Patterns for Life
Excerpt 2- Chapter 10
Chasing Unicorns and Riding the Waves: Navigating the Good Days and the Bad
“The human family constitutes the primary and essential element of human society . . .
Peace in society will be a direct result of peace in the family; order and harmony in the secular, political realm will be in direct result of the order and harmony which arises out of creative guidance and the giving of real responsibility to children.”
~ St. John Chrysostom
Somewhere in the wild exists a beautiful creature: a shining, living beast of loveliness that frolics and delights in the joy of creation. Even the Psalms sing its praises. We are speaking, of course, of the unicorn.
As much as we love the idea of the unicorn, we have never seen one with our physical eyes, and we are betting you have not either. But we have found that just having the idea of a unicorn ennobles the soul somehow; it softens the heart, encourages piety, and rewards perseverance in virtue. Like Sandy in Many Waters, we do not want to lose our ability to touch a unicorn, and so we practice spiritual watchfulness and discernment about the media we use, our interactions with others, and the many thoughts and ideas competing for our attention. The simple beauty of the unicorn is enough to help redirect our stubborn selfish impulses back towards Christ.
We do not need to buy a pet unicorn, though, or keep it in our garage and feed it on sunshine and sprinkles in order for the unicorn to inspire us. In fact, if we did have one, we shamefacedly suspect it would lose some of its magic in the face of the steamroller of human ingratitude and heedlessness.
The perfect homeschool day is a unicorn.
It inspires, it motivates, it encourages. But it also eludes, frustrates, and compels. We need a vision of it to hold in our hearts, but we will never catch one. On our best days we will catch a glimpse of it, and the elation of beholding it will spur us to greater persistence.
Is it really surprising that the unicorn holds so much significance in Christian thought? It is a symbol of Christ Himself, of our desire for Him, and also for our salvation. The interplay of these three things—the desire, the Person, and the relationship—are fraught with the give and take of every spiritual encounter. Moments of unity and closeness alternate with moments of isolation and solitude. Push and pull, stop and go; salvation, relationships, and yes, homeschooling, are never static. If they are working, if they are real, then they are always in motion, pulled to something ever greater and deeper. “Further up and further in…”
There is a treasure in our hearts: the picture of a perfect homeschool day, the perfect homeschool week, the perfect homeschool year. It is precious and longed for. But it rarely, if ever, actually materializes. You must keep this in mind when you read these pages, or any parenting or education book for that matter. We are clay in the Potter’s hands, not a finished project. And even when we are broken, He continues to work with us to His glory.
In sharing with you our vision of these unicorns, we do not mean to discourage you or beat you down. In fact, if we think too hard on it, the idea of the perfect day can even become depressing, especially when our pride and perfectionism peek out their heads. But we need this vision, because it keeps us moving forward, keeps us confronting our own sins and temptations in pursuit of the treasure that we really want for our children. After all, it is not just education that spurs us on; it is the desire for sainthood, for ourselves and for our children. Sainthood, true sanity; to be loyal and loving friends of Christ, walking with Him wherever He roves, united with His sweet presence in body, mind, and spirit. How could we want anything less?
Remember that things get messy and complicated. There are years with new babies, kids with health problems, and times of family drama or heightened commitment to church projects or other such things. Life is in motion; no matter where we find ourselves, we point our compass to the Lord and sail on towards the horizon.
A Perfect Day with Littles
We wake, sometimes early enough for a few moments of quiet. Soon the little ones also wake, chirping for their morning cuddles. When everyone’s cup is full, we rise for morning prayers in front of the icons.
After breakfast, we read books together. Often the children will mosey off towards whatever developmental play enthralls them at the moment: imagination games with figures, building with blocks, setting up tents and playing house. Sometimes they ask us to play with them, and we are allowed to join them in a tea party or a board game. We explore finger paints and play dough, water beads and sock puppets, piano keyboards and hand drums.
We sing together, too. Nursery rhymes, church hymns, songs from the radio. We sing no matter what we are doing, mostly because Mom is the kind of person for whom everything reminds her of a song, but also because we believe that music is an inseparable part of life.
Rain or shine, snow or sun, we go outside. We putter around the backyard gardens, pulling weeds, turning over earth, or cutting back vines for the winter. We go for a walk, down a trail, through the park, up a mountain, along the creek, and we delight in the glories of God that are displayed for our pleasure all over His creation.
We talk to our children and listen when they talk to us. We answer their questions, sometimes having to respond with “I don’t know.” We always answer honestly, though sometimes we tell them that they might have to wait until they are older until they can understand more about the answers to their questions.
Oh, and there’s nap time, too.
A Perfect Day with Big Kids
The day still starts with prayer and breakfast, but now we are more organized in gathering for morning lesson. We read from the Bible, from the saints’ lives, from history books and science books; we learn Spanish and poetry, exercises and stretches, myths and legends.
The children are getting more confident in reading on their own, so they have a variety of good books to choose from and assignments to complete. Even though the books represent a range of reading levels, they are all living books: books that bring alive their subjects in a way that calls forth our curiosity and respect. Some books we tackle together and we take turns narrating what we have read. Repeating back to each other what we have heard and understood, we listen to each other’s thoughts and add to our own understanding by practicing attention both to the text being read and to each other. The children practice oral narration in a group at first, and they will begin narrating their own independent reads to me as they master the skill.
We still talk, off and on all day, and our conversations meander through the stories we have read and the thoughts we have thought, and through this homey dialectic, we grow our character and help our children grow their own. We pray in the morning, at meals, and in the evening, following a rule of the hours that fits the family routine.
We are still outside and active every day, and music and art are our constant companions. Our littlest ones might still nap while our slightly bigger kids get more individual attention in their narrations, math problems, or even just getting some one-on-one time for a game of chess.
A Perfect Day with Teens
The morning begins with our teens waking bright and early; they make their own breakfast and get a head start on their assignments for the day. After Mom has had her own breakfast and done her own reading and studying, we all gather for morning prayers and spend time on the subjects we are learning about together, like Plutarch and Euclid, music and nature journaling. Then we break and work on individual lessons until lunch. Nobody dawdles, nobody complains. All requests are met with cheerfulness and respect, and no one has a single negative thing to say.
After lunch we finish any assignments that are still left undone and we have time to take a walk together before everyone has different outside commitments to get to: sports, lessons of some kind, or work at a part time job.
We come together again in the evening after dinner (which we cooked together) for prayers and a family read-aloud before bed. We linger after reading, talking about our day and the ideas we encountered. We participate in the Grand Conversation, interacting with the ideas of great thinkers who have gone before and applying their thoughts to our own circumstances and our own actions.
Have a Vision
It is quite possible that your vision of a perfect day looks different from ours. These kinds of details will vary tremendously between families because every family is as unique as its constituent members. Some families will spend hours in museums and science centers, some will build castles out of Lego bricks. Some will solve math puzzles instead of reading bedtime stories.
Depending on the size of your family, the details may even vary between parenting eras. What was perfect in the days of three littles under five will be different from the perfect day of the youngest batch of littles sitting on the laps of their teenage brothers and sisters.
Regardless of what your family looks like and what your various interests are, take the time to envision what your perfect days might look like. Then when things fall apart, you can dust yourself off, get up and try again, remembering what you are working towards. And conversely, if ever you do catch a glimpse of a unicorn, remember to stop and give thanks.
Patterns for Life: An Orthodox Reflection on Charlotte Mason Education
Authors Lisa Rose and Laura E. Wolfe
Published by Basilian Media and Publishing
The first time we look into our child’s eyes and encounter the immortality that pools in their depths, we suddenly become aware of the immense responsibility we carry as parents. There are so many ways to serve the Lord in a lifetime, so many different paths to take, so much good to do; but the order of things suddenly crystallizes into a new pattern the moment we become parents.
by Matushka Melissa Elizabeth Naasko, author of Fasting as a Family. Read More…