Charlotte Mason Reflections: Out-of-Door Life

Thursday, April 27, 2017

At Flint we've been taking advantage of the gorgeous Texas spring weather and taking our classes outside as much possible lately. Because, you know, any day now it's going to be approximately one thousand degrees out and we'll all be hiding inside with the AC until late September. 

And ALSO because it's a key aspect of Charlotte Mason philosophy to take the children outdoors as much as you can. In Home Education she wrote:

"For we are an overwrought generation, running to nerves as a cabbage runs to seed; and every hour spent in the open is a clear gain, tending to the increase of brain power and bodily vigour, and to the lengthening of life itself. They who know what it is to have fevered skin and throbbing brain deliciously soothed by the cool touch of the air are inclined to make a new rule of life, "Never be within doors when you can rightly be without."...

For the rest of us, and the most of us, who live in towns or the suburb of towns, that is included in the larger question- How much time daily in the open air should the children have? and how is it possible to secure this for them? In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother's first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it spent for the most part out in the fresh air. And this, not for the gain in bodily health alone- body and soul, heart and mind, are nourished with food convenient for them when the children are let alone, let to live without friction and without stimulus amongst happy influences which incline them to be good."

She wrote that in 1906, y'all, but so much of it sounds like it was written about children today. I imagine that we are at least a teensy bit more overwrought nowdays, yet we are so much more likely to keep our kids indoors practically 24-7. We have reasons, too, lots of really great ones! Apparently they had reasons a hundred years ago, because CM goes on later in the chapter to write that she is not speaking about what is convenient but what is ideal, and she knows that once a mother is convinced that something is beneficial to her child she will move mountains to get it for them. Which, yes. Kill shot! The woman knew how to make a point and she definitely knew her audience.

Also, she knew what she was talking about, since SO MUCH research is coming out about the importance of being outdoors for our mental and physical health. She didn't have scientific research to back her up then, just her dead-on observations and reflections. 

So. If you're looking for us these days the best bet will be to check the playground, or the garden, or the gazebo, or a park, or a strawberry farm, or...

FAQ: No School on Fridays?

Monday, April 24, 2017

Q: You really have no school on Fridays!?!? What do working parents do with their kids on Friday? What about the number of days the state requires?

A: Yes really! The four-day week is one of the first unusual things that stands out to people when they're looking at Flint Academy. It's a big selling point for cranky high school students and worn out teachers, let me tell you!

As far as childcare for working parents, it hasn't been too much of a problem. In the past we have offered a Friday option but every time we've tried it...only one or two people have signed up. For a lot of our younger students with working parents, Fridays have become grandparent days, which is awesome. When that isn't a possibility, lots of families have worked out childcare with one another, trading Friday work hours for a Saturday night date, for example. I really think that part of the reason childcare hasn't been much of an issue is because (and I will say this with my dying breath) this is a village! We are all here for each other, all the time. 

Also, the State of Texas doesn't mandate a set number of school days per year for private schools. The State of Texas doesn't mandate much at all for private schools (other than we have to teach Texas history, which is hardly a burden - who wouldn't want to learn about Texas history?) because the State of Texas is awesome like that.

Schools all over the U.S. are starting to explore the idea of a four day week, and they're finding out what we already knew - it's crazy effective. I found dozens of articles and studies on the trend with just a quick little Google search, here's a few if you're curious: New York Magazine Huffington Post Georgia State University the AASA US News 

The biggest benefit to the students is that they have time to just be, something that children aren't getting nearly enough of. They get to recharge, run around, play, maybe even get dirty. Hopefully they even get the chance to be really and deeply bored, since it is basically impossible to develop any imagination if you never experience boredom. If you let it be, "I'm bored" is the first step to something magical happening. On a totally different note, older students have more time available to get a part-time job and learn equally magical things like responsibility and work ethic and Finishing High School is Important Because I Don't Want to Do This Kind of Job Forever.
Plus, if you want to go someplace cool like the aquarium or Six Flags or a movie? There are WAY less crowds on a Friday morning.  

You also end up with teachers who are better rested and balanced, who get a chance to miss their students over the weekend, and who have had time to come up with amazing lesson plans. In their pajamas. Like rock stars. Never underestimate the power of a teacher who has been able to do laundry, take their kid to the dentist, clean the house, cut out five thousand folder activity pieces while binging on Netflix, and talk to their spouse. Come Monday morning? That teacher is fully prepared to change the WORLD one student at a time. I'm going to post specifically about individualization later, but I will say here that individualization at Flint means that most of the amazing lesson plans that we have time to write on Fridays are per student. As in, a different plan for each child. Each day. Each subject. You can see how that would be a little time consuming.

And just as the teachers are ready to bring it, so are the students. They aren't dragging and despondent, looking ahead to an endless week of drudgery. Well, we're pretty light on drudgery anyhow, but it's also psychological. Just knowing that they get Friday off helps the students work hard all week long, without collapsing into useless puddles of goo by lunchtime at the end of the week. It also really cuts down on absences and sick days, for students and teachers both, which gives us a much more seamless education overall. At Flint we value quality over quantity all day long forever. Read two good books thoroughly instead of skimming over fifteen. Learn everything you can about a few historical events (or scientific and mathematical concepts! Or art techniques! Or basketball fundamentals!) rather than zooming through a whirlwind overview.  Work hard and learn deeply for four days instead of superficially for five. That's our hill and we will die on it.

(Metaphorically. No one is going to die. Unless you try to make us take standardized tests, in which case I can't be held responsible for your safety.)

As someone who is both a parent and a teacher, I can tell you from both perspectives how wonderful the four-day school week is. My chicks are young still, but I can tell you they have never yet been burned out at the end of the week, or "sick" on Monday morning. The complaint I get from them is on Thursday afternoon when they realize it's going to be three whole days before they GET to go to school. I love that! And I get to pretend I'm a stay-at-home mom on Fridays, which does amazing things for my sanity. We run errands and have doctor appointments, and do chores, sure, but we also do fun little day trips or spend hours playing with craft supplies. That time with my babies is what I need more than anything else. We are crazy busy and life is totally chaotic so much of the time... I don't think I'm exaggerating (much. I'm always exaggerating a little) when I say that those Fridays off keep us from falling apart. 

There are SO MANY more reasons that Flint's four-day week is a brilliant idea. I think that one of my classes did an ANI chart on this, actually...I wonder if I can dig it up? Probably not because I love throwing things away. But hopefully this helps explain the general philosophy behind it, at least. Next question?

Our School? Odd?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Where on earth did you get an idea like that?

Sometimes I forget that our school requires a little explanation. I mean, Aaron and I have been raising our family in this crazy village since forever, so lots of things seem perfectly mundane that I realize actually seem kind of bizarre to visitors and new families. We seem to have collected a lot of newcomers lately (Hi! You clearly have wonderful taste and excellent decision-making skills, you gorgeous things!) and also a lot of new people checking the school out for next year (It's amazing I promise, get over here, you!) and communicating the heart of the school, what we're doing and why and how, was really one of the main purposes of this blog. Which I am hereby reviving because there is NO WAY to truly understand Flint Academy in the course of one little school tour. Especially since we rarely can manage to all behave for a tour. Weirdest Thing My Class Was Doing When a Tour Came By But I SWEAR It Was Part of My Lesson is practically a competitve sport among the teachers. I can only assume from anecdotal evidence that some form of this competition exists for the students and animals as well. Ahem. My POINT is that you can get a little sample (enough to send you running for the hills, or, if you are really cool, intrigue and fascinate you) but there is no way to understand it all in that little amount of time. 

So step right up, loves. That picture up there, for example, is one of the upper school students relaxing backstage before his grand finale in our recent grammar school production of Sleeping Beauty. And here is one of the five thousand selfies that I find on my phone when I leave it lying on my desk unsupervised.

Here we are connecting with works of art:

And here we decided to take literature class outdoors:

But also we love to dance:

This...this is...a cheese party. That the eighth graders decided very randomly to have. Actually, I still need this one explained to me?

Here's that baby that keeps trying to crash high school classes. You are fooling NO ONE, baby!

And this is the cutest cheer squad EVER:

I could keep doing this all day because I take an unreasonable amount of pictures, but what I really would like is a little guidance from YOU. I really don't know where to start, so I keep not writing anything. If you've been at Flint Academy for a while, what are some aspects of the school that you think need explaining? Things that confused you at first, or even things that still confuse you. And if you are new or prospective, what are you most curious about? Let me know and I'll explain it to the very best of my ability. Aaaaand GO!

Back to the Blog

Monday, January 9, 2017

The first week of the spring semester is officially in the books and I just realized I haven't updated this blog since early November. Oops! Holidays, y'all. Holidays. Ours were amazing. The Fall semester seemed to fly by and I really loved having the break time to rest and reflect. In between the fun and festivities I managed to get quite a few days of Total Hermit Mode, which is just exactly what my little introverted soul needed. 

There is (apparently) no blogging in Total Hermit Mode, though, so here is a quick little recap of all the posts I would have posted if I had bothered posting posts:

We finished reading Pride and Prejudice and had a Lit party!
(No, see, that's funny because it could be short for literature and it could be lit like how the kids say reallyreallyreally fun, and it was BOTH so...nevermind, forget it. It's hard being bilingual, I tell you)

Basketball season started up! Aaron has taken a second full time job, away from the school, in addition to being athletic director/head coach at Flint and now he is soooooo busy! All these years of being a coach's wife, I never realized how much time together we still managed to have by working at the same place during the day. This is a whole other level of missing each other!

The entire upper school volunteered at Mission Arlington for most of their Christmas party day (because who are we trying to fool, we never try to do regular lessons on the last day of the semester) and hauled a million boxes of food in the freezing cold.
THEN we had a gift exchange party with cookies and hot chocolate and pizza back at the school.

The girls had their winter dance recital - Phoebe finally got to be in a recital! She loved it! In spite of my slow transformation into a hermit crab and Aaron's insane schedule we still managed to do plenty of Christmas stuff...decorating gingerbread houses, driving through Interlochen to see the lights, making cookies, spending time with extended family, watching ALL THE CHRISTMAS MOVIES, etc. 

And it was Tristan's first Christmas!

Aaron and I celebrated our TENTH anniversary, which sounds crazy like maybe we should be grownups or something? I'm not so sure that's happening. If anything we are less mature and act more like newlyweds now than we did ten years ago. 

We had our New Years fun, like always, because you will never convince me that New Year's Eve isn't a little magical and I love it. Also, I resolved to say No a whole bunch in the coming year, which includes saying it to myself. So far I have almost exclusively said it to myself, but I'm starting to say it to real people too.
(Wait. I'm a real person? But that still seems accurate?)

As much as we loved Christmas break, we loved going back to school last week, too. The kids were beyond excited to see their friends again, and I had really missed my teenagers. They're crazy and ridiculous and oh how I love them! We spent the week writing essays and having book club meetings about the novels we all read over the break. I've managed to make it through my whole life avoiding Lord of the Flies, but I had to read it last month because they wanted it for book club. If nothing else proves my love for my students, THAT should! Today we're starting new books - Oliver Twist in my junior/senior class and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court in my other classes. Except for my eighth graders, we're still working on the last few chapters of The Prince and the Pauper.

I started work on the costumes for the grammar school play (Sleeping Beauty!) and it snowed a tiny bit and traffic got crazy so we had to reschedule a basketball game. We had a big cozy fire and watched movies and snuggled instead, so it was hard to pretend I was disappointed. 

Between Aaron's work schedule (I'm not always mama enough to take all the kids by myself, although I'm braver about attempting it if I have one of the boys with me) and all of these holidays landing on Sundays, I don't think we had been to church for an entire month. Going back yesterday felt like coming home! 

And now we're all caught up, and if we're Facebook friends I'm sorry, you already knew nearly all of this stuff, because this was essentially my timeline for the past month or so, just with slightly less words and more pictures. Wouldn't it have been nice of me to say that at the BEGINNING of this post so you didn't have to slog through all of that? It would have. But I didn't. I'm just the worst.

Partying with Purpose

Friday, November 11, 2016

Yesterday the entire school went on a field trip to Medieval Times, pre-schoolers through seniors. It was a really fun day AND it was perfect for reinforcing and highlighting everything we're covering in history and literature school-wide this year. Jousting, sword fighting, falconry, the code of now I have the perfect example to clarify the word "anachronism" for my kiddos who are reading The Sword in the Stone. We've been a little hazy on the meaning, but mail-clad knights taking selfies and talking about cyber bullying should clear things up perfectly!

Plus there were chicken legs. Yum.

We are definitely in that busy part of the school year where it seems like there's a celebration or field trip or special event or SOMETHING every time you turn around. I love it. Next week we will have our Thanksgiving feast and grandparent's day to kick off Thanksgiving break, and after the break it won't be long at all before we start on the Christmas celebrations. And you know, Halloween kind of just happened.

But y'all, seriously, the balance of work hard and play hard that we get to have at Flint is incredible. And incredibly rare! It's so much simpler to do one or the other, and cultivating that balance demands a lot of creativity and mindfulness from each teacher. 

It's not just that all of these events are carefully planned to be informative and to reinforce academics and cultural norms. Every party, every field trip, every most (haha!) tangential classroom conversation? We're still on. We're getting to know the kids better, observing how they interact outside of regular classroom conditions, noticing ways that they struggle or excel socially and practically. And then we turn right around with that information and make plans and adjustments so we can better nurture each one of them. 

Some students enroll at Flint and think it's going to be a school on Fridays, no homework in the grammar school and minimal homework in the upper school, awesome parties every time you turn around...then after a few days they announce that they've never had to work harder, not ever in their LIFE. Probably because we make every bit of class time count and insist on individual mastery. Not to mention the classes are all so small that you can't really slip through any cracks. Other students insist that Flint is the most fun, easy school ever. Probably because we're awfully sneaky with how we accomplish some of our academic goals, lots of our lessons are doing triple and quadruple duty, and well, let's be honest here, we're all hilarious

Also? It works. My tinies are singing songs about how to write numbers, reciting the bones of the human body, and voraciously reading about King Arthur. My eighth graders came to me already writing like champs, already in love with reading, already excited about books. My upperclassmen are practically brawling with each other to be the first to identify schemes and tropes in our literature (there may or may not be candy on the line there) and thrilled to death to start our new book club portion of of English class. Our grads are out there killin' it in the big wide world. 

That pretty much sums up our strange little school, actually. It's fun, and it's difficult, and it works!

We get that we seem unusual sometimes. After our Beowulf party last month a tour came past my classroom and looked in for a few minutes before continuing. "Oh good, we weren't doing anything weird this time!" exclaimed one of my students, who had been diligently writing. "It seems like we're always in the middle of something that looks crazy whenever a tour comes by."
"Love, we're surrounded by the remains of a Viking feast and there's a severed arm hanging on the wall. I'm not sure we looked exactly normal." I pointed out. 
"Oh. Well. Flint has it's own kind of normal, I guess."

So if you pop your head in, make sure you remember to look for the lesson that is invariably taking place beneath the surface of the fun. Maybe it looks like the advanced Latin class is just throwing a stuffed bird back and forth at each other, but ALSO they are creating complex Latin sentences on the spot. That kind of thing. 

Shadow Spinner

Saturday, October 29, 2016

In case you were wondering, we don't only read Very Old Books in my literature classes. We mostly do but I like to mix things up a bit, especially for the eighth graders. They have to read different things than the rest of the upper school anyway, or they'll end up possibly repeating books their senior year. Only possibly, because I am a wild thing, given to CHANGING THE BOOK LIST without any notice! I know, I know. But some creatures just cannot be tamed, mkay?

All of that (it wasn't that much, actually, but I got interrupted by Tristan about 87 times in the course of typing that paragraph SO) to say that my eighth graders finished their first novel with me and we had their first book party on Thursday. I don't usually start the eighth graders on Lost Tools until maybe the very end of the school year, but I had a suspicion that this group was up for it now. That suspicion turned out to be completely founded, so they also knocked out some wonderful rudimentary persuasive essays on the book as well.

We read Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher. It's an easy read (to lull them into complacency about literature class before I throw them into something with more tricksy words and sentences...was that a clever little clue about the next book? NO BUT THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN AWESOME) about Shahrazad and the thousand and one nights. We all loved it! It caught their interest right away, sparked some wonderful discussions about all kinds of things, and was a lovely introduction to the idea of stories having this deep and timeless power that is essentially what we will be going back and back to until they graduate. And best of all, the students didn't execute me or anything because they wanted to find out what happened next in the book! 

No, but really, I kept timing it so class would end on a cliffhanger and I could shoo them away, so I got a lot of "Mrs. Hallford! YOU'RE BEING SHAHRAZAD!" and they totally got why the Sultan had to find out what happened next. And you know, it occurred to me that I do tell stories every day to save lives, just on a much less dramatic, tangible scale.

To celebrate the book we watched Aladdin, ate Middle Eastern food, and drank sharbat. My awesome room mom got the food for us from a restaurant around the corner, because I just wasn't up for an all-nighter of making baba ganoush and falafle. I did make the sharbat, though. They drink it a lot in the book and the kids had asked to try it especially.

Fun times yet again!

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