If you have a garden and a library,
you have everything you need.
Herein lies the theme and title of my website. It is no secret I love books or that I use books for the majority of our home-based life of learning. I also love gardens. I think a love of gardens has been handed down to me by my grandparents and the happy memories I hold of pottering about with them in their garden. These happy memories have yet to reveal themselves in any real skill at gardening - but you're never too old to learn. Right?
This quote, attributed to Cicero, reflects more than my love for books and gardens however. It reflects what I believe to be the two non-negotiable elements for a good quality life of learning. I believe that if all you are able to provide in the realm of learning resources and activities are books and time out-of-doors in the garden you have gifted your children with a hundred rooms to explore, learn, and create with. It is a good thing. And sometimes it can be all you need.
It has been observed that mathematics is the language of the natural world. The language of God and His creation. When you spend time working in the garden, observing landscape changes, seasonal cycles, and wildlife habits, taking walks and meals out-of-doors you begin to see, and understand, the symmetry, shape, harmony, rhythm, time, form, structure, and order of our world. All of these are mathematical concepts. When you dig deeper you also begin to see principles of biology, chemistry, and physics working together unseen in our world. When you take a panoramic view you see these mathematical concepts of nature can also be expressed in a variety of art forms, including music.
As our world becomes seemingly more complicated our hearts long for simplicity. As our world becomes more technological and disconnected our hearts long for relationship. A library and a garden are two simple yet timeless ways of re-educating ourselves with simplicity and relationship. All other knowledge and understanding can grow from these.
In Our Garden
Above is a photo of our backyard in 2011 when we first moved in. Delightfully overgrown it invited adventure. This is the setting for our Jungle Books read aloud, our first read aloud in this home.
We worked really hard those first twelve months. Pruning, clearing, renovating. We all slept and lived in a converted double garage and created an outdoor kitchen and living area under the carport. And that year our learning revolved largely around our books and our garden. I admit to feeling a little nostalgic on looking through these memories.
Our home looks very different in 2017, to that first glimpse in 2011. We have had to cut down around 15 trees for starters. Now we are finally ready to begin planting more, so we are very happy to be back in the garden. Planting trees and shrubs that will be friendly to houses, roofing, foundations, neighbours, birdlife, local wildlife and our view. And we may continue learning a thing, or two, from our garden.
Don't forget .......
....... if you have a garden and a library ..........
Earlier this year I shared some initial thoughts on the role of habit in education and life, including my intention to dig deeper into understanding habit. The cause of this, even though I am nearing the end of my homeschooling journey with my youngest daughter, is that I see so many bad and derailing-type habits in my young adult children and my middle-aged adult self. Also, as I tutor teens I have begun to make connections between habits, quality of learning, enjoyment of learning, expression of learning, and whether the teen has a positive or negative view of their learning abilities. This last connection is something that has especially surprised me, partially because we tend to categorise those aspects of learning under personality types, learning style, interests and natural abilities. We do not tend to connect the discipline of habit as a doorway to enjoying learning or viewing yourself as a learner. Witnessing the wonder and joy grow, as a teen realises they can read and enjoy a variety of books and texts, challenge ideas and discuss and write about them, is a real privilege.
In her principles of education, Charlotte Mason lists three tools that are available to the parent/tutor in the education of young people. These three tools are the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and a life of ideas that feed the mind and the soul. The first and third tools can be broken down into the lifestyle of your family, daily rhythms and schedules, the physical lay out of your home, the use of books, hobbies, relationships with people, and natural learning opportunities within your community.
Miss Mason introduces us to the idea of the second tool with these words;
'By EDUCATION IS A DISCIPLINE, is meant the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structure to habitual lines of thought- i.e., to our habits.' (Volume 6)
What is meant by Discipine?
When we speak of education as a discipline we are referring to a concept of education as a means of training our character and methodically working to improve any character flaws, in ourselves and our children. Discipline here does not refer to strict authoritarian rules or punishment. Discipline of habit is first trained by parents and then grows into self-discipline as the children learns to strengthen his/her will and conscience to do what is right and good and beneficial. The disciplines we hope to develop as habits include habits of the mind, heart, behaviour and body.
Habit training as part of our natural educational and parenting practises run smoothest when begun from a young age, partially because both parents and children are in the habit of habit training. It is trickier to begin habit training older and children and teens, but it is always possible to do something. Every small step counts.
How to Begin: 3 Steps
1) Begin with love. Something I have learned is that habits are best formed with a foundation of love. Love your child. Make sure your child is secure in your love for them and look for ways to demonstrate your constant love for them in ways they connect with. I have found The Five Love Languages of Teenagers helpful in this area. Living, working, and learning with teens can sometimes be bumpy. But, whatever else we need to do during those times, we need to love them in a demonstrable way.
2) Break the old habit with a new habit. Pick one habit to focus on stopping. Begin replacing the old habit with a new appealing habit, this helps to train the brain in new lines through a positive and active solution. It also provides motivation and something that is new, life giving and interesting in place of the old negative habit. This is a process of not only weeding the garden, but also nurturing the flowers.
3) Practise patience and persistence. Habit training is not a matter of nagging or punishment. It is mindful parenting and teaching. It is a way of following the lead of nature, awareness and gentle redirection.
I have been focusing on putting these three steps into practise more mindfully and diligently this year. When something comes undone in the process I think back over these three steps and consider where the weakness might be. When I discover the weakness, I focus on strengthening that part of the process. It is simple, but not easy.
In this process I am also learning that habit is the handmaiden of virtue.
We begin home educating our children for a reason, a purpose. To solve a problem. The problem might be something to do with the school system itself. The problem might be that your child is not learning in the school environment and falling through the cracks. The problem could be serious bullying, chronic illness, special needs, or faith-based concerns. The problem might be that you want something different for the life of your children and family than what is offered in mainstream culture. The decision to home educate is a way of responding innovatively to the educational problem that has presented itself to you, your child, and your family.
From the beginning your home education life has held purpose, form, and function. How you home educate is based primarily upon why you home educate. Sometimes the why of home education changes, especially for long-term home educating families, and the how thus needs to be reconsidered. We need to be constantly considering, critiquing, and re-evaluating. And this is where the idea of design fits into the idea and practise of homeschooling. Design is essentially about problem solving and making something work well.
"Design is not just what it looks like and feels like.
Design is how it works."
~ Steve Jobs ~
For our family, the decision to home educate solved a number of immediate problems that included bullying, financial concerns, quality of family relationships, and lack of learning within the school environment. Our continuing homeschooling life has presented us with many new problems. And each time we discovered a new problem, we needed to ask ourselves new questions.
Questions like: How to transition from home to school? How to tell people that we homeschool? How should we structure our days? What to do with toddlers? What to do when we cannot find homeschooling friends? What to do when being bullied by another homeschooled child? What resources should we use? How to homeschool when a parent is chronically ill? How to homeschool in amongst relationship conflict? How to transition from homeschooling into the workforce or tertiary study?
Through this ongoing process I have learned how to take a step back and critique our home education life and experience. To reflect on our journey thus far, and consider the good, the bad, and the ugly. It's all there - that's part of life. Designing your homeschool takes work. Even if you keep it simple. A beautiful and simple design flows well and functions well as a result of many small decisions which come together to form the cohesive whole.
Design Your Homeschool
Starting in July 2017 I am beginning a monthly blog post series dedicated to the idea of Designing Your Homeschool. I will be responding to the frequently asked questions by home educating parents who battle with the inevitable problems that arise in life and learning. Perhaps you have faced some of the problems I have. Perhaps you have faced different problems.
Here's To You
Share with me in the comments below your questions and your innovative solutions. Each month I will pick a question to blog about.
How does home education work?
How does education work in your home?
What problems has home education solved for you?
What problems have you encountered in your home education journey?
Send Your FAQ's Here (Contact Page)
'I feel that few forms of teaching are so sacramental;
the writing teacher's ministry is not just to the words
but to the person who wrote the words.'
Writing to Learn by William Zinsser page 48
I've been reading Writing to Learn by William Zinsser the past few weeks. I love to write and not a day goes by where I haven't written something in some form. I also love to teach teens to write - find their voice, to write about what matters to them, to write about what they are learning about, and discover that writing is not just about English studies and Literature (much as I personally love English and Literature). I also love to read and with this combination of loves I have a growing collection of books written by writers for parents, teachers, and students on learning to write, writing well, and weaving writing through life (not just academics). William Zinsser has become a fast favourite on my writing bookshelf.
Writing to Learn is William Zinsser's personal journey into the field of writing and literature that is part of every field of study and work. Mathematics has its literature. Geography has a literature of its own. Science, Music, Art, Technology, Home Economics, Business .......... all these fields have their own literature written by their own professionals and passionate amateurs. This book opens the door to why writing matters in all fields and how writing can be incorporated into every area of study in a way that adds value and depth to a student's learning and a teacher's teaching. For tutors and parents who are looking for ideas to incorporate writing through subject areas of interest to your teen, Writing to Learn is a helpful handbook. Teens may also benefit from reading this book directly as they trace the journey of the author and his experiences with writing across a broad range of fields and present ideas they can personally put into practise in their own life of writing and learning.
On Writing Well is recommended in AO11's grammar and composition section. A readable and instructive guide to writing non-fiction, this book guides the budding writer through the principles, methods, forms, and attitudes for writing well on any topic in any genre.
How to Use 'On Writing Well'
For a reluctant reader and writer I recommend reading aloud with your teen, taking turns reading by paragraph, page, or chapter depending on the needs of your teen. Reading aloud connects you both with this book and its contents in a shared experience. You can discuss the ideas, principles, and applications as you read. Independent reading may be more valuable to a passionate writer as he/she will naturally absorb the ideas his/herself before sharing what has been learned.
In order to process the ideas and principles covered, the act of thinking, note taking, and expressing are important not to skip. Oral narration, written narration, and outlining are all useful techniques for the teen to think about what is being learned. You could create a writer's notebook to record all narrations, outlines, and notes in order to easily review progress in composition (and easily access possible work samples for your HEU report if necessary). One simple form of recording the writing principles learned is to create an ongoing rubric list that can be used to evaluate future writing projects. This rubric list can be a helpful bridge to the next step - Relating & Applying the principles.
3) Relate & Apply
If you use Charlotte Mason's principles of narration, you have a natural doorway of relating the principles to your teen's writing. Indeed the teen will quite likely make those relations and applications independently while thinking about and writing the narration. Another way to begin applying these principles is to set a writing task within a particular subject or project and the teen is required to demonstrate his/her application in the writing task. This approach could be especially useful when reading through the chapters on Forms.
What a delight it is to guide our teen children and students in discovering the 'clues to clean, compelling prose' with such a classic guide. And, of course, to keep learning myself. I can always improve my own writing!