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”)
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.
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)
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:
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.