Living Stones Academy

Educating by atmosphere, discipline, and life

Our Education System: The Narcissistic Parent of Our Nation’s Children

People are too apt to use children as counters in a game, to be moved hither and thither according to the whim of the moment. Our crying need today is less for a better method of education than for an adequate perception of children–children, merely as human beings, whether brilliant or dull, precocious or backwards. . . .All action comes out of the ideas we hold and if we ponder duly upon personality we shall come to perceive that we cannot commit a greater offense than to maim or crush, or subvert any part of the person.

A Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason, Chapter 5, “The Sacredness of Personality”

It’s as I read these words during a recent bout of insomnia that the real heart of the problem of all the educational “reforms” of the past 20+ years came home to me. Somewhere I knew it was part of it, but these words made it so clear. If it’s not clear to you, I’ll unpack it.  It was, after all, written in 1922. Yet when she says “today”, I see no reason not to actually apply it today. The more I read Charlotte’s writings, the more I am equally encouraged and disturbed. Encouraged because, over and over again, she talks about problems in children and the schools and homes that we are currently dealing with. This causes me to believe she might have ideas to help. But it disturbs me that, in 100 years, we haven’t gotten any better.

When she says “brilliant or dull”, I hope it’s clear, by her use of contrast, that she doesn’t mean “dull” in personality. Instead it means someone who may not be as quick to learn as the child next to her. “Precocious or backwards” means outgoing and easily sociable vs not at ease in social settings. I feel these are the two main phrases that need explaining. If you need further unpacking, I suggest you read the modern paraphrase available at this link.

But this is what is wrong with everything our nation has tried to do with our schools for far too long. Even, apparently, in Charlotte’s day (she died in 1923). I’ll get to the point: everything that has been tried, has been tried with the benefit of the nation and it’s pride in mind, NOT the welfare or well-being of the child.

I’ll let you be offended or blown away by that for moment before I explain.

Whether it’s the so called No Child Left Behind, or pushing of test scores, or STEM over liberal arts, or Common Core . . .none of it, NONE OF IT, has been approached or executed with true, actual, real concern for the personhood of the child in mind. All the talk we hear proves it. How do we stack up against the rest of the world? How are competing on the world stage? These are the only things that matter. And if we don’t think that children aren’t getting the message–that they are merely pawns in the grown up game of world chess–then that is more proof we don’t care about them. We (and I do not for a second include myself, but I will say “we” to include all of society) take away their lunches and recesses and band and drama, and cram more sawdust like material down their throat, demanding they step up and choke it down, then regurgitate it as so much sick when asked. None of that is for their ultimate and final good, but to make us look good compared to everyone else.

Before I go any further, I will concede that homeschooling families are not exempt from this criticism. How often have they used test scores and stories of graduating top of college classes as convincing arguments for homeschooling? Now, perhaps they use it only to speak the language of the society that wants to shut them down. But I know so many that chose to homeschool with that as their motivation–not because they cared how their children turned out as people.

We have ingenious, not to say affectionate, ways of doing this, all of them more or less based upon that egoism which persuades us that in proportion to a child’s dependence on our superiority, that all we do for him is of our grace and favor, and that we have a right, whether as parents or teachers, to do what we will with our own. (all quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the same book and chapter)

This is the parent that insists the child choose a college because he is embarrassed to not have an answer when approached by friends. Or is embarrassed by the child’s chosen field of study because it doesn’t line up with commonly held ideals. Or who sees a child making immoral or otherwise bad choices, and hides what that child is doing from friends and family; not for concern for the child’s reputation and spiritual or physical well being, as he or she claims, but really because of how it negatively reflects on the parents.  No concern for what is best for the child, or why a child has made certain choices, no concern for the true heart and character of the child. Just concern for how it makes the parent look. That’s why I say the powers that be in our nation are like the narcissistic parent, looking out not for the child but for the nation.

But we are breaking all the rules scripture, and indeed reason, give us regarding children:

Have we considered that in the Divine estimate the child’s estate is higher than ours: that it is ours to “become as little children”, rather than theirs to become as grown men and women; that the rules we receive for the bringing up of children are for the most part negative? We may not despise them [Matt. 18:10] or hinder them [Luke 18:16], (“suffer the little children”) [Mark 10:14], or offend them by our brutish clumsiness of action and want of serious thought [Matt. 18:6]. . . . .

So much in my parenting is lacking in this respect, and I am constantly repenting and working to honor my children as I am told. Many changes must come in how I use my Divinely deputed authority as their parent, because all authority is deputed by someone. As she said in the previous chapter, I am not someone in authority but under authority, and must parent as such. But so is true of those in charge of the public education system. Even at the ultimate head, that authority is given to them. Not just by the higher offices but by parents!!!! Parents are relinquishing their authority to the hands of the system on a daily basis, entrusting their little ones, and all they ask is proper education and treatment. Yet because the vast majority have themselves been stamped down by the same system, they cannot see what that authority is supposed to look like, and how it is miserably failing. When schools HAVE tried to approach teaching by looking at the child first, scores second (or not at all), they have had the most backlash from parents. I can’t get out of my head the school in Manhattan that tried to do away with homework for elementary students, insisting instead that they spend more time as a family and simply playing out of doors or reading books. One father responded angrily that his daughter didn’t have enough homework as it was, so this was outrageous; his daughter was only 7. So have a system that doesn’t care if the child will “Cram to pass and not to know; they do pass but they don’t know”. Because educators and parents alike are guilty of putting the child’s sacred personhood second to the goal of competition.

But shouldn’t we be competitive? Maybe this is outdated and the world today demands competition. Again, Charlotte says, if only we would start with the sacredness of the child, we would then produce men and women who are more than capable of advancing and competing, of making both parents and nation proud. But the more we tell them they must have the highest test scores or else they let everyone else down, the less chance we have. We may produce that handful of Type A people who seem to have reached the goals we set for them, but they are merely ambitious people with no character to fall back on.

Where we teachers err is in stimulating the wrong Desires to accomplish our end. There is the desire of approbation which even an infant shows, he is not happy unless mother or nurse approve of him. Later this same desire helps him to conquer a sum, climb a hill, bring home a good report from school, and all this is grist to the mill, knowledge to the mind; . . . Alas for the vanity that attends this desire of approbation . . . .

I am reminded so strongly of Lord of the Flies. People who don’t like it are, I think, missing the greater psychological point of it. It struck me so forcefully when I read it, and that was long before I’d even heard of Charlotte Mason. Which just goes to show how natural and basic her ideas really are. In the book, it’s the student who had trouble fitting in at school that was the actual good person. He didn’t get the best marks, was often in trouble, came from a low family, etc. He protected the weak, and had the best survival skills. And who was it that turned on his fellow man? Who couldn’t cope without adult supervision? The straight-A (or whatever they used) student, the one from the best background, who always received commendation. But he did all the right things to receive approbation–praise–and not because he knew it was right. He was well educated, yet he had no good character whatsoever. What is it Mr. Darcy said in the end of Pride and Prejudice? “I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit.”

Now, I have a lot of friends who were the straight-As and I’m not saying the high mark students are the worst people. Yet I also knew plenty that were and I think an honest look at history and people shows that very often, they don’t go on to be good, successful people. Why?

Emulation, the desire of excelling, works wonders in the hands of the schoolmaster; and, indeed, this natural desire is an amazing spur to effort, both intellectual and moral. . . . In the intellectual field, however, there is danger; and nothing worse could have happened to our schools than the system of marks, prizes, place-taking, by which many of them are practically governed. A boy is so taken up with the desire to forge ahead that there is no time to think of anything else. What he learns is not interesting to him; he works to get his remove [modern English: “doing his work to get ahead of the others”] (italics mine)

I’ve said it before, it doesn’t matter how much you protest that you don’t treat the C student differently or as inferior to the A student: you do. And society does as well. Who’s going to get into college, get that high paying job, get ahead? The A student. But who probably had to work just as hard, maybe even harder, just to stay at a C average level, and yet will never get the chance to improve his station? Who would actually make the better employee, the one who worked to learn or the one who worked to be better than everyone else? The one who did what he could because he knew it was right or the one who did what he could because he knew he’d get medals? Again, I know many who did not work with that goal in mind,  but we are foolish if we say none of them do because, as she says, emulation is a natural and base desire present in all human beings. But you don’t always get noticed or rewarded for right living in our society, I don’t care which side of the moral compass you come down on. The one who only works for notice will not be a credit to his nation. I think it’s painfully obvious that this system of rewards has created a secular caste system, even in our day and age. Coupled with our views of the value of certain jobs, we expect the Valedictorian to work as lawyer or become a CEO, while we expect the C student to work in a garage or flip burgers.

Let me say it loudly because when I’ve said it before, I’ve been bowled over and ignored: I BELIEVE IN COMPETITION!! I DON’T BELIEVE IN RIBBONS FOR PARTICIPATION!!! But not in education, not in our schools or our homes. In sports, for sure. In play and games, of course! Clear winners and losers there. Even for jobs–sure, compete, though based on skill and character, not on how you beat the other 40 kids in your class in high school. But NOT IN EDUCATION!!! We want to grow amazing, well rounded people, not “the boy [who] did not learn to delight in knowledge in his schooldays” and so becomes “the man [who] is shallow in mind and whimsical in judgment.” (CM, same book, same chapter) (Oh heavens, how many of THOSE do I know!)

Why? Because it should all be for the children’s sake!!  Not ours. And if we would only focus on that, then they WOULD be a credit to society. They WOULD make our nation proud. And they WOULD excel on the world stage. People who are confident, broad minded, thoughtful, self-disciplined, and self-motivated. Step outside your selfish ambitions, those of you who want to improve education for your own sakes. Put the children first.

But so besotted is our educational thought that we believe children regard knowledge rather as repulsive medicine than as inviting food. Hence our dependence on marks and prizes, athletics, alluring presentation, any jam we can devise to disguise the powder. The man who wilfully goes on crutches has incompetent legs; he who chooses to go blindfold has eyes that cannot bear the sun; he who lives on pap-meat has weak digestive powers, and he whose mind is sustained by the crutches of emulation and avarice loses that one stimulating power which is sufficient for his intellectual needs. This atrophy of the desire of knowledge is the penalty our scholars pay because we have chosen to make them work for inferior ends. Our young men and maidens do not read unless with the stimulus of a forthcoming examination. They are good-natured and pleasant but have no wide range of thought, lofty purpose, little of the magnanimity which is proper for a citizen. (italics mine; this section copied from Ambleside Online)

Let us raise the educational standard by putting the children’s needs ahead of our own selfish ambition and conceit.

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Revelations: or how I’m still trying to do what others do

It’s funny how even in small things, we still try to imitate each other. This culture of social media has it’s positives and negatives. Sometimes those are one and the same. People (myself included) share what we’ve learned about life in the hopes of helping others through inspiration, encouragement, or actual “how-to” manuals. It’s not a bad thing per se–sometimes what works for one really will work for another. But it creates problems. For one, people start to think that someone not doing the thing “everyone else does” is doing it wrong. For another, individually we can start to think to ourselves that if we aren’t doing the thing, we are doing it wrong.

“Children are born persons”, says Charlotte Mason. And so are we all. Mothers and fathers, we are persons too. Individual and different. There are those things we should all conform to, truths and social standards that right and good. But how we apply things to our lives, that may look different. Maybe because of our cultural background, or our current place of development in spiritual, emotional, mental, or physical growth. Whatever the reason, grace to grace should be applied. And that needs to start with ourselves. Give ourselves some grace.

This sounds like a lot of deep thinking, but really this all came out of one little light bulb that came on in my brain this morning: I do not have to get up at 5:30am anymore.

Years ago, when my two oldest were little, I kept trying to find a time to be alone with coffee and books and Bible. I’m not a morning person so this was going to be an act of self-discipline (something I’m also not good at). So I started getting up at 6:30. After a couple days, so did they. I moved it back to 6:15–fifteen minutes is better than none. Again, so did they. I moved it to 6:00. Guess who started popping out early? Finally I ended up at 5:30. Occasionally they would to, but that’s where I put my foot down and put them back in bed. Which led to some mornings that were not altogether peaceful. But gradually, over time, this started working for me.

Now, since that time, in various ways and seasons, I’ve tried to put in a workout routine. But I consistently came up against the same wall: working out early in the morning is not something my body wants to do. I kept trying though. Why? Because all the blogs and articles and posts from people I knew and didn’t know all said the same thing: workout in the morning and you’ll feel better. Here are ways to do it. Try this. Try that. Go on walks (yeah, can’t do that with small kids still in the house who will freak out if they get up and find no mommy). Use a bike (got it, rarely do it). Just . . . nothing.

I have tried it in the afternoon or evening, but that always has other walls that I hit:

–It’s too hot, especially in the summer. We have no AC.
–The kids keep interrupting me.
–I’m too tired and not motivated enough at the end of it all.

So what’s a mom to do?
And this morning, it finally dawned on me (pun fully intended):

Why this took so long, I have no idea. Maybe I was enjoying almost an hour of personal quiet time too much to give it up. But the thing is, by the end of the week I’m usually so tired from getting so little sleep (because getting to bed and asleep before 10pm is not always an option) that I fall off even that bandwagon and have to keep resetting my internal clock. So it’s simply not working for me anymore. I’ve been trying so hard to make anything I do fit around this time frame. I even thought if I get up at 5:15 to ride the stationary bike, then I’m in the shower by 5:30 and still getting my full morning (oh that blessed schedule). But that worked ONCE and never again.

Then this morning, the facepalm: I don’t have to do this to myself. Because along with that revelation came another one:

They’re not going to interrupt me because they’re eating. I only need a 15 min time frame to feel good and make my body move. Then I can have my breakfast shake, and wouldn’t you know, we can STILL start our school day on time. This is brilliant because this also works for the weekend, something no other idea of mine has managed to do. I don’t have to leave the house on Saturday mornings until after 8:30am to take my daughter to ballet–still can do this 15 min thing.

So I can sleep in more than I have been, still have time to shower and have coffee and Bible time, fit in another book to read, check my email and Facebook while breakfast is cooking, then feed them and workout.

No I haven’t tried it yet but I’m already sighing in relief. This will work. The only reason it won’t would be my own laziness (or other family drama like sickness, but who can predict or control that?).

I don’t share to tell someone else “this will work for you too”. What I AM saying is: take a step back. Look at your routines and life and go, “Where am I driving myself nuts when I don’t really have to?” I’ve done this so often in other areas of my life–homeschool, parenting, etc–but I still managed to miss this little piece. C’est la vie! Oh well, now I’ve got it, so I’ll move forward. Everyone should do the same.

Sure, take the advice in the blogs. But–and this is key–advice isn’t mandate. And if someone is going to be offended because you won’t take their advice or do things they way they do, that’s their problem, not yours. You know yourself, you know your family, you know your life. People that can’t handle not having their ideas taken as gospel have self-esteem issues. People that want to judge you for not following the thing that “works” are afraid of being judged for the same. And if you have that weakness that causes you to feel guilty for not following the advisors, then hide them on your feed. Stop reading them for a while. Unfollow the blog. Take a breather and be you.

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Term 2 schedule

I was asked recently to share “how I do it”. How I schedule multiple years using Ambleside Online. How I get through the day.

Honestly, by the skin of my teeth. 😉 I do have a plan in place. What I don’t have is a “typical day”. In fact, while my mornings 4 days a week look roughly the same, my afternoons 3 days a week are different. And we recently moved my daughter’s ballet class to Thursday afternoons, which means that 4 days went down to 3, and only 2 afternoons look the same.

Confused yet? Still want to see it? 😀

Keep in mind that it’s a framework. I need to remind myself of that, to be honest. Because I would LOVE for my one “typical” day–and my 3 “average” mornings–to be how we did everything. I would love to say that because of this, we are right on track with our year’s work. That is simply not the case. The curriculum, the year schedule, and even our weekly/daily schedules are there to help guide my children’s education, not control it or dictate it. And as it is, what I have mapped out is rarely held to every day of the week. Some weeks get thrown off altogether.

I want to start by clarifying two times of the day: Circle Time and Family Time. The first is in the morning. This I JUST added back in after struggling forever with it. But I have a framework and idea now. I had to work out my “why”. Don’t do Circle Time or Morning Basket or anything just because everyone else says it’s magical. Have a reason, and then have a plan. Then be ready to change it up. 🙂 Also keep in mind your family dynamics. For me, these two times will act as bookends for our day. I’ll explain this in a separate post. Our morning Circle Time is just getting my kids together to focus us before we start our day. We pray, sing a hymn, read 1-3 Catechism questions, do the Pledge of Allegiance one day a week, and discuss a habit we are working on as a family, and how we can implement it that day. Then I dismiss to get their things together. Family Time is in the afternoon and I have a list of rotating subjects that I fit in–Composer, General Geography (the Charlotte Mason and H. Long books), Literature, Fairy Tales, Health (Human Anatomy), Handicrafts, Music Lessons, Nature Study, and General Language Arts (basics like alphabetizing, using dictionaries, etc). If you think I get to all that every week, I’m afraid I have to disillusion you. But they are there, and when we can, we do them. I still try to get my kids together twice a day for family time.

So now I’ll share my week below. The times I include are what I aim for–if I didn’t get much sleep, or someone is sick, it might be off. There is no average day to share, so I’ll just share the days that are alike and then the individual ones. I have one child in Y1, one finishing up Y2 from last year (another post for another time), one in Y4, and one in Y5 but doing some Y4 work with his younger brother. See how I mix it up? 😛 I’m also not sharing what some people share–breakfast, dress, chores, etc. Yes we fit that all in (obviously), but giving it a time constraint isn’t realistic. And not important, really. I do try to be up at a certain time, try to have breakfast done by a certain time, etc. But that’s on me watching the clock.

Monday and Wednesday:

8:30-8:45  Family Circle Time

8:45-9:00  Preschool/K time with my 4.5 yo. This just means reading her stories, letting her practice her letters and numbers, etc. Really simple.
–My other kids get their school things together and start chores

9:00-9:45 Y1–usually history, reading practice, penmanship, brief math (he’s taught himself, oddly, so I just go over a concept or practice using an abacus with him).
–Y2 does typing or chores, sometimes a reading or math app on her Kindle
–Y4 and Y5 start working

9:45-10:00  Seabird. This is a Y2 geography book that I am doing with my Y1 and Y2 student together.

10:00-10:45  Y2–history, reading practice, penmanship, math. My Y1 student goes to do typing, chores, or play
–Y1 goes to do typing and a math workbook; I don’t use workbooks usually but this gives him something useful to do

10:45-11:00  Check on Y4 and Y5, get narrations or give guidance (which sometimes is my getting them back on track . . .we have habits to work on)

11:00-12:00  I prepare and serve lunch, and eat something myself.

12:00-1:30  On these two days we do FaceTime with friends in the Midwest. We do Spanish, Shakespeare, and Mythology. We were doing Native American studies but she had to drop it the second half of this term, so I’m doing that subject with my oldest in the afternoon.

2:00-3:00 Family Time

3:00-3:30 Extra work with Y4 and Y5. This includes Native American studies, Narrations, and will soon be Sloyd or other geometry work.


This day we have friends come over and do Y1 work plus some group activities. It’s the only  day I don’t have Circle Time scheduled. Also, the afternoon group things are rather hopeful–that is, it’s on there, but we’ve done it maybe one or two times. Again, we try. 🙂

8:30-9:00 Set up, play time (this is when they arrive)

9:00-9:30 Picture Study, Bible (using the AO schedule of readings)

9:30-9:40 Form I Spanish. This is with her daughter, who is Y1, and my Y1 son.
–Everyone else is dismissed to start work or do chores.

9:45-10:30 Y2 work–Penmanship, History, Math, Natural History, and Form II Spanish
–Y1 students are working with my friend

11:00-12:00 Lunch. Really, lunch has been later until now. But I want to start having it a bit earlier every day, including this one.

12:00-1:30 Group Time–Songs, Nature Study (nature journal activity, nature walk, or other exploration with a book). I may be adding in drawing lessons as well.

1:30-3:00 Y4 and Y5 narrations, Native American studies, Math, and Form II Spanish
–younger kids are playing


We recently moved my daughter to the homeschool ballet class on Thursdays, so academics are very light. We do Circle Time, I do 3-4 subjects with my daughter (Y2), I do Dictation and Narrations with my Y4 and Y5 students, then we head off to Balboa Park. When we get home I do 3 subjects with my Y4 and Y5. That’s it.


My one and only full day at home with just my kids. It is exactly like Monday and Wednesday except no FaceTime.

That’s it. 🙂

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More like guidelines, really

There are so many little things that can hit us all a once. One at a time we might be able to handle. But when it’s a lot of little things, or not so little, and we make an adjustment for one so we think we have to adjust for the other, pretty soon we’re doubting everything, and throwing other things out the window.

Happens to me all the time. It happened just recently. Some things were absolutely necessary to change. Others, not so much. We tried experimenting with a totally new way of scheduling the day for my older two boys this week. Now, I know sometimes you have to give a thing a chance. But in my experience with school schedules, that usually means chance to fail completely. Yes a first day may not go smoothly, but try it for a week.

But there’s “going smoothly” and then there’s . . . actually “going”. This did not go. At all. Not a little bit. Not an atom. Nada.

So, back to the one we’ve been using since beginning of Term 2.

Why did we change? We discovered that one of our older boys was having compounding anxiety and stress over all his work–schoolwork, chores, youth group (AWANA), everything. We didn’t identify it at first because he SAID he could handle it. He blamed himself for not getting things done (and honestly, so did we, because it looked like dawdling), and would make resolutions to “do better” each day.

It turns out he has high, unrealistic expectations of himself, combined with a need to please, and true anxiety issues. We thought, therefore, that his day needed to look different. Wrong. What the REAL problem was, was giving him way too much responsibility. More than he was ready for. He acted like he was ready. He was excited to be ready. But he wasn’t, not emotionally.

So not only does his formal planner with checkboxes have to go; we also had to stop writing down when to start, when to stop, and actual times. That sounds a little silly, even to me, but it really was too much pressure for him. Next year maybe he’ll be ready for it–his older brother (who is only 18 months older) thrives on it. Right now he just needs to know what to accomplish, and I need to be the one monitoring his time.

I received great encouragement in this from this blog post: Timetables, Principles, and Brains. It in turn references this old L’Umile Pianta article, one I’d read and forgotten about: On the Possibility of Doing P.U.S. Work While Keeping Strictly to the Time-Tables. What it comes down to is, getting through the schedule and keeping to it should never take precedent over the goal–which is educating the child, who is a person. The schedule SHOULD be there and SHOULD be used when able. But it is not the taskmaster. It’s the guidepost. The framework. The track to travel on when one can.

It’s more like guidelines than actual rules.

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Summer Pre-reading

Why pre-reading and prepping for school during the summer is turning out to be highly beneficial:
At first it was just because I would have it all done, and when the school year starts I’ll just be able to start each day with everything ready to go. If one thing throws us off each day during the year, it’s me and not being ready. I look at the resource and figure, “This will be easy.” Then I start to read it out loud and see maps, timelines, additional exploration, vocabulary . . . .either things to enhance our learning or to make it more comprehensible. So then I’m fumbling, adding things, getting off our time, all the things that end up frustrating us. So pre-reading and making cheat sheets or note cards is going to make our days flow.
But it’s also helping me streamline our schedule. While preparing one resource, for a subject I was going to do with friends alongside another subject, I realized how rich it was. I realized it was going to take longer to get through the chapters if we were going to benefit from them. Which means there was no WAY we could do the other. Neither is on our curriculum for the year but they are things I added to satisfy our state requirements. But we don’t need both. So I eliminated the other subject. We can do it next year.
Right now I’m prepping A Child’s Geography of the World by Virgil Hillyer. It was scheduled for Year 5 (Ambleside Online), but I thought it would work as a family subject. The writing is very engaging and even the younger children could understand it. However, the amount of material it covers won’t fit. We can get so much out of the chapters using maps and discussion–some chapters more than others. But we can’t do geography every day, it just won’t fit. And that’s the only way we can cover it with short lessons. So I either need to spread it thinner or assign it strictly to my Y5 student to do on his own (or with his Y4 brother). And I wouldn’t have known that until partway through the first term if I wasn’t prepping now.
How that affects our year: So often we’ll start and partway through a term or the year I’ll be bogged down, or my kids will be. We won’t be getting what we should out of the resource, and we’re certainly not finding joy in our schooling. So I drop the book. I hate dropping books. But I have to in order to clean things up and allow for the most learning. Seeing those things now, instead of then, gives me greater confidence that our year will be smoother and the children will learn more.
I gained a lot of encouragement in this from an Afterthoughts post, and for scheduling with Charlotte and AO I love what I learned both from Brandy Vencel  and from the blog at Sabbath Mood Homeschool.
I feel more prepared and I’m not even done. Not to mention all I’m learning as I read these books on my own. I’m looking forward to our year more than ever.
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Combining Years with AO

A departure from my current blogs about Parents and Children, but in trying to get my schedule together for next year (can we say OCD??) I thought I should get out how I’m combining things. It will morph and change as I put it together and see the dynamics. But a lot of people struggle with this and I think it’s always good to share what is done.

Ambleside Online is the curriculum we use. It’s as close to a traditional Ambleside/PNEU curriculum as you can find. In other words, purist Charlotte Mason. Do you have to be purist to use her method? Of course not. You can even apply her method, once you understand it, to the curriculum you already have. You may find, as you learn more about and use more living books, that you don’t want to continue with your traditional textbooks or workbooks, but that will come in time, and oftentimes you can still use whatever you have to teach your kids. But I’m a purist (read: snob). So as I’ve grown in my understanding of Charlotte over the past 6 years (wow, I can’t believe it’s been that long), I’ve chosen to use AO and stick with it. Not only that, but the women who run it are a wealth of help, encouragement, information, and inspiration. You won’t find a better cyber support group anywhere.

Ok, promo over.

The curriculum is set up in Years. These are not “grades” as we understand it. On the surface, Year 1 is first grade, since in Charlotte’s school children entered at age 6 and started in Year 1, and we start children in first grade at age 6 traditionally. But as homeschoolers, we can tailor to our children, and some children simply aren’t ready for what Year 1 offers when they are 6 years old. So it helps not to think of the Years as Grades. More like levels. In fact, I have to tailor to my 8yo. She’s in Year 2 this year (she’s second grade, she turned 8 in February). But we’re barely through half of her Term 2 history, and we’re slightly behind in her geography readings. I have to make a command decision–I either try to push through our curriculum, or I go at an even pace and keep her in Y2 in some subjects next year. I’ve chosen the latter. The focus of our education is for her to come away with understanding, which she won’t get if I just get through the readings without stopping to use our timelines, maps, narrations, discussions, etc. She won’t have a relation with her history–she’ll find it a boring chore.  So instead of making her “grade 3”, I will do what I have to to give her a complete understanding of what she is learning.

On to combining.

In 2016-17, I will have the following students: Y5 (C, 11 yo), Y4 (Is, 10 yo), Y2/3 (M, 8 yo), and Y1 (S, 6 yo). Oh, and a 4 yo. That’ll be interesting.

Here is how I will combine things, for now. I’ll explain why for each subject, then list them more concisely. I do this because the “why” means a lot. I’m not just drawing straws here. There is a lot to consider. When combining, you have to consider skills, learning styles (one of my boys cannot narrate when using audio books, while one of mine could listen to three audio books at once and tell me everything), level of ability, time constraints, etc.

Also, note that some subjects aren’t listed. Certain subjects are not included in the AO booklists because they are specific to level and ability–reading, math, grammar, penmanship, etc. My two oldest boys are combined for math, and my two younger kids are in the same math. Everyone’s reading and grammar is dependent on age and skill. Penmanship we will do at the same time but everyone has their own thing to practice. I list those at the end.

ALSO NOTE: I am in no way trying to undo the work done by the fabulous ladies at AO. I’m simply making it work for my family. They have done so much work and if you can follow exactly what they have lined up, I would encourage you to do so. I’m just doing what I need to to stay true while still teaching my children effectively.


This is one subject that I’m keeping very separate for the most part.

C: We never do Trial and Triumph. It’s in some of these years, but we don’t use it. I have different reasons for that, but mainly we read missionary and other Christian biographies on Sundays as a family. So it’s just not part of our school. Beyond that, he’s scheduled for 2 history books and one biography per term. One of those biographies is for Term 2 is about Lilian Trotter. Having looked more into her, I’ve decided to use that for family readings on Sundays, and I’ll spread his other two biographies out over the whole year.

Is: He’ll do the scheduled books, aside from Trial and Triumph. The only challenge will be fitting in Abigail Adams. This year, C didn’t do that one. Only because we couldn’t work it in as he was behind in his other readings. I may have him read it out loud to I next year. We’ll just have to see how things go. I love the freedom to adjust, don’t you?

M: We will spread out Term 3 of Y2 over two terms. If she catches up, we’ll slowly start doing her Y3 schedule. Most likely I’ll just work in the biographies she’s scheduled for. There are many alternatives. Plus we have so many history based books in our house that she would be interested in, I can choose another one to fill the time.

S: He’ll do all his history books, minus T&T, for Y1. The challenge with him is interesting: he already reads at a second grade level. He’s also quick at geography and math, and thinking skills like reasoning, interpretation, and problem solving. No, I haven’t done a thing. I don’t teach formally in the early years. He’s just one of those kids. So could he handle the books of Y2? Oh more than likely. But he’s also still a 6yo boy. In other words, sitting still is not a strong suit, and his fine motor skills (like holding a pencil) are pretty average. So while I’ll ask more of him than I did of his siblings during this year, I’ll also focus on those skills he needs to develop. He can read out loud or to himself more than they could have. But he’ll need accountability and training as much as anyone.


This will be mostly a family subject. Y5 has A Child’s Geography of the World scheduled, along with general geography knowledge from other sources. The thing is, this book is suited for pretty much all the ages. Combined with map work, it will be a complete curriculum that everyone can benefit from. I did edit the schedule because I felt certain sections were redundant–they’ve all learned those other regions in their other readings. But beyond that, this book will be used for our morning family time.

M and S will do Seabird, which is a Y2 book. I did include S in Tree in the Trail this year because he wanted to do it–YOU try keeping a precocious, smart 5/6 yo out of your geography lessons! 😛 So to keep him occupied the rest of this year I’ll read his Y1 book, Paddle to the Sea, to him, and then he’ll be free to enjoy Seabird. It’s scheduled over 1 1/2 terms in Y2, but I’ll spread it out over the whole year. That will give us time to enjoy the maps, learn more about whaling, and read extra books. I think both of them will benefit from the in depth examination.


This subject is heavily scheduled for Y5. Biographies plus 3-4 other books. If I had one child I could do it. But I have 4 doing school, and my Y5, as much as he LOVES science, is a slow reader and has so much else to do. So . . .

C and Is will do all Natural History/Science books together. We are dropping Wild Animals from the first term. We are doing the Y4 schedule of Madame How and Lady Why, because in examining the AO forum, so many moms said they regretted trying to start in the middle (which is where Y5 picks up), if that’s where they were. We had dropped it from this year because I again felt things were too heavy. I’m glad I did–they are enjoying Storybook of Science (the other Y4 book scheduled) but they are behind. So we’ll do the Y4 schedule of MHLW, and if we catch up we’ll dive into the 2nd half of the book. That will actually be our family time book. I am toying with adding Y3’s experiment book to our family time, but we will be making an effort to do nature study using Handbook of Nature Study, plus I have hands on experiment kits and books we can use.

M and S will do Burgess Bird Book, Y1 book, with the companion recently released by Simply Charlotte Mason.


These subjects have been a struggle this year. Each year has it’s own poetry selections, which I had been reading during family time. Literature is also scheduled in each year and I was having my oldest read on his own. He was doing ok, but got behind last year. He enjoys the books, but again, he’s slow, and he has heavy loads. I’ve been incorporating some of them into our evening family story time. But his Y4 and now his Y5 selections are a bit heavy for the little kids (Oliver Twist is one). So my new decision: when I can, I’ll read them to the family at night. When I can’t, the kids have to read them on their own during the summer and winter breaks. They are great books that I want them to read, but it’s just not fitting into our school days/weeks. The only exception will be Age of Fable and Shakespeare; the latter will be part of their school schedule. C and Is will read Fable together, starting with the Y4 schedule, and will also do Shakespeare plays–we will read the stories from Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare as a family, and they will on their own read select scenes from the plays themselves.

S has not heard all the beautiful literature scheduled for Y1, and M didn’t get through all of it last year. So select times she will be invited to sit in and others she’ll have independent work to do while I read with S. Some are fairy tales and I’ll probably invite the toddler to listen as well–good way to occupy her temporarily.

Poetry: M and S will have poems from Y1 schedule to listen to and recite. C and Is will use Y4 poets that we didn’t get to this year for their reading/listening/recitation.

Here it is in a list (using AO’s marking method, *=Term 1, **=Term 2, ***=Term 3):


FAMILY: Lillian Trotter
C (Y5): This Country of Ours (all terms), * ** Lincoln’s World and bio of Lewis & Clark (scheduled is Of Courage Undaunted, but I already have a book, and if it fits I’ll use that instead just to save money), ** *** Carry a Big Stick (bio of Theodore Roosevelt), *** Story of the World V4

Is (Y4): This Country of Ours (all terms), * Poor Richard, ** *** George Washington’s World  and Abigail Adams

M (Y2, gentle transition to Y3): (not by term) Child’s History of the World, This Country of Ours (maybe Columbus by D’Aulaire), Our Island Story, Joan of Arc, other Y3 biographies

S (Y1): Our Island Story, Benjamin Franklin, * ** Fifty Famous Stories Retold, ** George Washington, ** *** Viking Tales, ***Buffalo Bill


FAMILY (Y5): A Child’s Geography of the World, select chapters from Charlotte Mason’s Elementary Geography and Long’s Home Geography

M and S (Y2): Seabird


FAMILY (Y4, current year’s nature study rotation): Madame How and Lady Why (starting with Y4 scheduled), weekly readings from Handbook of Nature Study  plus nature journaling and walks/study, possibly an experiment or focused hands on study

C and Is (Y5): Christian Liberty Nature Reader Book 5, Great Inventors and Their Inventions, * bio of Isaac Newton, ** bio of Alexander Graham Bell, ** bio of George Washington Carver (the bios are not selected but suggestions are given; I may read bios during family time, it depends on how heavy our workload turns out, and whether or not we have other things in our schedule during the week)

M and S (Y1): Burgess Bird Book  with companion and activities


FAMILY: Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare, select stories we have not read together yet (we have read a few); other books used in rotation for evening family story time; poetry used as time/subject permits

C and Is: Age of Fable (Y4 schedule,moving into Y5); Shakespeare plays: select scenes from plays covered in family time; other books to be read over vacations and breaks; Y4 poetry

M and S: Y1 poetry

S: Y1 books, sometimes M will sit in–Blue Fairy Book, Aesop for Children, and Just So Stories


Other subjects:


We use Mathematics Enhancement Programme, a free curriculum available online. It comes out of Europe so you run into pounds vs dollars and metric vs imperial (US) systems, etc. I don’t often change the wording. For one thing, it’s not the system but the values they are supposed to be adding, and they should early become comfortable with that, especially where money is concerned. For another, an early understanding of the metric system will serve them well, and make it less foreign later on.

C and Is: MEP Y3–they are in this year right now, and it’s hard going. They are learning but it’s been challenging. I fell a little uncomfortable with this, like maybe they should be further along. But I also know they are getting a very deep understanding of the work they are doing and why. I can tell that with this foundation, they will be able to move quickly ahead in future years. So they will most likely stay in Y3 through next year but if they start to find it less of a challenge, I’ll upgrade to Y4

M and S: MEP Y2–they are both very much on track. S has already moved on to abstract thinking, which is funny since he’s younger. But M does have the concepts and processes down, she just sometimes needs hands on and visuals to do her work. Right now they are in Y1 and though we won’t finish by year’s end, I know they will both be ready for Y2.


I use an italics book from Penny Gardner. I’ve been happy with it. All of the kids use it, they just use different lessons depending on their level. We’ll all do penmanship at the same time, just different levels and speeds, with me monitoring their work.


Spelling: In Charlotte Mason, dictation is part of the language arts curriculum. It’s how we teach spelling. After considerable study, I will be giving both C and Is the same work to prepare dictation from, and give them the same dictation, but they will both prepare by focusing on the words they individually are not familiar with. This may present a challenge–what if there are less words for C and more for Is?–but at the same time, in any given grade level class, does everyone have the same spelling ability? Yet all are given the same spelling list and test. So I’m confident this will work by putting them together on this. I’ll move both M and S ahead with their phonics/reading work at the same pace, giving them the same words to spell with tiles. S is ahead in his reading but in spelling he’s exactly where he should be, whereas M is struggling with both. So this should be a nice leveler.

Grammar: Both C and Is will have their own grammar work. Per Charlotte’s method, I will not be starting M on formal grammar lessons yet.

Typing: while not formally part of CM, and not even advocated until between Grades 4-6 by the AO folk, I use Keyboarding Without Tears for all the kids. Really, it’s a way for them to be productively occupied if they have nothing to do between subjects, especially if I’m working with someone else. They just use the level that is appropriate for them.

Foreign language: I’ve been doing Spanish with them since last spring. The older three will continue to work ahead, with C and Is also doing copywork and reading (I’m not sure if I should have M do copywork or reading, we’ll see). S will have it on his own, starting from the beginning, no writing, listening and speaking only. C will continue with Visual Latin, and Is will start.

ARTS (Family work):

Art appreciation: also called picture study or picture talks. We all do the same artist, sometimes using the AO rotation, sometimes using whatever I have. It certainly is less work to use their rotation–as someone else said, they’ve done the work, why reinvent the wheel if I don’t need to?

Art instruction: we are using Artistic Pursuits. I will either continue, move on with the next book, or use another DVD for further instruction. I will also be incorporating brush drawing once a week.

Composer study: we’ll follow the AO rotation if I can get a hold of the works they list.

Handicrafts: the older three are doing sewing right now. I’ll most likely continue, while starting S on the most basic steps, but still do it all at the same time together.

Musical instrument: Is, M, and S are all doing Little Mozarts, a piano curriculum. They are loving it, so I will continue. C was in guitar but it didn’t fit into our spring terms. However, his grandparents gave him a genuine ukulele from Hawaii for Christmas, along with a lesson book. He’s already started on his own and loves it. I’ll teach the other three together while he practices.

Folksongs: another thing we’ll learn together. I had dropped it but it’s been fun adding it back in.

Singing: we’ve been doing Sol-Fa off and on. I hope to be more “on”. 🙂


Plutarch’s Lives has worked out well during family time, but I do need to slow down the readings. So we will continue with that. This is considered Citizenship, also Character Training and History.

Our state requires Health. So we will continue with the Laying Down the Rails books from Simply Charlotte Mason. These are for habit training and have several sections on health and physical habits.

Our state also requires “Social Studies”, which is very vague. But it includes history, citizenship, state studies, Native American studies, government, etc. They are all getting history–world, American, ancient, modern–and citizenship is under Plutarch and habit training. This year I focused on California (oh yeah, that’s our state by the way) readings, but not a whole lot. And that was only because one of mine was technically fourth grade, which is when CA studies are done. Next year, I am considering adding to our family time once a week the following: American studies (anthems, the pledge–obviously, symbols, government, etc), and Native American studies (books I have in the house, maps, visits to local reservations, etc). I also have a book about Canada, and I’d love to incorporate that. We shall see.

Well, that’s it. It’s still going to be a full year, and may mean we can’t rejoin a co-op we were part of. We also may be moving next spring. But this plan works for now. We’ll see what tomorrow brings. 🙂

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What is to be said for a ‘wise passiveness’?

The title comes from a set of study questions in the back of the “pink book” editions of Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series. Initially, when I glanced at some of these questions, I thought they sounded very un-CM. Some sounded like fill-in-the-blank. Some sounded redundant. I wondered if the well-meaning Karen Andreola, who had worked so hard to put these books back in print, had created these questions. It turns out I was wrong. Those questions were meant for mothers taking her Mother’s Education Course, which another blogger has expounded on very well. Which helped me see them in a whole new light. And also made me wish that course still existed. But maybe some day . . .

This question is more open ended than it first appears. Charlotte dedicates nearly a page and a half to the discussion of what ‘wise passiveness’ is. Firstly, it is the approach that method takes in education that is opposed to system. The approach of system is too much interference, or to use Charlotte’s word, “fussy”. Method, on the other hand, at least hers, follows nature’s lead. She instructs parents “to discriminate between the role of Nature and that of the educator”. That’s where wisdom comes in.

The trouble is the word “passive” brings to mind “doing nothing”. Even Charlotte anticipated this argument:

“Oh, then you have no discipline. I thought not. I daresay it would answer very well to leave children to themselves and make them happy. . . .” Not so fast, dear reader. He who would follow a great leader must needs endeavor himself, Ohne Hast ohne Rast [without haste but without rest]; . . . .the way [of Nature] is steep to tread and hard to find, and this uphill work is by no means to be confounded with leisurely strolling in ways of our own devising.

So secondly, it is not inactivity. It’s why I don’t think Charlotte Mason should be grouped with unschooling or Delight Directed learning. I won’t state opinions or make judgements on those approaches to education, but if someone is interested in Charlotte Mason they should understand that it is not either of those things.

Still, though she speaks of education here, the focus of the chapter is on the use of discipline in education, yet not only in education but also generally in the home. So I won’t digress on that any further.

The point is: what is meant by ‘wise passiveness’? And we have to recognize what it is not: it is not doing nothing. It should also be noted that her opening sentence in this section is, “Method pursues  a ‘wise passiveness’.” It is a thing to seek after, follow after, do constantly. It is not folding of the hands to rest. It is active. But it’s active in a way that does not instruct the children in how to assimilate information, or even how to behave. It instead is active in finding ways to direct the child to make his or her own discovery. An imperfect analogy would be a scavenger hunt. You don’t tell a person what they are going to find at the end, or even how to get there. You simply guide them into the next step.

(Don’t put too much stock in that, it’s probably wrong.)

So what is to be said for a ‘wise passiveness’? I don’t think this is asking for a straight definition, but rather, what can we say about this approach? What does it do for us? It first of all takes the pressure off the parent and teacher. It is not up to me to make the child learn. I will give him or her the materials, the ideas, the food to live on. I will give them the opportunities. Then I will sit back and watch them use what God gave them for the express purpose of finding out about the world. I think what can be said for it is, it requires humility and trust. Humility because it’s hard to let go of the thought that I can teach them everything there is to teach. Trust because I have to trust that they will learn what they are meant to learn without my interference. Not that I don’t teach them, but I’m not to tell them how to learn it.

That’s what I think is to be said for ‘wise passiveness’. If anyone wants to discuss this, please go to one of these links. The first is the original series in the original, Victorian language. The second is the modern English updated version. In both, go to Chapter 16 and look for the heading “Wise Passiveness”:

Then feel free to contribute in the comments.


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Let fun be fun

System leads Nature: assists, supplements, rushes in to undertake those very tasks which Nature has made her own since the world was. Does Nature endow every young thing, child or kitten, with a wonderful capacity for inventive play? Nay, but, says System, I can help here; I will invent games for the child and help his plays, and make more use of this power of his than unaided Nature knows how. So Dame System teaches the child to play, and he enjoys it; but, alas, there is no play in him, no initiative, when he is left to himself; and so on, all along the lines. System is fussy and zealous and produces enormous results––in the teacher!—Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children

“Help his plays.” “Invent games.” It is interesting to me that this was written over 100 years ago. Before comic books, which gave way to video games, which have taken on a life of their own. Before televisions and smart phones and tablets. Yet even then, this was a danger–creating fun for children instead of letting them make fun.

I constantly read comments from parents (and I’ve done it myself in the past, pre-Charlotte Mason) asking for help with entertainment that is educational. Can anyone recommend educational cartoons? What board games can I let my children play that will teach them . . . ? What are your favorite educational apps and games for tablets? What can my kids do outside that will teach them . . . .?

It’s bothered me for a while now. I feel almost burdened. Often the parents will be sad because their child just plays chess, or only plays solitaire on the tablet, or only watches “My Little Pony” (yes, that is played in my house regularly). Or they want to give their child books that are educational–they only allow Magic Treehouse, for example.

I like the phrase “System is fussy”. Seriously, how much fussier can we be? Let fun be fun. Let’s stop looking down on it. Let the child go outside and just play. The exercise, personal exploration, and just freedom of doing something on his or her own is more beneficial than all the games we could invent.

If you want outdoor play to be educational, engage in nature study at least once a week. Teach your child to be observant. Then step back. Like most things, I’m imperfect when it comes to nature study but we have been practicing it since my oldest (who is now 11) was 5 years old. The result? I’ll hear them all running in the back, screaming, having a good time, then at least 3 of them will run in with, “Mommy, we saw a spider and it had a caterpillar!” Then they’ll spend the next half hour happily observing and discussing, taking Kindle Fires out and snapping pictures or video, proudly showing their work, then later they’ll get out paper and colored pencils and draw what they saw. All I did was teach them to notice. They, and Nature, did the rest.

You don’t have to purposefully choose “educational” games. I get annoyed almost by the number of new games I see coming out in the stores, all boasting to teach more and help your child more. While there is nothing wrong with games that are purposefully educational (and I admit to having a few), I think we get some idea in our minds that unless it is labeled such, it’s not. Let them play Monopoly–they learn strategy and math. Let them play Checkers and Chess–nothing is more mathematical than a game of chess, plus it teaches them to slow down and think about what they are going to do. Let them play Battleship. Let them play some electronic Star Wars. . . thing (my 6yo bought one for himself with his birthday money; I have yet to play it with him but man, it’s noisy). Let them put together puzzles with pictures of TinkerBell. Give them packs of playing cards and teach them all the card games you can think of. Let fun be fun.

The same goes for video games. While we should limit screen time, or use it as a reward only, we shouldn’t look at all video games as useless or mindless. Avoid the fully violent ones. But most video games teach careful thinking, strategy, quick reaction time, calculation, and all without trying. A study was conducted and published in Bicycle magazine a few years ago, in which gamers were pitted against avid road cyclists on an obstacle course. The gamers actually had quicker reaction time than the cyclists. They weren’t as athletic, but they were used to making split second decisions when it came to obstacles . . .all because of their video games. Weird and funny, but true. So you just never know what your child will benefit from. I actually made my now-9yo play “Where’s My Water”, because he’s always been a little manic, and would deliberately lose on video games because he thought the consequence was funny. But in this, nothing funny happened if he didn’t slow down and do it right. At first he was frustrated, and wanted me to do it for him. No way, kid. I gave him pointers, and told him how to think it through. That’s it. Eventually he had it mastered. And it taught him to take time and think. Something I’d had trouble–and sometimes still do–teaching him.

Let fun be fun. Don’t look down on it, or think you have to add to it. Let the initiative come from the child. When they say, “I’m bored”, it really is not your job to make him or her not bored. (Bad grammar, sorry) It IS your job to equip your children with the tools to help them make their own fun. But those tools aren’t more distractions. Teach them to notice. To slow down. To appreciate. To think for themselves. Then watch them learn while you sit back and do nothing . . . .

or the dishes.


What is different

How Charlotte Mason is different: 
“…we have no system of education….We have a method of education…..Method has a few comprehensive laws according to which details shape themselves….System, on the contrary, has an infinity of rules and instructions as to what you are to do and how you are to do it….System leads nature…Does Nature endow every young thing, child or kitten, with a wonderful capacity for inventive play? Nay, but,says System, I can help here; I will invent games for the child and help his plays,….So Dame System teaches the child to play, and he enjoys it; but alas, there is no play in him, no initiative, when he is left to himself.” –from “Parents and Children”, Ch 16. 

Trouble is, we’ve all been raised with System. So it’s been quite the learning curve to use a method. But in case you were wondering, that is what is different about this approach. Simply using historical fiction does not make a curriculum “Charlotte Mason style”. I any case, she didn’t exclusively use fiction. But it’s about the approach. 

Nor does this make it child led, so it would be wrong to include Charlotte Mason with Delight Directed or unschooling. Rather the feast is chosen by the teacher, not the child, and it is a full feast, not lacking anything in the way of ideas that feed the child’s mind. Then it is spread before him, and the teacher then leads the child to the feast. From there, “Method pursues a ‘wise passiveness’. You watch the teacher and are hardly aware he is doing anything.” That’s the difference. 

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The Strong Willed Girl: a year ago

“The baby screams himself into fits for a forbidden plaything, and the mother says, ‘He has such a strong will.’ The little fellow of three stands roaring in the street, and will neither go hither nor thither with his nurse, because ‘he has such a strong will.’ He will rule the sports of the nursery, will monopolise his sisters’ playthings, all because of this ‘strong will.’ Now we come to a divergence of opinion: on the one hand, the parents decide that, whatever the consequence, the child’s will is not to be broken, so all his vagaries must go unchecked; on the other, the decision is, that the child’s will must be broken at all hazards, and the poor little being is subjected to a dreary round of punishment and repression. But, all the time, nobody perceives that it is the mere want of will that is the matter with the child” (Vol. 1, p. 320).

I wrote the following a year ago and apparently forgot about it. It never was finished or published. But I’ve had some breakthroughs recently with said child, who has not changed since I wrote this. I plan to blog about those experiences, in the hopes of both reminding myself (because I admit to having forgotten this) and possibly encouraging someone else.

One day in 2014 . . . .

I grew up in the Dobson era of the strong-willed child. I tried to read his book once, even. I completely agree with Ms. Mason’s assessment that it is “want of will”, not a “strong will”, that is a child’s problem when that child has this disposition. Not that this disposition indicates a strong will. Of course that does not mean that the complacent child has a strong will, but only that his or her need for more will power comes in other forms. Perhaps in the complacency. But I digress.

It comes back to what we define as “the will”.

I have a child who would fall under the popular conception of strong-willed (for purpose of this post I will continue to use that term). I’ve seen the wrong way to parent/discipline a strong-willed child, and unfortunately I’ve also learned the wrong way to react and respond to such a child. Anger, frustration, loss of temper, and even taking it personally and using that feeling against the child are natural responses that I’m trying to rid myself of. I am happy to say that the personal feelings are hurt bit has only escaped my lips a couple times, in a weak beaten down moment, and that I’ve never used such things for manipulative purposes, only out of real weariness and loss of hope.

But I struggle daily with my daughter. She’ll fight everything, even the most mundane of instructions, like, “Drink your water, it will help your headache.” Yes, even the thing that will help her, if I said to do it, she won’t do it.

You may be thinking, “She must be what, 4 years old?” Oh no. She’s 6.

And she has fears that are so irrational, not even my 4yo succumbs to them. One of the last remaining such fears, held over from toddlerhood, is of public toilets. Unless she has a relationship with such a toilet–for instance, we have no troubles at the church we are attending any more, and she’ll even go all alone (gasp)–she won’t use it. We were on a nature walk a few weeks ago. The bathroom at this facility was not only very nice and up to date (unusual for a public park), but it had just been cleaned, as in, within minutes of us arriving. But at the beginning of our walk, she said she needed to use the bathroom, and then wouldn’t go. We cut the hike short because, part way in, she was crying about how badly she had to go. We turned back, went into the bathroom . . .and she still refused. We left to go to a nearby park, she ate lunch, played for an hour, then as we were leaving was in tears and holding her stomach because she had to go SO BADLY. So I led her into the bathroom, and this one was nowhere near as nice as the one we had left. . . .and she still refused. She demanded we go home, but home was further away than the shopping center I was planning to go to. So, mean mom that I am, I told her that, and said she’ll just have to use the one at the shopping center. We went, with her crying the entire way about how badly it hurt, we arrived, she practically hopped with both legs together because of the pressure, and she STILL almost refused when we went into the bathroom at Panerra Bread! But at that point it was do-or-die so she did it.

I use that story to illustrate how her fears override any desire to take care of herself, and also to show that, on the one hand, she really does have a strong will. Not only did she not use the toilets she was afraid of, but she never peed her pants either. She’s 6. That’s impressive. My oldest son can’t hold it that long. I’ve witnessed a very strong independent streak in her, in which she’ll do what she has to for herself if necessary. So on that side, I’m grateful. But on the other side, I want to train out both the strong-will fighting mommy and daddy tendency, and the self-harm resulting from fears problem.

One thing we, my husband and I, have noticed, is that her fighting mom and dad problem lessens when she has one-on-one time with mommy, and when I change my responses to her. It’s really kind of funny, but how I react to her behavior bears strongly on whether that behavior continues. Knowing that and acting on it are very hard for me (I have weak willpower myself), but the days when I do, things are much smoother. Still, there isn’t an improvement (so she’s not growing in will power), and some days when all of my other 4 children are pulling and pushing me I just am not equipped for the uphill battle.

The other day it came to a head. I can’t even recount it was all so much, and such a blur now, but by the time my husband came home I had nothing left. I had put something away in her room and could barely take one step because the floor was strewn thing toys and clothes, and all I thought was, “It’s not worth it”, meaning the battle of trying to get her to clean it (“But it’s too hard”, “But I have a headache”, “But I need you to supervise me”). I had told her several times to get her things from the table and it still wasn’t done. Those are the only details that stand out, because I was just over. While I washed some dishes, the kids played outside, and my husband sat on the other side of the sink and listened to me vent. I pointed out that all the working, fighting, training was such an uphill battle, and we weren’t getting any near the top. Punishments don’t work, taking things away doesn’t work–she feigns disinterest or shrugs it off–even natural consequences don’t work (as my  toilet story illustrates, her own pain means nothing to her if she can get her way). On the flip side, I don’t want to throw in the towel and allow her to dictate things. Letting her get away with murder is a disservice to herself and her siblings (as I know from experience), especially if the only reason is, “Mommy doesn’t want to deal with it.” Considering that’s my job description, that’s the worst excuse in the world. For the record, my husband is a great support. But he’s in the Navy, and will be leaving again soon for several months. Right now he’s in and out of port frequently. He leaves before anyone gets up and is often exhausted when he gets home (and has fibromyalgia, so yes, his exhaustion is an excuse that is valid).

Back to the problem . . . .One of the things that had happened several times that day was, she had come into the kitchen and said she wanted to help me cook. Each time it was something she could not do–I’m not about to let her slice potatoes with a santoku knife! So I tried to give her an alternative: “It would be a big help if you could clear the table” or “It would be a big help if you could put away the dishes.” Each time it wasn’t what she wanted to do so she said poutingly, “I don’t want to do that, I think I’ll just go play,” and walked off. My husband mused on that, then suggested that what she was really saying was she wanted to work alongside me. Again, we had both noticed that how mommy responds to her and works with her does a lot for her own responses. So he said, “Maybe find a way for her to do something else that is still spending time with mommy.” I thought about that then suggested, “Maybe if I said, clear the table and we’ll talk about your day while you do that?” He said, “Yeah, that might work.” But I thought even more. What if I validated her need verbally? What if I said, “I understand you want to be near mommy, and I love you too, but this is something you’re not ready for, so how about you clear the table and you can tell me about the dream you had last night?” My husband said, “It’s worth a shot.”

The opportunity came soon. Again, I’ve barely slept since then, so it’s a blur, and I don’t recall which situation happened first. I do know that she started to complain about a headache again, and I told her to drink her water, it would help. She ate some food, then asked for more, but I noticed that her water bottle was still full. I told her again, drink half your water and then I’ll give you more food. She drank, told me she’d done it, but when I looked only a few sips had been taken. The altercation went like this:

Me: Makenzie, that’s not half, drink half.
Her: But it IS half!
Me: No it’s–
Her: Yes, it is!
Her: (sullen silence)
Me: (taking a deep breath and calming down) Makenzie, I understand that you think you’ve drunk half of it, but that’s not, let me show you, ok?
I took a paper towel, made it the height of the water bottle, then folded it in half and held it up to the bottle. Her eyes got wide.
Her: Oh. (slurp, slurp, slurp) Is that half now?
Me: (holding the folded paper towel up) Not yet, almost, keep going.
Her: (slurp, slurp, slurp) Is it half NOW?
Me: YES! Good job, now you can have more food.

Back in 2015 . . . .

I remember this now, and I remember it worked for a couple days. But I let things slide. Then my husband deployed, then we had family visit, then things went from crazy to crazier. This beautiful brilliant comedic little girl is still stubborn and still willful (I now prefer that word). It makes not just school but every day a struggle. Recently, though, I found ways to get through to her. I hope to share those soon.

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