#4: Reason, part 1

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Charlotte Mason lists Reason as one of her Twenty Principles: “We teach children, too, not to ‘lean (too confidently) to their own understanding’; because the function of reason is to give logical demonstration (a) of mathematical truth, (b) of an initial idea, accepted by the will. In the former case, reason is, practically, an infallible guide, but in the latter, it is not always a safe one; for, whether that idea be right or wrong, reason will confirm it by irrefragable proofs” (Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education xxxi).

Reason is an all-encompassing topic. It addresses all manner of truths of our natural world, those things that can be learned by observation or deduction. It involves looking for patterns and considering the way ideas work together. We all reason all day long all the time. Sometimes we do science experiments without thinking about it. We pour a little red wine in the stew to add acidity and deepen the flavor of the onions and beef. Other times, we carefully plan out an experiment just to have it work too well, and leave us cleaning something off of the popcorn ceiling over the kitchen table. (Ahem.)

Mathematics clearly falls under this heading. As we grow familiar with numbers and learn to manipulate them, we combine them in different ways. We use some math curricula for this, but if I were a more creative mother, we could conquer this stage with games and toys and whiteboards. I am, however, declared “un-fun” by my children, so we follow our MathUSee consistently and wander through Life of Fred intermittently. Neither of which are un-fun, and both of which require outside of the box thinking on a regular basis. Have you met Sir Cumference? He isn’t un-fun either.

The study of Mathematics forces you to think about things entirely from their logical roots and relationships, providing substantial practice at the art of reason.  There are other subjects that also require a lot of reasoning, but we’ll get to those tomorrow.

 

Rule #3: Remember

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In our home, we have two particular habits that help us remember what we have learned and where we have been. Those two habits are memory work and narration.

Every school morning after chores and breakfast, we cozy up on fluffy couches with books and memory work notebooks and my second cup of coffee. Everyone is in favor of me having a second cup of coffee, but I don’t make them all special hot drinks at this point in the day.

I set a timer for twenty-five minutes, and we work our way through the day’s sections in our memory work notebook. We aim to finish what is in each section before the time beeps. If we don’t goof off too much, we can just make it.  If I allow myself to be distracted, we don’t make it.

Our memory work notebook includes Bible verses. We hide chunks of scripture in our hearts. It also contains hymns from the hymnal our tiny church uses. We learn at least one poem from each poet we study (about four each year), and we learn the poems from IEW’s Linguistic Development through Poetry series. There are folk songs from my childhood that my kids otherwise wouldn’t know, like “Oh, Susanna!” that are culturally or historically relevant, and patriotic songs, such as “America the Beautiful.” Because we are a part of Classical Conversations, my younger boys’ Foundations memory work is in the binder also.

That sounds like a lot to memorize, doesn’t it? There are several things to keep in mind as you read this.  First of all, we didn’t just start out with this amount of memory work overnight. We’ve been adding to this particular binder for two years, and before that, I was keeping track of what we memorized more haphazardly. Secondly, each month, there are only three or four new things to learn.  Everything else is review. Finally, when the timer beeps, we quit. Occasionally, we are really close to being done with the day’s review when we are interrupted, and in that case, we might go ahead and finish. But, the rule is to stop and close the notebook when the time is up.

Narration is much simpler. It is really just developing a habit of telling a story of something that you read or experienced. We tell a lot of stories around here.

Some stories we find in books.  When we read aloud, someone always has to tell back the story we read. Since we tend to read from several books in the same thirty or forty minutes, I pick up a book and ask, “Now where were we in this story?” and a boy sets the scene while I find the page, and we all settle in to hear what happens next.

Some stories are tales of our own adventures. These usually start with “Remember when…?”. Occasionally, we flip though a family photo album and talk about the boys when they were younger. We’ll remember together the day a brother fell in the pond at the pack and the day another brother sunk a winning basket in a great game. We’ll remember when Daddy got his seminary degree and when the baby was here for only a few months. We tell our own stories, and some of those are tied to the calendar. We talk about births on birthdays and deaths on Glory Days and our wedding on our anniversary.

Some are family stories. We tell cautionary tales about the time Grandma almost lost her hand to a gar while fishing in an Oklahoma lake. We tell stories of familial entrepreneurial success and failure, of remodeling success and of appliances breaking, of beautiful old cars and of automobile accidents that may have been preventable. Where there are people, there are stories, and those stories beg to be told and retold. Beautiful words in hymns and poetry beg to be remembered and imitated, sometimes unknowingly. If all things are to be compared with the plumb line that is Christ, then we must tuck the truth of scripture away in our minds so that we can find it easily when we need it. We are formed by our memories, and so we must choose to remember.

Rule #1: Rejoice

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Rejoicing actually begins with me before my children are out of bed. Our day is better if I have some time with Jesus and some time to drink the first cup of coffee and work before the boys open their eyes.   It makes me a better mom.

By nature, I am an ugly, critical perfectionist. I try not to be, and I am far harder on myself than anyone else. Inside my head, I expect that I must do all the things, pick up all the slack, and be everyone that my people need all at once. Now, I know all of that is impossible and unrealistic. It looks more than a little crazy typed out here.  This is who I am without Christ – an ugly nut case, from whom you would never want to hear.

Jesus makes me better. Grace makes me better. Love makes me better. Rejoicing makes me better. Rejoicing is a conscious decision, made in my heart, to believe that I am who God says I am because of who He is and who He made me to be and to look for evidence of that in my day. Some days, that is easy. Other days, it is a lot of work. Every day, it is necessary.

I have kept a physical list of these blessings. Sometimes I photograph them so that I can return to them later, and sometimes I need to hold blessings in my hand. That is how I crawl from the black hole of deep grief. If I just hold on to proof that God cares about me, I survive. I don’t remember most of 2005, when Danny died five years after he made me a mother, or 2009, when our fifth son, Isaac, was born and died three months later, but I survived those seasons. For several years now, my days are colorful, and there is no whirling darkness threatening to engulf me. Occasionally, a smoke blows in, and I find myself anxious and exhausted and blind to blessings. It is the grace of God, and rest, and a re-evaluation of this particular habit of rejoicing that clears the air

Choosing to rejoice is still a critical part of my every hour (though sometimes I fail). Abiding in Christ and in His Word must happen each morning. The decision to worship needs making every day. These habits are as life-giving to my spirit as coffee is to my body. A good day doesn’t start without them. While my boys and I do worship and read God’s word together most days, this part of our Rule of Six starts with me in the quiet of early morning.

What is a Rule of Six? How did I find it?

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A Rule of Six isn’t fancy. It is just six words or ideas that you want to meet regularly. It isn’t intended to make you tired or to be a judgment on whether you had a good day or not. A Rule of Six is meant to bring rest – to allow you to keep the Main Thing the Main Thing because you know what the Main Things are for your family. You won’t be as tempted to go chasing after every new curricula that pops up after you know what works in your house, and what is important to your family.

I am not completely sure of the origins of the Rule of Six, but I first read about it in 2007. That was a crazy year around here.  You see, we have five sons. Our oldest son, Danny, died when he was five years old in 2005 due to a nasty genetic disorder. That left my husband and I and Micah, preschooler. And then we had babies in 2006, 2007 and 2009. So, in 2007, I was struggling to recover from my own grief, help my husband and Micah recover from theirs, home educate that now-kindergarten-aged boy, and care for our almost Irish twins (our double blessing boys, Josiah and Gideon, who arrived 14 months apart). I was exhausted. I went searching for ways to simplify, and I found the idea of the Rule of Six appealing, but I was too overwhelmed at that moment to really think it through.

I was reading Ann Voskamp’s A HolyExperience daily because I had found that counting blessings was the only way to crawl out of the grief hole into which I had (quite understandably) been sucked. I was intrigued when Ann posted a list of Seven Daily Rungs that her homeschool hung on. That was back before she was famous, but after she started keeping her One Thousand Gifts list. You’ll find that post here: http://www.aholyexperience.com/2007/05/way-of-holistic-homeschool-seven-daily/.

Then I found the idea again on Elizabeth Foss’s blog as I continued my search for holistic education ideas. She wrote about a Rule of Six in 2006 and 2007 and likely some other times also. These were simply six things that she was striving to give her children daily. Those posts are here:  http://ebeth.typepad.com/reallearning/2006/10/rule_of_six.html and here: http://ebeth.typepad.com/reallearning/2007/05/revisiting_the_.html  (If you haven’t read Elizabeth Foss’s book, Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home, please do. Especially if you are in the season of many small children, she has some practical advise and curricula ideas for the first eight school years, as well as ways to avoid burnout.)

Elizabeth Foss led me back to Melissa Wiley, here: http://melissawiley.com/blog/2006/10/26/my-rule-of-six-and-whence-it-came/. Melissa Wiley had her own (different) six things that she plans for her family.

All three ladies had different rules of six, but they had the same purpose – to bring peace and efficiency to their home educating homes that allowed them both structure and freedom as they created family life and wrote books and blogs and articles while they were at it.

Much more recently (after multiple rounds of simplifying and making our homeschool look like I want it to), Sarah Mackenzie, who hosts the Read Aloud Revival Podcast over at http://amongstlovelythings.com and who also wrote the little guide Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace, did a Master’s Class to help her members sort out a way to decide what is the most important things for their own homes.  (If you join the Read Aloud Revival membership site, you can watch the recording of this class and several others)

After watching the catch-up video of the first in the two class series, I hurriedly scratched down six words that are things we have been trying for in our house. I finally grasped that I wasn’t supposed to take someone else’s idea of what would be good for this house of boys (now 8, 9, and 13) and their author-editor-publisher-parents. I needed to write what would work for us. And I needed to start with what is currently working and see where that leads. So, that is what I did.

I suggest you try it also. (I’ll explain more about why I chose the words I chose in the next few posts).