On Writing

Two things lead me to write on the topic of writing. First, I’ve been doing some reading about teaching writing in The Writer’s Jungle by Julie Bogart. Why teach writing if it isn’t important? It is extremely important to be able to communicate clearly and effectively in writing. I like Julie’s Brave Writer approach to writing because it is about coaching and joining the process, not just assigning a report and expecting your student to be able to do it well. The process of writing is sometimes lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. There are other writers all over. And there are readers! There are audiences when you read your own writing. Writing is a form of communication, and it is not something to learn or do only when you’re not busy doing more important things.

Second, I’ve experienced the ineffectiveness of talking. A conversation happens and I don’t have enough time to think clearly, so I say something that is relevant, but not exactly the truth. The other person takes what I said (which was only a part-truth) and uses it in the whole conversation, thinking it was the whole truth. It would have been so much better for me to write a letter to this person. The conversation did not go well. I could not clearly talk my way to the truth, and I was frustrated and wanted a break. I really wanted to just write what I knew.

Writing allows the mind to think and revise, to be more precise. Writing this post has allowed me to chew over two very different things running through my brain the past week and relate them to each other. Synthesis. I don’t find much synthesis in my verbal communications. I find jaggedness, weariness, confusion, words I wish I had a delete button for, clever things that struck a wrong note. Unless I’m free-writing in a stream-of-consciousness mode, I can avoid those awkward things in writing. So here’s a hip-hip-hooray for my blog! I love writing, and I enjoy knowing that someone is out there reading my writing, even if it’s not very many people. If I relied on verbal conversations alone, I’d be a weird, silent person. Someone who doesn’t have a great personality. I don’t feel that way at all in my writing. Writing adds dimension.

Homeschooling Pippi

One of our read-alouds this summer was Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, and we really enjoyed it. I got to thinking what it would be like to be Pippi’s mom, suddenly returned from the dead (not an angel after all!). Obviously, traditional school didn’t work for Pippi. She’s the perfect candidate for homeschooling. But which method to choose?

Mrs. Longstocking might try the Unit Study approach. Pippi could do a complete unit study of her trips at sea. She could make a lapbook of maps, animals she saw, pirates she met. She must include a drawing of the ship, all the various parts labeled, and she ought to fill in the points of a compass. Pippi’s mom could read her related books from the library, make her add and subtract fish, and memorize verses from the book of Jonah.

Well, how about the Montessori approach? Allow Pippi to explore her surroundings. Give her plenty of natural toys and tools. Wood is good. Start collections of acorns and pine cones. Get out her trunk and have her do a rubbing of the imprint on a bar of gold.

Perhaps Pippi would do well with the Charlotte Mason method. She’s already a natural narrator, but she must be trained to tell the truth. Take her for a nature walk, and instruct her to look for a minute, memorizing what she sees. Then have her close her eyes and tell you what she saw in detail. If she says anything ridiculous about robbers or parrots, she must be gently admonished. But try again the next day. Make her understand how truthful narration helps her remember important ideas.

Mrs. Longstocking might consider Classical education. But she would really have to get Pippi to sit still and attend to her lessons. A well-trained mind must be properly exercised every day.

The Brave Writer method is a more modern educational approach, designed to encourage Pippi and her mother. Since Pippi is still learning her letters, her mother can jot down those exciting stories for her. And then they can have a party! Invite the neighbors over! Celebrate!

Perhaps Delight-Directed education is the way to go. What does Pippi really love to do? Make a kitchen full of cookies? Great! Teach her fractions as she measures ingredients. Run off the local police? That’s the perfect opportunity to schedule a tour of the police station. Climb trees like her monkey? Compare and contrast her climbing abilities with those of Mr. Nilsson.

And then, of course, there’s Unschooling. Pippi is already doing a great job learning through life experience. Supply her with good books, take her along on errands, and find a local 4-H club for her to join.

So many choices! I’ve had fun thinking about being Pippi’s mom. As it happens, it’s just as tough to decide how my own children would best be educated. I see advantages and disadvantages to each of these methods. Charlotte Mason is what I’m officially doing, but I believe I’ll be borrowing from other approaches as well.

What’s Going on in the CM World?

What isn’t going on in the world of Charlotte Mason education, would probably be the better question to ask. It seems I joined in on this movement that is blossoming and growing and becoming more aware of itself by the day. That doesn’t mean I’m aware of it all. Not yet. I’m kind of slow about these things. I don’t care for big conferences, and I decided to take a summer break on any CM meetings that are taking place in the area. I don’t even have much patience to follow the conversations about the changing CM world on various blogs and web sites.

However, I do know that CM educators are finding more and more info from the different articles and reviews that Miss Mason wrote. Those of us who began with the six big volumes are now becoming aware that those big volumes are only a framework. The articles and reviews and letters that are becoming more easily accessible flesh out Miss Mason’s theories. And we find out we have been doing things wrong. At least some things. I’m not an expert yet, but I’ve vaguely become aware that nature study techniques need to be restudied (less art, more inquisitiveness). And composer study is perhaps a crutch we educators have been leaning on to cover a much broader (and more intimidating) study of music.

As my oldest begins third grade in the fall, and as I slowly begin to turn my summer break into a preparation for the next school year, I find myself wondering how much studying I should do? I like to study, and I’m pretty good at research, but at the same time, will it do much good to find out exactly how Miss Mason taught her class? Will slogging through a pile of articles really help me become a better teacher to my own children? I don’t know. There are some educators out there who do extensive research (Art Middlekauf, I’m talking about you!), and they seem to benefit a great deal from it. I think these folks with the big brains and the big hearts for their kids can honestly combine the two into a really good education.

At the same time, I think trial and error has its advantages as well. I’ve tried following Ambleside Online to the letter. Now, I believe I’ll try combining AO with some new things I’ve been keeping my eye on. For example, I think I’ll buy the “Jot It Down” writing program from Brave Writer, which will change the way we do poetry, among other things.

I feel like the wisdom of Charlotte Mason sifts into my life. Sifting is kind of an old-fashioned thing, too. The older recipe books tell us to sift together our flour and baking soda and salt. I think a sifter is a tool people used to use (sorry if I’m completely ignorant about this–I grew up without sifting things). Well anyway, it’s all a metaphor that I’m trying to work out here. CM is the flour sifting into my other life-ingredients. Her ideas help make a fine cake:)