Saturday, May 23, 2015

Part Two - Even-Steven Expectations

Even-Steven Expectations - Part Two

Dear home teacher. Please give yourself credit. Don't be discouraged by the uneven path. If, by your guidance, your children possess knowledge-made-personal in this subject or that, (they don't have to like everything) you have done very very well. This is more precious than any perfect test score or Even-Steven grade level results.

Lilacs out the back door.

We Met a Snag

Baby One's high school Nature Notebook, May 1999.
I remember my first uneven learner. Sophia, Baby One, in first grade homeschool. We met a snag. She was having trouble recognizing her numerals in the teens. Why say thir-teen when the teen is pictured before the three (13)? This backwards order may have been what stumped her. Anyway, after several lessons she just couldn't get it. Being a new teacher I shared my anxiety with a friend who happened to be a school math teacher before she began home teaching. "Lay it aside for some weeks," she told me.

"Some weeks, really?" I asked. I had my doubts but followed her advice. After a month I returned to teens and tried again. My student got it. What went on during the down-time? I can't explain. Can anyone?  My student's mind needed a pause - as it needed again through-out our home education experience. But in later years I took it with a grain-of-salt.

Maple "helicopter" seeds near the front door.

Following a Child's Pace is Lessons at Their Finest

Once-in-a-while, with a twinge of disappointment, I'd replace a book I was reading aloud.*1 (A book change was infrequent but when it did occur I didn't mourn over the one that didn't lend itself toward a narration.) And, as uncomfortable as I felt, at first, to teach unevenly, inevitably, I did just that. I'd skip it, tweak it, review it, replace it, or return to it later. This is what happens when following a child's pace. When tested (the C.A.T. by law) years later, Baby One was grade levels "ahead" in reading comprehension and vocabulary, teetering on-average in math, pitifully "behind" in spelling. Fine. Being uneven people by nature, it was something I learned to pay little attention to. I kept pleasantly plodding along our journey, challenging her strengths, taking patience with her weaknesses. My readers could tell their own stories of uneven paths and uneven people, I know. 

Do I Hear A Sigh?

We want to live by faith not fear. As we've heard that faith is the evidence of things unseen we learn to live without the security of constant testing. Miss Charlotte Mason found the state of her country to be "an examination-ridden empire."*2 This state of things was born out of good intentions. More than one hundred years ago Even-Steven Expectations were born out of the large classroom. Population growth had to be managed somehow. But I can hear Miss Mason sigh between the lines of her books.

A rare Jack-in-the-Pulpit I found in our woods.
When grade level and passing tests become more important than knowledge-made-personal, over-testing and over-teaching (for the test) is the result. Sadly, this fear detracts from a peaceful and pleasant atmosphere of learning - an atmosphere where children best thrive. Today, an atmosphere of less-testing and less talky-talk from the teacher seems to be accepted among circles of the Charlotte Mason-minded. Fabulous. The nervous race to get-ahead, of constant quizzing and testing to prove progress to ourselves or to local authorities, is unheeded. We don't "run with the pack"- a phrase I borrow from my husband's boyhood school days. Rather, we preserve a child's curiosity.  His mind is made to grow with nourishment and exercise as his body grows with its nourishment and exercise. Trusting this we can test less, teach less. We can be more the mother, less the teacher.

It isn't surprising that teachers think learning is all in their hands. Yet, Miss Mason pops this bubble. She tells her conscientious teachers what to expect.

"In the great work of education parents and teachers have a subordinate part after all. You may bring your horse to water but can't make him drink: and you may present ideas of the fittest to the mind of the child; but you do not know in the least which he will take, and which he will reject. And very well for us it is that this safeguard to this individuality is implanted in every child's breast. Our part is to see that his educational plat [plot of ground] is constantly replenished with fit and inspiring ideas, and then . . . leave it to the child's own appetite to take which he will have, and as much as he requires. Of one thing we must beware. The least symptom of satiety, especially when the ideas we present are moral and religious, should be taken as a serious warning. Persistence on our part just then may end in the child's never willingly sitting down the that dish any more."*3

Just For Fun
Baby Two turned 30 this year.

My married daughter Yolanda (Baby Two) teaches cello to students who come to her home. She takes her teaching seriously. The Suzuki Cello Books she uses are good for progress in developing new skills. But she supplements theses with her own pieces, she told me with a smile, "just for fun." She composes Celtic style music or a hymn to fit each student's ability - arranging duets that she plays with her students. These they particularly enjoy. She also transcribes for the cello, a familiar pop song or two, perhaps one requested by a student, so that he or she can do some "side" playing, she calls it, - "exactly where they are.

The Side-Stroke

Isn't this what education is meant to do for us after all - at least in part? - that is - to enjoy being exactly where we are? Swimming the side-stroke is going somewhere. And when the yellow sunshine warms the air and the blue water is cool and refreshing, it is delightful to be right where we are for the moment. 

Resisting the "Not Enough Syndrome"

If self-education is to be fostered we would do well to remind ourselves that this is an education that also trusts in the enlightening work of the Holy Spirit (as talked about in earlier posts and comments). The Christian who rests in this needn't feel that she is never doing enough. Taking this yoke upon us the weight of our responsibility is light. The home teacher is diligent in overseeing daily lessons. But she resists packing information into a child like packing an already overstuffed suitcase - pressing down hard enough to zipper it closed (for the test) - my metaphor of Miss Mason's "satiety."

Yes, we provide - over the years of the journey - a feast of good books - on a sumptuous scale. We guide the student in forming skills and forming a relationship with pictures, music, outdoor experience, etc. But following the Charlotte Mason method, we do some stepping aside. The children step forward. They delve. They are given space to reflect, to observe, to consider. They form a relationship with what, they themselves, pack into their suitcase, piece by piece. They may be on a journey but they are also, for the present, enjoying being right where they are. If they are able to tell what impresses them. This is knowledge-made-personal - a blessing immeasurable.

End Notes

*1  I remember replacing a book (of bland and unmemorable mini-biographies) with the unabridged story Heidi by Johanna Spyri. Its setting widened my students world a bit further and the characters, her sympathies.

The 1937 film with nine-year-old, Shirley Temple, is sweet, is humorous around the edges, and exciting near its conclusion. I like happy endings, too, very much.  (Heidi DVD)

*2  Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, page 224
*3  Ibid, page127

Related Topics
Are you new here? Welcome. Some of the ideas I've written above, I've introduced before in earlier posts. For your convenience I've linked to them. This May marks five years of my blogging. I've so enjoyed meeting those who have read my book, A Charlotte Mason Companion.

More The Mother, Less the Teacher
All Education is Divine   
Not Enough Syndrome

On Mother's Day  Libby's daughters presented her with a pint of Lavender Strawberry Sachets. Soon after, she thought of me kindly, and sent me a photograph. Thanks for sharing your strawberries with us, Libby. It looks like the girls used their own ribbon choices and that your gift was made by loving hands. Isn't a homemade gift a touching surprise?

Comments are Welcome
Karen Andreola


  1. This is just so timely, Karen. THANK YOU! I, especially loved, this bit: "And when the yellow sunshine warms the air and the blue water is cool and refreshing, it is delightful to be right where we are for the moment. "

  2. "I kept pleasantly plodding along our journey, challenging her strengths, taking patience with her weaknesses."

    What a delightful way to live!


  3. I have also been given the advice to set something aside when we hit a roadblock. I can't think of a time when it didn't work. I like the suitcase metaphor, Karen. Something to think about.

  4. It took my son until his senior year of homeschooling to "get math" then he went on to get A's in advanced math in college. It amazed his dad and me but I recalled his pediatrician (who diagnosed him severely ADHD as a child) telling me children's brains develop at different stages and not to be surprised if one day his abilities would click in place. This is why homeschooling was so helpful since it gave him that time.

  5. Karen, congratulations on five years of blogging. I have been trying to read and reread your past posts. They always calm and reassure me. I have had the, 'Is this enough?" conversation with myself many times, but I trust that what we have done has been the right thing for us. I am sure you must be blessed to see Yolanda continuing the CM spirit with her students. Thank you for sharing your inspiration with us. May God continue to bless you and your family.

  6. Karen, I failed to mention how beautiful is the lilac entry in Sophia's notebook. I think it is interesting how artistic your children are, all three. I wonder if is because they had a competition-free atmosphere to get to know art, music, etc. I think of Donald in your Pocketful... book, who almost thought he couldn't draw because of his classmates. All of my children draw, some are musical, some like theatre... I think it is because they have time enough, and because they were able to ease into things at a comfortable pace for them (not someone else's pace). Good for Yolanda, letting her students enjoy their music in that way. You have wonderful children. :-)

  7. Yes, my children were not mindful of competition but of doing well and of adding their contribution. It is so good to hear that a "family pace" is in the atmosphere of learning. Thank you for sharing, Ladies.

    I'm sorry I will miss Yolanda's annual student recital this week as I will be out-of-state helping her sister. I've been finding myself saying more often, "After the baby is born . . . " Everything is being scheduled around this summer's exciting event.

    I came across this recently, in Charlotte Mason's "Ourselves" page 78, that speaks to what we've been discussing:
    "Knowledge has her own prizes, and these she reserves for her lovers. It is only in so far as Knowledge is dear to us and delights us for herself that she yields us lifelong joy and contentment." This has been a guiding star of truth in how I approached our home life and home learning. I am so thankful for Miss Mason's wisdom and experience.

    I've been pondering my next post in odd hours, while being away from my desk. I look forward to another visit with you. Karen A.

  8. Karen,
    Near the end of last school year, when my oldest was finishing up kindergarten in the public school, I was searching for information on different teaching methods, and stumbled upon the Charlotte Mason method. Something resonated with me when I read the basic idea of her method. I still have so much to learn, but I am now nearing the beginning of home teaching with my 6 year old curious, full of energy boy. Although it took almost his entire year in public school to convince me that it was not for him, I am concerned, somewhat because I have begun reading the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to him and attempting to elicit some response that resembles narration, but I mostly get, "um, I don't remember." I can feel myself getting discouraged, and not sure where to go from here. Then today I stumbled on your blog. People have suggested to me that he has ADHD, but being only 6, I don't think that is fair. Can you suggest a book or maybe a method to help me get him going? Thank you for any suggestions. I will continue reading your blog. What I have read so far has been refreshing.

  9. It is very nice to meet you. It is fun to hear that something resonated with you when you were introduced to Miss Charlotte Mason's principles of education, that you taken the courage to home teach your son, Gabrielle.

    To be honest, I'm a little miffed to read that people have been quick to suggest ADHD because your son isn't yet proficient enough to narrate from a chapter book. My children listened to chapter books in first grade but they narrated from much shorter pieces until second or third grade. Their experience and ability in narrating differed. I know they didn't narrate from a chapter book as involved as those by C. S. Lewis in first grade. And each child was more or less talkative.

    All children need to have powers of attention trained in them. Miss Mason talks about his in her book, Home Education and I bring up the subject in an early chapter of my book, A Charlotte Mason Companion. Your son will grow in his ability to focus, starting with lessons that are short, interesting, meaningful, and doable for his skill level. I recommend starting with a picture book and reading aloud for two minutes or less (let me emphasis "less"). Bible stories from a children's Bible are helpful. So are Aesop's Fables. Winnie-the-Pooh, My Father's Dragon, The Story of Johnny Appleseed, James Herriot's Treasury, the Golden Books, etc. can be tried.

    Even non-fiction picture books will make their appeal to little boys. My grandson likes sharks, and dinosaurs. "Tell me three things you learned about dinosaurs from these 2 pages," you might ask as a prompt. Or "Explain how my father tamed the lion so that he wouldn't be eaten by it." -- from the silly story, My Father's Dragon.

    The ability to narrate is developed inch by inch. "Start Small" is one recommendation I give in my book on the subject of "narration." "If At First You Don't Succeed . . . " is on page 125. Disregard what grade level has been attached to a book and carry on with what works.

    Trial and error is part of the life of a new home teacher. It isn't surprising when it crops up from time to time in later years too. Those who have experience home teaching will tell you that making adjustments comes with the job. As you study the educational philosophy and method of Miss Charlotte Mason, also study your child. You will learn as you go - and learn much together on this wonderful adventure.

  10. This was exactly what I needed to hear today. The seemingly incessant whining and bickering and complains of being bored really wear me down. I have been worried that I don't have enough patience to school the 6 1/2 and 4 1/2 year-old and that they will suffer emotionally due to my shortcomings. I'm looking forward to my order of Parents' Review as I am desperate for mother culture!