As homeschooling mothers, we are often busy with those things the must be done: chores, schedules, driving, schooling. We know there is benefit to reading good books, poetry, good music, and days of rest, but finding the time always seems difficult. The practical things, the urgent things, beckon us.
Soon, school planning time comes around. We look at our year and what wasn’t executed the way we had envisioned and we’ve heard much talk of new ideas and new ways of implementing different subjects; it can feel overwhelming. We must pick out math curricula, history books, science topics… How do we introduce writing? Is narration being done correctly? What if the kids don’t spell well? Many things seem to need our immediate attention. They all seem so urgent.
I invite you to take a few steps back. Perhaps now is a good time to take a bird’s eye view of your home school. Or perhaps fly even a bit higher than the average bird…
Let’s come together and talk about the philosophy of your homeschool. We’ll do it by diving deeply into Charlotte Mason’s “creed picture“. It was here that much of her greatest thoughts are visually expressed.
What will we talk about at the webinar?
The Florentine mind of the Middle Ages, and the “boldness of the scheme of education” presented in the painting.
The Holy Spirit as teacher.
How we can co-operate in the education of our children.
Who are the characters in the painting and why are they important?
What messages did the artist send through the structure of the painting?
How can the discord in our lives and school rooms brought into harmony through unity?
What role does virtue and wisdom play in education? Should they be our aim?
How to understand this painting from the top down and the bottom up and how that affects your school room.
Will it be practical? Yes. In the same way that having a map or GPS device is practical when driving across the country. Can you make it to your destination without one? Maybe, but you’ll be glad to have it when you are on the road. You trip will certainly be full of smooth and easy days if you can plan where to go and what to see. Surely, you will need to worry about gasoline, food, and rest stops – but it is best to start with a map. Consider this painting your roadmap!
There are times in a person’s life where they are simply struck by the force of beauty in a way that is transformational. In 1894, Charlotte Mason had one of these moments as she traveled to Florence with John Ruskin’s book in hand and found herself in front of a painting then already 530 years old depicting the ideas around which she had based her educational philosophy. This piece of art would go on to hang prominently in her school for teachers, and as Essex Cholmondeley wrote:
Charlotte built this ‘great recognition’ deep into the foundations of the students’ life and training there. It formed the special teaching of Whitsunday afternoon. A reproduction of the frescoes had its place in a central position for all to live with. The students called it the ‘creed picture,’
In 2013, I was introduced to this painting at the CMI National Conference where Dr. Deani Van Pelt spoke on it. I think they allotted 2 hours for her talk, but no one in the room wanted to move as time ran out and we all could have chatted for many hours more. I spoke to my dear friends and told them that other moms needed to hear this story! At our 3-day summer intensive, I presented what I had learned and what I had found out since that day. Further study of the painting as well as further reading of Mason’s many references to it filled me with delight. Since that day, I have visited the painting twice and presented on it myself at the CMI National Conference last year. In my four years of studying this painting, I have still not nearly exhausted its many insights, but I will share with you the one I treasure most: Unity.
Here we have the scheme of a magnificent unity. – Charlotte Mason
The things of God have long been understood as those that are Unum, Bonum, Verum, Pulchrum. Unity, Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. While we may often hear of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness spoken of in homeschooling circles, the transcendental of Unity is lesser known, yet encompasses so much of what God is (a Unity of one God in three Persons) and what he commands of us:
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism;6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. -St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 4:1-6
This is so much the case, that our word Devil comes from the Greek Diabolos, one meaning of which is “to scatter, disperse, separate”. God unifies, sin divides. God gathers, sin scatters. Now, as a fallen people prone to sin, we step into this error all the time: we divide and subdivide ourselves over all sorts of things. Though we see the warnings throughout Scripture and we are warned by St. Paul:
Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment… Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? -St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 1:10, 13
This painting, as Charlotte noticed, shows a great scheme of unity. The artist shows it as a unification of faith and reason, the sacred and the natural, Divine revelation and natural law. Charlotte sees this as well and discusses this throughout the volumes – the fact that there is no division between the sacred and the secular, between science and religion, piety and intellect. The unity comes in when we realize that “every fruitful idea, every original conception, whether in Euclid, or grammar, or music, was a direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit”1. Our God has a plan so large and His thoughts are so unlike ours that He can work though any soul, even those “whom we might be lightly inclined to consider as outside the pale of the divine inspiration.”2
That’s a lot to chew on. I know it is for me. “It is truly difficult to grasp the amazing boldness of this scheme of the education of the world which Florence accepted in simple faith.”3
Would you like to spend some time learning about who is depicted in this painting, the painter, the Florentines, and Charlotte’s writings on it? I’d love to have you join me for a webinar on March 21 at 8pm. It will be the presentation I gave last year, reworked to make some time for discussion and questions at the end.
Grab a glass of wine and enjoy some mother culture.
February is not typically an easy month for schooling. I would say homeschooling, but I’ve heard from enough teachers that this is a universal struggle. I can’t help but think it goes beyond schooling at all. Winter is dragging on, there is little or no green growth, but we are so close. So close. Spring officially comes in March, the days are growing longer, and hope is on the horizon for warm days, ice cream cones, and beach trips. How can we best manage our days through this very long shortest month of the year?
One way I have found is to get outside more. We’ve been lucky this year in that the weather is mild. We went to the park today to get some sunshine and it was lovely. Because of that decision, not all the schoolwork will get done today and that’s ok. It isn’t ok every day, but here and there in February, it can make all the other days so much more bearable.
Mother culture time. Moms need to recharge too. I have mother culture activities in progress the same way I have books in progress – easy, medium, and hard all ready for me to pick up wherever I left off whenever the time is available. I just finished an embroidery of a worker bee (part nature study, part handicraft) and I’ve been enjoying doing some hand lettering in the evenings. It is only enjoyable when I am surrounded by a clean kitchen and sitting at a clean table, so I am always sure to get those things done early when I remind myself I can have some time to enjoy writing later.
Coffee. An occasional donut. Enough said.
Field trips. I find February to be a great time for field trips. If the day is dreary or cabin fever is running high, have a list ready of places you’d like to go with the kids. If you are well prepared, you can take this time to see the term artist at the local art museum, go to a history museum that supplements your readings that term, or find hear your composer being played by a symphony. We found that we live right by the National Underground Railroad Museum and that seemed like a great way to supplement our study of Lincoln and Douglass and the Civil War. We were lucky enough to then come upon the John A. Roebling bridge that spans the Ohio River. It was completed in 1867, only two years after the war was over. The same river that separated north and south during the war and was an impediment to those who yearned for freedom in the slave states, was spanned by this beautiful bridge so quickly after the war ended and the bridge still stands as a symbol of unity. It was also the practice bridge for it’s more famous counterpart, the Brooklyn Bridge. We learned more by getting out of the house than we would have staying home, I daresay.
Lastly, this is the time of year I start planning ahead. Planning for summer and for next year. For things like camps and weekend trips as well as books, budgets, and goals for the next grade. It is a joy to do, and prevents overwhelm come May and June when there are so many end-of-year items of my to do list. It helps me to enjoy the summer months with less stress, while being a stress reliever in the here and now as well. A win-win if ever there was one.
If you are stuck in the mire of February, and not sure how to plan your year better or how to fix some of the issues plaguing your homeschool, we’d love to help you out. We have consulting available, and we’d love to help you sort out what isn’t working so that you can get back to thriving in your role as teacher and mother. Sometimes, it is just the February slump, but other times you just need someone to help you with the task of planning the day, making time for the feast, choosing books appropriate to the students in your home, or some other specific task that you could just use a bit of outside advice on. We have a limited schedule, but we make all the time we can for mothers who ask for help. We are booking March now and would love to be of service to you!
I’m just popping in during our Advent break since I got a little window of time to think and relax with a good cup of tea. In planning our spring term and participating in some online discussions regarding educational philosophy, I had some thoughts I thought you might be interested in reading. I hope you’re having a lovely time preparing for Christmas!
Our chief concern for the mind or for the body is to supply a well-ordered table with abundant, appetising, nourishing and very varied food, which children deal with in their own way and for themselves. This food must be served au naturel, without the predigestion which deprives it of stimulating and nourishing properties and no sort of forcible feeding or spoon feeding may be practised. Hungry minds sit down to such a diet with the charming greediness of little children; they absorb it, assimilate it and grow thereby in a manner astonishing to those accustomed to the dull profitless ruminating so often practised in schools. – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, p. 71 (emphasis mine)
A few years back, I read the book Desiring the Kingdom, by James K. A. Smith and it fascinated me. I found myself alternately nodding in agreement and shaking my head in dissent, but I was so intrigued. His ideas about education being the formation of a person rather than offering information were key in how I thought about my school day. I vigorously agreed that we are more than our minds, we are embodied, and so what we do – our habits, our daily rituals, how we spend our leisure time, etc. – are as formative, or more so, than the facts we learn. Also, the how forms us as much as the what of our learning. This is also around the time I found Charlotte Mason. I read her volumes and I delighted in the fact that she talked of learning through stories, of habits, being outdoors, learning handicrafts, having conversations, and that all of this was good because it was all from God Himself. She talked of the mind, but she talked of the body as well – exercise, fresh air, proper clothing, and proper food. She did not ignore the body, but rather found body and mind to be analogous in their needs – a proper diet being the one need she mentioned over and over. Both body and mind needed varied food that they would then absorb, asssimilate, and would allow them to grow.
“…these virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions.” -Aristotle
Another person who read Smith’s book was Jenny Rallens. I watched her video on having a Liturgical Classroom (a term used not in terms of Divine Liturgy, but rather repeated practices or habits) and realized that this idea is so much older than Mason. From the days of Origen, who claimed them to be based in Jewish religious practices, to the present day Christians have been practicing Lectio Divina, or a holy reading of scripture through the process of Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, Comtemplatio. In translation – to read, to think deeply, to pray, and to be changed (their definition of contemplation was more robust than ours is today – it was more a change of self that would result in an outpouring to others). When the era of scholasticism came about out of the monasteries and churches, the ideas of Lectio Divina was simply ingrained in their minds as the proper way to learn. The prayer was dropped when the texts were not sacred, and so the idea of Lectio, Meditatio, Contemplatio (Rallens uses Compositio – to write or create) was the mark of education in this era. It was so common in fact, that it was often simply referred to as “making honey”. From early times bees were a symbol of the Christian church. A bee worked tirelessly and most of its work went to benefit others. Man and animals routinely eat the honey the bees give their whole lives to produce. How do they do it? They gather nectar, digest it, and then it is changed to honey in abundance for the benefit of others as well as their own needs.
Are we to believe it was in the Church that we first saw this idea? Perhaps. I would propose for your consideration, that the Trivium might be the first model for this way of learning. For moderns, we may think of the seven liberal arts as seven subjects, but that thinking could not be more incorrect. The trivium, or three ways, were more an approach to learning than subjects in and of themselves. It was through them that one could then hope to make sense of their experiences – to understand what they are taking in, to discern its value, and to communicate one’s thoughts. Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric would be the way a student learned to read, to think, and to communicate. The trivium has to do particularly with language, so a student would take in language reading myths, poetry, singing songs, and hearing the great tales. They would learn the skill of reading and writing, surely, but it was much deeper than that. They would have been taking in the Greek culture with the reading they did. Logic was then meant to refine one’s thoughts for the ability to think and reason clearly were held in high esteem throughout Greek culture. Socrates is quoted as saying, “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.” However, what good are thoughts that one cannot express? The effective communication of these thoughts to others comprised rhetoric. To be able to share with others the lucid thoughts of a well educated man was the goal of the trivium. Here we see again, the same pattern to take in, to digest, to be changed and grow.
In seeing this idea across the ages, it makes me look again at the way my school and home operate. Am I trusting that what the children read and do throughout the day are enough to feed them, or am I overly concerned about packing more into the day or testing to confirm the “results”? Do I give enough time for the Meditatio? Is there enough free time for their minds to digest all that they have been fed? Do they have ample time to be bored or quiet? How can I protect the quiet in my home when six people live in this house? Do I allow them my undivided attention when they are trying to share and discuss their thoughts or am I more likely to rush them or go about my own tasks, thus sending the signal that this part of learning is not important – that we are “done” rather than continually learning?
The destiny of the child is ruled by his parents, because they have the virgin soil all to themselves. The first sowing must be at their hands, or at the hands of such as they choose to depute.
What do parents sow? Ideas. (Volume 2 p. 29)
Dressing up for our All Saints Day Party!
Saint Perpetua and Felicity
Saint Cecilia needed a little help
Education is a life; that life is sustained on ideas; ideas are of spiritual origin; and,
‘God has made us so’
that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another. The duty of parents is to sustain a child’s inner life with ideas as they sustain his body with food. (Volume 2 p. 39)
In the early years of the child’s life it makes, perhaps, little apparent difference whether his parents start with the notion that to educate is to fill a receptacle, inscribe a tablet, mould plastic matter, or nourish a life; but in the end we shall find that only those ideas which have fed his life are taken into the being of the child; all the rest is thrown away, or worse, is like sawdust in the system, an impediment and an injury to the vital processes. (Volume 2 p. 38)
What ideas were sown in your child’s life this week?
Did you see their education as a matter of filling a receptacle and inscribing a tablet (checking off a box) or nourishing their life?
In what ways did their education nourish their life and form their vital processes?
Are you still hanging onto old ways of doing school, even though you know it will, at best, be sawdust or, at worst, be an impediment to true learning?
Are we patient enough to sow the idea and wait for the seed to sprout as it is meant to do or, in our impatience, do we seek the easy or quicker way for immediate results, even if it may prove detrimental to their attitude about learning and themselves?
Do we value immediate results even though we know that these won’t result in true learning and the formation of character?
Mason tells us that our duty is to sustain our child’s inner life with ideas. Do you know how to do this? In Artist Study? History Class? What about Science? Math? Copywork?
Any struggles with this that we can help you with?