Sunday, March 29, 2015

Principle that Revolutionized How I Teach

I don't have enough time in my day to teach my kids all of the really important things I want them to know (not to mention all the other nice things I want them to know). So I am always playing with different ways about where to fit things in, how to teach them, and reconsidering the why.

I have pondered on what I want my kids to know by the time they leave my home to face the world.
I want them to:
1) Know what truth (hearing God's voice) feels like in their hearts and minds (having an uplifting home environment, inspiring music, inspiring stories, scripture study)
2) Have a desire to seek that truth to lift themselves, families, and all of humanity (flows from knowing what truth feels like and testing it in their lives)
3) Know how to seek it and how to solve the problems they encounter. I want them to know what tools are available and how to fine-tune those tools (personal revelation; words of the prophets; experience; the experience of others through books, research or discussion; mathematics; science) and to diligently use them.
4)  Be able to communicate that truth in a way that changes/inspires hearts (language arts, art, music, drama, speech or other skills that they feel drawn to developing)

In a previous post, I talked about The Habit that Changes Everything  (I am loving what is happening to my home as I have been applying this habit, btw) I am noticing that a principle that I learned as I studied habits is permeating a lot of other aspects of my life in how I can best teach my kids these important things.

William James said that a habit becomes ingrained into our being through either diligent repetition or through intense experience with it. He was referring to the pathways we are forming in our brain. Repetition carves out these pathways in time. Intensity carves them out more quickly. Then our thoughts follow the pathways we have carved out so that they become automatic and we are free to think of higher things (or the next line in our line-upon-line tutoring).

I realized this really applies to everything we learn - if we diligently seek and have the intense experience of discovery - we understand and retain the things we learn. We can also learn it through a lot of repetition, but it just takes more time and the learning tends to be superficial (just the "how's and not the "why's")

Since time is a precious commodity to me, I have been searching for ways to help my kids diligently seek and discover in their education.  Instead of lecturing about the same thing over and over until they get it, I like to ask questions such as, "What does that quote teach us?" "Why is that action so important?" "What can we learn about our nature (or human nature) from that experience or story?" "What principle does that scripture teach?" "How can we better live because of this?"

Questions help them learn to seek. And questions about their answers help them seek more deeply. And deep thought and connections create ah-has and enlightening experiences that ingrain truth deep in their hearts and minds.

I have been doing this kind of teaching for a while with seeking and finding principles, but I am just leaning that it can apply to the learning of important skills as well.

I am taking a class right now about teaching math. She is teaching us that if a child "discovers" a mathematical truth, that it will become part of them and they won't forget it.  Usually we teach math by repetition. This works too (at least for knowing how to do things) - I still remember how to do some algebra even though I rarely use it because I did so much of it. I don't exactly know why I do the things I do when I solve an algebra problem, but I do still know how to do it (after a little review). Repetition takes a of time though, and it is not really accomplishing the higher goal of studying mathematics (thinking how creatively problem solve).

It makes sense that we teach through repetition in a classroom with a lot of children. Enough repetition will ensure that pretty much everyone will learn a concept. Teaching a child to discover truth for themselves takes more one-on-one questioning and intense thought. We just can't ensure this happens with 30 kids and only one teacher (unless she is a super-teacher like my mom)

However, when we have our kids home after school (of if we homeschool), we have the opportunity to teach them how to think and to have these exciting learning experiences. Instead of lecturing or telling them how to do things all of the time, we encourage them to figure things out - to solve their own problems - logically, through past experience, by looking at the experience of others, revelation, reason, applying the principles they know and by teaching them to find new and true principles in all they do.

Spice has a teacher right now that sometimes teaches things she doesn't always agree with. When we were driving on Thursday morning she said to me, "I realize that some of the things he says are his opinion and not necessarily true principles that apply to everyone, but that is okay, it is interesting to hear his opinion about different things." I was glad she was able to differentiate the difference between opinion and principle!

So right now, with math, I ask a lot of questions and we discover the "why" together and we write down and modify our discoveries after we test them (it helps that MathInspirations has a class and is developing a curriculum to better help me do this with my limited math knowledge!) I'm sure I could have discovered the principles myself in time, but finding where to look and how to go about it would have taken so much time because my math education was so shallow, so I am very grateful that Emily Dyke has done much of the work for me to point me in the right direction of discovery.

This is fun with math because it is so pure, but it has been good to apply it even with man-made language arts rules -  we look at passages and figure out grammar/spelling/punctuation rules and write then down. I tell the kids to bring a book they're reading or we'll look at a poem or scripture we are memorizing, and I ask, "so what are the quotation marks for?" Or, "Why did they use the commas in that paragraph?" And we write down quotation mark rules or comma rules as we discover them (It helps that I have Strunk and White's Writing Book and Words their Way Spelling books since I don't know all of the rules myself!) I'm sure any spelling book or grammar book with that lists the rules would work just as well. I'm sure I could hand them Strunk and White's book and tell them to read it, but they would have to read it an awful lot of times to remember the rules. When they make the effort to discover them themselves - they actually remember what they learned!

I find myself teaching this way in most of my teaching experiences now. I substituted in my church's Relief Society class the other day and I came prepared with quotes and questions about the quotes. I hardly had to say anything. The questions inspired thought and they had a great discussion about the principles they had learned about repentance and changing their hearts. I am sure they learned a lot more then if I had stood there and told them what I had learned.

What are your experiences with intensity vs repetition? Do you have any good resources that help children learn how to discover?

*For image credit, click on the images

I love reading in the Bible about the questions the Savior asked. Here is an example:

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Beautiful Moments of the Week

I was running early on Friday morning. It was still dark outside and the wind was blowing in the crisp air from the nearby canyon. I was listening to my "Josh Groban" Pandora radio station and a beautiful rendition of the song "Amazing Grace" was playing. The song got me thinking about the incredible gift of "starting anew" and being clean even with all my wretched weaknesses. Just then, I looked up and saw an American flag that was blowing in the wind. I was filled with gratitude for the having the freedom to act on what I knew to be right and for those men who sacrificed everything for that freedom. When I passed the flag, I noticed the myriad of stars shining in the morning sky and I thought of the worlds without number that have been created and of the beauty of the one in which I lived.

At that moment, while my heart was filled with gratitude, the Spirit filled me with the assueance that even amongst these countless worlds - the Creator of them all was aware of me - at that very moment - and cared about my cares. He wanted me to know He loved me and was there to help me. He made that world and beauty for me to learn to seek Him while I was away.

As I then rounded a corner on my run, I had view to the left of some city lights below me. I could see many lighted windows looking so still in the moonlight, and some headlights moving to and fro on the roads. It struck me that the glimmering starts above were ever present, gazing down at these lights below. Some of the earthly lights were busy - moving from place to place, but some seemed still as if gazing to Heaven and reaching towards from where they came. I could almost see them reaching their hands, like in Michelangelo's painting, toward God as He reached back to touch them.

(until I uploaded this picture, I hadn't realized how fervently God is reaching for Adam and how Adam seems to be considering if he should reach for God)
Even though I was running at that time, I felt like my soul was still... and reaching. So I felt God's love in return. Many times in my day, I get busy with the cares of life, like the busy headlights I saw below. But it struck me that, like the stars, God's light is constantly reaching anyway, waiting for me to be still again and look up so He can let me know He cares.

I have been trying to be more aware of the moments of beauty around me and am filled with love and awe more often in my day. Beauty takes me outside of myself and puts me in touch with God's reaching arm.

Here are some of the beautiful moments of my week:

We love this duck pond. It is in the city, but we have seen a baby deer, a moose and plenty of other wildlife here!

Throwing leaves down the stream
Studious girls!

Showing baby sister the ducks
Someone was walking their dog and stopped by to look at our family playing. At that moment, Bud asked if I wanted him to push James (who wanted to swing) and Bazinks offered to take Lady Bug down a slide. Suddenly, seeing this every-day moment from the watcher's perspective, I realized how much my kids help one another and how grateful I am for the chance they have to be home and practice doing it.
Reading Alcott's "An Old Fashioned Girl" while sitting by the tree. The scene screamed "wholesomeness" to me

Always a little daredevil

These were at a different duck pond while we waited during a piano lesson (Bud and Little Miss started piano lessons again this week)

Lady bug liked to chase the ducks.

Spice was busy studying again, but her brothers soon found a fish that was struggling to free itself from some plastic netting. Being the animal lover that she is, she tied to help them free it by attempting to cut the net with some sticks, my keys, and then by searching the car and miraculously finding some scissors to let it free.

Another studious girl!
Little Miss did a preschool lesson with the little boys about the platypus, she read them a book about the platypus, had them color one in, and for their snack she made "crab apples" (since the platypus eats shell fish.)
Celebrating the Pie Day of the century on 3-14-15 9:26:53 am!
Some of the youth from my Great Books Class "contemplating beauty" at an art museum on Friday. The girl in the blue dress came straight from a play practice, she doesn't always dress like a pioneer (just had to clear that up for those who already think strangely about us "homeschoolers" ;-) )
The joy of shopping at Harmon's!

She loves playing with baby dolls now and singing them "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star."


 I didn't get any pictures, but I did take the four oldest to Rob Gardner's "Lamb of God" on Friday night. They all enjoyed it and we were all inspired. Definitely one of the beautiful experiences of the week! This is Little Miss's favorite song from the concert in a touching video:

I hope you all have beauty-full moments this week!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Nurturing the Inner Artist

Pictures on post from our beautiful trip to Goblin Valley and Moab last month
(They don't necessarily correspond to what I am saying in the post - except for the beauty, so don't read into them too much)
Have you ever seen this video?
I heard about it from Natalie Hunsaker who gave a presentation about " How Parents Can (and Must) Nurture Creative, Artistic Children in the Home School." I have some very creative children, as I'm sure you do (if you have children) so I thought this would be a worthwhile presentation to go to. It was. It opened my eyes.
(If you take time to watch the movie, let me know your thoughts! It does have some nude paintings so use caution if children are around).

Before going to this presentation, I had been learning about beauty. My kids seem drawn to creating inspiring things (Spice draws and writes poetry; Bud composes music; Little Miss paints, crochets, and makes crafts for her little brothers) so I thought I better learn a little more about "beauty" if I wanted to nurture this desire in them.

I had read a few articles:
On Beauty by Sir Francis Bacon 
Interest and Beauty in Works of Art  by Author Schopenhauer (highly recommended) and
The Contemplation of Beauty: An Avenue to... by Hans-Wilhelm Kelling. (also highly recommended)

I learned that beauty:
  • Is "genius" shining through ("genius" like the ancients meant it - God working through you).

  • Holds us a clear mirror to true ideas
  • Something in which an idea is revealed or clearly expressed
  • Getting outside your own desires and seeing things as they are
  • Is a communication channel with God
  • Uplifts and endures
  • Is Godlike and unchanging
  • Transports us to God's presence
  • Gives an awareness of His majesty

  • Helps us feel the warmth of His love
  • The true end of every art!

After the presentation and watching the video above, I learned that this is how beauty used to be seen. Our world seems to want to define beauty in a more superficial way: something that is nice to look at and it's beauty depends on what the person looking at it thinks. Just like we are in an age of moral relativism (truth is not absolute, but it depends on your perspective), we are in an age of beauty relativism (beauty is whatever someone says it is).

If you were to ask someone what art is for in our culture, I don't think most people would say, "beauty." Especially not if they have been to some of the modern art exhibits. We have become so self-centered in our view of the world that art is for "expressing ourselves", showing our originality, seeing if we can make something interesting or unique - not for sharing our glimpses of true beauty.

So I am glad my kids have a desire to create beautiful things. Beauty is a dire need in the world today. I love how the video describes the modern art movement as an emperor without clothes. Most of us see the new art of nonsense and think it is ugly or random, but we don't want to look uneducated so we find something we like about it. I think there is probably something beautiful in everything we look at, but if we have to dig so deep to find it - then it's not good art! 

 I think the most important thing I learned about beauty is that it takes us out of our selfish thoughts and puts us in communication with divinity. We have all experienced this sudden awareness of a bigger picture, this peace outside of time. I realized that much we read, listen to and watch is "interesting" to our curiosity and will, but if we will stop to read a classic work, regard a well-crafted work of art, contemplate poetry, observe the wonders of nature, consider the divinity in the people around us - our minds will be awakened. Our view will expand, we will feel our Spirits enlarge their capacity to see even more beauty. We will be drawn to seek more beautiful things. This is what I want for my children.

I think this was my favorite picture shown on the video above
Not to say interesting things are bad - they are only bad if they get in the way of our desire for beauty. If we are reading a classic work and we get frustrated with the lengthy descriptions of something beautiful - interest is in the way. Or if we are so into a book that we can't put it down to enjoy our children, interest is interfering with beauty. Schopenhauer explains that beauty is the pearls, and interest is the string on a pearl necklace.  Or the beauty is the form, and interest is the matter that makes the form visible. My kids have different interests. I hope they will use them to make the form of truth visible to others.

After this study, I have been listening to and looking for the beauty in classical music more often, I have tried to study beautiful writing each day. I have tried to contemplate the beauty in my family members and friends. I get so busy sometimes that I forget that God is always speaking to me through the beauty with which I am surrounded. I don't want to miss it.