Sunday, September 24, 2023

The Courage of Our Capacity


I am, I can, I ought, I will.

The motto of Charlotte Mason’s PNEU schools helped students and teachers focus on their own capabilities and responsibilities.  This is not a self-help motto though.  Behind these words lies an understanding of God at work in me and through me to make this possible.  

Because of God, I am. 
With God’s help, I can. 
For God’s glory, I ought.
By God’s grace, I will.

As homeschool parents, we often feel the weight of responsibility and inadequacy.  How can we possibly nurture, and teach, and civilize these tiny humans so that they reach all the potential God gave them?  Where do we find the courage to keep trying, day after day?  With God’s help, I can.

Homeschooling is a ministry to our families.  For some of us, it will be a lifelong ministry.  For others, it will be a season of ministry.  We can’t know in advance which it will be, either.  God has His own plans for us and for our families.  But as long as God calls us to this ministry, He equips us for it.  It takes courage for us to recognize our weakness and still believe that God can work in and through us to accomplish His purposes.  In Second Timothy, Paul encouraged Timothy to rekindle his faith, to renew his enthusiasm that came from God:  “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”  (II Timothy 1:7 KJV)  Evidently Timothy had become discouraged and disheartened, brought to tears by his work.  That’s relatable to homeschool moms.

Paul says that God did not give us a spirit of fear.  We all feel fear at times.  That spirit of fear tells us that we aren’t capable, that we are failing.  It points out every imperfection, real or imaginary.  The spirit of fear magnifies every setback.  It makes us feel like our low points will last forever.  But that spirit is not from God.  God has not given us a spirit of fear.  God has given us a Spirit “of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

If you have God’s Spirit, you have the power you need to do the work that God has given you to do.  It is not your own power; it is the power of the Holy Spirit in you.  You do not know all that you need to know.  You can’t do this in your own strength.  But once you agree to begin and to do the best that you can, you have Divine help.  In her first volume, Home Education, Charlotte says, “. . . we do not always make enough of the fact that Divine grace is exerted on the lines of enlightened human effort; that the parent, for instance, who takes the trouble to understand what he is about in educating his child, deserves, and assuredly gets, support from above; . . .”  (V1, p. 104)  Keep learning, so that when the need arises you are equipped to at least recognize the problem you’re facing and have some idea where to go for help.   Keep praying and listening to God, so that you can follow where He is leading you.  But trust that God has given you and will continue to give you the power you need to do the work that he’s given you to do.

God’s spirit teaches us to love:  to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.  In our own strength, we cannot love God or our neighbor, but Paul reminded Timothy that we have a Spirit of love, helping us to love when we cannot.   We need that help to love God when we can’t understand his purposes or feel his presence.  We need that help when we try to love these people in our home who thwart our plans and show us the aspects of ourselves that we don’t want to see.  In her fourth volume, Ourselves, Charlotte says that “Love, and the service of love, are the only things that count.”  (V4, Pt 2, p. 154)  All our accomplishments don’t really matter unless they are done in love and for love.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”  (I Corinthians 13:3)  Our relationships with our children and our spouse, our relationships with the people and the world around us, our relationship with God, and their relationship with God matter more than what we can do.  When the schedule is shot and our expectations are crumbling, we have to stop and ask God to help us love the people in front of us.

Until I became a mom, I did not question that I had a “sound mind.”  Now that I have five kids and have had four teenagers, I know that I do not have a sound mind.  “Sound mind” in Paul’s encouragement to Timothy is rendered differently by different translators because there’s not a good English equivalent.  The Amplified Bible says “sound judgment and personal discipline [abilities that result in a calm, well-balanced mind and self-control].”  Paul says that God has given us a Spirit that enables us to have this calm, well-balanced mind and self-control.  So when we are out of balance, out of calm, out of control, that too is not from God.  Rather than pressing on in the midst of our chaos, that’s a signal to stop and pray and look for what God wants us to do and be in that moment. This can be terribly humbling.  Our own judgment gets clouded by emotions and circumstances.  Our own discipline gets distracted by the crises of the moment or waylaid by our health or lack of rest.  God’s Spirit gives us unclouded judgment and focused discipline when we acknowledge our own need and wait for Him.

All believers in Christ have this Spirit “of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”, but we must accept this help; we must ask for it and look for it and recognize our need for it. In Ourselves, Charlotte Mason reminds us, “Help comes to those who endeavor and who ask.”  (V4, Pt 2, p. 135)  It’s not enough to endeavor without asking, and it’s not enough to ask without making any effort.  When we fall down, we ask for help and get back up and try again.  Jesus told the disciples, when they had tried and failed, “’This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.’”  (Mark 9:29 ESV) When our situation seems hopeless, when a problem seems intractable, prayer is our first and best resort.  In fact, it’s best if we resort to prayer before we reach an impasse.  “Pray without ceasing.”  Pray first, pray last, pray in celebration and in grief, in success and in failure.

In Ourselves, Charlotte Mason describes the different types of courage each person needs to draw upon.  The courage of our capacity is “the courage which assures us that we can do the particular work which comes in our way, and will not lend an ear to the craven fear which reminds us of failures in the past and unfitness in the present.”  (Ourselves Book I p. 117)  The courage of our capacity tells us that we have God’s Spirit within us, helping us all the time.  The courage of our capacity reminds us to go to God, believing that he will give us His Spirit of power and love and a sound mind.

Paul tells the Corinthians, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,  so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”  (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

Your external qualifications are not important.  Your sense of your skill as a teacher is not important.  Your background, your monetary resources, your academic achievements don’t affect this.  God calls whom He calls, and He equips us for the work He gives us, so that when we boast, we can only boast in the Lord.

Face each day with Joshua’s admonition:  (Joshua 1:9) “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Immunity Brew

 I love this recipe from Gwen's Nest for Cold and Flu Brew. When I make it, I adjust a bit.

Pour one jar of cranberry juice into the pot.

Fill that empty jar with apple cider, then pour into the pot.

Do that again.

Add a large can of frozen orange juice.

Add 5 or 6 sticks of cinnamon.

Add some cloves and star anise.

Simmer for as long as you're willing to wait.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

How I Scheduled Year 4


This is my fifth time scheduling AmblesideOnline's Year 4, but Year 4 is a bit different this time than it was the other four times I've been through it.  Also, it's been several years since I've looked closely at Year 4, so this is almost a fresh look at the year.

This particular Year 4 student will be on the older end of the range because of a fall birthday.  Also, this student has great reading and writing, so that will impact some of my scheduling choices.  Other times I have scheduled Year 4 have looked different based on the needs of those students.

To begin, I visit the AmblesideOnline website (, found Year 4 on the By Year menu, clicked through to the Year 4 schedule, then clicked on DOC in the list next to Choose a Format.  This downloads a chart version of the Year 4 schedule in Microsoft Word (.doc) format.  I think this format loads into Google Drive more smoothly than the Open Office (.odt) format does (although Open Office is actually what I use on my own computer).  

Since I like to edit my schedules in Google Drive (merely for convenience and because all the other schedules are out there), I went to Google Drive and uploaded the downloaded file to the folder where I store my schedules.  It uploaded as a .doc, so I went to the file menu and chose Save as Google Docs.  Once that version of the chart saved, I deleted the .doc version from my Google Drive.  

I don't see anything in Bible that needs changing.  In History, the first issue I notice is that several readings are scattered around amongst the weeks, with gaps in between.  I want, if possible, to spread these scattered readings so that no two of them are scheduled in the same week.  CHOW and Answering the Cry for Freedom already don't overlap, so I can move the Trial and Triumph readings slightly to achieve my objective.  I shift them into Weeks 2, 6, and 11, and now I have no doubled-up assignments each week between CHOW, Answering the Cry, and Trial and Triumph.

I now have three assignments each week in the Bible category and three (or two some weeks) each week in History.

Storybook of Science has two chapters per week.  I insert a new row under that one and separate those assignments so each cell has only one chapter.  If I spread out the Gregor Mendel picture book over the whole term, that gives me four assignments per week in that section.  However, I don't think I need to spread the Mendel book over the term, so I will look for something else that could also fit there.  I decided to move Minn of the Mississippi down to Natural History, then spread out Mendel over a few weeks in the spaces where Minn isn't schedule.  That gives me four assignments most weeks (and three in some) in that category.

In Literature, I'm adding a row so that one chapter from Robinson Crusoe can go in each cell; it has two rows per week now.  For Shakespeare, I'm going to schedule Midsummer Night's Dream.  I generally start my Year 4 student in that play.  Some of my new Year 4 students don't do Shakespeare at all.  This one should be able to handle it, but we'll start with Midsummer because it's short and fun and not too complicated.  I will fill in exact assignments by Act and Scene.

In the Poetry row, I will put four 'O's in each cell.  That let's us color in an 'O' each day we complete that task.

I'll insert a row above Natural History for Math, and I'll put the 'O's in the cells instead of listing assignments.

I'll insert a row above History for Copywork, and I'll put 'O's in the cells there too.

(I'm working my way down the Daily/Weekly list, putting items in the main part of the schedule and deleting them from this part.)

Foreign language has been Spanish, and we'll keep that.  I need to think about how long we should spend on Foreign Language each day before I decide how to schedule my students's Spanish and Latin (which will be new for us this year).

Plutarch will fit nicely in History, giving us four assignments in almost every week.

I've added a new section called Enrichment.  In it, I've put Artist/Composer, Drawing, Sloyd, and Crochet/Sewing.  

It looks like the extra Geography readings take about 5 weeks.  There are exactly five weeks when Minn is not scheduled, so those Geography readings would fit neatly there.  But that means I have to find somewhere else to put Gregor Mendel.  The History section has some weeks with only three assignments right now.  I'm going to move Mendel up there, spread over three weeks.  That fills in my History section so all weeks but one have four assignments.

Now I'll add two rows to Natural History, one labeled CM's Geography and one labeled Long's Geography.  I will fill in cells with the chapter titles, inserted into weeks that don't have Minn assignments.

Only a few items are left on that second page.  I created a category called Miscellaneous and put Grammar, Map Drill, Nature Study, and Timeline in it.  Recitation will get its own row with four 'O's in each cell because we do Recitation every day.

Now I just have to add our Spanish and Latin work.  Oh, and select recitation passages.  I will work with my student to select a Bible passage, poem (from our term's poet), and a passage from our Shakespeare play.


After sitting with this for a few days, I'm making some changes.  I remembered that we needed Typing practice at least weekly so that eventually we can type the written narrations.  Also, we needed to have Written Narration as an item.  I cut out Crochet and made Sloyd/Sew our handicraft.  (We sometimes have sewing club, so on those weeks that's our handicraft.  Otherwise, it will be Sloyd.)  I originally thought I would put Typing into that Enrichment section, but then I noticed that Nature Study was in Miscellaneous.  Nature Study is a much more robust activity than the other work in Miscellaneous, so I moved it to Enrichment and put Typing in Miscellaneous.  Now I need to see how to include Written Narration, which I originally forgot.

The only category at this point that has fewer than four assignments per week is Bible, which has three most weeks and two in some weeks.  So that's the natural place to add Written Narration as a weekly assignment. 

Now, a couple of weeks later, I'm revisiting this schedule.  The additional subjects that are added in Year 4, such as Latin, Plutarch, Shakespeare, and Grammar, each require attention.  I am weighing cutting back on some of that so we aren't adding all of those in Term 1.  I think for my oldest I may have added them all at once, but my other kids eased in more gradually.  I am going to mull over this current schedule and decide how much to leave in for the first term.  

Looking over the schedule, I think I have spaced things out pretty well across our four-day week.  The only subject that appears to be a big addition is Latin, which I've scheduled daily.  Because of this particular child's bent, I don't expect Plutarch and Shakespeare to be terribly hard to add in, but we will see when we get there.  I think instead of cutting anything, I'm going to keep my expectations low.  For Spanish and Latin, we will strive to get to them daily, but just do very short lessons.  I may just do Mad Libs for Grammar in the first term.  This may be enough of an adjustment to allow us to ease into these new subjects.

You can see the first few weeks of our Term 1 here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

How I Use Ray's Primary Arithmetic

Ray's Arithmetic was one of the first books I bought when I decided to homeschoool.  Really, it's a set of books, and I bought the reprinted box set on ebay, determined to give my kids a good start in math using time-tested materials.  The box set comes with a teacher guide from Ruth Beechick, and that's the guide I used to get an idea how the books should work.  Immediately I ran into difficulties, though, because the prescribed sequence didn't match my child's needs.  I think I was a member of a Yahoo group that discussed Ray's specifically or maybe a broader category that included Ray's, and that's where I found out about the original teacher guide for Ray's.  That changed everything!

If you're planning to use Ray's Arithmetic to teach math, sit down and read that teacher guide.  You'll see more clearly how the books are meant to work together.  In fact, you'll see that you don't even need to use a book for quite awhile, since you'll be working with counters to develop number sense.

When I start a young child learning math formally, we start with counters, just doing short lessons.  I set out some objects and ask how many that is.  I try to keep the number small enough that the child can tell me how many without counting.  Once we have the number established, then I take one away and set it to the side.  "Now how many are there?"  We repeat this process for all the various combinations that make up that number.  And the lesson is done.

When the child is pretty comfortable with 1-10 this way I often will start adding counters sometimes instead of just subtracting them.  I think Ray's actually recommends working on number sense up to 20, which is probably much better.  I just get impatient.

At this point, I may actually get out the Primary Arithmetic book and start asking questions from the addition or subtraction section, just using the word problems.  At first, we'll do problems only for one number family and only in order, not mixed up.  Once that's pretty comfortable or if the child notices the pattern, I will ask the questions out of order, but still staying on one page.  If we need more practice, I will use a deck of cards with only the number cards.  As I turn a card face up, the child has to add that number to the number we're working with that day.  If the answer is wrong or slow in coming, the card goes back into the deck so we can encounter it again.  This provides lots of quick practice and is much easier to use than traditional flashcards.

It's important to realize that this stage of math learning may take a long time.  This is foundational and should be solid before moving on.  There's no rush!

Once basic addition and subtraction are solid, you can progress to the more complicated exercises in the book, using your judgment about what to introduce.  Refer to the teacher guide for guidance too.

Don't move on to multiplication and division until you see that addition and subtraction are well understood.  At that point, I go back to the counters and start slowing building a multiplication table, on paper, with the child.  Once we have a number family added to the multiplication table, we will do the word problems for that family from Primary, using the table as a reference.  We'll keep practicing one number family at a time until the child is comfortable with that.  If we need more practice, I will make up word problems.  Peggy Kaye's Games for Math can be helpful at this stage too.  Eventually we'll use the playing cards as flashcards in a similar manner to the way we used them with addition and subtraction.

Slow and steady is key.  Don't move on until you see that the understanding is solid.  When basic addition and subtraction are firm, you can do the more advanced addition and subtraction work in the Primary book, but you don't have to do every bit of it.  When basic multiplication and division are firm, you can do the more advanced multiplication and division work in the Primary book, but you don't have to do every bit of it.  You decide what is needed.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Scheduling Signs and Seasons

AmblesideOnline uses Signs and Seasons in Years 7-9.  The official schedules for those years include broad ranges of the book for each term.  It's up to each family to decide how to spread that work across the term.  Here's one way of doing that.  There's no magic to this, so consider this just an example.  You could divide up the work vastly differently and have it still be as good or better as this arrangement.

Each column in the table is one week.  In each week, you'll have one passage to read (except where that week has dashes) and two field activities.  Generally, you want to keep a record of the field activities in your field notebook or journal.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Charlotte Mason in Sunday School

"It is better that children should receive a few vital ideas that their souls may grow than a great deal of indefinite teaching."
Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 346

Much of what passes for Sunday school curriculum involves "a great deal of indefinite teaching" and few, if any, "vital ideas."  We want souls to grow, but we have a vague idea of how to achieve that goal.  

Our first mission must be to connect the child with the Bible text.  This is the most direct way for the Holy Spirit to speak to the child.  For very young children, this may involve retelling the Bible text in simplified form.  Somewhat older children may be ready for Bible text mixed with some retelling so as not to get bogged down in the passages for which they may not be mature enough or which may be too long for them right now.  Older children can hear or read the text itself and connect with it with very little intervention from the teacher.

In a Charlotte Mason context we call that "narration," but it's a concept that modern educators know as well.  It requires full attention to the reading and then some mental effort as each child thinks about what was read and how to reformulate that in his own words.  The child must think about the passage in order to narrate, unlike answering questions which often can happen by guessing based on cues in the questions.  Narration encourages focus throughout the entire reading and puts the emphasis on the child's understanding of the passage rather than on the child's understanding of the teacher.

The teacher's part of the lesson mostly comes before the reading and after the narration.  Before the reading, the teacher helps set the stage in two ways: recapping the previous reading and introducing key vocabulary, names, or dates.  

Recapping the previous reading works best if the students provide the summary.  I've used a pictorial timeline in my classes, so on the wall we have a picture representing each lesson so far.  Before we begin the next reading, I will point out the picture from the previous lesson and ask for volunteers to remind us what happened in that lesson.  This helps prime the memory.  Sometimes input from several students allows us to get a sufficient understanding to know where we are.  Sometimes I need to fill in some gaps, although it's not necessary to go into great detail.  Just the main outline of the previous lesson is sufficient to set the stage for the day's lesson. 

Help the children get their footing in the current reading by introducing key vocabulary, names, or dates before the reading.  Keep this short!  Don't introduce every word you think they may not know; just introduce words that may keep them from understanding even the broad outlines of what you're reading.  Don't introduce every name necessarily, but just the most important people in this reading.  Places and dates may not need to be introduced at all unless they play a significant role in the action.  You don't need to explain these words!  Just write them on the board, read them to the students, and ask them to keep an eye out for them in the reading.  The exception to that is situations where some background really needs to be given for understanding.  Sometimes it's helpful to find places on a map before a reading, and sometimes a date needs to be put in context before you start.  Err on the side of saying less when you're not sure how much is needed!  Teachers like to talk, and we often talk too much.  Our talking gets in the way of the child interacting with the text.

When it's helpful, use a wall map to give students an idea of where the events were occurring.  Sometimes it's even helpful to give each student a copy of a map so that each week students can mark on their own maps.  Occasionally other visual aids such as replicas of artifacts, posters with additional information, timelines, or even artwork can enhance the lesson.  "Better than nothing is a high standard," so consider the value of any additional materials and include them only when it's clear they will be helpful and not distract or confuse.

In an elementary class (roughly age 12 and under), having the teacher read aloud the lesson is probably best in most cases.  Some children won't be able to read silently with comprehension, and they'll read at vastly different rates anyway.  Most children won't be able to read aloud correctly and with proper phrasing, so the children who are listening will tune out or have trouble following along.  When the teacher reads, she can read with feeling, using tone and inflection to help the children follow along.  She can stop and ask the class for responses when she sees attention waning, even if she hadn't planned to stop so soon.

Children may need to be taught to attend to a reading and then think about it and retell what they've read.  In that case, stop at every paragraph or in some cases even less to allow the class to refocus and think over what's been read so far. Sometimes, let your eager students be the first to tell you about what's happened in the passage you just read.  Then let other students add to that.  If you have a student who's really capable, you may have to ask that student to tell you just one thing, so that others have a chance to respond.  Sometimes, call on the quiet student or the one who has trouble focusing during the reading, to encourage them to do the mental work of thinking over what was just read and to include them in the group.  Especially call on the quiet or struggling student when the passage is a simple narrative or when you can see that they are ready to answer.  Help them have experiences of success!  Generally, don't prompt a student to try to get a response.  Let them work through thinking it over on their own.  If they can't give even a simple detail from the reading, use your judgment about whether to call on someone else or to help this student think through the passage.  Don't talk too much!  Give them time to think, and accept their good faith attempts to try.

After the narration phase, the teacher can recap or reemphasize something significant from the lesson.  At this time a review by looking again at maps or other materials that were used in the lesson might be appropriate.  On rare occasions a short teaching on a concept that came up that requires clarification may be needed. While you are preparing the lesson, think about the "vital ideas" that the Bible passage contains.  You might make a note of one or two of these in your plans.  You don't necessarily need to actually present these ideas to the students directly, but you want to watch for opportunities to help the children notice them during their discussion of the passage.  Sometimes it's appropriate to actually tell the children the idea you see in the Bible text, but save that for a few key lessons.  None of this needs to happen every week, and when it does happen it should be short.

At the end of your lesson, provide a way for the children to record what they remember.  This could involve acting it out or writing a summary.  In my class, we draw a picture.  I've made a simple grid on the front and back of a sheet of paper turned sideways, with three boxes across the top and three across the bottom.  This gives us twelve boxes on one sheet of paper.  Each week at the end of the Bible lesson, the students each draw a picture in the next empty box to represent something they remember about the week's reading.  I have a grid on the wall with twelve boxes on a large sheet (of paper or of chalkboard paper), and I draw a picture too.  These are simple and crude often, but they work!  At the start of the next lesson, we refer to this to remember what we previously discussed.  Sometimes when we need to think about past readings, I will point out the picture on the wall to jog the students' memories.  We've sometimes used simple costumes and acted out the story we just read.  With younger children I've used flannel figures and let the children tell the story while manipulating the figures.  Think about what fits your preferences, your students' interests, and the story's needs.

We store our class supplies for each student in a simple manila folder.  It's easy to manage and easy to store.  At the end of the year, we send the folder home with the student.  Many other ways of keeping supplies in one place would work fine too.  We keep the folders in a plastic file box, and in that box we also have folders with the handouts we'll need for future class sessions.  Almost everything we need fits in a simple plastic file box.
Children need a regular change of thoughts in order to maintain focus.  Spending too long on one activity or one type of activity will cause their thoughts to wander and their behavior to deteriorate.  Aim for 15 to 20 minutes on each phase of the class in the upper elementary years, definitely no more than 30 minutes on one type of work.  So after reading the Bible lesson, which usually takes me about 30 minutes start to finish, something that is not reading should be done.  I like to change to a movement-based activity since we've been sitting and concentrating for so long.  Then we do another, lighter, reading-based activity.  We follow that reading with singing, then with prayer and a missionary story.  Exactly what elements your class time contains can vary greatly, but it's vital that you change pace every 15 to 20 minutes and switch between activities that require different types of effort. 

When we do scripture memory, we work on learning a passage rather than a single verse.  We work on the same passage for approximately 12 weeks, working on a sentence or a phrase for two weeks and then moving to the next sentence or phrase.  At the beginning of the quarter, I introduce the passage which I have printed on a full sheet of paper.  Each student has a copy in his folder.  I read the whole passage and explain the context briefly.  Then each week we say that week's phrase together as a class a few times.  Then the kids line up.  I pick two kids to hold our giant rubber band, standing inside it one on each end.  (I keep track of who has helped so everyone gets a turn.)  Each child in line says the phrase without looking, then gets to jump over the band or crawl under the band or whatever suits him.  If a child struggles, we stop and everyone says the phrase together again and the child gets another chance.  I may assist with hand motions.  Each child is successful before we continue on.  When a child goes over the rubber band, he gets back in line to go through again.  Each child goes through the line twice, then goes back to his seat.  This is usually the time in the class period when we take bathroom breaks, too, so during this time my adult helper is taking small groups of kids to the bathroom and the drinking fountain.
Our lighter reading helps provide a chance for children who struggle to attend to the Bible reading to follow along with a reading in class.  We read a chapter from Little Pilgrim's Progress by Helen Taylor each week.  My husband reads from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis in his class.  Both of these are fiction that is fun to listen to and has a simple, straightforward plot.  Listening to these is not hard work.  But both of them also embody within the story ideas that help us understand truths about God and about ourselves.  A biography of a missionary or other Christian could work in this place, or you could use a book about natural history.  The book you choose should be well written, should convey valuable ideas about God without being preachy, and should not be difficult for the children to understand.

When I finish this reading, I allow time for the students to draw a response, in this case in the form of a map of Little Christian's journey.  I showed them some really impressive maps that have been made from the original Pilgrim's Progress story, and suggested they might want to make one of their own.  They each have a piece of blank paper, and they are free to use it to illustrate the story in any way they want.  Some will make a detailed map.  Some will make grids and put an illustration in one each week.  Some will draw a large picture on the whole page each week.  Whatever they do, it's helping them think over the story and decide what's meaningful to them.

We sing a hymn together each week, singing from the sheet music without accompaniment.  (I select hymns I know and can sing easily.)  Sheet music can be printed for free from several websites.  Each student has a copy of the hymn, which we keep in their folders.  We sing the same hymn for four weeks.  Occasionally I share some information about the hymn, but mostly we just get out our music sheets, sing the hymn, and put them away again so we can move on.  Short and simple, but a nice break between heavier subjects and a lovely way to include an important element of Christian practice.

When we pray together, I try to make it a time of meaningful prayer with more involved than just making requests and with everyone participating.  I have experimented with several different ways of handling this 5-10 minutes, and I haven't settled on one that I think works best for us.  Sometimes we've just opened it up for voluntary prayer after which I close.  Sometimes I have spent several weeks working through the Lord's Prayer and having the kids help me to figure out what each part of that prayer meant, then implementing those pieces in our prayer time by assigning parts to each student.  Sometimes we've listed out prayer requests for our missionaries (or just the names of the missionaries) on the board, then had kids volunteer to pray for specific ones (and everyone had to volunteer).  We've done other things too.  All of these things have been successful in some ways, but I recommend making this time a matter for special prayer by the teachers so they can know what's best for this particular class at this particular time.

I close the class with a very short missionary story.  For a time, our curriculum included a missionary story each week, focused on one missionary for an entire quarter and including a quick episode from that missionary's life each week.  For one quarter when that wasn't available, we focused on a different missionary from our church each week.  When we needed to find our own missionary stories, we tried spending four weeks on each missionary from our church, giving small snippets about them each week.  The first week we might introduce the individual or the family and the general location where they serve.  Another week we might look more closely at the work that missionary does.  Another week we might look at the location and learn a little about what it's like.  One week we might talk about some particular challenges or prayer requests.  This missionary time really takes about 5 minutes, but it's flexible so it's well suited for the end of class when we might need to stretch a bit to fill some time or compress to end quickly.

Your Sunday school may include different elements.  I've included simple but useful handicrafts during our opening time in the past.  Some teachers include looking at great artworks.  You could include poetry or nature (plants in the classroom or walks outdoors).  Classical music might be a helpful element.  Your Sunday school may be structured completely differently from what I've described.  The structure we're using accounts for some needs that are specific to our situation.  Your situation will be different and will have different needs.  What matters is that each class contains "vital ideas" and that we avoid the "indefinite teaching" that undermines the work of the Holy Spirit.  When we present those vital ideas in forms and with methods that reflect proven principles of effective teaching, our students will thrive!

(This post will probably be updated from time to time.)

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Unbouncing Tigger, or The Defect of His Quality

I'm reading The Tao of Pooh, in which Benjamin Hoff uses the Winnie the Pooh stories to exemplify philosophical principles.  And I'm reading Charlotte Mason's second volume, Parents and Children, which is a collection of articles she wrote for the parents' magazine her organization published. 

Tonight my Tao of Pooh reading came from chapter 4, "Cottleston Pie."  One of the points of this chapter is that dealing with things As They Are is better than pretending things are Something They Are Not.  Tigger comes up a lot.  Hoff reminds us of Rabbit's plan to Unbounce Tigger.  The plan failed, and one of Tigger's positive traits became obvious: he doesn't get lost.  Tigger's bounciness distracted everyone, maybe even himself, from noticing his talents.  And when Rabbit finally wins and forces Tigger to promise not to bounce, Tigger's whole character changes, and not for the better.  Everyone misses the old cheery, bouncy Tigger, even if the bounciness seemed overwhelming.

Maybe as parents we tend to be Rabbit, wanting to "unbounce" our children.  Maybe we can't see their talents because we're distracted by the annoying bouncing.  Maybe our children can't see their talents either.  Maybe we're trying so hard to "unbounce" them that we're taking away part of what makes them special and overlooking more important potential.  "For within the Ugly Duckling is the Swan, inside the Bouncy Tigger is the Rescuer who knows the Way, and in each of us is something Special, and that we need to keep." (p. 65)

Last month our Coffee with Charlotte group read and discussed chapter 16 in Volume 2, "Discipline: A Consideration for Parents."  One of the last points in that chapter focused on the necessity of seeing the child as a person, whose good qualities sometimes show up in negative ways.  Many negative traits or behaviors stem from some characteristic that could be a positive trait if directed appropriately, and the job of the parent is to diligently help the child redirect until the positive direction is habitual.  "As the bad habit usually arises from the defect of some quality in the child it should not be difficult for the parent who knows his child's character to introduce the contrary good habit." (p. 175)

What if instead of trying to make our children fit into our vision of Who They Should Be we instead considered Who They Are and thought about how to help them become even better at that?