Jehovah was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake: Jehovah was not in the earthquake.
And after the earthquake, a fire: Jehovah was not in the fire. And after the fire, a soft gentle voice. (1Kings 19:11-12)

Friday, September 8, 2017

Cultivating a Life-Long Love of Learning (Part 3) ~ Education is a Life

We spent the last week of holidays at the lake and tried to squeeze out every last drop of summer. The cousins drank it up like it would never come to an end. But, summer this year was vanishing as quickly as the mist on the lake in the early morning sunlight.

Some of the maple trees have already begun their annual change from summer green to autumn gold; their leaves dappled with orange and blushing bright red. Evening is settling in earlier every day, like it is trying to tuck summer in before it’s ready. The brisk night air is warning of the looming changes ahead. Change will come, you can be sure of it.

This morning our daughter walked down the drive as a round rosy sun snuck up through the clouds.

Life, it seems, can sneak up on you like that. You come to the end of a season and you find that the next season has already sprinted off with the baton. You hardly recognized the transition zone. Life just keeps racing on.

She walked down the street and vanished from sight. For twelve years, well, except for the one I was in the hospital barely alive after open-heart surgery, she has been learning at home.

This morning, after I snapped a picture, she walked right into a new adventure—a change of atmosphere, so to speak, and I had to catch my breath and keep trusting the Lord.

Her brother and sister, her Dad and I, stood with arms flapping our farewell and prayers lingered on our lips and my heart, it felt like it was getting silently squeezed right there on the driveway.

We walked back in the house, I wrapped my fingers around my half empty mug of coffee—the one with ‘Joy’ inscribed on the front of it—and the rest of us, we settled back into old routines and new habits. We dug out old lessons to review and cracked open new living books to read. I sipped re-heated coffee and joyfully considered the year of learning ahead.

For twelve years we have been learning that “education is an atmosphere; education is a discipline; education is a life”. It’s the philosophy of education Charlotte Mason advocated and we have been discovering.

These three instruments of education—atmosphere, discipline, and life—all braided together to weave a strong cord; each one as vital as the other to hold it all together.

We build up an atmosphere—the thought environment—that encourages relationships where real learning takes place.

Secondly, we diligently cultivate good life-giving habits in our children by laying them down rail upon rail, habit upon habit in which character is formed.

Finally, we spread before our children a large and varied feast to nourish the mind. Just like we provide nourishing food for their bodies, children need rich ideas to feed their mind.

Charlotte Mason, the British educator who has greatly influenced many teachers, parents and students, wrote in the Preface of School Education: “The mind feeds on ideas and therefore children should have a generous curriculum.”

This is the academic instrument of education, yet it is not made up merely of dry facts, predigested tidbits of information and dumbed-down books, but rather of living ideas obtained from first-hand personal experience.

Education is a lifelong process of one’s mind feeding on ideas that originate from God. We are to learn about God and His world.

Mason submitted, children learn in order to grow, to get ideas and to gain knowledge. Children will fill their bellies with garbage if that is all that is available and they will fill their mind with the same. Mason believed that children are persons that need to grow in knowledge.

And the way we should do this, she advised, is to freely sow ideas in the fruitful soil of the mind. An idea, she wrote, is: “a spiritual germ endowed with . . . power . . . to grow, and to produce after its kind. It is the very nature of an idea to grow.”

Mason challenged: “ . . . give your child a single valuable idea, and you have done more for his education than if you had laid upon his mind the burden of bushels of information.” (Home Education, p. 174)

These ideas—the live things of the mind—are mainly passed on from one person to another, and when interwoven with experience and knowledge lead to growing concepts.

Children discover ideas in living books—books written by one author who passionate for his subject and written in a narrative or a story form. Real learning begins to take hold as the idea sown in the story grows in the mind. Anyone who has become friends with a character in a book, or has had the subject matter spark a fire in the mind, knows what a living book is.

Children also discover ideas in an atmosphere that lets them wonder and lets them ask why and lets them see how. Children need to be outside in nature—there is a feast for the mind when a child stoops down to study an ant or spider on the walkway; whey they observe a tree change in the seasons, drink from a glacier-fed waterfall, walk through a wheat field, listen to the spring peepers, watch a monarch butterfly unfurl from its chrysalis, or wade in the ocean.

Children digest ideas when they are given time to be silent and reflective on the living things they have read, given attention to, and handled. Let children be bored to allow time for the idea to germinate and grow. Let them run, and play unorganized sports, and invent games outside.

Charlotte Mason recommended four tests to apply to their children’s academic diet:
“ . . . children’s lessons should provide material for their mental growth, should exercise the several powers of their minds, should furnish them with fruitful ideas, and should afford them knowledge, really valuable for its own sake, accurate, and interesting, of the kind that the child may recall as a man with profit and pleasure.” (Home Education, p. 176)
Our children, especially today, need a nourishing feast set before them. The distractions are crushing, the amount of processed information is devastating, and all the while attentions spans are dwindling, and real learning is declining. It is up to us to present a feast, but it is the work of the child to deal with the idea.

We have work to do, a real labour of love. Mason encouraged mothers to seriously consider her children’s education. So, I challenge you today to ask yourself these same questions:
“‘Why must children learn at all?’ ‘What should they learn?’ ‘And, How should they learn it?’” (Home Education, p. 171)
Once you grasp that the mind has been created to grow and be renewed and that it feasts on living ideas that ultimately all come from God, you just may see that it is not so much what a youth knows when he has finished his formal education, but how much he cares. That is the learning that lasts a lifetime.

So, no matter what road your child walks down one morning to set off on a whole new adventure, it should be our goal to set our children’s feet in a large room. Real learning in life comes from relationship; build up these relationships. Invest in the atmosphere in which your children live and learn, lay down the discipline of life-giving habits, and nourish your child’s mind with rich ideas.

We need to set our children up to be life-long learners—to love to learn, to grow in knowledge about God and His world. This Truth will never vanish like the mist; it will not change like the seasons, it will stand the test of time and tradition and endure on into eternity.

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