Our seventh year starts in eleven days!
We’re excited because we have so many wonderful things planned for your children. We’re grateful for generous friends of Harvest. The playground has a new sandbox with fresh sand. We rebuilt some building foundation and replaced a section of the porch floor. Donors helped us buy three laptops for Spanish and keyboarding in high school. A few more will put us over the top! If you prefer offering a labor of love, we’re inviting everyone to bring yard tools to spruce of the yard next Saturday morning. More details are in the family letter sent by snail mail.
This week we’d like to talk about common experiences students share every morning.
All classes have a morning gathering time to start the day right. At 815, middle and high school have homeroom where announcements are made and where, more importantly, students recite the pledge of allegiance and pray. They start class at 830, and that is when elementary and below classes file into the big room for the morning meeting. This group begins by singing a patriotic song, folk song, or hymn. They pray, recite the pledge, and hear a psalm. Then they do some attention building exercises followed by Spanish songs and stories. We keep each element short and it takes only a half hour.
We are formed by daily practices like the ones we do during the morning meeting. Singing in English and Spanish unleashes the benefits of being in a choir. It builds a sense of togetherness, reduces stress, and fosters a sense of well-being. Community singing regulates heart rate and improves lungs. The exercises train habits of attention and physical movement. We read from the psalms because a third of the Bible is poetry. We’ve found that God’s poetry builds a bridge to awe, wonder, thoughtful questions, and grand conversations. Praying points us to a Helper to be with us during the day. The pledge reminds us of the blessings of our country and fosters gratitude. Getting ourselves and our students into a set of regular practices is what Charlotte Mason described in her eighth principle.
"Education is a life" means that education should apply to body, soul and spirit. The mind needs ideas of all kinds, so the child's curriculum should be varied and generous with many subjects included.
Habits like these are powerful because they form habits of how we love. The morning meeting orients us toward God: how we worship, how we pray, how we see God, and how we move. These daily practices lets the good news sink into our whole being. They shape our soul and spirit, renew our minds, and prepare our bodies. Then we are ready for the good God has planned for our day. A wonderful book on practices is You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith. This link gives you a sneak peek of our music.
We have written a bit about principles. Charlotte Mason outlined twenty of them. She lived at a time when scientists searched for natural laws to explain the world. She did the same with education. She tried to uncover basic truths about how children learn.
Her first principle answers an important question. What is a child? For the purposes of education, students are seen as future workers. Standards, textbooks, and tests are developed to foster their success in the work world. This point of view values the three R’s and STEM over the riches. This leads us to rate children like the goods and services they will offer someday. A forty-hour work week is only a third of our waking lives. What about the other two-thirds?
In Charlotte Mason’s day, educators saw children as blank slates. Writing all necessary knowledge on the slate was supposed to give them what they needed to know. Their personality, ability, and interests had little to do with the process. Here is how Charlotte Mason answered the question:
Children are born persons - they are not blank slates or embryonic oysters
How does this principle look? Narration reflects a child's personality. The wit is going to narrate quickly while the deep thinker freezes but shares something brilliant a day or two later. A student who is weak in a subject tells the main idea and a few details. The one who is strong sequences details and connects to other books. When a book aligns with a child’s interests, the narrator adds extra knowledge or does something during free time to live out that book. No two narrations are alike because no two narrators are alike.
Last spring, a couple of middle schoolers wanted to do a Bob Ross picture study. We thought they were joking until they persisted. We realized that, while his art misses the mark for picture study, his technique would fit Tuesday handwork. We told the middle schoolers, “Convince us.”
Interested middle and high students hatched their plan. They called themselves the Harvest Assembly of Bob Ross Enthusiasts. They bought Bob Ross T-shirts and researched and prepared a speech about Bob Ross. They taught us that he had served in the Air Force with honor. While stationed in Alaska, he was inspired by the beauty around him. While stationed in Germany, he learned wet-on-wet technique and painted Alaskan scenes inside gold pans. Bob Ross made more money from selling his novelty gifts than from his military salary. After retiring as a master-sergeant, he filmed 203 episodes of his popular television series. His Christian faith infused the show with optimism and happy catch phrases. He donated all his paintings, and he did not ask for one paycheck from PBS. Then, they pointed out how his beliefs matched a Charlotte Mason philosophy of education. We could not refuse their request.
We spread the riches during The Feast every Tuesday and Thursday. This post focuses on only three: Shakespeare, picture study, and composer study.
After lunch on Tuesday, elementary and above students gather in mixed groups to study Shakespeare. What? Can fourth graders read Shakespeare? We shuffle students for that reason. Experienced actors read more and newer ones have bit parts. Our younger students still know how to play. They keep us laughing through their antics and flubbed lines. They shine during sword fights, pratfalls, and pranks. They learn from the modeling of our older students who read beautifully. Their eyes and ears adjust to the literary language. Their hearts grow fond of certain characters. A student my study nine plays by graduation.
Our play for this year is the comedy Much Ado about Nothing. All of Shakespeare's comedies sow discord between couples. The bard fills this witty war of words with music and masks; dancing, disguises, and deceit; and silly sidekicks and vengeful villains. As the plot unfolds, order is restored. Couples marry and live happily ever after.
After Shakespeare, students return to class for picture study. The whole school studies one painting from one artist every week. We focus on the paintings and life of one artist per term, and we study three artists per year. A student attending Harvest for twelve years studies thirty-six artists. Why stick to an artist for that long? The way to get to know someone well is to spend time together. Ten weeks gives our students plenty of time to know an artist. This year our artists are Vincent van Gogh (Term 1), Georgia O’Keefe (Term 2), and Giotto di Bondone (Term 3). We chose van Gogh because The Columbia Art Museum will host an exhibit about him this fall. Seeing a painting you have studied is like meeting a pen pal in person.
On Thursday, we do composer study. We listen to one piece of music written by one composer every week. We study the same person for a whole term, or three per year. After listening, students share their observations and we supply the musical terms to match their ideas. From time to time, our musical friends Richard and Johanna Pressley come and deepen our understanding. This year our composers are Felix Mendelssohn, Franz Josef Haydn, and the team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.
If you missed the riches as a child, come and join us for The Feast! We would love for you to get your weekly dose of awe.
A community called to offer another way to learn for students in Clarendon County