Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Formation of Character by Charlotte Mason: Parts 1 & 2

The Formation of Character by Charlotte Mason has been one of my slow cooker reads over the past couple of years and I’ve finally finished it! The book contains studies related to character formation in children and consists of four parts plus an appendix. The first two parts took me probably twice as long to read as the rest of the book but I was also reading a couple of other educational books that required a bit of brain. Since it’s been so long since I first started the book, I’m going to concentrate more on the second half, although I do have another reason for that which I’ll get to later.

So what do we mean when we talk about character formation?

The word 'character' comes from a Greek verb meaning 'to scrape, cut, or engrave.' Noah Webster's 1828 dictionary expresses it as:

'The peculiar qualities, impressed by nature or habit on a person, which distinguishes him from others; these constitute real character, and the qualities which he is supposed to possess, constitute his estimated character, or reputation. Hence we say, a character is not formed, when the person has not aquired stable and distinctive qualities.'

Charlotte Mason described it this way:

'...character is original disposition, modified, directed, expanded by education, by circumstances; later, by self-control and self-culture; above all, by the supreme agency of the Holy Spirit, even when that agency is little suspected and as little solicited...
...character is not the outcome of a formative educational process; but inherent tendencies are played upon, more or less incidentally, and the outcome is character.'

This reminds me of the verse in Ecclesiastes 11 about sowing seeds - the sower doesn't know whether the seeds he sows will all grow well or whether one lot will do better than the other.

Sow a habit, reap a character...
 The Sower by Jean-Francois Millet, 1850

Part 1 - this section contains short studies that show ways to help a child get rid of annoying faults: a boy with a quick temper; Kitty, the girl who was flighty and couldn’t keep her attention on anything for very long; the sullen child, the moody older girl who found the key to gaining victory over her inherent disposition.

'...youth does not last; and the poor girl who began as a butterfly ends up as a grub, tied to the earth by the duties she never learnt how to fulfil.'

Charlotte Mason speaks a word of wisdom to parents, especially to those who are not naturally demonstrative, pointing out that older children are usually taught to give place to the younger ones resulting in a lack of affection being extended to those children who are past the cute stage. Toddlers are in your face affectionate and just the right size for a cuddle. Older kids and teenagers less so!

'Actions do not speak louder than words to a young heart; he must feel it in your touch, see it in your eye, hear it in your tones, or you will never convince child or boy that you love him, though you labour day and night for his good and his pleasure...'

She observed that young people are love hungry. They will sell their souls for love and we see the results of that all around us. I think this is definitely something to consider but since she wrote these words there have been a couple of generations where the doctrine of self-esteem has been pushed and I think this has skewed our ability to address this issue properly.
In his book, ‘Psychological Seduction,’ published in 1983, William Kirk Kilpatrick writes:

The philosophy of self-esteem is everywhere. One would think that by now it would have had time to take effect. Yet depression is rampant. So is suicide. Adolescent suicide is up almost 300 percent over the last twenty-five years. Suicide among children- at one time a rare phenomenon - is on the rise. The philosophy of self-esteem doesn’t cause these problems, but it doesn’t seem to prevent them either. “I arm you with the sword of self-esteem,” says the psychological society to its children. “It will serve you well in battle.” But it is not a good weapon, and our enemies are not so easily slain.”

I’ve noticed with my own children that adults often say things like, “You're awesome,” or “You’re amazing!” to them when all they’ve done is something they should have done, or something that didn’t really inconvenience them much. I don't imagine that this type of treatment is what Charlotte Mason had in mind. A simple “thank you” or “That was kind/generous/helpful...of you,” would have been a more appropriate response. Gushing praise won't satisfy this hunger because it is devoid of substance.

'The boy who knows that his father and his mother love him with measureless patience in his faults, and love him out of them, is not slow to perceive, receive, and understand the dealings of the higher Love.'

Part II - this section is titled ‘Parents in Council’ and relates a conversation between a group of parents about what education should look like. This Fathers' & Mothers' Club takes a serious look at what education is and the responsibilities required of parents.
These discussions in Part II were the spark that led to the formation of the Parent’s National Education Review (PNEU). I think there were only about five couples present at that meeting but what a chain of action they set in motion!
There is also a short piece on choosing holiday destinations, some thoughts on the nature of the child - physiology, or ‘the science of life;’ and the musings of a schoolmaster.
Most of the chapters may be read independently although the parental discussion in Chapter I is later picked up again in Chapter V imagining the situation‘a hundred years after.’

Few things could be more disastrous (as, alas, few are more imminent) than a sudden break with the traditions of the past; wherefore, let us gently knit the bonds that bind us to the generation all too rapidly...
It is well that we gather up, with tender reverence, such fragments of their insight and experience as come in our way; for we would fain, each, be as an householder, bringing forth out of his treasures things new and old.

To be continued... 

Monday, 14 May 2018

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

‘No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.’

So H.G. Wells began in what was to be the first modern science fiction novel. The planet Mars had been cooling; its oceans had shrunk and the planet was in the last stages of exhaustion. 
‘The immediate pressure of necessity has brightened their intellects, enlarged their powers, and hardened heir hearts.’

As the Martians looked upon the earth with their advanced instruments, they saw what they regarded as inferior creatures, as we would look upon ants. They saw a planet that could offer them an escape from their own doomed orb and they prepared for war.
The anonymous narrator of The War of the Worlds witnesses the first arrival of the Martians in Britain and documents their actions and his experiences of their invasion.

 Martian Emerges, Henrique Alvim Corrêa, 1906

Reading The War of the Worlds in 2018, it does come across as sensational and dated at times, but to readers living in the 19th Century before the invention of flight, let alone space travel, it would have been an entirely different experience; one which would have been quite confronting and perhaps terrifying to some.

It’s been said that The War of the Worlds is a critique of imperialism; a political allegory of the climate prior to World War I, more than a work of science fiction. Wells made comments throughout the book that seemed to reflect this idea. It took some time after the Martians came for humans to move from complacency to action which suggests a sense of superiority or hubris, and even then the action wasn’t a collective response but every man to himself, more or less.

'For that moment I touched an emotion beyond the common range of men, yet one that the poor brutes we dominate know only too well...I felt the first inkling of a thing that grew quite presently clear in my mind, that oppressed me for many days, a sense of dethronement, a persuasion that I was no longer a master, but an animal among the animals, under the Martian heel. With us it would be as with them, to lurk and watch, to run and hide; the fear and empire of man had passed away.'

Abandoned London, Henrique Alvim Corrêa

'And before we judge of them too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years.'

Wells described a Martian as possessing a tentacled brain. They were genderless, with no digestive system, and received nourishment by drinking the blood of humans while they were still alive...
Their behaviour towards the people on the earth was compared to that between humans and ants.

 Martian Viewing Drunken Crowd, Henrique Alvim Corrêa

"This isn't a war," said the artilleryman. "It never was a war, any more than there's war between man and ants."

'By ten o’clock the police organisation, and by midday even the railway organisations, were losing coherency, losing shape and efficiency, guttering, softening, running at last in that swift liquefaction of the social body.'

The War of the Worlds is a work of literature, beautifully written by a skilled wordsmith, so I found much to enjoy in my reading of it. However, I wasn’t so enamoured by the whole Martian thing and a few times I felt like skipping some parts of the book...I didn't, and preferred the latter part of the book much more than the earlier parts.

The book is scheduled as a free read in Ambleside Online Year 10. I think it’s a good fit there and would appeal to anyone who likes the science fiction genre. I much prefer dystopian fiction but I possibly would have enjoyed this book more if I’d read it when I was going through a science fiction stage in my late teens.

This book is part of my 2018 TBR reading challenge

Monday, 7 May 2018

What does a Charlotte Mason homeschool day look like?

We have a fairly similar schedule each day up until about lunch time. Afternoons are fairly busy these days starting with a cello lesson on Monday and ballet in the evening; swimming three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday afternoons & Saturday morning) & orchestra rehearsal on a Wednesday. Last Thursday I decided I needed to carve out some time to get Moozle started on a project. I’ve been encouraging her to do some patchwork & although she has done some in the past it’s been English Paper Piecing, which I enjoy, but it’s too slow for her. I think when you want children to develop a love for something you need to provide a bit of incentive and when it comes to instilling some enthusiasm in attempting a patchwork project, a hexie quilt that takes you a decade to complete just doesn’t do it.

So this is how the modified day went...a bit like a production line:

•Devotional reading - Bible & A.W. Tozer

•Moozle selected her scraps for a quilt the day before & now we cut the pieces to size. I mostly did this because she hasn’t used the rotary cutter much. We tried different arrangements - I left the choice of fabric up to her & just shut my mouth because our tastes are very different.

•Break from quilt to do Maths

•Ironed fabric & set up sewing machine. It’s been a while since she’s used it so I gave a quick overview & she had a practice sewing 1/4 “ seams.

•Break to do a poetry lesson on ‘anapest’

•Back to the sewing machine to start sewing strips of fabric together for her quilt. I ironed the seams after she’d joined the strips while she continued sewing.

•Lunch - folk song, hymn, & composer


•Back to the stitching

•Short break to get changed & gather swimming gear

•Sewing until the last minute before she has to leave for the pool. This was how much she got done up till then:

I realised later that she hadn’t done her cello practice, which she generally does every day, plus we didn’t get anything else done besides the list above, but she obviously enjoyed her disrupted day of sewing and when we got home after over two hours of swimming, she continued sewing her pieces together.

I’ve been wanting to do this with her for awhile but kept putting it off because I knew other work wouldn’t get done. It’s always slow work when you first start teaching a skill but it’s great to see a child become confident in an area & feel like they’ve put an effort in & have tangible results.

The next day we took some time in the afternoon to sew the rows together & cut out a border and sew it to each side of the quilt. Here is the completed quilt top ready to be sandwiched together with batting and backing & then I'll be showing her how to quilt:

She's been thrilled to have got this far. I think all the years of seeing me working on hand sewn projects and taking forever to get them finished had put her off attempting a quilt but now that she sees how quickly you can make something if you use a machine, she is very enthusiastic. In fact she's already talking about making a quilt for one of her brothers who requested she sew one for him.

In The Hidden Art of Homemaking, Edith Schaeffer defines 'Hidden Art' as the art found in the 'minor' areas of life, that of the everyday, as opposed to that found in a career or a profession. She makes the point that all art requires constant discipline, time and energy. The use of our time in developing 'Hidden Art' requires balance, and we are always having to neglect one thing in order to give preference to something else.
These fine arts are often the first things to be neglected or omitted in the homeschooling life when the schedule gets busy, but carving out some time every now & again to concentrate on teaching a skill is important. It's also less frustrating in the long run because you can concentrate on teaching something well.

We took photos during this process & Moozle is writing the steps down with the images. I'll post the instructions etc when she has finished for anyone who'd like to try a good patchwork project for a beginner.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Autumn Nature Study: Natural History Illustration & other endeavours

It's April & it's been autumn here for nearly two months but we've only just started to feel a slight drop in temperature this week. Amy Mack's Bush Calendar doesn't mention much in the way of birdlife coming and going during April but it seems to me we've had a good variety of birds in our area this month. We've been using this book for quite a few years. It's contains monthly observations about the flora & fauna in the Sydney area and although it was first published in 1909 and the city has encroached on much of the area where the author recorded her observations, it is still a valuable resource to have on hand. Some of the bird names have changed but it isn't difficult to find out what they are called now. The book has been reprinted but it is also available free online.

The Sulphur-crested cockatoo, Cacatua galerita, is always with us, but they never fail to strike me as magnificent creatures. Not desirable visitors if you have a wooden deck or timber panelling on your home but that's not something we have to worry about, thankfully.


We signed up for the free six week Drawing Nature, Science and Culture: Natural History Illustration 101 course offered by the University of Newcastle and Week 3 has just finished. It covers the fundamentals of Natural History Illustration step by step and teaches the essential skills and techniques that form the basis for creating accurate replications of subjects from the natural world. This is one of the tutorials Moozle did on observational drawing and so far the course has been very helpful for her:

The course has been offered once before, that I know of, & it is open to anyone wherever you are in the world. I think the tutorials are archived so you can access them if you register with Edx.

We've had a few sightings in recent years of the lovely cinnamon coloured Brown Cuckoo-Dove, Macropygia phasianella. 

All Creatures Great & Small by James Herriot is our read aloud for natural history. It does require some editing in places & it's a great read.

I found this fungi growing out of our dry rock wall. One day it just appeared & a few days later it was gone completely. I've never seen one like this before:

Local lichen...'Lichens are plants that grow in exposed places such as rocks or tree bark. They need to be very good at absorbing water and nutrients to grow there. Rainwater contains just enough nutrients to keep them alive. Air pollutants dissolved in rainwater, especially sulfur dioxide, can damage lichens, and prevent them from growing. This makes lichens natural indicators of air pollution.'

The other week we had an impromptu outing to a marina about 30 minutes drive from us. I suggested we take our nature notebooks and a pencil each just in case we had an opportunity to do some nature study. When we arrived I discovered that Moozle not only had her notebook but an assortment of varying grades of pencils, her pocket set of watercolours, a container for holding water, the Polaroid camera her brothers gave her for Christmas & other bits and pieces she thought might come in handy. She set herself up in a cozy spot and started painting...

En plein air

'I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It's cloud's illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all…'

My favourite cloud song...

Both Sides Now, Joni Mitchell from Rachel Wintemberg on Vimeo.

A family bush walk on the Central Coast took us to these incredible sandstone rock formations and the Tessalated Pavement

Aussie native - some sort of bottlebrush. I thought it was the perfect autumn colour...

Lemon scented tea-tree, Leptospermum petersonii, a small native tree, in flower

One of our visitors found this echidna next to her car as she was leaving our place today...

The Photographic Field Guide Birds of Australia by Jim Flegg is the book we use to identify new birds we come across but a little gem we started off with is Steve Parish's First Field Guide to Australian Birds. It packs a lot into its 56 pages but it isn't overwhelming for a beginner as may be the case with the more detailed books.

Linking to Keeping Company

Monday, 16 April 2018

Christian Classics: The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (1942)

The Screwtape Letters is a satirical work of fiction that gives the reader a window into the spiritual world using the vantage point of a demon named Screwtape. In a series of letters to his young nephew, Wormwood, Screwtape instructs him in how to bring about the downfall of the young man he has been assigned to plague.
There are so many memorable passages and wise insights in this book. Often when we look at something from an opposing stance we are forced to see things we would not have seen from a position of agreement. This is the device C. S. Lewis uses in The Screwtape Letters and he does it exceptionally well.
He warns us that there are two equal and opposite errors we believe about devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence and the other is to believe and have an unhealthy and excessive interest in them. He reminds us that the devil is a liar and that Screwtape is not always seeing things truly, himself.
Lewis said of this book that he’d never written anything more easily or with less enjoyment; that it was easy to twist his mind into a diabolical attitude but it was spiritually stifling. The world he had to enter ‘was all dust, grit, thirst and itch. Every trace of beauty, freshness and geniality had to be excluded.’

Some highlights of this book:

Men are killed in places where they knew they might be killed and to which they go, if they are at all of the Enemy’s party, prepared. How much better for us if all humans died in costly nursing homes amid doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends who lie, as we have trained them, promising life to the dying, encouraging the belief that sickness excuses every indulgence, and, even, if our workers know their job, withholding all suggestion of a priest lest it should betray to the sick man his true condition!

Wormwood's 'patient' is a young unmarried man and the setting is at the start of WW2. Screwtape encourages him to turn the man's gaze on himself. He also advises him on ways to inculcate pride, selfishness, lust and fear in his patient and to exploit him during his dry spells:

Now it may surprise you to learn that in His effort to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else...
He cannot ravish. He can only woo...
He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs - to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than through the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best...He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks around upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

Whatever their bodies do affect their souls. Whenever there is prayer, there is the danger of His own immediate action.

In the last generation we promoted the construction of...'a historical Jesus' on liberal and humanitarian lines; now we are putting forward a new 'historical Jesus' on Marxian, catastrophic, and revolutionary lines.

Martin Luther said that 'the best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.' Lewis uses his sharp wit and inspired imagination to open our eyes to the true nature of the spiritual world & to help us understand that there are spiritual beings whose purpose is to undermine our faith and prevent the formation of virtues.

I've used this book with students around the age of about 14 or 15 years and up.

Linking this to the Official 2018 TBR Challenge

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

6 Years of Blogging: Then & Now...

Six years ago this month I published my first blog post. I'd always enjoyed writing and had been part of a Charlotte Mason Families Newsletter for a few years where families took turns sending out a newsletter to a whole lot of other families around Australia. (Erin at Seven Little Australians was one of the families we 'met' through this newsletter). I was slow to get into blogging, partly because of time restraints but also because I didn't like the idea of writing to an unknown audience. I like good two way conversations & the immediate feedback that facilitates communication and understanding.
However, over the past six years, I've met some of my readers, have had email conversations with others, or have communicated via blog comments, so I feel like I've got to know some of you more.

So what's different now compared to back then?

In April 2012 all our seven children were still living at home.
Our two eldest had finished their degrees and were working fulltime.
One girl was still studying at University.
I was homeschooling the four youngest who were aged 7 to 17 years.

 Back then...

Since then we've had two weddings, an engagement, and the birth of our first grandchild five months ago. We've also had some difficult things to face including the loss of my Dad after a long neurological illness, and a year later, the sudden death of my brother at age 46 years.
Six children have graduated after being home educated from start to finish. 
Four have moved out of home. For the first time in 29 years, the kids at home each have their own bedroom.
My 13 year old is keeping me busy these days...a few more years of home education with her and then maybe I'll start with the grandchildren.

The most popular posts have been the following:

AmblesideOnline Year 1 Review

AmblesideOnline Year 6

Written Work in a Charlotte Mason Education

Starting Out With Home Education

Ten Things to make Time For

Most of my readers are located in the USA followed closely by those in Australia, then the U.K. New Zealand, Canada and in recent years, South Africa.
Apart from home educators, the most frequent comments I receive are from book bloggers, some of the friendliest people out there in the blogging world.
If you haven't visited these blogs, check them out if you'd like to read some great reviews:

Sharon @Gently Mad Sharon is a musician and couples her book reviews with links to some great classical music videos.

Brian @Babbling Books has interesting insights into the characters presented in the books he reads.

Some homeschooling bloggers I like to visit - these two ladies are 'all-rounders' and I've enjoyed watching their growth in writing over the past few years:

Amy @ HearthRidge Reflections - Amy recently had some of her poetry published

Silvia Cachia - Silvia is articulate & thoughtful in two languages!

My husband bought me a new phone for Christmas and now that I have one that works properly, I've been posting regularly on Instagram & have been enjoying the community there.

So I have some questions for my readers:

What type of content would you like to see in future posts?

Homeschooling a large family
Using AmblesideOnline
Book reviews
Charlotte Mason ideas & practice
Home education generally
Nature study
Curriculum suggestions/reviews
Homeschooling teens/highschool
Chatty & random stuff 

Thank you to everyone who continues to read this blog. If you have been following me from the beginning and have never commented, I'd love to hear from you. Much has changed in my own life since 2012 and I imagine it's been the same for you. Let me know if any particular type of posts are helpful to you.

Now...a day in the park with my granddaughter

Friday, 6 April 2018

Handicrafts: colourful coasters

What You Need:

3 sheets of thin cork (packs of 15 available from Riot craft stores)
Thick white paper (such as a page from an art journal - not printer paper as it's too thin)
Glue (stick glue is fine)
A black waterproof marker
Matte/Gloss Mod Podge (I think we ordered ours from here. Expensive but goes a long way)
Paint brush for Mod Podge
Waterproof stamp pads

What You Do:

  • Stick the 3 pieces of cork on top of each other (the cork from Riot has peel-off adhesive backing) 
  • Put a circular object on the cork and trace around it, and then do the same on a piece of paper (Both circles should be the same size)   
  • Cut out the circle on the cardboard and paper
  • Glue the paper to the cork
  •  Using a waterproof marker, draw or stencil a pattern onto the paper, then leave till fully dry.

Cover the paper with Mod Podge (waterproofs & seals), and leave to dry.

Rub stamp pads onto the paper to add colour

Do another 1-2 coats of Mod Podge & let dry thoroughly before use

We use these stamp pads for all sorts of projects:

Mod Podge is also avaiable at Spotlight here in Australia

Moozle hunting up craft supplies...