Friday, 29 June 2018

A Mother & Daughter Road Trip

A last minute decision to go the Mum Heart Conference in Northern New South Wales turned in to  a mother & daughter road trip. It was a last minute decision because there seemed to be too many obstacles when I initially thought of going but then everything worked out quite quickly, even down to booking a place at the Conference when the bookings had closed.
So here we are heading north out of Sydney around 7 a.m. Happy to be heading up to a slightly warmer spot!

By mid-morning the weather was clearing up nicely and the traffic was great! We've done many 
trips between Sydney and Brisbane and the traffic is usually fairly constant, if not heavy. This was a dream run.

We listened to a couple of chapters of Isaiah on the Bible App & then on to an old favourite,
Mr. Standfast

The Big Banana at Coff's Harbour

We took a detour off the main road to got to visit Erin, a fellow blogger. Erin & I first 'met' via a Charlotte Mason Families Sharing Newsletter which dates back to about 2001. We had about 20 to 30 families from all over Australia who each produced their own Newsletter and sent it by post to everyone else on the list. This went of for a few years before the internet took over. It was so good to meet her and some of her children & Moozle enjoyed making some new friends. Two hours later, we thought we better get back on the road!

Back on the main road heading north

We arrived at our destination after a few more stops at 8.07 pm - Miss 13 yr old kept a log of the trip detailing stops, refuels, mileage, etc.
Grandma drove down from Brisbane the next morning and picked Moozle up to take her for the weekend - they visited the art gallery, went on the 'Wheel (eye) of Brisbane' & did some painting back at home, and other bits & pieces, while I stayed with some of my husband's family who live near the Conference area.

This photo of Wheel of Brisbane is courtesy of TripAdvisor

The Mum Heart Conference was excellent and I was thankful I made the effort to go. Mums from as far away as Darwin, Western Australia & Tasmania came along for two days of kindred company & encouragement. I caught up with some old friends and made some new ones. The theme of the conference was 'Be Still & Know God's Heart.' I really enjoyed Annette McCredie's practical & inspiring sessions on 'God's Heart for Your Children' & 'God's Heart for Your Marriage,' - the latter being a much needed focus for homeschooling mothers, I think.
Brooke Pipes gave an excellent talk about the importance of 'Keeping a Soft Heart.' Unforgiveness, disappointment and fear can cause our hearts to become calloused therefore it is necessary that we  guard our hearts. If you have an opportunity I'd recommend getting a copy of these.

Kingscliff Beach

There had been a pod of whales here earlier in the day but we didn't see any, unfortunately:

On the way home we listened to Adrian Praetzellis narrate The Thirty-Nine Steps.

'Peak hour traffic' on the way home. What a pleasant change from Sydney!

We stopped in at Byron Bay which is a short detour off the main highway. I travelled through this area before I was married when it was just a little hippy coastal town. Since then it has become a trendy destination and I was put off by all the restricted meter parking everywhere. The coastline is still beautiful though.

The road up to Cape Byron Lighthouse

 Looking south

Bookshop Alert!! I saw a sign for this bookshop on the way up but it was too late in the day to visit so we made sure we did on the way home. Moozle found four books to add to her Walter Farley collection.

I took my husband's car on this trip as it's cheaper on fuel. I've only ever driven it in the city or during the day and as it became dark I had trouble seeing. I was complaining about how bad the car's lights were & saying 'I don't know how Dad can drive this car with such poor headlights,' etc etc. This went on for a good hour and a half, at least, with me hunched over the steering wheel, peering into the darkness...then I think I must have reached up to push my hair back from my face & found I was still wearing my sunglasses from earlier in the day! Mmm... made a huge difference when I took them off. The funny thing was that Moozle didn't even notice I had them on either.
The trip wouldn't have been complete without me doing something stupid. I have a long history of  doing this sort of thing. Anyhow, we arrived home safely in the end after our 1,600km/1000mile  round trip.

One of my favourite travel songs:

Thursday, 21 June 2018

The Woods are Lovely, Dark & Deep...Nature Study in June

We're in the throes of bathroom renovations. Outside it's been wet and cold and not conducive to bushwalking. However, the jackhammering got the better of us and outside we went. We followed our usual trail but I remembered there were some paths we hadn't explored so we decided now would be a good time to do so.
Fortunately, the tracks were quite clear, which meant less chance of picking up leeches!

We were surprised to find that this track followed our local creek but on the opposite side to that which is accessible from our place. Moozle decided to sketch a map of the area & record our sightings.

Fungi & plentiful moss & lichen
Two brush turkeys building their nest
A brown cuckoo dove
A cicada shell
A lone magpie
We heard Eastern Whipbirds call but didn't see any

June is the first month of Winter in Australia and there generally isn't a great deal happening, especially with native flowers. We did see some Bossiaca heterophylla (yellow pea flowers):

It's breeding season for the Superb Lyrebird. A lovely living book (unfortunately it's out of print) for younger children about this bird is, Silvertail: The Story of a Lyrebird by Ina Watson.

Bracket fungi

Last month, Moozle completed a free six week Natural Illustration course offered online by which I wrote about here.
One of her assignments was on 'form drawing' and she drew this possum. She wasn't happy with the area between the body & the tail but she was a lot happier with her final assignment - a drawing of our cat. This took her a few days of trying to get the fur right.

It's a pretty good likeness of His Royal Highness

Moss & Lichen

'...we are an overwrought generation, running to nerves as a cabbage runs to seed; and every hour spent in the open is a clear gain, tending to the increase of brain power and bodily vigour, and to the lengthening of life itself.'

Charlotte Mason, Home Education, Pg. 42

A break in the weather - lessons out of doors

Cicada shell

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Back to the Classics: Linnets & Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge (1964)

I had a mixed reaction to Linnets & Valerians, a children’s book by Elizabeth Goudge which was published in 1964. On the one hand, most of the characters in this book are attractive, well portrayed, and interesting. The storyline is involved and has plenty of appeal also but I was uncomfortable with how Goudge handled the magical side of the story as the book progressed. I think Goudge's writing is very endearing so I am genuinely sorry I can't recommend this book without reservation.

The Story

Four children, Nan, Robert, Timothy, Betsy, and their dog, Absolom, are left in the care of their grandmother when their father went off exploring in Egypt. The children were a bit too much for Grandma to handle, so she decided that Absolom must go and that Robert and Nan should be sent to boarding school while her companion, Miss Bolt (christened 'Thunderbolt' by the children) would teach Timothy and Betsy at home. The children did not want to be either educated nor separated from each other, and were determined to keep their dog. So they did what any child would want to do in that situation:

'Escape. People always escaped from prison if they could. The question was, could they? Robert was ten years old, stocky and strong, and he had a penknife, green eyes and red hair, and when a question like this presented itself to his mind he did not ask it twice.'

By coincidence, they ended up at the house of their eccentric bachelor uncle, their father’s elder brother. Although Uncle Ambrose was adamant that he did not like children, underneath he was a decent fellow. He had firm views about children and did not hold with boarding school for girls:

‘Home’s the place for girls, though they should have a classical education there. I have always maintained that women would not be the feather-headed fools they are, were they given a classical education from earliest infancy.’

He agreed to let the children stay with him subject to certain conditions:

‘I intend to impose conditions upon your sojourn with me. You will keep them or go to your Uncle Edgar, who lives in Birmingham and will dislike you even more than I do myself...
I must tell you that I have a devouring passion, not for children themselves, for I abominate children, but for educating them...’

And so began their education in Greek, Latin, and Literature, with a good amount of free time thrown in if they completed their work.
The children’s mother had died five years previously and the children were close and trusted each other. Nan, responsible, steady, and sensitive, and twelve years of age. Being the eldest, she was of a domesticated turn of mind. She 'did not have many ideas of her own because it was she who had to deal with what happened after Robert had had his.'
She also believed that ideas should be chewed on for twenty-four hours, whereas Robert was impulsive and full of ideas - especially about how to make money; Timothy and Betsy, both feisty and headstrong were aged eight and six respectively.
Although their uncle was a stern disciplinarian, he was a wonderful teacher and did genuinely love his charges. He recognised that Nan had a reflective temperament like himself so he gave her her own little parlour where she could go for privacy:

‘A parlour of her own! She had never even had a bedroom of her own, let alone a parlour...
Something inside her seemed to expand lie a flower opening and she sighed with relief. She had not know before that she liked to be alone. She sat still for ten minutes, making friends with her room, and then she got up and moved slowly around it, making friends with all it held.’

Goudge showed her knowledge of children and their needs in a sensitive, charming, and humorous manner throughout this book, but as I mentioned previously, I was uncomfortable with how she handled the magical aspects of the story. I don’t have an issue with magic per se, and our children have read Tolkien, Lewis, and other authors, some modern, whose books contain this element, not to mention fairy tales. In a fairy tale, there are consequences for evil doers, but in Linnets & Valerians there were characters with dark motives and actions who didn’t have to face the consequences of their deeds. I think this is confusing to a child.
One particular instance that bothered me was when Nan discovered a book of spells in a cupboard in her parlour. They had been written by Emma Cobley, a woman who was jealous because the man she loved married Lady Alicia. Emma used her spells to inflict Lady Alicia’s son so that he became deaf and dumb, while her husband, Squire Valerian, was afflicted with a loss of  memory. Both of them were estranged from Lady Alicia for many years and she believe them to be dead. The children, with the help of old Ezra who lived with Uncle Ambrose, were able to reverse the spells and reunite Lady Alicia with her loved ones.
When Emma discovered her book of spells had been burned and her deeds revealed, she replaced the old sign of the falcon on the inn that had been removed when Squire Valerian disappeared and just went back to life as usual as though nothing had happened. No consequences.

In Tending the Heart of Virtue by Vigen Guroian, a book that explores the power of story in awakening a child’s moral imagination, he writes:

‘Children are vitally concerned with distinguishing truth from falsehood. This need to make moral distinctions is a gift, a grace, that human beings are given at the start of their lives.’

Magical realism and fantasy stories can project fantastic 'other' worlds while still paying attention to truth and without clouding real moral laws.

Guroian continues:

'Becoming a responsible human being is a path filled with potholes and visited constantly by temptations. Children need guidance and moral road maps and they benefit immensely with the example of adults who speak truthfully and act from moral strength...
some well-meaning educators and parents seem to want to drive the passion for moral clarity out of children rather than use it to the advantage of shaping their character. We want our children to be tolerant, and we sometimes seem to think that  too sure sense of right and wrong only produces fanatics.'

I would have been more satisfied if Elizabeth Goudge hadn’t made Emma’s actions seem trivial.

‘She won’t do no more ‘arm,’ said Ezra. ‘’Er spells be burnt an’ she won’t do no more ‘arm. ‘Angin’ up that falcon was ‘er sign to us that she knows she’s beaten. She won’t do no more ‘arm. Glory glory alleluja!’

However, Ezra was never quite sure of the inwardness of Emma’s virtue...

Apart from this episode in dealing with Emma, the story ended well and everyone lived happily ever after.

Linking to Back to the Classics 2018: Children's Classic

Friday, 8 June 2018

The Reading Life of a 13 Year Old Girl

For those of you with book gobblers, you know how difficult it can be to keep up with their reading habits. I'm constantly asked the question, "Do you have any books I can read?" I have shelves and rooms full of books but they're not always age appropriate, and sometimes I can't believe how fast my 13 year old girl reads. But I shouldn't really be surprised as one of her older sisters was also a ridiculously fast reader. Sometimes I tell her to re-read something and she often does, multiple times. These are some of her recent new titles, plus some of her re-reads.

The Gauntlet by Ronald Welch (1951)

'As Peter wanders around the ruined castle of Carreg Cennen he makes an amazing discovery - a rusted metal gauntlet. As he slips it on to his hand he is transported back to the fourteenth century, to a time when his Norman ancestors held the castle.
Accepted as the eldest son of Sir Roger de Blois, Peter learns how to hawk, fight, and shoot a longbow - but when a rebellion arises, it's up to Peter to escape from the besieged castle and fetch help.'

This was one of my husband's favourite books as a young teen and all of our children have enjoyed it. A re-read for Moozle & one of her favourite books.

There's No Escape by Ian Serraillier (1950)

A thrilling and sometimes humorous adventure set in war time Europe in the fictional country of Silvania. Peter Howarth is parachuted into enemy territory in order to find and rescue the brilliant scientist, Dr Helpmann, before the enemy catches him and forces him to reveal his important discoveries. A re-read and highly recommended for ages 10 years and up. Moozle has read this multiple times.

The Samurai's Tale by Eric Christian Haugaard (1984)

Set in turbulent 16th Century Japan when powerful warlords fought for supremacy. Haugaard is a skilful writer who captures the feel of the times.

'I shall begin my tale on that day when I lost not only my father, but my mother and my two older brothers as well. A storm swept our land and when it passed I was the only survivor of my family. In the morning of that day my name had been Murakami; I was a bushi, a knight's son whom every woman in the village would fondle and spoil. Before the sun set I had been given the name "Taro," a servant's name, and I was of no more importance than that name implied.'

I'd recommend this book for confident readers about age 13 years and up who are interested in history. There is a profusion of Japanese names which some readers might find confusing and it is a bit brutal in places, which isn't surprising considering the time period.
This was the first time Moozle read this book.

Sir Nigel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1906)

Although Conan Doyle is best known for his Sherlock Holmes' character, he has a good number of historical fiction titles that aren't as well-known & they are all excellent. Sir Nigel is a swashbuckling knight errant in the service of Edward lll, who goes looking for honour and renown to gain the hand of his lady-love, who waits patiently in England.
Sir Nigel, although written at a later date, is the prequel to the The White Company, which recounts the adventures of Alleyne Edricson, who is in the service of the middle-aged and married Sir Nigel.
This gets re-read fairly frequently.

Mr Fitton at the Helm (1998) & Mr Fitton's Hurricane (2000) by Showell Styles

Information about this author may be found here. Both books are set in the early 1800's, are based on an actual Naval officer and are historically accurate. I picked these two books up secondhand & got my husband to preview them before I handed them over to Moozle. She enjoyed them & would like to read others in the series. Both these books are suitable for about age 12 years and up.

Flying Aces of World War I by Gene Gurney (1965)

This is a re-read & we've had this book for many years. If you can find a copy, it's a great read for anyone interested in WWI and flying. If your children like Biggles, they'll be happy with this book. My children loved anything like this and if the interest is there this book is really suitable for any age.

The King's Fifth by Scott O'Dell (1966)

A Newbery Honor book set in the time of the Conquistadors. O'Dell writes well but his books are often a little dark and sad, so it's probably good to give them a quick preview to see if they are suitable for your child. First time reading.

The Snow Smugglers by Patrick Pringle (1939)

This is a book I picked up secondhand recently. It's a good adventure story especially for boys (8 years and up) who are reluctant readers, and while Moozle read it and didn't mind it, it was a bit too predictable plot-wise for her. Two young lads, Geoffrey and Keith are on a school excursion in Paris. Geoffrey's father is a secret agent, and unbeknownst to the boys, they are being watched by members of a drug cartel who plan to kidnap them in order to get their hands on Geoffrey's father who is on their trail. I like how the boys are portrayed, and if I'd come across this book when my boys were younger, I'm sure they would have enjoyed it.

Mistress Pat by L.M. Montgomery (1938)

Up until reading Mistress Pat, Moozle had enjoyed every other book this author has written, but this one was a disappointment. From what I can gather, the previous 'Pat of Silver Bush,' is a much better story than its sequel. Moozle's opinion of Mistress Pat:

'Pretty boring. They just sat around and gossiped all day and never did anything.' 
Just as well it only cost me a dollar.

The Lord of the Rings by J. R.R.Tolkien

We bought this beautiful boxed set in the Folio Society Christmas sale and Moozle devoured all three books in about a week. She hasn't watched the movies and probably won't until she's a bit older. At the end of next year her Orchestra will be performing the music at the cinema while the movie is screened. They did this awhile ago before she joined the Symphony & it was a huge success.

The Young Victoria

Not a book, but we watched this movie the other night and afterwards ended up delving into British History & Queen Victoria's reign. It's rated PG and I'd recommend it for about age 13 years and up. It is a lovely movie that looks at court intrigue and the machinations of government and politics in the lead up to Victoria's ascent to the throne and her marriage to Albert.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Formation of Character by Charlotte Mason - Part III

The education of older children is the main focus of Part III of Charlotte Mason’s Formation of Character where she explores the positive and negative aspects of both school and home environments and the relationship between them.

C.S. Lewis observed that, ‘Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes.’

To roughly paraphrase C.S. Lewis for my purpose here, I’d say that, ‘Each educational setting (i.e. school & home) has its own outlook/perspective. Each may be good at developing some aspects of character but it has its own particular blindspots, therefore it will fail to address some areas.' 

At different times I’ve been blind to character traits in my children. In some instances I’ve been forced to notice them when circumstances changed and all of a sudden, what had been hidden to me was brought into the full light of day. Sometimes someone else opens our eyes to see a different perspective. Someone who can be more objective than we are in the situation. Charlotte Mason’s study of character development is impartial and wise and performs this function for those of us teaching at home and for those whose children are in school.

• School Life - Mason begins by pointing out some of the benefits of school life:

‘...the child finds himself in a new and very stimulating element when he goes to school. For the first time, he has to find his footing amongst his equals. At home, he has seldom had more than one equal, and that his friend––the brother or sister next him in age. Here, he has a whole class of his fellows, some stronger, some weaker than himself, working with him, shoulder to shoulder, running neck and neck with him in lessons and games. It is very exciting and delightful.’

She is careful to point out that the wise parent should check out not just what the school syllabus offers, but also its teachers, the general atmosphere and attitude of the students.

‘Lawlessness is contagious’ and every school will have a few troublemakers but the parents need to know much influence these students exert on all the others. A couple of lawless students in a classroom can change the atmosphere. The family is like a limited monarchy, whereas the school is essentially a republic where the leader is elected, and if the populace (in our case the students) don’t support him, then he has no authority or influence. I remember from my own schooling teachers who were totally ignored by their students and others who held us in the palm of their hands - the latter being few and far between.

• Examinations - regular disciplinary work is wholesome but there must also be time for leisure, exercise, and recreation. Cramming and overpressure are harmful and have no educative value. The pressure to provide school work that hinges upon an upcoming exam or test has a levelling tendency that isn’t conducive to producing individuality or character. The gifted teacher has no opportunity to inspire the student because the pressure of preparing for tests crowds out the time for ‘the refining touch.’
Masons advice in this situation was to ‘look the matter in the face: take the good the schools provide, and be thankful; take count of what they do not provide, and see that any culture or moral training which the schools fail to offer is to be had in the home.'

Mason’s observation in the early 1900’s was that modern school life was so demanding that the situation could almost be compared to that of Sparta where the State basically took possession of the child from the age of eight. This is something to ponder about when, more than a hundred years later, children are starting school at a younger age and schools are taking on responsibilities that in the past were assigned to parents.
Parents give up the government of their children to a school, or throw the child upon its own government. Neither situation is proper for the child.

‘...parents gradually lose hold of them...the young people set up a code of their own...many parents, with the diffidence of good people, are ready to believe that their children get something better at school than they have power to give; that, in fact, all proper and suitable training is given there, and they just make a merit of not interfering...
This absorption in school life is the more complete because the young people are, for the time, conscious of no want which the school does not supply.’

• Home Training
- Mason discusses physical, intellectual, moral, religious, and cultural training, and the duty of parents to educate their children. This duty doesn’t end when children start school. Parents need to supplement what is weak or missing. She also remarked that girls often do well when their fathers have a hand in their education.

• Team sports provide a valuable service but the training afforded is incomplete because it plays upon natural desires for power, friendship, respect and physical movement. When these desires are played upon the child may appear well-behaved, ‘yet he has little sense of duty, feeble affections, and dispositions left to run wild, wanting the culture which should train mere disposition into character.’

When attempts are made to stimulate people en masse, it is through their desires. They want work or play or power, money or land, and whoever plays upon any one of these desires gets the popular ear...mmm, sounds like politics.

Parents are encouraged to make an effort with their own intellectual pursuits because ‘once a boy begins to look down on the intellectual status of his parents, the entire honour and deference he owes them are at an end.’ Ouch! This should give us a shot in the arm. We really do need to keep our minds well-stocked and well-oiled so that we can keep up with our young people as they grapple with culture, ideas, decisions, and choices. This idea is echoed elsewhere in Charlotte Masons’ writing and also in this Parents Review article about Mother Culture.

Respect for parents, affection and kindness towards our children; keeping the channels open to the needs of others, and Sunday observances, are some areas covered in this section. There is an awkward stage that children go through when their sense of justice becomes exaggerated. This can develop into exaggerated self-love if allowed to go unchecked. What they need is to be able to see the rights of others as clearly as their own and have their affections turned to others. Mason quotes a Lord Lytton - “I think it wrong to let children have dogs. It spoils them for mankind.” !!! A child can give all his affection to his dog and neglect people but Mason’s attitude was basically, ‘Give the kid his dog but teach him that he holds the happiness of others in his hands.’

• Home Culture - Mason defines this not as the getting of knowledge but ‘the cultivation of the power to appreciate what is just, true, and beautiful in thought and expression,’ and that this delight doesn’t come by nature. She encourages parents to give children books of literary quality that require mental effort and that it’s better for them to re-read good books than to fill up on trivia.

• Poetry as a Means of Culture - I love Mason’s thoughts here so much that I wrote a blog post: Poetry as a Means of Intellectual Culture - Furnishing the Mind.

Shakespeare...'is not to be studied in a year; he is to be read continuously throughout life, from ten years old and onwards. But a child of ten cannot understand Shakespeare. No; but can a man of fifty?’

She observed that young people are so taken up with living that as a rule they don’t read. I’ve noticed this with some of my older children who used to be avid readers. Between study, work, church commitments, and social activities, they often don’t pick up a book until they are on holidays. One of my sons has a long commute each day to and from work so he got himself an Audible account and has been using his time in the car to get his ‘reading’ in. I encourage this by giving him an Audible gift on birthdays or for Christmas. If I find a book my older ones haven't read, and I think it's worthwhile, I'll mention it to them or give it to them on their birthday.

• Table-Talk - Mason says that animated table-talk offers the best opportunity for influencing the opinions of the young: ‘ the eagerness with which the young catch up every remark made by their elders on public affairs, books, men, and you will see they are really trying to construct a chart to steer by; they want to know what to do, it is true, but they also want to know what to think about everything.’
Parents sometimes forget that it is their duty to give their children grounds for solid opinions but the young person will have views and hold opinions and will pick them up from others if we don’t provide a foundation. They don’t have knowledge and experience to guide them and tend to see things in black and white, but we don’t have the right to think for our children.

‘...the young people will not take ready-made opinions, therefore suppress yours; put the facts before them in the fairest, fullest light, and leave them to their own conclusions. The more you withhold your opinions, the more anxious they are to get at them.’

• Cultivating judgment - young people will find someone who will influence them and mould their opinions if their parents don’t. To maintain our influence as our children get into their teen years we should be ‘liberal, gentle, just, inclined to take large kindly views, to praise rather than to blame, but uncompromising on questions of principle, quick to put his finger on the blot, ready to forgive, but not to excuse; and, at the same time, ready to allow virtues to the man who exhibits one vice.’
This is important because young people who find some good in a person their parents decided was bad, begin to doubt their parent’s judgment. When the parents say that someone isn’t a good person but they do have some worthy character traits, they are giving a fair assessment and their child won’t feel the pull to their company.

In a nutshell: use some diplomacy and wisdom while leading your children to form fair and just opinions without laying down the law for them.

• Aesthetic Culture - concerning beauty and its appreciation, we can cultivate our children’s tastes by taking care to have harmonious surroundings in our homes and not haphazardly filling them with stuff. One beautiful work of art is better than walls cluttered with mediocre pieces. Culture flows through the eyes and the ears and cultivating the power of delight in listening to good music is of more worth than learning to play an instrument half-heartedly. Study the works of one composer for a period of time so that the child can absorb the style and be familiar with a great master’s works.

To be continued...