Archive for the ‘Rule of Six’ Category

Fresh Starts

January 1, 2008 @ 12:29 pm | Filed under: Home and Hearth, Rule of Six

Happy New Year!

I love beginnings, fresh starts. I am very, very good at beginning things, less adept at finishing them. But I’ve finished some projects this long weekend, and am on the verge of finishing two others, and that feels great.

(But I still haven’t done the Christmas cards.)

I completely made over my bedroom this weekend. For the year-plus since we moved into this house, our bedroom has been more like a closet with a bed in it. Books and video tapes shoved willy-nilly onto the shelves during the first frantic days of unpacking remained there, unsightly and gathering dust, all year. Our dresser was piled high with laundry and books. One corner (and this is a tiny room; there is scarcely any corner space to spare) filled up with empty cardboard boxes, more laundry, and random mateless shoes. Really, it was quite disgraceful. But this is the first bedroom off the hall, the easiest place to stash clutter behind a closed door when company is coming.

This has become the room in which I write. In the evenings, after Scott is home and dinner is over, I slip in here to work for an hour or two. When we moved into this house, I thought I was going to do my writing at our big desk in Wonderboy’s room (the only place that had room for the desk), at the quiet end of the hall. Somehow that never happened. I work in here, and I sleep in here, and I needed the space to be pretty, not cluttered. So I worked for two days and cleaned from top to bottom. I moved the haphazard piles of old video tapes to a back closet, put all the laundry away (imagine!), and switched the books around. I have shelves and shelves of lovely old books about Scotland and early 18th-century New England, all the resources I’d collected while writing my Little House novels. They are beautiful books and good friends. I feel quite uplifted now, looking across the bed to the inviting rows of titles: A Naturalist in the Highlands; Old Landmarks of Boston; Weaving with Linen; Our Own Snug Fireside.

I made it a sort of game to make over the room without spending any money. I had bought new pillowcases last month (our old ones were threadbare), a cheerful assortment of lime greens and fresh, cool blues, and it’s amazing how much they brightened up our old blue comforter. For good measure I added a flowery bedspread that used to be on Jane’s bed, long ago. The flowers made me feel so happy, I went rummaging in the craft cabinets and found some faux peonies and daisies I’d bought to make an Easter wreath last spring. The wreath never got made, but the flowers look awfully pretty on my dresser. The green glass pitcher my sister-in-law gave me, gosh, seven or eight Christmases ago, looks quite stunning beneath the peonies.

Why were these things stashed away behind cabinet doors?

Two years ago my resolution (inspired by Robert Frost’s poem, “The Armful,” about juggling a pile of slipping parcels) was to “keep hold of the important things, stopping to restack the load as often as necessary,” and I think that pretty well describes what I did during these past two years. I had an armful indeed: new baby, cross-country move, work changes, all sorts of adventures. We’ve caught our breath now. This year my resolution, if I have one, is to look closer at the ‘beauty’ part of our family Rule of Six. My bedroom, though not fancy and decidedly low-budget, is really beautiful now. Now that I know we’ll be in this rental house another year, I’ll keep focusing on small corners to make more beautiful. The rooms I tackled during this past week have already brought much joy to our family. It’s an extremely gratifying project.

I like this idea of choosing one focus in particular out of our list of the things we want to be purposeful in making a part of our daily lives: meaningful work; imaginative play; living books; ideas to ponder and discuss; encounters with beauty through art, music, nature, and I would add to this the home arts as well; and prayer.

This year, then, beauty. I’m ready.

Dresserclose

Here’s part of a post about where our family’s Rule of Six comes from:

It got its start, as so many helpful principles do, in the writings of Charlotte Mason. In A Charlotte Mason Companion, Karen Andreola wrote that Miss Mason believed children needed three things every day: something to love, something to think about, and something to do.

I remember it was shortly after we moved from New York to Virginia in 2002 that I looked at the bright faces of my three little girls in their big blue room and made a silent promise to myself to give them that good soul-food every day: something to love, to think about, to do. I thought about what that meant in practical terms, because a concept has to translate very clearly on a practical level if there is any hope of my pulling it off. It’s the logistics that get you, every time. Broad principles are like umbrellas, and you need a hand to hold the umbrella with.

And that’s how I got to our Rule of Five. (Yes, five. It was Five for the first two or three years. Item number Six didn’t join the list until later—which is why I’ve been tickled to see all these Rules of Six popping up, because ours was the Rule of Five for so long.) I thought of it as the five fingers of a hand, the five things that I strive to make a part of every day we spend together:

Good books

Imaginative play

Encounters with beauty (through art, music, and the natural world—this includes our nature walks)

Ideas to ponder and discuss (there’s Miss Mason’s “something to think about”)

Prayer

When the girls were younger it worked so beautifully with a little fingerplay we would do at bedtime. We would hold up a finger for each thing on the list. “What did you play today?” I would ask, and eager stories would bubble forth. “Who remembers what books we read?” “Where did we meet beauty today?” It was such fun, at the end of the day, to listen to their reflections about what we’d done since breakfast. At the end of the list, we’d all be holding up the five fingers of a hand, and then we’d clap our hands together and that meant time to pray.

But what about the sixth item in my Rule of Six? You see, of course, what’s missing from my original list: work. That’s because when I first came up with the list, my oldest child was only six, and play WAS her work. A couple of years later, the list grew—like my children. I added “meaningful work” (as opposed to busywork) to express the importance of doing useful things cheerfully and well, with reverence and attention.

And the five-finger visual works even better now, because you can tally off the first five things on the list and then clasp your hands together for the sixth, prayer.

Meaningful Work

October 31, 2006 @ 11:27 am | Filed under: Family, Food, Rule of Six

Musing about the "meaningful work" part of my Rule of Six, Jove writes:

By observing how [my daughter] has been participating in household work over the
past little while, I have come to see that when there is no list of
"chores", the work itself can become meaningful. It produces something
that the worker desires — tasty bread, a tidy environment, etc. It
also produces a feeling of fully belonging to the household. That pride
that she can empty the dishwasher is at least partly about
recognizing an additional way that she is able to contribute, even if
she doesn’t empty the dishwasher every time. And household tasks do not
just produce goods (bread, dinner, clean laundry) and services (dinner
served to the table, maid service), they also produce relationships.

Doing these things for others as a member of a household is a way of
tangibly caring for people.

(Emphasis mine.)

Jove, that is so beautifully put. Yes, yes, yes: household work cheerfully and reverently done builds warmth and cameraderie within the family. I use the word "reverently" deliberately; I really do mean it. If we approach tedious domestic tasks—or any task—with an attitude of reverence, a sense that this work, however mean, however mundane, can bless our loved ones (or even perfect strangers), the work itself is changed. Cleaning toilets need not be drudgery; it can be as loving an act as buying a gift for your spouse or reading a special book to a child.

There’s a lovely passage in Thyra Ferre Bjorn’s book, Papa’s Wife, in which Mama sits down to her favorite task of the week: polishing the shoes of her seven children. Seven pairs of shoes! Imagine! She spent all day each Saturday cleaning and scrubbing and baking and preparing her home for the Sabbath—"Papa" was a pastor—and at the end of that long, hard day, she had to face that pile of shoes. Except there was no "having to face" the task in her attitude. She took joy in the job. Each shoe called forth the image of the child who wore it, and as she worked, Mama would smile over the thought of a funny or endearing thing the child had done that week. (Last year, when I re-read this book for the dozenth time, I thought of Alice during the shoe-polishing scene—and months later, when I read her "Spring Soup" post, I thought of the warm-hearted Swedish mama.)

Jove’s post also describes her recent decision to begin baking bread with her daughter. She links to a recipe Wisteria uses daily. This is perfect timing for me. I’ve been hankering to bring breadmaking into our lives ever since Elizabeth shared her enthusiasm for the task on the CCM list years ago. All these years, I’ve been biding my time, which is to say, waiting for Jane to be old enough to be in charge of the job. And she IS old enough now. I have already promised her we’ll work more baking into our lives now that we’re sort of overhauling our daily rhythm.

I’d love your input on recipes for beginners, dear readers. I have to admit Wisteria’s recipe (which sounds wonderful) intimidated me a little with its use of the words "adjust accordingly." Jove DID adjust accordingly, and I’m mighty impressed. I can "adjust accordingly" with the best of them when it comes to, say, educational method and materials, but with baking? Not so much. I need the Baking for Dummies version.

And we can make do without a mixer and dough hook, right? For now? Since this is likely to be a once-a-week endeavor at best?

My Rule of Six and Whence It Came

October 26, 2006 @ 7:33 am | Filed under: Family, Homeschooling, Methods of Home Education, Rule of Six

It’s funny how things you post on the internet take on a life of their own. When I began this blog* last spring (*The Lilting House, where this post originally appeared), I put “Our Rule of Six” in the sidebar (see it down there on the right, near the bottom?), intending to write a post about it. I touched upon it in one of the very first posts I wrote for this blog, but I always meant to come back to it and explain how the idea developed. Now and then I’ll get a nice email from someone who has happened upon the Rule of Six and found it useful, and I’m always so thrilled by that and I’ll think, Oh that’s right, I need to write that post!

But it’s been just a wee bit busy around here these past few months.

While I was on the road last week (or the week before; it’s all a blur), my friend Mary G.—whom I had the great pleasure of meeting in person during my Denver visit—popped me a lovely note saying she’d borrowed my Rule of Six for her own blog, and lots of people had responded with their versions, and would I mind if she put together a little Rule of Six Carnival? Of course I was delighted. I’ve greatly enjoyed reading this collection of posts, seeing how some folks have chimed in with their thoughts about my Rule, and others have put together their own lists.

And I figured it’s about time I finished up that old post about what our Rule of Six is and how I came up with it! It’s something I’ve been using for four or five years, and when I think about it, I can’t believe I haven’t ever posted about it before because it is such an important and constant guideline for me.

It got its start, as so many helpful principles do, in the writings of Charlotte Mason. In A Charlotte Mason Companion, Karen Andreola wrote that Miss Mason believed children needed three things every day: something to love, something to think about, and something to do. (And if you read the other posts in the Carnival, you’ll see that the Bookworm, astute woman that she is, picked up on my source immediately!)

I remember it was shortly after we moved from New York to Virginia in 2002 that I looked at the bright faces of my three little girls in their big blue room and made a silent promise to myself to give them that good soul-food every day: something to love, to think about, to do. I thought about what that meant in practical terms, because a concept has to translate very clearly on a practical level if there is any hope of my pulling it off. It’s the logistics that get you, every time. Broad principles are like umbrellas, and you need a hand to hold the umbrella with.

And that’s how I got to our Rule of Five. (Yes, five. It was Five for the first two or three years. Item number Six didn’t join the list until later—which is why I’ve been tickled to see all these Rules of Six popping up, because ours was the Rule of Five for so long.) I thought of it as the five fingers of a hand, the five things that I strive to make a part of every day we spend together:

Good books

Imaginative play

Encounters with beauty (through art, music, and the natural world—this includes our nature walks)

Ideas to ponder and discuss (there’s Miss Mason’s “something to think about”)

Prayer

When Mary borrowed my list, she put prayer at the top to reflect its overarching importance, which makes perfect sense. I have it at the bottom for the very same reason. I always figure that you’re most likely to remember the last thing you hear. If I put the most important thing at the bottom of the list, that’s the word that echoes in my consciousness afterward.

Also, when the girls were younger it worked so beautifully with a little fingerplay we would do at bedtime. We would hold up a finger for each thing on the list. “What did you play today?” I would ask, and eager stories would bubble forth. “Who remembers what books we read?” “Where did we meet beauty today?” It was such fun, at the end of the day, to listen to their reflections about what we’d done since breakfast. At the end of the list, we’d all be holding up the five fingers of a hand, and then we’d clap our hands together and that meant time to pray.

But what about the sixth item in my Rule of Six? You see, of course, what’s missing from my original list: work. That’s because when I first came up with the list, my oldest child was only six, and play WAS her work. A couple of years later, the list grew—like my children. I added “meaningful work” (as opposed to busywork) to express the importance of doing useful things cheerfully and well, with reverence and attention.

And the five-finger visual works even better now, because you can tally off the first five things on the list and then clasp your hands together for the sixth. It’s been a long time, though, since we used the fingerplay at the end of the day. I bet Beanie doesn’t even remember it. Maybe that’s something to return to now that we’re settling into a new rhythm, a new place to practice our Rule.

All Roads Lead to Rome (Even for Bunnies)

May 27, 2006 @ 9:07 am | Filed under: Classical Education, Connections, History, Literature, Rule of Six

David_sabine
The Sabine Women, Jacques-Louis David, 1796-99

Over at Bonny Glen I’ve been talking about the connections my kids are making during our read-aloud of Famous Men of Rome. This is for me one of the best things about homeschooling: watching the light bulbs go off, seeing pieces of the big puzzle of Life, the Universe, and Everything fit together in the kids’ minds.

We just started reading this book last week. Today Romulus finished building his city and then had to do a little creative marketing to find inhabitants. On the lam? Facing criminal charges? Australia doesn’t exist yet, so give Rome a try! It’s got a wall and everything! River views available. The world has never had a shortage of scruffy, disenfranchised males, it seems, for a paragraph later Romulus’s town is bustling with happy outlaws. Oops, not so happy after all: it seems no women answered the cattle call.

I get this far in the reading and Rose gasps. "It’s like the rabbits!" she shouts. For some reason, connections must always be shouted around here. "It’s like Watership Down!"

Scott is reading them Watership Down at bedtime. Last night they reached the part where Hazel & Co. have just gotten nicely settled into their digs on the down, and they suddenly realize their new warren has no future if they don’t find some nice lady rabbits to join them. Rose is right: it’s the founding of Rome all over again.

The bunnies, however, are a little more gentlemenly with the ladies, as my girls will discover a few nights hence. When I continue the early Romans’ tale, the kids are outraged by the abduction of the Sabine women. Then Beanie says, "Hey, this remembers me of a movie," and Jane shouts, "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers!" That charts our course for the rest of the morning: we hunt for the DVD and eventually remember where we left it. A short bike ride to the neighbors’ house later, Jane is brandishing the movie in triumph and we eat lunch to the tune of "And the women were sobbin’, sobbin’, sobbin’…"

The last week of May might seem like a strange time to start a history read-aloud. We don’t keep a traditional school-year schedule; we tend to follow a seasonal rhythm with our studies. For the new readers who are just getting to know me here at ClubMom, I thought it might be helpful if I gave a bit of background on our homeschooling style. Here’s how I have explained it before:

People often ask me what kind of homeschoolers we are: Classical? Charlotte Mason? Eclectic? Delight-Directed? Unschoolers? How, they want to know, does learning happen in our home? Am I in charge, or do I let the kids lead the way? And what about math?

Over the years I have written with enthusiasm about the Charlotte Mason method (which is highly structured) and unschooling (which is not). These educational philosophies seem to have intertwined themselves in my home, so that the what we do—read great books, study nature, dive deeply into history, immerse ourselves in picture study and composer study—is highly influenced by Charlotte’s writings and their modern counterparts; and the how we do it—through strewing and conversation and leisurely, child-led exploration—is influenced by the writings of John Holt, Sandra Dodd, and other advocates of unschooling. But I couldn’t say we’re "real CMers" because I don’t carry out Miss Mason’s recommendations in anything like the structured manner she prescribed; and I probably do too much behind-the-scenes nudging for us to be considered "real unschoolers."

The truth is, I couldn’t find any label that completely fit my family, so I made up my own. I call us "Tidal Learners" because the ways in which we approach education here change with the tide. Now, this doesn’t mean that we’re flighty or inconsistent, changing direction haphazardly. We aren’t Fiddler Crab Homeschoolers. What I mean is that there is a rhythm to the way learning happens here; there are upbeats and downbeats; there is an ebb and flow.

Lately I have been reading a lot about Latin-centered classical education, and I am increasingly convinced of the merits of steady and intensive Latin studies. Because we have such a relaxed approach to the rest of our learning, it is no burden to make Latin lessons a regular part of our day. When planning our family routine—whether it’s the summer routine revolving around the neighborhood swimming pool or the winter routine which must allow for abrupt changes of plan in the event of good sledding weather—I keep a loose "rule of six" in the back of my mind. There are six things I try to make a part of every day:

• meaningful work (this includes household chores, which are "meaningful" because they make our own and others’ lives more pleasant; it also includes pursuits requiring daily practice, such as piano and, yes, Latin; and of course for Scott and me, writing is meaningful work)
• good books 
• beauty (art, music, nature)
• big ideas (discussions about what we’re reading or encountering in the world)
• play (including time spent with friends)
• prayer

Honesty compels me to admit that for myself I privately add a seventh component to my daily Rule of Six:

• a footrub from my incredibly sweet husband

Oh, and also:

• chocolate.

But for the family as a whole, the top six items are what shape our days. So this summer, Romans and Sabines and Latin and bunnies will be waiting for us whenever we come home from the pool.