Posted on Leave a comment

The Teacher’s Role

THE TEACHER'S ROLE

“Such a doctrine as the Herbartian [traditional education], that the mind is a receptacle, lays the stress of education, the preparation of food in enticing morsels, duly ordered, upon the teacher. Children taught on this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching but little knowledge;” 

Charlotte Mason

The Truth of All Things

When Charlotte Mason was a young woman, she took a trip to Italy to be inspired by the art and history that is so abundant there.  She stood in the Spanish Chapel connected to the Santa Maria Novella and gazed at a fresco that had completely captured her attention. The fresco depicts God and his angels in heaven with inspirational men on earth below. There is a division between them, and in that division lies the Holy Spirit; the connection between God and man. Ms. Mason noticed that the Holy Spirit was bestowing knowledge from God to the seven figures representing the natural sciences: grammar, rhetoric, logic, music, art, astronomy, geometry, and arithmetic. While she studied this fresco, she had an amazing epiphany; an epiphany that would later be considered her greatest contribution to philosophy and education. This is what she says of her revelation that day:

“The Florentine mind… believed, not only that the seven Liberal Arts were fully under the direct outpouring of the Holy Ghost, but that every fruitful idea, every original conception, whether in Euclid, or grammar, or music, was a direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit, without any thought at all as to whether the person so inspired named himself by the name of God, or recognised whence his inspiration came.” ( v. 2, p. 271)

Heavenly Father has promised us that “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”  He uses the same term in Doctrine & Covenants: 

“And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom. Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;”

He expounds on “all things” by saying, 

“Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms.” (Moroni 10:5 also John 14:26)

Astronomy, geology, biology, mathematics, the liberal arts, geography, history, politics, history, current news, and international affairs are considered “doctrine of the kingdom.” Heavenly Father commanded us to teach one another these things, and promised that the Holy Ghost will help us understand them and know they are true.

It may take some time to fully comprehend the magnitude of this principle because it is completely counter to what our culture. Charlotte Mason observed, “Many Christian people rise a little higher; they conceive that even grammar and arithmetic may in some not very clear way be used for God; but the great recognition, that God the Holy Spirit is Himself, personally, the Imparter of knowledge, the Instructor of youth, the Inspirer of genius, is a conception so far lost to us that we should think it distinctly irreverent to conceive of the divine teaching as co-operating with ours in a child’s arithmetic lesson, for example.” (v. 2, p. 270-271)

The Holy Ghost

“We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.” (Charlotte Mason)

You may believe that as your child’s teacher, any information they encounter, any skill they master, or any knowledge they solidify is because you gave it to them, corrected them, and tested them. The fundamental belief in traditional education is that whether the child succeeds or not is determined by the teacher. In other words, we consider ourselves the “Showman of the Universe,” as Charlotte Mason so appropriately expressed. 

When I started teaching my oldest child I viewed myself as the sole presenter of knowledge. I was exhausted trying to execute elaborate lectures and activities, and discouraged when my son was not interested or engaged in what I was teaching. Then I read about Charlotte Mason’s revelation of the Holy Spirit, and in that moment of realization, a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders; I realized my role was not to know all things and implant it into my child. I am a fellow student, and my role is a mentor and guide. My children and I are learning from the true showman of the universe: the Holy Spirit.

In her article, On Questions and Questioning, Emily Kiser explains that “The result [of this principle] is a different perspective of the student and teacher relationship than what we have commonly experienced in our own educational settings. She [Charlotte Mason] placed confidence in the inborn desire and ability of the learner, and this altered the teacher’s role as a consequence. Instead of instructor and instructed as we have known, she believed it is not the teacher’s place to impart knowledge, impose knowledge, or impress knowledge upon the student from without. Rather, the teacher is the humble guide or presenter of ideas to the naturally inquisitive appetite of the learner. The student grapples with the living book and the student tells what he knows. Both teacher and student are persons equal in power to self-educate.”

A personal experience helped me understand this principle more fully and cement it in my mind. After a particularly frustrating incident with my son, I sat pondering how I could make him realize what he did was wrong. How I could help him understand the disconnect between his actions and what I taught him? Maybe a better lecture or asking more questions? Then it hit me: helping my son feel guilt and see the disconnect was not my responsibility. The Spirit knows my child better than I do. He knows how my son learns best and when his heart is open to learning. My responsibility is to present doctrine through stories and my example. The Spirit is the only being capable of reminding my son of truth and changing his heart when he is unreachable for me. But that truth needs to be placed in my son’s mind before he can be reminded of it. This is the role of the parent and teacher: to present the great ideas through books, experiences, and example. Jesus gave us two simple commandments, and both are vital to teaching children: love one another and feed my sheep.

Meeting Mountains

“Great things are done when men and mountain meet: This is not done by jostling in the street.” (William Blake)

When you feed your children ideas,  remember that “you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.” Blake said it more eloquently though; we need to do away with jostling our children while they try to grapple with mountains. We simply need to introduce our children to great ideas and let them climb. I know from experience that children have the power to do so, if we will only give them the chance. 

 Ms. Mason expounded on this by saying “We come across books on teaching, with lessons elaborately drawn up, in which certain work is assigned to the perceptive faculties, certain work to the imagination, to the judgment, and so on… this sort of doctoring of the material of knowledge is unnecessary for the healthy child, whose mind is capable of self-direction, and of applying itself to its proper work upon the parcel of knowledge delivered to it.” (v. 1,  p. 172)

Lesson preparation can be as simple as this: “The teacher’s part is, in the first place, to see what is to be done, to look over the work of the day in advance and see what mental discipline, as well as what vital knowledge, this and that lesson afford; and then to set such questions and such tasks as shall give full scope to his pupils’ mental activity.” (v. 6, p. 180-181) Once you have planned a basic idea of subjects, you need to refrain from too much talking, explaining, and questioning. When you quietly close the book after reading the Spirit can now start teaching. As ideas flow through your child’s mind they will most likely start talking. Listen intently to what they say and you will get a glimpse into what they are being taught.

In the Same Hour

The teacher’s role is similar to the students in that they need to be listening to what the Spirit teaches. Elder Bednar said in a training to CES teachers that the Spirit is always with you; instead of asking yourself “how can I invite the Spirit?”, he suggests asking  “how am I driving the Spirit away?”

One major way that we make it difficult to hear promptings is by overscheduling each school day. Scripted, detailed curriculum and rigid schedules make it difficult to hear the promptings of the Spirit because you are so focused on checking off boxes that you ignore promptings that deviate from “the plan.” You are so focused on mastering the learning objectives that your child is not free to learn what he personally needs at that moment. It is very difficult to plan for experiences that have not happened yet. When you are in the teaching moment and listen to your child you will know which questions to ask and what to invite them to do. Planning lessons months in advance or using a curriculum created by someone who doesn’t know your children will only result in teaching moments that feel stiff and artificial. 

Russel M Nelson said in a General Conference address, we need “women who know how to call upon the powers of heaven to protect and strengthen children and families; women who teach fearlessly… do you realize the breadth and scope of your influence when you speak those things that come to your heart and mind as directed by the Spirit?”

When we receive revelation it is usually in the moment that we need it. Like Nephi retrieving the plates, you will have an overall goal in mind, but you don’t know exactly how it will play until you are in the moment. When you are in the place and time you will be given the details. The Lord promised you that “the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.” (Luke 12:12) Another experience we can learn from is when Nephi built the boat; he was not given the complete blueprint at the beginning; the plans were given “time to time” and not after the manner of men, but after the manner of God. When educating your children in partnership with God you will not be given the complete blueprints at the beginning of the year; you have an overall goal and the details will be given on a day-today basis. 

This style of teaching requires a lot of faith, but I know from experience that it works and God is waiting to pour out His knowledge to you. Planning too far in advance or becoming a slave to curriculums is the result of fear, not faith. Fear that you won’t receive revelation, fear that you must educate your children on your own, fear that you will fail. To become a master teacher, you must let go of that fear and have faith in your ability and your children’s ability to receive inspiration. 

Masterly Inactivity

Our society is full of overly-anxious parents and teachers. Fear and anxiety permeate how we interact with children, and it is greatly affecting their ability to learn. Edwin Friedman first coined the term “non-anxious presence” to describe an important skill that parents and teachers need to develop. Long before Friedman coined the term, Charlotte Mason called it “masterly inactivity.”  She described it as “the power to act, the desire to act, and the insight and self-restraint which forbid action.” ( v. 3,  p.28)

The underlying truth is that people (especially children) learn best when those around them are calm and collected. Christ was the perfect example of a non-anxious presence; when those around him were feeling strong emotions, such as fear, hatred, or anger he maintained a countenance of love and acceptance. He did not constantly correct people when they made mistakes; instead, he taught correct principles and let people govern themselves. More than anything else, parents need to learn to let their children act instead of always acting upon them. The consequences of an anxious parent are an anxious child who resents their parent and dreads school. Our job is not to stop them from making mistakes; our role is to teach, counsel, and comfort. 

At this point, you may be asking “how do I teach my children without bribing, coercing, testing, and lecturing?” Once again, Charlotte Mason has the answer: “We are limited to three educational instruments–the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas.” In other words, children learn from your example and real-life experiences, and you educate children by providing living ideas in the form of books and real objects.  I will cover those three instruments in the next sections of this series.

“When we are filled with the Holy Ghost and we let it guide us as we teach others, it spreads from us to our students like the fire spreads across a dry hillside.”

Theo McKean

ADDITIONAL LEARNING

Ponder

What can I do to be more receptive to spiritual guidance each day?

How can I let the Spirit guide my teaching?

What can I do to make sure I heed the Spirit’s promptings as I am teaching?

What is preventing me from following promptings I receive?

How can I invite the Spirit into all subjects?

What am I doing to drive the Spirit away?

Apply

Pray to know the needs of children and write down your impressions.

Write down the main goals and principles for your family’s education.

Follow the guidance of the Spirit as you teach daily lessons.

Record the impressions you have and the questions your children ask.

additional information

Posted on Leave a comment

Agency

AGENCY

“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

Before I was a mother I had visions of  feeding  my children nutritious meals for their bodies and curating elaborate lesson plans for their minds. Little did I know that agency would shatter all my hopes and dreams: I couldn’t force my children to enjoy foods they weren’t craving and I couldn’t force them to internalize information they didn’t desire to know. I suspect I’m not the only parent who has occasionally felt that agency was more of a curse than a gift, but if we want to truly become a master teacher we need to understand and work with agency, not against it.

Everything we do is deeply rooted in the principle of agency, especially education.  Knowledge first comes from a desire to know, or a question posed by the mind itself. When your mind is open to learning, you have experienced something in your life that sparks a question. You desire an answer to that question. You seek learning by study and by faith, and when you find the answer you apply it and therefore remember. It has become knowledge. This is the only way people truly learn truth.

Bribery and coercion from a parent/teacher may seem effective, but they are only short-term solutions. They only create a desire for a reward or to avoid a negative consequence, they do not create a genuine desire for knowledge. The child is not truly utilizing their agency; they are not motivated by a desire to learn. Russell M. Nelson stated this of the important role that desire plays in education:  “I believe that in the pursuit of education, individual desire is more influential than institution.”   (Where is Wisdom? October 1992

REMEMBER: You cannot make your children do something against their will. You cannot make them want something they do not want. You cannot make them learn something they do not want to learn. 

Agency is not just a religious concept, it is a truth proven by modern research. When people feel they have control over a situation they are less stressed, and therefore happier. (see The Self-Driven Child). 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 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 (Skinner, Zimmer, Gembeck, and Connell. Individual Differences And The Development Of Perceived Control). This is because agency is based on the idea of strengthening a person’s will, not breaking it. 

The Way of the Will

“There is a power within you, your own will, which will enable you to turn your attention from thoughts that make you unhappy and wrong, to thoughts that make you happy and right. And this is the exceedingly simple way in which the will acts; this is the sole secret of the power over himself which the strong man wields.” (Charlotte Mason, Volume 1, 326)

When you think of a “strong-willed” child, what do you imagine? Maybe a toddler throwing a tantrum or a rebellious teenager. Interestingly, what you are actually envisioning is a weak-willed child. Mason said “this apparent determination to go in one way and no other, which is called willfulness and mistaken for an exercise of will. Whereas the determination is only apparent; the child is, in fact, hurried along without resistance, because that opposing force which should give balance to his character is undeveloped and untrained (v. 1, p. 321) So, what is the will? I love the way Mason describes the will as “ the controller of the passions and emotions, the director of the desires, the ruler of the appetite… character is the result of conduct regulated by will.”( v. 1,  p. 319)

Counter-will

A child who throws tantrums or rebels against their parents is  at the mercy of their emotions and appetites. Their will has not been developed enough to self-regulate. This determination or rebellion against authority is also called counter-will. 

Dr. Gordon Neufeld describes counter-will as “ an instinctive, automatic resistance to any sense of being forced. It is triggered whenever a person feels controlled or pressured to do someone else’s bidding.” (Hold on to Your Kids, p. 74) When you understand this truth, your child’s behavior and resistance to school may not be so mysterious after all. 

Counter-will is manifested in a variety of ways: ‘no!’ from a toddler, ‘your not my boss’ from a young child, or body language from a teenager. At any age it can come out as disobedience or defiance, passivity or procrastination, or doing the opposite of what is expected. Counter-will is a natural part of development, but it will come out more often if the relationship between parent and child is strained and the parent is attempting to control too much of the child’s life. We cannot expect our children to be obedient if they are not attached to us, and a strong will is required for the child to alter his own behavior to adhere to our demands. Charlotte Mason observes that “Obedience is valuable only in so far as it helps the child work towards making himself do that which he knows he is asked to do. Every effort of obedience which does not give him a sense of conquest over his own inclinations, helps to enslave him, and he will resent the loss of his liberty by running into license when he can… it is his own will that is compelling him, and not yours… Let him get into the habit of managing himself, controlling himself.” (v. 1, p. 328)

Thy Will Be Done

A strong will, or the ability to self-regulate is essential for a happy, successful life, and it is up to the parents to teach this skill. Dr. Morrell, author of Introduction to Mental Philosophy, considered it to be the most important part of education; “The education of the will is really of far greater importance, as shaping the destiny of the individual, than that of the intellect.” If there is one Christlike attribute we should be teaching our children it is to be strong-willed. 

Now that we understand what the will is and why it is important, how do we help our children develop a strong will? Current research on the developing brain tells us that the prefrontal cortex–responsible for self-regulation–is very sensitive to stress. When a child lives in constant, toxic stress their brain is negatively affected, making it harder to self-regulate and make smart decisions. Creating a loving, positive environment is the first duty of parents. Your child may be impulsive and mischievous right now, but nurturing your attachment and staying positive is laying the foundation for self-regulation in the future.

In her sixth volume of education, A Philosophy of Education, Charlotte Mason instructs parents how they can teach their children to strengthen their will.

“Children should be taught (a) to distinguish between ‘I want’ and ‘I will.’ (b) that the way to will effectively is to turn our thoughts away from that which we desire but do not will. (c) that the best way to turn our thoughts is to think of or do some quite different thing, entertaining or interesting. (d) that after a little rest in this way, the will returns to its wok with new vigour.”

Teach your child to immediately think of something interesting, exciting, or entertaining when they want to do something they know they should not.

Choice and Accountability

I have tried this technique with my own boys and it does work, as long as the thought is something they find interesting and they are getting close to the age of accountability. Most children start to show glimmers of self-regulation starting around six years old, and by nine it should be full-functional, thought not fully developed. I believe this is why a wise, loving Heavenly Father does not hold children accountable for their “sins” until they are eight years old. It is wise to start teaching your child how to strengthen their will and give them a chance to feel the consequences of their choices at a young age, but do not expect immediate results. The more your child exercises the skill of decision making and learning from their mistakes, the better they will become at it. So give them opportunities to make their own decisions, even if you know they will fail (see The Self-Driven Child). Ask them questions to see the flaws in their thinking; suggest and assist them in outlining the pros and cons of each choice. 

You cannot–nor should you try– to control your child’s behavior. Obvious exceptions are if the child is putting themselves (or others) in danger. Instead, you should give your child the tools to strengthen their own will and manage themselves. The purpose of parenting should be to strengthen and direct your child’s will, not break it. Success in higher education and self-education relies on the principles of sense of agency and a strong will. 

Self-Education

As a parent, you worry that you won’t teach your children enough. You worry there will be gaps in their education. But you can’t possibly teach them everything there is to know in the first eighteen years of  life. The most debilitating learning gap is a lack of desire. The most important skill you can teach your child is how to learn and to find joy in it. If you can teach your children how to ask questions, seek answers by study and by faith, and to apply knowledge you’ve taken care of any gaps they will have in the future. The first eighteen years of education should be the spark that ignites a voracious life of learning. 

How can you balance self-education with structured lessons? Here are a few simple ways to step back and allow your children to learn on their own:

  • Remind yourself what you have control over. You control what is presented in lessons and when they are given. Children are responsible for if they retain information and how much. The next section, “Teacher’s Role” will go into more detail in this area.
  • Let your child make mistakes and learn from books. “Moralizing all men resent; from experience they learn without a murmur.” (Edward St. John) When you share stories from your life or books, avoid lecturing, over-explaining, or moralizing. Let the characters’ actions speak for themselves and give your child the joy of discovering truth on their own. When your child encounters a problem, help them find the answer. Embrace natural consequences and allow your child the blessings and knowledge that come from making a choice (whether good or bad). Do not rob them of something they have earned.
  • Let the children play! Play is when children experiment, practice, rehearse, and learn. Daily lessons put ideas into a child, play draws them out. Allow children plenty of time to play and engage in self-chosen projects. Charlotte Mason recommends the whole afternoon (5 hours)  be dedicated to unstructured time for this purpose.
  • Allow time to ponder. Just like our bodies need time to digest food, our minds need time to digest information. Rich dialogue, plots, and questions need a lot of time to comprehend. Read the book or do the activity then allow time for your children to ponder what he has learned. “When we ponder, we invite revelation by the Spirit. Pondering, to me, is the thinking and the praying I do after reading and studying in the scriptures carefully” (“Serve with the Spirit,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2010, 60).

“In the grand division of all of God’s creations, there are things to act and things to be acted upon. As sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, we have been blessed with the gift of agency—the capacity and power of independent action. Endowed with agency, we are agents, and we primarily are to act and not only to be acted upon…”

David A. Bednar

ADDITIONAL LEARNING

Study

*Teaching in the Savior’s Way | part 4 (read scriptural examples as well)

*Seek Learning By Faith  | David A. Bednar

*Where is Wisdom? | Russell M. Nelson

A Philosophy of Education |  Book 1 Chapters 1 and 8

Home Education | Part VI

The Self-Driven Child | Intro + Chapters 1, 3, 5, 6 

D&C 3:4

D&C 58:27

Alma 12:31

Alma 42:7

3 Nephi 27:13

Ponder

How can I change my teaching methods to let my children discover truth on their own?

Which activities I need to give up to allow my child a few hours each day of unstructured time?

How can I strengthen my child’s will instead of breaking it?

Why is agency a principle of education?

How did Jesus nurture agency and self-education in the people he taught?

Apply

Develop the habit of ending a lesson without speaking, lecturing, or explaining. Instead, listen to your child’s observations, questions, and explanations (i.e. narration)

Critically look at your curriculum: does it have worksheets, multiple-choice quizzes, and projects assembled by the teacher? Replace these methods with narration, open-ended questions, and projects chosen by your child.

Posted on Leave a comment

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.

Posted on Leave a comment

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. You can find the guides at the end of this post. Each guide includes a short bio, suggested artwork to study, and additional resources, like picture books.

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’s going on in the painting?
  • How would you describe this artwork to someone who has never seen it?
  • How do you think this artwork was made?
  • How does the art make you feel?
  • Describe the lines in this artwork
  • What shapes do you notice?
  • Describe the colors in the artwork
  • What objects do you notice?
  • What stands out to you when they first see the painting?
  • What do you like about the painting?
  • What do you not like?
  • How do you think the people/children feel in the painting/sculpture?
  • What are the people or animals doing in the painting? Is that something  you do?
  • What would you do differently if you painted this?
  • Would you take something out of the painting?
  • Would you add something to the painting?
  • Would you change the colors?
  • Ask them to compare to other paintings
  • How is this painting similar to (compare to different painting by similar artist)
  • How is the painting different
  • How is it like a previous artist we’ve studied?

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. 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.

TEACHING RESOURCES

ARTIST STUDY GUIDES

Harriet Powers

American, 1837-1910

Winslow Homer

American, 1836-1910

Mary Cassatt

American, 1844-1926

Minerva Teichert

American, 1888-1976

Edmonia Lewis

American, 1836-1910

Augusta Savage

American, 1892-1962

Posted on Leave a comment

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.  

Posted on Leave a comment

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. 

Posted on 2 Comments

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

The Foundational Principle

Charlotte Mason’s first and foundational principle is that children are born persons. Everything comes back to this one principle.  In Mason’s time, many of the leading theories about children and education believed that children are born “tabula rasa” meaning blank slate. These theorists believed children have potential to become a person, to develop a valuable mind. They did not view the child as a person with value right now as they are. This is an important distinction that determines how you will approach education. 

“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

The statement that children are born persons may seem obvious, but think about it : do you really believe that children are born persons? Take a close look at our societal norms and you will begin to see how adults truly view children: daycare, age-segregated schools, and separate adult workplaces (where children are not allowed). Think about the curriculum and books that have been created especially for children; they are so full of fluff and watered-down material that adults wouldn’t think of using for themselves. 

If you spend time with children and closely study them, you will notice that they want to engage in meaningful, serious projects; they want to learn real-life skills. In their play, children reenact events from their life or books they’ve read.  In reality, children are not so different from adults.

Lack of Experience, Not Intelligence

In her book, The Importance of Being Little, Erika Christakis writes convincingly of the truth that Charlotte Mason uncovered one hundred years before:

“Why should we settle for unimaginative goals (as we find in so many early education settings) like being able to identify triangles and squares, or recalling the names of colors and seasons? Recognizing visual symbols is something a dog can do. Surely we can aim higher than those picayune objectives and demand preschool classrooms based on a more advanced understanding of developmental processes, an understanding that is bounded only by the limits of a young child’s growing brain, not by a superintendent’s checklist of what needs to be covered before June rolls around.”

Think about it: if an adult asked you to teach them a subject they know nothing about, how would you teach them? What would you use? Would you use the same methods and materials created for children? Probably not. The language, graphics, and activities would offend an adult’s intelligence. A person, no matter what their age, learns line-upon-line, precept-upon-precept. If a person has no desire to learn a skill, they probably have not encountered a need for it in their life and require more life experience to see the value in gaining it. If a person has difficulty understanding a more advanced concept, it simply means they need more time to understand the previous stage. It’s a child’s experience that is incomplete, not their intellect. 

Some of the most successful books written about leadership are just as applicable to children as they are to adults. Poor teaching and parenting is based on bribery and punishment because the adults don’t understand basic principles of leadership. Christ was considered the master teacher and leader. To become like Christ, we need to truly believe that children are born persons with equal mental faculties as adults. 

Christ’s Three Directions

In the scriptures, Jesus gave only three directions on how to treat children:

  1. Despise not.” (Matthew 18:10) We despise children by having a low opinion of them. Notice how many adults ignore children when they speak or don’t take them seriously. We chastise and correct them in front of others as if they can feel no shame or embarrassment. We put value on who they can be someday, not in who they are right now. We despise them by not having high expectations for them; we don’t believe they are capable of intellectual thought. 
  2. Offend not.” (Matthew 18:6) When we dumb things down for children, read books to them that no adult would read, and organize activities for them that adults would consider a waste of time, we are offending a child’s intelligence. If an adult would find it offensive to their intelligence it is not fit for a child either. 
  3. “Forbid not.” (Matthew 19:14) How do we forbid children? They are not allowed in adult conversations, activities, or workplace. We forbid them from making mistakes and shield them from consequences. We forbid them from moving on to more advanced subjects or books because they must stay at their grade level. Young children may not have the attention span for advanced activities, but they have the intellectual capacity to understand in small doses and if presented in the right way.

“It is not only a child’s intellect but his heart that comes to us thoroughly furnished.” (Charlotte Mason) It is the child’s brain that is still developing, and it takes a long time: twenty-five years to be exact. This process cannot be rushed, no more than we can force our child to walk before they are physically ready. Treating children with respect while also being patient with them as their brain matures can be a difficult balance to achieve. Children are essentially a walking paradox: they are a mature spirit in an immature body. This truth is what makes teaching children so difficult. The solution is to see people as Christ sees them: free  from earthly constraints. (Brooke Snow podcast) We should look at our children and see their mature spirit as it really is: free from the constraints of a developing body, free from developmental disorders, free from the effects of the natural man (hunger, tiredness, overstimulation), free from impulses and behavioral issues. The only way to help our children reach their full potential is to see them as Christ sees them. 

Mothers, you may feel guilty because you are too busy with real life to prepare special activities for your children. But remember: children are born persons. You simply need to include them in your life and they will gain the desire and skills they need. Children may lack experience, but they do not lack intelligence. When you are planning lessons, remember you are teaching people, not lessons. 

“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

ADDITIONAL LEARNING

Ponder

Which of my children do I need to get to know better? What can I do to get to know them better?

How can I change my curriculum to meet the needs of my children and respect them as people?

How can I show my children that I am more interested in them than in completing a lesson?

Apply

Apply general leadership skills (See list below). 

Let your child live their own life and fulfill their own purposes, separate from your own. Do not make your children an extension of yourself.

Notice your child’s intellectual questions; desire to engage in  serious work; ability to gain meaningful skills.

Treat Your Child Like a Person

Basic Leadership Skills from How to Win Friends and Influence People

  • Show respect for your child’s opinions. Never tell them they are wrong. Instead, ask follow-up questions.
  • It’s best to avoid arguing with your child. Avoid reviling with your child ( explained in “Love” section)
  • If you are wrong and your child is right, admit it! 
  • Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing your child.
  • Begin any suggestions in a friendly way–with praise and honest appreciation.
  • Call attention to your child’s mistakes indirectly. Make statements that praise yet subtly suggest improvement. 
  • Let your child do a great deal of the talking.
  • Let a child feel that an idea is his.
  • Try to honestly see things from your child’s point of view.
  • Be sympathetic with your child’s ideas and desires.
  • Appeal to their nobler motives, and assume they had good intentions.
  • Make your ideas come alive! Make them appealing.
  • Throw down a challenge.
  • Ask questions instead of giving direct order — “What is the first thing we do when we get ready for bed?”
  • Praise the slightest improvement and every improvement. Be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.”
  • Give your child a fine reputation to live up to.
  • Use encouragement. Make the thing you want your child to do seem easy. Start with small steps.
  • Make your child happy about doing the thing you suggest. Give them authority and responsibility. Find a way to make them excited to do it.
Posted on Leave a comment

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
Posted on Leave a comment

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

Posted on Leave a comment

READING + WRITING: THE EARLY YEARS

Language Arts

READING + PHONICS

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)

Ms. Mason believed that children should be taught to read using phonics, although her methods may not look like traditional phonics instruction. I discovered that the method she describes in her book is very similar to the Word Study approach to phonics and spelling. I recommend this as the foundation of reading instruction for Form 1 (ages 6-9) students. Thousands of studies on reading instruction and brain development show that phonics instruction is essential (see Additional Reading at the end of this article). 

Additionally, research shows that although all children learn to read the same way, each child is unique in how much instruction they require–some children need more explicit instruction, others may simply need some basic instructions to get started, while a small percentage (about 5%) will mostly figure it out on their own.

LETTER RECOGNITION + FORMATION

 

Make Lessons Child-Led

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. Please do not coerce or bribe your child. Lessons should be driven by a natural desire to learn how to read. 

“the children who are persons endowed with minds, clamour to be taught to read and write. We can do it with our children if we like, but it must be at the like cost, the exclusion of the intellectual and imaginative interests and joys proper to children, the devotion of dreary hours every day to these dead pursuits. No, let us be content to be the handmaids of Nature for the first five or six years, remembering that enormous as are the tasks she sets the children, she guides them into the performance of each so that it is done with unfailing delight; for gaiety, delight, mirth belong to her method. If a child chooses to read and write before he is six, let him, but do not make him; and when he does begin, there is no occasion to hurry; let him have a couple of years for the task.” (Mason, Three Educational Idylls, 811)

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.

Materials

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:

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.

ONE  | Develop 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, transferring 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. It’s important to be aware that boys’ fine motor skills develop later than girls; some boys may not be ready for writing until 7 years old! Using the above activities, as well as building with Legos, will help strengthen those muscles needed for handwriting.

TWO | Draw in Air

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.

THREE | 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, while saying the sound of the letter. 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.

FOUR | Draw 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. 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.

FIVE | Letter Recognition

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.

When your child has learned upper-case letters, use the same lesson structure to learn lower-case. Match the lower-case to the upper-case letters as you learn them. To practice these skills, you can play matching/memory games. My boys also enjoy playing bingo with a mixture of letters on the boards. For instruction on how to form lower-case letters I recommend Italics Handwriting by Penny Gardner, but don’t start your child writing on lined paper with a pencil until they have mastered writing letters in the air and on a chalkboard. Starting with paper and pencil too early can result in sloppy handwriting, not to mention a distaste for the subject. Let your child use chunky pencils and paper on their own, but don’t it until 6-7 years old when their fine motor skills have developed.

You can supplement handwriting lessons with Creative Form Drawing. I have seen a huge improvement in my son’s letter formation after using form drawing along with handwriting.