Monthly Archives: August 2013

Using ancient myths to teach universal truths.

D'Aulaire's Greek MythsMost home education curricula and book lists include fairy tales and myths. There has been some discussion and disagreement about the place of these stories in a child’s education.

Dr Maria Montessori wanted children to be rooted in reality and to that end she felt there should be some caution in the use of myth and fairy tale with children, particularly the very young.

Now, I too would probably not read Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy Book to very young children, for the simple reason it would be too much, but I believe that myth and story have a very important place in children’s development and culture. I would also steer clear of the overly sweet and dumbed down versions poured out of publishers for undermining of children’s faculties.

In one of her less well known works Montessori wrote

Educationsists in general agree that imagination is important, but they would have it cultivated as separate from intelligence, just as they would separate the latter from the activity of the hand. They are vivisectionsists of the human personality. In the school they want children to learn dry facts of reality, while their imagination is cultivated by fairy tales, concerned with a world that is certainly full of marvels, but not the world around them in which they live. Certainly these tales have impressive factors which move the childish mind to pity and horror, for they are full of woe and tragedy, of children who are starved, ill-treated, abandoned, and betrayed. Just as adults find pleasure in tragic drama and literature, these tales of goblins and monsters give pleasure and stir the child’s imagination, but they have no connection with reality.

I agree that educationalists from the 19th century onwards have been vivisectionists of the personality; in fact I would say of the person, but I disagree with her statement that fairy tales have no connection with reality.   The golden core of the ancient myths and fairy tales is true and that’s why they have endured throughout human history.

We are designed to long for truth even if we aren’t too sure where to find it.

Charlotte Mason insisted on a literature rich curriculum in which the books were well written and respectful of the child’s intelligence and imagination. There was so separation for Mason or Montessori of the different thought processes in the child. Instead they both recognised a whole person (made in the image and likeness of God) and respected the inherent dignity of the child as a person.

From the safety of the great myths children (and adults for that matter) can explore the natural law. They can see the battle between good and evil and the courage to overcome fear. The ancient myths show flawed heroes and great good done by those heroes, often in the face of fickle gods who never seemed to have anyone’s best interest at heart. In these stories a child’s imagination is fed so that they can begin to think out the reasons for what is real. Children are natural philosophers.

Despite having written the Narnia books C.S.Lewis disagreed with his friend Tolkien on the use of myth.

“Myths are lies,” said Lewis, “and therefore worthless, even though breathed through silver.”

Tolkien disagreed. He had spent a great deal of his academic life studying the ancient myths. “Far from being lies,” he insisted, “they are the best way, sometimes the only way, of conveying truths that would otherwise remain inexpressible.” He saw in myths, even the pagan ones (or perhaps especially them) a light cast on truths that might otherwise be lost in the darkness of man’s error.



The ancient pagans had a kind of innocence and wisdom so that their myths hold lots of little golden nuggets. It’s good for children to see that all men throughout history have been made in His image and have some of that image to share.

But it’s also good psychology in that children (and adults) get to face their fears and work through them in story. It’s a lot of what ancient stories were for in the first place. But they also point us to the depths of the natural law so that we see we are all human, together, no matter what. I think the pagan myths actually point us back to what has been the Christian construct of personhood, showing that there was some understanding of the human as person right from the beginning.


You may notice I’ve added a signature which links to my shop. I’ll “formally” launch the shop next week as term starts.

Home Education: Curriculum planning grade 3 (year 4)

I don’t think I need to make too many changes for Avila this coming year. We’ll have to see how it goes. I’m hoping the new workbooks will arrive next week now I’ve paid the import tax on them.

This is just a quick overview. I haven’t finished planning yet and probably won’t really finish until term has started and I see where adjustments need making.

English and Language Arts and Reading

Finishing reading Children of the New Forest

English 3 from Seton

Reading 3 Seton

Spelling from CHC and some online spelling practice.

Beginning Reasoning and Reading


Religion 3 Seton

Vision Books


Math U See Gamma and then Delta

Life of Fred

CTC Draw Math 3

Building Thinking Skills Level 1 (gr 2 to 3)


Behold and See Science 4

Languages: Latin, Greek and Spanish

Latin Primer A and then B

Song School Latin 2

Song School Spanish and Spanish Primer A

Greek Primer A and Hey Andrew Greek 3

Music and Art

Aventus Piano Suite I have this on the monthly payments and it covers all three children. I think it’s very good and so long as you ensure hand position they learn properly.

Draw Write Now bk 5

Reading and Lit

Charlotte’s Web (library)

Tales From Shakespeare (Lamb)

The Princess and the Curdie and The Princess and the Goblin MacDonald

English Fairy Tales and other Jacobs books

The Little Princess Hodgeson

Kensuke’s Kingdom Morpurgo

Hospital Appointments +++

It feels like the holiday happened an age ago. I have had, and still have, quite a few hospital appointments to jump through.

The poor Cardiologist was off sick when we turned up the day after we got back. Thankfully he’s ok now and I’ve been rebooked for early September. The following week I was back for lung tests.

Lung_function_test-SPLI had forty minutes of breathing to do. It was hard work!

First of all I had to do some resistance tests with the machine shown here. It’s the same machine I was on last time for more basic tests. This time the tests were to see how my respiratory muscles were working.

Then there was the “sniff test” which was to see how my diaphragm is working. (scoring 19 and 21 mostly. No idea what that means).

lungdif_s-300x241Then he went off and wheeled in a machine that looked like something from a 1950s scifi movie. Unlike the one in this photo it was beige not as new looking.

I think it was measuring lung volume and other stuff. Anyway, first tests were sitting up and then the really difficult ones were lying flat. I don’t have the skill for lying flat and breathing at the same time! I sit up at night now. If I end up flattened out my lungs wake me up demanding I sit back up.

So it was a case of do a breath – then sit up to catch a breath. The chair was like a dentist chair so it went up and down!

Glad when that was over.

Results to be sent to the Respiratory Consultant. We’ll see what he says.

Meanwhile he had referred me to a throat/voice person at a different hospital. I have a lump that I can feel in my throat, around the area of my voice box. It’s not painful or anything like that, but it is annoying. It effect my swallowing and I wonder if it’s the reason I lose my voice so much and the back of my tongue goes numb. (One of my weirder symptoms. Whoever heard of a numb tongue!) Also could be causing the ear pain/ irritation. Who knows?

He warned me the waiting list was long so I was surprised to get an appt for the end of September. Pretty good I thought. Then they phoned a couple of days ago and have brought my appointment forward to Tuesday.

Meanwhile today I saw the Rheumi about the possibility of Lupus. He was a bit odd. He doesn’t think I have Lupus but he had an armful of bloods done which was pretty good of him. He seemed to think a lot of it might be the Fibro. I told him I was contesting the ME dx and he said he doesn’t use the dx of ME but says CFS or PVF but doesn’t think either of those dx are helpful as fatigue is rarely the root problem.

Well I agree that CFS is rarely a useful dx as it was a politically made up one. I think there’s evidence of Post Viral Fatigue from serious viral  disease.

I disagree with him on ME. I think it’s very clear that such a horrible disease does exist. I just don’t think I have it (or I certainly hope I don’t. It’s bloomin’ orrible!)

He then went on to say he didn’t think I should be on so many steroids. He didn’t come up with what I should do instead. I had already told him my GP tries to not keep prescribing them but you know breathing isn’t an optional function. Anyway I am very fortunate to have found a good lung doc at last.

My heart rate and BP are looking better though which is good.

So far I only have one appt in September which is really good as I usually need a month to get the home ed rolling neatly.

Home education; Avoiding the do do – go go – get get approach.

victor-hugo-author-doing-nothing-is-happiness-for-children-and-misery-for-oldThere are a great many teachers out there who are fed up with the notion that their job is not so much to offer an education to children, but to offer to entertain them. They will be bored, rude and badly behaved, goes the mantra, unless the teacher performs some kind of circus act before the white board. To this end a number of bright and loud edutainments are sold to schools to keep the children interested, even as their attention spans diminish.

I think this strange cultural virus has infected some home education families as well. Partly because home educators get accused of all sorts of strange behaviour, including keeping our children locked indoors, tied to the kitchen table, some home educators feel the need to be out of the house at all hours, providing lots of stimulating edutainment,  just to prove the opposite. There are even families on a very tight budget who feel, somehow pressured, to go charging off to every home ed event and outing they can possibly squeeze into a week.

It’s an easy temptation to fall into. Those of us who are tied by both financial considerations and, like me, being too ill, are actually let off the hook a bit. Even so, I did go through a silly guilt trip that I wasn’t dashing off to all the outings and that my children were actually at home doing a lot of their learning.  As it happens they do have activities outside the home and home ed activities with other families, some here, some elsewhere. The way their activities work means they have both schooled and home educated friends. I quite like that.

It is the psychologist Dr. Ray Guarendi who coined the phrase “do, do, go, go, get, get” to describe the way some parents insist their children are at every and any event, after school club and organised meeting and have every gadget, latest this and that; whatever pours out of the dodgy factories of China.

One of the reasons I don’t like this approach, (and I don’t think I’ve ever heard Dr. Ray pick up on this particular bug bear of mine) is that I think it’s bad for children to be perpetually organised. The idea that if their time isn’t coordinated by an adult they will get up to no good is at the root of this I think. The importance of free time and quiet time and simply play time has been subsumed into all day timetables for children as young as 3. It’s inhuman (imho). Some of it seems to be more about adults being afraid of free time with their own children, than about ensuring a child receives all the opportunities that are for their benefit.

The problem with the do-do-go-go-get-get approach is that it is self perpetuating. The children, including home educated children, can become institutionalised in that they can’t be bored. They can’t do nothing for while, and they can’t make their own activities. Someone must give them something to do. The game must be pre-organised.

They become used to never having to just be.

None of our greatest thinkers learned like that. C.S.Lewis talks of having hours P1000113with books in a library. Charlotte Mason walked the moors and woodlands around Ambleside and so on. Even in fiction, such as Sherlock Holmes, there are times of complete inaction where the only thing happening is thought.

While I am sure the children are looking forward to the return to cubs and beavers and ballet, and the coninuation of swimming; And while they have seen friends and will have the weekly small home ed group and monthly big one, I think the holidays have been good for them (and me). They have played, made things, sat around reading, sat around not doing anything at all.

Having organised time, clubs and outings aren’t bad in themselves of course. Children do very well in them, but they shouldn’t take up every hour of a child’s waking life. We know very well that this approach isn’t doing schooled children any favours at all. We know they go to school, go to the afterschool activity, go home and bolt down their tea before homework and screen and bed. That’s a bad way to live. There’s no time for family life or even friends, just doing and doing and then sleeping.

So as we gallop towards term I must remember, they need time to be, and I don’t need to timetable them to within an inch of their lives.

Book list for boy aged 10 -11 (USA grade 4-5 UK year 5-6)

I thought I would write a list of the books that Ronan has read, listened to and what I’d like him to read over the next few months. Obviously I’m not saying the books are only suitable for boys – but they are books I think he’ll enjoy.

Literature and fun

The Narnia books all of them. We have them in paperback but they are a bit messed up. Also free audio at Ancient Faith Radio

The Letzenstein Chronicles bks 1-4

The Hobbit Alvin Fernald books

The Railway Children

Around the World in 80 Days

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Historical novels

Eagle of the Ninth Chronicles Rosemary Sutcliffe and other of her books.

The Blood Red Crescent

Detectives in Togas and The Roman Ransom

Secret of the Shetlands

Hidden Treaures of Glaston

Red Hugh

The High Deeds of Finn MacCool

Alfred of Wessex


The Little Duke Charlotte M Yonge

Living Books factual History/Science

The Mystery of the Periodic Table

Galen and the Gateway to Medicine and Archimedes and the Door to Science

Mythology and tales

Odysseus and Troy 

The Age of Fable

Books of Padraic Colum including The Children’s Homer which I have in hardcopy (from a second hand bookshop in Wigtown) There are other books and a few years ago


Beethoven by Thomas Tapper

The Story of My Life Helen Keller



Gutenburg Children’s bookshelves (free ebooks)

Other books Home Geography Long

Possibly the Tarzan books

I bought the full pack of Yesterday’s Classics which works out pretty well. Their sister site Baldwin Classics has now launched a curriculum. Check out Heritage History as well.

The poverty diet; charity and neighbours part II

box-sceme-001-940x705In all traditional cultures food is at the centre of sharing with family and friends. People sit around a table and talk together while food is laid out and passed around. The whole notion of food and sharing so much part of Sikh culture that the Gujarati Temples have huge kitchens were everyone gets together and make curry and rise and roll out chippati’s together.

The agape meal isn’t so much part of everyday Christian practice these days but many churches do have bring and share meals and Lentern soup gatherings.

Eating together as a family is so important and I am sure I read studies in the past that said families who eat together (without the TV) tend to eat better food.

The difficulty of overcoming the poverty diet, it seems to me, isn’t just about lack of money to buy good quality food, it’s about lack of culture. It’ is much easier and actually cheaper for a lot of people to pool resources and eat good food than for a lot of individual people to buy enough for one. We need to build communities again.

I love the idea of Guerilla Gardening where people get together and plant fruit and veg that anyone can use. This was highlighted by Hugh Fernley Whittingstall of River Cottage and he also managed to bring a community together to run a small garden and homestead which included pigs.

There’s a lot of vacant land around cities which just attracted trash and rats. Helping people get together to grow good food has got to be a better use for the land. Getting communities and families to work together could mean the old lady who doesn’t eat any more can get visited and fed. It could mean the single mum stuck in her horrible flat all day with her little ones, can get out and do something with her children and be supported.

Shared gardens could help some of this too. It could mean that the able bodied people grow the food while the old lady and the local cripple (that’ll be me) can shell peas and wash veg and someone a little more capable can cook and maybe can the food.

People on benefits can quickly loose their sense of self respect and dignity. This is helped by a hostile media and just the general nastiness of other people. I am sure many people who can’t find work right now, or who have been too sick to work (especially with mental health problems) should be encouraged to grow food, and keep animals in a community setting without there being any threat to their benefits. In fact it could be a good way to help people feel they are earning a wage rather than merely picking up dole.

All this needs to be done at local level, through parishes or local community centres. Religious orders would be ideal for setting up this kind of work. Subsidiarity works well if only it was tried.

The poverty diet, charity and neighbours.

This article on how chronically sick people (specifically those with ME in this case) find themselves poor and therefore relying on cheap or free food, making them sicker for longer, opens a can of questions.

u8_thin-girl-fat-girlFirst of all, we know from other studies and just knowing people, that the poverty diet is part of the everyday life of a lot of people regardless of their health when they became poor. The rise in rickets, malnutrition and even the return of scurvy to Britain is surely a sign that we are getting it badly wrong. The exponential rise in people having type 2 diabetes is surely linked with the poverty diet.

Now food must be handed out to the poor from Government distribution systems such as food banks, so that people don’t starve. We have a food bank opening up just up the road where my oldest daughter will volunteer.  There is no famine, no war, no massive shift in the population and yet many people can’t or don’t eat healthy well balanced food, and food prices are getting very high indeed.

It’s not just because people are poor. A lot of the problem is that food quality is so bad, and cheap food is often barely food at all.  We have poisoned the soil and our fruit an veg have sucked up pesticides for so long that rinsing them under the tap or peeling them is pointless. We’ve known for years that industrially farmed meat is bad for animals and for those who eat them, but it’s still more expensive and more difficult to find free range meat and organic meat is out of most people’s regular price range.

Being fat is not the biggest problem we face. Being sick because we can’t get the right minerals and vitamins to keep us from being very ill is the problem. The poverty diet becomes a vicious circle. You can’t eat healthy food, so you either stay sick, get worse or become sick; then you are too sick to earn more money, or to keep your job, so you stay on the poverty diet. Worse still, being ill can prevent a person being able to cook properly and so getting easy food becomes a habit.

Poor diet has been implicated in the massive rise in depression. The quick fix approach to this serious disease is to hand out prescriptions of antidepressants all of which have the side effect of weight gain. In women poor diet leads to hormonal imbalances which are always treated with the sledgehammer of chemical contraception, with the side effect of weight gain.

Then there are those of us on loads of steroids and yes, you guessed it, weight gain is a major side effect.

We’ve known for years that starvation diets and starvation in “real” situations has a negative effect on metabolism and we know that poor quality food effects both physical and mental health but still starvation diets are advertised as a good idea, and it’s only recently that any move to improve the quality of hospital food has happened.

It has also been well known for a long time that starvation effects metabolism and so people who have been starved often end up heavier once they can eat a normal amount because their metabolism is used to conserving energy. Couple this with the rise in diseases like Dysautonomia and ME which effect metabolism and the problem is made worse. The question remains unanswered (unresearched thanks to the way food is distributed by very big and powerful business) on whether diet is at the root of the exponential rise in autoimmune diseases. It has been noted that in Asian and African countries autoimmune disease is rare, but in Asian and African populations living in the West it’s on the rise at a shocking rate.

gkc1The BBC are repeating the interesting mini series documentary “The Men Who Made us Fat” alongside a new doc “The Men Who Made us Thin”. Obviously it’s the BBC so treat with caution but the questions raised are valid.

Now that the cause for dear ol’G.K.C. is finally moving ahead perhaps we can get ourselves a patron saint of fat people. There is a story that a lady approached him rather crossly during the war and demanded to know why he wasn’t out at the front.

“Madam,” responded GK, “If you walk to the side you will see that I am.”