Archive for October 26th, 2006

My Rule of Six and Whence It Came

October 26, 2006 @ 7:33 am | Filed under: , , ,

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.