Monday, May 29, 2017

An Explanation Part 1: The Image of God

What is Classical Christian Education?  Well... I'm glad you asked.  But, be forewarned, it gets a little complicated. Because it is a movement which has grown organically, there are different branches to the root ideas.  The roots, in themselves aren't very complicated.  In its interpretation and actual daily layout, things get creatively differentiated.  The big thing to understand is it isn't a curriculum, but a way of choosing and using tools to equip someone to think well and love learning. 

Different experts, teachers, and authors each put emphasis on certain aspects.  I'm going to attempt to explain the foundations of Classical Christian Education that Classical Christian Educators agree on.  As I said before, the interpretations change within different schools of thought.  So, here is my personal take (in Italics) on my interpretation of that thought.  And, here's what that looks like in my classroom.

Classical Christian Education begins by seeing the child as an individual 

God has created us to be learners.  He made the world and everything in it.  He has created ways for us to be in a relationship with Him.  He reveals Himself through the ways we are to love Him: heart, mind, soul, and strength.  He created us to be learners and has helped us by giving us the five senses, the Bible, wise men and women of old, the Fruit of the Spirit, and a curious mind.

The classroom should be fun!  I limit busy work and instead, ask students to engage their body and mind with whatever we are learning.  I want students to see something from several angles, which means I teach holistically.  When we talk about a number, like the number 8, we talk about "octo" in Latin.  Then, we look at octopuses, the clock, cents, Roman Numerals, the homophone, "ate".  We create it with clay and then our body.  We make stop signs and play running games with them. We do this all on the eighth day of school.  And, we might just listen to the Beatles sing and then discuss the idiom, "Eight Days a Week".

It sounds like a lot - but rather than a list, it's a calm conversation...It's what I call, spiraling! ... making connections with the student's wealth of knowledge already obtained and adding to it.

This is the first part of a five part series explaining Classical Christian Education.  To go to part two, click here.

Looking for more musings on Classical Education?  Click here.

An Explanation Part 2: Right Affections

In a Classical Christian Education, the desire is to set the 
affections of students on three things: 

God is Truth.  All truth brings Him glory.  We want to think well, to not be swayed away from truth by fads or emotions.  He is also Beautiful.  Everything that is of beauty reflects Him as the Beautiful Creator.  He is supremely Good.  Although we can never be perfectly Good, He has covered our failings through Jesus and helps us grow towards goodness as we mature in Him.

The classroom should be inspiring.  I want my kiddos to see the subject matters as alive and exciting.  I want to teach in a way that is full of joy and awe.  If I think an activity or content matter is boring, how will my students be drawn towards God's glory?  This means a lot of work for me as a teacher: in planning, in energy while I'm teaching, in figuring out the good stuff behind the multiplication facts.  The goal is not to avoid things that are tedious and not my favorite.  The goal is to find God's truth, beauty, and goodness even among the hard-to-understand ideas.  Honestly, we have to pray for it.  And talk about it.  Why is this math problem truthful, beautiful, and good?

This is the second part of a five part series explaining Classical Christian Education.  To go to part three, click here.

To return to the first part, click here.

Looking for other tidbits on classroom theory?  Click here.

An Explanation Part 3: The Trivium

Classical Christian Education practices The Trivium: 

The Grammar years (the young ones) focus on laying a strong foundation on memory work as students learn course material.  This material is different depending on which branch of educators, curriculum publishers, and associations.  The Logic years (middle school age) twist and turn all that information they have memorized to piece it together.  The Rhetoric years (high school) focus on debate, writing, speaking, and presenting knowledge.

The classroom should be purposeful. I need to keep the big picture in mind.  Even though we will be doing a lot of memorization, it will be living memorization, in context of all the other things we are learning.  The goal of all this memorization is to be aware that things fit together and relate to other things - mathematics overlaps with music which overlaps with poetry, etc.  We memorize a lot of information, but in really fun ways: grammar rules, history timeline, the Bible timeline, Scripture verses, math facts, and more!  These are done at an easy pace with a lot of repetition... and hopefully allows students to have a framework of knowledge when they are ready to piece it all together.

This is the third part of a five part series explaining Classical Christian Education.  To go to part four, click here.

To start at the beginning, click here.

Looking for more information on Classical Christian Education?  Click here.

An Explanation Part 4: The Subjects

Classical Christian Education uses 

Learning Latin (as well as other languages), helps students process, analyze, and use their native language well.  It helps them think through the mechanics of what they actually want to say.  The Four Liberal Arts: MUSIC, MATH, SCIENCE, and GEOMETRY, look at how the world works.  Classical Literature allows students to grow in virtue, honor, and valor as they engage with ancient stories and great writing.

The classroom should be engaging. This sounds very overwhelming, doesn't it?  Especially for kindergarten.  But it's not! This all works together within the other Classical Education ideas and ideals.  The knowledge itself is important, yes - but it is a distant second from the learner, himself.  Who this child is becoming as he learns is of greater value than the information obtained.  That the child can ask the right questions, have the self-discipline to seek the answers, and be able to communicate his learning - that is what we're after!  So, we learn phonics, sight words, cursive, and how to diagram sentences.  We read and reread because we love reading, not because we're trying to earn points.  Our "exams" are observations throughout the continuum of learning rather than a high pressured moment.  We set high expectations for our students and watch as they raise their own bars.

This is the fourth part of a five part series explaining Classical Christian Education.  To go to part five, click here.

To start at the beginning, click here.

Looking for more musings on Classical Education?  Click here.

An Explanation Part 5: World View

Classical Christian Education teaches students to have a 

A Classical Christian School should not be a bubble where there is no interaction with what the world says or does.  In fact, it should encourage students to evaluate what the world has to offer in light of the Gospel and the promise of Heaven.  The sparkling lies of the world should be met with the truly glorious delights of knowing and walking with God. 

The classroom should be centered in Jesus.  The greatest energy and celebration each day should revolve around learning what the Word of God teaches, and memorizing Scriptures.  As students memorize the timeline of the Bible, they are equipped to see how God has redeemed His people again and again. Through prayer, addressing sin, and encouraging "towards love and good deeds"*, the classroom is a place where students seek and find grace.  The gospel affects discipline, communication, steadfastness, and gentleness.  The students sift through ideas to see if they line up with God's ways and measure them up to what He has said in the Word. Every aspect needs to point to Christ.

*Hebrews 10:24

This is the last part of a series explaining Classical Christian Education.

To start at the beginning, click here.

Looking for more musings on Classical Education?  Click here.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

And Once Again, A Friend

We are coming to our second anniversary of diving off of the sane and safe path of the suburbs and steady jobs.  We are coming to our second anniversary of trading busy lives for the stillness of a farm... one we are just borrowing, with land enough to share.  We now have calves outside our bedroom window. They too, are on loan.  We are entertained by them, but have no work to do to keep them alive.

Anniversaries are always sentimental times of recounting the losses, the gains.  It's the pondering-in-in-your-heart which makes you happy and sad at the same time.  Sad for your mistakes.  Sad for the things you've left behind.  Sad for the time you've wasted.  And happy, too.  Happy for how you've grown.  How you've grown up.  How you've grown together.

And then there are things that fit into both categories.  Food, for instance.  The Tex-Mex I crave sitting on the loss side.  The healthy eating I've gained.  Bluebonnets traded for peonies.

On the loss side, sits seven letters filled with a thousand memories.

f r i e n d s

Relationships turned long-distance never get easy.  They sit in the pit of your stomach years later.  And as they should. Yes, memories fade - and your Facebook feed gets filled with locals, but your love is still right there.  Right where you need it.  Right where it needs to be.

Each move I've made has brought it's own tears of loneliness, isolation, and the idea that friends will never be found.  But each time, God gifts me with one-at-a-time people who speak into my life. Lunches and laughter are consumed.  Coffee and confessions are poured out.  The stranger becomes my friend.

And I'm surprised, yet again.  Surprised that God could hand me the life of someone and let me walk beside her.

Today is the birthday of just such one.  One who spurs me on towards love and good deeds.  One who names my sin and calls me to repentance.  One who laughs with me like little school girls playing.

But, more than anything, this friend has a great freedom of today... living life to the fullest at the moment.  Loving hard.  Exploring hard.  Playing hard.  Not wasting a minute.

I've needed her to hold my hand as I seek Not My Will But Yours Be Done.  I've needed her wisdom and her wide-eyed wonder. I've needed her to address the hardness of my heart and speak Christ into it.  Why should I be surprised that God would provide exactly what I've needed.

It's another thing God didn't have to do.  It's another thing I do not deserve.  It's another thing of God's sweet kindness. It's another thing I need to hold loosely in my hands.

Someday one of us might move.  Our paths might go different ways.  But, forever I will guard her name with the title of friend.

My friend.

And I will thank God that on both sides of the lists - the losses and gains, sit the same seven letters.

f r i e n d s

Sunday, May 07, 2017

An Ode to the Glue Bottle

I love glue sticks, don't get me wrong.  The convince they offer is a delight.  You will find them in my desk and in my classroom. However, you won't find them often in the hands of my kindergartners.

I know your eyebrows must be raised.  After all, aren't they perfect for little hands just figuring out how to make their ideas come to fruition with a pair of scissors and some glue?

Let me tell you why I vote for the old fashioned glue bottle.

Learning to use a glue bottle is just that - learning.  And isn't that what school is supposed to be about?  It takes a lot of coordination to get those small muscles in tiny hands to get drops of glue exactly where they should be.  The child uses the hand-eye team to be precise.  The nervous system is in high alert building levels of accuracy and control.

The mind is also working: Just enough - not too much.  We all know how disastrous it is to have wet pages sticking together because there was too much glue.  But a kindergartner has to experience it.  Let's not give easy tools so that he won't encounter those mistakes.  Let's teach him how to use complex tools diligently.

Don't forget about the heart when it comes to those bottles, either.  The heart of integrity and virtue carefully closes the lid for the next time.  The diligent heart doesn't skip that step, or she will find that when she tries to open it for the next masterpiece, the price will be great frustration.  What a good lesson in self-discipline to prevent heart-ache in the future.

So, glue bottles it is*.

*Under no circumstances will these glue bottles interact with glitter.  I don't care how many fine motor skills are developed.  That is, unless you are willing to come clean my classroom, car, bedroom, bathroom, laundry room, washing-machine, and dryer - and send me to the spa for a weekend to recover.

For more thoughts about classroom stuff, look here...

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Little by Little, to Catch the Rain

How do you catch the rain?

It is not a trick question.  It is not something only the wise know.  Even a child could tell you.  You catch the rain one drop at a time.

It comes as no surprise that this idea is often talked about in Classical Christian Education: a slowing down, a going deep, a stillness in the learning.

Three Latin phrases are often talked about when it comes to the pedagogy of a Classical Christian educator.  They flow into each other, swirling in on one another.

(make haste slowly)

(much not many)

(repetition is the mother of memory) 

Their combined ripple means that the classroom is a gentle place of learning.  Yes, learning is enjoyable and exciting.  But the pace is calm. Steady in it's rhythm.  Things are taught in a spiral.  Learn one thing well, learn it again, this time adding to it.  Continue to add to it again and again.  Simple addition, over years, grows into calculus.  But, first the child must understand that one and one always make two.  You have to know your facts - your foundations - before you build structures of glass and gold.

These ideas inspire a teacher to teach holistically.  Why not learn the Latin alongside the Science, twist in the art, the music, the literature.  Let it all make sense together - not as individual pieces that must be forced together.  There is logic to be found.  Let's make it easy to be discovered.

And once found, let's talk about it again and again with the natural ability to be one-track-minded that children often carry.  Let's retell it from a different angle.  Sing it again.  Read it again.  Act it out one more time.  Let's let the knowledge become part of the person.

My lesson plans are stretched out. Stories are read over-and-over.  Tell me: who are the characters, the setting, the plot.  Each day, a new question.  Math plans, too, cover multiple days. We will play with these ideas in our hands until something solid is formed in our brains.  Other aspects of the day tread slowly through the week. Some meander through two or three.  Each thing building on, adding to, what was learned before. And then there are the days of simply slowing down to take account of it all, reminding ourselves not to forget.

Let's not be sloppy with this learning thing.  Let's not learn so that we will quickly forget.  Let's slow it down and learn to keep.  We are catching the truth, so let's not rush it.

To read more about April's ideas on the classroom and Classical Christian Education, look here...

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Why So Much Memorization?

In Classical Education, the elementary years are called, “Grammar School” where many facts are memorized. Our kindergarten will be memorizing Latin vocabulary, a timeline of the Bible, large chucks of Scripture, grammar rules and parts of speech, songs, classical musical pieces, and how to draw a map of the world. They will also be learning math facts and phonetic rules. Plus, they’ll be memorizing things in science like the names of the planets.
During science, we’ll also be learning Latin prefixes along side whatever we are studying. The first week’s prefix is “gen-” for birth or origin. Does a kindergartner need to know that on the playground or at soccer? Well, how about when he hears that the first book of the Bible is Genesis. Won’t that make something click? Won’t he have a frame of reference for that?
My friend was a researcher in Antarctica. On Saturday she told me about the mountain they could see in the distance. I heard about the same mountain on the news the next day. What made my ears perk up? A frame of reference.
Have you ever had those “coincidences” strike you? You hear about something and all-of-the-sudden you’re hearing about it from different sources? That’s what we’re trying to do with giving our kids so much background knowledge. We want them to pay attention as they learn later in life. We want them to have a strong foundation for building a great wealth of knowledge.
Will it make our kids robots? No! The Grammar years of memorization are coupled with exploring the world and learning to love learning! We are going to be busy with our hands, our voices, our bodies, and our creativity. We’ll have a lot of fun memorizing through poems, songs, and games. And that memorization will just be the beginning.

The Four Maths: Not Chaos but Order

I have always been drawn to literature and writing. I love how words play with each other to create an environment of truth, goodness, and beauty. This trio of virtues was called the triumvirate by the Ancient Greeks and is at the heart of Classical Education.
Even though I find myself at home with words, this past year, I’ve fallen in love with math. I find it a great surprise. I am confident my high school geometry teacher would also be surprised.
Although I’m getting ready for kindergarten next fall, currently I work for a few hours each day with forth and fifth grade math students. In teaching them, I’ve been in awe with the triumvirate math reveals... the octopus-tentacles of how everything is connected, the mirror images, the puzzles, the nity-gritty details... the constant discoveries.
One of my fifth graders wrestled with the distributive property this week. Unless you’ve been around a math classroom lately, you might have forgotten what the distributive property is, so I’ll remind you.
What you’re doing here is multiplying 27 by three. My guess is that even if you don’t know what the distributive property is, you do it all the time. Unless you are a math wiz, if you see 3x27, you think 20x3=60 and 7x3=21. 60+21=81. Ta-da! You have successfully completed the distributive property! ... and so did my student. Whoo-hoooo!
Just look at what you’ve experienced in the process... there is truth that a certain number multiplied by certain number equals a certain number. There is goodness in solving something, in coming up with an answer and having to think through it. And there is beauty in seeing how something big is built by little pieces.
Be still my heart.
And let’s do some math. But, let’s not stop with numbers. Let’s look at math from the four angles of the Mathematical Humanities. Classical Education swims in these and through them answers these questions:
  • Number Sense: How do numbers work and what do they mean?
  • Geometry: How do shapes, spaces, and things physically fit together?
  • Music: How does time, rhythm, and motion create beauty?
  • Astronomy: Where is our place in the universe?
As you can see, in Classical Education, math becomes a holistic view of figuring out the world around us and how God reveals Himself through it.
Math is true. 2+2=4. That’s the deal. Our kids need that. I hope that they find it refreshing and even energizing. It is good. The self-discipline, the accuracy, the working towards an answer makes us better. And then there’s the beauty. The stars, Puccini, the stunning high-rise... the fact that division and multiplication are opposites... all pointing to a Creator God who put order into chaos.

Classical Christian Education

Here is a Five Part Introduction to Classical Christian Education
and my interpretation of it in my classroom.

1. Children are Created in the Image of God

2. Truth, Beauty, and Goodness

3. How the Grammar Years Work

4. The Subjects

5. Christ is the Center

Click on a posts to read about school, Classical Christian Education, and kids in general.

As for the journey here...
When the Not-So-Familiar Turns Out Familiar

Who She Shall Become

The other day my husband caught me making eyes with the diner sitting at the table next to us.  She was just the right age to make me giggle.  She was just the right age to maybe become mine.  "I can't wait for my babies," I said.  My husband laughed with me.

Not my baby-babies, you see.  My kindergarten ones.  The ones who will walk into my classroom and spend 180 days with me.  The ones who will teach me with wild abandon as I teach them.  The ones who will enter into my care.  The ones who have already entered into my heart.

I think about them a lot.  I'm waking up in the middle of the night, piecing together how I want to teach this or that.  I am buying books and imagining their faces when the pig tricks the wolf and gets a good massage.  I am thinking through PE and music and art.  I don't want to waste a moment.

I have butterflies for them.  The real kind - well, I hope - that we will watch hatch.  And the kind that stay in my stomach, flitting with anticipation.

I'm dreaming big.  I'm dreaming of the doctors, the leaders, the scientists, the teachers, they will become.

Sure.  Students with a Classical Christian Education are performing well on all those college entrance exams. I hope they do.  I hope they do their best from the first day of kindergarten.  But, I'm more concerned with WHO they grow up to be as opposed to WHAT they grow up to be.

I want them to learn well, think deeply, create joyfully, and love boldly.  I want them to be able to make hard choices and stand up for what is right.  I want them to love truth and to be able to decipher it and to communicate it.  I want them to be generous with their lives.  I want them to love God and enjoy who He is.  I want that to overflow into every aspect of their lives.

Sure, they can go that route of having what the world says is a successful job and I'd be happy for them.  But I'd be tickled to have one wash my hair in the nursing home, if she does it with kind hands and a kind voice.  I want her to tell me something interesting she is still learning.  I want her to describe the tree in her back yard with such poetry I feel like I'm there.  I want her to hum Mozart to me and tell me about taking her daughter to the aquarium. I want her to tell me about the book she is reading and how it is challenging her vocabulary. I want her to tell me what God is teacher her and how she is loving studying Nehemiah. And I want her to look me in the eyes and remember that I'm still human, even if my brain can't create the words.

That little girl at the next table is not going to stay a little girl.  She is going to grow up and I'm going to grow old.  So, on the first day of kindergarten, when my littles are walking in, I'll be thinking of my last days.  I'll be thinking of how these children have a lifetime of love to give to everyone who is blessed to spend a moment or two walking with them.

And I'll be thankful for the 180 that are my turn.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Chili with a Little Bit More

Hide some veggies and a lot of flavor in your chili by using Mirepoix.  If you don't know what Mirepiox is, find info about it here.  I like to throw it in the pot after the ground beef starts to brown.

Here's a 30 minute recipe if you don't mind the cans!

1 bag of Mirepoix  (about 2 cups)
1 pound ground beef
1 garlic clove (crushed)
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 can of crushed tomatoes (16 ounces)
1 can of black beans (16 ounces)

Brown the ground beef in a big stockpot with garlic until almost done.  Drain off any grease and place back into the pot.  Add the Mirepoix and seasonings and continue to brown on medium heat.  When brown, add tomatoes and black beans.  Reduce to a simmer and leave on stove for at least 20 minutes.

What a perfect way to end a dreary winter day.  Top with
a little sour cream or cheese... perfect!

For a variation, you could always skip the beans or the beef but keep the Mirepoix.

If you are doing the beans in the crockpot, throw your Mirepoix in with them - as well as 1/2 your spices.

Find more Mirepoix ideas here!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

When the Not-So-Familiar Turns Out Familiar

A year and a half ago, we left our very secure jobs, family, and church, to jump off the deep end. We were seeking something crazy. Rest. We wanted stillness, focus, and time to really seek the Lord. We would live on a farm (but not work it); David would change career direction and I would write.

I found out that even though I love to write, I happen to be an extrovert. And I really, really love kids. I was incredibly lonely, so I knew I had to get back in the classroom. I picked up an application for a Christian school that was just starting. But, I let it sit on my desk. That was too much for my Sabbatical year. So, I started subbing while I wrote a study on 1st John and multiple drafts of a juvenile fiction story about human trafficking.

In the mean time, we fell in love with our church family, and more deeply in love with the God we worship together. We took classes and made friends. We learned to be still. We learned to live simply. And God was gracious enough to give us Himself.

So, we decided to stay.

And I once again got an application for that school. It hadn't started, but this was the year. Well… not really. God once again didn't send the students.

And so, I became an assistant at the school where I subbed. I love it, my kids, and my cohort there. I don't have the responsibilities of a teacher which allows me to be done around 3. So, I can still be writing.

The novel isn't getting so far. It's in my head somewhere, but it's a big ole mess on paper. But, I'm not giving up. The 1st John study is rolling. I'm in the process of cutting it down by 40%. Like most things both difficult and worthwhile, preparing this study has been one of the sweetest gifts I've ever received from my Father. I have learned more about Him – and more about me – during this endeavor.

As my husband and I spending time thinking about “what next”, we have found God to literally hand us both surprises, job wise.

Mine came in the form of a phone call. Would you come talk to our school board about starting the school next year?

So, here I am, the teacher of that same Christian school. We are starting with a kindergarten. I'm looking a curriculum, scope-and-sequence charts, singing Latin songs, writing Orff Schulwerk melodies. I'm reading Classical Education books and looking through Montessori center ideas.

I'm praying for God to build a school. And I'm praying that these kiddos will love Jesus with all of their lives. I'm praying that they will have a great passion for His Word. I'm praying that they will see their neighbors through the eyes of Jesus. I'm praying that they will travel to the ends of the earth to glorify Him. I'm praying that they delight in who God is and what He has done. I'm praying that they will long for heaven.

Those prayers, somehow, seem very, very familiar.