Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Even-Steven Expectations - Part One

Even-Steven Expectations - Part One

My married daughter taught first-grade to her son this year. What a difficult time she had over the winter. Two herniated disks flared up after picking up her other son when he fell. Being pregnant further complicated matters. Her sister drove below the Mason Dixon Line to help her. I've been there to help (between posts) and plan to travel there again. Her husband is a big help. And some church friends brought meals.

All the while my daughter tried to obey her doctor and not do much. Telling a mother of two energetic boys, who like to play cowboys and Indians, to not do much - and while you are supposed to be home teaching - is a remedy hard to follow.

 In the midst of this she telephoned me in bewilderment to confess her son's "uneven learning." I did my best to console her.

When it came time for the year-end evaluation she was nervous. (She reports directly to a public school teacher/evaluator three times a school-year.)  Being truthful she told the evaluator that because of her physical limitations she had given her first grade student about one hour of formal lessons a day over the winter. (Although, she hadn't mentioned all the informal learning he picked up along the way.)

"Oh, honey," the evaluator told her, "from what I see here, and what you're telling me, you did great." "You homeschoolers worry too much, " she went on. "You shouldn't. You can accomplish far more in one or two hours a morning, at this age, than a classroom can accomplish in a day." This lady smiled when she added, "You aren't the only pregnant mother who's come in here with the same concern." My daughter was relieved. As she walked down the hallway (I should say hobbled) toward the door to leave, she noticed the colorful and happy-looking homeschool artwork this lady had pinned along the wall. They had scripture verses on them.

I like the rolling, uneven grounds of Ephrata Cloister 

The Object of Lessons

Miss Charlotte Mason points out the object of formal lessons. They should be twofold:

To train a child in certain mental habits, as attention, accuracy, promptness, etc., 

To nourish him with ideas which may bear fruit in his life. *1

A teacher with students. Swiss painter Albert Anker (1831-1910)

Incremental learning is advisable. It is especially helpful for math, penmanship, reading and other skills such as spelling. Daily lessons spaced out over weeks and months, show our faithfulness in helping our child gain skills and giving him something to think about.

But when it comes to knowledge for a fruitful life (I explained to my daughter) what the student is learning may not get digested or absorbed evenly. It would be nice if it did. It would conveniently match the objectives of the lesson planner. And it would secure confidence that we were really doing our job - and a good job at that. We would like evidence of that rock-solid phrase we've grown so familiar in hearing: Steady Progress.

A large bed of lily-of-the-valley thrives in an uneven flower bed. 

Uneven People, Uneven learners

But children aren't necessarily even-learners. If we look at the child's powers of self-education we see that learning often runs contrary to our Even-Steven expectations. What is really going on is that the child learns in spurts. He learns on the go. He can make wide strides one day and go on tippy-toe the next. "I get it," can come after a pause of reflection - after some down time. Or a certain book, painting, person, filed trip, science experiment, nature walk, piece of music, Bible story, etc., may open the door of a child's mind - a door of interest or a door of understanding, that wasn't open before.

A certain vivifying idea may leave an impression, merge-in-the-mind with a batch of other ideas (that seemed to lay dormant before) and now "it makes sense" - it makes wonderful sense. This knowledge-made-personal brings a sparkle to the learner's eye. Derived by uneven learning (and not something proved by any tidbit on a page of multiple-choice) it has left a welcome and meaningful impression - enough of an impression to be one of those delightfully satisfying morsels of knowledge that will bear fruit in the child's life.

The home teacher, who finds that learning isn't matching up to the lesson planner or the teacher's guide might find this uneven-aspect a worry. She might sink into utter exasperation. She might think she is a bad teacher. Or the thought might cross her mind that her student is an odd-ball, is stubborn, disobedient, or has a mental-block. But all the while, what could be taking place is normal uneven-learning by the uneven-people we are. In actuality this mother is probably a diligent and conscientious teacher who would be much encouraged to consider the ways of the Gentle Art of Learning.

End of Part One

The Gentle Art of Learning trusts in self-education. It is something uneven that takes place on the child's side of the fence. Next time we meet I hope to bring you the second half of this article.

 Do you have uneven learners in your home?

End Notes
Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, page 229. 

Except for the paintings and the photograph of my fast moving grandsons - the springtime photographs are from my file taken by Dean at Ephrata Cloister a few years ago.

Jennifer and her daughter Keren sewed a batch of purple Strawberry Sachets from her kit, gave them as gifts, made more, and happily gave those away as gifts. Perhaps with the knowledge that the roadside stands will soon be displaying their offerings of red ripe homegrown strawberries, Jennifer and Keren couldn't resist making a pint of red sachets, (left). These are a gift to a special friend who has been kind to their family. I'm in anticipation of strawberry season, aren't you?

Until Next Time,
Karen Andreola


  1. I love the red strawberries! Red anything always draws my eye.

    Karen, don't you think children learn similarly to how they grow? Spurts and plateaus? A nice inclined plane of growth (be it physical, intellectual, even spiritual) seems to belong only to averages charts. My youngest son (also first grade) learned to read seemingly "all at once" going from sounding-out to Narnia in a few weeks. Since then he has plateaued and I have felt a little let down. My effort was minimal before and we were just moving along, full steam ahead. Now I am doing a lot more work with a lot smaller results (I am sure he feels that way too). But that's natural, isn't it?

    Sophia was blessed with a jewel of an evaluator! I am glad for that, I am sure it was a relief to hear such encouraging words.

    Looking forward to Part Two, Karen. God bless you!

  2. Your point of "growth averages" is a good example.

    Wow, sounding-out to Narnia. I have to smile at your story. It is a good one for young mothers to read.

    Yes, Sophia was blessed with this evaluator. I more than hinted that this may not always be the case. I was surprised to hear about the Scripture on the pictures.

    Part Two is undergoing polishing. Thank you for your vote of confidence.

    1. I should add my quick learner is the youngest of six and he has always listened in on the older kids' lessons. I was looking forward to using the phonics books one last time but we barely touched them. :-) Everyone is different.

  3. This is so good, Karen. A timely read for me! I'm also looking forward to part too! :)

  4. What an encouraging article! I wish I could have read it when I was starting out. I remember those early days of homeschooling when I was so concerned that my son wasn't learning to read as quickly as he should. I began to pray about it. All at once, he got it!
    Dianne L

  5. It is always such a joy to drop by your blog and find a new post! Your posts are always so inspiring and peaceful.

    I am glad that you seem not to feel the pressure to post more frequently. It feels like I am being given a present when there is a new post!

  6. Thank you. I was so looking forward to sitting down and reading your post today. This week I was sobbing as next week we have our yearly evaluation. I never think we do enough "school" and that my 5 children, ages 17 to 5 are way behind and that I don't know what I'm doing and . . . Your post was very timely. I was also reading this week in Matthew - "Come to Me all you who labor and are burdened, and I shall give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and humble in heart, and you shall find rest for your beings. For My yoke is gentle and My burden is light." I have to remember to seek my Master and then rest in Him. Thank you again. I love your posts, Karen.


    1. Amen.

      Christians are yoked with the workings of the Holy Spirit in bringing up their children, guiding us to grow in wisdom and opening the eyes of our hearts. (Ephesians One).

      I think of the chorus of the hymn that ends with: It is enough that Jesus died, and that He died for Me.

      Thank you for sharing your appreciation, Ladies. Keep pleasantly plodding, Karen.

  7. When our children were at home, my mother always reminded me that people need time to mull over what they have learned. She believes that minds take knowledge and make it their own when they are given a bit of a rest from "new" and allowed to settle into "old' information and thoughts. That always encouraged me when we had a season of less formal schooling.


  8. Oh, you will be blessed with another grandchild - how wonderful!
    As far as my piano students are concerned, I can confirm there is no steady learning. We shouldn't loose courage, though, rather evaluate what happend in the course of a year and not in maybe seven weeks in which everything seemed to come to a stop. For reasons completely outside our reach, very often. Sometimes, an experience which has seemingly nothing to do with the subject can lead us back on track. I learned to be relaxed and trust on a steady, if in the moment unseen, progress. Sometimes it is difficult to communicate that to paying parents - but usually they are understanding/ know their offspring...
    I am looking forward to part two!
    I was delighted to find your comment! Thanks so much for visiting and being so brave to comment on a foreign langage blog. You got it right with the waterfall and the beauty of the place - I guess you used a translation program? It was really special to have you!!

  9. This is such an encouraging post, Karen, filled with words of wisdom and experience! Looking forward on our homeschooling journey, we tend to have doubts about whether we're doing enough or whether our children are learning enough. It is when we look backward over the years, that we can see the successes and victories!

    I, too, learned along the way that a little bit here and a little bit there was a lot better than pushing great amounts at a time. Isn't that how we learn as adults? In "fits and spurts"? Homeschooling offers the grandest opportunity for allowing our children that same luxury! I am so thankful for that!

  10. Praying for your Sophia, who is giving her boys oh-so-much-more than she realizes!! If I had 1 full hour every day with each of my 26 first graders when I was teaching first grade years ago, we would have finished school by......well you get the picture. ;) How wonderful that she has such a solid and wide support system. Aching for all the home teaching mamas who have all those evaluations! Thankful for your daughter's extraordinary evaluator! Ever-grateful I live in Kansas! Praying for calm assurance for Sophia....that the joy of the Lord will be her strength! And thank you for sharing those beautiful photos! I will have to scroll through again just for a repeat!

  11. We are at the algebra place. I have seen the learning in fits and spurts, and yet I still allow the calendar and the schedule to foment self doubt. Thank you for your timely post!

  12. This was such an encouraging article. I've noticed uneven learning in my son, but it's never worried me too much. My daughter, however, has a speech and phonological delay, and though she's such a diligent little worker, we struggle so much. For weeks it seems like we make no progress, and then suddenly she bursts ahead. I constantly fear that I'm failing her--that if someone else were in charge of her learning, perhaps she'd be further along. This has reminded me that she is making progress, and there is no 'normal'. Her advancement is perfectly normal for her. Thank you so much!

  13. Karen, your articles always leave me thinking and smiling. You have such a gift of words and encouragement. Learning is not often even. It is easy to think everyone should be in the same place at the same time, and that is not how God made us. Your daughter had (has) a wonderful example in you. God surely blessed her with a wonderful evaluator. I am thankful that in Texas we don't have to go through that process. I am looking forward to your next post. I always read and reread and look at the pictures over and over again. I feel blessed to have found you during our home schooling years.