Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Room to Grow

Room to Grow
I began writing this post on Saturday the 29th. Snow, of all things, was swirling outside. It covered the ground and weighed heavily upon the leafed trees in clumps, breaking branches and disabling electric power. Our server has been down for days so I am visiting my daughter Yolanda to be connected today.

October snow is extraordinary in southern Pennsylvania. It brings to mind a story I wrote for Story Starters. In “Deborah Misses Dad” the first snowfall is early. It is October snow. This is significant and provides a bit of suspense because Deborah’s father promises that he would return from his long sea journey at (or before) the first snowfall. Would he return in time to fulfill his promise?

The day before our snowstorm I had taken a more usual autumn photograph while standing in our driveway.

I also made Autumn Leaf Decorations from the leaves I gathered on a brisk and refreshing walk. The leaves were gathered at the height of color - and just in time, too. 

Goodbye to a garden of pink verbena. 

A More Together Feel
I enjoyed two very nice letters from blog friends and also a conversation recently. Something common to each dawned on me. My friends mentioned how in earlier years, home learning had a more “together feel.” Now that the children are maturing they are off at their own desks doing lessons on their own. The family still gathers ‘round the dinning room table for Bible, poetry, a song, or Picture Study but much of the children’s skills and acquiring of knowledge are being achieved by independent effort or by taking turns one-on-one with mother.

A Second Look
Change is inevitable in home education because children grow. It seems that just as we grasp of a workable timetable one year, the next year, it is altered. When change occurs we take a second look and wonder “Is this going well? Is this working for us?” It may take a few months but eventually the timetable takes shape as we adjust to our children’s growing abilities.

A New Suit of Clothes
Actually a wonderful thing is happening. These home taught children still enjoy a degree of companionship; the family isn’t growing apart but growing up alongside one another. And the children are trying on a new suit of clothes. Miss Charlotte Mason would call this suit self-education. And a very fine suit of clothes it is – with room to grow. One that too few students have the opportunity to try on for size. Why? Out of insecurity perhaps, or out of a need to ensure a good showing of right answers on tests, teachers do too much for students.

“If we give him watered-down material, many explanations, much questioning, if we over-moralize, depend on the workbook to work the mind, what thinking is left for the child to do? How is his mind to grow?  Pg 41 A Charlotte Mason Companion

The mind feeds on ideas. These ideas are found in books of literary quality. A student digests this mind-food by narrating and after a while he develops a taste for knowledge. With each new idea digested and each new bit of knowledge made personal, he grows.

“Miss Mason believed that there is no education but self-education. Our business, she said, was to give him mind-stuff. Both quantity and quality are essential. . . . Self-education by means of [living] books, narration, first-hand experience and observation is such a very satisfying and rewarding process that it naturally continues throughout life.” Pg 43 & 44 C M Companion

Driving a Horse That is Light
During our fist summer here in Pennsylvania Dutch Country I was waiting at a traffic light. When I looked in my rear-view mirror I was startled. “Oh my, it’s the face of a horse!” Waiting behind me in traffic were a horse and buggy. During that time it was no easy task to teach the last two of our children how to drive with the added feature of passing buggies safely, I can assure you. With every venture down our roads comes the unnerving necessity to pass at least one or two.

Anyway, this summer, when I was in Historic Strasburg with Dean photographing some handsome old houses (here shown) I kept an eye out for the opportunity to snap an action shot of a horse and buggy. I anticipated illustrating a post on “self education” with it.

Since first reading the following paragraph in Philosophy of Education I have been immensely fond of it. It is enlightening. Miss Charlotte Mason assumes that her readers, born in the 19th century, are as familiar with the behavior of horses on the road as we are in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. She wrote:

“In urging a method of self-education for children in lieu of the vicarious education which prevails, I should like to dwell on the enormous relief to teachers, a self-sacrificing and greatly overburdened class; the difference is just that between driving a horse that is light and a horse that is heavy in hand; the former covers the ground of his own gay will and the driver goes merrily. The teacher who allows his scholars the freedom of the city of books is at liberty to be their guide, philosopher and friend; and is no longer the mere instrument of forcible intellectual feeding.”

Do you see how the gentleness aspect in “the gentle art of learning” is an embodiment of self-education? 

Charlotte Mason takes no credit for being the first to recognize the advantages of self-education. She refers to the Christian educator, John Amos Comenius (1592-1670) at the very start of her book Philosophy of Education: “. . . that golden rule of which Comenius was in search has discovered itself in the Rule, - ‘Whereby teachers shall teach less and scholars shall learn more.’”

Story Starters
I made it a point to support Miss Mason’s urgings to trust in self-education (of teachers teaching less and students learning more) when I created Story Starters. The multi-skill levels of narration-composition give the student “room to grow.”

All in one English course a child can rescue those in danger, comfort the sick, cheer the lonely, laugh with the ridiculous, tame the wild and do battle for good. The exercises in Story Starters suspend the student in the middle of a predicament. He is then faced with the question “What happens next?” This is his cue to expand and embellish the story however he wants. The settings are sometimes exciting, sometimes funny, sometimes sweetly domestic, but they always pose a challenge.

Are you looking for a writing course that will engage a student in critical thinking as well as awaken him to write boldly, freely, with imagination and zest? With Story Starters a child will write in ways he has never written before – and with willing effort – like a horse that is light in hand. 

Post Script
Our family tradition of making Autumn Leaf Decorations can be found in A Charlotte Mason Companion page 316.

Sonya Shafer of Simply Charlotte Mason invited me to contribute to the discussion of her articles “The Gentle Approach” on her blog. Thank you, Sonya.

Comments are warmly welcome,
Karen Andreola


  1. Karen,
    How lovely your pictures are. The Fall leaves in your window decoration are so pleasant to look upon.We heard that Pa. was expecting snow, as of yet, we have only a dusting for a very short time. I did not home school , but surely wished I had. I still gather all sorts of information,and certainly gain from the wisdom you so kindly share here. I believe my dear grandchildren will benefit greatly from it.I love the pictures of the beautiful Strasburg homes. They are quite familiar to this family. We have taken pictures of them as well. Strasburg has so many homes lining its Main Street that beg to tell their own story.I often walk those streets with my dear husband,and we wonder at the peace each one appears to offer.Thank you again for sharing ,it is something I always look forward to reading.The pictures in this posting are surely appreciated. Blessings to you, Dawn E.Brown

  2. Oh, your post reminds me to start collecting leaves! Thank you ever so much. And I enjoyed reading about other families and how their homeschool journey changes; we, too, are going the same and I have been alarmed also. Also thinking along the lines of how to carry out Charlotte Mason in the high school years. Always a delight and encouragement to read this blog. Thank you for all you do!
    Diane in CA

  3. How pretty are the autumn leaves with a winter white background!
    We have Story Starters and have used it with our girls...I am always amazed at the creative stories that they come up with!


  4. I thoroughly enjoyed the years when our children were more solitary learners. It was so delightful to be interrupted by, "Hey, Mom, guess what I just read/learned/did." They each had their own cozy spots where they would make their nests.

    Karen, snow in autumn makes for lovely pictures. We've had two and a half frosts so far this season. We're waiting for one more heavy one so that we can plant some trees. A nursery owner told us that trees transplant better after they go dormant for the year. Apparantly that happens after a couple of heavy frosts.

    Enjoy your changing weather!


  5. Karen,

    I love so many things about this post but especially your wise words about independent learning. My youngest son turned 13 this past summer and is fully entering this phase of his education. It is a bittersweet reality for this mama, and yet, it is a wonderful good thing to watch him embrace his education -- to observe him as he ponders and searches out answers for himself. :) I still have much one on one time with him and my youngest, but I know full well the day is coming when my homeschooling days will come to a close. I would love to have you address this topic one day if you have the time or inclination.

    Lovely photos! ~Lisa

  6. Karen, I love your theme of "the gentle art of learning." Just the cover of the book sometimes speaks to me to slow down, be calm and quiet, peaceful, to enjoy the boys at home, and to have a light hand with them (2 teens and one almost teen), allowing them to learn and grow and develop their own strengths without over-interference from me. They do so much better when they "think" they've learned something on their own. Your image of driving with a light hand is a perfect illustration. Thank you! Directing, but not forcing or controlling. That, to me, is the beauty of the gentle art of learning.

  7. I just wanted to thank you for this blog. I am a homeschooling mama of six little ones. One in 2nd grade, one first and two pre-k. The other two are 15 months and 5 months. (they just come along with whatever we are learning!)

    Sometimes, I panic thinking I am not doing enough, but then when I read your blog posts, I am inspired and assured that I am doing enough.

    Your blog reminds me of the beauty of teaching at home and how to show beauty to my children.

    I have your story starters and the children love to hear the stories. They are still learning how to add on to the story, and sometimes they just look at the pictures and make-up their own!

  8. Karen,

    I'm wondering about the artist who painted the picture of the woman reading by the fire. I would enjoy a print of this hanging on my very own wall!


  9. Ladies,
    Thank you for adding your thoughts to this little community of like-minded people.

    The Austrian artist Rudolf Jelinek (1880-1958) painted "A Girl From Volendam Reading." Isn't it sweet?

    Karen A.

  10. Karen,

    Your posts are always so encouraging and edifying! I can't believe that you have snow already. It is finally cooling off here in Southern Arizona and we are thankful! ;o)

    Your leaves are so beautiful, thank you for sharing.

  11. I recently was looking through a magazine I hadn't opened since returning from visiting my daughter in New England last October.

    As I opened it, beautiful autumn leaves began to fall onto the floor from its' pages.

    Suddenly, I remembered how they came to be there when my granddaughter and I had been collecting leaves on a long walk in a park with her mom and Sarah Clarkson (Sally's daughter who was visiting at the same time).

    The leaves and the memory were so beautiful I had to frame them. My homeschooling days are far behind but I'm now here as a Homeschool Emeritus Grammie to five little homeschoolers. Well, the baby is a little small to join in. :)