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Hello Readers!

Pictured here are just a few of the wonderful literature selections we will be exploring during my Literature Soirée on the Medieval and Renaissance era. There are a still a few places left, so you can find all the info and grab a spot at this link. I’m excited to share this time with you and all the lovely mamas that are already signed up! The Renaissance era offers such richness to explore, and the seminal texts we will cover will give you the confidence to approach this era with passion and joy!  Remember we will also be discussing Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s For the Children’s Sake, so get out your copy and do a review of this important and (for me at least!) life-changing book!  And finally, we have the lovely Bernadette Speakes scheduled to share with us some of her artistry in drama!  So come expecting to be enriched, inspired, challenged and equipped for an amazing adventure of learning!  Looking forward to seeing you soon!  Rea

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Dear Readers,

How to Raise a Wild Child by Scott Sampson

How to Raise a Wild Child by Scott Sampson

Today on Tom Ashbrook’s On Point, the host interviewed the author of How to Raise a Wild Child: the Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature by Scott Sampson.  (This was actually a re-broadcast of an earlier recording, but it was the first time I heard it). I have the book on my bed stand and have been reading it in fits and starts.  This has been a very humbling read, as I’ve recently been convicted about how little I’ve had my 16 year-old daughter outside enjoying nature and seeing the wonder of the created world around her.  There are a number of reasons for this (she is a ballet dancer which necessitates lots of time in ballet studios–these don’t exist outside, in addition to a very time-consuming online curriculum which stole about 7 or 8 hours a day!)  So, like Rip Van Winkle, I feel I’ve woken out of a long winter’s (technology) nap and am awake to real life again!  I’ve also been blessed and inspired by Ainsley Arment through her work at Be Wild and Free and have determined that this coming school year will be different.  So we’ve quit the demanding online academy and are taking a less stressful, more relaxed approach to our home education next year, including regularly scheduled outdoor times!  I’m so looking forward to this!

In that endeavor here are a few of the key points of Scott’s How to Raise a Wild Child book and interview:

• children today spend on average of 4-7 minutes outdoors and 7-10 hours at screens

• this phenomenon has reduced life expectancy, increased obesity, diabetes, anxiety, depression, ADHD, etc.

• this dramatic cultural shift has been driven by a “fear factor” wherein parents fear child abduction, when in reality the likelihood of child abduction is no greater than it was in 1950.

• the “busy factor” of “over-scheduled children”– who go directly from school to sports, music lessons, etc., with no time to play.

• finally, the “lure of technology” robs countless hours that previous generations of children spent outdoors, running, climbing trees, building forts, exploring and creating adventures.

What Scott Sampson sees in these modern trends is that we keep out children under a veritable “house arrest” where “free range children” are a dying breed!

The solution isn’t complicated or sophisticated, or only for the privileged.  It merely necessitates getting outside!  As one of the guests stated, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing!”  Children can be kept warm and dry no matter the weather with thoughtful and wise preparation. This resonates so beautifully with the philosophy of Charlotte Mason who advocated that children spend a minimum of 3 hours per day outside–rain or shine.  In spring and fall she insisted on even more time outdoors!

To be wild and free boys only need some water, rocks and trees. My adorable grandsons this weekend.

To be wild and free boys only need some water, rocks and trees. Two of my adorable grandsons this weekend.

In an age of helicopter parenting, where children are habitually supervised and smothered by parental involvement, I love the words of my eldest daughter’s parenting philosophy of “benevolent neglect!” There is so much truth to the notion that children need to be left alone to muse, create, ponder and reflect.  Charlotte Mason advocated the importance of free play noting,

Boys and girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures, live heroic lives, lay sieges and carry forts, even if the fortress be an old armchair; and in these affairs the elders must neither meddle nor make.”

Scott Sampson likened it to “hummingbird parenting” where parents stay on the periphery and only zoom in when needed and just as quickly zoom out.  And when we are outside with our children, give place for them to explore and discover on their own.  Let’s not badger them with questions or facts, or “educational moments.” Let’s let the wonder and awe of creation in all its profound intricacy and majesty, work its magic on us and our children.

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“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
― C.S. Lewisimgres

In July I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the delightful Sarah Mackenzie for her Read-Aloud Revival podcast.  It was more like a friendly chat over coffee as Sarah and I shared thoughts about life, literature, reading-aloud, children’s book publishing, history studies and our mutual love for good books.  The podcast is now up and you can access it here.

Sarah has recently published a book about home schooling entitled Teaching From Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace.  As a young mom of six little ones, Sarah knows how hectic and demanding the homeschooling lifestyle can be and offers great advice for letting go of striving and finding a deep peace in your heart and home.

One of the topics we discussed briefly was the current educational trend of teaching history by “beginning at the beginning.” Those who are interested in a little more in-depth look at this topic might enjoy reading, “When Should I Teach Ancient History, which you can access here.  Memoria Press has also written a brief intro on this topic entitled “History is Not Chronological, which you can access here.imgres-2

In closing, one of the questions Sarah asked was what book I had read as a child that most impacted me.  I always come back to Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time for the book that I believe truly, as C. S. Lewis coined, “baptized my imagination.”  I read it as a teen or young adult, but it opened the eyes of my imagination in a way no other book ever had.  We never know which book will do that for us or our children–thus the reason to read, read, read!  But read the best books first, because you never know if you’ll have time to read them all!

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. . . the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.~Pearl S. Buck

One of the topics of discussion during our soirée the Saturday before last was the way in which the dystopias of today–The Hunger Games, the Divergent trilogy etc., present disturbing scenes of violence between children.  While violence against children has always been a component of fairy tales, fantasy, science fiction etc., what the astute Samantha Riddering pointed out was the way in which that violence has traditionally been perpetrated by the evil adult antagonist.  Obviously, sometimes that antagonist was a monster, a dragon, an ogre, a wicked stepmother, or an evil Sméagol.  From  fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood, to sophisticated Pulitzer-prize winning fictions like To Kill a Mockingbird,  violence against children is presented as the work of evil personified–the Big Bad Wolf to Bob Ewell respectively.  The difference in some of today’s young adult dystopias is how often  the ogres perpetrating evil against children are the children themselves. While these dystopias are the literary grandchildren of William Golding’s–The Lord of the Flies–the groundbreaking novel that first featured this disturbing literary trope, the nature of Golding’s brutal images did not popularize it to a youthful audience. In the US it Image result for hunger gamesonly sold a few thousand copies before going out of print. Today it is mandatory reading in high school. Unlike The Lord of the Flies, the trilogies of Divergent and Hunger Games, replete with graphic violence between children are wildly popular with young readers who seem inured to a level of violence that seems extreme.

Additionally layering the complexity of child-to-child violence is that the teen protagonists become hardened and highly skilled warriors perpetrating acts of war at a young age. Sometimes these actions involve gut-wrenching cruelty like the Divergent character Peter plunging a knife into Edward’s eye while he’s asleep. Though youth becoming skilled warriors isn’t new in children’s lit–Frodo and Sam Gamgee are young hobbits when they fight the evil forces of Mordor, and Peter and Edmund become warriors in Narnia–again, what is new is war between rival youth.  Perhaps the real-life counterpart is gang warfare, which would beg the question of how books like the trilogies mentioned may contribute to an already violent gang culture. Oh, but gang members don’t read, so not to worry.   I think it’s interesting to note that the film scene of Peter’s nocturnal knifing of Edward was cut from the movie.  Director Neil Burger denied that the scene was cut because it was too graphic, but rather because it “disrupted the flow of the story.”   Hmmm.  Gratuitous perhaps?

As I was finishing writing this my daughter Rebecca posted a wonderful blog entry on the “Loveliness of Reading Aloud” which I think you’ll enjoy.  She links in her article to another by Meghan Cox Gurdon which may further inspire the effort it takes to develop this practice in your home.  Gurdon is the children’s literature critic for the Wall Street Journal and as a mother of 5 has her finger firmly on the pulse of the kinds of books most parents want their children to enjoy.  For parents reading this that have YA readers, I think you’ll find her article on this genre enlightening.

For those that attended the soirée who might have thoughts they didn’t share that day or any others who would just like to comment on this topic, please feel free to do so below.  What are the thoughts ruminating around in your mind when you confront the issues of violence in children’s lit today? Let’s continue this discussion!  In the meantime I’ll close with this beautiful quote from Tolkien on the function of fairy-tale as it reminds us of the limitless power of the well-crafted tale to cultivate the best in the human heart.

The eucatastrophic tale [one with a happy ending] is the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function.  The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true endImage result for tolkien to any fairy-tale: this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist”, nor “fugitive.”  In its fairy-tale–or otherworld–setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur.  It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, or sorrow or: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief. –Tolkien, Tree and Leaf (68-69).

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Dear Readers,

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The giant clock at Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

On Saturday, June 27th I’ll be holding my annual Summer Reading Soirée! 

The theme will be “Summer Reading”–exploring the world of children’s picture books, folk and fairy tales, and best picks for family read-alouds. We will also explore the deeper meanings available in children’s literature as we look at how great stories have the power to bring catharsis, anagnorisis (self-knowledge), and promote the practice of a self-examined life.  As Socrates so poignantly recognized, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  Children’s books can help us cultivate self-knowledge and lead our children to establish an understanding and recognition of this in their lives too! 

For those with teens, cultivating the family read-aloud time becomes more and more difficult–sports, evening activities, and homework all tend to take precedence.  Because teen’s opinions and perspectives are solidifying, these years can be some of the most rewarding for reading aloud together as we share more complex literary works. These times build emotional, spiritual, and intellectual bridges in our relationships–bridges that help us cross over the tumultuous tides of teen life into the adult world.  We’ll explore ways to continue the practice of sharing the best literature even as our children move through the teen years.

Those who attended last summer will remember that we had the distinct pleasure of having Bernadette Speakes bring the poetry of Marilyn Nelson’s Carver: A Life in Poems, to dramatic life through her powerful readings.  Bernadette will delight us with her art once again! So, if you have a poem or a literary passage you’d like to suggest for Bernadette’s reading, please feel free to make a suggestion.  See Bernadette’s bio below.

Date: Saturday, June 27, 2015
Time: 9:30 am -3:30 pm
Place: 1306 Mill Street, San Luis Obispo
Cost: $30 (which includes lunch)
Make your reservation here.

Finally, I am currently reading the ancient philosopher Seneca’s “On the Shortness of Life.”  Hereshortnessoflife is a passage that has really made me ponder how we use our time:

I am always surprised to see some people demanding the time of others and meeting a most obliging response.  Both sides have in view the reason for which the time is asked and neither regards the time itself–as if nothing there is being asked for and nothing given. They are trifling with life’s most precious commodity, being deceived because it is an intangible thing, not open to inspection and therefore reckoned very cheap–in fact, almost with out any value” (12).

 This sentiment has made me more cognizant of the incredible gift you are giving me (and hopefully yourselves) when you heroically carve out a full day of time to attend a literature Soirée.  I want to value your time as it should be valued.  In that light I intend to focus on the things that really matter–i.e. the things that can cause us to respect each day we are given, to nurture and build the relationships that are near and dear to us, and to focus on transcendent things. Because ultimately “when time is no more”, only those will have enduring value. I hope to see you on Saturday, June 27th!

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Bernadette Speakes graced the stage last winter, in the Elephant Theatre’s West Coast Premiere of the comedy, North Plan, directed by David Fofi. In the 2013 Fringe Festival, she portrayed Tituba, in The Crucible.  She created and produced the successful Get Up Stand Up . . . Clean Comedy 4 A Change–a showcase bridging the gap of laughter and charity together. Bernadette Bernadetteappeared in several acclaimed shows such as The Elephant Theater’s In Arabia We’d Be Kings, and The Fountain Theater’s West Coast Production of Direct from Death Row . . . The Scottsboro Boys. Bernadette will be furthering her film and TV credits with a key role in the upcoming film The Woods; A New Beginning. Other Film and TV Credits include: The Soloist, Heroes,  Parenthood, To Sir with Love II with Mr. Sidney Poitier, and the 1997 Sundance Festival Winner Love Jones. Awards include an Emmy Nomination for A Stage of Our Own with James Earl Jones, The LA Drama Critic’s Circle, and the LA Weekly.  Bernadette is a wife and mother of 2 beautiful children. She presently lives in Los Angeles.

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o-GRAPES-OF-WRATH-ARISTS-facebook“She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. And since old Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt or fear, she had practiced denying them in herself. And since, when a joyful thing happened, they looked to see whether joy was on her, it was her habit to build laughter out of inadequate materials . . . She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook, and if she ever deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

Dear Readers,

One of the beauties of reading classics again is the heightened ability to empathize in different seasons of life. Reading The Grapes of Wrath with my 15 year-old daughter, is an entirely different experience than reading it as a teenager.  I see it now through the eyes of a grandmother, a mother, a sister and a daughter.  But it is the position of Mrs. Joad that is particularly striking for me as a mother and grandmother.  Steinbeck’s passage above reflects an unconscious notion many mothers feel as they strive to build strength and integrity in their families.

Becoming re-acquainted with Steinbeck’s tale of the great Dust Bowl migration displays the timeless power of literature.  As we immerse in the story of a formerly middle-class family cast off from their one-time prosperous farm, forced to migrate with little more than the clothes on their backs, a few family members in extremities of health, with little money and facing cruel prejudice wherever they go, I’m struck by how capricious our relative ease and comfort can be and how blithely we view it.

I relate particularly to Mrs. Joad, as she struggles to keep her family together, knowing how important that is, yet watching the vicissitudes of fate and chance play their hand cruelly against her best intentions, and my heart aches with her mother heart.  As she buries both parents along the way due to the extremities of travel and little chance of rest and sustenance, I feel I can understand her heartbreak and agony.  So determined is she to keep the family together that when the men make plans to split up, she takes up a jack handle and threatens to wallop Pa if he forces his plan.  The formerly mild-mannered and temperate Ma is forced to such means to do what she believes is right. Tragically, despite her best efforts the family is split up.  Steinbeck describes in vivid detail how the tragedy of the Dust Bowl, corporate and individual greed, and small-minded prejudice brought such devastation to hard-working, happy, God-fearing families all across the plains.

The lessons of The Grapes of Wrath are many.  But the one that is resonating with me currently is how displacement is such an ongoing human tragedy.  It strips dignity, creates prejudice, subjects the innocent to violence, and destroys families. While we have no great forced migrations occurring in America today, around the world they are an ongoing reality.  We have displaced Mexican children swamping our borders, the Syrian refugee crisis is daily in the news, Rwandan refugee camps burst at the seams, and there are continuing crises in Sudan and Somalia.

Watching the heartbreak of Mrs. Joad is an important exercise in learning to have a heart for refugees and for the disenfranchised around the globe. Mrs. Joad stands as an icon of the tragedy that is repeated around the world as families are forced to flee their homes.  Through one of his characters, Steinbeck poses the question, “How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past?”  It is a good question to ask ourselves.  The next time we’re tempted to dismiss the plight of the refugee, whether at our border, or elsewhere on the globe, let’s remember Mrs. Joad, and say a prayer for all those in her place.

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The sole substitute for an experience we have not ourselves lived through is art and literature. –Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Early American Primary SG CoverDear Readers,

At the Great Homeschool Convention in Ontario, California, June 12-14th, I will be presenting a session on Early American History Through Literature.  This presentation will explore the power of studying the history of our nation through literature, rather than standard textbooks. The joys and advantages of learning history when it is taught through narrative are too numerous to address in a blog post, but I will address a few here by way of a teaser for my upcoming session next month!

Dana Gioia, man of letters, poet, and social critic has written extensively on the importance of literature in society.  In an article he wrote a few years ago, titled “Why literature matters: good books help make a civil society”, Gioia notes how dramatic declines in the reading of literature have negatively impacted our society.  This decline has manifested itself in dismal historic knowledge, such that college seniors cannot pass a high school level American history test of basic knowledge; the corporate world laments that local schools graduate students with poor reading skills, and higher order problem-solving skills dependent upon imagination are at an all-time low.

Other studies cite that 42% of college graduates never pick up another literary work again.  The tragedy that this represents is hard to fathom but given an educational system that in many cases blights any love of reading through the imposition of dry lifeless textbooks, it isn’t difficult to imagine that the outcome would be exactly what we are seeing.

One extraordinary advantage of home education is the opportunity it provides families to choose a vast array of literary works and center their studies around those. The benefits of a literature approach are multifaceted and I believe, lifelong.  Students who have the option of rich, broad, and expansive literary choices become lifelong lovers of literature and creative problem-solving adults.

Other benefits of literature include a deeper connection and respect of our cultural and literary past.  Students who are exposed to a broad range of literary works see the world through a much more hopeful, optimistic, and understanding lens. Reading the thoughts of great minds who have gone before us, understanding and having empathy for their trials, and rejoicing in their triumphs, brings perspective and wisdom.

As Gioia notes in the aforementioned article, literature is also a powerful force for good in society.  Important literary works have changed the course of history and brought justice and truth to bear upon society’s ills.

 “Indeed we sometimes underestimate how large a role literature has played in the evolution of our national identity, especially in that literature often has served to introduce young people to events from the past and principles of civil society and governance.  Just as more ancient Greeks learned about moral and political conduct from the epics of Homer than from the dialogues of Plato, so the most important work in the abolitionist movement was the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Having read Uncle Tom’s Cabin a few times over the course of our home schooling years, I think I can understand in a small way why this novel was able to move a nation in the manner it did.  Harriet Beecher Stowe was gifted in helping her readers identify vicariously with the victims of slavery–not just the slaves, but even the inheritors of slaves.  Her characterization ghc_250x125of the evil effects of slavery on an entire society, slave and master alike, turned the conscience of a nation and became a powerful catalyst for change.

Literature is powerful.  For the homeschooling parent, there is no more effective tool in his or her tool chest.  This seminar at GHC will explore the literature that has impacted the course of American history, the books to read with your students, the best authors for children, and how to establish a literature-based curriculum that will encourage lovers of literature and life long readers. Sign up now to attend GHC in Ontario, California, June 12-14.  If you sign up through the BFB link (here) your registration will help to support the Blickenstaff family as they continue to adapt to life altering challenges.  Also, GHC has posted the schedule for the conference, so be sure to go online and check it out!  Hope to see you there!

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