Tag Archives: teaching

Parenting Challenge–Education as a Discipline

Our vacation education project!

Our vacation education project!

Let the lessons be of the right sort and children will learn them with delight. –Charlotte Mason

During the long 2 week vacation that comes with Semana Santa (Holy Week), I started my 10-year-old son on an educational path that involved the book “The Most Dangerous Book for Boys” by Con and Hal Iggulden. With a title like that, you would have thought that he would have dove right in, but it took a little prompting and finally a stern mandate that he was to read one section of the book and complete the activity (if it had one) each and every day of the vacation period. However, I moderated that he could choose whatever topic he wished. So reluctantly he took the book to his room and thumbed through the table of contents, only to return a few minutes later to ask if he really could choose whatever topic. I responded affirmatively, and his excitement was evident. He went back to reading and came back again asking if he could do more than one section a day. Of course, he could.

As we have already urged, there is but one right way, that is, children must do the work for themselves. They must read the given pages and tell what they have read, they must perform, that is, what we may call the act of knowing. –Charlotte Mason

The first thing he read was about how to make paper airplanes. The house is now littered with the ones he learned from the book and several that he made his own adaptations to. Then he read about building a tree house, although I asked him what he thought he would do with that information since we do not have any trees large enough to support a tree house (cactus is not inherently stable enough to house a tree house.) But he wanted to read it, so he did. I came home from classes and found he had adapted the information to make a second dog house for Cocoa all on his own. (The first dog house, constructed with the help of his dad, has been taken over by 2 kittens and Hershey the new puppy.) Another day, he asked me to bring home vinegar and blotting paper for the newest experiment, a battery made with vinegar, quarters, copper wire, salt, and blotting paper. As blotting paper could not be found, he substituted thin cardboard and set to work. After a failed attempt (he had forgotten the salt) he tried again, his dad looking on. The second attempt also failed, (the light bulb was too large), so he tried again, doubling the number of quarters. He still wasn’t able to make the bulb light up, but he was able to create a spark, so the experiment was deemed a success.

making a battery

Working on making a battery from quarters and vinegar.

The bad habit of the easy life is always pleasant and persuasive and to be resisted with pain and effort, but with hope and certainty of success, because in our very structure is the preparation for forming such habits of muscle and mind as we deliberately propose to ourselves.–Charlotte Mason

My son’s new found enthusiasm for experimentation has sparked my husband’s mind as well. My husband has retooled our moto (motorcycle) wagon and is now gathering materials for making an attempt at a windmill to provide us with electricity since it seems that the powers that be in this area are not interested in their civic duties. My husband has always been creative but slipped into complacency this past year. I hope that his new projects will reawaken what was once a sharp and agile mind.

side car

Moto-cart. Just the thing for transporting!

Physical fitness, morals and manners, are very largely the outcome of habit; and not only so, but the habits of the religious life also become fixed and delightful and give us due support in the effort to live a godly, righteous and sober life. We need not be deterred by the fear that religious habits in a child are mechanical, uninformed by the ideas which should give them value. –Charlotte Mason

Having myself been raised in a religiously strict household, I have taken a more indirect approach to religion with my son. Instead of attending regular religious services, we look for God in the everyday. Instead of forced bible readings, I present tidbits that prompt his own investigations. “The most Dangerous Book for Boys” contains sections on the greatest battles ever fought since the beginning of recorded history. Of course, this included biblical figures such as Nebuchadnezzar. He read the section covering the conflict in the book, then went off with a bible to gather more details about Nebuchadnezzar’s life and times.

It is as we have seen disastrous when child or man learns to think in a groove, and shivers like an unaccustomed bather on the steps of a new notion. This danger is perhaps averted by giving children as their daily diet the wise thoughts of great minds, and of many great minds; so that they may gradually and unconsciously get the courage of their opinions. –Charlotte Mason

There are sections on scientists, explorers, inventors, poets, excerpts from Shakespeare, The Declaration of Independence, and the King James Version of the Bible. There are readings on overcoming adversity, scientific discovery and reaching out towards self-awareness. I was delighted to find some of my own childhood favorites included. After all, my own life is based on what Frost tried to say “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference” and it is my hope that my son will find his own path armed with all the knowledge and education that I lay before him.



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Filed under Book Reviews, Carnival posts, Education, Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms, Teaching

Parenting Challenge–Creating an Atmosphere for Education

dinosaur track

Often unexpected finds create the best environment for learning.

When we say that education is an atmosphere we do not mean that a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child environment’ specially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere both as regards persons and things and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. –Charlotte Mason

I asked my 10-year-old son what he thought he has learned by residing in México. His immediate response of “that to get things, you have to suffer” was not what I was expecting. But he’s right. Everything is more difficult here, harder than you might imagine. So how can I, his mother, provide an atmosphere for education when just meeting the basic necessities of life takes so much time and effort?

How do I create an atmosphere for learning?

I provide options for investigation.

I am a teacher and as such have a natural tendency to provide my son with stimulating games and books at a variety of levels. When my son asked me what happened to the dinosaurs, I had a book already in my home library that offered a variety of theories. It was quite advanced scientifically so, I had him skim what was presented there, allowed him to ask me questions about things he didn’t understand and then asked him what he thought the answer to his question might be. When he said he still wasn’t sure, I was pleased to say that neither is anyone else. Did he learn something from his investigation? Most definitely. When we found a dinosaur print in La Yacata, he went back to the same book to try and identify the dinosaur that made the print. Again, he wasn’t sure that he had the correct answer, but finding the one right answer wasn’t the point in the educational experience.

I allow my son to be involved in economic decisions.

Each of our various business ventures has been family efforts. My son has a stake in what we decide to embark on and therefore, has a say in the matter. He also has obligations to make the venture as success as well. When we had the Crap Shoppe, he learned, mostly from his abuelita (grandma) about doing business and negotiation. I could trust him to make sales while I ran to the store or went to teach a class. This has served him well. He has just started his first outside-of-the-family job. He works from 9:30 to 12 Wednesdays in the mercado (market) selling plastic bags to the merchants. He takes a cart and goes store to store offering his wares. He works along with the nephew of the owner, but after the first day, he told the owner that since he did all the work, he should receive a percent of the sales rather than a fixed amount. The truth was in the pudding since when the nephew went alone on Saturday, he sold next to nothing. My son now gets 10% of the sales.

I set an example.

Adapting to this new life has not been easy for me. I make social blunders all the time. It requires every bit of my focused attention to pick up the cultural nuances and make sense of them. I have stumbled along paths that are not remotely what I had in mind when the journey began. And I have learned from it all. I have pointed out to him that even those people who make me uncomfortable, laugh at my errors or are downright mean, have taught me something. In fact, these people have been some of my best teachers. And that as long as I don’t give up, I haven’t failed. As he moves towards adolescence, with the desire to fit in and just be one of the crowd, I hope that my example will serve him well.

I learn from my son.

We work hard for every little bit we have, and no, things don’t come easy. There are hundreds of small disappointments that make a bit of success so sweet. When I am tempted to grumble and curse about a late night walk home because of a flat tire, my son says, “Mom, have you ever seen the stars look so beautiful?” and I can look at it as the grand adventure that it is.

Creating an atmosphere for education is not providing high-tech teaching material in a child-centered classroom. Rather it is providing an environment that fosters questions and inspires wonder. Nothing new has ever been discovered, invented or learned without it.




Filed under Carnival posts, Education, Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms, Teaching

First world parenting in a third world country –What to pack?

When we made the decision to relocate to central México, our son was only 4 years old. He had been in a preschool, but since we left in January, he didn’t finish out the year. I wasn’t too concerned with his education at that age since he did Mommy school every day. However, I realized that down the line there would be things that he would need to learn, and I wasn’t sure that I would have the resources in México to teach them.

So the first step in ensuring his future educational needs were met, was to decide what to pack. We had limited space. What didn’t fit into the back of the truck or trailer, did not get packed. So that meant, some darling school supplies, like a mini-desk, did not make the cut. He would grow out of it before we could say, Jack Robinson. But a full-size desk and chair set did get packed. He would grow into it.

Then for books and activities. That was easy. Everything I had. I would be able to use it for our son and then again for any classes I might teach in México. I also scoured Goodwill and yard sales, looking for any books that might be useful. One day while shopping I can across How To Juggle: 25 Fantastic Juggling Tricks and Techniques to Try! and happily added it to my cart. My little guy said to me, ‘But mom, I don’t know how to juggle. Why are you buying me this book?’ To which I replied, ‘One day you may want to learn how to juggle and then we will already have the book.’ Well, 6 years later, he still hasn’t mastered juggling, but it does provide him with hours of entertainment.

To make more room, I left most of my college textbooks behind, a fact I regret now as some of my students are advanced level and could have used those books. Then, before you know it, my son will also be able to read at that level, and here I am without the books.

I also brought quite some VHS tapes I had. As I haven’t been able to find a VHS player, I finally disposed of them this past year. Wasted space.

And then there were his toys and future toys. We were planning on remaining in México permanently, and I wasn’t sure how many times I would be able to return to the US to purchase new things, so this was it. Most of the stuffed animals were left behind. A full tote of action figures and animals was in. Another tote full of blocks. Some more advanced creativity enhancers like Building Cards: How to Build Castles found a space. I also bought him a Medieval Castle. However, it remained in its packaging until we had our own place.  Once we had moved to La Yacata, the castle was an incredible toy.  My son spent hours planning battles in imaginative play.

Of course, his Spidey lovey Marvel The Ultimate Spiderman Pillowtime Pal
also came along, complete with his own blanket and chupon (pacifier) (the lovey’s blanket and pacifier that is). Taking care of a doll would be a good educational experience for daddyhood down the line.

I also brought a suitcase full of preschool and elementary educational software which I used at the learning and teaching in as well, until Windows 7 made them obsolete. Now I can only use them on my own antiquated computer, but that works for us.

As a last minute purchase, we bought a portable DVD player and some cartoons for the 5-day road trip. We still use that player, connected to the cigarette lighter in the truck, because no electricity in La Yacata means no electricity. So 2 thumbs up on that buy. Anytime we come across National Geographic piratas (pirated movies are the only type available here) we snatch them up for an excellent family evening of learning.

You can find other suggestions for what to pack on my Resources for a life well-lived in Mexico page under Useful Items and many useful links to educational sites on the Schooling page.




Filed under Education, Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms