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SELF-EDUCATION

SELF-EDUCATION

“One thing at any rate we know with certainty; that no teaching, no information becomes knowledge to any of us until the individual mind has acted upon it, translated it, transformed, absorbed it, to reappear, like our bodily food, in forms of vitality. Therefore, teaching, talk and tale, however lucid or fascinating, affect nothing until self-activity be set up; that is, self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a child’s nature.”

CHARLOTTE MASON

THE GIFT OF AGENCY

When I was a young mother I imagined whipping up nutritious meals that my children would devour. I envisioned them cleaning their plates and growing healthy and strong with all the nutrients they were receiving. 

Then my dreams were shattered with my first child when he refused to eat anything other than bread and yogurt. I attempted to bribe him with dessert, then  resorted to negative consequences in one last, desperate attempt to regain control over the situation. However, I soon realized that if my child did not want to eat a certain food, nothing in the world could make him eat it. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” became my new mantra. 

 

In situations like this parents may feel that the “gift” of agency is more like a curse. We constantly stress ourselves out trying to take control of things that were never meant to be in our control. In regards to mealtime, I soon learned that I am in control of what is put on the table and when, and my child has control over if he eats and how much (attr. to Ellen Satter) I started focusing on my responsibilities instead of my child’s. Is it a coincidence that my two younger sons became hearty, adventurous eaters? I don’t think so. It is a universal truth that when any person, adult or child, is given control over their life , they thrive. 

Control Equals Happiness

Developing our children’s sense of agency is not an educational frill  or some new-age idea. Children who doubt their competence set low goals and choose easy tasks. When they face problems, they become confused, lose concentration, and start doubting themselves. Children with a strong belief in their own agency work harder, focus better, are more interested in their studies, and are less likely to give up  than children with a weaker sense of agency (1)

Agency is a main component in the Plan of Salvation, so is it any surprise that agency is also the determining factor in human happiness and well-being? Not surprisingly, the opposite of agency, lack of control, is a significant cause of stress and unhappiness. When I attempted to force my son to eat food he did not want to eat, I was causing stress on both of us; I was stressed because I was trying to take control over something that I physically and morally had no control over, and he was stressed because he did not feel like he had control over his own body. Part of life on earth involves taking responsibility of what we have control over and letting go of what we don’t. If our children choose to listen to our lessons and how much of that they choose to internalize is completely in their control, and school will become immensely more enjoyable for you both when you learn to apply this eternal truth.

Choose to ACT

In regards to education, parents may feel undue stress because they are trying to control which subjects their child is interested in and how much information they retain. As a result, children will rebel—or concede and lose an important part of their humanness. David A. Bednar explains the importance of agency by saying, “Learning by faith and from experience are two of the central features of the Father’s plan of happiness. The Savior preserved moral agency through the Atonement and made it possible for us to act and to learn by faith. Lucifer’s rebellion against the plan sought to destroy the agency of man, and his intent was that we as learners would only be acted upon.” (3)

Traditional education puts the majority of control on the teacher and not the student.  In the future, I will talk more about the role of the teacher and how to be a non-anxious presence, or in Charlotte Mason terms engaging in “masterly inactivity.” Masterly inactivity “indicates the power to act, the desire to act, and the insight and self-restraint which forbid action.”(4)

Children should be slowly given complete control over their life as they mature; ultimately, the parents goal is to work themselves out of a job. In their book, Rapid Relief from Emotional Distress by Gary Emery and James Campbell, they outline three ways parents can find relief by relinquishing control:

  • ACCEPT | accept that your child doesn’t desire to have perfect handwriting right now, and as a result he may never have perfect handwriting. 
  • CHOOSE | choose to give him control over his  handwriting goals. Choose to not stress over his lack of desire. 
  • TAKE ACTION | talk to him about the pros and cons of good handwriting; help him outline his goals; Be an example by improving  your own handwriting.

SETTING A FEAST

Although it may seem like the teacher has little influence over children, it is important not to confuse Charlotte Mason’s philosophy with unschooling or free-range parenting. Charlotte Mason believed that teachers and parents have a vital role in the education of children; she described the teacher’s role as “setting the feast” of subjects and ideas, and letting the child’s brain digest what it craves and needs at that particular stage.

As soon as I heard this analogy I immediately thought of a study I read about in college. In 1926, Clara Davis conducted a study that would be one of the most influential studies on infants and nutrition ever conducted. Davis took orphans that were brought into a Cleveland hospital–many of them malnourished and some with rickets– and gave them complete control over what they ate. She provided a feast of 34 whole foods, from cod liver oil to oranges to ground liver, and let the infants/toddlers choose what they ate every day for six months. She recorded every food and amount they ate on a daily basis. What she found astonished even herself. The infants who had rickets would gulp cod liver oil with their meals until their rickets were cured, then never touched the oil again. One baby ate 2 pounds of oranges for a few days straight, along with a few other food items. When her  analysis was complete she found that overall the babies ate a near perfect ratio of calories averaged at 17 %  protein, 35 % fat, and 48 % carbohydrates — much in line with contemporary nutritional science. The infants  also intuitively knew which nutrients they were lacking and ate foods to compensate, like the infants with rickets drinking vitamin D-rich liver oil. (5)

Food for Thought

I truly believe that this study on physical nutrition is applicable to mind-food as well. If we are providing our children with an abundant feast of wholesome ideas, they will choose certain ones to chew and digest based on their intellectual needs. This principle applies to spiritual matters as well, David A. Bednar said it perfectly; “Ultimately, the responsibility to learn by faith and apply spiritual truth rests upon each of us individually. This is an increasingly serious and important responsibility in the world in which we do now and will yet live. What, how, and when we learn is supported by—but is not dependent upon—an instructor, a method of presentation, or a specific topic or lesson format.”

The ultimate goal in education should be to teach our children to be self-directed, life-long learners. They should know how to gain knowledge through the process of asking a question, finding answers through studying books and experimenting with things, and then having the intelligence to know how to assimilate and apply the knowledge they have learned. Traditional education creates dependent learners through textbooks, classrooms, and professional teachers. Too often adults believe they need to “go back to school” in order to learn and that knowledge isn’t official until they have a certificate to prove they checked the boxes. They need a professor to provide them with lectures, compile primary sources into textbooks, and tell them what is important to learn. Instead, education should be focused on the process of learning and less on the material. A true education teachings people to act, and not be acted upon.

Predigested Information

Going back to the analogy of food, we don’t pre-chew our child’s food (at least not past infancy). We don’t process and extract the vital nutrients of all their food so they don’t have to go through the work of digesting. We don’t give children potent doses of multivitamins as a replacement for real food. When we read primary sources, or whole ideas, and then pre-chew them for our children we are giving them nothing to chew on and essentially giving them potent sources of unappetizing mind food. Children need whole food for the mind. They need to work on the rich ideas they receive by filtering through what is important, making connections, and finding answers to questions. By over-explaining, lecturing, dissecting, and dumbing down information we are essentially doing the important work for our children and creating passive learners with weak constitutions.

Here are a few ways that we inadvertently create passive learners in our children :

 
  1. Asking all the questions. Instead, let the child ask questions about things that have piqued their interest. “The mind can know nothing but what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question put by the mind to itself.”(6)
  2. Asking pointed questions. Instead, ask open-ended, thought provoking questions that require effort and time to answer. 
  3. Automatically giving the answer, or pointing out connections. Too often we jump in to point out a connection/pattern or “help” them discover a truth. But, sometimes an unanswered question is the best gift you can give a child. (See “Ponder” section)
  4. Solving a child’s problem for them. Give them the right tools/skills and let them solve the problem themselves. Even if it takes days to solve; it’s the effort that is educational, not the answer. 
  5. Giving unsolicited feedback. By telling your child what they are doing wrong and how they need to fix it we are 1) hurting the relationship and 2) smothering their ability to self-correct and actively improve their own work. Instead, ask “what did you do well?” “what do you need to improve?” and, “what will you do differently next time?” Make sure they know what is expected of them, and that they give specific examples of what they think they did well and what they did not. 
  6. Labeling a character in a story as “bad” or “good.” Children are much more captivated by a story and get more out of it when they have  analyze the characters’ actions to decide for themselves what kind of a person they are.
  7. Automatically defining words. Instead, wait for the child to ask for a definition or simply let them figure out the meaning of the word through context. Most good authors will provide enough description for the child to comprehend the word’s meaning.

DESIRE

“I believe that in the pursuit of education, individual desire is more influential than institution, and personal faith more forceful than faculty. Our Creator expects His children everywhere to educate themselves. He issued a commandment: “Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (7)

Charlotte Mason regularly compared educational principles to gastronomical ones, which explains why I found it so successful to approach education in the same way I approached meal times. For example, my first year of teaching my son, I tried to give him knowledge he wasn’t craving. I fed him ideas when he wasn’t hungry. I tried to force his brain to digest certain information that I deemed most important by administering worksheets and tests. And just like with feeding his body, this method of feeding his mind was a failure. After a discouraging kindergarten year, I began to concern myself over the things I do have control over: what knowledge is presented and when I introduced it. Then, I stepped back and let my son choose if he wanted to listen and how much he retained. The key to whether my child listened and how much he “digested” is based on his hunger, or desire.

In terms of desire, parents need to keep these two facts in mind:

You can’t make your kids do something against their will.
You can’t make your kids want something they don’t want.

There is only one way to get your children to do something, and that is to arouse desire within them.
“He who can [arouse desire in others]  has the whole world with him. He who cannot walks a lonely way.”(8) For children–or any person for that matter–to become self-motivated they first need to develop a desire to do it. According to Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory (9), people need a sense of autonomy, competence and connection to become self-motivated. These three things need to be balanced, like a three-legged stool, or the whole thing will topple over. 

Autonomy

Explain why a task is important, what you expect of them, and then allow as much personal freedom in carrying out the task. French parents call this “cadre.” They give their children a broad framework of requirements and then give them lots of freedom within that structure. 

Make a list of the positive and negative consequences of their choice, and then respect their agency and allow them to make their choice and enjoy the consequences of their choice (see chapter seven of Christlike Parenting). Teens and children as young as nine are capable of making decisions that are identical to adults; even more so if they are shown the consequences of their choice. (10)  Kids are capable of making good decisions; the reason they sometimes fall short is lack of experience, not ability. 

William Winter once observed that “Self expression is the dominant necessity of human nature.” Dale Carnegie also observed that self-expression is essential when igniting a geniune desire in people. Help your child incorporate their interests in learning academic skills, like math, reading, and writing. The sentences they use in copywork or grammar can be from a favorite book or movie. They can make a manual about how to defeat levels in Zelda, an essay about their favorite Disney princess, or the different flowers they have found in their area. 

Competence

Being competent is more about feeling that we can handle a situation than it is about excelling at something. Competence comes from within, not from without. When your child successfully solves a problem ask “how did you figure that out?” This requires your child to see himself as the active agent in his own story and see the evidence of his own competence. Helping your children notice their successes and showing them how their decisions and strategic actions are responsible for them increases children’s perceptions of their ability and effect is less of their focused efforts” (11).
The desire for a feeling of importance. You can foster self-esteem by saying “I bet you’re proud of yourself” after a child has completed  a task or mastered a skill. This satisfies the internal desire for importance and does not rely on external sources. You can also ask “how does it feel to have solved that difficult math problem, read the entire book, written something like that, etc.?” 
Rites of passage, positions in the home, and responsibilities are all ways you can ignite a desire in otherwise apathetic learners. For example, you could make “tutor” badges for the older kids in subjects they are competent in. Then they can help younger siblings with school work (tutors have special privileges, of course). You could also plan a special dinner date with mom and dad on the child’s sixth birthday, explaining that now they are old enough to start school lessons. 
Create growth mindset. To create a growth mindset, focus on effort instead of ability. Praise the strategies they use to solve problems, help them see the progress they have made. A feeling of competence comes when a child can see improvements through daily, consistent effort. It does not come by feeling they either have or don’t have in-born abilities. If your child needs a boost of desire, give them a challenge. Every child loves a game, especially boys. Just make sure they are competing against themselves. See if they can sort their words faster than last time, make their handwriting look better than the day before, etc. 

Connection

When your child has a strong attachment with you they’ll want to work harder for you. Your child should feel that they are more important to you than their achievements. I have already covered, in-depth, why connection is important and how you can nurture your relationship with your child. You can read about Love and Attachment in this article and this article.

Autonomy, competence, and connection are vital  to eternal progression; the Lord has said  “For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.” (12) Charlotte Mason has also commented on the importance of these traits by saying, “Boys and Girls are generally Dutiful-It would be better for boys and girls to suffer the consequences of not doing their work, now and then, than to do it because they are so urged and prodded on all hands that they have no volition in the matter. The more we are prodded the lazier we get, and the less capable of the effort of will which should carry us to, and nearly carry us through, our tasks. Boys and girls are, on the whole, good, and desirous to do their duty. If we expect the tale of bricks to be delivered at the due moment without urging or entreating, rewarding or punishing, in nine cases out of ten we shall get what we look for. Where many of us err is in leaning too much to our own understanding and our own efforts, and not trusting sufficiently to the dutiful impulse which will carry children through the work they are expected to do.” (13)

In my experience I have found there are two main ways we can foster self-education in our children: give children space to learn by experience and lots of time to ponder.

LEARN BY EXPERIENCE

“We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;”

 

When you first read these verses your initial thought may be that we came to earth to be proved or tested, but once you replace “prove” with its  archaic translation  of  “learn by experience” you understand the purpose of earth differently. The purpose on earth is to learn by trial and error; to make choices and experience the consequences. Our children cannot possibly do this if we take complete control over their lives and prevent them from making mistakes, and they cannot learn if we rob them of the consequences that are due to them. This can be absolutely terrifying for parents, and seem borderline neglectful. However, it is important to remember what we do have control over: the atmosphere of our home, the habits we instill, and the living ideas we present. 

Stages of Competence

As I mentioned earlier, children as young as nine are capable of making responsible decisions. After the age of eight, children are held accountable for their choices, and we also know that the prefrontal cortex starts developing around this age as well. Therefore, it makes sense that children are developmentally capable of making decisions at this age. This is the time to start relinquishing parental control and giving them more decisions over their lives. I can guarantee that this will be a messy, difficult process. It will be hard to watch, but it helps to realize that people go through stages of competence. Here is an example of the stages of learning by experience:

Stage 1: Unconsciously incompetent. This will look like a child saying “I don’t want to study spelling. People know what I mean.” You can see the consequence dead ahead, but after you have offered to help with spelling and explain the consequences of bad spelling, there is nothing else you can or should do. 

Stage 2:  Consciously incompetent. Your child wants to make a sign to sell lemonade on your street. He made the sign by himself but misspelled some key words. Adults may just smile and purchase some lemonade, but older kids may laugh at his sign and tease him that they can’t understand what he is selling. He is now conscious of his incompetence, although he still needs help. The key is that he has experienced the consequence and a desire is starting to develop. It is important to remember to let his consequence do the talking; you don’t need to rub it in his face!

Stage 3: Consciously competent. Now the child has worked on his spelling, and when he makes a sign or writes a letter he feels confident people will understand the meaning of his words. 

Stage 4: Unconsciously competent. As years pass, correct spelling becomes habitual  and the child is now a parent. Now it is hard for the father to understand why spelling is so difficult for his child, or why his child resists spelling so much. This is why an older sibling makes a great tutor to younger siblings; their previous incompetence is still fresh in their mind. 

The beauty of  giving your child more control over their life is that when it comes time for you to make an authoritative choice, they are more likely to go along with your decision without resistance. Edward St. John wisely noted, “Moralizing all men resent; from experience they learn without a murmur.”

Practice Makes Perfect

Our children  need more responsibility than we think they are developmentally ready for.  The brain develops according to how it’s used. So, by giving your child control, even if it’s small, will activate her prefrontal cortex (decision making) and condition it to respond accordingly. If we do not give children opportunities to make choices at an early age, they will be forced to learn this skill in teenagerhood and beyond when the risks are higher and consequences more severe. We were sent to earth to learn by experience, which means we learn by trial-and-error. As the age-old adage goes,  “Wisdom comes from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions.” Children learn by experience through making mistakes. and we need to give them room to make mistakes and let the consequences teach the lesson; Glenn Latham, a father of nine children and doctorate of behavioral and developmental psychology, gave this wise advice on how to respond to your child’s mistakes: keep your comments short and positive, avoid lecturing and the dreaded “I told you so” attitude, and never tell a child something he already knows. (15)

The Power of Play

“In this matter the child who goes too much on crutches never learns to walk; he who is most played with by his elders has little power of inventing plays for himself; and so he misses that education which comes to him when allowed to go his own way.” (16)

While at play, children are not passive bystanders. They are making decisions, creating a narrative, and being active agents in that narrative. Play is a unique activity in that it draws out a child’s ideas, desires, imagination, and aspirations. (17) Play is important for all stages of life; Google famously asked employees to spend 80% of the work week on their official job and 20% on projects of their choice, which led to the creation of products like AdWords and Gmail. When we play, we are free to practice skills in a safe environment. Children can act out past and future experiences and ideas without fear of serious repercussions. Children need a lot of unstructured time to experiment with ideas, develop passions, problem solve, and develop social skills.

When your child’s attention is completely absorbed in a task they enjoy and is just the right amount of difficulty, they enter a state of “flow.”When you’re in flow, levels of certain neurochemicals in your brain–including dopamine– spike (18).  Frequent states of flow shape your child’s brain to be more attentive and motivated. Forcing a child to work on something they don’t enjoy will not strengthen their attention skills; it will actually prevent them from developing it. Giving a child lots of time and freedom to play and engage in meaningful projects where they enter a state of flow will shape their brain and prepare them for difficult material later in their education. If your child can play with Legos for hours on end, but has a hard time sitting down for a few math problems, this isn’t an issue of attention; it is an issue of interest. Instead of focusing on the child’s assumed attention deficits, focus your efforts on making the knowledge or skill more appetizing to the child.  The child’s attention is being developed through play, so allow them plenty of uninterrupted time for it and you will reap the benefits in the schoolroom.

PONDER

Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again.” (19)

 

Albert Einstein spent over a year in Italy  “loafing around aimlessly” dividing his time between attending lectures and boredom. Soon after this vacation he discovered the law of relativity.  That time spent in rest was just what his mind needed to sort through information, make connections, and form new ideas. Just as our bodies require nourishment, exercise, and rest, so do our minds. When we have eaten a large, nutrient-rich meal our desire for food decreases as our body prepares to digest what we have just eaten.

India’s ancient Vedic tradition states that “rest is the basis for all activity.” Just as our body craves rest after eating and exercise, so does our mind. Interestingly, the brain has at least forty neural networks that are dedicated to a resting-state (20). The fact that so much of our brain activates when we are at rest says a lot about the importance of taking time to ponder. What constitutes a state of rest? Anytime you are not being externally stimulated in the form of tasks, socializing, electronic devices, reading a book, etc. Being at rest literally means being alone and bored, and it can be very uncomfortable for most of us because it requires our brain to go into a deep reflective mode. 

 

As difficult as this may be for our children to be bored, this is the time that the brain digests the information they have consumed and makes knowledge of it. This is the time that the brain solves problems, reflects on self, and makes connections. It is also when you consider what other people may be thinking or analyze their actions. I also believe this is the time that we can receive personal revelation. The most powerful forms of pondering are daydreaming, meditation and sleep (see chapter six of The Self-Driven Child by Stixrud and Johnson for more information on meditation and sleep).  

 

Imagine the state of your body if you were constantly eating or exercising all day long, with no breaks to rest. Now imagine the state of your child’s brain if it were constantly being stimulated by socializing with friends, being tested,  and consuming information all day long. This analogy makes the high rates of childhood depression, anxiety, and stress much more understandable. When a child loses focus during school it simply means they are full and need time to digest. We can literally see their mind preparing to digest information by entering a day-dreaming state. Sadly, too often children are punished or incorrectly diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Disorder simply because their mind craves rest from stimulation. 

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang describes two alternating brain systems: 1) a task positive  or “looking out” system that’s activated when we’re engaged in goal-directed tasks, and 2) a task-negative or resting system that is for “looking in.”(21) School lessons are task positive and are an essential part of education. We are taking in other people’s ideas and discoveries. But too often we neglect the second brain system which is just as important as the first; the resting system involves formulating our own ideas and making our own discoveries. I cannot overstate this enough: all people need a liberal amount of unstructured time to ponder and be at rest.

In the scriptures we are frequently told to “ponder”on the things we have learned. Information does not become knowledge until the individual’s mind has had time to act on it. An essential component of education is frequently overlooked and it needs to be taken seriously. Children need time to do nothing. Give your child the gift of a few hours each day of unscheduled time to be bored and ponder, because this is when the act of self-education truly takes effect. 

FOOTNOTES

  1. Ellyn Satter, Division of Responsibility

  2.   Skinner,Zimmer, Gembeck, and Connell. (1998) Individual Differences And The Development Of Perceived Control

  3. Bednar, Seek Learning by Faith, (2006) Church Educational System Address

  4. (1896) School Education, page 28

  5. Schleindlin. (2005) “Take One More Bite For Me”: Clara Davis and the Feeding of Young Children

  6. Mason, Charlotte. (1896)  School Education. p. 181.

  7. Nelson, Russell M. Where is Wisdom?. General Conference October 1992.

  8.  Carnegie, Dale. (2009) How to Win Friends and Influence People. Simon & Schuster; Reissue edition.

  9. Deci, Ryan. (2000)  Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being.  https://selfdeterminationtheory.org/SDT/documents/2000_RyanDeci_SDT.pdf

  10. Weithorn et al., (1982) The Competency of Children and Adolescents to Make Informed Decisions.

  11. Pintrich, P. R., & Blumenfeld, P. C. (1985). Classroom experience and children’s self-perceptions of ability.

  12.  Doctrine & Covenants 58:26.

  13.  Mason, Charlotte. (1896)  School Education. p. 39-40

  14. Abraham 3:24-25

  15.  Latham, Glenn. Christlike Parenting. Gold Leaf Press (MI); First Edition edition (October 2002)

  16. Mason, Charlotte. (1896) School Education. pg 37.

  17. Macnamara, Deborah.  Rest, Play Grow, Aona Books (April 26, 2016). pg. 54.

  18. Kotler, Steven. (2014) Flow States and Creativity. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-playing-field/201402/flow-states-and-creativity

  19.  3 Nephi 17:3

  20. Shen, Helen H.(2015) Core Concept: Resting State Connectivity. PNAS. https://www.pnas.org/content/112/46/14115

  21. Immordino-Yang, Christoduolou, Singh. (2012). Rest Is Not Idleness: Implications of the Brain’s Default Mode for Human Development and Education. Sage Journals.

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ARTIST STUDY

ARTIST STUDY

“We cannot measure the influence that one or another artist has upon the child’s sense of beauty, upon his power of seeing, as in a picture, the common sights of life; he is enriched more than we know in having really looked at even a single picture.” (Vol. 1, p. 309)

WHY STUDY ART?

In one of my first Humanity classes in college, my teacher started off with a story of a boy who asked “why spend time learning and studying art that depicts pagan gods and worldly struggles?” 

My teacher responded: Art is more than images depicting people, it provides perspective in  understanding human nature. It can be a window to the past and present; it can give you an appreciation and awareness of other cultures and ways of life. It helps us see the world in a new way. If you examine the tales of the gods, you can always find the light of Christ weaved within the rich tapestry of art and story. 

As I studied art from other cultures from around the world, I started looking closely for that light of Christ. It didn’t take me long to find it intertwined within each culture. It taught me that everyone sought a higher being and art was an expression of that light within. 

Now of course, there will always be art that is distasteful and not to our liking. But we can seek the best and learn from it. 

Perhaps you’re thinking, why do we need to teach our children? Can’t they learn when they’re older? Yes! Of course, it’s never too late. But why not start now? There are so many ways to learn about the world around us, art is just one of those beautiful ways to help our children appreciate it and perhaps, gain a fresh perspective of the world outside of their own world. 

 

WHAT SHOULD WE STUDY?

There isn’t a best place to start – start anywhere! When you’re ready for more intentional learning, choose one artist and 5-6 of their paintings and study these works for 10-12 weeks. 

There are so many wonderful artists to choose from and so many different ways to study art. For our family, we have selected 3 to study for the school year, studying 1 artist per term. For each artist, we will learn about six different works. Art study in our family occurs once a week for about 10 – 20 minutes.

On Simple Wonders, we have curated a list of artists and paintings and written a short companion study guide for each artist. They are included in each Family Gather bundle. 

 

HOW DO I TEACH IT?

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes”
-Marcel Proust

This is the fun part. There are so many ways to study art: it can be complex or as simple as you would like. The most important advice I can give is to not overdo it. Here are the most important things you can do to teach your kids about art. 

First

Let them examine the artwork for themselves. For elementary-age children don’t worry about memorizing details, such as the name of the painting. Right now, it is about helping them to see and notice.  

  • Let them examine the painting in silence for at least 1 minute. 
  • After your art discussion, make sure to display the picture somewhere where your children can see it often. 

Second

Ask them open ended questions. Questions are so important to help get us thinking and noticing. This isn’t art history class though, so you do not need to be asking complex questions about artist techniques and styles. Here are some questions you can ask to get them seeing the painting and not just looking, you can also adapt these  questions used for discussing books:

  • What do you notice?
  • What do you think of when you see the painting?
  • What stands out to you?
  • What do you like about it?
  • What do you not like about it? 
  • What shapes do you notice?
  • What colors are used? Do you notice if there are dark or light colors next to each other? 
  • How do you think the people/children feel in the painting/sculpture?
  • What are they doing in the painting?
  • What do you feel when looking at it?

We sometimes focus on one painting for two weeks. Sometimes I will ask different questions  the second week, but often I ask the same questions again. I ask the same questions because they might notice something new and their answer might change. If their answers change, that is great; that means they are starting to think and see the painting for something more than just a scene taking place. Now you can just do those two things above and that will be enough to introduce and help your children appreciate art. But, here are a couple more things to enrich the learning process. 

Third

Have you children sketch the painting. I first was introduced to this idea by the Delectable Education podcast. We have done this in the first and the second week of our study of a painting. I give them about a minute to look at all the details of the painting: shapes, people, objects, colors. Then I turn it face down and everyone does a quick sketch. I tell them to keep it simple and to not worry about details. I really enjoy seeing what they choose to depict from the painting. I have three kids of various skill levels and they all have their own artistic style that is brought out in these quick sketches. 

Fourth

Place art pieces throughout your house and leave out art books! In addition to displaying the artist of the term, I suggest also displaying other prominent art pieces that you appreciate. You can download for free and print works by many known artists from the National Gallery of ArtUsed book sales are great places to look for art books; my children love looking at some of my old art books. You can also get wonderful art books from the library.

We have six paintings on our staircase wall. I have a ritual with my two year old son when we come down the stairs together. I ask him if he sees this or that in one of the pictures. Recently, I stopped doing this; but my son is now stopping me and telling me what he sees in each of the pictures. It amazes me every time. He has taught me that even a two year old can learn to see and notice the art around him. 

Our Heavenly Father has given us a beautiful world and art is one way that we can appreciate and show gratitude for His creations. You’ll be surprised what your children learn from each work of art and hopefully you will gain something along the way, too.

 

You can find more resources for Artist Study in the “Resources–>Subjects”  page of this site.

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SCRIPTURE STUDY

SCRIPTURE STUDY

COME, FOLLOW ME

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has created an amazing resource for studying the scriptures as individuals and families. The curricula is called Come, Follow Me. Although it was created for members of the church, anyone can benefit from the simplicity of its methods. You can view the New Testament guide here. One of the most beautiful aspects of the Come, Follow Me curricula is that it is designed to teach truth while respecting the learner’s experience to create and form their own thoughts while being led by the Holy Ghost. This is modeled after how Christ taught. Come, Follow Me is not a manual that prescribes everything that should be taught – instead the content is simple and aims to deepen our conversion by relying on the Holy Ghost to steer us in our learning. 

As mothers, we yearn for our children to understand and relate to the teachings of Christ at a level they can comprehend and relate to. And, instead of formally teaching a prescribed lesson, one of the most powerful ways we can encourage our children to practice self-education is through play and hands-on experiences. 

By creating a simple environment where children are encouraged to explore their thoughts, we are modeling the same method Christ uses to teach us. We do not need elaborate lesson plans or never-ending coloring pages that offer little depth. Our role as mothers is to create an environment where the Holy Ghost is free to touch our children’s hearts as they play and explore the environment around them. We can casually introduce topics and offer simple instruction, but then by encouraging our children to self-steer their own learning, we give the Spirit the opportunity to touch their heart. Like many adults, spiritual expression in children is often seen in the self-expression of art, dramatic play, drawing or writing, and song or music. We invite the Spirit to touch our hearts, and our children’s hearts as we create simple and flexible opportunities for our children to explore their spirituality growth and development. 

“The Bible is the chief lesson–But we are considering, not the religious life of children, but their education by lessons;
and their Bible lessons should help them to realise in early days that the knowledge of God is the principal knowledge,
and, therefore, that their Bible lessons are their chief lessons.”

CHARLOTTE MASON

OLDER CHILDREN AND TEENS

Some of the best family scripture studies are built on good discussions and learning from each other. Questioning and discussing during scripture study is very important for teens. In a study of college freshman, researchers found that the young adults that remained religious were the ones that felt they could ask questions and discuss religion with their parents. (research study was discussed in this podcast episode). Based on this information, it is extremely important to encourage your children to ask questions, help them find answers to their questions, and discuss doctrine. One way you can get the most out of scripture study is to invite older children to prepare for each day by reading the assigned scriptures in Come, Follow Me beforehand. Then family scripture study will be focused on reading and discussing key scriptures instead of trying to read through a whole chapter, with no time left to discuss. You can also use a book like The Book of Mormon Made Harder for some real thought-provoking questions to add to your family discussion. Some families may want to invite their older children to write about scripture stories and doctrine that really interest them. If your teen is resistant to participating, try this approach shared by Elder Brett Nattress in General Conference October 2016. The most important thing is to be consistent and invite, do not coerce.

You may want to watch the Book of Mormon videos before studying the selected scriptures that week; visual learners will appreciate this as they can visualize the scenes as they read them.  For more in-depth study of certain topics you can find additional resources are in the sidebar of the Gospel Library app. Additionally, ask your teens to share insights they have learned in seminary.

YOUNG CHILDREN

Mothers of young children, especially boys, will find that reading scriptures can be challenging; young children have short attention spans, do not understand the advanced language of the scriptures, and do not yet understand how to control all their emotions (read more here). Teaching the gospel to children can be difficult, but not impossible.

There are a few key points to keep in mind as you teach young children:

  1. Keep it Short
  2. Keep it Simple
  3. Utilize apperception
  4. Engage their heart

Keep it Short

In child development classes, students are taught that children can only pay attention for as many minutes as they are old. Interestingly, adults’ brains can only pay attention for 15 minutes before becoming bored and are ready to move on! In every activity you do you are engaging different parts of the brain, and when you start to become bored or “zone out” this means that part of the brain is  exhausted and you need to do a different activity. When you are reading, listening, or speaking you are utilizing one part of the brain (the verbal left), while drawing and moving the body are engaging a completely different part of the brain (the spacial right), and music engages the whole brain! (source) No wonder we sing so frequently during church meetings. 

Although the actual lesson may be short, you should be teaching the gospel all day every day. “And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” (Deuteronomy 11:19) Comparing and contrasting stories from their life (or a favorite book) to scripture stories is a perfect way to help children see doctrine more clearly.

Keep it Simple

Too many time-consuming activities can take the focus away from the doctrine and what the Spirit is trying to teach. There is no need to subscribe to activity packets and stay up late printing and cutting, or making a late-night run to the store to get the list of items needed. A calm and rested mother who knows the scriptures by heart is a much better teacher than an activity page. Object lessons and activities do have their place, but I’ve found the best activities are the simplest; acting out the story, drawing or looking at a fine art, asking children to narrate (telling story in their own words), and engaging the senses in a simple object lesson that will help them understand the principle by apperception

Use Apperception

When a person is trying to learn a difficult concept, the best teachers use apperception to help the student understand. Christ used this method whenever he taught, and usually used parables to do it. Apperception simply means to compare the difficult concept/principle to something the person is familiar with. Christ frequently used nature and everyday life to teach difficult gospel doctrine to people. We should be using apperception everyday with our young children. Before the lesson, think about something your children genuinely enjoys (Legos, favorite books, pets, etc.) and find a way to use it to teach the difficult principle. For example, I (Jessica) once used Legos to teach my boys about the Word of Wisdom. I compared a Lego set to our bodies. The instructions were our genetics and the Legos were the food we put in our bodies. Each boy opened up his own simple set of Legos and found that one of them didn’t have enough of or the right Lego pieces to follow the instructions. We then talked about how this related to the Word of Wisdom. 

She would begin with a glow in her eyes and tell me their story.
All of their tales she knew,
by the hundreds and hundreds
she knew them.
Tales of the beings divine…
Mark! what I as a child picked up,
the old man still plays with.
Pictures of heroes in sound that lasts,
when spoken, forever,
Images fair of the world and marvellous legends aforetime,
All of them living in me as they fell
from the lips of my mother.

                                 –Denton T. Snyder

Engage the Heart

Many mothers have asked how they can get their young children  to listen during scripture study. We have all experienced the frustration of young children becoming bored, disruptive and noisy during scripture study. And we have all felt the guilt after blowing up at them after trying to hold it together for so long. One technique that can totally change the atmosphere around your scripture study is to tell the story, and tell it well. Now, I (Jessica) will tell you a story about how storytelling has completely changed how I approach scripture study in my home:

A few weeks ago I laid down and fell asleep discouraged and in tears. I was frustrated with myself  (yet again) for raising my voice at my young boys during scripture study, of all the places to yell this was the worst. That morning my little boys were running circles around the house, yelling “poop” at inappropriate moments, and refusing to listen or participate. I had planned to only read  a few verses, but we couldn’t even get through one. I want them to love the scriptures like I do. I just want them to listen for one minute, and I feel my desires are reasonable. But after many failed attempts I finally, I cracked. “QUIET!” I exploded. And it was over. I’d lost my authority and made scripture study even more unpleasant for my children. My husband said a few cutting words and told me to take a walk. 

I felt miserable all day, and of course blamed it on my children. In my prayers that night I begged for patience and the knowledge of what to do.  Nothing came to mind immediately and the next day I walked into our dining room prepared to keep doing the same thing I had been doing. As I was about to read the scriptures the spirit said “Tell them a story.” So that’s what I did. I started telling it and drawing out the characters and scenes on our chalkboard. Five minutes went by. Ten minutes. And there was silence; beautiful, golden silence. The boys were listening with rapt attention, and had been for over ten minutes when I stopped at an exciting part of the story. They begged for more, but I told them I would finish tomorrow. The next day my oldest said “Mom, you need to finish the story about Limhi.” 

Scripture study has been a pleasure ever since I realized that I need to get my young children to fall in love with the stories of the scriptures before trying to teach them the doctrine. There is a reason the scriptures are composed of stories and not dry facts. Stories engage the heart and prepare children’s minds to understand difficult doctrine.

“But let the imaginations of children be stored with the pictures, their minds nourished upon the words, of the gradually unfolding story of the Scriptures, and they will come to look out upon a wide horizon within which persons and events take shape in their due place and due proportion. By degrees, they will see that the world is a stage whereon the goodness of God is continually striving with the willfulness of man; that some heroic men take sides with God; and that others, foolish and headstrong, oppose themselves to Him. The fire of enthusiasm will kindle in their breast, and the children, too, will take their side, without much exhortation, or any thought or talk of spiritual experience.”

CHARLOTTE MASON

As they get older, around school-age, start reading selected verses from the scriptures. You can mark your scriptures where a good story starts and ends so you can read those selected verses to your elementary-age children. Come, Follow Me is also a good place to find selected verses that will be the most interesting for children. It is important for children to become familiar with scripture language, but first they must become familiar with the stories, and the best way to do that is to tell them from your heart. 

You can find more information on how to tell stories to children at Well-Educated Heart. There are helpful tips for how to win your child’s attention through word choice, pauses, etc. 

If you are needing more ideas of teaching young children the gospel, Cassie of Teach in the Home creates weekly activity ideas for teaching Come, Follow Me. They are free, simple, and require little or no preparation.  We love how they supplement the church material, but do not detract from it.  

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Singing

SINGING

Songs can be some of the best tools for helping your homeschool day go more smoothly. Do your children struggle with transitions? Let a song be your cue to switch gears. Do your children need frequent wiggle breaks? Have an impromptu dance party. Do you need to get your children settled and focused again? Try a hymn. Music is a powerful tool. Here are some thoughts, tips, and resources you can use to get more music into your homeschool. 

Sing a hymn each day. Remember what the Lord told Emma Smith? “…[T]he song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.” (D&C 25:12) Do you need blessings? My family sure does! Even if you don’t consider yourself or your family as musically blessed (more on that later), you can claim these blessings by adding a hymn to your daily routine.

My family starts off each day with a hymn. We sing the same hymn every day for a month. My children are small and don’t read yet, so it takes about a month for them to learn the hymn by heart. If you have older children in your family, you could sing your new hymn 2-3 times a week and fill in the other days with old favorites. Or you could sing your way through the whole hymnbook! Bedtime is a great time for a hymn. Some families sing before they say the prayer for dinner. Ask the Lord when a good time is for your family. You may be surprised by the answer.

The church’s sacred music app is a great tool for family hymn singing. Some families like to create a playlist of the Tabernacle Choir singing the family’s chosen hymns. If you’d like help choosing which hymns to learn, a 12-year rotation of Latter-day Saint hymns is available at By Study and Faith. The”Family Gather” packet also includes the lyrics of a hymn and folksong for each month of the year. We plan on creating a packet for every year of a 12-year rotation. 

Sing folk songs that you love. Are there songs from your childhood that you can still sing? Start with those. It doesn’t matter if a song fits the perfect definition of a “folk song.” If it’s part of your history, it’s worth making part of your children’s lives. Folk songs are songs of the people. Traditionally, they only got passed down if there was something about them that was worth passing down. They are typically easy to sing, easy to learn, fun, and/or have catchy tunes. We like to listen to a folk song playlist in the car. If the kids are getting a little crazy during school time, we turn on a folk song and take a little break to sing and dance. I play the banjo very badly, but the kids don’t care that my rendition of “Buffalo Gals” is barely recognizable. And you don’t have to play an instrument badly (or well, for that matter) to sing folk songs. There are many YouTube playlists already created for the AmblesideOnline folk song selections. If you’d like to create your own list, click here for over 100 folk songs that are part of the American folk song tradition. Chances are that you already know many of them!

Sing even if you think you can’t. Far too many people think that they can’t sing. It’s not that they can’t sing–it’s that they haven’t trained their voice and their ear to work together yet. This can be taught at any age. If you want to learn to sing, you can!

Children learn to sing–or “match pitch”–at different rates. If a child is singing regularly at home and at church, most children will be able to sing “on key” by about age six. I observed this in my own children. My son couldn’t carry a tune until he was about six and a half, while my daughter was able to sing a pitch-perfect “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” by age two. Please don’t ever tell your children that they can’t sing. They can! They just may not have figured out how to do it yet. 

Charlotte Mason used a method called Tonic Sol-fa in her curriculum. The pioneers and early Utah settlers actually used the same system. Music teachers today use a more up-to-date version of Sol-fa. It is most commonly called “solfege” and is often taught by music teachers who use the Kodaly method. Sing Solfa is a free, Charlotte-Mason-inspired website that offers video lessons that teach children (and adults) how to sing using the Kodaly method. Each lesson is about 10 minutes long. If you do two lessons a week, your family will have a great foundation in training your voices and ears to work together. (Full disclosure, Sing Solfa is my website.) 

Sing in your foreign language. Sing Solfa also has some foreign language song resources that you may find useful. Foreign language songs can be used like folk songs–as breaks, for fun, or in the car. My children particularly like to learn songs they already know in English in their foreign language. The “Teach Me” series has been a hit at my house.      

Just one song is enough. If you don’t already sing regularly at home, then just pick one song. Play it on your phone for your kids. Show them that you like it. If you are already doing some singing, is there a way you could make your singing more intentional? Singing loses a lot of its magic when it becomes a burden–so there’s no need to force it. I hope that you feel at least a little inspired to add another song or two to your homeschool.

Jessi Vandagriff is a musical, homeschooling mother of two young children. 
She is also the creator of Sing Solfa, a free singing curriculum that is inspired by Charlotte Mason’s methods of teaching music. 

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Children Are Born Persons

CHILDREN ARE BORN PERSONS

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home: Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

(section from) Intimations of Immortality  by William Wordsworth

WE ARE EDUCATING SOULS

“If we have not proved that a child is born a person with a mind as complete and beautiful as his little body, we can at least show that he always has all the mind he requires for these occasions; that is, that his mind is the instrument of his education, and that his education does not produce his mind.” 
-CHARLOTTE MASON

I want you to imagine you and your children living together in the premortal realm receiving lessons and being prepared as equals (see D&C 138:56 and Alma 13:3). Our spirits were educated and prepared long before we were born, and I believe that true education is not actually teaching children completely new concepts, but reminding them of things they already knew to be true. Children are often compared to clay; an inanimate object that does not act and will not become anything unless molded, shaped, and acted upon. But I believe this comparison can be the cause of much anxiety and frustration among parents because children do not act like lifeless clay; they are living, breathing souls and are active agents in their own development. 

Our soul is made up of our spirit and our body, and while our spirit is mature and experienced, our body is not. Our children’s body and brain develop in stages, and while the stages are fairly predictable (e.g. children start walking between 8-24 months), each child will develop skills based on their own timeline and how they develop those skills are unique to the individual. 

Children are essentially a walking paradox: they are mature and capable of deep, intellectual thoughts; yet, their inability to control their emotions and comprehend the simplest of natural laws can be maddening. This is where parents and educators stumble teaching young children. How do we effectively teach someone who is our equal in spirituality, but needs so much training in the ways of the world? This is something I struggle with daily; I certainly have not mastered teaching in this way yet, but there are some key principles that have helped me see my children as mature, yet developing human beings.

TEACH PEOPLE, NOT LESSONS

“Bring up your children in the love and fear of the Lord; study their dispositions and their temperaments, and deal with them accordingly…” 
-BRIGHAM YOUNG

The “Zone”

Lev Vygotsky was a Soviet psychologist who has contributed much to our current understanding of child development. He believed that children learn much better when knowledge is gained through relationships. One of his theories that has made teaching children much more effective is the “zone of proximal development.” There are essentially three “zones” of tasks that children are capable of: tasks that they can do independently, tasks that they are completely incapable of yet, and the zone of proximal development, which describes the tasks that a child can complete with the help of an adult. 

The framework of traditional education is heavily focused on the skills–or tasks–that children can complete on their own. This is completely understandable when a teacher has 25+ students to teach. But when we focus on the tasks a child can complete on their own, we are focusing on the past. When we focus on what a child is on the verge of developing, we are focusing on the future. This kind of teaching requires a lot of one-on-one teaching and is time-intensive. 

However, no one is more equipped to teach a child in their “zone” than a parent who knows their child and what they are capable of. Watch your child and take note of which tasks are in their three zones. Focus on the tasks that are in their zone of proximal development and put your energy towards developing those. Here is an example: While watching my four year old clean I’ve noticed that he can put a few books on the shelf, he can put away a whole box of blocks, and he can put pillows on the couch. If I help him, he can clean up his entire room, put away all the books in the library, and he can clean up an entire game. He is not capable of doing the dishes or mopping the floor, with or without my help.

Meet the Child

Stop focusing on which grade level your child “should” be at or where you want them to be. Look at them as a person with unique attributes and abilities. See where they are at this moment and meet them there. Before you help your child or teach them a subject, find out what the child needs from you and ask them questions to find out what they already know. This is what Charlotte Mason meant when she said to meet the child where they are at. This kind of instruction is time and labor intensive. It requires the teacher to know her student well and to work with the student’s timeline and abilities, not a scheduled, one-size-fits-all curriculum. 

This kind of teaching is focused on adjusting the material to fit the needs of the student, not adjusting the student to fit the requirements of the curriculum. 

Christ taught people, not lessons. When we are preparing lessons and activities we should focus on the person we are teaching and their “zone.” Take note of books that may be too easy to understand, or too hard. Try to limit activities that can be accomplished alone, these are what most students call “busywork”–work that is accomplished without the scaffolding of a teacher and is a review of information already learned instead of learning new skills. How can you possibly teach multiple young children this way? It is actually quite simple: School lessons are spent mostly one-on-one (or alternating between students), and they are short. For example, elementary students spend between 5-15 minutes learning about each subject, so school should only take 1-2 hours. The rest of the day is left open for students to practice their mastered skills independently in projects of their choosing (self-education will be covered in the next post.) As children mature, the teachers role changes and less time is needed one-on-one, especially when they can read their school books on their own. Lesson time will slowly increase with each year as the child’s ability to focus is strengthened. After this point, scaffolding may consist of creating a schedule, choosing books, and discussing the books with your child.

Be prepared to adjust plans as necessary, and do not make schedules too far in advance. Children develop and mature quickly as they are taught in their zone, and their interests change as well. In Charlotte Mason’s schools, she did not have a fixed curriculum or plan for a whole year at a time. She planned each term (three months) one at a time. Personally, I have found this to work well; I plan some subjects for a whole term, other subjects I make a plan for six weeks, then re-evaluate and adjust. I give myself a broad structure, say historical period of 1800-1900, and then have lots of freedom within that structure to pursue my child’s interests. Narration and play are the tools to help gauge your child’s zone of proximal development and to get a glimpse into what they are interested in. Narration will be explained in-depth in a later article; for now, you can read this article.

NATURE VS. NURTURE

All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.
excerpt from THE FAMILY: A PROCLAMATION TO THE WORLD

Any parent will tell you that each of their children are very different from one another. They were born with their own personality, experience, and abilities, and these are apparent before they were born. Despite similar genetics, home environment, and parenting, siblings make different choices and have unique personalities. There have been many theories throughout the centuries trying to explain the puzzling behavior of young children and how they develop. Many people believed that because we are born in a fallen state, that children are born inherently evil and need to have the “devil beaten out of them.” Literally. Others believed that children are born inherently good and that it is the sinful, fallen world that corrupts them. And then there is John Locke and B.F.Skinner who believed that children were born blank slate; that a person’s personality, preferences, and abilities were all due to the nurturing they received. 

With so many conflicting opinions how can we distinguish the truth? If we believe children are born evil then we will believe any negative behavior is sinful and needs to be punished. If we believe that children are inherently good, then we should take on a laissez-faire sort of parenting style, where most everything they do is good and we should avoid correcting them. If they are born blank-slate, then the choices our children make and what they ultimately become is completely up to the parents. I don’t know about other parents, but if I believed every choice my child made and his whole character was based on my parenting, I don’t think I would have ever chosen to be a parent.

Many parenting books are based on this last theory, known as “behaviorism.” This theory affects much more than we realize. Teachers may see their students that come from disadvantaged homes as less competent or not able to comprehend difficult material as their more advantaged peers. And in their deep compassion may not have as high of expectations or provide them with as rigorous material as their more advantaged peers. But research and experience has shown that intelligence goes much deeper than just home life and genetics. Although earthly experience definitely influences a child’s intellect, it doesn’t define him or her. When given the chance, children from disadvantaged homes have been found to rise to their teachers’ expectations and show they have a spiritual maturity and intelligence that would not be possible according to behaviorism. (see chapter nine of The Smartest Kids in the World)

“The person rises to understand, master, and enjoy whatever he is surrounded with in language, ideas, literature, and in appreciation of beauty. If you share with children the very best, carefully chosen to meet their needs, they will amaze everyone.” 

SUSAN SCHAEFFER MACAULAY

TEMPERATE IN ALL THINGS

“The fact seems to be that children are like ourselves, not because they have become so, but because they are born so; that is, with tendencies, dispositions, towards good and evil, and also with a curious intuitive knowledge as to which is good and which is evil.”

CHARLOTTE MASON

As usual, truth can be found in the scriptures, and it is usually a tempering of the extreme views of the world. 

We are born with two opposing forces: the Light of Christ and the Natural Man. In the Church Gospel Topics manual, the Light of Christ is defined as “the divine energy, power, or influence that proceeds from God through Christ and gives life and light to all things. The Light of Christ influences people for good and prepares them to receive the Holy Ghost. One manifestation of the Light of Christ is what we call a conscience.”

As for the natural man, or the opposing force, King Benjamin defines the natural man as “an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit…” (Mosiah 3:19)

Interestingly, Charlotte Mason was radical in her day in that she believed children are not born tabula rosa (blank slate), but are born with possibilities for both good and evil. Dr. Gordon Neufeld explained this same idea in his book Hold on to Your Kids in such a profound way that my parenting and knowledge of the gospel has been changed forever. He said that maturity is the ability to temper our impulses with the opposing feeling;  we are all born with intense feelings (hate/love, fear/courage, sadness/joy, etc.) and maturity is the ability to temper the possibly destructive impulse with the attribute that opposes it. We have been commanded in the scriptures to be temperate in all things (Galatians 5:22-23, Alma 38:10, 7:23).

For example, when I was a child and felt angry at another person I may have the impulse to hit them, but over time that has been tempered with love and compassion for other human beings and it has overcome the impulse to physically hurt them. Becoming an adult does not mean we have reached maturity, however; maturity comes from learning how to temper the impulses of the natural man with the Light of Christ. Immaturity is feeling one intense feeling at a time: anger, love, happiness, sorrow, but not at the same time. Later, when you realize the consequence of acting on your emotions, there is guilt, sadness, and remorse. If those emotions are not tempered with compassion and love, self-hatred and loathing can make it even harder to change.

Young children are new to these opposing forces and have not yet learned to temper the feelings that we all feel on a daily basis. They can be so loving and compassionate one minute, then turn into a violent perpetrator the next.

It is important that we do not label emotions as “bad” or “good.” Emotions are not evil or righteous, it is how we act on emotions that is good or bad. It is the choices we make that will either bring us happiness or misery. I find it interesting to read in the scriptures that Christ displayed the full spectrum of human emotions; sorrow, anger, happiness, even depression.

Here are a few of them:

  • “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death;” (Mark 14:38)
  • “Yea, I will visit them in my fierce anger,” Helaman 13:10 (also Mosiah 12:1)
  • “And now behold, my joy is full. And when he had said these words, he wept.” (3 Nephi 20)
  • “Behold, my bowels are filled with compassion towards you.” (3 Nephi 17:6)
Deborah Macnamara, a child psychologist and author of Rest, Play, Grow, supports the idea that emotions are neither bad nor good.  She says, “Parents can also falsely believe that emotion is learned and must be unlearned with reinforcement and consequences. The new science of emotion has shown that this is incorrect. We do not teach a child to behave frustrated, alarmed, caring, sad – they are born with the capacity to feel these emotions and are instinctively moved from this place. The role of a parent is to guide them through their emotions so that stability, balance, and self-control can eventually be achieved.”

Instead of telling our children that they shouldn’t feel sad, angry, jealous, etc. We should be:

  1. Acknowledging their feelings and not shaming them,
  2. Discussing how they acted on that particular emotion and the consequences of their action, 
  3. Then, assisting the child in bringing out the opposing feeling. This should be done after the strong emotions have simmered down, not in the middle of it. Trust me, this doesn’t work well. 

I have noticed a trend among my boys: when there is a moment during family devotional when the Spirit is strong, they go haywire. They start making silly sounds, jumping on the couch, or tackling me and my husband. For the past year or so I could not figure out why they would disrupt a perfectly spiritual moment like this. Then I realized that if children are not capable of tempering emotions like anger and sadness, they cannot temper their joy and strong sense of feeling the Spirit. Ultimately, they lack the maturity to temper their joy with respect and reverence. Since that time, I have started seeing their energy not as a disruption or naughty behavior, but as a sign that their spirit is full of joy, and I have been trying to help them recognize that and put it into words.

There is so much going on under the surface of our child that we cannot see. There is also so much experience our child gained before this life that we have no knowledge of, or have forgotten. Instead of assuming the worst when they make a mistake, we should have a “benign assumption.” This means that we assume the child had good intentions, but was lacking knowledge when they made their choice (or were completely overcome by emotion). We can help them recognize the consequence of their choice and help them figure out what they can do better next time. When we assume the worst every time our child makes a mistake, we will inadvertently bring out the worst in them. Christ wants us to see the best in our child; see them as a person with good intentions who is simply lacking the experience and knowledge adults have.

LINE-UPON-LINE

Children develop in stages; they must go through a set of physical, mental, and emotional milestones that are dictated by eternal laws. For example, during the first two years of life the child mainly operates from their brain stem. Their movements are automatic and governed by reflexes. After two years old, their limbic system starts to develop and this coincides with “the terrible twos.” The limbic system of the brain controls emotions, and we certainly witness their innocent souls overcome with each emotion as it presents itself. In combination with the knee-jerk reactions of the brain stem, this is a recipe for disaster. Combine the automatic flight-or-fight responses of the brain stem along with pure anger, sadness, and joy and you get the tantrums and aggression that are so characteristic of toddlerhood. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for reasoning and planning, and this does not start developing until around eight years old, on average. It is amazing to me that Heavenly Father has told us since the beginning of time that young children are not held accountable for their mistakes. They are not capable of sin, and thanks to modern science we know why.  In order to sin we must 1) know what is wrong and what is right, 2) willfully choose to go against what we know to be right. This requires the ability to reason, and a child’s brain is not capable of that higher function until around 8 years old. We may see short flickers of the ability to reason and resist temptation as they get close to eight years old, but it certainly isn’t constant.

A wise, loving Heavenly Father does not hold children under the age of eight accountable for their actions and neither should we (see Moroni 8). This is a stage that should be dedicated to teaching and connecting. Correct your child when he/she makes a mistake, teach them good habits, and connect with them so they know that you love and cherish them more than anything else. This is extremely difficult, especially because this is most probably counter to what we experienced as children. For most of us (including myself) this requires a paradigm shift, along with overcoming the natural man. Remember, you are still developing too. Focus on progress, not perfection. 

 

Rest, Play, Grow

Many, if not all, parents today feel the enormous responsibility to “mature” their children. It is a heavy burden to bear; to assume that a child’s maturation and development rests solely on your shoulders. However, Charlotte Mason believed that the mind developed much like the body; parents provide nourishment and rest, but ultimately the body takes care of its own growth. As an example, we are not responsible for turning on the hormones each night, or setting a timer for when the baby teeth should start falling out. Neither can we speed up normal growth by feeding them more food or forcing them to sleep longer hours. Maturation and development of the mind works the same way: if we provide nourishment (experiences, ideas, etc) and rest (connection and safety) their minds will develop and mature at the rate they are supposed to. We can relax and trust the process. Our children will develop the ability to walk as long as we give them opportunities and support. However, they will do it on their own timeline. We cannot force them to walk at two months old by discovering the secret formula and putting in extra time. The same goes for independence, self-regulation, and other fruits of maturation; we cannot force a three year old to self-regulate any more than we can force a two month old to walk. 

 

Growing up as the oldest of six children and now raising three boys of my own, I have noticed that most “undesirable” behavior is simply a stage that the child will grow out of soon. I remember my brother throwing massive tantrums around seven years old. He would scream, punch the walls, and spit out hateful words. As stressful as this was for my parents, they did their best to love him and help him understand his strong emotions. A couple months later he grew out of it. He was never aggressive or violent after that stage. In fact, he is the calmest, most composed sibling I have. The key is to make sure your child feels loved, and ensure they know what is expected of them. When dealing with development it’s important to remember that today is not forever. 

 

Children are born persons, with previous experiences and personalities. They are not born purely evil or good, but have tendencies for both; they are born into a natural body which is tempered by the light of Christ that has been with us since before birth. Children are bound by the natural laws of development that we all should understand and respect, because the Lord (and His creations) work “line-upon-line” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:21).  When we realize that we are not responsible for achieving a certain result, we are free to love our children for who they are, which will prepare their hearts and minds to be taught.

 

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THREE SIMPLE TOOLS

THREE SIMPLE TOOLS

If you have found yourself educating your children at home for a few weeks or for longer you may be feeling overwhelmed and frustrated; overwhelmed with all the options available and frustrated with the uphill battles to get your kids to finish their schoolwork. In this post I hope to offer some relief and encouragement in regards to home education. This information may be new to you, or it may not, but if anything it will be a good reminder: The key to successful education is simplification

“Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.”

Alma 37:6

I am going to outline three essential tools that Charlotte Mason used in her schools and how to use them. I will include recent research articles that support these methods, just to prove to you how timeless these methods are. Along with these methods, I want to stress the importance of keeping lessons short, elementary students should not be spending more than 10-20 minutes per subject, and then by high school it should be around 30-45 minutes per subject. When lessons are short and powerful kids will focus and retain more. 

GOOD BOOKS

What if you could schedule a private tutor session for your child with a great writer, mathematician, or scientist? What would it be worth to you to have your child taught by and interact with some of the greatest minds in history? Books do this. They are compilations of the words and works that these passionate people wanted to share with the world. Some may be famous, like Albert Einstein or James John Audubon. Others may not, like Jean Henri Fabre or Paul Erdos. But when a person is passionate about a subject and has lived the experiences they have written about, you can tell a difference. There is a certain feeling that comes alive when you read the words of someone who is describing an experience they are wanting to share with the world. While you read their words you can see what the author is describing in your mind’s eye, and the passion is contagious. This is what Charlotte Mason called a living book. It is written with descriptive language, conveying rich ideas and igniting your imagination. “Living ideas capture the imagination by planting a seed that germinates in the mind, causing one to continue to wonder and ponder it, and to pursue further knowledge about the subject.” (“How to Recognize a Living Book”, Living Books Library) These are the books we should be giving to our children. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding if it is a “living book:”

  • Is the book written by one author? Or is it written by a group of people who are compiling facts?
  • Did they live the experiences they are writing about? Or, is this person passionate about the subject ?
  • Is the text literary and engaging? In other words, is the author a good writer?

A More Beautiful Question

Next, you should be asking thought-provoking questions and leading good discussions about these books. A good question has the ability to open up the mind in ways nothing else can. It literally turns on curiosity and a desire to discover truth. Here are a few of our favorite questions to ask:

  1. How is X like Y? Or how is X different from Y?
  2. Who is the most ________ (courageous, forgiving, kind, responsible, etc.) in this story?
  3. What does this story or person remind you of?
  4. What does the person in the story desire most? or, what are they most afraid of?
  5. Which person reminds you of yourself?
  6. What if ________ didn’t happen? Or, how would the story have been different if the character didn’t make the choice they did?
  7. What is something you don’t want to forget from this story?
  8. Do you see any patterns in the story? 

RECITATION

One of the greatest orators of our time was a man who received less education than most Americans today. In fact, this man never attended school, yet he was intelligent and eloquent. Frederick Douglass was born a slave and never received a formal education. His master’s wife taught him how to read, and after that he devoured every book he could get his hands on. The first book he ever purchased was The Columbian Orator. Douglass studied and memorized classic speeches from that book in order to find his own voice. He went on to write a classic book, an autobiography of his life, and many people did not believe he actually wrote it because they believed it to be too eloquent for a man of so little education.

When a person commits something to memory it becomes a part of vocabulary and a part of their mind. Eventually, the words you memorize influence the way you think. Douglass’s beautiful writing and perfect grammar came from memorizing eloquent speeches. You can read more about recitation in this post.

Interestingly, young children do not need direct grammar instruction in the elementary grades to learn how to speak and write correctly. They do not need sentence diagramming, worksheets, or anything that resembles a worksheet. Research actually shows that these methods do not work. (see Note and Resources at end of post)

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: children already know how to use good grammar. Yes, you read that right. Have you ever heard a normal, six year old child say “it give me to?” What about “zoo is panther the favorite my animal at?” That is because children learn correct grammar by listening to, speaking, and reading correct grammar. 

So, how can you help elementary children learn correct grammar on an even deeper level? Copywork. 

Copywork goes hand-in-hand with recitation and is one of those things that people may overlook because of the simpleness of it. Copywork is writing well-written sentences into a notebook. While you are reading good books, you will find that some sentences or paragraphs speak to your individual child. Have them copy those sentences down into a notebook. This is how it works:

  1. You write the sentence down on the left side of the open notebook. 
  2. The child then copies down that sentence on the other side. 
  3. Make sure you point out–or have them point out–the capitalized letters and punctuation.
  4. After they have copied down a few pages of sentences over the course of a week or so, start asking them if they notice any patterns in capitalization and punctuation. Where do you use capital letters? Where do you put periods? Etc. 
  5. Sources for copywork include: scriptures and poems you are memorizing, song lyrics, sentences from school books, and quotes.

NARRATION

In the 1960’s Sonya Carson was a single mom with a third grade education. She worked two to three jobs while trying to raise her two boys, Ben and Curtis. After Ben brought home an unsatisfactory report card she decided to make a change. She could see their potential, and knew they were capable of much more than what they were doing. So she instituted a new rule: her boys were limited to two TV shows per week, and they were required to read two books and write a report about each one. Ben’s report cards started to improve, and after high school he attended Yale and became a world-renowned brain surgeon. 

Know and Tell

Narration is simply telling what you know, but the act of narration is difficult and produces powerful results. After Ben and Curtis read their books they were required to tell their mother what they learned from the book, which is narration. There was no multiple choice test or fill-in-the-blanks, and they were not required to write about any certain theme from the book. They simply wrote about what they learned from the book. 

Each person is unique and what they gain from a book depends on their experience, maturity, and past knowledge. What your child gained from a book may be much more personalized, and therefore influential, for them than what you gained from the book. Narration is the tool we use to see what they are learning and retaining from their lessons. The process of summarizing and synthesizing information gained from a book or experience is difficult because it requires the brain to transfer information from one side to the other.

Children ages 6-9 should be orally narrating to you after each school lesson; telling you what they remember from the story or any ideas that struck them. It may be incoherent and incorrect at first, but just like the body’s muscles it will get stronger with practice. Resist the urge to correct and criticize.

Written Narration

After age 10, children should start writing down their narrations. However, they should be writing about what they thought was important and interesting, not what you thought was important. By late middle school and high school you should start giving them writing prompts and teaching the different forms of essays. The questions listed in the “Good Books” section are great prompts to use.

The important thing to remember is that before a child can write well, they need to learn how to speak well; and before they can speak well they need to learn how to think well. Narration lays the foundation for good writing because it teaches children how to think and speak well.

Narration is another seemingly small and simple thing that bring to pass great things.

All three of these methods are simple to implement and free to use. You can use them for two weeks while you wait for school to open up again, during the summer break and weekends, or as your main tools to educate your child at home. Whatever your situationI hope this helps you feel prepared, confident, and ready to nurture life-long learners.

NOTE: Once children reach ten years old they should start writing their own essays and this will require a year of direct grammar instruction. However, not all grammar instruction is created equal. Recent research has shown that traditional grammar instruction does not work. This includes sentence diagramming, worksheets, fill-in-the-blanks, and ultimately learning grammar in isolation from real writing.

RESOURCES

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TEN PRINCIPLES

TEN PRINCIPLES

OF EDUCATION

01

LOVE | Relationships are sacred, and love is the foundation of teaching and learning. When our children are attached, they will emulate our behavior and listen when we talk to them. A secure attachment encourages children to take risks and become independent. When children feel accepted as they are, they can rest in our love, and therefore play and grow.

02

CHILDREN ARE BORN PERSONS | Children are born with previous experience and spiritual maturity. They are not born “blank slate,” and they have tendencies for both good and evil because of the light of Christ and the natural man. Parents need to trust the natural process of development and maturation and respect children as people.

03

SELF-EDUCATION | Agency plays a necessary role in the Plan of Salvation, and therefore it it essential to learning and growth. The most important way that children exercise their agency is through play. The educational value of play cannot be overstated. We cannot force children to internalize and retain information. They learn what they need, when they need it, and the Holy Ghost plays a central role in that  process.

04

THE ROLE OF THE TEACHER | The Holy Ghost is the true teacher of all knowledge; the gospel, math, science, and the arts. As parents and teachers we cannot make a child remember and comprehend information we deem as important. So what are the parents’ responsibilities and how do we teach? Charlotte Mason said we have three tools at our disposal: atmosphere, discipline, and living ideas.

05

ATMOSPHERE | Children learn by watching others and engaging in meaningful experiences. Our children learn values and mature behavior by watching us, and practice those skills with people of all ages. Children learn best from real-life experiences, not from artificial environments that are specially prepared.

06

DISCIPLINE | We are constantly forming either good or bad habits in ourselves and our children.  We influence our child’s behavior by how we respond to it (conditioning). The idea of habits extends to more than just outward behavior; it encompasses how we think and respond to certain situations

07

LIVING IDEAS | Curiosity, imagination, and passion come from living ideas. Deep learning comes from interacting with great minds and ideas through high-quality books. Parents are in control of what is brought into their home and the experiences/things their children interact with. Rich, nourishing material is followed by ample amount of unscheduled time to digest and comprehend what was experienced. 

08

NARRATE | Real learning happens when children synthesize the information they learn. This happens by the child taking in ideas and information, digesting it, and telling back in their own words what they learned. This process is simple but powerful. True learning and comprehension happens when the brain is asked to synthesize information and tell back in a way that makes sense.

09

 QUESTION | A thought-provoking question is the epitome of the Savior’s way of teaching. A great question immediately opens the mind and ignites the learning process to discover truth. Not all questions are created equal, however. If it is not worded correctly or the intent is loaded, it can just as quickly shut down the thinking process. 

10

APPLY | What use is knowledge if we don’t know how to apply it? Children naturally experiment and apply their knowledge to new situations, from coloring to building with Legos. More than ever our children need to learn how to discover truth and patterns in all subjects, and then gain the wisdom to apply it in many different situations.

WONDERS simple
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LOVE: PART 2

PART 2

LOVE

Relationships are Sacred

In my first article about love, I discussed the importance of attachment and how nurturing the connection between you and your children is essential to teaching. For some of us, nurturing comes naturally. For others (like me) it is not innate and requires more intentional work. As parents and teachers, we can borrow a lesson from medical doctors by taking the Hippocratic oath: “Primum non nocere,” or “First, do no harm.” In other words, when we discipline children our priority should be to do no harm to the relationship. 

As I have studied the Savior’s methods of teaching, I have noticed that he does not chastise or revile; he prioritizes the person and the relationship first and foremost. As an example, let’s look at how the Savior reacts when the Pharisees brought him a woman caught in adultery (John 8). Jesus did not say to her “Well, you really screwed up” or “You knew what the consequences were when you made the choice.” He simply said, “Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?” She said, “No man, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” He did not condemn her. He did not give her a long sermon about the law of chastity. 

When our children make the wrong choice we should not be the first person waiting to cast stones and condemn. We should be down at their level, looking them in the eyes and showing them our unconditional love, followed quickly by encouraging them to go and be a better person than they were before. There are laws and commandments that must be obeyed, but when those laws are broken we can come alongside our child in their guilt, shame, and sorrow and show that they are loved. They need to know that their worth is not tied to their choices, and that we have faith in their ability to be better.

Revile Not

Another relationship lesson we can learn from Christ is not to revile against our children. To revile is to criticize in an abusive or angrily insulting manner. This is the biggest challenge for me as a parent; For a long time, I had a child that would explode over what I felt were insignificant things. He would say that he hates me and that I’m “the stupidest mommy ever.” Even though I taught him correct behavior and showed an increase of love afterwards, he still continued to verbally abuse me. When all the behavioral techniques failed me, I became frustrated, gave up, and started to punish and revile against him. Not surprisingly, it did not solve the problem, it only made things worse than before. Only when I ignored the behavior and focused on him as a person did things start to improve. I put forth an even greater effort to strengthen our relationship and allowed him some grace as his immature brain is developing. I believe there is a misconception among parents that if our children, in their frustration and anger, say disrespectful things, it is our duty to fight back and punish them for it immediately. However, the Savior has given us an example to ignore the reviling, and Peter clearly states that we are to follow it: 

“For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example,that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:”
1 Peter 2:21-23

Connection Before Correction

When someone is angry and frustrated, they are not teachable. Likewise, it is pointless to argue, force apologies, or teach a moral when a child is emotionally upset. When we revile against our children we are actually robbing them of an opportunity to comprehend their mistake, feel remorse, and a desire to make amends. Many times they actually know what they are doing is wrong, but lack the reasoning capabilities to act on what they know to be right; the prefrontal cortex doesn’t start developing until around age eight.

Therefore, when we start to lecture and attempt to teach right at that moment, they will most likely justify their behavior, blame others, and make it less likely to feel remorse. If we want to be more Christ-like parents, we need to maintain a calm, loving countenance, even when our children are falling apart around us. I’ve found that in these moments, I just can’t say anything, otherwise I start rising to their emotions and everything falls into chaos. I simply get down at their level and try to think loving thoughts, and if they let me, I embrace them. At this point they usually break down and start crying.

Later, when a child has calmed down and feels connected, I say something like, “You were really upset with me earlier when you couldn’t have another cookie, and you said words that were not kind.” Sometimes they apologize on their own, and sometimes they just acknowledge that they were really upset. Either way, the relationship is intact and the child feels loved, despite making a mistake. I will usually take note of these incidences and center a family home evening lesson around it, like “speaking kind words” or “honoring parents.” In this way, I am ensuring that correct principles are taught, but at a time when the child is calm and ready to learn. I will discuss teaching and roleplay in a later article.

This kind of parenting is difficult. It goes against the natural man who wants to punish, seek revenge, and mend wounded pride. Some days I feel like I ran a marathon from all the energy I expend trying to maintain self-control. And although I still occasionally slip into previous bad habits, I have made great improvements by simply changing what I believe about what Christlike parenting looks like. I realized that a lot of my previous “parenting” was actually just me releasing steam. It wasn’t intentional, problem-solving, or loving. I parented based on what made me feel good after my feelings were hurt and my pride was wounded. We will all fall short of following Christ’s example perfectly, but I know from experience that the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Each moment that you choose to follow Christ and love your children is a small victory that helps motivate you to do it again.

As parents we were first commanded to love our children, and then teach them.  We were never commanded to judge our children’s actions and punish them accordingly. That responsibility is left to only one person: Jesus Christ. 

Nurture a Tender Heart

Why is reviling, condemnation, and punishment so damaging? The scriptures are full of examples of people with “hard hearts” that refuse to listen, and have lost empathy, compassion, and remorse. Although there are many variables that contribute to this attitude, I believe that the quality of close relationships play a large part in whether a person develops a hard heart. 

Dr. Gordon Neufeld concludes from his many years of counseling children and parents that hardened hearts come from peer attachment. When a child becomes oriented to their peers, they must protect their vulnerable hearts from the conditional love (or lack of love at all) of their peers. Children shield or harden their hearts, making them resistant to adult guidance, vulnerability, and an interest in things around them. You can read more about peer orientation in his book, Hold on to Your Kids

To maintain a tender heart, all people must encounter futility, which is acknowledging that we cannot change something. This means that parents need to have high expectations for our children; we need to set limits and maintain structure in our homes so children can encounter futility and develop self-regulation. However, this can backfire on us if we are not there to show an outpouring of love when our children realize their desires are futile. To feel deep disappointment is very vulnerable, even more so when they visibly show their feelings through tears. When we come alongside our child during their time of vulnerability and show them they are accepted and loved as they are, we are keeping their hearts soft. When children feel safe to show vulnerability they are more able to accept responsibility for their mistakes, ask questions, love deeply, and show an interest in learning.

In the scriptures, many words are used to describe people with hard hearts, such as: 

  • Offended
  • Contentious
  • Prideful
  • Angry
  • Resentful
  • Apathetic
  • Blaming
  • Indulging

The opposite of these words could be used to describe a soft, or tender, heart: 

  • Forgiving
  • Humble
  • Peacemaker
  • Happy
  • Empathetic
  • Responsible
  • Grateful
  • Curious/Interested

We want our children to maintain their tender hearts that are so characteristic of childhood, but how do we do it?

We need to maintain a delicate balance between expectations and love. In other words; imposing limits, setting high expectations, and letting our children shed tears and being there to comfort them when things don’t go their way. When we blame and resent our children we have a hard heart (read Leadership and Self-deception for a wonderful explanation of this). When we try to discipline with negative feelings we push our children into blaming and resenting us as well. Our feelings toward our children make all the difference when we talk to them.

As an example, when I’m feeling negative feelings toward my son I am actually excited when he asks for cookies after dinner because he has chosen not to eat dinner and I am justified when I get to tell him no. My tone is not kind and I see his tears as an annoyance and not as a person who is genuinely disappointed. Compare this to feeling charitable toward my son: I might say something like “I really want you to have a cookie, but you need to eat your dinner. Would you like me to help you finish? Or sit with you while you eat?” In both cases I am imposing a limit, but it’s how I’m imposing the limit that makes all the difference.

“Imposed sanctions, artificial consequences, and the withdrawal of privileges–are self-defeating. Punishment creates an adversarial relationship and incurs emotional hardening.” 

Dr. Gordon Neufeld, Hold On to Your Kids

Crime and Punishment

Whenever a person loves someone or something, they open their hearts to become attached and love deeply, becoming vulnerable. Children are especially good at opening their hearts and loving completely. Popular discipline tactics recommended by professionals for many years involve taking advantage of this vulnerability; the most common are time-outs and grounding.

These may not seem like a terrible way to correct behavior, but the long-term result can actually be damaging. When a child is punished by being separated from a parent, despite the child seeking for connection, the child is hurt, feels rejected, and must find a way to cope with the pain. The result is indifference. If a child is grounded from riding his bike, playing soccer, etc. they learn to not feel so deeply for these things as a way to cope with the hurt and vulnerability, not to mention the resentment they feel for the parent that is choosing to take away these beloved items. The more a person is forced to feel indifference, the more hardened their heart and the less vulnerable they become. 

A tender heart is needed for a person to be teachable. Christ admonished us to become like little children for many reasons, but one reason is that they have tender hearts. They are willing to make mistakes, take chances, and ask questions, even if the questions seem silly. Our job is to maintain their tender hearts by validating their emotions, making our love unconditional, relying on natural consequences, and holding back condemnation. Maintaining a tender heart does not mean giving in to demands, it does not mean we dissolving rules that might cause frustration, and it certainly does not mean letting our children grow up in ignorance. What it does mean is that we change the way we think about our role as parents,and trust the maturation process. Most importantly, we need to trust our children to make the right choice when they have been taught correct principles, and give them the space to make mistakes. 

IN SUMMARY, if we want to effectively teach our children, we need to:

  1. Develop charity and see them as people.
  2. Nurture secure attachments in order to gain authority.
  3. Not use coercion, bribery, or punishment to force obedience.

So the question arises, how do we discipline our children? As usual, Charlotte Mason has the answer. She famously stated in her Twenty Principles of Education that: “We are limited to three educational instruments–
the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit,  and the presentation of living ideas.”

In other words, we teach our children by our example and by them making mistakes  through real-life experiences (atmosphere); by shaping the child’s behavior and habits (discipline); and by introducing “living ideas” by reading the scriptures and other high-quality books. These three principles will be discussed in-depth in the next few articles. 

 

Photography and artwork by Randi Gardner. You can find her on Instagram, at @blooming.pen

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READING + WRITING: THE EARLY YEARS

CHARLOTTE MASON was ahead of her time in many of her philosophies and methods, and it shows in her method of teaching children to read. You can read her words for yourself in volume one of her Home Education series (see pages 199-222). She recommends an effective combination of sight-words and phonics that I  used with my own son, and am currently using with my second. I am  creating ebooks  that explain the different stages of reading/writing and how simple Charlotte Mason’s methods can be. I am so impressed with how effective and simple her methods are, and that they can be adapted to fit the needs, preferences, and personality of each child.  As a bonus, the only materials you need  throughout the years are good books, paper, and pencils.  

HOW TO TEACH DURING THE “EARLY YEARS”

When teaching during the early years (ages 0-6 years old), all lessons should be child-led. The child should show interest and desire in learning how to read and write, and they should not be coerced or bribed to start. Reading and writing develops just like other skills: some children start early, others start late. Some children master the skill in a week; for others it could take months, even years! You will most probably see pauses and regressions in their learning. However your child develops reading and writing skills, the key is patience and making your relationship the priority. Stop the lesson before the child’s interest wanes, this is a key to maintaining interest in the long-run. In Charlotte Mason’s opinion, the first six years of life should be a “quiet growing time,” and this program is meant to respect that idea.

You will find that this approach is simple and requires very little materials. I have made many educational purchases through the years and have found that all I really need are these five things:

BOOKS
PAPER
PENCILS
MANIPULATIVES
CHALKBOARD

Reading high-quality books from a young age ignites a passion for reading that no amount of rewards or coercion can replicate. If you want your child to desire the skill of reading, read them good books.

Plain, white printer paper will do. I have included large, lined paper for children to practice letters, but, honestly, they will practice on any paper they get their hands on.

Colored pencils from IKEA are my children’s absolute favorite writing tools. They are large, have rich color, and you can also add water with a paintbrush to make a watercolor effect on the drawings. As a bonus, they are very affordable.

Simple items from around the house will work for manipulatives: sticks from a nature walk, playdough, salt/sand tray, etc. The only manipulative that I am pleased with purchasing is a moveable Montessori alphabet. You could easily replace the moveable alphabet with Bananagram tiles, or create your own alphabet by printing letters on cardstock and laminating them.

A small child-sized chalkboard can be purchased from most craftstores. This is another purchase I recommend because the resistance of the chalk/chalkboard help strengthen hand muscles.

LESSONS

FINE MOTOR SKILLS

Children should be practicing their fine motor skills on a daily basis. Some activities could include: threading wooden beads on a shoelace, transfering water from bowl to bowl with eyedropper, playing with playdough, and using large tweezers/tongs to transfer objects (cotton balls, beans, pasta, etc) from one container to another.

SHAPES AND FORMS

Before you child ever sets pencil to paper, they should draw the letters in the air, and make it a point to write them in the correct order as they would on paper. Ask your child to make the letter in the air with their finger while saying the sound of the letter. They could also use a stick or pencil to write in the air, if they prefer that instead of a finger. You can also use other parts of the body to draw in the air, like nose or feet. Drawing in the air helps the brain visualize the direction and shape of the letter first, without being encumbered with underdeveloped fine motor skills. Saying the letter sound also helps strengthen the correlation between sight and sound.

Next, use manipulatives to form the shape of the letter, like sticks or pencils. Another activity you can do is to roll out playdough “snakes” and use them to form the letters.

DRAW ON CHALKBOARD

After the child has visualized the shape of the letter and formed it using manipulatives, the next step is to draw the letter on a chalkboard.

Using the chalkboard as a guide, the child should write the letter so that it covers the whole chalkboard, top to bottom. After writing the letter with chalk, erase it using a small sponge (a sponge from the dollar store cut into small squares). Alternatively, you can use a small tray with sand or salt and the child writes the letter in the sand using their finger.

DRAW LETTERS ON PAPER

Each written lesson starts with gray letters for the child to trace over to get a feel for how the letter is formed. As with writing in the air, your child should say the sound of the letter when they write it the first few times. The lined paper is to practice previous letters learned by writing the suggested words. The parent should carefully write the word first, so the child can see the letter formation and have an example to follow.
The goal is for children to develop beautiful handwriting, but this takes time as the muscles grow strong. Instead of criticizing or giving suggestions, simple ask your child which letters they think look best. Ask why they think those letters look better than the others and what they are going to work on next lesson. This is a great opportunity for your child to examine their own work and learn how to improve on their own.

RECOGNIZE LETTERS

Now that the child knows letters by sight, you can start playing games with letters to help recognition. Children naturally do this while looking at books and seeing writing around the house. You can intentionally do this by using the 3-period lesson introduced by Maria Montessori.

“This is _____.” Point to the letter and say the name and sound it makes. Ask your child to repeat. Do this a couple of times.

“Point to _____.” Ask your child to find the letter L, for example, in a group of moveable letters. If they point to the wrong one simply say “that is __, you’re looking for___”

“What letter is this?” The last, and consequently the most difficult, step is to point to a letter and ask the child to tell you it’s name and sound. If they don’t know just tell them the sound, and have them repeat (i.e. start at step one).

A game that is a favorite with my kids is alphabet bingo. The Peaceful Press has FREE bingo boards here.

In the Downloads section you can download a workbook I created for my four year old son as he learns the  sounds of the upper-case letters and the correct way to write them. I also wanted open-ended drawing activities to help his writing skills. You can teach your child  just fine using the method I describe above, no workbook necessary. I just wanted something simple, beautiful, and functional for him to use while I help my older son with his studies, and I decided to share it with you all  in case you don’t want to spend time creating your own.

Once your child has finished this stage and is eager for more, I recommend advancing to Italics Handwriting by Penny Gardner, and supplementing handwriting lessons with Creative Form Drawing. I have seen a big improvement–and enjoyment–in my son’s handwriting by including form drawing as part of his handwriting lessons. He uses the form drawing lessons to decorate the pages of his copywork book.

You should use the same lesson structure as outlined at the beginning of this workbook to learn the sounds and form of the lower-case letters. As your child learns a lower-case letter, make sure you match the lower-case to the upper-case letter. To practice these skills, you can play matching/memory games with lower- and upper-case letters.

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PRINCIPLE ONE: LOVE

PART 1

LOVE

CHARITY: THE PURE LOVE OF CHRIST

“Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.”
THOMAS S. MONSON

A few months ago I stood in my kitchen scrubbing the floor late at night (because that’s when all my deep thinking happens) and I was in tears.  I had just realized that my love for my children is conditional; when they are cute and loving I can’t get enough of them, but when they are obnoxious and frustrated I send them away until they can “behave” and “calm down.” When their behavior is not meeting my expectations, I feel that loving warmth quickly replaced by feelings of resentment, irritation, and sometimes anger. What it comes down to is this: I put more value on my child’s behavior than on them as people.

I confessed this realization and consequent discouragement to my husband. I asked him how I can love my kids for who they are and not for their achievements and behavior. To me, that is what makes a person who they are, so how can I love them despite that?! My husband simply said, “You can’t. That kind of love is a gift.” After pondering that for a while, I have come to believe that as parents we have been endowed with the beginnings of love, but we do not automatically love our children unconditionally. Heavenly Father created us with the instincts to protect and care for our children, but ultimately the pure love of Christ is a gift. A gift that is given to those who truly desire it above all else. A gift that is essential to the finest of the fine arts: teaching.

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail— Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ;”
Moroni 7:46

Without charity, the power to discipline and teach our children is ineffective. If we think we can parent our children solely based on instinctual love we will fail. It is essential that we receive charity in order to teach effectively, and the only way to gain charity is to desire it more than anything else, prove that desire by sacrifice, and earnestly pray for it.

SACRIFICE DEVELOPS LOVE

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. “
JOHN 15:13

We may not be required to sacrifice our physical life for our children, but when we become parents we are metaphorically laying down our lives for our children. Becoming a parent is not inviting children to be a part of your life, where they get what is left of you after you are done living “the dream.” Your life, at least a short phase of it, is now dedicated to nurturing a human soul who needs every aspect of you: physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Many people resist this change and expect their relationship with their child to remain secure and healthy, but this view is wishful thinking. We simply cannot have it all. Parenting requires serious sacrifice because love is ultimately developed by sacrifice. 

Not all sacrifice is created equal, though: it can create resentment or joy, depending on your reasons for sacrificing. In one research study, the researchers found that when people sacrificed because they felt pressured or feared negative consequences, they felt resentment toward the person they sacrificed for. But when people chose to sacrifice because they wanted to, they felt an increase in love and connection in their close relationships.

The key to sacrifice is desire: the more you   want to  love someone, the more you sacrifice for them. Conversely, the more you sacrifice the more you love. As an example, let’s say your toddler needs to feel connected to you, but you really just want to zone out and browse Instagram. If you put your phone down and play with your son, you are strengthening your love for him. If you choose to turn on the TV for your son so you can be alone with your phone, who are you strengthening love for? Yourself? Your friends? It’s definitely not your son.”

 If you are continually sacrificing your children’s needs for your wants, you will only strengthen love for yourself and make it more difficult to develop unconditional love for your children. When a child seeks connection it is not a want or a bad habit; connection is a need, especially for young children. If you want your children to feel connected to you, you need to be sacrificing for them. 

The parent-child relationship is not a one-way street;  we cannot expect our children to continue to sacrifice for us and prioritize their relationship with us when we do not do the same for them. Secure attachments with our children should be our number one priority as parents.

I WILL GIVE YOU REST

“Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart. And ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Matthew 11:28-30

It is an eternal truth that when we feel loved we can rest, and therefore learn and grow.   When a child feels that their parent loves them for who they are and not based on their performance, they are able to “rest” in their parents’ love. In her book, Rest, Play, Grow, Deborah Macnamara explains that only when children feel connected and safe will they be able to play, and therefore grow. If they feel that their parent’s love is conditional, or that their parent values other things more than them, all the child’s focus will be on reestablishing that connection. This can come out in the form of negative, clingy behavior, as well as the inability to focus and learn.

It’s a humbling thought to realize that parenthood provides the perfect opportunities to become more like Christ: by sacrificing for our children, developing an unconditional love for them, and providing a relationship where they can rest and feel loved for who they are. 

I believe that one reason Jesus Christ invited all people to become like little children is because of their natural instinct to attach to their parents. They instinctively attach themselves to someone whom they feel is experienced and knowledgeable because they need safety and connection. When they are securely attached they seek to emulate and learn from whomever they are attached to. The child trusts that their parents have their best interest at heart and therefore they obey their parents’ requests and guidance.

When there is a loss in connection (whether that is physical or emotional), it is rarely the child’s fault. As the mature adult in the relationship, it is our responsibility to maintain a healthy connection with our child if we expect to parent them. Today, our generation faces more obstacles to the parent-child attachment than any generation before us; both parents working outside the home, children starting school younger and attending more hours each day, smartphones (biggest culprits), and television. All of these things disconnect parents from their children both physically and psychologically. When that connection is weakened or broken, we lose the authority to parent.  

AUTHORITY + ATTACHMENT

“The principles of authority on the one hand, and of obedience on the other, are natural, necessary, and fundamental;”
CHARLOTTE MASON

When a child attaches to a parent, they do so in stages, starting at birth and ending in late childhood. Children develop their attachment to you all the way through middle school. Although their needs change and lessen as they mature, their attachment needs are just as important in adolescence as they were in toddlerhood.

Attachment starts at birth when a baby needs to be physically close to their parent; around two years old they want to be like their parent, to imitate them; also around that age they seek for a sense of belonging (“my mommy!”); at around age four they want to know they have significance, that they are valuable to you; around age five they seek attachment through feelings of love and affection (hugs, holding hands,“I love you,” etc); and around the time a child starts school they want to attach by being known through sharing secrets, desires, thoughts, and ambitions. (see Hold on to Your Kids, pages 20-24)

Here are a few ways you can connect on a daily basis with your child:

  1. When your child is trying to tell you something, stop what you are doing, and make eye contact, and always ask follow up questions. This can be hard, but do your best!
  2. Ask them to teach you about something they love. Video games, books, sports, etc.
  3. Wrestle or steamroll them. 
  4. Play hide and seek.
  5. Tell them stories about when they were little; funny things they said or did.
  6. Leave notes on their pillow or in their lunch.
  7. Ask them what they are doing and if you can do it with them.
  8. Give your child a hug, and let them decide when to break. 
  9. Give eskimo or butterfly kisses.
  10. One-on-one time every week. Even if it’s just running errands with you.
  11. Ask them to hold your hand while you walk together.
  12. Whisper a secret in their ear (usually just jokes or silly words)
  13. Tell them funny quotes from books you’ve read together.
  14. Ask them to tell you a joke.
  15. Write words on their back with your finger.
  16. Cuddle with them before bed.
  17. Write messages with your finger on their back (my four year old LOVES this)
  18. If you notice your connection is suffering, take your child on a date night, or maybe even a whole weekend if needed.

Psychologists are just starting to uncover the vital role that attachments play in human behavior and development; self-regulation, aggression, maturation, and learning. In this article I will only focus on how attachment affects learning and discipline because those are what most affect teaching, but if you read the books recommended in the “Resource” section you will gain a solid understanding of how attachment affects all facets of human development.

Through a secure attachment, a dependent, inexperienced person gives authority to someone more experienced. In this case, a child gives authority to their parents. Despite common belief, authority is not imposed on children by parents, it is given to the parents by their children. Authority has always worked this way. In fact, the Lord describes unrighteous authority in Doctrine and Covenants as,

“when we undertake…to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.”
D&C 121:37

Parenting is an authority given to us by Heavenly Father and our children, but we can lose that authority when we try to make our children obey just because we have authority. Charlotte Mason confirms this truth about authority in her volumes on education: “But we have been taught better; we know now that authority is vested in the office and not in the person; that the moment it is treated as a personal attribute it is forfeited. We know that a person in authority is a person authorised; and that he who is authorised is under authority.” (Volume 3, pg 11-12)

There are many ways parents and teachers exercise control, dominion or compulsion in children. 
I was surprised to read Charlotte Mason’s list of ways that we exercise unrighteous  control over children. In her  Twenty Educational Principles she states:   “…these principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon, whether  by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire.” 

So, how do we maintain righteous authority? Once again,  turn to Doctrine & Covenants section 122 to find the answer:

“No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of priesthood [or parenthood], only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeignedBy kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile-

Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.”

There is so much truth to unpack in those verses. Read them again and see what you can find. Here is what I learned:

  • Our parental power comes from unconditional love.
  • Our authority comes from our child’s dependence on us; they need our knowledge, experience, safety, and connection. When they do not feel connected, safe, or loved, there is a void which will be filled by someone else, and amen to the authority of that parent. This is when parents and teachers feel they need to resort to bribery, punishment, and coercion to get children to obey. 
  • Heavenly Father does not hold children under the age of eight accountable for their actions and neither should we. This is a stage that should be dedicated to teaching and connecting. Correct your child when he/she makes a mistake, teach them good habits, and connect with them so they know that you love and cherish them more than anything else.
  • Discipline does not mean punishment; it means to lead, to teach, to guide, to invite (my new favorite parenting word.) Discipline is teaching your children about choices and consequences, and not shielding them from the natural consequences of their actions. Many parents feel that shielding their children from consequences is kind, but they are doing their child a great disservice. Children should learn from their mistakes when they are young and their mistakes are still insignificant.

HEART BEFORE MIND

 “It is the business of the heart for a long time before it is the business of the mind.”
JOHANN PESTALOZZI

The Master Teacher

Jesus Christ is known as the Master Teacher because he loved people unconditionally and they knew that their worth was not tied to their righteousness or performance. One major teaching method that Jesus is known for was teaching by example. Scientists now know why teaching by example is so powerful: a little something called “mirror neurons.” The human brain contains neurons that light up areas of the brain that essentially imitate the behavior they see. When a child is attached to someone (hopefully the parent) they will mirror that person’s behavior. Our greatest teaching tool as parents is to form a secure attachment with our children and then be a good example of the behavior we want to see in them. I just love how science eventually catches up to eternal truths. 

In Hold on to Your Kids, Dr. Gordon Neufeld states four essential qualities that “are primary in determining a child’s teachability: a natural curiosity, an integrative mind, an ability to benefit from correction, and a relationship with the teacher.” Learning is essentially the act of making mistakes, encountering problems, and then drawing the appropriate conclusions. Failure is essential in learning, and children need to feel that their worth is not tied to their performance. When parents punish by shaming their child or withdrawing love, the child feels vulnerable and afraid to make mistakes. It is essential to the learning process that your children know you love them no matter what. In order to learn, a person needs the humility to acknowledge they have made a mistake. When a person is afraid of punishment or shame they deny they made a mistake to protect themselves and do not seek guidance or help. Secure attachments allow a child to acknowledge failure and seek help from a parent, whether that failure was academic or moral. 

Pure Knowledge

Knowledge is information touched with emotion”
In Memoriam: A Tribute to Charlotte Mason

Last, but not least, before a child will whole-heartedly learn about a subject they must love it. The brain does not retain information very long if there is no meaning tied to it. We must ignite curiosity, love and enjoyment of every subject before we try to teach any information. Love is truly the foundation of all learning; a child must feel loved and connected to their teacher and their hearts must be stirred before their minds will remember.

“Children learn best when they like their teacher and they think their teacher likes them. The way to children’s minds has always been through their hearts.” 

Dr. Gordon Neufeld, Hold on to Your Kids

There is so much to say about this topic and so little time. Stay tuned for PART TWO of this article, where I will discuss what Christlike discipline looks like and  how we can implement it in our homes.