Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Beach Novel While Not on the Beach

It's spring break and I'm reading a literary beach novel while not on the beach, The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, a Year 10 Amblesideonline free read. Seven chapters into the book, my favorite, laugh-out-loud quote is,
Clear your mind of the children, or the dinner, or the new bonnet, or what not … and don't I know how ready your attention is to wander when it's a book that asks for it, instead of a person? ~ Gabriel Betteredge, former bailiff and current house steward who consults Robinson Crusoe as his lifetime companion.
He raises a good question — How does one train attention to a book, not a person, when years of schooling has trained students to focus on a teacher lecturing or prompting? When years of worksheets has taught them to skim for answers, instead of reading to know? How can this transformation happen in a classroom with students whose abilities range from barely able to make it through a large group setting without a meltdown to gifted learners who already long to know? How do we help them go from letting facts pass through them like a sieve to seeking knowledge and making connections?

What are signs of a classroom full of seekers? Here is a list made by Charlotte Mason to assess for yourself, whether you are a homeschooling parent, a teacher at a homeschooling co-operative, or a teacher in a classroom. (These statements are quoted from Leslie Laurio's modern paraphrase of Towards a Philosophy of Education.)

"It's appropriate for all ages — even Shakespeare's seven ages of man!" — When I'm pre-reading, I sometimes gasp at an exciting connection. The other day my mind turned to a literature book when reading about Tim Severin's brilliant solution that blocked ginormous waves from entering his medieval leather boat during a gale. He and his crew sewed together pieces of oxhide with thongs to make a shell based on an image of a Roman army testudo formation that flashed into his mind. The hard part letting students make discoveries. To my delight, one girl gasped; another said, "Wait a minute;" a boy blurted out the name of the book.

"It effectively educates brilliant children, and develops the intelligence of even the slower children." — The other day we did the classic test of acids and bases using red cabbage juice as suggested in The Mystery of the Periodic Table. First, we tested vinegar and it turned red; then, we tested a baking soda solution, and it turned blue. Excited chatter erupted. We put them together and purple foam brewed. Eman, who is learning to function in a large classroom, exclaimed, "I can't wait to tell my dad I did three experiments." Another student decided to do this at home with his little brothers. The seekers of the class pondered and shared their thoughts, "Wait a minute! So, when you mix the acid and base, it reacts and becomes neutral!" Living out living books means that persons with varying abilities can thrive together.

Children concentrate with focused attention and interest without any effort from them or their teachers.Effort is required to get them to that point! Lots of patient smiles and awkward pauses and encouragement. Reading short sections. Scaffolding them in how to notebook. Reading fewer books. Skipping long, wordy nonessential passages. Once students learn this kind of concentration, it looks effortless.

All children taught this way express themselves in confident, well-spoken English, and use a large vocabulary. — The boy who came to us labeled non-verbal in August 2013 amazes us. Every morning he spends a half-hour outdoors on a scooter. When we came in, I asked what he was going to do during math and he said, "Work on lessons." For history, he said, "Narrate." Narrate! He is still such a slow processor that it's hard for him to narrate in class. Since he asked for it, the headmaster and I brainstormed how it could be done. Now, he leaves the class with his Kindle and notebook and finds one of us. Then, he narrates and we write what he says. The first day was rather amusing — for the record, he did not have his Kindle that day — he said that Lincoln "was a red car." However, a few days later, Angie took down what he said about their readings in ancient history, "Mesopotamia has rivers. Deserts with dark storms like Egypt." Even speech-delayed children can acquire a large vocabulary when surrounded by living books.

Children are calm and stable. — Last week, I substituted in the elementary class. Since Eman and the boy who narrated Mesopotamia are usually with me, they joined me for the reading, a chapter from Tom Sawyer. Thirteen students and I sat in a circle on the carpet while I read to them. Those with books had their eyes on the words. A prospective family with a spectrum child was meeting with Angie. They wanted to know how their child might fit in, so she said, "In the room next door are four special needs children. You'll be able to figure out one. Can you spot the other three who all have autism?" They quietly opened the door, watched, and listened. They were amazed at how calm and attentive the students were. Building trust, developing good habits, and helping students find joy in learning helps them find meaning their daily work.

Keeping the mind busy with things to think about seems to make children's minds and lives pure.Our kids find neat things to do outside of class. Several want to do more chemistry experiments at home. Some girls are planning to make a video of The Brendan Voyage over the summer. At recess, the kids are fighting Civil War battles or fighting over who gets to be Robin Hood and Maid Marion. We have a couple of kids whose viewing choices have shifted to history documentaries and trivia shows. When they go to local Mexican restaurants, they speak Spanish and sing for their servers. One boy would rather go to North Dakota to see dinosaur bones instead of Disney.

Parents [and teachers] share their children's interest in their schoolwork and enjoy the company of their children. — Back to my morning substituting, we read the chapter on World War I from A Child's History of the World. First, they gave a lovely narration about the previous chapter on the Industrial Revolution. Then, we read the introductory section on Serbia and Austria, which they narrated well. "Those countries are so little!" We read how France and Russia joined the fray. They were indignant about Germany marching through poor Belgium. When I asked what they thought England would do, they were sure it would side with Germany. They based their reason upon the connection between British royalty and Germany in their biography about Queen Victoria. They were shocked and appalled to learn that the United Kingdom sided with France. "FRANCE?" "They always fight France!" "Have they forgotten Napoleon?" The teacher told me that, the next day, they were still shaking their heads and muttering about England's choice. Teaching is a pleasure when students are engaged!

Children enjoy their books, even when they aren't picture books, and they seem to really love learning. — We are reading a challenging, worthy book for junior high geography. We sample the most tantalizing excerpts, and they are hooked. Two gasped when Josef Fischer found the long-lost Waldseemüller map in a German castle. When each student got a print of one of the twelve pieces, they looked carefully to make one large map. "Hey! That's not big enough!" "Yeah, the book said it was four by eight feet." In drawing a medieval map of the cosmos, done in Latin, they applied Spanish and Aristotle's four elements. "Tierraterra — it must be Earth!" "Aqua sounds like agua, which is water." "Aer looks like air." "So, ignis must be fire!" In narrating the imaginary races that medieval people believed existed, one girl said, "Those sound like the duffle pods in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader;" a boy decided the barking, dog-headed people were from Egyptian mythology; Eman added, "They're wearing a dog head skin like British wild people." Students love learning when we let them make connections.

Teachers don't have to work so hard making corrections. — One day, I filled in for the junior high teacher for literature. The class narrated their previous reading in an Alfred the Great biography. They were confused about why Alfred would marry when he was only a boy. I was confused because I didn't remember him having an arranged marriage as a child. I quickly realized their error and peeked at the next reading. I decided it contained enough information for them to correct themselves. After reading a section, I heard, "I'm confused." "Why did Alfred call Judith his sister?" "It said Judith married a man four times her age." "She's fifteen, so her husband must be sixty." "Wait, I think I got it! Judith married Alfred's father!" "And she's young enough to be his sister!" "Oh, now it makes sense!" Living books lend well to self-correction when students go astray.

Children taught this way do very well no matter what school they attend. — I suspect that children do very well in school, and, more importantly, do very well in life based upon what I know of CM-taught students who are now adults.

Students don't need grades, prizes, etc., to motivate them. — To scaffold parents in the transition, we assess habits as well as academics using a non-tradtional scale: novice, apprentice, practitioner, and expert. It removes the pressure of "getting all A's" because nobody can be an expert at everything. There is always room for growth! Having gotten over the hurdle of extrinsic motivation, the junior high is starting to learn for the sake of learning. When they drew a T-O map in their notebook, one said, "Hey, didn't we see one of those in a Fra Angelico painting?" When I pulled out Madonna and Child in Majesty, they asked, "Why is the globe upside down?" One is saving up for a copy for the Waldseemüller map for her bedroom. Another mappamundi sparked a lot of conversation. "Mappamundi must be a map!" "Mundi sounds like mundo which is Spanish for world." "I get it! Map of the world!" "Don't you see? Jesus is embracing the world. He's in it and in us!" "I can see why they were afraid to sail west. It wasn't just the end of the world; it was the end of time." "So, let me get this straight. What we're reading in geography is connected to chemistry, history, literature, and Spanish?" One student asked about the antichrist, and other students raised their hands to answer it! The teacher simply guided their conversation.

Since I don't believe in extrinsic motivation, I will offer a hilariously funny natural consequence for making it to the end of this very long post: another quote from The Moonstone, one of the 100 best novels in someone's eyes. It seems that Gabriel Betteredge may adore Robinson Crusoe, but he would not last long in a Charlotte Mason style of education.
You see my young master, or my young mistress, poring over one of their spiders' insides with a magnifying-glass; or you meet one of their frogs walking downstairs without his head — and when you wonder what this cruel nastiness means, you are told that it means a taste in my young master or my young mistress for natural history. Sometimes, again, you see them occupied for hours together in spoiling a pretty flower with pointed instruments, out of a stupid curiosity to know what the flower is made of. Is its colour any prettier, or its scent any sweeter, when you DO know? But there! the poor souls must get through the time, you see — they must get through the time. You dabbled in nasty mud, and made pies, when you were a child; and you dabble in nasty science, and dissect spiders, and spoil flowers, when you grow up. In the one case and in the other, the secret of it is, that you have got nothing to think of in your poor empty head, and nothing to do with your poor idle hands. And so it ends in your spoiling canvas with paints, and making a smell in the house; or in keeping tadpoles in a glass box full of dirty water, and turning everybody's stomach in the house; or in chipping off bits of stone here, there, and everywhere, and dropping grit into all the victuals in the house; or in staining your fingers in the pursuit of photography, and doing justice without mercy on everybody's face in the house.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Shift

Tonight we celebrated the term finale feast at Harvest, a Charlotte Mason style private school founded by two friends and me. We value feasts, not just food feasts, but feasts of the mind. On Fridays, we celebrate the feast after lunch. Rather than fight minds wandering to the weekend ahead, we grab their attention by feeding their ears with composer study, their eyes with picture study, their fingers with handwork, and their minds with Plutarch. We also invite parents and homeschoolers to join us — it gives our teachers an afternoon a plan and our community a chance to gather together. The feasting culminates in the term Finale Feast, where we feed the families a lovely meal, let the students share some things they have learned (tonight it was Psalm 121, Génesis 1:1 in Spanish, "La granja," and "Great Is Thy Faithfulness"), and invite a pastor to share the gospel and feed their souls.

Lately, I've pondered what I call the shift, which is the process of becoming a seeker of knowledge. One of the fathers told me tonight that it's like a lightbulb suddenly switched on in the brains of his daughters. Another student shared "Harvest can change your perspective of learning — in a fun way." And, after settling into a routine of copywork, oral narration, and drawing a story, Eman suddenly decided to try written narrations. He has volunteered to do three of them on his own initiative. On his own initiative! Do you know how huge that is? He told our headmaster, "My hands are hungry for writing words." So, part of the shift is stimulate a person's hunger.

One transformation has amazed me. I met this introverted girl over four years ago. She hardly talked to me even though her brother, a chatterbox, was in my class at the after school program. They were some of the first students to sign up for Harvest. Anyway, a Charlotte Mason style of education has changed her life — just two weeks ago, she did a wonderful reading as Ophelia in Hamlet. Not only is she taking guitar lessons, she has played for us once at the morning meeting and plans to write the school song. She did not want to recite a poem at the finale feast. She doggedly pursued the opportunity to share her testimony.

She was amazing. She stood at the podium, her face radiant with confidence. She gestured and put passion into her carefully chosen words. She admitted to being shy, quiet, and scared at school. Its strictness and rules kept her from being herself. She had friends and good teachers, and nothing bad happened. Yet, the atmosphere made her feel small. She said that she could not believe she was looking forward to her first day of school last year. Within a week, she relaxed and let herself emerge. She beamed as she described who she is today: she talks non-stop, she narrates everything, and she is not afraid to speak about her faith, which brings her joy.

I could spend all night blogging about changed lives. About the girl who never went outside and who now adores going on what she dubbed "the dangerous and wet trail of death" on Friday. About the boy who got upset when asked to read aloud who acted in a play in Charleston last month. About the girl whose third grade teacher made her feel stupid and who now knows how intelligent she really is. And the primary class who is absolutely jealous because they are not old enough for Shakespeare. And the girls who bake to raise money to build an aquaponics farm in Mozambique.

God keeps sending us students and we are now completely full. We have a waiting list next year, and it looks like we are going to add on to our building in God's perfect timing. We hope to have more space next year. If God can give us the resources to open a school in ten weeks, He can supply enough money to build this summer or the next. Rather than ask people to buy things they really don't need (wrapping paper, candy, popcorn, magazines, etc.), we have set up a gofundme page. Every dollar raised there will go directly to building more rooms so we can help kids shift to becoming seekers.

One thing God has taught me in the past two years is that He is in the big things, and He is in the little things. One of the girls asked me what we were serving and I told her taco soup. She did not look thrilled. She asked about dessert and I told her key lime pie. "Pie, I don't like pie! Aren't you going to serve fried chicken and macaroni and cheese?" I told her no but that Mrs. Shea is a really great cook! So, what happens on Saturday? The afternoon of The Finale Feast, a couple celebrated their 50th anniversary. They had plenty of leftovers and asked us if we wanted some. So, that young lady got her macaroni and cheese (and it was delicious).

"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." Lamentations 3:22-23

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Flexible Thinking in How We Help Spectrum Students

Last year, I blogged a bit about a "Harvester" with autism who enjoys gardening. (Harvest is a Charlotte Mason style school where Pamela and I hang out.) We have several spectrum students in our school, and they are all so different. As the saying goes, if you've met one person with autism, then you've met only one person with autism. We have one boy who "missed" a lot of classroom time last year because he was on a very difficult journey from learning to co-regulate (master his reactions with the help of someone) to self-regulate (know when to excuse himself or ask a teacher to help him deal with a stressful situation). This year, he's learned the lesson so well that he's never out of class. Point One: Sometimes, taking a huge step back fosters a huge leap forward!

Another spectrum Harvester came to us last year from a self-contained classroom, labeled as nonverbal. His real issue is slow processing. When we gave him time to process, he talked. Once he realized that we would wait for him, he began to talk more and more and more, a little bit faster, a little bit faster, and a little bit faster. After the morning meeting, he needs time to eat a snack and burn off energy. Then, he is ready to join his peers for class. He works all day in class at his own level. He goes through an occasional giddy spell and has to leave class until he gets a grip. Point Two: Sometimes, labels are not accurate.

Here is the update on Eman, who could only handle an hour at school just over a year ago and who now stays all day and after school to play with friends. Last year, our goal was for him to work up to a full day at school. While he made it through most days, he left at lunch whenever he had a tough morning. Some mornings were tough, and I believe one issue was that he knew he had an out. His mother assisted the primary class teacher in the morning and went home for lunch. In the back of his mind, he knew he could go home if he acted up enough. Point Three: Some behaviors are deliberate, and they are the trickiest to figure out.

The good news is that we have figured it out. Over the summer, his mother chatted with him from time to time about having to stay all day. Why? This talented lady has joined us as the primary class teacher! The first term he stayed all day, but some days were very tough. Eman is wonderful and, when fully regulated, he is a delight. He gets excited about a story; he stays very engaged; he begs to help. The day we planted seeds in the winter garden he had a hard time taking turns because he wanted to do everything. When he notebooked the garden, he drew his dream garden which included a fountain and a hot tub. He has a big heart and a big imagination. Point Four: Every child, however challenging, has good qualities!

What was the trick? Eman is easily bored, but he needs some structure. Spending all day, in the same class, with the same kids, with the same teacher was a little too much sameness for him. His mother and our headmaster brainstormed a new schedule that gives him variety within a routine. He joins the morning meeting for the devotion, pledge, song, habit talk, and Spanish and then he has a snack. Low blood sugar can ruin a day for him. Then, he goes to the headmaster for independent work: listening to an audio book, notebooking it, and map work. Then, he joins Pamela and I for literature: we practice the fighter verse of the week, read a poem, read from two different literature books, and prepare for Shakespeare on Thursday. Then, he goes to his mom's room for math and heads to lunch. After lunch, he goes to recess and comes back in for copywork. Then, he and Pamela join the junior high in the big room for history and science in the afternoon. I am teaching that class so the junior high teacher can continue to build a solid relationship with him because he will spend several years in her class. Point Five: In spite of what many believe, rigid routine does not help autistic children.

How have things been going for Eman? Surprisingly well. He's only had two tough days all term. On one day, he tested us and realized that he prefers choosing to do the right thing even though he does not always feel like it. The other day was a combination of a cold and a death in the extended family.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Winter Nature Study Y'all

Let's face it! When the temperatures are below freezing, it's hard to muster the mojo to walk. (For folks down south, hot, humid, mosquito-mired days in July are no picnic). Whatever your obstacle, it's worth keeping the habit of a long, weekly walk. Our sweet spot is Santee National Wildlife Refuge, and, while it's twenty minutes from my house and ten minutes from our school, I don't mind the drive once a week. Here are a few tips, one or two gleaned from the AO forum which I encourage you to join because of their collective wisdom.
  • Find a like-minded kindred spirit to walk with your family. Make a commitment with one another to walk the same place at the same time every week.
  • Bring and wear what you need to be comfortable: hats, gloves, mittens, scarves, layers, boots, raingear, sunscreen, insect repellant, etc.
  • Set a temperature limit (minimum and maximum) and use that to buck yourself up when it's cold but not too cold and hot but not too hot.
  • Practice the habit of cheerful resilience. We have sayings to go with the weather: "Harvest kids don't melt/ freeze to death/blubber." (The kids reading Carry On, Mr. Bowditch coined that last one.)
  • Take pictures to help you research what is out there. Let older children take their own pictures if they use it for nature study.
  • Keep a family nature notebook for the little ones and scaffold them into doing their own when they are ready. Record common names and Latin names of what you see whenever possible.
  • Keep a list of what you find at the back of your notebook like the one Laurie Bestvator shared in her book The Living Page. It becomes a handy reference during notebooking time.
  • Let them develop their own names of places: we have the castles and moats, rock mountain, the frog pond, the boat ramp pond, the binocular boardwalk, the swamp boardwalk, etc.
Just over a week ago, we experienced a "long" period of freezing temperature. My friends from up North, please make sure you have no coffee or tea in your mouth. Thirty-six consecutive hours of temperatures well below freezing is long for us — especially when your house is not insulated!

We decided to make Friday's walk optional since it began just as the thermometer began passing 32 degrees Fahrenheit. My group headed straight to the water where the deer drink. Watching them play in the ice was like seeing Lucy explore Narnian snow for the first time. Ice is a rare treat for us. Seeing a section of our lake iced over is extremely rare. Rather than drag them out of the ice and walk the whole trail because that is what we do every week, I let them explore and play with ice. As you can see in the pictures, they had a BLAST.

It is especially rewarding when you get to see students making discoveries. They became mesmerized by chucking bits of ice and watching them skid across the ice. This video shows them cheering when the little chunks slid off into the water.

When this little boy ran through the cypress knees, he announced, "Hey, it's like a maze!"

Then, the kids had an idea just as we are driving away. They wondered if they could explore the ice at the little beach near the mound. They learned that the ice had already melted on the sunny side of the lake.

What was Pamela doing? Well, she and I had violated one of our tips. We had forgotten to wear boots so we did not have as much fun as the others!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Reflection about Term 1

It's hard to believe but we are half-way through our second year at Harvest Community School. We started last year with eighteen students in first through seventh grades, and now we have FORTY-THREE from Kindergarten to eleventh grade. That's not including a handful of preschoolers who join us for lunch and an hour of Harvest time after Montessori. I wish I could tell you all their stories because Harvest has been a place for children to know God, to discover God's plans for them, and to find joy.

Pamela and I go there every day. Because the junior high was overflowing, Pamela and I are working together again. She and I join the entire school for morning meeting where we listen to a devotion, recite the pledge of allegiance, sing a patriotic song or hymn, and learn Spanish (which I teach). She and I are working through a variation of AO Year 7 adapted to a private school, modified to scaffold students who have never learned through Charlotte Mason principles.

It is a challenging transition! She and I worked very hard during the first term in between trips to Indiana and Canada. In Ohio, we watched a jousting tournament! And we met Hildegard and other friends in Ontario.

You may think Charlotte Mason is all about reading tons of great books. While we do read great books, we also study things up close and personal. God has sent all kinds of creatures to us. We studied a dead bat, a baby opossum that found itself in our trashcan one morning, and a mud turtle.

We explored two Carolina bays: one at Woods Bay State Park and another at Santee National Wildlife Refuge. Their staff invited us to go on their autumn audit of snakes and salamanders. We saw how they capture and count these critters. Don't worry! This snake is venomous unlike the cotton mouth that stayed in the cage.

The staff of SNWR also gave us a tour of the bird migration fields and told us all the things they do to keep traveling birds well-fed. We learned a lot about the different habitats along our beloved trail and how to apply terms like producer, consumer, and decomposer.

Finally, we ended the term and our study of Hildegard von Bingen with a visit from the author of the book we had been reading. Megan Hoyt shared things about Hildegard that went beyond the book. We passed around herbs, and the children enjoyed grinding spelt. She passed around scrolls with sayings by Hildegard plus something they might be when they grow up. The Kindergartners was so impressed because they knew the book inside and out. When our headmaster told them that the author of the book is here, their eyes grew wide and one little boy exclaimed in surprise, "She's HERE?"

To read more posts like this, check out the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival!

Monday, November 03, 2014

Lessons about Learning from a Praying Mantis

Has it really been three months?

Between retreats and starting a new school year at Harvest, my poor blog has been quite neglected. Pamela and I just returned from l'HaRMaS in Canada and, if you want to know more about it, Mama Squirrel has written a series of posts about it: our bedtime story Roxaboxen, delighting in a praying mantis eggs sac as a party favor, feeling empowered rather than small and dim, on place and architecture, acting on ideas, THE Voice, learning-serving-learning-serving-..., and starting with a story.

My friend, Jennifer Gagnon, blog writer of BeLikeFabre, lives out what we believe. Her bookshelf — an AmblesideOnline paradise — mesmerized Pamela and I. Every inch, from floor to ceiling, from one end to the other end of a joyously long wall is crammed full of literary treasures and hidden gems. On a table nearby sat a white ceramic pot with another guest she was hosting, a praying mantis that we named Hildegard, of course! Watching Hildegard eat a bee reminded me of important lessons about learning.

Before Pamela and I arrived, Jennifer and Jeanne (our surprise visitor from Australia) watched Hildegard feed on a spider and a cricket. They talked up the process so much we had to see it for ourselves. The morning after l'HaRMaS ended we stood outside (me in my pajamas), gathered around the pot, and waited for her to attack and eat a bee. We watched and waited and watched and waited and... Occasionally, Hildegard would focus intently on the bee and move her head to track it. Poor Kathy delayed her departure for the airport as long as she could to see the great event.

We tried scaffolding Hildegard to speed things up. In the process of moving the pot, the stick where she perched had gotten stuck under a plastic container. Jennifer tried to give her a leg up, but the mantis grew frightened and fought her help, even trying to bite her. Things settled down, and Hildegard tracked and follow the bee's movements. She knew the distance was too far but did not realize the plastic wrap covering the pot prevented the bee from flying off. She did not know that climbing onto the container would close the gap between herself and her prey. We tried pinning the bee to the edge of the pot, hoping a leaf protected fingers and thumbs from its stinger. Even that did not encourage her to pounce.

Hildegard neither knew nor cared that Kathy longed to see the big event. That minutes were ticking by and our friend would soon be bound for the airport. She tracked the bee warily but did nothing more. We offered her a big leaf with a long stem, and she ended up stuck under that, too. We pushed a hydrangea and stem to no avail. Kathy left, and we waited some more. Hildegard stayed hidden below the scaffolding we had offered her.

My mind wandered while we waited. As Dr. Gustein points out in a recent note, we are born driven to seek out and engage in challenging situations. Certain conditions encourage the most growth. Learners are most engaged when they feel safe and supported. All of our hurried attempts to scaffold her must have frightened her terribly. It took her a long time to feel secure enough to venture out of hiding. That is what happens to all learners who have been placed into environments that create frightening learning experiences.

Clearly, Hildegard needed to feel a sense of normalcy — that things fell into a predictable pattern that made her feel at home. The unfamiliar environment of the pot and our frantic attempts to help left her unsettled. All the resources of her meager brain were channeled toward safety. Once we left her alone and watched her without prodding her, she settled down. She began to feel secure. Slowly, a foreleg crept up to the plastic container. She waited for signs of trouble, and, when there were none, another leg popped up. One by one, carefully, hesitantly, the mantis crawled on top of the container.

Once we backed off, we saw that she could handle the challenges in her own time, Hildegard made progress. It was not immediate. She saw the bee but did not pounce on it right away. She started to track it. It looked almost as if she were measuring it and assessing whether or not she could manage it. Fabre's description is exactly what we saw,
For a long time she waits in vain ; for the Wasp is suspicious and on her guard: still, now and then a rash one is caught. With a sudden rustle of wings the Mantis terrifies the newcomer, who hesitates for a moment in her fright. Then, with the sharpness of a spring, the Wasp is fixed as in a trap between the blades of the double saw — the toothed fore-arm and toothed upper-arm of the Mantis. The victim is then gnawed in small mouthfuls.
Before we headed out on a nature walk along Lake Erie, we released Hildegard and took lots of pictures. She's quite a celebrity. You may be wondering how to apply these lessons to learners in your life. How does one approach the ambitious Year 7 of AmblesideOnline with a person whose language skills are very delayed? Well, I will let you know in my next post because that is exactly what Pamela and I are doing.

Friday, August 08, 2014

On Being Like a Child: Hildegard's Gift

Some of our special needs children face many illnesses, and a book like Hildegard's Gift by Megan Hoyt offers encouragement. In full disclosure, this review is biased because Megan is my friend. I did buy a copy for her to sign with my own money. And, if you don't believe my praise, read the wonderful review at Publishers Weekly. And, it happens to be on sale right now!

Hildegard was a composer, nun, herbalist, writer, and many other things who lived nine hundred years ago. From the time she was a young child, she suffered from terrible headaches that left her worn out and bedridden at times. Megan's book weaves many big ideas into this children's biography of Hildegard: not all gifts come in packages, with some gifts comes pain, sometimes our frail bodies need rest, sometimes we must persevere even when our body is not cooperating, sometimes our talents are as plain as day, and sometimes they appear in God's good timing. Megan sprinkled Hildegard's words throughout the text. The illustrations by David Hill strike me as Narnian, and that is the highest praise I can give to a piece of art. The tone of the book is sweet and gentle, but also gives children a glimpse of the dark times in Hildegard's life.

We were blessed on July 28 when Megan did a book signing event for us during Clockwise. My friends from prov.en.der came to Harvest and shared what they know about "unhurried time" with our teachers, parents, teachers from one of our sister schools, and homeschoolers.

Humility, being childlike, going through a day done Mason's way, helped us understand "unhurried time." We did copywork, studied dictation, recitation, picture study, history, poetry, prayer, hymns, literature, math, handicraft, nature walk, etc. Our special guest Megan introduced us to Hildegard, not just through her book, but in many ways. She gave us more details about her world and what life was like. She showed us paintings of how people portrayed this visionary woman.

Megan shared many delightful things about Hildegard in ways that tapped into our senses. Throughout the day, we listened to her music while we did work that required quiet thought. We tried singing "O Ignis Spiritus" in the best melisma style that we could. She invited one of our teachers, who grows all sorts of herbs in her garden, to share those that Hildegard might have enjoyed. I don't want to give it all away, but we enjoyed it so much I plan to invite her back so our kids can get to see a bona fide author who is published! If you live within a reasonable distance from the Charlotte area, I encourage you to contact her for a book signing.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

What Humility Has to Do with Autism

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. ~ Lord Acton
Some friends and I were commenting on an article which states that people in power are less sensitive to social cues. "Studies have repeatedly shown that participants who are in high positions of power (or who are temporarily induced to feel powerful) are less able to adopt the visual, cognitive or emotional perspective of other people, compared to participants who are powerless (or are made to feel so)."

People in power are less able to mirror the emotions of others. It explains why politicians seem out of touch the longer they stay in Washington. Why the people who suffered at the hands of the monarchy and the czars committed cruel acts after they won revolutions. "When people experience power, their brains fundamentally change how sensitive they are to the actions of others." It causes me to appreciate people like George Washington: the people would have given him honors, titles, rank, and lavishness worthy of a king, but he remained humble. He went back to farming after his eight years in office ended.

If you have a special needs child in your life, this article becomes personal! The world views our children as weak — less than human. Their vulnerability makes others feel powerful. A friend's husband is in a wheelchair due to a recent accident. Although she works with special needs students, she didn't understand what it's like until now. People don't look her husband in the eye: he's beneath them. He communicates well, yet one waitress didn't leave a bill until my friend had returned from the bathroom.

Even in fleeting encounters, power lowers resonance with social cues. "For those participants who were induced to experience feelings of power, their brains showed virtually no resonance with the actions of others; conversely, for those participants who were induced to experience feelings of powerlessness, their brains resonated quite a bit. In short, the brains of powerful people didn't mirror the actions of other people."

Whether we are parent, teacher, or therapist, power can go to our head, especially when a task is vital. For me, that hot button was potty training because diapers shut down many opportunities. Pamela was six years old and still in pull-ups. No matter how often we headed her to the bathroom, she never realized it was time to go. Fortunately, I had read that a benefit of a gfcf diet was improved bladder control. I quit potty training until we started homeschooling Pamela and took her off certain foods. Fortunately, I had never pushed Pamela to the point of causing me to regret my actions. Had I not known about food connection, it could have happened.

Certain kinds of therapy puts the adult into a powerful role. Think about what a person might do to a child, even a well-intentioned adult who only wants the best for that child, might do because of the power differential. Even an intelligent, loving adult might overstep boundaries because power has shut down the mirror neurons that promote empathy. We know what can happen when a low-verbal or non-verbal child is put in the hands of someone with too much power. We see the awful stories on the news all the time!

I prefer Relationship Development Intervention and Charlotte Mason because adults are viewed as encouragers and guides. Children are valued for who they are, whether they are brilliant or a bit delayed or far, far "behind." In this "must-see" video on being the father of someone with autism and apraxia, Matt Oakes put our roles as parents and teachers very well.

"I don't think it's my job to force Liam to be the kind of kid, the kind of person that I want him to be. It's our job as parents, it's my job as his dad, to help him find who he is."

"Is." Not "will be."

"A child is a born person." ~ Charlotte Mason

The view of ourselves as persons in authority must be accurate as well. Matt appreciates the importance of humility.

"Instead of being this sort of superhero for their kids, I think that a good dad is someone who just humbles himself in front of their kids and finds ways to reach to their kid where they are and say I see you and I love you."

"I think to help kids unlock who they are you have to realize as a dad, as a parent, that it's really not about you. But, to make it about the kid, you have to be vulnerable and you have to be humble. You have to let that stuff go."

Mason cautioned us about our view of ourselves in this way, "Our deadly error is to suppose that we are his showman to the universe; and, not only so, but that there is no community at all between child and universe unless such as we choose to set up." She kicks this view of humility up a notch by recognizing authority properly.
"When we learn to realise that––God is, Self is, the World is, with all that these existences imply, quite untouched by any thinking of ours, unprovable, and self-proven,––why, we are at once put into a more humble attitude of mind. We recognise that above us, about us, within us, there are "more things . . . than are dreamt of in our philosophy." We realise ourselves as persons, we have a local habitation, and we live and move and have our being in and under a supreme authority." ~ Charlotte Mason
Humbling ourselves forces us to trust in the Teacher, the Holy Spirit, to work in our children what we cannot do. Like Matt said, our role is not to force our children to be what we want them to be. Only the Holy Spirit knows who they are. In our humility, we can help them find out. Since God already knows, the more we trust Him, the less we get in the way.
"When we recognise that God does not make over the bringing up of children absolutely even to their parents, but that He works Himself, in ways which it must be our care not to hinder, in the training of every child, then we shall learn passiveness, humble and wise. We shall give children space to develop on the lines of their own characters in all right ways, and shall know how to intervene effectually to prevent those errors which, also, are proper to their individual characters." ~ Charlotte Mason
I attended two Charlotte Mason retreats in the past two weeks. Clockwise invited me to assume a humble posture, that of a child, where we immersed ourselves in a typical school day. Living Education Retreat gave me three verses on humility:

"Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'" 1 Peter 5:5

"Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves." Luke 22:26

"At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, 'Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'" Matthew 18:1-4

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The Un-Vacation

I've never cared for amusement parks. It's not because I'm old. This has been happening since I threw up on a roller coaster in fourth grade. My stomach hates curveballs. It has rejected its contents on a windy road on the way to Neueschwanstein castle in Germany, on Navy ships and sail boats, on a Navy training propeller plane and helicopter, and on a P-3 mission over the ocean near Russia. I even have to close my eyes during intense Imax moments. For many years, Steve and I tolerated amusement parks for Pamela's sake, hoping David would take on our role when he got bigger. He inherited my weakness so we take turns escorting Pamela until we all turn green.

I know families who love this kind of vacation. We're not one of them.

When I think of amusement parks, I think hot, sticky, sweaty, waiting in line, trying to block out what is offered to entertain us. The food is expensive and must be avoided for Pamela's sake. Everything is overpriced and, even if you pay for everything in advance, you end up paying for more than you intended. Lately, we've stopped at unusual places in our travels. We decided to make our weirdness official: over the holiday weekend, we attended a retreat called "Marvelous Mozart" at a Benedictine archabbey, located about half way between Kansas and South Carolina.

What about Pamela?

She loves all styles of music. Her i-Touch has every genre of music imaginable. On long drives, she chooses classical stations on Sirius with occasional dips into the broadway channel and kids' music. Pamela adores Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, and too many to list here.

The retreat location was perfect and the grounds were lovely. The guest rooms, dining area, and classroom were all in the same building. Since Pamela knew how to find our room and get in with a key card, she could take a break whenever she pleased. If Steve and I lingered over coffee longer than she liked, she asked to go to the room. If she got a little bored with a session, she left early. The Benedictines built many breaks into the schedule, perfect for Pamela and I since we are both recovering from colds.

What did she do during a session? She watched a documentary about Mozart with us and watched several clips of his operas. She listened to some music as well. While some people took notes or read the handouts, Pamela doodled. She loves to doodle!
Archabbey accommodations lacked a few things. Since we pay for television at home, having no television in the room worked for us. The Internet was down, and monks aren't the most technically savvy people, which is more than balanced by their gracious hospitality. The bathrooms had a shower but no bath, just like two bathrooms in our house. We had no idea where the nearest store was, but we left the windows open at night and awakened to sweet birds. We ate our meals cafeteria style: simple, nourishing, filling, and good for the waistline. One night we had corn fresh off the cob — delicious!

How did Pamela do on the un-vacation? Very well. She had one moment of frustration during a lecture when someone who shall not be named was trying to figure out his complicated travel schedule. Pamela watched his every pen stroke and commanded him to stop after he made one too many changes for her taste. She demanded him to put it away and settled down after he did. She also had a mini-melt during the last lunch. She was out of sorts because she had planned for us to leave after breakfast. I had to stay for the Requiem session (a highlight for me). She rushed during lunch and dropped her tray on the floor in the serving area. I gave her a big hug to calm her because I walked her to her seat. Steve and kitchen staff cleaned up her spilled salad. To help her recover, we went ahead and got food for her. Up until this point, she had had no problems getting her own tray and serving herself.

Pamela and I took a quick nature walk around a little lake on the grounds. Steve had been spied it during his morning run and urged me to see it. Isn't the weather and view gorgeous?

I spotted several new things in this short trek: two new species of dragonflies and crawfish holes in the grass near the water. The dragonflies were moving so quickly I'm shocked my camera picked up anything. These short, stubby dragonflies are called eastern amberwings (Perithemis tenera). They hung out above the water's edge.

I've never seen anything like these black and prom-tuxedo-blue dragonflies. The widow skimmers (Libellula luctuosa) buzzed over water and fields like tie-fighters in a Star Wars movie. They went so fast all I could see was a blur of color. Apparently, the males defend their territory aggressively.

These crawfish holes remind me of mud castles I used to make at the beach as a child. If we ever come back, I want to bring a picnic lunch and watch for the crawfish to come out.

Can you tell that Pamela was in a hurry to go home?

And, in case you haven't had enough doodles....