Creating Copiousness

I recently attended a practicum for home school moms (and dads). I took a lot of notes at the practicum and I’ve been going through my notes on previous posts, if you are interested. Here’s a link to part one of I don’t know how many parts. It may take a while to get through all the notes.

Anyway, one of the things the speaker at that practicum encouraged home school moms to do was to “create copiousness” in their home because our home and our home school are the same place, really. As you home school moms know, learning continues all day long in a home school environment.

Copiousness is an abundance of thoughts or words.  I looked around today and I think I begin to see copiousness on our home.  We have so many delightful, new, rich, yet simple things going on.  Here are just a very few.

My husband reads aloud to our family after dinner.  This is something we started doing for the children, but we find we adults enjoy it and benefit from it as much as they do.  He has started reading Classic Myths to Read Aloud by William Russell.  We are only a few myths into the book and it is already thrilling.

Not only do so many of our words come from these myths, so many fascinating ideas are attached to those words.  For instance, we read the tale of Narcissus, a young man who became so infatuated with his own reflection that he wasted away.

Narcissus by Caravaggio

Obviously, the noun narcissism comes from this tale, so my kids are learning vocabulary that they will use and hear used for the rest of their lives. But more importantly, there are important ideas that we can explore when we consider self-love and its consequences in healthy and unhealthy amounts.  I believe it will serve our family well to have names like Narcissus and events associated with him like his downfall due to extreme self-love to mention to our daughters in conversations as they grow up.

As my husband read, it occurred to me that so many young people struggle with narcissistic tendencies (i.e. selfies, hours in front of the mirror perfecting make up and hair techniques.) Perhaps ancient people created these myths as warning to young people since human nature was the same back then.

I begin to see narcissism everywhere now, in myself, in our culture. Blogs are definitely narcissistic, including this one. This blog is a mirror I gaze into that reflects my life back to me (and perhaps to my parents, if they read it, but I am not even sure they read it). I’m fascinated with my own life sometimes. And now that I am considering narcissism, I am fascinated with the level that I am fascinated with my own life…

Anyway, I am already enjoying the copious thoughts and conversations these stories are fostering in our home.  I know I will continue to enjoy recognizing these stories when they come up in other poetry, literature, music, etc. through the years.

It’s important to give kids great words and ideas, yes. But they also need some practical skills!  What’s the proverb? Give a kid a fish, feed her for a day. Teach a kid to make pancakes and she can make you pancakes everyday for the rest of your life. My daughter has learned to make pancakes.  I’m a genius!

No, seriously. She’s made pancakes every day for a week now. And that means she has made just about every mistake in the book and she’s pretty much a pro, not at making pancakes, but a pro at solving her own pancake-problems as they arise.

Yesterday, for instance, when it was time to turn the pancakes, she realized she didn’t have a spatula and none of the spatulas were in the tub on the counter or in the drawer… She yelled, “I can’t find a spatula! Mom, I can’t find a spatula!” I sat quietly, watching her suffer. I told myself, “Wait for it… Wait for it… Wait…” She spun around in the kitchen with her hands up a few times, yelling for help. Then she stopped suddenly because something occurred to her. The spatulas were probably in the dishwasher with all the other clean dishes. And like all master-pancake-makers before her, she dived headlong towards the dishwasher and the rest of the morning was a complete success. “Well done, young Padawan.”

And she’s so proud of herself. She ought to be. I couldn’t make pancakes until well into my twenties. She’s managing something significant and practical, doing something well, making breakfast, that she will need to do for herself and perhaps many others every morning for the rest of her life.

She even made pancakes for her dad yesterday. He lingered a little longer than usual that morning before going to work, so he was here to have breakfast with his girls.  He sat with her and her sisters and ate his oldest daughter’s pancakes.  It was a beautiful moment.

Very often, all this copiousness creates more and more questions. My daughter has been asking tons of questions about cooking, probably because she’s cooking more and so she’s thinking about cooking. And I don’t know about your kids, but my kids tend to ask their questions at the worst times. It’s like they have a sixth sense for when it is the worst time to distract me with an intriguing question.  Like when we are in the van and I am in heavy traffic and trying not to kill us, it never fails, from the back comes a loud, urgent question.  Or when they are doing chores, out from their bedroom they come with another really good question and it takes me at least a few moments of standing there with my mouth open and with my hands in dishwater to remember they are supposed to be cleaning.

So now, instead of telling them “Ask me again later!” and totally forgetting what the question was entirely by the time we are free to think about it, we agree to write it down right away on a sheet of paper or something and then get back to whatever it is we were doing.  We are using the white board to collect our questions for now, but I think I may actually need to make a permanent place in our house to record our questions because I have a feeling the questions are just beginning.

Another thing, we’ve taken up jacks. I don’t know about you, but I am always jealous of kids in old novels who know how to use a sling shot, or a yo-yo, or marbles, etc. My kids feel the same way.  I think we’ve probably lost as much as we’ve gained with all our technology.  So we are trying to learn to play games that don’t plug in to power outlets. For now, we use this set of extra-large jacks and ball, but we have ordered a traditional set that will come in the mail soon.

I’m not going to lie, it’s been difficult for my kids to keep at this game long enough to see themselves improve. They complain but they keep playing. It’s good for them to confront their own limitations, frustrations, and to practice persistence. It’s not an easy game, so when they actually catch a jack and the ball in the same hand, it feels really good and we all celebrate.

We’ve also ordered marbles (a shooter and a matching set for everyone in the family) and pick-up-sticks.  This fall/ winter in front of our fire place is shaping up to be quite entertaining! We also play chess in front of the fire in the fall/winter, so I am really beginning to look forward to the change of seasons, for once!

I am reading this book to myself right now.  That’s right, I am reading a math book. (As needed, I take out a pencil and do problems so I can make sure that I understand a concept.)  For other people, math has nothing to do with religion.  But for me, I am praying my way through this book. I did not do well in math in school, but I believe God wants me to understand math, even enjoy it, if for no other reason than to help my kids understand and enjoy it.  When my kids are in upper level math, I will probably still hire a tutor and/or have my brilliant husband help them, but the great thing about home school is that I get to redeem my own education as I facilitate my kids’ education.

We will start our school routine again later this month, but for now, I am enjoying an abundance of leisure time (thus this blog post.) It’s been such a rewarding summer since we’ve been able to relax enough to begin reading and learning new things and adding new skills and games to the abundance we already enjoy in our home/ school.

 

 

 

Echo in Celebration by Leigh Bortins

IMG_7602I finished reading Echo in Celebration by Leigh Bortins and I want to tell you about the ways this book encouraged, challenged, inspired, and enlightened me.

I was encouraged to keep working hard at educating my kids.

The more I learn about education, the more I realize how poorly educated I was in school and the more I begin to desire for my children and for myself.  I want to strive to give them and myself the level of literacy and capability almost everybody in this country had two hundred years ago. So I have to educate them and myself as rigorously as people were educated them.  I feel inadequate for the task before me, but I want to begin and go along with the end in mind.

Bortins shared a quote by Theodore Roosevelt that I have heard before, but had never considered in the context of homeschooling.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

It is humorous to imagine Roosevelt giving this speech to a group of weary, frazzled homeschooling moms. He wasn’t talking to home educators, but nonetheless, the quote fits.  Bortins says, “Raising children necessitates sacrificial labor and an attitude of constant prayer. Nothing I suggest in this book is easy.”  While frank, these words actually really encouraged me.

I was challenged to get rid of even more media.

Bortins says, “Give away the TV and video games… if the screens in your life are stopping you from choosing the best activities with your family.” In the past, I have felt pretty good about how little my kids and I watch TV compared to average families. We don’t actually have television, we have DVDs and we have an old xbox someone gave us and a few games on our computer and tablets. But, like the Bible says, “When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.” 2 Corinthians 10:12.  However little we might watch compared to average people, I still find that we sit and talk, read, pray, and play games together far too infrequently. At this point, I am seriously considering removing the computer and television and setting strict limits on the amount of time the girls play games on their tablets during this coming school year. I want to do this in order to make time for more worthwhile activities.  When I was a child, the television was on all day long.  I didn’t read much as a child.  My parents thought I wasn’t interested in reading because I preferred to watch television.  To this day, I believe I could have been a great reader as a child, if someone wiser than me had turned off the television long enough for me to get bored and wander over to the bookshelf.

I was inspired to hire another tutor.

Bortins talks about the importance of mentors in your child’s life.  She says, “Find teachers and tutors for your students and recognize you are not paying for the information that person has as much as for the time spent with someone who loves learning. I have a friend without a lot of money who pays to have her son study with one of the tutors in our… support group. She says she’d pay for her sons haul dirt just to be around this tutor because she knew all they would learn just from being near her.”

We are a part of a Classical Conversations community where my kids get to be tutored/ influenced by some of the most intelligent, virtuous men and women I have ever met. I don’t exaggerate when I say that, either. But, this quote, actually convinced me to sign my daughter up for another group that my friend is going to be hosting in her home. This friend of mine has several degrees including those in math, science, and music. She speaks several languages. She loves my daughter, and perhaps most importantly, she loves the Lord.  I was hesitant to sign my daughter up for anything else that would take her away from home for another day, especially since some of the subjects that will be covered in the group are already being covered in our home school in other ways. But by reading the quotes above, I realized that I would be missing an incredible opportunity for my daughter to simply be around this woman for a few hours every week. So how incredible it is that this woman was already offering to tutor my daughter!  God is truly at work in our lives!

I was enlightened about the idea of catechesis.

I have been in Classical Conversations for a year, so I am beginning to see the value of making my kids memorize and retain the basic facts or grammar for school subjects like math, history, geography, etc. Having facts about those subjects stored in their brain helps my kids understand, appreciate, and recognize those subjects when they see them outside of school and they have already been connect facts in one subjects to facts in other subjects.

But I had not considered how important it is for my kids to also memorize and retain the most basic facts or grammar about God.  We’re Protestant, so our kids aren’t going to be learning a catechism through church. But instead of hoping my kids are gathering and retaining the great truths about God through the random lessons at Sunday School or the random Bible verses I like enough to have them memorize, I plan to begin being much more deliberate about ensuring the girls are internalizing the most foundational truths that God has revealed to mankind through The Bible.  After many years of reading the Bible, I am not entirely sure I could retrieve all the basic truths in the Bible if the Bible were taken from me. Carrying those ideas with them will help them in much the same way carrying science, math, and history facts in their head will help them. They will be ready to connect the truths about God to things they encounter everywhere in everyday life.

 

The History of the Medieval World by Susan Wise Bauer

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I’ve been reading and taking notes on The History of the Medieval World by Susan Wise Bauer.  It’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.

(Next to reading Herodotus. That was pretty tough.)

But this book is really tough. I’ve been reading for months and I am only on chapter thirty-three out of eighty-five.

That’s because I usually read each chapter at least twice so that I can actually summarize the main events to myself.  And I can only master a few chapters each week.

Why even read a book like this if you can’t remember anyone or anything that happened in it when you finish? At least, that’s what I keep asking myself to help me stay motivated to really dig into the content.

I’m not just reading for bragging rights, you know. Crazy as it may be, I actually want to know more about medieval history when all is said and done.

But through this process, I am learning stuff that is making everything else I do more meaningful.

When a dear old man in my fitness class told me he was from Italy, we had a lively conversation that included references about the geography and history.

When a woman I met told me she was a devout Catholic, we had a more interesting conversation because I knew something about the history of the church.

When my husband asked me if I knew why Istanbul was no longer Constantinople, it was like someone lit a match and I rattled off so much information so fast that I think he was sorry he asked.

But I still wasn’t sure how meaningful any of the information would actually become to me until I was reading That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis and I was able to grasp some of the subtle and even hysterical references between Merlin and the other characters in the book because I knew something of the history of England during this time period.  That really sold me on the value of this and other books like it.

And I can tell The History of the Medieval World combined with our study of geography in Classical Conversations is changing me.  This morning, I found myself enjoying this map, plotting all the action on it, and actually relishing the process.  In her book The Core, Leigh Bortins, the founder of Classical Conversations, said she thinks tracing maps is enjoyable.  I thought that sounded a little crazy.  But, after tracing this map for half an hour with my eyes this morning, I can see her point.  Tracing maps might possibly become a new hobby.

Reading this book is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever put myself through willingly, but I am reaping so many intellectual rewards already. It’s totally worth it.

 

I’m Reading C.S. Lewis’ Entire Bibliography

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I’ve made it a goal to read C.S. Lewis’ entire bibliography this year.

Or, I should say, the rest of his bibliography, because I read quiet a few of his books already.

It started with The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses sometime in the early part of last year. I purchased the audio book and I listened to it over and over. I couldn’t get enough.

That lead me to purchase and listen to the audio versions of The Great Divorce and The Abolition of Man, also several times each.

Sometime later, I finally felt equal to reading the paperback copy of Mere Christianity I have had for over a decade. I was delighted when I could actually make sense of it!

Then I read the paperback copy of The Screwtape Letters that we’ve also had for, like, ever.

Then I downloaded and read his space trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength.

I went back and reread all of Perelandra; it was so good.  And I’ve reread large portions of the other two books in the trilogy, as well.  I don’t usually pick up a book to read it a second time, even if I really like it, so the fact that I have been compelled to reread so many of his books is really something.

Now I’ve started Surprised by Joy, his autobiography.

His ideas, fiction and non, have challenged and inspired me in deeply spiritual and very practical ways.

Lewis is beginning to feel like a mentor and even an old friend.

What I’m Reading

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“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”  -Charlie Tremendous Jones

Sometimes I forget that all my ideas weren’t always with me. Many, perhaps most, of the words in my head were planted there by the books that I’ve read.   So I thought it might be interesting to keep track of many, if not most, of the things that I read.  Because there’s no doubt that books change us.  Sometimes we choose books deliberately in order to be changed.  Sometimes we read and we’re changed without realizing it happened. But words always do their work.  So I think it could interesting to go back some day and see if I might tell how books lead me where I’m going, wherever that will be.

The Well Trained Mind


I have been rereading several random sections of The Well Trained Mind that I haven’t been able to give due attention to yet. There’s so much content in this book, it’s like it just keeps growing more content when I am not looking. I made a list of the resources that stood out to me as I’ve read the last few days, particular publishers or books or programs that sound like they may be useful at this point in our home school efforts. I intend to look up the information that’s on this list during my free time in the next few days. This is a book you just have to keep coming back to again and again.