Thursday, September 30, 2010

Table Time, Charlotte Mason and Technology

 As John Holt said, "People should be free to find or make for themselves the kinds of educational experience they want their children to have."

Our children learn from their own discoveries, as well as from what my husband and I share with them. It's a learning lifestyle.

One tool our kids love using is technology. Computers and other devices are a large part of their day.

Their interest in technology makes sense when you know that their Dad's job is all about tech stuff.

He grew up playing video games all summer long in his room as a boy, took a job delivering newspapers to earn money for Nintendo games, and still remembers using his dad's personal computer for the first time. He has worked and learned alongside his own father, who also works within the technology field, and even started a business with a friend during college. Technology's a big part of his life, personally as well as professionally. It's our bread and butter and pays the bills! It's naturally something my husband shares with our children.

Of course, he also has a passion for music and for driving his Jeep into impossible places and being in nature, so he shares those things with the children and me, too.

Where do I fit into this big puzzle we are all assembling, that is our education and our life?

I love reading.

I still remember being read to, "The Chronicles of Narnia", as a child, and poems, and scripture stories. So many good books. I read stories of Dr. Doolittle to my siblings in our tree house when I was growing up. I love to sniff the pages of books; they all have their own smell and now boy # 2 has this habit. Mmmmm, he says, book smell! Stories transport me to a place I yearn to go, and evoke feelings that are exciting, sad, mysterious. The wonder of books and the world within the pages is what I love to share with my children. I also love art and music and nature and gardening and cooking and sewing and creating. So, being with my children throughout the day and into the night gives us ample time to share these experiences and more together.

Here the boys are creating their own books from fabric, our oldest's idea.

Which brings me to 'Table Time'. Among some of the educational philosophies particular to homeschoolers, the Charlotte Mason approach speaks to me. It is about reinforcing positive character traits and values in children from the start, and exploring art and music and literature ('living books') and nature together.

First thing in the morning, before computers and personal game devices get turned on, I put on some herbal tea or make a quick fruit smoothie and my oldest and I sit down at the table for our study time together. Most of the time, boys # 2 and #3 join in as well, drink some tea or smoothie, listen while playing, and moving in and out of the room. Boy #2 is 5 years old and has requested a writing folder of his own. He doesn't start officially with his own 'table time' until next year or the year after, but I welcome him to sit beside me when he wants to write a word or two of his own. I want to be clear that reading and writing are not required, but encouraged in our home as the child is developmentally ready and willing.

Since my oldest will soon be 8 years old and because he is just now able to listen and tell me back in his words ('narration') what he hears, he is using Year 1 of Ambleside Online this year.
He has a writing folder, which is just lined paper in a three pronged folder. Each day I write a few words from a poem which he copies down while I read the poem aloud. Sometimes I read a few more poems, depending on how receptive he is. Then, I read the selection for the day, which might be two of Aesop's Fables or one of the  "Just So Stories" from Rudyard Kipling. I pause periodically and give him the chance to tell me in his words what he heard. That helps him to listen and lets me know what he is learning. Sometimes he sits and plays with toys while he listens. Sometimes he wanders around near me.

After this period of about 15-20 minutes is complete, he is free to continue on with his day, choosing his activities, whether that be watching another episode (or 4 ) of Myth Busters, his favorite lately, or building with Legos or playing a game on the Play Station 3.

I should add that there are times where we skip table time in favor of other things or due to circumstances like a neat opportunity to go somewhere with friends or if someone is sick, but generally, this has been part of our daily routine this Fall.

One reason I have chosen to include 'table time' in our day and our children's education is that I want them to learn the habit of studying, of listening, of hearing ideas new to them, even just a little to begin with. That way, later on, when they are ready for more, they will have the habit and base of knowledge to build on.  Charlotte Mason wrote:

"Perhaps it is not too much to say, that ninety-nine out of a hundred lost lives lie at the door of parents who took no pains to deliver them from sloth, from sensual appetites, from willfulness, no pains to fortify them with the habits of a good life."

I have observed over the past 3 years that unless I step in and actively engage my sons in reading and other activities, there are times that they will gravitate heavily toward technology. Is it addictive? In our family, I do not believe so. There are so many other things happening in everyday life that they do not need to escape into games. They can and do turn it off many times of their own will, so it's not addictive in our case.

I am pleased that my sons have the time and inclination and curiosity to delve into their interests. I want them to enjoy the freedom of choosing what to do with their time. But I also recognize the important role that their Dad and I have to play, which includes engaging them in interesting activities from time to time rather than simply surrendering them up to technology, or any other pursuit, entirely. My husband and I call this "engagement" rather than simply restricting their use of technology.  It's definitely a bit of a balancing act!

What else do we do besides tech?

I don't mind the technology. It's useful. It has it's place. After all, it is a field of work that is valid and useful for many reasons. I feel that there are also other experiences in life they need as well, especially being children and in their formative years, and so that is another reason why we start off our days with a rhythm of our own before introducing tech into the day. It helps us feel closer and the day flows smoother. Who better to do this with them than me, their Mom?

 If we need something to do after table time, I have an idea board on the wall. It is not very often that we have to rely on it because the children almost always have something they have been working on that they want to get back to or we go on a nature walk or visit friends at a park day or have friends over. But it's there should we want to use it.

 We tuck in slips of paper with ideas for projects or games to play that coincide with the 'subjects' on the envelopes and can pull them out and do them when we want. I also tuck ideas in there that the children come up with so I can remember to do them when it is convenient.

 I have a book of games to play, as well as lot of sewing and art supplies, musical instruments to choose from, board games we like to play together, and they often join in cooking, so learning other subjects outside of 'table time' easily happens very naturally over the normal course of a week. Basically, we 'unschool' our subjects with me reading aloud in the morning.

In the afternoon, for lunch, I read a short scripture story either from the Gospel Art Picture Kit (Old Testament this year) or the Friend magazine while the kids eat.

This has been very do-able and a good way to come back together after we've been doing our own projects. Later at night, I might read some stories before bed, or we listen to stories on CD in the van, or I read to the little ones stories from Tomie DePaola, Eloise Wilkin, or Robert McCloskey or other favorite books. That gives an idea of how reading plays into our everyday life.

As far as my oldest son learning to read, he is doing this at his own pace without formal lessons from me. I have read and understand that many children who learn outside of school begin reading between the age of 8-10 independently, but that they quickly catch up to the reading level of children who read independently earlier.

He has been surrounded by words his whole life and I trust that when it is the right time, things will 'click' for him and reading independently will be a tool he'll have earned himself. I am excited for that day! In the meantime, we read together and I read to him and he figures things out in his way and time.

How do you approach technology within the context of a full, home educating life?

1 comment:

  1. I love your take on technology. I am still working on a better perspective about it since it is our bread and butter too. ;) Thanks for sharing!!!


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