, and bombarded with sounds so she never had the chance to privately practice her own. These would certainly make learning very un-fun. Indeed, if she were not inherently so compelled to learn these things, they might destroy her desire to learn altogether.
What I can do and need to do is simply to provide space, time, example, and every once in a great while the tiniest bit of encouragement or instruction (most of the time these are either confusing or irrelevant). When I do that, there is no need to make learning fun. Learning is a compelling adventure that she is eager to embark on for herself.
The bad news is, I still am not. Especially not on descent in a small plane. So on our first flight I got sick, and then as often happens these days, got a nosebleed. With nothing in reach but the now-used airsick bag. And no flight attendants available because we were landing. Meanwhile D1 was finally starting to announce that she had had enough sitting in the car seat, thank you very much, but she finally got interested in her book again and remained relatively calm.
After we landed the flight attendants and even pilot were very kind and helped us get off the plane, set up the jury-rigged stroller/car seat combo (my friend who loaned me the stroller didn't have the car seat that was meant to attach to it, so I had to strap mine on with bungee cords), and head out. Trying to explain the problem, I commented, "I get these nosebleeds a lot when I'm pregnant, I don't know why."
Just as I was saying that, though, one of the attendants exclaimed, "You're pregnant?" (Guess it's still not too obvious.) So it sounded to them as if I was saying I didn't know why I was pregnant. I think I more than paid them for their helpfulness in amusement.
By the time I had fed D1 (now I know to always do this on the plane, not between flights) and transversed the many miles of Minneapolis airport, initially going the wrong way at every turn, I was far too late to pre-board the next flight. So I struggled to disassemble the stroller in the crowded jetway. A gentleman kindly offered to haul some of my stuff, and we got on board and settled. Then we got unsettled when the stewardess came by and pointed out D1's seat needed to be against the window, where an older businessman was sitting. He was nice enough about it.
By this time I was starving and had had no time to buy anything while crossing the airport. I settled in and anticipated the rubber chicken and limp vegetables, or at least a bland sandwich, that had been provided the last time I flew. And then the announcement came on and I discovered that, as a security measure, all food substances that originate in carbon-based life forms are now banned from commercial flights. The only thing available was a box of junk food for $3. Well, it would have to do.
I looked for my purse. It wasn't there. Checked under the seat, under the diaper bag, under my coat. Wasn't there. Checked again. I began having visions of the confusion in the jetway--I remembered setting it down on the diaper bag, but not picking it up again. I tried to imagine how I would survive the flight without food, or how I would ever return home without my ID. I explained the situation to the gentleman next to me, who kindly offered to buy me a snack box, and also suggested we ask the flight attendant to call back to the jetway and see if they could find it. We did this, the flight attendant asked the pilot to call back, and then, for reasons I cannot now recall, I reached down between me and D1's car seat. There was my purse.
The rest of the flight went just fine, and we arrived in good order.
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
And if I ever, ever, try to squeeze that much into one week again, please lock me up until I come to my senses.
More tales later when I have had about three more naps.
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
I've been re-reading the Narnia books, and I came across an exchange that neatly sums up our primary defense. In Prince Caspian, Lucy and Susan, with Aslan, have just been part of an innocent but wild revel of pagan mythological characters. After they realize what they have been seeing, Susan says,
"I wouldn't have felt safe with Bacchus and all his wild girls if we'd met them without Aslan."
"I should think not," said Lucy.
Our main defense against all sin is always the presence and grace of God through Christ; the paths out he provides for these temptations are the same as for all the others: His Word, prayer, accountability to others. If anything starts to come between us and God, then it's time to back off for the present and draw closer to God.
There is also a time and a place for everything. Probably the worst possible time and place for encountering the wide world of ideas is as a young single person away at college. At that age, one has no deep responsibilities to any other human being. One is, simultaneously, tasting the fun of physical independence. The allure of taking on intellectual independence is unbearably strong, when combined with the lack of any sense that anyone else might be hurt by one's new ideas. Any idea that one's parents did not believe in is invested with glamor. You want to believe new things just because you can.
So, just as I plan to teach my children that they are not the center of the universe before they turn two, and instruct them on how to combat lust before they reach puberty, I hope to give them the tools to analyze and question new ideas before they come to the age when the new ideas are so tempting. I'm sure I can't prevent them entirely from stumbling in that area, any more than I can in the others, but I think I can make the right path easier.
A six-year-old will swallow nearly anything they're told; I would be very careful about what I gave them (but of course there are great ancient tales suitable for them). An eighteen-year-old will swallow almost anything that butters up his ego. I think the best age to begin a serious study of classics true and false is about twelve. That age is naturally skeptical and eager to question everything. If properly raised, they're still willing to listen to mom and dad's thoughts and learn together. Then when they reach independence and encounter the ideas in new and different guises, they have that preparation well under their belt.
I would make sure as they encounter new ideas, they also consider the lives of the people who propounded them and the effects those ideas had. Nice as something may sound, how did it work when real people tried to live that way? Intellectual study is also best balanced with physical labor and service to others, to keep one humble and help one see the other sides of life.
Different children call for different educations. A child who is gifted with their hands and not particularly analytical probably needs no more than a second-hand introduction to refuting the false ideas current in the culture: secular humanism, materialism, relativism; plus an exposure to as many literary classics as is enjoyable for them. A child with technical abilities headed for more professional work needs a more detailed preparation; even if they get certification without spending much time in college they will work with people who did. A child gifted to work in the realm of ideas will need much practice encountering ideas, analyzing them, finding truth, spitting out error, and explaining the difference. A child like that will be more susceptible to temptations to intellectualism, but they will also have greater powers of discernment. All strengths come with weaknesses.
For the most part, I am not enamored with the idea of going away to college as a standard rite of passage. Human beings are very influenced by their physical surroundings. When those change, we are more apt to doubt the things we associate with those surroundings. Getting a higher education closer to home helps one keep an anchor in the real world, and remember that one's beliefs will influence others. (Getting married and having children has much the same effect--you start thinking through the consequences very carefully when you realize someone else is going to be following you.)
The main thing, though, is to always keep in mind why we are doing this. Never read a book just to be a well-educated person, to finish a list, to outdo your peers, or to exhibit that you are able to "handle" more dangerous things than someone else. Only read a book if you can do it with the goal of becoming a more godly person, better able to minister to those around you, better prepared for the calling God has for you.
Monday, May 09, 2005
On the other hand, Lenscrafter's 30 days of guaranteed absolute happiness would probably have compensated us for having to spend two hours waiting in their store on our first day out by ourselves in a year, but apparently they only offer it if you buy glasses, not for those merely getting free repairs. Too bad, I could use a happiness guarantee over the next few days. I have a feeling that traveling alone with a 10-month-old is not generally a time of uninterrupted bliss.
We've figured out how to save money on ice cream. The secret is a chain we just encountered called Cold Stone. They take the ice cream and mix it with several harmonious ingredients (I had chocolate with brownies, chocolate chips, and chocolate syrup). It was so rich that now, for only $5 apiece, neither of us wants to taste ice cream again for months.
I will try to get my follow-up to the previous post done before I leave tomorrow, but first must finish packing.
Thursday, May 05, 2005
To try to keep the posts to “reasonable” length, I’ll split this into two parts: First, why we think judicious reading of the classics, including some false philosophers, is a vital part of a Christian education; second, our theories on how to minimize the dangers that are, indeed, involved.
We are, first off, firm believers in sheltering children. We will probably be so strict with what our little ones see and hear that most of our friends will shake their heads. But that’s not the sum total of our plans for them. Someday we want these little tomato plants to leave the greenhouse and grow and prosper in the world outside. And that means in addition to judicious sheltering, they’ll need judicious exposure to the world to prepare them for the day when they must face it on their own.
This area is thick with favorite analogies, and all of them are limited to some degree. The problem with the plant analogy is that it acts as if the danger to our children comes from outside them; as if sin and false philosophies are just out there in the world and if we can only shut them out our children will be safe.
That’s not where the problem is. The problem with all of us is in our own hearts. False philosophies would pose no danger to our children if they weren't born eager to listen to the serpent whispering that they could be like God. We could protect them from hearing everything false; they could still just as easily come up with any false philosophy on their own. Sheltering is not enough, we must give them weapons and practice battles to fight the enemy within.
All this sounds as if all this literature is evil. Of course it isn’t. There is much good in it, too: great examples of character and consequences, beautiful writing, and memorable depictions of truth. Yes, even in the writings of the pagans—for God never leaves himself without witness.
This is where another analogy crops up: the water and poison analogy (or, for graphic depiction at the dinner table, the brownies with doggie doo analogy). You wouldn’t drink a glass of water with just a little poison added, would you? So you shouldn’t tolerate a little bit of badness in the book for the sake of some good it also has.
But of course you do drink water with just a little bit of poison in it all the time. Most water contains traces of poisonous substances. So does food. Even the most essential nutrients will kill you if you get them in the wrong proportions. Everything in this world is dangerous.
So it is with ideas. There are no safe books. No, not even the Bible, for our twisted minds are quite capable of twisting it, too. Our minds and spirits must always stay on the alert. Probably the most dangerous thing we can do is to get in the habit of letting our guard down around certain sources we think are safe.
There are thus several excellent reasons for studying classics: to learn from the wisest men of history; to see how even the wisest men can succumb to folly. To learn to appreciate good; to learn to reject evil. To learn the language and ideas that the people we must minister to will speak; to learn how to respond to their false ideas so that we can introduce them to the Truth.
But it is a dangerous business. So next time: my very preliminary ideas on some precautions to take.
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
- We have decided that D1 is officially talking. She says "Hi" and "num-num" unprompted but appropriately. (We weren't sure "num-num" counted as a word, but according to DOB's mom, who is a speech therapist and ought to know, it does.) In the running for her third word: "gentle" "all done."
- She's still not officially crawling, but she's spending a lot of time up on all fours, sometimes moving forward by then doing a nose-dive. She sat herself up last week but has not repeated the performance.
- I am sending John Dewey back to the library unread. I got halfway through and realized he had yet to say anything, or at least to say anything that wasn't either an obvious platitude or so carefully qualified that it would be impossible to determine what it was. I don't know how he had such a great influence, but I doubt it was through this book. Anyway, I've got other things to do right now.
- On Sunday at church the pastor asked if D1 would let him hold her. Being sleepy, she acted reluctant. "You'll have to catch her when she's had her nap," said DOB. Smarting a bit from D1's obvious preference for her babysitter, I said, "Or you'd have to be Aunt Kristen." The trouble was, in the post-service cacophony, it sounded like I said, "Or you'd have to be a Christian."
- As promised: A "site" is a location, including one online. "Sight" is the quality of vision, or by relation, a visually arresting event or landscape. "I love your sight," an effusion I have seen in comments, should only be uttered by optometrists. "I love this sight" is arguable but few websites are stunning enough to deserve it. "Cite" is the verb form of "citation," it means to make a specific reference to an authority. In summary: Your site is such a wonderful sight; I'd like to cite it.