Thursday, July 29, 2010

Breakfast Al Fresco

Breakfast Al Fresco


To be outdoors during the cool of a summer morning is a pleasant way to start the day. After filling the clothes washer and emptying the dishwasher, I sometimes step outside to sit on the side stoop. There I’ll sip a green smoothie or a raspberry smoothie. It’s peaceful at that early hour. Fewer birds sing in late July but I can always depend upon at least a couple songsters. They have their notes down pat and haven’t yet learned the meaning of the musical term finale.
    I ignore our old cars in the driveway (we haven’t a garage at present) and watch the butterflies and bumblebees on the flowers to the left and right of me. Then I putter. I water my potted herbs, pick a ripe tomato or two, before I return to the kitchen to cook some eggs. 

Green Smoothie

In the blender:
A handful of baby spinach or young beet tops
Frozen banana pieces
Fresh orange and/or peach chunks peeled and pitted
Water to cover
Kiwi garnish (not pictured)

Outdoor Memories “Bottled up for After-Refreshment”

     “Never be indoors when you can rightly be without,” is Charlotte Mason’s reminder to us. In Home Education she devotes more than a chapter to tell us why. I find the following paragraph of hers to be particularly persuasive and beautiful. Don’t you? It was not referenced in my chapter on picnics in A Charlotte Mason Companion but it ought to have been. It is so inspiring that I’m certain it was tucked into a back pocket of my mind at the time I was writing.  

    “Besides the gain of an hour or two in the open air, there is this to be considered: meals taken al fresco* are usually joyous, . . . All the time too the children are storing up memories of a happy childhood. Fifty years hence they will see the shadows of the boughs making patterns on the white tablecloth; and sunshine, children’s laughter, hum of bees, and scent of flowers are being bottled up for after refreshment.” (page 42)

*The British adopted the term al fresco from the Italians. It literary means “in the fresh.”

A Special Picnic

    At the end of my picnic chapter I mention a lovely coincidence. I came across a story about a special birthday picnic. In Becky’s Birthday, Becky turns ten. My daughter Yolanda was, at that time, about to turn ten. I took joy in handing her the book to read.

    "Yolanda stole away to devour it silently in a corner of the house. Later, I asked her what she thought of Becky’s birthday picnic with the cake floating down the river. She smiled and said, ‘It’s a sweet story but rather exciting. Things don’t happen like that in real life.’ Her eyes widened to learn that the story was a true one. The author and illustrator, Tasha Tudor, used her own children and country lifestyle as a model for her picture books." (page 291)

    By midday it might be too hot where you live for a full-course, white tablecloth picnic, let alone one that is candle-lit and delivered by river, but may I suggest a little family breakfast al fresco? Perhaps an early solitary breakfast and quiet time is needed to refresh your Mother Culture.
    In my story I enjoyed placing Michael and Carol together sitting on the back stoop of Blackberry Inn. Theirs isn’t much of a chat as chats go, but a few unrushed, undistracted moments of husband-and-wife-togetherness at the start of a busy day, is what matters most.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Curiosity Makes Our Burden Light

Curiosity Makes Our Burden Light

     Dean took photos of William playing with one of the pull-toys we found at a
yard sale. For a few dollars I bought the whole lot. I was happy to see William
enjoying them (even in the hot summer sun). Dean’s photos of the tangible
evidence of curiosity decorate the abstract ideas of this post.

      The dozens of questions I received last year from mothers who felt home teaching
to be overwhelming concerned me. I sympathized. Home teaching is work, yes,
but it needn’t be such a heavy weight to bear. Miss Charlotte Mason’s philosophy
opens our eyes to see why and how the burden is light.
     She observed the tendency of hard working teachers. They would do a gallon of
teaching for an ounce of learning. Something was wrong. Not only was this just
plain inefficiency but also the whole intellectual atmosphere of such schooling
was, in a sense, morally off balance.

Placing Our Trust in God-given Curiosity

     Miss Mason placed her trust in a new “intellectual atmosphere” - one that rests
firmly on this invisible thing called, “curiosity.” A home teacher can breath a
peaceful sigh when she gains an understanding that God has endowed our little
persons with curiosity. The burden becomes lighter to a mother who realizes how
big a part curiosity plays in a child’s learning. It is not the only feature, but it is
capable of doing the lion’s share of the teaching.

     When a baby reaches his tiny hand for the colorful rattle you hold out to him, he does so out of curiosity. His first steps from crawling to walking are taken out of curiosity. When William plays with my new pull-toys he does so because he is curious at how he can make them move. Throughout the day William can be heard to ask, “Wus tha?” as he points to one object after another, inside and outside the house, for the pleasure of hearing his mother name the bird at the feeder, the rain on the windowpane, the car in the driveway. His mother, in a sense, is cooperating
with curiosity. She is cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit in the child’s life.

     In her writings Miss Mason refers to the Holy Spirit as the “Supreme Educator.” God instructs the hearts of each single child. Her words are strong on this point. She says, “Let this be the mother’s key to the whole of the education of each boy and each girl.” And ends her paragraph with this: “We do not sufficiently rejoice in the wealth that the infinite nature of our God brings to each of us.” *

The Preservation of Curiosity


    Curiosity is so precious, so valuable, that it needs to be safeguarded. Sadly, more often it is “schooled out” of children. How do educators do this? It is done when the emphasis is on the following:

• Grades
• Prizes and Contests
• Competition
• Fun and Games
• Lectures
• Praise and Approval
• Punishments
• A Profusion of Quizzes and Tests

     These incentives all motivate the student to work, but over time his work
becomes mechanical. His schooling trains him to work for a list of reasons
except the reason that matters most—knowledge for the sake of knowledge.

Feed My Lambs

     What ought to motivate us to direct our children to open the pages of history, to observe the wonders of nature, to admire a painting, to appreciate a piece of music, to learn by heart the words of a hymn or a poem? Miss Mason believed that the primary motive of the educator must be the same as the command our Lord Christ gave to Peter: “Feed my lambs.”

The Child is a Person

     Curious children will learn for the sake of knowing, for the sake of growing. Feed your children well and they will grow in wisdom and favor with God and man.
This is the education of persons.

*Page 273, Parents & Children, Charlotte Mason.

Where do your child’s curiosities lie?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Friendly Attitude for Children

A Friendly Attitude for Children

     Happy times for me are when I am writing something that may be helpful to you. Once an idea gets in my head it doesn’t leave for a while. This time I am stuck on “attitude.” When it comes to books I am sensitive to the tone of the writing. Perhaps the tone is closely related an author’s attitude. I’m fond of pictures but tone is important to me.

     Together, my little grandson William and I were turning the pages of The Friendly Book. He likes looking at the pictures and I like its tone. The author Margaret Wise Brown wrote quiet and gentle stories. Perhaps you know her Little Fur Family, Goodnight Moon, or The Runaway Bunny. My guess is that there are adults all across America with fond childhood memories of these cozy stories.

    This unassuming picture book lends itself to a handful of uses for the home school.

     Firstly, The Friendly Book has verses that radiate a friendly attitude. It is probably the reason why I took to reading this book aloud to my young children repeatedly. “I Like Cars” is the first poem followed by “I Like Trains,” and “I Like Stars.” Margaret Wise Brown also likes snow, seeds, bugs, fish, dogs, boats, whistles, and best of all, people, and gives us a cheery verse of appreciation for each.

     Garth William’s drawings provide examples of all these active people and things. Few illustrators accomplish “cute” with pen, inch and paint, as well as he can. You probably know him best for illustrating Little House on the Prairie.

     Secondly, for children (in 1st or 2nd grade) who are learning to read, The Friendly Book becomes an “early reader.” Not all picture books make for early reading but this one does.

     Thirdly, I couldn’t help noticing something else about The Friendly Book. It is chock-full of easy-to-spot adjectives. At some point all children (3rd or 4th grade) are faced with learning to recognize adjectives. Generally prose is better than poetry for teaching grammar but because of the simplicity of these short-and-sweet verses I offer this suggestion. When you reach Lesson Four in Simply Grammar, the first lesson on adjectives, The Friendly Book will come in handy. Other unassuming picture books could be resting on your shelf that could aid in spotting adjectives, or nouns, or verbs.

     Fourthly, how can I resist this? “Today, children (range of ages) with Margaret Wise Brown’s verses in mind, we are all going to write a short poem about something (or someone) we like.” “All” means mother, too.

What would you write?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Raspberry Picking – Answering a Good Intention

Raspberry Picking – Answering a Good Intention

   Brambles surround our house. This is partly due to neglect. The owners claim to know little about selective cutting and moreover have an aversion to electric trimmers and chainsaws and to poison ivy (of which they have three kinds). But because the wooded areas are so wild, raspberries and blackberries thrive.

    It was the man-of-the-house (Dean) who first noticed the red raspberries when he walked to the mailbox. He pointed this out to the-lady-of the-house (me). That evening, when she finished reading of the frugal canning activity of her long distance friend by way of a paper letter, she placed the letter on her nightstand and fell asleep with a good intention – jam - and had sweet dreams.

    The weekend was a busy 4th of July, which brought larger meals to prepare, a house full of guests to serve, a cute and very active grandson to play with. It was at the start of a new week that the lady-of-the-house grabbed hold of her previous week’s good intention. She set out first thing in the morning with the words, “time for raspberry picking” rallying her forth. While the early birds were catching their worms and singing, she added to her summer garb an apron, a straw hat and rubber boots. She fit a plastic container inside her shopping basket and stepped outdoors before breakfast. A morning dove was cooing and the air was humid and warm even in the shade. It would be another hot day in Pennsylvania, perhaps the hottest of the summer. She picked only the plumb berries that were a tantalizing pink-red. A gentle touch sufficed in loosening these ripe berries. As she rolled them gently between her fingertips they dropped easily and noiselessly into the basket. It was a calm and quiet activity. “This must be the same outdoor relaxation that is so soothing to a man who enjoys fishing,” she thought.

    As the sun rose higher the morning dove no longer cooed and the buzzing of insects took its place. Were they bumblebees, house flies, mosquitoes? It didn’t matter. She was intent on filling her basket and savoring an hour of quiet solitude. Every once in a while, her leg was scratched just above a boot not by the raspberry brambles but by the prickly weeds that stood like armed guards at the foot of them. Thinner branches with clusters of fruit at their tips were bent near to the ground. Collecting their berries she saw that she was stepping on poison ivy. The vines were trailing beneath her boots. But even this did not deter her. She went right on picking to her heart’s content.

    The-man-of-the-house came outdoors looking for the-lady-of-the-house. He must have spied her from a window. He had his camera and finding her so peacefully occupied took a photo as a memento.

     Three quarts of raspberries are in our freezer. When I think it a good day for the-lady-of-the-house to make jam (for the first time in her life) I’ll let you know. A little of the prolific canning activity of my resourceful long distance friend is, finally, rubbing off on me. I am getting poised. But for now I am content to share this morning’s moment of Mother Culture with you. And I wish you a serene moment of your own.

    “Mom, what happened to the raspberries? Did you freeze them all?”