Nature Study: Burr Clover

If Burr Clover (Medicago polymorpha) had feelings, it would feel incredibly flattered to know that it is being featured here today.  It is so common and so, well, all over the place that people tend to just look right past it (or walk right on it).  It’s an unimpressive, massive carpeting on lawns and fields, creeping over onto sidewalks and spreading bright green wherever it can.  BUT Burr Clover definitely deserves a mention all of its own because it’s that plant that loves to stick to your socks as you walk through the field (although they’re not the painful burrs that you might be thinking of that end up getting stuck in your finger and cause you to let out a “ewouch!”…those are most likely sandburs…still…stay focused on our oft forgotten burr clover).

The first time I stopped my kids to do an object lesson on Burr Clover and I pointed it out, I laughed because my kids didn’t even notice what I was pointing at.  This was a plant that they were literally used to running over, playing tag on and, generally, skipping right past.

{An object lesson, part of Charlotte Mason’s nature study philosophy, is a perfect opportunity to allow our children to become more observant.  We call upon them to carefully observe and examine an object using their five senses.  Object lessons should appear to be by-the-way, somewhat spontaneous discoveries where we are out and about and come across something fascinating.  Considering the fact that I am not well-versed in nature study and I am learning alongside my children, I tend to keep an eye out when we’re on a nature walk for items that I can use in our next lesson and then I prepare my object lesson before we head out.  I aim for one object lesson a week so my kids have time to absorb what they learned and to notice it in future nature walks.  I do require them to make a drawing and write down a few notable facts in their nature journals to help cement the object in their minds.  You can read more about object lessons here and here.}

I gave them some time to observe the plant and the first thing they noticed was that it had three leaves.  They observed that its leaves were not heart shaped so they ruled out wood sorrel.  William guessed that it was some type of clover.

I asked them to reach way down and pull some out of the ground.  Ooh!  They discovered that while it looked like it was a bunch of little individual plants, there were actually a bunch of stems running along the ground coming from the same taproot (hence the name of those little stems: runners).

But the most exciting part of observing the burr clover was to find the burrs beginning to form.  It was so fun to see the light go off in their heads.  First there was a puzzled reaction…what is this?  Then there was the thought process.  And then the aha! moment when they realized that it was the seed envelope they were looking at in the form of a burr…the infamous, stick to your sock, get stuck in your clothes burr.  Those little burrs start out green and soft but will eventually turn brown and harden.  (We actually loves burrs over here because of the whole idea that we are helping spread plant love just by letting those little buggers stick to our socks!)

Burr Clover has a lovely family tree.  It is part of the same family as traditional flowering clover (like red clover that we use medicinally), the legume or pea family (fabaceae) but not part of the same genus.  As for the genus, medicago, it shares that with one of my favorite plants, alfalfa.  Both alfalfa and burr clover hail from the Mediterranean Basin, and their genus name comes from the Greek word Medike, abbreviated for Medike poa, which literally translated means Median grass and since the plants were imported from Media to Greece way (way, way) back, the name makes sense.

Sadly Burr Clover does not boast of great medicinal value or shine as a foraging plant, but it does have some use.  According to Plants for the Future, the flowers, leaves and seeds are edible. Mark “Merriwether” Vorderbruggen at Foraging Texas explains how to toast and get to the seeds inside those little burrs.

So there you have the most exciting blog post I could possibly write about one of the most mundane, unexciting plants…now get out there and show that Burr Clover a little extra love.

{Being intentional is so much easier done when we slow down and really look around us.  Personally, we spend a lot of time in nature, partly because we follow a Charlotte Mason education, but mostly because it keeps us intentional in our thoughts and actions.  I invite you, in these Nature Study posts, to join us in our intentional journey…to train your eye to be observant, to relish the intricacies of the amazing world we live in and to spend more time with the people you love stopping to smell the roses, so to speak.  If you are in the South Texas area (Corpus Christi and the surrounding cities), then you’ll find these nature lessons tailored perfectly to you and your family…see if you can find what we’re finding!  If you live somewhere beyond our beautiful little corner of the world then use these lessons as a springboard…see what we’re observing, allow yourself to be inspired and then just get out there and be intentional, observant, and grateful for all the little surprises right outside your back door.}

Nature Study: Henbit

This little plant is one of my favorites.  Last year it, alone, managed to pull me out of a dark winter funk.  It’s peppery and spinachy and purple and pretty and all of those things make me happy (well with the exception of spinachy…I have a loathing attitude toward all dark greens).

Henbit (Lamium ampelxicaule) is in the mint family.  Plants in the mint family are easy to recognize with their square, hollow stems, opposite leaves and usually aromatic leaves (think of plants like {obviously} the mints, but also basil, lavender, sage, and thyme).  Just roll that little stem between your fingers and you’ll feel how it doesn’t roll…because being square it has no round edges.  There are some plants with square stems that don’t fall in the mint family, but smelling the leaf will give you another clue.  Crush a leaf between your fingers and chances are, if it’s in the mint family, you’ll be rewarded with a delightful smell.

Henbit in its entirety

The best thing about henbit is that it is literally growing all over our city, most likely right outside your front door (and if it’s not in your yard, check your neighbors’ yards).  This makes it a no-excuse nature study plant since you don’t have far to go to see it.  It begins growing in the fall, goes dormant under the snow (or in cities like ours with beautiful, sunny winters, it just keeps growing) and then finishes up right around the time when spring begins.  Seeing henbit last year after a long, cold and gloomy winter let me breathe a sigh of deep relief knowing spring was on its way.

Henbit, just as the flowers are beginning to appear

My kids LOVE finding henbit.  Aside from its square stems (green when young, reddish-purple as it ages), it is easy to identify with its scalloped round leaves that grow in a rosette and its pretty little tubular flowers (the flowers, when open, remind me of a miniature orchid).  We all especially love finding it when it’s in our untreated yard…the entire plant is edible.  We nibble on it raw, but it can be cooked or used in a tea. You can toss it in smoothies or even make a pesto with it.

While it could be confused with purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum), both have edible leaves (although you should wait to harvest deadnettle until it flowers so you can be sure you’ve properly identified it as it looks very similar to many plants early on, some of which are poisonous, and deadnettle should not be used when pregnant!).  Personally, I think the deadnettle leaves look very different from henbit, but at a glance, there are definite similarities between the two.  (Deadnettle is really only found in East Texas…I’ve never seen any growing in this area.)

Beware of creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens) as you first learn to identify henbit.  When it is young, it has leaves that are similar in shape to henbit.  Creeping buttercup will produce yellow flowers and will look quite different from henbit as it matures, but it’s still one to learn and be mindful of.

Henbit with budding flowers

Pop out in your neighborhood and see if you can find any henbit growing around you.  Come back and share with me what you’ve found!

{Being intentional is so much easier done when we slow down and really look around us.  Personally, we spend a lot of time in nature, partly because we follow a Charlotte Mason education, but mostly because it keeps us intentional in our thoughts and actions.  I invite you, in these Nature Study posts, to join us in our intentional journey…to train your eye to be observant, to relish the intricacies of the amazing world we live in and to spend more time with the people you love stopping to smell the roses, so to speak.  If you are in the South Texas area (Corpus Christi and the surrounding cities), then you’ll find these nature lessons tailored perfectly to you and your family…see if you can find what we’re finding!  If you live somewhere beyond our beautiful little corner of the world then use these lessons as a springboard…see what we’re observing, allow yourself to be inspired and then just get out there and be intentional, observant, and grateful for all the little surprises right outside your back door.}

Nature Study: Brasil

A few weeks ago, Jessica and I had taken the kids to the trails out at Hilltop for a nature walk (no journals or object lessons, just a stroll through field and trees to see what was in bloom) and, as always, we found ourselves stumped by plant after plant (this whole botany thing is a long journey!).  Jessica and I tend to spend a whole lot of time saying, “Ooh, I wonder what this is!”

But slowly we’re learning and gaining confidence in our identification skills.  It’s a slow going journey, but by going slow, there’s time to absorb what we’re learning and look for it everywhere we go.  Our newest find (which Jessica already knew and pointed out to me!) is the Brasil, a deciduous tree or shrub that grows well down here.  We found it in abundance out on the local trails so we took the kids this past week for an object lesson.

The Brasil (Condalia hookeri) is also known as the Bluewood Condalia or the Brazilian Bluewood  and is a member of the Buckthorn family.  

The kids observed the leaves and found them to be simple, alternate, glossy, small and bright.  After describing the shape of the leaves (they described them as some being oval and some being spoon shaped), I taught them that in botany, those are called obovate (oval) and spatulate (like a spatula) blades.  The margins of the leaves are smooth to weakly toothed toward the tip.  A fun little fact is that the leaves are host to the Snout Butterfly.  

I also introduced the kids to the botanical term pinnate vein which is present on the leaves of the Brasil.  A pinnate vein is one main vein extending from base to tip with smaller veins branching off.  

The kids quickly noticed the sharp thorns at the tip of each branch.  I had to do a little research of my own to find out exactly what qualifies as a thorn…it’s not as simple as I thought.  Turns out there are basically three botany terms for sharp points on plants: thorns, spikes and prickles.   While each of them is a defense mechanism and each is incredibly sharp and pointed, they are formed in different ways.  Thorns are modified branches; spikes are modified leaves; prickles are an outgrowth from the epidermis.  Those sharp tips on a rose plant are actually prickles while the sharp tips on a cactus are spines.  The sharp tips at the end of the Bluewood Condalia’s branches are thorns.  You can read more about the difference here or here.  

The wood on the Bluewood Condalia appears red but yields a blue dye.  Pioneers used the bark chips to make red ink.  

Of course, our favorite fact about the Brasil is that the berry-like drupes are edible.  They begin as a red fruit but ripen to a blue-black fruit.  They’re sweet and juicy and loved by squirrels, raccoons, opposums and birds (and clearly by Gavin, whose mouth turned a bit blue temporarily from all the fruit he ate!).  We just like to nibble on them, but I’m sure if we were a bit more industrious and could brave all those thorns and collect enough, they’d make a delightful jelly.

The flowers, when present, are small and inconspicuous and almost a light green.

Ironically, after the object lesson (and the fruit tasting), Jessica read Rapunzel to us…it sure made us wonder if, when the prince fell out of the tower, he landed on a Brasil shrub…it’s certainly a possibility.  Please learn from him…be careful around thorny plants!  

I used the books Trees of Texas and Wildflowers and Other Plants of Texas Beaches and Islands in my research.  Both of these top my list of favorites for local plant identification guides.  Even though the pictures in Trees of Texas are black and white, they are so well done that they make identification easy.

**Even though I have researched these plants thoroughly and feel confident in my identification skills of the plants discussed here, you should still always do your own research before teaching your kids and definitely before eating any plant…there are a lot of look-alikes out there and not everything that looks good IS good!  I strongly urge you to find a Master Naturalist or a foraging guide in your area to help you properly identify plants before you do any foraging and please be sure to obey all laws and follow foraging ethics.**

Nature Study: Wild Grapes

{Being intentional is so much easier done when we slow down and really look around us.  Personally, we spend a lot of time in nature, partly because we follow a Charlotte Mason education, but mostly because it keeps us intentional in our thoughts and actions.  I invite you, in these Nature Study posts, to join us in our intentional journey…to train your eye to be observant, to relish the intricacies of the amazing world we live in and to spend more time with the people you love stopping to smell the roses, so to speak.  If you are in the South Texas area (Corpus Christi and the surrounding cities), then you’ll find these nature lessons tailored perfectly to you and your family…see if you can find what we’re finding!  If you live somewhere beyond our beautiful little corner of the world then use these lessons as a springboard…see what we’re observing, allow yourself to be inspired and then just get out there and be intentional, observant, and grateful for all the little surprises right outside your back door.}

“Nature seems to have intended Texas for a vineyard.”  Stephen F. Austin

Last week we went out for a nature hike to see what is blossoming around here and we stumbled on, what I was sure, were Muscadine Grapes.  Tons of ripe, plump purple grapes.  I snapped a couple of photos so I could come home and use my book to confirm it, but I was sure I couldn’t be mistaken.  I came home and promptly forgot about the grapes (as so often happens).

A few days later, I was reading Helen Keller’s autobiography, The Story of my Life and she referred to the Scuppernong vines around her.  That was one I’d never heard, so I looked it up.  How wild!  They’re a green variety of Muscadine grapes…I had no idea there were different varieties.  I decided it was time to learn a little more about those ripe purple grapes we had just seen.

I planned to take the kids out again this week and brave the mosquitoes in search of the grapes.  We’d take our nature journals and sketch them while they were ripe.  I thought it would be handy to prepare a bit so we could have an object lesson once we got to the grapes.

{An object lesson, part of Charlotte Mason’s nature study philosophy, is a perfect opportunity to allow our children to become more observant.  We call upon them to carefully observe and examine an object using their five senses.  Object lessons should appear to be by-the-way, somewhat spontaneous discoveries where we are out and about and come across something fascinating.  Considering the fact that I am not well-versed in nature study and I am learning alongside my children, I tend to keep an eye out when we’re on a nature walk for items that I can use in our next lesson and then I prepare my object lesson before we head out.  I aim for one object lesson a week so my kids have time to absorb what they learned and to notice it in future nature walks.  I do require them to make a drawing and write down a few notable facts in their nature journals to help cement the object in their minds.  You can read more about object lessons here and here.}

Good thing I decided to be prepared!  As I began to look at photos of Muscadine grapes, I thought the leaves looked very jagged compared to the leaves we had seen.  I pulled back up the pictures that I had taken and sure enough, the leaves we had seen were not so clearly jagged.  I got distracted and walked away from the open book.

When I came back, I looked at the picture again (not realizing the page had turned while I was away) and thought, no, those look like what we saw…I could have sworn the picture had jagged leaves.  Then I looked at the top of the page and realized now I was looking at Mustang Grapes.  Wait, what?  More wild grapes in South Texas?

So it turns out there are two types of wild grapes that are seen often in this area: Muscadine (Vitus rotundifolia) and Mustang (Vitus mustangensis).  Good to know.  While both are used for making jams, the Mustang grapes are known as “cut throat grapes” because of their high acidic levels…they shouldn’t be eaten raw as they can cause burns on the lips and in the throats.  Really good to know.  (And glad I waited to confirm I had properly identified it before trying it!)

Luckily, there’s an easy way to tell the two apart.  The leaves of the Mustang grape are very fuzzy with a white underbelly whereas Muscadine grape leaves are smooth and shiny.

Grapes are an interesting study in and of themselves: viticulture is the word used for the science, production and study of grapes, whereas viniculture is the word used for the cultivation of grapes in winemaking; both of those are branches of horticulture, aka the art and practice of garden cultivation.  As for the history of grapes, they made an important contribution to Roman, Greek and early Christian civilizations.  North American grapes made an impression when the Europeans began to explore the area, so much so that they called it Vinland literally because of the crazy amount of grapes growing everywhere.  In Texas, grapes are present in archaeological findings way back to 7000 BC where evidence exists that canyon grapes were consumed at that time by Native Americans in the Devils River area.  It’s all quite fascinating stuff, but that’s a rabbit trail for another day.

For the object lesson, I decided to focus mostly on Mustang grapes (which is a bit less fascinating than the Muscadine grapes but as they were Mustang grapes we had seen, I wanted to focus on what we could actually observe).  Their leaves begin with five lobes and as they mature, the leaves become unlobed cordate shaped (heart-shaped) with a deep cleft in the base.   Again, the leaves are fuzzy on top and bottom and they have a white underside.  The leaf edges are toothed but not nearly so sharp toothed as the Muscadine.  The leaves grow along the vine in an alternate pattern  with opposing tendrils (the tendrils and teeth of the leaf are important in identification as the moonseed vine lacks both and the Virginia creeper adheres rather than entwines…this helps you avoid the poisonous look-alikes!)

Mustang grapes are dark purple with thick, tough skin.  They are very acidic: eating them raw is a bad idea as they can cause acid burns to the lips, mouth and throat (which is how they became known as “cut throat grapes”.  To harvest them, simply cut the clusters and use gloves to process them (with plenty of sugar) into jelly, preserves, pies or tarts.

Muscadine grapes are a bit more fascinating as their fruit may be eaten raw and it is very sweet.  The seeds may be crushed and boiled to be made into grapeseed oil.  Also, the leaves, when young, may be eaten raw; the large leaves may be boiled or pickled and then stuffed.  The vines of the Muscadine grapes can also be used as an emergency water supply.

Now, we’re off to re-read The Fox and the Grapes, only because now we’re wondering if maybe it was better the fox didn’t get those grapes…who knows, maybe they were Mustang grapes ; )

*Books I used to research wild grapes included Idiot’s Guide to Foraging and Remarkable Plants of Texas; websites have already been notated throughout the post.

Plutarch via The Charlotte Mason Plenary and Why It’s My Preferred Guide

CM-Plenary-Plutarch

A few months ago I introduced you to  A Charlotte Mason Plenary and I told you about their lovely annotated version of Charlotte Mason’s Volume 1.  You, of course, took my advice and headed over there and are now walking around with Volume 1 under your belt, right?  Not to worry if you didn’t…you’ll be able to pick up a copy of their annotated volume from their website soon.  Or you can jump in on the Plenary Session for Volume 6 beginning later this summer.

In my original post about the Plenary, I also voiced my excitement over all the projects they have in the works.  Just today I saw the announcement that they’ve now released their first artist study on Vermeer.  But that’s not what’s got me excited!  I’m excited to announce that they have just released one of my now favorite CM help guides.  It is their first Plutarch guide (with another soon to follow).  This first Plutarch guide covers the Life of Publicola.

I hear the wheels grinding in your head.  You’re frantically searching your memory base for Plutarch, wondering which class you learned about him in during your schooling.  (You’re wishing this blog post was annotated like The Plenary did with Volume 1, aren’t you?)

There’s a good chance you’re coming up short in your memory bank because Plutarch isn’t someone studied regularly these days.  While Plutarch used to be considered a source which fell into “everybody’s reading” (everyone from Shakepeare to Lincoln read his works), you’ll now find his works are favored by (and sometimes only known by!) scholars and academia…and also by Charlotte Mason educators.  The study of Plutarch was scheduled into CM’s schools beginning in Form 2A (our 5th grade) and that is where most of us following CM begin our Plutarch study.

So who exactly was Plutarch?

Plutarch was a Greek biographer who is famous for writing about the lives of the ancient Greeks and Romans.  His most famous work was entitled Parallel Lives of Greeks and Romans (now known simply as Plutarch’s Lives) and it contrasted the life of one Greek with the life of one Roman.  Typically his biographies were written about statesmen, generals and public figures such as Alexander the Great and Marc Antony.   If you were to read all of his Lives, you’d find yourself well versed in the basic history of all of Greece and Rome up until Plutarch’s life (despite the fact that his book was written as a biography not a history).

So why should we include Plutarch in our studies?

Charlotte Mason was all about introducing our children to the people of history and giving our students the chance to witness character formation.  Plutarch allows that.  Plutarch wrote his Lives to include both a character’s strengths as well as his weaknesses.  Plutarch doesn’t spell it out for us…he chronicles the lives of these famous men and then allows us, as readers, to make our own character assessments.  We see how the small decisions shape the future and form our character because it is often from the tiny details of life that our character emerges.  “…a man’s most brilliant actions prove nothing as to his true character, while some trifling incident, some casual remark or jest, will throw more light upon what manner of man he was than the bloodiest battle, the greatest array or armies, or the most important siege.” (from Life of Alexander)  So essentially, Plutarch is a character guide, a training in moral development.

So why a guide?  And more specifically, why the CM Plenary guide?

Charlotte Mason encouraged us as educators not to get between the child and the book.  We are meant to prepare the lessons for our children and discuss with them after their narration, but we are not meant to limit what our children learn by making connections for them or pointing out every moral moment in a story.  That’s all fine and dandy when my kids are reading something a bit less, um, difficult.  But when it comes to Plutarch, I’m a fresh slate.  I didn’t study Plutarch in school and I never read any of his works until Joseph began Plutarch this past year.  And let me tell you, (regardless of which translation you choose!) Plutarch is a bit difficult to navigate as a newcomer.  A guide is just lovely.  Not for my students so much… but FOR ME.  I am ashamed to admit it (although I know I am not alone in saying this) but without a guide, I probably would have quit Plutarch in the beginning…I just don’t have the background or the experience or even the practice of reading works like this to guide a conversation with my child.  I needed help so I could succeed!

Enter the CM Plenary’s Plutarch Study Guide.  Help at its finest.  {Insert a sigh of relief here}

**Please note, we did one round of Publicola using Anne White’s guide which was nice, but then we went through Publicola’s life again using the Plenary guide and Joseph and I both agreed that the Plenary’s guide is definitely our preferred guide!  My goal here isn’t to compare and contrast…rather, I’d like to explain why I’m a Plenary Plutarch customer from here on out**

The Plenary has included all kinds of useful tools…from vocabulary definitions to discussion questions to annotated notes.  I appreciate that the vocabulary, notes and discussion questions are all in a sidebar, alongside the Plutarch text…no flipping back and forth to look up words or find side notes.  At the beginning of the guide, there’s a Who’s Who page…very convenient for reference.  The guide includes pronunciations of some of the names which is super handy so I don’t either a) butcher the name or b) have to grab my phone to look up the pronunciation. And the discussion questions proved to be discussion worthy; they didn’t simply ask for information recall, but rather gave Joseph and I thoughts to ponder and discuss.  There’s also an appendix with relevant information included.

The first lesson in the guide does an incredible job of giving us background information on Publicola, something we definitely lacked using the other guide.  There was quite a bit going on that Plutarch assumed his reader knew (which naturally, I did not).  The Plenary’s introduction lesson was vital in helping Joseph and I understand and appreciate Publicola’s story.

The Plenary has also offered an incredible wealth of information on their Publicola help page which Joseph likes to browse through in his free time…some of the links they’ve included have really given us some insight into life during Publicola’s time giving us a more complete picture and while they certainly don’t replace the lesson (we don’t even use our lesson time to browse through the links), they definitely augment what we read during our lesson.

One thing that sets the Plenary’s guide apart from most other Plutarch helps is that they chose to use the translation by George Long and Aubrey Stewart.  This may not seem like a big deal to those of us who barely know Plutarch to begin with, but it is important in our studies.  Long and Stewart translated it directly from Greek whereas the popular North translation was first translated into French by Amyot and then later North translated it into English so it’s a translation of a translation.  Personally, I always like a first translation…it keeps what I’m reading closer to the original.  North is a popular translation because Shakespeare himself used North’s translation in some of his plays.  The Plenary plans to annotate the passages and quotes Shakespeare used with North’s translation so you won’t lose out on Shakespeare’s references.

There’s a reason I personally really like Long and Stewart’s translation over North’s.  It’s easier.  Yep, I said it.  We went through Publicola using Anne White’s guide first (she uses mostly North’s translation with a little of Dryden’s translation) and there was a lot of me reading and then retelling it to Joseph to give him a clear picture.  He was getting lost in the language and he wasn’t retaining nearly as much as I would have liked between lessons.  With Long and Stewart’s translation, I can read it to him directly from the text, and while it’s challenging and complex, Joseph gets it and he retains it.  I find North’s translation more difficult to read than Shakespeare (and that’s saying something, right?!)…I relied heavily on Anne White’s guide and her summaries to explain what I was reading; with the Plenary’s guide, they are literally guiding me to get the most out of the text.  Anne White even had to include “introductions” to each lesson where she recapped the last lesson…those summaries were important in helping Joseph and I journey through the text…we don’t need an introduction or a recap of the last lesson with the Plenary’s guide because Joseph understands the text so much more and he’s able to recap on his own.  While I value reading complex language and challenging texts, I’d much rather read and understand a different translation than choose a translation that we spend our time struggling with and gain nothing from.

Another thing that The Plenary’s guide offers that Joseph and I loved was the Epilogue.  For Publicola, they wove Publicola into American History by connecting the Federalist Papers and the pen name Alexander Hamilton used to Publicola.  I just can’t tell you anymore because the history is fascinating and you absolutely must read the epilogue yourself.  It was a satisfying ending to our study on our first Plutarch life.

And finally, I haven’t seen them in person yet but it looks like they’re going to release a picture study to go with the Publicola study soon.  (Hang on, I’ve got to go add that to my wish list for the fall.)  **edited to update: the picture study is out and is every bit as awesome as the guide…we used it to enrich our Publicola studies last year and this year we snagged the Pericles guide and artist study and it, too, is AMAZING!**

All that being said, I’m surprised you’re still here and not over there checking it out.

Here’s hoping your Plutarch studies are character building and full of virtue training and that you allow yourself the gift of The Plenary’s guide…you’ll be glad they’re holding your hand as you venture forth.

 

Intentional Learning: Setting Goals for our Homeschool Year

Spring is here and, for those of us that homeschool, spring includes the madness and chaos of planning for next year.  Catalogs fill the mailbox, conferences inspire our hearts, evaluations of a year passed guide us toward our goals for the following year.

It’s easy to get lost in the whirlwind of choices.

It’s easy to forget why we chose this path.

It’s easy to just tag along with the cultural flow and do what everyone else is doing because we just can’t imagine our kid not keeping up with other kids his age.

It’s easy to approach our educational philosophy a bit unintentionally.

But being intentional is so important when our children’s hearts are at stake.  Because it’s not just about reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.  It’s about character and morals and citizenship.  It’s about growing this unique little being into the person he was created to be.

The educator and philosopher Charlotte Mason tells us that Our aim in Education is to give a Full Life.––We begin to see what we want. Children make large demands upon us. We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. ‘Thou hast set my feet in a large room,’ should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking––the strain would be too great––but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest. We cannot give the children these interests; we prefer that they should never say they have learned botany or conchology, geology or astronomy. The question is not––how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education––but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?” (Vol. 3, pp. 170, 171) (emphasis mine).

So not only are we expected to educate our child in the traditional sense of the word, but we’re expected to plant a seed in him that sprouts a love for learning, a thirst for knowledge. We’re expected to lead him toward a full life.  A life that is good and worthy and whole.

That’s a heavy responsibility.  One that can’t be approached casually.

If we simply look to the public school system as our guide, we are missing the entire spiritual realm of education.  Our children become well versed in grammar rules, mathematical concepts and reading skills, perhaps, but we completely leave their soul out of the equation.  We cheat them out of an education that forms their character, guides their morals and establishes the principles that will lead them in all the days ahead.  As we are mind, body and soul, we cannot overlook the formation of their very beings.  Charlotte Mason advised us to: “Look on education as something between the child’s soul and God. Modern Education tends to look on it as something between the child’s brain and the standardized test.”

So how do we intentionally approach our homeschool plan?  Surely, we muse, there is a curriculum that comes wrapped in a box with a pretty bow that covers everything we need.

If only it were that simple.

Unfortunately, it takes deep thought and reflection to guide us in our decisions.  It requires a map of sorts to guide us in our curriculum and book choices.  It requires intentional thought about where we want our children to be after 12 years of home education.

We must begin with a broad plan.  An intentional philosophy, so to speak.

Grab a pen, some beautifully lined paper and a cup of tea.

Now imagine your child as an adult.  What do you want for him?  I’m guessing you don’t want him depressed, on drugs, collecting welfare, barely paying the rent of a run-down shack, yelling at his girlfriend to tend to the baby.

Surely you want him to be well adjusted, morally sound, guided by his principles and ethics.

You want him to find pleasure in the simple things of life, right?  The feel of a spring day on his cheeks, the anticipation of reading the next chapter in a well-loved book, the delight of a walk through the neighborhood.

You want him to love his life, just as it is at that moment in time whether it’s surrounded by books in a library as he studies for his finals or backpacking through Europe exploring all the places he read and dreamed about in his childhood.  Or maybe he’s already settled in a job having made the choice not to go to college and he’s passionate about what he does and determined to make a go of it.  Or perhaps he has settled down with his sweetheart and they’re navigating the waters of married life but he’s not discouraged because he knows that this is just part of the journey and he’s full of hope and determination.

You want him to have hobbies that enrich his life, hobbies that help him find beauty, truth and goodness in the crazy, chaotic world, I’m sure.

You want him to feel the power of education at his fingertips, knowing that knowledge is just a book away.

Maybe you want him to have a solid personal relationship with his Creator or at least a solid foundation just in case he wanders a bit.

I’m quite sure you want him to grasp the basics of math and budgeting and fiscal responsibility, lest he find himself knee deep in debt without hope of loosening the master’s hold.

You probably want him to be well versed in American history and liberties so that if his freedom is ever at stake, he knows exactly what that means and just how far he is willing to go to retain those liberties.

I know you well enough to know that you have other dreams for him.  Mine might be quite different from yours so I hesitate to share anymore wanderings here with you lest my guide become more of a checklist.  I promise to share my own goals for our homeschool with you soon, but I want to allow you some time to ruminate over the thoughts I have shared here.

So take some time this week.  Put down the catalogs and stop browsing the web.  Mull over the big ideas.  The broad plan.  You can’t choose a curriculum until you’ve given the long term goals some serious, intentional thought.  Put your thoughts down on paper.  Feel free to come back and share some of your thoughts here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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