Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Rights and Wrongs of Learning Incentives

Thank you all for your thoughtful comments on my last post!  You helped me come up with an answer that I feel happy with.  The "inspiring" thing can be a bit tricky sometimes.  I'm not saying my present solution is right for everyone, but I think it's what we needed right now.

So, I've never liked the idea of giving children "learning incentives".  The "A.R" prizes at school for reading certain books, or the reading programs at the libraries seemed a little off to me.  I saw children reading books that were too simple for them in order to read more pages and earn a prize.  The biggest problem with it though is that children read for the sake of something other than reading.  I wanted my children to fall in love with reading.  Those programs didn't seem to promote that.

I feel the same way about grades.  A child is not going to learn science for the sake of getting an "A" on a report card.  They may do the requirements needed to earn that grade, but they are not going to really learn science.  They are not going to be fascinated and intrigued enough to really understand it.  Those ulterior motives seemed rather counter-productive to me.

Those are some of the reasons why I wanted to homeschool.  I didn't want my children being motivated by something that would distract them from the real motivation of seeking for beauty and truth.

The Demilles talk about using a bean jar as an incentive for children when they need an incentive.  I used it for teaching children to work and it was a fun little incentive.  I  recently read a great post with some great ideas about how to use it.

I didn't want to use a bean jar for learning incentives for the reasons stated above, but as I've thought about the difference between acquiring knowlege of truth and acquring skills (see my last post), I realize that using incentives is a great way to help children learn basic skills!  Thank-you to Beth for posting about the following video on my comments:

Skills are often mechanical, basic actions that need to be practiced.  The intrinsic rewards for practicing the skill are not usually immediate and therefore hard for a young child to do the hard work that is necessary.  Little incentives to help them with these skills could be really helpful - especially if the incentives are tied to the intrinsic reward in some way.

In my home, I don't have a need to offer incentives for learning to read.  I guess the children have been exposed to stories often enough that they are anxious to do it themselves.  That and example have been enough for my four year old.  He sees his brother and sisters doing it so much that he can't wait to be able to read.   So far, I have not needed to offer arithmetic incentives either.  There is enough arithmetic around the home that they get curios and ask questions.  The placemats have inspired the older kids to work on their times tables.  I have, however, found a need to do something about Bud's penmanship!

As I was cleaning under the couch in the basement yesterday, I stumbled upon the perfect thing!  I found a beautiful, leather-bound Hogwart's journal.  I asked Spice where it came from and she said that grandma had brought it over last weekend for Bud to write his stories (my mom had just returned from Florida where she had been to the Harry Potter theme park).  I said to Spice, "Bud isn't ready for something this nice yet." (And obviously, he didn't value it as it had been laying under the couch for a week).

After I finished downstairs, I took the book upstairs with me and found Bud.  I said, "Bud, I found this beautiful book that your grandma gave you!  I'm going to put it up to keep it safe until you are ready for it."

"What do you mean?  I'm ready for it now!"

"Well, this is a beautiful book and you need to have beautiful handwriting to go into it."

"I already know how to write."

"Yes, you write well, but you need to write really great for a book like this."

"Are you saying that I'm not a good writer?"

"The things you write are excellent!  I'm talking about the way you form your letters.  Sometimes, some are backwards and sometimes you forget the spaces - little things like that.  You are really close to mastering it, so I'm sure I won't have to put it up for very long."

He hugged me and cried (it's a amazing how desirable a thing becomes once you are told you can't have it!), and complained that it was his, because his grandma had given it to him.  I explained that it was still his, he just wouldn't be allowed to use it until he was ready.

"If we work on one letter a day, you can have it in a month - maybe sooner."

He wiped his tears and said, "Okay."

Later that day, I asked him if he wanted a cursive handwriting lesson (because cursive looks nice and it will help him write faster once he masters it) - he did.  I showed him how to form a cursive "a".  He got it looking really nice and I told him we'd move on to the next letter tomorrow.  Little Miss also wanted a cursive writing lesson.  She didn't want to stop with one letter so I showed her two.  She still didn't want to stop, but I told her we'd wait.   I wanted to make sure she was hungry for more (those two have very different personalities!)

Bud got out his old story and decided to keep working on it.  I worried because I knew he would keep practicing his letters wrong, but I couldn't take that away from him (I'm not as harsh as I may have sounded above!)  I was happily surprised to see him being more careful with how he wrote his letters.  He showed me the difference from how he "used to write" and how much nicer he writes now.  What a trooper!

Thank-you all for your "requiring" stories and wisdom!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Require Learning Skills?

I had an interesting thought this morning. I've been mulling it over in my mind and it makes sense to me, but I worry that maybe I'm not seeing the big picture in some way - so I'm going to post about it and if anyone sees something I may be missing, let me know!

First of all, as I have mentioned before, I am fundamentally opposed to requiring children to "learn" - learning in the sense of gaining knowledge. I think it is impossible for someone to make someone else learn. The reason for this is that in order for someone to truly learn something, they must internalize it. A child can have all sorts of dates and names from history memorized, but if they have not learned from the life lessons in history - who cares?  True knowledge must be taken into the heart. In order for a child to gain true knowledge they must choose it.

Secondly, I think it is crucial that I require my children to work. "Working" is outward actions that build inward character. It is the "action" that teaches.  "Learning" is inward ideas that transcend into outward actions. I can require actions, I can not require ideas or knowledge.

In school, we often require actions like writing a paper on a certain subject.  We think this will help the child learn the subject.  If the child is not interested in the subject, they will write the paper for the grade and forget all about the subject because they fail to internalize it.  Often, what happens instead, is that the child thinks that they hate learning, when in fact they hated being made to do something that they did not want to do.  This is why requiring in academics can be so detrimental.  Learning is intrinsically exciting and rewarding - there is no need to force people to do it.

With me so far?  Okay, so here is what I began to wonder about this morning - are there certain skills that I ought to require that will enable my kids to be able to learn.  Acquiring skills is different then acquiring knowledge.  I can "teach" my child to sweep.  The child can "learn" to sweep, but did he acquire new thoughts and ideas?  Not really.  He acquired a skill.  Skills are knowledge, in a sense, but they are not the kind of knowledge that give birth to new ideas.  In housework, they are actions that help us clean.  In academics, they are actions that help us learn.

In other words, skills are outward actions.  Why not require outward actions?  There is a danger that children would equate the skills with the real learning... and therefore think that they dislike to learn - BUT what if you differentiate the two?

What if, for example, I say "For family work today, we will weed the yard, mop the floors and work on a "learning skill".  After family work, it's devotional, lunch time, and then you can have free time to actually learn or play."   Skill-building could be considered "work" and be totally different from "learning".  Just because we have traditionally placed certain skills in the realm of "learning" or "academics" does not mean that they necessarily belong there does it?

What basic skills do I refer to?  Penmanship would be one.  A child must learn to form letters so that they can do the wonderful activity called "Writing" which they might actually choose if they had the skill of forming letters.  Reading words is another skill.  Learning history, math, science, literature, etc. requires reading words.  A child may be very inspired to learn history, but if they don't have the skill of reading - the desire might wain as they have to tackle the skill which has very little do do with the lessons of history.  Basic arithmetic is another skill.  Arithmetic is NOT math and we have to be careful not to call it by that name.  Mathematics are interesting and exiting, but to be able to begin to get to the interesting stuff, we must learn to add, subtract, multiply and divide.

If a child learns those basic skills, they are equipped with the tools that they need to learn whatever their hearts desire.  Grammar and spelling will come as they fall in love with writing (not the skill of penmanship) and want to improve.  The knowledge of science and mathematics will come as they fall in love with nature and the wonder of real math (not the skill of arithmetic) and the stories of those discoveries and they become eager to learn more.   The knowledge of history will come as they read and hear stories from the past, etc.

If you require for a child, who is ready, to learn the skill of penmanship and they complain that they hate writing, couldn't you say, "You don't hate writing - you hate learning the skill of penmanship.  It is hard work, but you'll love writing once you master the skill of penmanship"?  Or if they complain that they hate math, you say "No, you hate learning the skill of arithmetic, but you'll love math - you just can't learn it without this skill".  Reading?  "You hate learning the skill of sounding out words, but you'll love reading once you learn the basic skill of sounding out words."

Of course you would keep these skill-building lessons short and make them as fun and interesting as the subject matter allows, but they do take some work and children will not always choose them until they are mature enough to understand that they need these skills to get to the good stuff.  I guess I just worry that they could be more in love with learning, if the learning of some basic skills wasn't getting in their way.

So, to sum up - require work - skills are work.  Inspire learning.   Am I missing something from the big picture though?  Am I just thinking of a creative way to require when I ought to be inspiring?  What do you think?

*Added later:  I decided not to require, but to use incentives - click here for details.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Life is Too Hard

I have always considered myself to be a pretty tough gal.  I was in Kung Fu for four years and I would come home with bruises on my arms the size of golf balls, I was quite proud of them.  I used to go backpacking in the mountains without a set destination, sometimes without a tent.  We once slept in a cave because it started to rain on us and we could hear the bats flying over our heads.  Pretty tough right? I rock climbed often, I went sky diving.  I biked in the rough mountains for 100 miles over three days on a cheap bike with no shocks.  I once trained for a half marathon through the cold Baltimore winter months.  And to top it all off, I've had 3 of my children without an epidural.

Yes, I thought I was pretty cool and rather tough.  Then I went on a pioneer trek and realized I was a pansie.

Preparing for it was hard because I had to sew and cook.

I sewed on a nice electric sewing machine.  I cooked on a stove which works when you turn a nob.

Getting there was a little hard because it was a 5 hour drive

 - in an air conditioned van with soft seats, and music at the touch of a button.

Many of the handcart pioneers came from Europe.  They travelled on a boat, shared small bunks, many were sea sick, some gave birth.  Then they travelled in immigrant cars (freight cars), steam boats, more trains until they could finally start their handcart journey.

I thought that loading the handcart was hard (even though Rock did most of it while I got the kids ready)  because it was windy and cold and we had to figure out how to fit everything in that we would need for 2 days.

The pioneers had to pack for 4-5 months, many had to make their own handcarts.  Several were widows.  We got to take a cooler.  They took sacks of flour.
On our first day, there was a severe weather alert because of the high winds.  We were getting dirt in our eyes as we trekked our three miles.  We had to shout to each other in order to hear one another.   Our baby was tired, but he was having a hard time sleeping with all that wind.  I wrapped him on me and covered him up as best as I could, but was it was hard keeping him away from the wind.  He did eventually fall asleep in the wrap.

Poor us.

Then I remembered that the Martin and Willie handcart companies would have been grateful for such great weather.  When they got to Wyoming, they were in subzero temperatures with inadequate clothing, often walking barefoot in the snow.
We got to go square dancing that night - it was great fun, but we almost didn't go because we were pretty tired.  We had walked three miles in the wind.  The handcart pioneers walked 10-15 miles almost every day.
The nights were the hardest of all.  The wind was blowing and it was hard to sleep with the noise.  Baby Ray kept waking up.  He had a bit of diaper rash from being in the carrier all day and I felt bad for him.

I had never put much thought to how the pioneers spent their nights.  I guess I assumed that they were all so exhausted that they could have slept through anything.  I didn't think about the fact that babies were still up at night (they weren't the ones walking) and that those babies weren't just crying over wind and a little rash.  They were hungry, cold and sometimes sick.

On the second day we pulled our handcarts 2 miles to Martin's Cove.  We learned about some of the hardships endured in that place - the cold river crossings, the extreme cold, the snow, the wind blowing tents down, the lack of food.  We were glad to hear that at this point the rescue companies for them started to arrive.

We walked a loop around Martin's cove (2.2 miles).  The kids and I started to get tired and hungry towards the end of this.  Spice's feet hurt, Bazinks was "tired of walking", we were starting to get hungry.  The kids asked how much longer, and I told them we would be walking 2 more miles to camp after we reached our handcart.  I thought about how fortunate we were that a big lunch was awaiting us at our handcart.  We were about done with the Martin's Cove loop and we saw a sign that said that when the handcart pioneers where rescued, many of them still had to walk since there was not enough room in the wagons except for the most destitute.  There was still 18" of snow to trek through.  They still had 350 miles to go.  Feeling as tired as we felt with only two miles to go, in nice weather - the kids and I gaped and marveled.

Besides the windy nights, the next most annoying thing were the mosquitos.  It was annoying trying to keep them off of me and off my baby.  They were biting me through my shirt.  I thought of the pioneers again and was again reminded of how trivial the things that annoy me are.  I wasn't suffering through frostbite or sickness and neither were my children.  Everyone in my family was alive, healthy and happy and I was whining about mosquitos.

By the second night, if our van hadn't been three miles away and I too tired to hike to it, I wouldn't have spent another night in that tent.  We would have packed things up.  I just felt too tired to spend another sleepless night there and I was feeling bad for our baby whom I knew would prefer a nice quiet crib.  I had spent one night out there -  in nice weather, with good food, and healthy and happy company... and I was ready to call it quits.  How is that for wimpy?   Nevertheless, we stayed.  The wind was harsh again that night, but Rock got up and took the cover off the tent because it was about to collapse on us.  That helped a lot.  It was a little cooler with the wind blowing into the tent, but much quieter and we slept much better that night.
We also had some great conversations, good food, inspiring firesides, fun activities and beautiful scenery with interesting discoveries.  I only mentioned the difficulties to illustrate the point that I am a wimp.  I think we, as a society, are pretty wimpy.  We are told to wear only one pair of earrings and it's so hard.  We are told to dress modestly and it's so hard.  We are told to really study the scriptures and it's so hard.  We are told to pray fervently, to have reverence, to keep the Sabbath day holy, to watch wholesome things, to listen to uplifting music, to use our time wisely and we complain,  "It's too hard,"  "Lighten up!" "We don't have to take things so seriously, we don't have to try so hard, it's all good, have some fun!"
Do we realize what kind of devotion and faith is needed in order to become what we are meant to become?  Do we understand the sacrifice needed to prepare ourselves for eternal families?  Do we comprehend the extent of the charity we must develop to truly be able to gaze into our Savior face in love?  Will we be able to hear him say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant"?
I need to rise up and live up to the light that is before me.  How can I ever expect to be worthy to stand by the side of those devoted mothers, who buried husbands and babies, comforted hungry children, gazed at those freezing rives and then stepped in to make their way to Zion.  Can I look them in the eye and tell them that I lived up to the legacy they left?  Can I tell them that I have tried my best to build up the Zion that they worked so hard to establish?

I hope I can remember, when even simple things seem too hard and I think I am too tired, the words of Francis Webster, a member of the Martin handcart company.  When hearing criticism about the mistake of allowing the handcart companies to start so late in the season, he stood up and said,
"I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. A mistake to send the handcart company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company and my wife was in it and Sister Nellie Unthank whom you have cited was there too. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? Not one of that company ever apostatized or left the Church because every one of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities." -quoted by Gordon B. Hinckley in Our Mission of Saving (you should read the article by the way - it's so worth your time!)
Some more pictures from our trek:
Walking against the wind:

Waiting for orientation:

Treking the first day:

Sunglasses kept dirt out of eyes

Getting ready to do a "Women's Pull"
(women had to pull a handcart up a hill with no men
to help.  It was a bit emotional as we helped one
another and thought of the many women that did
trek the plains alone):

Square  dancing the first night: 
We made a giant circle and some of the little kids
made a small circle in the middle:
Walking back to camp:

Playing in the tent:

Martin's Cove:
Listening to stories about Martin's cove:

At the top of the Martin's Cove loop:
Playing at lunch time:

Bud was reading The Fellowship of the Ring as he
watched the seagulls.  He named the seagulls, according
to their different characteristics: Bilbo, Frodo, Pippin, Sam, etc.
Several other kids caught on and were calling the seagulls
by these names as well.

Bud found a dead rattlesnake.  He was sad that we
wouldn't let him take it home.

A family picture before we left the campsite

Leaving the campsite on the last day to trek 3 miles to the car:

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Is Our Stuff Weighing us Down?

Our family went on a handcart trek this weekend. Remember how I mentioned that I was busy last week? That is because I put all the preparations off until the last minute. I had so many great ideas in my head about how we would prepare for it, but most of them were put off and then suddenly I had to be ready. I was busy sewing aprons, bonnets, altering suspenders, finding long skirts and long-sleeved shirts, cooking meals so that I could freeze them and quickly warm them up after treking, packing, buying camping essentials, etc. It was a bit of a crazy week. Thankfully, I got everything done (if not all cleaned up) and we made it to Wyoming with all our needed supplies (or at least most).
It was quite an experience, and I'll share some of the lessons here, but for this post (which needs to be a short one as I don't have much time), I'll share just one.

Ten people were assigned one handcart. Everything we needed for the 3 day experience needed to fit in the handcart. So sleeping bags, tents, clothes, and food pretty much took up all of it. It was hard trying to figure out how to fit it all in. I pondered how the early pioneers had to fit everything they needed in there for a 4 month excursion. I was amazed.
Something Penny (the woman in charge) mentioned at the orientation meeting when we arrived was that she hoped the experience would help us ponder how much stuff we have in our handcarts in life. How many things weigh us down?  For the trek, whatever we put in our handcarts, we had to pull through rough terrain and hills to get to our destination.
I got to thinking how, similarly, this life is a journey. Our destination is purity, joy, peace, family, God. We must pull some stuff with us in this journey. However, how much extra baggage do we pile in our handcart? How much stuff are we trying to pull along? How many stops do we have to make to rearrange our stuff so it will fit? Do we keep piling it higher and higher so that our progress is slow and we have to dig through it to get what we need? We'll never make it at that rate.
The pioneers were trying to get to Zion. They showed us the sacrifices that needed to be made in order to establish such a place. We don't have to physically go anywhere to reach our destination. Our destination is within us. As we purify ourselves and learn to keep our focus on our Savior - we will find it.  It is within our grasp.
"Therefore, verily, thus saith the Lord, let Zion rejoice, for this is Zion—THE PURE IN HEART; therefore, let Zion rejoice..." -D&C 97:21
Purity, joy, peace, family, God - the destination. Our Savior died and placed it all within our grasp. We just have to reach out and take it, but sometimes we are too busy re-arranging our monstrous "handcarts" to be able to notice.
How much of my stuff is weighing me down? This handcart trek gave me more motivation to do those things that truly matter (scripture study, prayer) and to give our house and our lives another run through and rid ourselves of more weight. My friend, Lara, shared this picture on her blog of a Florida couple with all of their belongings in their front yard. I think I might print it out and put it on my wall to look at as I clear away more weight. One of her readers linked an excellent little article as well that I enjoyed reading.

I promised, when I got baptized, to remember my Savior always.  This means taking the time to do those things which keep Him in my mind.  It also means getting rid of the stuff that blocks Him from my view.  How easy I am enticed with things of no value!  How easy it is weigh myself down.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Closet and Headgates

I wasn't going to blog this week since I have so much to get ready for this weekend, but since I don't want to start it all this morning, I decided that writing a quick post would be a nice way to procrastinate :-)

I attended a class at the TJED forum entitled "Ingredient #20 - The Closet".  The class was about making sure you have a great closet full of inspirational things for your children.  (The closet is referred to in the Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning book).  This is essentially what it says:

Materials must be close at hand, as Montessori taught.  They must be ordered adequate, safe for children, and in the same room where the family sits to study together.  Ideally, a closet in the family room copies the organizational style of the bookshelf:  Core materials on the bottom (toys), Love of Learning in the Middle range(dress ups, paper, rules, craft materials, etc) and Scholar Phase items above (Monopoly, Clash Flow, math and geography cards, etc).

The closet class taught about the importance of creating this "magical" environment for the children.  Mary Ann Johnson is The Closet Coach and she helps people find the best things to put in their closets.  I liked what she had to say and I recognized she was teaching true principles.

However, at first glance, it seems like the principles don't necessary go hand-in-hand with Headgates.  Some of the specific suggestions don't (having kits, a lot of craft materials, etc), but the principles certainly do.  The true principles are what makes the concept so powerful!

What I noticed that I was doing, as I thought some more about this, was using the principles she uses for creating a magical environment in a closet and applying them to my entire house.  Here are Mary Ann Johnson's closet's rules of engagement:

1. Consistent Structured Time

We must make sure our education time is sacred and that we do not let other things interfere with it.  You only allow the closet to be opened during a specific time.  After or before that, it is off limits and all things must go back in it.  Mary Ann mentioned that kids liken it to Christmas everyday because it is something that they look forward to at a certain time.

In our home, we also have consistent structured time.  I try really hard not to run errands or do anything that interferes with it.  We call this time "free time".  No books, toys, board games, instruments, etc.  are allowed until free time.  We all look forward to it everyday and I have seen that the children now see play, learning and studying as a privilege and not as something they have to do.

2. Be Present

Mary Ann mentions that it is tempting to open the closet and let the kids go at it while you go get things done.  She says it's important to be in their same room, answering questions, but not micromanaging.  You could even be reading your own book.

In our home, I'm trying to model the behavior that I want the kids to be engaged in during free time.  It is tempting to get on the computer.  Even though I don't ever play games or waste my time on the computer (when I do get on it, it's to read and learn or write) my kids don't see it that way.  So, during free time, I practice an instrument, read, write in a notebook (maybe to type it out later) or go outdoors with them.  This way we are in the same room (unless the younger kids have gone downstairs to the play room).  I don't like the toys in the family room because they are distracting to the children who are trying to read so we keep the toys in the toy room.

3.  Keep the Closet Locked

She says you don't necessarily need a lock, but it should only be available at certain times.

I talked about how this works in our home in #1 above.

4.  Add and Remove items

Mary Ann talks about the importance of taking items away that they rarely use and putting items in that you want them to be interested in.  She talks about the importance of not having too many things in there.  Few things make a more inviting environment.

In our home, we have been getting rid of a lot.  The fewer toys they have, the more their imaginations are engaged and the play room is an engaging place to be.  I have a hard time narrowing down books, but too many books can also be overwhelming.  I try to use cuddle time as a time to introduce them to a few books.  I do need to get rid of more books though.  It's important to go through the house and do a six month purge.  Right now, we are doing a monthly purge until we have things more under control.  We're getting there, but we still have too much.

In regards to adding items, sometimes I'll see the need to add something else to our home.  Right now, I want to buy binoculars so we can study nature a little better.  I also want a Wildflower book with local flowers.

5. Weekly planning

She talks about the importance of planning the content of your closet on a weekly basis so it is fresh and exiting.

 I have tried to do a similar thing in our home (see our Master Inspire Plan).  There are things I want to explore with the children on a weekly basis so we can all be inspired to be curious and want to learn more.  This one is hard sometimes, but I realize it's important and I am improving.


So you see, I love the closet principles.  I love them so much, I am applying them to our whole house.  Why limit it to a small space?  It's been fun to making our home this "magical space".

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Woes of Going Outdoors

When through the woods
And forest glades I wander
I hear the birds
Sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down
From lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook
And feel the gentle breeze;
Then sings my soul,
My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art!
How great Thou art!
-Carl Boberg and Stuart K. Hine
It is not easy to get out of the house and go be in nature! Don't get me wrong, I love being outdoors. Before I had children, I was out hiking, climbing, cross-country skiing, biking, and camping in the mountains as much as was possible. I never stopped to question why I loved being out there so much, but I could have told you that I loved the calmness and beauty of being in nature.

Now that I have five little children, it is not as easy to just hop on a bike and go to the mountains. In fact, I haven't touched my bike in a few years! I do try to take them on hikes every so often and we like to go camping on occasion, but until recently I didn't realize how crucial it is for us to be outside quite often.
It would be well if we all persons in authority, parents and all who act for parents, could make up our minds that there is no sort of knowledge to be got in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves of the world they live in. Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things." -Charlotte Mason
Charlotte Mason's Original Home Schooling Series is quickly finding a place towards the top of my list of the best parenting books. It's one of those books that I can't be in the same room with people as I read it because I keep interrupting them to quote passage after passage.  It's all so good.  Charlotte has helped me decide to make the effort to get outdoors a lot more. So I'm mad at her. I was all good with raising my children to be bookworms (who could socialize with others and use that knowledge for good, of course), but now it turns out that they need to be naturalists as well!

What really struck me about what she said was that we get are used to getting our knowledge "second hand."  Someone digests it for us and we read their words.  For young chidren this is dry and boring and a waste of time because they don't care enough to retain it.  She used the term "scraps of knowlege":
"This horse-in-a-mill round of geography and French, history and sums, was no more than playing at education; for who remembers the scraps of knowledge he laboured over as a child? and would not the application of a few hours in later life effect more than a year's drudgery at any one subject in childhood? If education is to secure the step-by-step progress of the individual and the race, it must mean something over and above the daily plodding at small tasks which goes by the name."
This is the umbrella that Bazinks found and was willing
 to share with his sister when it started to rain.

Do you ever think about all of the time you wasted learning stuff as a child that you didn't care about and forgot as soon as the quiz on it was over?  I really think that all of the math I learned from 1st to 12th grade in school, I could have learned in 3-6 months of real study as a young adult or older teenager.  Think of all the wasted time!  So what do children really need?  Well, you'll have to read another long quote fro Charlotte to find out because I can't say things as well as she does. I thought about cutting more parts out of the quote so that it wouldn't be so long, but I couldn't do it, so just trust me, it is worth reading (as is the rest of her stuff):
"A great deal has been said lately about the danger of overpressure, of requiring too much mental work from a child of tender years. The danger exists; but lies, not in giving the child too much, but in giving him the wrong thing to do, the sort of work for which the present state of his mental development does not fit him. Who expects a boy in petticoats to lift half a hundredweight? But give the child work that Nature intended for him, and the quantity he can get through with ease is practically unlimited. Whoever saw a child tired of seeing, of examining in his own way, unfamiliar things? This is the sort of mental nourishment for which he has an unbounded appetite, because it is that food of the mind on which, for the present, he is meant to grow.

"We older people, partly because of our maturer intellect, partly because of our defective education, get most of our knowledge through the medium of words. We set the child to learn in the same way, and find him dull and slow. Why? Because it is only with a few words in common use that he associates a definite meaning; all the rest are no more to him than the vocables of a foreign tongue. But set him face to face with a thing, and he is twenty times as quick as you are in knowledge about it; knowledge of things flies to the mind of a child as steel filings to magnet. And, pari passu with his knowledge of things, his vocabulary grows; for it is a law of the mind that what we know, we struggle to express. This fact accounts for many of the apparently aimless questions of children; they are in quest, not of knowledge, but of words to express the knowledge they have. Now, consider what a culpable waste of intellectual energy it is to shut up a child, blessed with this inordinate capacity for seeing and knowing, within the four walls of a house, or the dreary streets of a town. Or suppose that he is let run loose in the country where there is plenty to see...

"The child who does not know the portly form and spotted breast of the thrush, the graceful flight of the swallow, the yellow bill of the blackbird, the gush of song which the skylark pours from above, is nearly as much to be pitied as those London children who 'had never seen a bee.' A pleasant acquaintance, easy to pick up, is the hairy caterpillar. The moment to seize him is when he is seen shuffling along the ground in a great hurry; he is on the look-out for quiet quarters in which to lie up: put him in a box, then, and cover the box with net, through which you may watch his operations. Food does not matter––he has other things to attend to. By-and-by he spins a sort of white tent or hammock, into which he retires; you may see through it and watch him, perhaps at the very moment when his skin splits asunder, leaving him, for months to come, an egg-shaped mass without any sign of life. At last the living thing within breaks out of this bundle, and there it is, the handsome tiger-moth, fluttering feeble wings against the net. Most children of six have had this taste of a naturalist's experience, and it is worth speaking of only because, instead of being merely a harmless amusement, it is a valuable piece of education, of more use to the child than the reading of a whole book of natural history, or much geography and Latin. For the evil is, that children get their knowledge of natural history, like all their knowledge, at second hand. They are so sated with wonders, that nothing surprises them; and they are so little used to see for themselves, that nothing interests them. The cure for this blasé condition is, to let them alone for a bit, and then begin on new lines. Poor children, it is no fault of theirs if they are not as they were meant to be––curious eager little souls, all agog to explore so much of this wonderful world as they can get at, as quite their first business in life."
Do you see my dilemma? I'm now supposed to find time to make sure that they are out in nature often AND I want to make sure they have adequate time to read great books. I also know how important it is for them to continue working in the mornings. It might not be so bad to go outdoors if we could manage to get in the car in a decent amount of time.

Here is how our day went last Thursday:
"Let's hurry and get our work done so we can go be in nature!"
We worked, and we were done at 12pm.  Not as fast as I would have liked, but pretty reasonable, so I tell the kids that as soon as baby wakes up, we can go.  So we eat lunch, baby wakes up, we clean up from lunch, a load of laundry I had forgotten is in the wash so I put it in the dryer.  Everyone does their going out lists.  A lot of playing takes place as the list gets done.  Laundy is done, I decide to fold it.  The kids are "ready", we put the piles of laundry away.  Someone can't find their water bottle, someone else needs help with his shoes (even though he can do it on his own), finally at 2:30 - we are in the car.   I think about not going because we took so long and I didn't practice piano and I didn't get everything done I wanted to finish that morning and it looks like it will rain soon.  However, we are in the car so we go somewhere close.

We arrive at a beautiful place.  Wildflowers are everywhere.  You can smell the lavender.  Spice points out a beautiful purple flower and goes back to the car to get the wildflower book so she can know it's name.  We find a little stream.  Bud makes a "whirlpool" with rocks.  Bazinks and Little Miss find some pretty rocks.  Ray is mesmerized with the colors.  I find a flower I want to try to draw.

I suddenly realize, all of the rushing and things left to do are forgotten and I feel whole.   I am living in the moment and loving it.  There is something about being in the middle of the beauty that God created for us that puts us in touch with His spirit and His joy.  That is what I've been trying to teach my children to look for.  That is what I have been focusing on in our home - surrounding ourselves with real beauty, real truth so that it becomes part of us and we no longer care for the fake, artificial stuff.  It's developing a spiritual sensitivity that you can't get when you are in the "thick of thin things".  It's a real education.

No doubt I'll be taking my kids out in nature much more often!  Maybe with some practice we'll be able to get out the door in a more timely manner...
"And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me."- Moses 6:63

Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart;Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul." -D&C 59:18-19

Here are some more of our late "outdoor" adventures:

Rock did his first "century" ride on Saturday. It is a 100 mile bike ride. He did it in awful wind - and rain. It felt like January instead of June. I was so impressed that he kept at it despite the harsh conditions. Several members of his family participated in the "Tour de Cure". I was impressed with them all. I was ready to call it quits after the first 30 minutes of waiting at the finish line (we got there around the time we estimated he would finish, but with the terrible conditions, it took him a bit longer) and they were out there for 8 hours! Very impressive. Way to go hun!!

We went to a water park on Wednesday. It doesn't really count as being in nature, but we did get lots of sunshine and fresh air!

Spice and Bud liked going down the water slides.
Bazinks and Little Miss liked them as long as Rock
or I went down with them.  Since one of us also had
to take care of the baby, we had to take turns going
on slides while the other went to the kiddie pool.

Ray doesn't love water.  He screams when we try
to give him baths.  He wasn't exactly in his element
at the waterpark, but he was extremely cuddly.
I went on a waterslide with the older kids and when
I got back, I found Ray sleeping on his dad in the wave 
pool.  It was so precious that I had to snap a picture:

I did try going down one long slide on the tube with Ray
 on my lap.  He moaned a reluctant cry all the way down
so we decided that was probably enough torture for the little guy.  

We'll be going on another adventure this weekend.  I might not have time to blog this week as I get ready for it.  I, of course, despite my good intentions, have put it off until the last minute.  I'll let you know how it goes!