A Year with Charlotte Mason as an Adult: Week 1 Year 1

Week 1 of Ambleside Online's Year 1 Curriculum has been a joy for me. It's given me structure which I have found helpful, but it also lends itself easily to supplementation as an adult. Many of my goals and interests fit nicely under the Charlotte Mason umbrella of education. It means that by working on the large goal of completing the curriculum, I'm also working on a number of skills and goals that are important to me. One large goal is easier for me to remember to do than half a dozen small ones, but even better, this way my large goal is already divided up into smaller steps that only take a few minutes each, which makes things easy to complete and, checking them off, satisfying and increasingly motivating for me.

One thing I did learn this past week that should make things easier for me going forward: I need the daily work listed first. I fell down on the every day parts because they were listed on the second page. I rewrote my tasks for the week with the daily ones at the top and, voilĂ ,  problem solved. Small and simple solutions are usually the best for me.

So what is daily work? Math, handwriting/copywork, phonics/reading, and foreign language. For math I'm using Ray's New Primary Arithmetic for Young Learners that was published in 1877. I chose this book for several reasons; primarily because I had heard great things about how practical it was, but also because it fit nicely in the family history project I am currently doing. I don't have a lot of information on my great- and great-great-grandmothers so I decided to read magazines and books from the years they lived and, for some of them, went to school, so that I could understand their lives better through context. Many of them had been desperate to learn, but limited in their opportunities, so this felt like a fantastic fit. It was also a very popular method, so one that at least one of them likely used.

I wrote briefly about trying to recover from some seizures that caused a lot of damage to me in my previous post. One of the things I have had to relearn and retrain has been using my hands. Last year I was needing to relearn how to write so I thought I would make it less frustrating for myself by learning how to write in Spencerian script (the handwriting my great-grandmothers would know) that I found neat and elegant and pretty. I bought the workbooks for the Spencerian System of Practical Penmanship by P. R. Spencer. They begin with pages of slanted lines. It is too easy to compare myself unfairly with what I used to be able to do, and because both of my hands were affected, I decided to do the workbooks with both hands and try to do them so well that no one would be able to tell if I had written in them with my left hand or my right. The first page was writing a series of / / / / /. I wrote them in pencil, erased them, and did the first page again and again until I could make that line in either hand, neatly. That took me weeks. Now I am working on individual letters. This is my daily handwriting practice. For those recovering from a brain injury, I have found that doing a task switching back and forth between hands, while incredibly challenging, seems to rewire my brain differently and helps me with skills and dexterity that do not involve my hands as well. I also compare my hands with each other instead of what I used to be able to do. That helps combat perfectionism in me. It also helps with discouragement because as I am diligent with this, what has sometimes felt like a curse will ultimately be the foundation of a blessing- a parlor trick at the very least, stronger skills and a firm foundation to build on at the very best.

Phonics/reading and foreign language practice I combine with another project I have already been working on: reading the scriptures in multiple languages. This is something I had done once before my seizures in 5 languages. This time I am doing it in 7 and allowing audiobooks to count, though I do try to read along with or separately as I can. Reading and comprehension is still difficult for me, but I find some of what I have lost coming back to me as I am willing to brave being uncomfortable or just plain lousy at it and do it anyway. I have never been fluent in another language, but reading and being read to is my favorite way to learn and use language because it is more private and less stressful for me. I don't do well even in English if I am put on the spot. I do try to improve my weaknesses, but I also believe in playing to my strengths. Reading was one of my first loves. I prefer learning with and through love.

What was the surprise highlight of this week's studies for me?  A Lesson of Faith in Parables of Nature by Margaret Gatty. It didn't grip me at the beginning, but it made it so I will never think of myself the same way ever again in the end. It's a quick read. I highly recommend it. 

I'll write more about what I am learning and the materials I am using in a different post, but for now, I'll end with this: I borrowed a book of Aesop's Fables from my local library that had beautiful illustrations but I enjoyed this version of them on the Library of Congress's site so much more. Aside from the little bells and whistles they've added to the illustrations, the writing in this edition is substantially more descriptive and engaging. Have fun!          

A Year with Charlotte Mason as an Adult

   I remember when, immediately after my graduation from University, my cousin, older than my mom and more like a beloved uncle to me than anything, stood beside me at a wedding reception and, leaning over, quietly said, "You thought you would be smarter." My eyes grew wide as I turned to look at him in relief and astonishment. "Yes!" 

   Brian had given me words for the uneasiness I was feeling instead of the elation and empowerment I thought I would after so many years of struggle and diligence. There were reasons for these feelings. My high school was one of those you see in the movies- drugs, violence, embezzlement of funds that resulted in classes without books and, in my case, one without a teacher. For someone who loved learning and longed for a deep and rich education, it may have taught some hard life lessons through the fire of experience, but the beauty and delight of education- of knowing things worth knowing- was sorely lacking. Taking college classes on the side at the local community college was the same or better depending entirely on the teacher. But I will say as someone who had to transfer universities several times because of sickness and death and finances- the best teachers I had in college were almost all at that community college because they taught for the right reasons. It makes a difference. So don't let others make you feel less for attending a community college or learning on your own. The most passionate and influential of teachers are often found there and- better than most universities- they often actually work in their fields instead of ivory towers and teach out of love for their subject matter and for those students that they know are at a serious disadvantage, whose lives they want to make better. 

   I believe this is why I was drawn to the Charlotte Mason Method. See if after reading this passage from the Preface to Volume Six of her series, you agree: "It would seem a far cry from Undine [by La Motte Fouque] to a 'liberal education' but there is a point of contact between the two; a soul awoke within a water-sprite at the touch of love; so, I have to tell of the awakening of a 'general soul' at the touch of knowledge. Eight years ago the 'soul' of a class of children in a mining village school awoke simultaneously at this magic touch and has remained awake. We know that religion can awaken souls, that love makes a new man, that the call of a vocation may do it, and in the age of the Renaissance, men's souls, the general soul, awoke to knowledge: but this appeal rarely reaches the modern soul; and, notwithstanding the pleasantness attending lessons and marks in all our schools, I believe the ardour for knowledge in the children of this mining village is a phenomenon that indicates new possibilities. Already many thousands of the children of the Empire had experienced this intellectual conversion, but they were the children of educated persons. To find that the children of a mining population were equally responsive seemed to open a new hope for the world. It may be that the souls of all children are waiting for the call of knowledge to awaken them to delightful living." (You can read this book annotated, alongside her others, for free, through the time and generosity of those at Ambleside Online.)

   "Knowledge to awaken them to delightful living." Coming from a difficult childhood and adolescence,  this idea and ideal awakens enthusiasm and hope within me. For me it is a second chance at the education I wish I had had. It is also an opportunity to turn several hurts into blessings.

   For a little over four years I have suffered with seizures that have repeatedly taken away my ability to read, write, think, speak, and walk. I've kept trying, discouraging as it has been, and in part because of that, I am reading, writing, thinking, speaking, and walking- though not at the level that I used to. I am using this year working my way through the free Charlotte Mason Curriculum at Ambleside Online as a type of therapy and brain recovery as my seizures are easing up. I am supplementing some of the materials as I go along to get the most from this experience as I can as an adult. In the end, I think those years of seizures will turn out to be a blessing. I won't be able to finish the curriculum in one year, but I will finish. And even before I do, I will feel smarter and be more educated in quality ways. How do I know this? Because for the past few weeks I've been reading and listening to many of the books suggested for Year 0 and narrating them orally afterwards. It was daunting to do because my memory and comprehension have been shot by the seizures. I actually was nervous to do it in the beginning because my attempt to narrate a chapter in a classic novel first was an absolute disaster. So I started smaller. Much, much smaller. Picture book smaller. And to my surprise, I began to understand and remember what I was reading exponentially better. Delight is breaking through some of the clouds in my life. And I am healing. 

   My hope in sharing this journey as I am able to is that it will be contagious and healing for you as well. It's never too late. How do I know this? I am in my mid-forties, still bedridden a lot. But after my first heart surgery in my twenties, I was massively beaten on a stress test that morning (the crazy treadmill one) by a man in his nineties. I am passed by people of all ages who are faster and better than I am in almost everything I do every day, but that ninety-something-year-old man taught me a sweet lesson in the end. He showed me that my best health, skills, and happiness could still be ahead of me. Happy 2023! May it be a banner year for all of us- a year of delightful living.