A letter reached my mailbox from a mother who shared that she had once been overly burdened by homeschooling. Then came a turn of events: she started to follow the gentle art of learning prescribed in A Charlotte Mason Companion. As a result of her reading, she said, His Spirit reminded me over and over My yoke is easy and my burden is light. After two years of application, peace, joy and a love of learning are the fruits she enjoys.
For the Humanness of Us All
I knew I wouldnt be able to supply a complete remedy but after some careful thought I replied with a personal letter offering, I hoped, at least one encouraging recommendation. In this article I offer the same recommendation. It applies not only to hurt children but to the humanness of us all.
An Awakening by Way of Words
This year we watched the old black-and-white movie The Miracle Workerstarring Anne Bancroft and Patti Dukeabout Helen Keller and her teacher, Miss Sullivan. Im losing her a little more everyday, lamented Helen Kellers mother. Miss Sullivan knew that if Helen could understand that the letters of the deaf alphabet (that she was using to spell to Helen the names of the things she was touching and smelling) were actually forming wordssymbols of language then Helen would cease to be lost. Miss Sullivan believed what she read about the awakening of a persons soul through one word. It only takes one word just one word and the whole world will then be open to Helen! she kept reminding herself. For Helen to understand what a word was would introduce her to languagea thing Helen still did not know existed. Miss Sullivan was quite determined, and spelled to Helen relentlessly, using the alphabet for the deaf, even though one by one the family members stated that it would probably not do any good. It was tiring work, but Miss Sullivan knew Helen was a bright, intelligent child underneath her handicap. She would not give up. What an encouraging story! Helen did learn to communicate and understand the communication of others. The film was well done and gave an accurate portrayal of Helens awakening. Helen Keller tells her story from her own perspective in her book The Story of my Life.
Opening the Door of a Childs Mind
|A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on The Gentle Art of Learning
Karen Andreola / Charlotte Mason Research / 1998
The chief business of the parent is to be an inspirer. Every child is born with wonderful possibilities, but because he has inherited a sin nature, he needs to be trained and inspired. To try to teach a child without inspiring him can be compared to a blacksmith trying to work with a cold piece of iron. The mind is fired by the kindling ability of ideas. When facts are present with their accompanying details and ideas, a child will be gaining knowledge and developing a conscience. His lovely books will inspire him. He will care. This is to be prized.
No one can induce a hurt child to bond, of course. Certainly the prayer of many a Christian foster parent is that when unselfishness and love surround him, he will be inspired to hope and trust. It will take timeprobably yearsbut I do believe it is possible, because I am a believer in the power of love.
I am also a believer in the power of stories. Jesus method of teaching was by parables. Stories have a way of making more understandable those spiritual qualities in our lives. Thus they also have the power to open the doors of a childs heart.
A compelling plot and characters we can identify with allow us to live alongside those other persons and participate in the unraveling of the story. It is okay to see the movie version, but the book will always be more satisfying. Things happen sometimes ridiculously fast in a play or a movie. Characters whiz through situations and struggles. The book still moves along faster than real life, but one benefit of the book is that it stays with us longer than a movie. And all the sumptuous detail describing the people (their thoughts and feelings as well as their physical characteristics), , their reactions to circumstances, the scenery, etc. invite us to use our own imaginations. We take our time and stroll along leisurely, absorbing the carefully chosen words of the author. Such a well-written story, read aloud over weeks, becomes unforgettable. A really good book that was read aloud in childhood is remembered with special fondness into adulthood. How can it be that most of us cannot remember the textbook we crammed in fifth grade, but we can remember a well-written biography or historical novel that someone read aloud to us? Ill leave you to answer that.
Now comes the most important point of my message. Living books have a way of living with us. They speak to us. During the weeks of hearing a biography or a story of fiction read aloud, the listener may ponder between episodes and look forward to the next episodeguess at future episodes. He may even grow fond of the characters. If so, he begins to wish for the wellbeing and success of the characters. This fondness is the result of his doing something absolutely wonderfulthat of sympathizing with the characters. And this is what will open a childs heart. To sympathize with another human being, even if it is the character of a story, is a very good thinga healing thing. Sympathy draws us out of ourselves to look and care for another. Sympathy ushers in unselfishness. It chips away at the shell we may think we are safe to hide in. It chips away at our self-pity and self-centeredness.
A really good story has moral value. It doesnt have to be a goodie-goodie story in order to develop the conscience in various ways. A good plot paints its morals rather than pointing them at us. We pick up ideas along the way. Furthermore, if any character experiences a circumstance that is similar to our own, we do more than sympathize: we empathize and relate. The little word relate is within the word relationship. In order to bond we need to first relate. Gradually and intuitively we begin to understand something about relationships.
Stories, though fiction, give us a peek at realitya peek at the kinds of things that life brings to us. If the circumstance is not one of our own, we wonder what we would do if we were in a similar circumstancesor what God would have us do. Jesus parables invited people to ask questions. How about this one: which character is a little like ourselves?
There are many wonderfully inspiring biographies, stories of struggle, determination, hope, joy, courage, and growing up that would make for very good reading aloud. I am sorry to say that none of these were part of my learning experience. Teachers provided lackluster lectures in place of reading aloud. We worked almost exclusively with textbooks. These dry manuals often dulled my sense of wonder. In their haste to cover, my textbooks were quite stingy about background information, glossing over the people-aspect of history and science. Furthermore, the required reading in high school English class was dark, depressing, and hopeless. Therefore, reading a novel was a burdensome chore. As a sixteen-year-old girl I had a difficult time with the popular and prize-winning American authors books we were required to read: Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, and Tennessee Williams. They are considered to be excellent writers, but their stories often deal with sordid characters and depressing situations, or are written from a perspective of the hopelessness of the human condition, and it is the story young people are mainly concerned about. If depressing stories without hope are all a young person is assigned to read, he will become impoverished, and his outlook on life will be taintedor overcomeby a lack of hope. Too many young people in public school learn or absorb through their teachers and their reading that God is dead and that their lives are of no more value than a twig. Stories in which no hope is reflected in the characters or the message blight Americas children. (Read David Quines stirring words on the importance of our children developing a Biblical worldviewa worldview of hopein this issue of Homeschool Highlights.)
I recommend making room for hero admiration in the homeschool curriculum by providing an ongoing supply of biographies.
|The Secret Garden, Unabridged
Frances Hodgson Burnett / Dover Publications / 1999
The Secret Garden is a story that illustrates the fact that in life there is hurt, loneliness, fear, and worry. These cripple the soul and stifle the heart. Foster children probably can relate to this. When we take a step of faith we can overcome our fears. Faith is one of the only things in the world greater than fear. Stories show us that life brings us unwelcome (even distressing) circumstances, but we can, with faith and some growing pains, learn to struggle through and find friendship and love. Books help us grow by adding to our life experience. They give us a sense of spiritual conviction, of mercy, justice, and love, by putting into words the greater things in life.
It may be years before foster children take steps of faith. Keep reading good stories. Like Helen Kellers teacher, Miss Sullivan, dont give up. When the child is left to apply gently to his own life whatever example, sentiment, or lesson he absorbs from his reading , he is taking his head out of the sand. Daily read-aloud times will bring to previously neglected children a steady and gentle awareness. The awareness of the virtues in stories could lead to healing. But this, my opinion, is only the opinion of a homeschool mother who has read quantities of books aloud and somehow missed Psychology 101 in her brief college career. (For the weary, there is an article dedicated to perseverance here at Homeschool Highlights.)
Anna Sewell / Penguin Usa / 1994
Children will pick up various lessons from Black Beauty. Here are just a few:
|Little Britches Book 1:
Father And I Were Ranchers
Ralph Moody / University Of Nebraska Press / 1991
A reliance on Godas well as obedience to himis so necessary in life. Where else can we best learn this but in the Bible stories? The Word of God is the best of books because it is the only book inspired by God and without fault. It is Gods story to us. Its stories are a lifter of mankind. I love the story of Joseph in Genesis. It is a powerful one. It is such a wonderful true story. Joseph was abused by his own brothers. Though he is sold into slavery, he does not hate his brothers. On the contrary, he is only concerned for their good. When he gives them a hard time upon their arrival in Egypt to buy grain, it is only to lead them to repentance, not to be vindicated by any means. There are various lessons to be learned by reading Josephs story and youll know what they are when you read it aloud slowly. In the end Joseph is their savior. He is a picture, or type, of Christ. We are reading it (at the time of this writing) ten verses at a time with some commentary and a few questions.
In a good story, characters survive lifes difficulties. If they have little else but hope, they have a good beginning. Hope is one of the seven cardinal virtues. May my re-emphasis here be comforting. When foster children begin to have hope, they will have taken a big stepa step that will one day, God willing, lead to other steps. Great books are like counselors and the Bible is the best counselor. There is no greater hope than the hope of eternal life with God through the atonement of his Son.
Look for stories of struggle, hope and courage. I have highlighted a small selection for you below. These books have had a special place in our homeschool over the years. They should prove to be inspiring and adventurous reading for boys especially, but girls will appreciate them, too. Because the first story is not well known, I am giving you a short description of it.
|Lost on a Mountain in Maine
Joseph Egan / Harpercollins Publishing / 1992
The black-and-white movie of this storystarring Spencer Tracy, Frederick Bartholomew, and Lionel Barrimoreis a classic film. A spoiled rich boy aboard an ocean liner falls overboard, and is picked out of the foggy waters by a fishing boat. He bonds with a seaman and at the end of the story is reconciled with his father (who didnt seem to have much time for his son earlier). Some characters speak in dialect, making the book more difficult to read aloud and the book on tape a welcome option.
|Hans Brinker: The Silver Skates, Classics for Young Readers
Mary Mapes Dodge / Presbyterian & Reformed / 2001
|Lassie Come Home
Eric M. Knight / Random House, Inc / 1992
|Treasures of the Snow, Illustrated Edition
Patricia St. John / Moody Publishers / 2002
Lew Wallace / Barbour Publishing / 2000
|The Hiding Place
Corrie Ten Boom / Random House, Inc / 1982
|The Pilgrim's Progress in Modern English,
John Bunyan; L. Edward Hazelbaker, ed. / Bridge-logos Publishing / 1998
I know that dishes pile up, laundry piles up, and meals need to be made, but if you put all hands on deck to pick up and clean up, you can make time for reading aloud. One mother told me that she sits and reads aloud while her children fold all the laundry. She rarely ever folds, sorts, or puts clean clothes away. Favorable circumstances will not present themselves to us; we have to make them. This is how many of us have learned to make way for reading during typically unfavorable hours. After some months of making way, a habit will be formed. Then force of habit will more easily carry you through your reading-aloud times.
To feed your lambs, aim for one to two hours a day of reading aloud from various books. Of necessity, this time will be split up. Some reading in the morning (history, or perhaps a biography of a scientist) is to be expected, some after lunch perhaps, and some near bedtime (with chores, exercise and fresh air in between). Some mothers slip in twenty minutes of history or science reading to older children while the crawlers and toddlers are napping in the afternoon. Do you have wiggly children who seem to be always fiddling with something? Let them quietly build, weave, knit, or do a jigsaw puzzle while you read. For my children drawing while listening is the usual thing. They will draw while they listen to a book on tape when Im fixing supper or writing an article such as this one. This drawing-listening pastime has continued up through high school.
|The Hidden Art of Homemaking
Edith Schaeffer / Tyndale House / 1985
|Honey for a Child's Heart Fourth Edition
Gladys Hunt / Zondervan Corp. / 2002
If you would like to know more about the gentle art of learning, you will find numerous chapters covering a range of subjects in my book, A Charlotte Mason Companion.
Homeschool Highlights provides homeschooling resources for home schooling parents and students. This site is hosted by Dean and Karen Andreola, noted authors who brought to light the works of Charlotte Mason. They also review "living books" and homeschool curriculum materials for Rainbow Resource Center.
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