Our last two posts were about Jesus and habits. This one discusses the third part of Harvest’s mission: academics. After all, schools teach higher learning. We secure attention by studying something worthwhile. Last fall, we walked the trail at the wildlife refuge and noticed tree damage. Students recorded data and a pattern emerged. Trees lying on top of each other pointed in different directions. Based on order and decay, we determined which storm toppled which tree. In the fall, middle school and above will make more observations.
We need your help with the June 20 storm. If you lost trees, tell us what happened. Did limbs break, trunks snap, or trees uproot? What kind of trees (pine or cedar versus deciduous)? In what direction did they fall or scatter debris? Was it during or after the storm? Please post comments or email our science teacher.
Living books also capture attention. What are they? Someone shares a passion for a topic in a living book. These books come in all shapes and sizes—long and short, picture and chapter. Some are classics; others are modern. These treasures hold ideas and rich language and invite thinking. They are not easily placed into an academic subject.
Every other year, middle schoolers read The Brendan Voyage by Tim Severin who asks, “Could sixth century Irish monks have sailed to America?” He answers his question through an island-hopping Atlantic adventure (Part 1 and Part 2). He reinterprets an epic written by a Christian monk living in Ireland fifteen hundred years ago. The book shares scientific knowledge about leather making, boat construction and handling, marine life, weather, navigation, and fishing methods. It compares the seaworthiness of modern materials to ancient ones. Scholars, politicians, and trade workers collaborated to make the voyage happen. This “geography” book contains science, history, and literature.
What replaces worksheets and end-of-chapter questions? Students track the voyage on maps. They put Brendan on the timeline, noticing that he endured the Roman Empire’s collapse. He lived a half century after Jesus and before Vikings landed in Newfoundland. They narrate readings orally or write and draw in their science notebook. Entries often depend on the student’s interests. Engineers draw a schematic of the boat. Naturalists list animals by classification while artists draw and label them. Fishermen note how Trondur caught birds for dinner. Selections are unique to personhood.
Discussions take many directions, depending on the class. History buffs offer details about other explorers of the Americas and speculate about unproven ideas. Bookworms connect The Navigatio to the legends of King Arthur and Beowulf. Sailors focus on the voyage. Skeptics research reasons against the monks’ ability to return home while proponents study possible Celtic petroglyphs in West Virginia. A debate ensues.
Every year, students “live” a specific time in history. They read novels, short stories, fantasies, allegories, biographies, travelogues, poetry, and more. A wide variety of “food” sharpens their literary appetite which Charlotte Mason shared in her thirteenth principle.
In devising a curriculum, we provide a vast amount of ideas to ensure that the mind has enough brain food, knowledge about a variety of things to prevent boredom, and subjects are taught with high-quality literary language since that is what a child's attention responds to best.
Narration builds attention by requiring readers to order and ponder knowledge. Students grow confident in sharing what they know. The ability to articulate their thinking will serve them after graduation. Narration gives them a passport to many opportunities.
This article has ideas for working on attention during the summer.
Attentiveness is the first key habit. We make time to focus on something—a few pages, natural object, painting, piece of music, map. After a few minutes of study, we put it away and students tell every detail that they observed. They learn to see all that there is to see and to hear all that there is to hear. Sadly, lessons that we grew up with lessen attention. We skimmed material to get the right answer. We read to find a word to fill in a blank. We ruled out wrong answers to select the best match. We studied a few sentences to mark true or false. We guessed if pressed for time. We learned to read fragments for answers.
A graduate of a Mason education wondered why attention eluded her peers in college. “It dawned on me that the skill they were missing was the ability to read and listen with the intent to understand.” Charlotte Mason compared education to eating. We feed the mind with delicious food. Sensory channels deliver it to the brain which digests the meal and stores what attention captures. The rest is discarded. When required to narrate, the mind chews food slowly. Talking, writing, and drawing extracts more mental nutrients. The graduate concluded, “Every time I was presented with new information, I had trained myself to pay close attention so that later I could formulate an explanation of what I had learned.”
Mason summarized this in her fourteenth principle.
Since one doesn't really "own" knowledge until he can express it, children are required
Educators today are training attention in college. A biology professor chose drawing because “when we draw, we see the things we’d otherwise overlook.” A Harvard art professor has students study a painting for three hours. It fosters patience and stimulates curiosity as they see new things. Harvard also offers medical students an elective in which they do picture study. They learn to study the details and back up to see the whole painting. “If we miss the details, then we won’t get the diagnosis. But if we don’t zoom out, we miss fundamental aspects of who the patient is as a person.”
Professors reorient the desire for a quick answer since the real world doesn’t offer immediate solutions. Students slow down and patiently navigate uncertainty. In group discussions, they learn to communicate, disagree respectfully, and solve problems as a team. Picture study can frustrate some for that reason. Harvest goes beyond Harvard with habit training. Attention is one of many habits that we train. If you want to know more about attentiveness, this article is helpful.
A community called to offer another way to learn for students in Clarendon County