Month: October 2018

Your spouse is almost home from work and you still have no idea what you’re cooking for dinner.  You guess it’s spaghetti again, and hope the family doesn’t complain that it’s the second time this week.  You’ve been running all day but can’t figure out what you’ve done, and you still haven’t gotten a full day of all the lessons you’re “supposed to do” in, and you wonder how in the world people pull off this Charlotte Mason thing.

You want to do more intentional work with the kids, but there’s always someone asking for something, and the living room floor strewn with toys and half-finished projects covering the dining table nag at you.  And you’re just so tired!

You get the kids in bed and plop on the couch to veg and watch a few Netflix shows that you don’t even care about, but you can’t think about doing more.

You finally drag yourself to bed and sigh when you see the piles of clean clothes you dumped there this morning.  You didn’t get around to folding them today, but you’re so exhausted it’s not going to happen now.  Sweeping them off into the clothes basket, you promise yourself you’ll fold them tomorrow.  Then you remember the wet clothes still in the washer.

You love your family, love your kids, but can’t help but think, “Is this all there is?”

Sound familiar?  I’ve been there.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

You can be fulfilled, joyful, happy, and have a life that feels easy (or at least doesn’t feel hard all the time).

Over the last several years, I’ve come to see that there are things that when instituted consistently, bring this peace to a homeschool.  It doesn’t matter what kind sort of homeschool philosophy you follow; these principals are universal.

I call them the four pillars of a peaceful homeschool.

Why pillars?  I love this visual of Greek architecture.  Pillars are what hold up great amounts of weight.  They are so much more than just decorative accents, but are instead integral parts of the structure.  Take a pillar away and the entire thing can come crashing down.  At the same time, they are more than just utilitarian.  They can be beautiful in their own right.

The beauty of these four pillars is that they not apply no matter what homeschool philosophy you follow, but they aren’t dependent on a religious tradition or a specific culture.  They are universal.

What are they?

Self-care, Rhythm, White Space, and Gratitude

Each one is just as important as the others.  Let’s take each one in turn.

Pillar 1:  Self-Care

You’re laughing to yourself right now, aren’t you?  You can’t even go to the bathroom alone without little fingers sticking under the door, how can you even think of self-care?

In order to continually give give give to your family, you have to also take care of yourself.  You know how when you fly on an airplane they tell you that if the oxygen masks fall, put it on yourself first and then help those around you?  They say this because you can’t help anyone else if you’ve passed out from lack of oxygen.

The same applies to your life.  You can’t give endlessly of yourself if you’re not taking care of yourself.  Sure, you can force yourself through for awhile, but it shows up in snappish attitudes, short tempers, impatience, depression, feeling like chores are endless and a drudgery, resenting your family, and avoiding doing the daily tasks that need to be done to run a smooth house and homeschool.

When I first heard of self care I imagined a woman going for a weekly manicure and massage, putting on a full face of makeup every day, and going on regular shopping trips with her friends while her kids ran wild at home.

No thank you!  I’m not a shopper, I don’t ever do my nails, and I’m not about to spend the money on relaxing massages.

Self-care doesn’t mean you’re selfish and it also doesn’t need to take a lot of money.

Think of a few small things that you could do every day that would refresh you.  That are for you and you alone.

Here are some ideas:

  • sit on the back porch in the morning
  • get up earlier than the kids (highly recommended!) to have a few minutes just to yourself
  • set aside 10 minutes at night to read a book that has nothing to do with homeschooling and that’s just for you
  • take 10 minutes while you’re outside with the kids and take off your shoes to stand barefoot on the earth
  • put on under eye concealer and mascara
  • read from a book of wisdom from a spiritual tradition
  • let your spouse put your kids to bed while you take a bath

Plopping on the couch to watch Netflix in a daze after the kids are in bed is not self care (though being intentional about it can be).  Surfing on your phone mindlessly watching cat videos is not self care.

A good barometer is to ask yourself afterward, “Do I feel refreshed?  Or do I feel like I just wasted that time?”

Write down your own list.  Then look at that list again and decide on one or two things that you can realistically carve out time for on a daily basis.

And then do it.

Pillar 2:  Rhythm

Regularity.  Routine.  Cycle.  Predictability.  A template for your day, your week, the season, the year.

Knowing what’s coming because you have a regular routine frees up valuable brain space.  It’s important for kids because it makes them feel secure about the predictability of the their world, but it’s just as important for adults.

Start with mealtimes and sleeping times.

A regular bedtime for both the kids and you, early enough that they and you can get enough sleep to be rested during the day.

Naps are good too, for both young kids and nursing moms.

Develop reasonable times for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.  They don’t need to be bam-on-the-dot every day, but try to shoot for a 15 to 20 minute range.

Once you have those pretty well in hand, try time blocking the rest of your day.  You don’t need to be a slave to a schedule, and certainly not one that’s scheduled to 15 and 30 minute increments.

Instead, time blocking means that maybe you decide to do lessons in the morning and household work in the afternoon.  Or an hour and a half of lessons in the morning, an hour of working on the house, then after lunch you have two hours of time for family activities with your kids.

However you decide to do it.

The most important thing is to be consistent.

Pillar 3:  White Space

“The beginning of the week was great!  We got everything done, I was so productive and finished several projects I’d left unfinished, we ate on time and the kids slept.  But halfway through the week I didn’t even want to look at the schedule I’d made for us and instead I spent the rest of the week on Facebook.  What went wrong?”

You didn’t give yourself white space.

White space in graphic design is negative space.  It’s not “nothing” — it has a specific purpose, and that’s to let the eyes rest so that the other elements of the page stand out better.

Think of a page in a book.  Words don’t start at the top edge of the page and continue uninterrupted to the bottom.

There is a margin around all sides of every page with text.  There is spacing between the lines so they don’t overlap.  Words have spaces between them, letting us know that one word stops and another begins. Even individual letters have a small amount space between them; they are not bunched up right next to each other.

White space.  Margin.  Rest.  A breather.

You need to work this into every single day.  Not only once, but multiple times during the day.

This is where ease and spaciousness comes in to your life.

Letting things flow naturally from one thing to the next, rather than rushing to do the next thing.

This is not time to be on your phone scrolling through social media, but time to simply BE.

Slow down your pace.  Take some deep breaths.  Don’t schedule activities back to back.

Stop lessons or this activity or that one a few minutes before you think you’re “supposed to” to give yourself time to transition to the next.

Leave a part of your day unscheduled, and don’t fill that time with TV or scrolling on your phone.  Give yourself that extra time to do what feels good in that moment.

Maybe it’s looking at the lizard your daughter caught.  Maybe it’s writing a letter to your 97 year old Grandma.  Maybe it’s doing some yoga positions.  Maybe it’s lying in the grass looking at cloud pictures in the sky.

Do you know what Charlotte Mason called this?  Masterly inactivity.

Pillar 4:  Gratitude

The fourth and final pillar is gratitude and thankfulness.

This is just as important as the other three.

Gratitude will change your attitude.  It will change your outlook.  It will change your focus from what is wrong with your life to what is right about it.

It is the simplest of the four pillars, and perhaps the most powerful.

How to incorporate this into your day?  Start with a 5-minute journal.  You can buy one on Amazon, or you can just use a $1 composition notebook.

Every morning write down three things that you’re grateful for.  Then write down three things that will make today great.  Finally, write an affirmation.

In the evening, write down three things that made today amazing, and then how you could have made today even better.

That’s it.  It’s that simple.  Do it consistently though and watch how it changes your life.

You can add your children by having them write their own thoughts, or simply talk about what you’re grateful for as your introduction to morning lessons.  Sometimes I read Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message, other times my daughter and I just take turns saying what we are thankful for.

I like the Giving Thanks book because it focuses our thoughts on the natural world, and starts “To be a human being is an honor.”

Quick recap of the four pillars of a peaceful homeschool:

  • Self Care
  • Rhythm
  • White Space
  • Gratitude

Take these one at a time and incorporate them into your life.  Start with the easiest one for your situation; success breeds success.

Having just one pillar in place will improve your satisfaction with your homeschool life.  Each additional one will create a firmer foundation on which to rest.  Having all of these in place is a huge step towards ease and peace.

Want to remember the Four Pillars of a Peaceful Homeschool? Pin it to your favorite homeschooling Pinterest Board!

I know you’ve seen it around. The Formidable List of Attainments for a Child of Six.

Maybe you’ve wondered what exactly it’s supposed to be. Maybe you’ve looked at it and your own child’s skills, and felt lacking. Like there’s no way your child is there, so obviously it’s a ridiculous and outdated set of standards and you’ll just skip it.

Or maybe you’ve looked at it and thought, yep, my 6 year old can do all that. We’re good. Now I can move on to my other curriculum knowing that I’ve got those boxes checked.

But what exactly was the purpose of the List of Attainments for a Child of Six?

I dug deeper to find out, and what I found was that there are a lot of misinterpretations floating around the interwebs.

THE MOST COMMON PERCEPTIONS:

The first is that it is a list of what your child should know before he or she starts a Charlotte Mason education. A list of First Grade Readiness Skills, as it were.

These parents want to use the list as a preschool curriculum, to make sure their child is ready to begin Charlotte Mason homeschooling at 6.

The second most common perception is that it’s a list of six year old developmental milestones, circa 1890. You know the type: “By the age of 4, most children can kick a ball, stand on one foot for four or five seconds, and use scissors with supervision”.

This creates quite a bit of panic among new homeschoolers, who look at the list and think, “my child can’t recognize 3 birds! Oh no!”

Most places online attributed the List to Ambleside Online, but there was no attribution there either, other than “a curriculum outline from the 1890s”. No specification to what year.

But it does say “a curriculum outline” … which means that it’s the outline of a curriculum, not pre-requisite skills.

I found one post that said it was from a Parents’ Review article published in the ’90s by Karen Andreola, so I searched every Parents’ Review article digitized at the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection before I realized that, ahem, the blog author meant the 1990s, not the 1890s.

Ha!

Karen Andreola published a new version of the Parents’ Review in the 1990s. I’ve immersed myself so much in Charlotte Mason primary sources that it didn’t even occur to me I was looking in the wrong century!

I contacted Karen, and she has been very gracious answering my questions. While she couldn’t remember the exact year that she got the curriculum outline from, nor if she’d renamed it herself to A Formidable List of Attainments (and who could blame her? This was 20-some-odd-years ago!) she was kind enough to snap a picture of her original republishing and send it to me.

Here is a transcription of it:

A FORMIDABLE LIST OF ATTAINMENT FOR A CHILD OF SIX

To recite, beautifully, six easy poems and hymns.

To recite, perfectly and beautifully, a parable and a psalm.

To add and subtract numbers up to ten, with dominoes or counters.

To read — what and how much, will depend on what we are told of the child; children vary much in their power of reading.

To copy in print- hand from a book.

To know the points of the compass with relation to their own home, where the sun rises and sets, and the way the wind blows.

To describe the boundaries of their own home.

To describe any lake, river, pond, island, &c, within easy reach.

To tell quite accurately (however shortly) three stories from Bible history, three from early English, and three from early Roman history.

To be able to describe three walks and three views.

To mount in a scrap book a dozen common wild flowers, with leaves (one every week); to name these, describe them in their own words, and say where they found them.

To do the same with the leaves and flowers of six forest trees.

To know six birds, by song, colour, and shape.

To send in certain Kindergarten or other handiwork, as directed.

To tell three stories about their own “pets” — rabbit, dog, or cat.

To name twenty common objects in French, and say a dozen little sentences.

To sing one hymn, one French song, and one English song.

To keep a caterpillar, and tell the life story of a butterfly from his own observations.

A formidable list of attainments for a child of five or six, but it is nearly all play-work, and to be done out-of-doors. The “sit-still” work should not occupy more than an hour and a half daily, and the time-table will show how all can be done, little by little, by day-by-day efforts. Our aim is to gather up the fragments of the child’s desultory knowledge, so that nothing be lost. There is no waste more sad than the waste of those early years when the child’s curiosity is keen and his memory retentive, and when he might lay up a great store of knowledge of the world he lives in with pure delight to himself; but this fine curiosity is allowed to spend itself on trivial things, and the retentive memory — does it not sometimes store the idle gossip of the maids?

When we look at that last paragraph, it says “A formidable list of attainments for a child of five or six, but it is nearly all play-work, and to be done out-of-doors.”

This is where I believe Ms. Andreola took the title from.

THE FORMIDABLE LIST VS. 1891 CURRICULUM PROGRAMME

After reading quite a bit of primary source material, I came across a curriculum programme from 1891, and it is a pretty darn close match to the Formidable List of Attainments.

This led me to believe that the List is neither a list of readiness skills nor a list of milestones, but rather a curriculum outline to be used and taught.

Let’s compare (I’ve re-ordered the 1891 programme to make this easier):

Formidable List1891 Programme
Recitations:
To recite, beautifully, six easy poems and hymns.

To recite, perfectly and beautifully, a parable and a psalm.

To recite, beautifully and perfectly, three poems, three hymns, a parable, and a psalm.
Math:
To add and subtract numbers up to ten, with dominoes or counters.

To add and subtract numbers up to 20, with counters, dominoes, etc.

To make figures up to 10 — a fortnight to be given to the mastery of each figure.

To add little sums, where the answer comes to less than 10, thus 2+3+4.

To subtract units from units, thus 8-3

To work out and learn the multiplication table up to 3×12=36
Reading:
To read — what and how much, will depend on what we are told of the child; children vary much in their power of reading.

To read 500 words (see lessons in P.R. for August, 1891)
Writing:
To copy in print- hand from a book.


To be able to copy from a book in simplest print characters, thus, A B C D E F G, etc.

To make good firm strokes and pothooks
Geography:
To know the points of the compass with relation to their own home, where the sun rises and sets, and the way the wind blows.

To describe the boundaries of their own home.

To describe any lake, river, pond, island, &c, within easy reach.

To be able to describe three walks and three views.
(No geography - but:)

To do six Calisthenic or Swedish exercises.
Stories:
To tell quite accurately (however shortly) three stories from Bible history, three from early English, and three from early Roman history.

To know six stories from the Life of Abraham (Gen xii to xx)

To know six stories from the first six chapters of St. Mark.

*To be able to tell six stories of Saxon times

*To be able to tell six Greek stories.
Natural History:
To mount in a scrap book a dozen common wild flowers, with leaves (one every week); to name these, describe them in their own words, and say where they found them.

To do the same with the leaves and flowers of six forest trees.

To know six birds, by song, colour, and shape.

To tell three stories about their own “pets” — rabbit, dog, or cat.

To keep a caterpillar, and tell the life story of a butterfly from his own observations.

To be able to tell all about ten living creatures.

*To mount in scrap-book six wild flowers, with leaves; to know their names, and whether they grow in field or hedge or marsh.
Work:
To send in certain Kindergarten or other handiwork, as directed.

*Three little pieces of work, knitting, cross-stitch and (boys and girls) sewing. Wild flowers, work, kndergarten work, etc, to be sent in for inspection at the end of the term.
French:
To name twenty common objects in French, and say a dozen little sentences.


To know forty French names of things; twenty little French phrases.
Singing:
To sing one hymn, one French song, and one English song.

To sing one French song; and to do Tonic Sol-fa Lessons in P.R.

Do you see how very similar these two are, when put side by side? The 1891 programme is a tad bit more difficult, including multiplication tables up to 3×12 for example, but it was also for all of “1st Class”, which is what we would now call Form 1.

In other words, this 1891 programme covered instruction for students ages 6-9.

THE FORMIDABLE LIST WAS A PROGRAMME OF STUDY

Now notice that the List has a line that says “send in work”, which implies that what the child is doing is being sent to a central authority of some kind, rather than simply the detritus of childhood.

When we look at the bits in it, we see that it says “to send in certain Kindergarten or other handwork, as directed” and “the time-table will show how all can be done, little by little, by day-by-day efforts.”

Work was sent in. A time-table was provided.

Those are parts of a directed program, not of a random slew of developmental milestones. And as a directed program, it is not a pre-requisite to that same program.

Another point — the Formidable List has “To mount in a scrap book a dozen common wild flowers, with leaves (one every week); to name these, describe them in their own words, and say where they found them.”

A dozen — one every week.

Twelve weeks. This was to be done over a twelve week period. We know that a ‘term’ was 12 weeks ….

We can see that not only are the two very similar, but as the 1891 programme shows, it is for one term of work.

Let me say that again: A programme of study for a single term.

That means it was directed, with deliberate guidance from the parent.

The student wasn’t left to ‘pick up the information’ on her own. Mother guided the child to these.

If you look at the later programmes for Form IB, you see that, while it has been expanded and made more specific, it is also very similar to both of these.

The Formidable List of Attainments was not a list of “what your six year old should know”, nor was it a list of skills and knowledge a child should have acquired in her preschool years.

It is simply a guide for a term of study, that a child of approximately six years old could do.

If you are delaying starting Form IB until your child is 7, using this as a guide for that “Kindergarten” year of 6 years old is a lovely idea. You still might need to leave off reading and writing, but this is actually quite similar to what I’m doing did with my own six year old.

As the ending paragraph says, “it is nearly all play-work, to be done out doors”.

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