28 February 2014

Celebrating Lent as a family: An introduction

A little about the time before Easter...
Signs of spring are here.  Birds are beginning to build nests.  Flowers are starting to bloom. Soon farmers will be turning the soil and preparing the ground for seed. All around us nature is waking up. Preparation is being made for another growth cycle.

Within this growth cycle of spring, Easter is coming. It finds its way into the spring calendar every year, its date moving like a Mexican jumping bean. Have you ever wondered why? Why don't we have a fixed date for Easter as we do for Christmas?

In the early church, bishops in the East and those in Rome were celebrating the Easter feast on different Sundays. Apparently there was no unanimity on the date of Jesus' resurrection. So when the bishops came together to address some deep theological matters in Nicaea in 325 A.D., they addressed this practical issue of ensuring the same day was chosen to celebrate the Easter feast every year. Since there was no strong consensus on the original date, they felt that Sunday was the most appropriate date to celebrate. Changing to a uniform date did away with any future arguments about the true Easter date.

The new system, determined by the moon's phases, ensured that the Easter feasts would jump around within a small window of dates. Tying the dates to the moon phases ensured that no one could get the dates wrong again. Such dating sounds strange to modern ears, but it made very good sense to people of the fourth century who were tied to the land and the heavens. The council of Nicaea decided that Easter would be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon that occurred after the spring equinox. Because of the way the lunar calendar cycles, Easter must occur between March 22 and April 25.

...And a little about Lent
The preparation for Easter became known as Lent, which comes from the Old English word "lencten," meaning "lengthen" as the days do as winter gives way to spring.

According to the liturgical calendar, Lent begins  on Ash Wednesday, seven Wednesdays before Easter. Ash Wednesday is a day when we remember our mortality, our finite nature. Our time on this earth is brief. The Psalmist says, "Men and women don't live very long; like wildflowers they spring up and blossom, But a storm snuffs them out just as quickly, leaving nothing to show they were here" (Psalms 103:15).  Lent continues for 40 days (not counting Sundays) moving through six weeks at the beginning of Spring to Holy Week's Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and concluding the Saturday before Easter. 

The 40 days of Lent were being observed by the early church by the 4th century.   Easter was the primary celebration of the early church and a period of intense fasting before the celebration of Easter was instituted very shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  As time went on, that time of fasting was lengthened.  In the early church, Lent became a time of preparation for those who were to be baptized, a time of concentrated study and prayer before their baptism at the Easter Vigil. Those who had become believers during the year were baptized early Easter Sunday morning. As these new members were received into a living community of faith, the entire community was called to preparation. This also became a time when those who had been separated from the Church would prepare to rejoin the community.

The number 40 is connected with many biblical events, but especially with the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for his ministry, overcoming temptations that could have led him to abandon his mission and calling. Christians today use this period for introspection, self-examination and repentance.

Why celebrate Lent as a Family?
At this time of year, preparations are being made all around us for another growth cycle.  The Earth is warming and greening.  New life is beginning to bud and bloom.   Why should it be any different within our spiritual lives? Spiritual growth is more intentional than not. Jesus modeled that spiritual growth involves spiritual disciplines.

Easter is on the calendar and Easter Day will come and go whether we do any planning. However, Easter will not produce much spiritual growth in us without preparation. We may find ourselves stooping down to peer inside the empty tomb on Easter morning without a great deal of excitement or awe, since we've heard the story so many times before, unless we prepare ourselves for that morning and for the words of the angel: "He is not here for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay" (Matthew 28:6).

If a farmer misses the window to plant a crop, he will not have time to reap a harvest. If we waste precious days or precious years, we can't get them back. Lent reminds us to seize the moment. Make the season of Lent an intentional season of growth. Make Lent a spiritual journey toward the cross, and then you'll bend down and be in awe of the empty tomb. Easter will be a day of celebration and not just another day!

Adapted for my purposes (with my biases and research but with borrowed verbiage) from “Explaining Lent to Non-Liturgical Christians” by Michael Helms (please click through to read his much-more-eloquent explanation).

I'd love to hear others who did or did not grow up celebrating Lent and how the season works (or doesn't) in your home! 

16 February 2014

Why a Classical Education is important to us

I will confess, when we first started our homeschooling journey, I was not sold on the idea of Classical Education. I'm a self-confessed snob/ nerd/ dork, but Classical Education seemed way too pretentious to me. In fact, it just seemed to be too much. Too much repetition, too much memorizing, too much study of things like Latin (that, at first glance, could be perceived as a massive waste of time), not to mention too much time, too much effort, and too much organization for me, a very unorganized person.

Kids "playing chess" in the winter sun
As I said in a previous post, I was not a good homeschooler the first time we did it. I was overwhelmed by the choices of curricula; I could see something redeeming in every program and method! I tried to incorporate everything and ended up so overwhelmed that we did nothing. I managed to teach my daughter to read and write and how to do a little bit of math by the time she was a first grader. But that was it.

When we decided to attend what shall henceforth be known as The Classical-school-that-saved-us, I began reading more about Classical education. Through the course of researching I found The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Dorothy Sayers' excellent and provocative essay,  The Lost Tools of LearningAfter reading these and other persuasive arguments for Classical Education, I was convinced.

At The-Classical-school-that-saved-us (Ok, that's too long to type. It shall henceforth be known as Aletheia), I was able to observe Classical education in process. The curriculum was not super-exciting, but was manageable and masterable and fit very well with the goals of Classical education.  I saw how the tools of memorization and rote could work (and even be creatively used!) in the Grammar stage.  I discovered how the study of Latin forms a basis for understanding language that is simply irreplaceable.

Most thrilling was that I witnessed how my children and other children were empowered by their mastery and understanding of the skills and ideas presented to them in this model of education. Classical education focuses on providing a foundation that is strong and reliable in the beginning stages of education.  Repetition provides permanence and rote provides mastery. I've seen students with learning difficulties, whether innate or self-imposed, experience the joy that comes from conquering a formerly unreachable height through constant repetition and remembering.  My own children have found security in the firmness of their knowledge.

For the teacher, where I once thought that Classical education was binding and boring, I now see the freedom offered in teaching fundamentals in an ordered, understandable, age-appropriate way. The teacher does not need to ask children to experience that which their brains are not cognitively ready to experience. Because the education is age-appropriate, it can also be rigorous. It can have an emphasis on sturdy fundamentals, but can leave room for imagination and a child's innate need for "knowing" and discovery.

Because of these reasons, we have decided to have a Classical homeschool. We have found that in addition to the above positives, a Classical education is also very adaptable. Memory work can be done in the car or at the dinner table; chanting can be done just as easily to the rhythm of a jump rope. I also love that it is often inter-disciplinary and that a subject can speak to another subject with ease.

Essentially, for our family, a Classical education provides the framework necessary for the exploration of knowledge as we have determined we want our children to be able to explore knowledge. I put that part in italics because I am sure it's not for everyone.  And if you feel that God has asked you to do homeschooling a different way, be encouraged to do it that way.

But for those who find Classical education to be enticing, it's ok to find the idea of beginning to educate one's child in this manner a tad intimidating. I have been there.  The allure is easy to recognize; how to move into a Classical education can be daunting.

So- are you interested in a Classical education for your kids? Look for more posts in the future as I break down what we do to make the dream of a Classical education a reality here at Schola McStewium. Maybe it will inspire you to make your Classical dream a reality, too.

15 February 2014

Home. School. Classical(ish).(the intro post)

My husband and I knew that God was asking us to homeschool our children back when our first child was just a little one.  My husband and I are both the kind of people who love, love, love learning.  And though I loved the social aspects of school and both of us were good students, we found Excitement generated by the actual learning within the public school context to be the exception rather than the norm. We wanted our kids to love absorbing and mastering information, but we also wanted them to learn character lessons and how to serve others.  And, when it came down to it, we wanted to be the ones teaching them these things. So we decided to homeschool.

But, honestly, I was not a great homeschooler.  (I'll detail some of the reasons why in a later post.) So, when my eldest was getting ready for second grade and we found an affordable and excellent classical school in a city near us, we jumped at the chance to enroll.  
First day of school 2013
Aletheia School was the biggest possible blessing for me and my children.  Because the teachers are primarily volunteer parents, I had the opportunity to teach my children, and other children. Because of patient colleagues who explained processes and programs to me, I understood more about how a child learns and the discipline required to teach.

And while my children were learning from amazing Christian role-models, I learned some important things about myself. I discovered, personally, that I love teaching.  And I found that structure and routine is life-giving to my scattered and creative brain. I also realized that my internal script that says that I'm lazy is not necessarily true and that I really can wake up early, teach a lot, and engage my children.  On the negative side, I found out that while I'm a good teacher, my natural bent is to be a terrible disciplinarian, that I have a major weakness in communicating expectations to my students, and that follow-through will always be a challenge to my big dreams.  I'm glad to know all of that as we move forward.

After the death of our fifth child in utero in December, our family has needed the peace offered by Home in a way we haven't really experienced before.  We have found that the stress of being gone all day is taking a toll on the relationships in the family at a time when the relationships in the family need to offer refuge.  I was reluctant to give up our involvement at school, but knew that God wanted me to put that on the altar. As soon as we did, it was clear that homeschooling was the way forward.

Because our school has been so helpful for all of us, we plan to try to keep up with the curriculum and pace of the school.  This is definitely not how many homeschoolers do school, but the accountability offered by an outside schedule is very helpful for us.  Similarly, a curriculum that provides an already-chosen core offers this mother-who-loves-aspects-of-all-curriculum a solid starting point. 

What this means is that we will have three kids on completely different paths and a squirly preschooler.  I'm ok with that, for now. We'll see how it morphs later in the year.

The 'ish' part of the our tagline comes from the fact that I am not do-or-die about any part of homeschooling.  If something really isn't working for us, we'll re-evaluate and try something else. Our youngest will be at a very non-Classical preschool two or three mornings a week.  The kindergartner will be formally learning reading,  math and handwriting. Whatever she picks up from the others' Bible, Science and so on is fine with me. The eldest (fourth grade) will be almost entirely self-taught with the help of curriculum on video. Again, I'm ok with that. We'll also be incorporating various liturgical celebrations and traditions, circle time, read alouds, memory songs, and tons of art. I'm not sure how much of it would fit into an "ideal" Classical model. Honestly, I don't care.

Schola McStewium
The name of the blog is a little joke that has become a reminder to me to not take things too seriously. "Schola" comes from the name of the classical schools, of course, and "McStewium" is our abbreviated last name, made far more dignified by adding a Latin ending.  I tend to be a perfectionist.  The name of our homeschool is intended to keep us all focused on the big picture, not the fussy details.

I'm excited that we are at this signpost at this stage of our journey.  Our path has been pretty extraordinary so far and I'm confident that it will be a thrilling ride in the future, too.

I'd be grateful if you'd travel along with us for a while. We'd love the company.