The sun shone and my children frolicked in the sunshine on the broad path. Rue anemone and trillium lined our way as we journeyed along the stream, up towards the majestic falls. Past the broken log bridge, with the delightful tale of near demise and wet attire, we made our way in dappled light.
The brave and ruddy boys rushed ahead, much faster than the toddlers and babe in arms and protective mamas bringing up the rear of the hiking train, loaded down with journals, water bottles and cameras.
By Rochelle Marshall
The delight of the journey was upon us all and we were rewarded for our labors with the discovery of a smooth and slippery salamander, the joy of fresh picked wild blossoms, and the new sensation of tender feet picking their way gingerly through a pebbly streambed of ice-cold water. We were on an adventure.
Come along with me
A few years ago, when my eldest child was a toddler, I remember reading an article on “things you could do with your littles.” They were all things I thought I would enjoy doing alone, but the message was clear: Do what YOU enjoy doing and bring the littles along where they can learn beside you. Bake, craft, write letters, go for walks, and practice hospitality. They will watch, they will learn, and they will grow as you model for them gracious living and learning. Bring them along.
With my first baby I implemented this “come along” approach as I continued growing as a wife and mother. But as my eldest got into the preschool years, as a devoted and motivated mother, I quickly started putting things into a child-focused lens, overscheduling fun activities for the children, at home and out and about. I was so excited about going to library storytime and starting to get into the fun age of little paper crafts and cute little Pintrest “learning activities” that I lost my focus in the busyness of the preschool season. In my baby-exahusted state a quick fix like “this cute activity you can do in 10 minutes,” would catch my eye, briefly inspire me, and push me a little further into a child-centric practice. I was losing myself, and my vision for our family, in the process of parenting these sweet little people.
For a short season I tried scheduling my children within an inch of their dear little lives. I had three babies, 4 and under, and my sanity was key. But this frenetic activity – constantly entertaining and organizing one fun activity after another – was exhausting and did not bring peace.
About this time I started hearing more about “free-range” parenting and this idea of relaxing and letting the children just “be.” Several of my dear friends were very relaxed and I tried to be more like them. At the time I thought this was the solution, but in retrospect, I think this relaxed practice was just part of their personality and it played into their parenting. This was very appealing after the bit of “cruise director” style activity planning in which I had been participating, especially as I embarked on another run of exhaustion a la pregnancy and tiny baby parenting.
Charlotte Mason also talks about “masterly inactivity” on the part of the parent or teacher, but this does not give the parent-teacher license to laziness and it does not mean that the children should run wild in the neighborhood with absence of leadership or oversight.
Sonya Shaeffer says, “Both words — masterly Inactivity — are important. You must have control of your children and have your authority in place first (masterly) before you can practice wise passiveness (inactivity) in allowing them breathing room — room to explore, learn, and grow within your boundaries.” (https://simplycharlottemason.com/blog/you-need-both-masterly-inactivity/)
I think this pendulum swing from very organized “helicopter” parenting to relaxed “free range” parenting can be fairly common as young mamas navigate the early years. Some might be motivated by personality: controlling and overly structured vs. relaxed and perhaps tired or lazy. But I believe Scripture teaches a middle ground, more like what I read about when my eldest was so little.
Exodus 6:7 says, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” While this passage is clearly speaking of teaching your children to love the Lord and understand His law, I think there are also further implications as to how we raise our children. Part of why we educate our children at home is to be in relationship with them as we teach them about the world and their part in the world. This image of a parent walking with their child is so simple, yet so fitting. We are taller (until a point!), we are stronger, but we walk by the way, beside them, as a guide, but learning and laboring next to them.
Charlotte Mason talks about taking your children out into nature, to learn alongside them, not just sending them off. This perfectly fits with this passage: When I think of my children learning about nature, and by extension, the world, it’s with me by their side, learning along with them, or perhaps just one or two steps ahead.
If you think of life with the metaphor of a journey, this vision is also fitting; we journey along learning new habits, new ideas, new delights of literature, and we are privileged to walk with these fellow travelers: our spouse, our children, and our larger community. So how does this idea of journey inform our homeschool?
How we prepare ourselves
How can we as mothers and fathers teach our children without keeping ourselves in a seat of learning? This phrase “Mother culture” is fairly new to me, but this idea is foundational. We must continue our own education, even as we foster our children’s learning. Personally this means I take time to read books I expect my children to read in a few years time, as well as articles and books that help me reflect on our home and education. One of the greatest benefits teachers have in a school is the regular review from other faculty and administration. As homeschooling parents, without this built-in structure, it is vital that we take a serious look at ourselves and consider what areas we can grow in.
This requires time. Much thought and reading can be done in the home, but often a change of environment and a short time away to think and reflect is immensely helpful in gaining perspective. Patience with the the foolishness of youth seems to be one of the chief frustrations of parents with young children and I have found a bit of time in a good book or amongst adults can help temper impatience. Missing and then being reunited with your children is also a delight rarely known by the home educating mother. Relish the experience when it’s available!
How we treat littles
“Children are born persons.” In our homeschool we try to learn with the littles underfoot. Is this always quiet and convenient? No. But is it worthwhile and possible? Yes! Are the joys worth it? Most definitely. We have done memory work as a family and my 2-year -old learned Luke 1:46-55 right along with the rest of the children, and faster! My 6-year-old has been more inspired than his older sister by her science text, and now my toddler is learning to fold hands when we pray and color while the big kids write. She has never been a great napper, but recently she has learned to take a quick doze in the carrier on our nature walks when needed.
This idea of “bringing them along”includes room for separate activities. Each of my children have times in the day that they work independently or have quiet time away from the group, but I am increasingly finding the benefits of more collective learning.
It is definitely the most effective use of my time and I’m delighted to see how much it’s fostering their mutual respect and interest in learning. A practical piece is they are also able to remind each other of things we have discussed or ask each other for an update if they missed part of a story or something I taught.
How we teach the habits of home-life
We are already “creatures of habit,” so habit making is the fostering of the proper habits. Children are born imitators, so the fostering of proper habits is primarily of duty of parents demonstrating and enforcing proper behavior. There are some excellent articles I’ve read recently on habit formation, but suffice it to say, I believe children learn habits by watching and doing.
My biggest hurdle in forming proper habits in my children is forming proper habits in myself.
Much prayer and self-discipline is required here.
Since my children are learning along side me, I try to think about habits I want for them and seek to model those myself. I want my children to get up and do their chores? I must begin by getting up on time and doing my chores (which include, in this season, waking my children and overseeing their chores). I want my children to be kind and respectful? I can talk all day with lovely lectures about the importance of respect, or I can begin by treating my children and all who I am in relationship with, with respect. This modeling is a daunting task and reminds me of my gratitude for and reliance on the Holy Spirit.
As we wandered home after our cheerful jaunt in the clear spring air I thought to myself, “This journey is a good, very good.”
Originally published in Esprit newsletter, April 2016. Used by Permission. Rochelle Marshall, second generation homeschooler, Covenant College alumna, former Ambleside School teacher, and mother of four children, ages 1-8, is seeking to rear her them well on Lookout Mountain.