Friday, May 8, 2015

Charlotte Mason & STEM continued...

CM & STEM - Part II by Vanessa
{CM & STEM - Part I}

A couple of days ago I published a guest post where Vanessa began the discussion about the place of STEM in our current educational culture.  She shared just a few comments from some recognizable names and institutions to help us see that even in the academic realm as well as some professionals in the STEM fields support a broader approach to education - a liberal arts approach.  It isn't new and it is very much a part of a Charlotte Mason philosophy.  Vanessa continues today with some thoughts on unintended consequences...

What are some unintended consequences I see with a STEM focus in high school?  It has the potential to damage the atmosphere of our homes and it robs our children of the joy of learning for the sake of knowledge and puts the emphasis on results.  Volume 6 page 98 paraphrase: But a school may be working hard, not for love of knowledge, but for love of marks, our old enemy; and then young faces are not serene and joyous but eager, restless, apt to look anxious and worried. The children do not sleep well and are cross; are sullen or in tears if anything goes wrong, and are, generally, difficult to manage.  Charlotte Mason wrote that over 100 years ago but yet she is describing so many children today – yes children, not just teenagers.  I worry that we will end up with a generation that doesn’t know what they like, they don’t have hobbies because they weren’t given the time to pursue them. We don’t want our children to become like Darwin, do we?  Charles Darwin, as brilliant as he was, ending up losing “himself in science until he could not read poetry, find pleasure in pictures, think upon things divine; he was unable to turn his mind out of the course in which it had run for most of his life.”  Charlotte Mason made that observation in her sixth volume page 54.    How sad.  This extraordinary man became obsessed with one part of his life, science, and ‘forgot’ how to enjoy anything else.  I wonder what else could he have accomplished if he would have been able to stay balanced in all aspects of his life?   Why does Chevrolet have an online post that encourages people to become Renaissance Men? Is it because so many of us in society have forgotten how, or never taken the time, to have interests outside of work?  Have we forgotten how to relax and enjoy something for the sake of enjoyment?  If we give our children a liberal arts education that is a part of them.   Nevertheless, the only valid education is education that focuses on the mind. The main challenge is the huge amount of subjects to introduce children to. They have a right to them as human beings, and they need to find out about the things that they're drawn to as people and that they'll spend the rest of their lives pursuing further.” Vol 6 paraphrase pg 254.  A person that has had a liberal arts education already has wide interests, he doesn’t have to be told or taught how to do it or that it’s okay to have other interests. 
Don’t misunderstand, I am not saying to ignore the STEM subjects.  They are very important parts of an education are important but they are just parts – not all encompassing.  My children study all the STEM subjects but it is not their focus.  Science and math can be so much fun and are so beautiful once you see the ‘big picture’ but that’s a story for another day.  A liberal arts education is a very broad and encompassing education. 
I believe that all students can and should study science, technology, engineering, and math, they are very important but they should not be the focus of a high school education.  Education needs balance. No single subject should assume greatest importance at the expense of other subjects that a child needs to know about. Math is easy to test, and as long as education is ruled by test scores, we'll have teaching focused on training exactness and solving problems efficiently, instead of teaching to awaken a sense of awe in contemplating a field of knowledge where perfection lives with or without us.” Vol 6 page 231 paraphrase.
If we believe, as Charlotte said, that knowledge is ideas clothed upon with facts, and is the proper food for the mind then we need a liberal arts education; “a wide syllabus…intended in every point to meet some particular demand of the mind”.  “Education should be a science of proportion, and any one subject that assumes undue importance does so at the expense of other subjects which a child's mind should deal with” Vol 6 page 232.  The forces that work continuously in a liberal arts education are: attention, assimilation, narration (composition/communication), retention, and reproduction” Vol 6 page 259.  That is what is needed in today’s world.  
So, in actuality, I believe a CM education prepares our children for any and all career paths.  They have a broad base of knowledge in several things, they have the powers of observation, attention to detail, and the ability to question and use critical thinking which are very important for today’s careers – both STEM and non-STEM.

Thanks for your insight and sharing some current support for a more balanced life & liberal arts approach to education!

I think it is an important topic to discuss and consider.  We need to have real information and real discussions to help correct the misconception that a CM approach isn't strong in STEM subjects.  Just because there isn't a specialization focus doesn't mean it isn't included.  In fact, a liberal arts education means all students cover all subjects.  Students who love history also study chemistry and fine arts and maths; students who excel at maths cover literature, biology, and Shakespeare.  The wide and broad curriculum is for all students to see the beauty and breadth of all God has made and all Truth is God's Truth and in neglecting any of these, we neglect the character and beauty of our God...

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Charlotte Mason & STEM

Hello CM friends!
I am sure you are all aware of the push toward the STEM studies (Science, Technology, Engineering studies, Math) these days... If you have older students, you are probably feeling some stress regarding academic choices.  I have had many conversations lately about this with teachers who follow the educational philosophy and methodology of Charlotte Mason - lots more on CM education here if you are wondering what that looks like  ;-). 

I have asked my colleague and experienced CM educator, Vanessa, to share about CM and STEM...

Am I setting my children up for failure by choosing a liberal arts education in 2015 and not STEM? 
This question has been raised lately among many parents – even some who follow Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy because we are raising our kids in 2015 and we are told that STEM is it.   We have been inundated with information all around us from ‘news’ articles, well-meaning friends and family members, and even some Government officials telling us that a STEM education is necessary for success; my local library has STEM activities geared towards first graders.   STEM is important and has its place but it needs to stay there (in its place) and allow for balance in our children’s lives. 
Why don’t I have my children focusing on STEM classes in preparation for career?  In Volume 6, A Philosophy of Education, page 235 Mason writes, “I don't need to convince my readers that a generous, liberal education is the natural birthright of every child, like justice, freedom of religion, liberty, or fresh air.”  That sounds good but do we believe it?  Vol 6 page 3: As a matter of fact, it is the man who has read and thought on many subjects who is, with the necessary training, the most capable whether in handling tools, drawing plans or keeping books.  Following Mason’s method I am providing my children “unequalled mental training…for any study or calling under the sun — the powers of attention, of discrimination, of patient pursuit, growing with his growth, what will they not fit him for?” Vol. 1, p. 61.  Mason believed, and there are those today who believe, that a person could be trained for any career – even a STEM career and would succeed because of (not in spite of) the liberal arts background.
I do not believe a STEM focus is necessary for success, especially not in high school.  It appears as though I am not alone.    Forbes Magazine Online John Ebersole writes, “What is clear, however, is that a STEM degree is not necessarily a requirement to work in these fields and that having a technical degree isn’t a predictor of lifetime employment in engineering and scientific positions.” A recent survey conducted for Northeastern University showed that “despite the recent focus on STEM degrees, most Americans and particularly business leaders say it is more important for graduates to be well-rounded and possess broader capabilities such as problem solving and communication skills.”  Wesleyan University states on their website that “Medical schools welcome students with a liberal arts background. A liberal arts education does not exclude the scientific and quantitative knowledge required for medical school. Rather, it includes such courses within a larger intellectual context. Wesleyan graduates are able to analyze and integrate new material precisely because they are already familiar with more than one field of learning.”  The Association of American Medical Colleges has made a strong statement about the value of a liberal arts education:  "The medical profession needs individuals from diverse educational backgrounds who bring to the profession a variety of talents and interests...All [medical schools] recognize the desirability of a broad education: a strong foundation in the natural sciences, highly developed communication skills, and a solid background in the social sciences and humanities."    Steve Jobs said “it’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough – that it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing”. Andrew Benett wrote that “what I have found is that people with degrees in subjects such as history and literature—and, yes, even philosophy—tend to possess many of the qualities, skill sets, and aptitudes that are in highest demand in my own industry (marketing communications) and in others that rely on creative thinking and foresight.  Do we need more convincing?

Stay tuned for Part II of CM & STEM by Vanessa...

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Nature Study Connection

So, if I didn't know better, I'd say this guy has a really cool mustachio :-{

Some CMer friends of mine (Charlotte Mason Education folks) were on a nature walk today and these little guys showed up and were discussed.  I was sad I missed the walk, but the discussion reminded me of some thing I had learned from a story about an bio-agricultural fiasco...way back while doing biology with my freshman in high school. Yes, we used what would be termed a "children's book" (along with many other resources from children's books to books written for adult scientists) and you know what?  I connected with it as an adult and still remember it.  (No snide thoughts about what that may or may not say about my adult status!)  I'll share and you can go and do your own research if it sparks your curiosity...

It sounds like you all had a wonderful day!  I'm so sorry to have missed :(.

A note on the Asian beetles, could be in one of the links I haven't read yet, but they are not indigenous and were introduced to control pests for crops (corn I think).  Unintended results... That worked apparently, but because of their protection mechanism (smell/taste and shell) their predators are lower (some birds won't eat them I think).  I was told by my pest control guy, (sorry, I know that's a grave offense :)), that their migration pattern will mean less infestation this year and forward. Haven't seen as many inside yet, so maybe so. Asian beetles are orange instead of the ladybug red and they also bite :(. Once introduced, you can't send them back. Think Asian carp, kudzu, starlings. There's a great book in the biology study guide about toads in Australia - yes, it's people in general, not just Americans. The book is Toad Overload by Patricia Seibert. I think there might be an object lesson there with unintended consequences :).

Now, I'm just sharing something I learned through my reading. If you are interested, you can look it up. Just because I saw the connection, and you and I might find it interesting, doesn't mean you have to add it to what your kids are doing. It might just be something to keep in mind IF they ask about it or it actually fits into a specific study. Don't Overload your children with a bunch of extra information, there might be unintended consequences :)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Life-long Habit

Quote for the day:
Adults should realize that the most valuable thing children can learn is what they discover themselves about the world they live in.  Once they experience first hand the wonder of nature, they will want to make nature observation a life-long habit.  ~ Charlotte Mason, Volume 1, p. 61

Giving your children the opportunity to discover this for themselves fosters the habit of being outside and gives them a gift of time and space for thinking thoughts, considering Truth, seeing beauty and finding their place... for a lifetime.  Even when my children were teens, they gravitated outside when they needed processing time.  Now, it is a blessing to see my adult children hang out on the deck together or go outside and lay on the driveway at night to see the stars.  Creation is part of that wide room where our feet have been set and it reminds us of the bigness of our God...

Monday, April 20, 2015

Outside with our Children - resources

A MOPS Talk...
A Conversation with Young Moms – Part III
{A Conversation with Young Moms - Part I}
{A Conversation with Young Moms - Part II}

Some resources and fun things to do outside are listed at the end to encourage you as you play in the open air and splash in the puddles!

Here were our questions to get us ready to head out of the house and into the world around us.

How can you be more deliberate in planning free play outside?  What are some ways you can make that easier?

What benefits do you notice or would like to see from being outdoors with your children?

Think of some times when you see how playing together strengthens your relationship with your child and the family.

How can you help foster an interest in the created world?  In what ways can you see being outside as an opportunity to help foster a love for the Creator?

All Things Bright and Beautiful
by Ms. Cecil Francis Alexander

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,

All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

Practical ways to make it easier to get outside.  Some ideas and resources.
Here are some of the resources, book, and activities I shared when we were together.  I hope you are inspired to get outside!

Children don't need to be taught to wonder, they only need opportunities to walk in its path. ~ Walking in Wonder: Nurturing Virtues in Your Children by Elizabeth White...
and my friend Marcia would add that they need an adult to be willing to wonder beside them. She says…
I encourage people to put their phone away and get down on the level of their child to see things up close.  And bring a few treasures back home to display on the kitchen table for memory...

Create a Nature Table/shelf when you bring those finds back home.  It's easy; use a coffee table and place everything on a tray to set it apart from the other items.  What about an area on a placemat in the center of your kitchen table?  Use some clear mason jars if you need to keep something contained like pebbles or sand or crumbles leaves and acorn caps.  Teach your child to be gentle and let them feel and touch and experience.  Encourage them to look and tell and draw about what they see. 

It's spring.  It is supposed to rain!  Puddles ARE fun to jump in & why not? Dress appropriately for the temperature, put a tub of water by the back door to wash feet and some towels to dry up with and make sure the washer is ready for a new load--no excuses, out EVERYONE goes! 

Right now is a great time to take yarn, embroidery threads cut into strips, small strips of cotton fabrics and put them loosely in a suet frame and hang it for birds to use for nest building.  Then see if you spot any material from your stash in the nests when you go on a neighborhood walk.

Even really little ones can scoop birdseed into a feeder and will love to see who comes to your tree to find food; maybe even some squirrels might try to get your seeds!  Merlin Bird ID is a great app for your phone or ipad that Cornell University has created to easily identify that bird you just saw.  I use it all the time when I'm traveling to new areas with new birds I don't recognize.  It's easy enough to use if you are just getting started noticing birds with your children too!  Then you can look him up in the bird guide when you get home.

If you are planting a garden, grow some kid friendly plants too.  Sunflowers usually grow well if the bunnies don't eat them before they get bigger.  (I usually grow ours inside in cups until they are 10-12 inches tall, then transplant them.) Just one or two by the fence or up against the house will work.  If you are ambitious and have plenty of room, grow a sunflower hut like ours.

Get everything ready ahead of time.  Put your 'Nature Back Pack' together with a couple of water bottles, a few nature guides, some colored pencils and basic spiral drawing pad.  Add some hand wipes and a bug jar--what more could you need? It is a good start anyway and will certainly get you to the park or around the block and back! Get all those outside walking shoes together in a basket in the garage or front closet then they are ready to go next time little feet get too antsy to be inside or everyone is grumpy and needs fresh air!

If you need something to get your nature inspiration and creativity going, you can find many ideas here: & Outdoor Hour Challenge, The Kid's Nature Book by Susan Milord, or Nature All Year Long by Walker are great for year round ideas.
Discover Nature Close to Home by Lawlor or The Handbook of Nature Study by Comstock are two of my favorite resource books for moms.   

Wild Days, Creating Discovery Journals by Rackliffe is wonderful if you can find a copy and Red Mountain Community School has a Calendar of Firsts (see posts: Signs of Spring & Calendar of Firsts follow up) that is a wonderful way to keep track of when things happen in nature each year.  Or just start your own on a wall calendar or a spiral notebook!

I'll share some of my favorite kid's books in a new post of Nature Stories for Children that spark imagination and curiosity.

But remember you don't need specific plans.  Be simple! You don't have to have an elaborate project.  As a matter of fact, it's better if you don't!  Remember - unstructured free play, not mom's 'fun' project!  Just do whatever strikes your child at the moment.  Hop, run, roll, jump, climb...take a walk.  That's the point anyway, getting outside to begin to notice the things around you and the sounds and smells and intricate details that it takes time to learn to look for and discover!