Monthly Archives: January 2012

For the Children’s sake

My husband took St. John Bosco as his Confirmation saint when he was received into the Church. As it’s the good saint’s feast day today I thought I’d write about him.

He was called by God pretty early in life and knew long before adulthood that he was to become a priest and care for children. I love the fact that he learned circus acts like tightrope walking and had the people say the rosary when they gathered to watch him.

Once he was ordained he set about establishing the schools for boys, many of whom were not so much poor as destitute and who often had some serious behaviour problems as a result of their nasty background. Fr Bosco insisted that he and his fellow priests treat the boys as sons and called the priests foster-fathers especially once the boarding schools were established.

Meanwhile girl’s schools were being established by some of the women who had helped F. Bosco with his work for boys.

Fr. John insisted on firm but kind discipline for the children. He warned against temper induced punishments. Many of the boys were undoubtedly used to vicious punishment having lived on the streets quite often. Fr. John wanted them to learn another way of life and they could not be expected to do this if the priests caring for them behaved as badly as the other adults they had known.

Letters from Fr John explain his method and exhort his priests to remember they were as parents to these boys and must love them as sons.

Of course one of the things about this saint that makes him so well known are the visions and dreams that God granted him. He knew when a boy was going to die and could therefore ensure the child was properly prepared. He was granted an awful vision of the boys hurtling to hell, and this helped motivate him to ensure their formation and rescue them from lives of crime and ugly behaviour. His most famous vision of course is the one where he saw the Barque of Peter like a great ship with the Pope guiding it. The ship was buffeted and attacked in many ways on stormy seas and the Holy Father was killed but a new Pope was soon elected. Then at last the ship came to rest anchored between the two pillars of the Holy Eucharist and Our Lady. (The pillar of the Eucharist was larger).

At the time the Church was facing the growth of modernism the synthesis of all error.  In 1886 Pope Leo XIII had seen a vision in which Satan was granted a century to attack and test the Church. The poor Holy Father was so horrified at this warning that he wrote the Prayer to St. Michael which is still said by many today and increasingly parishes have re-established the saying of this prayer after Mass.

It would seem that St John’s vision was part of the same prophecy and a reminder that God is still in charge of His Bride and He will bring Her safely to harbour in the end.

Books on St John Bosco

It is also the feast day of two English Martyrs St. Alban Roe and St Thomas Green (Reynolds). Both were priests working for the persecuted Church in England and although they were executed for being priests on Jan 21st 1642, their feast day is today.

Home Education: workbooks are not as boring as I expected.

I must admit that as I began to adjust the home education approach here to a more workbook based way of learning I was a bit worried that while I wouldn’t have to be using up energy I don’t have trying to plan and work through stuff, that the children would soon become bored rigid.

As it happens the children seem to enjoy their workbooks. Ronan has learned a lot about St. Josaphat while doing Grammar; and I have learned a lot of grammar while helping Ronan as well as getting to grips with a fascinating story about someone I had previously never heard of. English for Young Catholics 3 has so far proved a great workbook that stretches him (and me) but has all the information and explanation within the book, so there’s no extra cost of the teacher’s book to go with it. Ronan is so taken with the story of St. Josaphat that not only has he not moaned about predicates, he has asked if there is a proper book about the saint of the Byzantine Rite.

I like the Seton approach to workbooks as they use a story and teach from there. So it’s not such a massive step away from the Charlotte Mason method after all.

I have come across discussions in some places about the pros and cons of workbooks that are so religiously based. Do we want our children to be so steeped in their Faith that no matter what the subject they are learning Church history, saint stories and theology?

It seems that most people treat it as a Marmite question. You either love it, or you hate it. I am straddling the fence on this one. I don’t buy all the work from Seton, although I respect their very high standard. I do want to the children to learn about their Faith and it’s history obviously, but I think they need to learn more than that and so we have other stuff that has other approaches to subjects such as Usborne books and some that have no specific approach other than to teach the subject such as Math U See and Life of Fred.

Some parents in the discussions noted that the reason so many homeschool publishers tend to tout the fact that they are Christian/Catholic or have a Christian focus is because so many curriculums have quite deliberately and dishonestly edited out anything Christian or even basic morals from their stories. In a reaction to this some homeschool publishers have released books that are definitely Christian and allow a child to grow in their Faith by reading about other people who also believe and behave as they do and if they don’t have the good grace to be sorry.

Our home ed books are a mix of the “very” Catholic to the “it’s just part of life” Catholicism of say, Tomie DePaola through to the God Who? kind of books, that would never mention Himself, but aren’t overtly anti-Christian either.

I have been a little uncomfortable of too much overtly “holy” stuff as a method of teaching other things. While I think it’s important the children know about their Faith, it’s more important that they have a relationship with Christ and His Church through prayer and practice. In a culture that is unfriendly to Christ and His ideals, there is a danger that we could swing off to the other extreme (what I think some would call the ghetto mentality) so I want to be wary of that.

Meanwhile the children are learning and seem settled with the routine and adaptable to my shifting abilities.

I’ve discovered some more audio resources.

I have recently discovered a couple of radio stations from Eastern Rite Catholics.

Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church has links to Light of the East and Body of Truth. There is great information on the plight of our Eastern Rite brothers and sisters under persecution in places like Iraq. The Chaldean Catholics have been brutally treated and many are martyred.

There’s information too on Divine Liturgy and some of the different practices of Eastern Rites compared to the Latin Rites.

Catholics of the Eastern Rite get justifiably irritated with the general western view that the Catholic Church is “Roman” alone, when in fact she has two good lungs.

If you want some good easy to listen too talks on Church History from the beginning to the Threshold of Hope then try Fr. Michael J Witt’s great site. His talks are very good and straight forward enough that I think older children would get a lot from them.

I also recommend Fr. Seraphim’s Catholic Under the Hood. He’s recently talked about the story of Fr. Gereon Goldman the German Franciscan who had a colourful war experience. If you’ve never read Shadow of His Wings I recommend it. I think Fr Goldman was a brave man, but he was also a bit …how shall I put this?…badly behaved at times. But times were extreme, so I suppose it’s difficult to say how he should have behaved.

Enjoy and fill your brains.

The Government want to define what “full time education” is for 16 – 17 yr olds

It has been noted by the Government that education as it stands isn’t working so well. strangely the Education Act of 2008 in which it was decreed that adults must stay in school until they are 17 or 18 has been continued. It was one of the most glaring examples of doing more of something that was already failing that I have ever seen, but for whatever reason Grove and his mates are sticking with it.

A new consultation document has been released to discuss how this further compulsory education is to be handled. Part of that is to decide what is going to constitute “full time education”

Home education is marked down as a valid form of full time education and there it is further stated that how the education takes place should be at the discretion of the families.

But I am left wondering why the “time” spent in education is so important and the actual education that takes place in that time apparently secondary. As with most home educating families we get through a lot of work in a shorter time than schools manage simply because we don’t waste as much time.

There’s no queueing outside the classroom until the teacher comes. There’s no faffing about while everyone settles. The lessons go on for as long as they need to and are not interrupted by the bell. There is no moving around big locked buildings.

As a result of the efficient use of time there is also no “homework” after a long day of learning.

I can’t help thinking that sorting out the standard of education, how children learn and whether the national curriculum is fit for purpose (which I doubt) is a little bit more important than how many hours constitute full time education. It looks like drawing another tick box. Frankly deleting a few tick boxes would be more useful.

As it stands I am not convinced this going to be a problem for HE yet. But I suppose there will be LA people who want us to buy timers to ensure we are fulfilling the time directive or whatever. We’ll see.

Make plans – make God laugh.

Jonah gets a bad rap. He is the prophet of God who tried to run away, got swallowed by a big sea creature, preached to the people of Nineveh and then had sulky pity party when they actually listened and obeyed and didn’t get destroyed.

I love Jonah. God called him to be a prophet and he was up for it. Many of us know that feeling. “Hey God,” we say all enthusiastically, “I am here and I will do Your Will.” And of course we mean it – kinda. But then of course we have a pretty good idea in our little heads what that might entail.

Then God takes us at our word.

Why is it, I wonder, that what He asks of us is NEVER what we planned He should ask of us? He has the most appalling sense of humour.

Take poor Jonah, a good, God fearing Israelite. God tells him to go to the powerful enemy city of Nineveh and tell them to repent or be destroyed.  So, if he does this, Jonah faces the prospect that they wont listen and he’ll get killed but at least they will get destroyed and not be a problem to Israel ever again, or worse still, they DO listen, he gets to live and so do they, and then they can be a big strong, God fearing, enemy of Israel.

Is it any wonder Jonah thought Spain was looking good for the time of year? I am sure I am not the only one who has faced things in life that have made me want to take ship to Spain rather than face what God is asking of me. The “I’m off to Spain” conversation goes like this, “I said I would do Your will, but You are taking the mic a bit aren’t You?”

“Are you saying you wont do My Will?”

“Erm…well…does this HAVE to be Your Will. I mean I have some other ideas…”

And then you just know that the big fish moment is heading your way and there’s really not much point in trying to side step to Spain and so you rather sulkily say “Oh alright then.” And God does His thing and you get to carry the cross but you have wasted a bit of grace by being grumpy.

Or is this only me?

education for a life – being isolated parents

Friends came over yesterday for our Friday joint history and art lesson day. Having spent some time looking at the 14thCentury Black Death that killed so many people it changed the way the world worked, K and I somehow got on to the subject of children and “stuff”. The plague effected the way people behaved. Our culture effects the way people behave too.

Iona mentioned she thought there were parts of the Sherlock Holmes film she has been to see that would be disturbing for children under the age of 12 or even slightly older than that. The rate is 12A and she has seen much younger children in the cinema and wondered why the adults were not more cautious about it.

Avila has come home from something and told me one of her friends has five TVs in their house and there are only four people. Avila was a bit taken aback that her friend has a TV in her bedroom.

K pointed out that as her children attend lots of groups in her area (which is a pretty wealthy area) that there is pressure on her to provide “stuff” because “everyone else’s children have it.” And this in turn leads to “but everyone else is allowed to do this,” conversations.

Iona mentioned watching a programme about Amish youngsters and how they worked really hard doing labour and housework. There were visiting children from the Uk (I think) who couldn’t even imagine having to do housework every day and actually getting satisfaction from the repetitive work of it.

“We learn patience this way,” one of the Amish children had explained.

I note that it must be much easier for Amish parents to bring their children up with a good understanding of their responsibility and having to work for what they have, as they are all doing it.

The biggest problem parents like K and myself have is we are surrounded by a culture in which parents wouldn’t normally dream of saying “no” to their children for anything. Little ones watch appalling TV programmes because the parents wont say no, and of course, wont turn the machine off.

It is so much harder to parent our children against the prevailing culture.

Even among home educators – especially in the UK I think – there is still the culture of “give ‘em what they want when they want it” and don’t expect much from them as far as responsibility and solid moral behaviour. It really makes being a parent so very much harder than it would be if their was more mutual moral support.

In an interesting twist I think the internet actually helps with this. Knowing other families around the world who share the same moral underpinnings as we do can be a support in a difficult time. But also I think home education itself is as massive step forward in helping to keep a good deal of the toxicity of the cultural norms away from our children while they are developing as people.

It’s just a bit ironic sometimes when the “S” question gets asked and we are not really considered polite when we say how poorly socialised schooled children are. There is a bizarre acceptance, even expectation among parents that at certain ages children will behave obnoxiously and that’s all there is to it. In fact I wonder if parents are so convinced that nasty attitudes and behaviour are “normal” that they encourage it as they don’t want their children to stand out as “different”.

One of the major aspects of Amish life that I think the editors of TV programmes probably miss, is that their family centred lives have a purpose. The children might work much harder than the average Western kid, but they are part of a family structure that respects them and values them as people.

We really need to turn our culture around, and I think the first thing we need to do is respect our children and love them enough to say “no” as often as it needs saying – and especially when it’s just so hard to say it.

Home education websites I have found recently.

Just come across Literactive which has some good stuff for pre-school to grade 1. I only found it today so I haven’t fully explored it, but so far it looked good.

We have also been using this free Montessori reading website now and then.

I have also just found Sylvan Dell Publishing which also looks pretty good. There’s a charge for full usage of around $49 a year with discounts for extra years and so on. Those in homeschool co-ops look like they can get discounts too. (Co-ops don’t seem to exist much here in the UK).

there are some nice little colouring and activity sheets at CRAYOLA

Learn some of the basics of British Sign Language here

This free science curriculum isn’t perfect but it has some good stuff and it’s free.