Saturday, May 28, 2011

Experience not formulas

One of my early influences on the way I raise my children was Raymond and Dorothy Moore’s book Home Grown Kids. The Moores are known for their “delayed academics” approach, encouraging parents to let their children have plenty of time to play, to give them opportunities for real work around the house and yard, and to read good stories to them.

“Delayed academics” doesn’t mean NO academics; it just means to wait until they’re developmentally ready to handle formal study, which varies from child to child. The hard part of this for the home schooling mom is that it requires her to pay careful attention to each child’s needs and tailor their academic studies accordingly. It also means that if you have a child who doesn’t read well until he’s eight or ten or twelve years old (and I’ve had a couple of those) you’re going to hear from the grandparents and concerned friends, so you have to be pretty confident that you know what you’re doing.

That’s one reason why I’ve loved reading Poetic Knowledge, and Charlotte Mason’s books. They remind me that Mike and I really do know what we’re doing with our kids.

But they also keep me from becoming complacent—there’s always room for improvement. Poetic Knowledge is so full of ideas that I can’t even begin make good use of them all. All those ideas are just composting in the back of my mind, but I trust that my own soul will be nurtured and I’ll be better able to nurture my children’s as a result.

One idea that Taylor has presented throughout the book is what he calls “gymnastic.” I’m trying to get a handle on this because it’s something I’ve never realized was an important part of every child’s education. By “gymnastic” he doesn’t mean taking gymnastics classes and learning tumbling and so forth, although that could certainly be a good avenue if it suits your family. On page 142, Taylor defines “gymnastic” by quoting French educator Henri Charlier:

The essential of gymnastics is the training to race, including different types of jumps and climbs. But physical labor must be added, which gives resistance, brings one back to the hard realities of life.

Physical labor I can do—we have plenty of yard work and caring for animals to go around. Training to race, though. I think I need to talk to my oldest son when he gets back home and see if he can help me out.

Here’s an aspect of it that I feel more confident of ability to teach:

In the ancient times and in all the middle ages, music was a part of the studies…. For the Greeks, the word ‘music’ meant poetry, music, and dance, all at the same time. They never separated them…. Dance is the best way for youngsters to calm their senses and control this violence of a young vitality which they usually use in a wrong way. We re not speaking of the dancing of dance halls, but of outdoor dancing; the ancient folk dances.

For our family, that’s just a matter of building on things we’re already doing: learning to play musical instruments, participating in a community chorus of sacred music, singing prayers and hymns at home, square-dancing in the dining room and sometimes on the lawn.

The point of all this, the way it relates to a good education, is that it gives the child (and the adult who’s remediating himself, like me!) the proper foundation of experience in the real world to build upon. Charlier says that “it is indispensable that teaching break loose from a sort of academic letters of thought…. Teaching must fill up with intellectual experience and not with ready-made formulas.”

Taylor says:

This is not unlike the understanding Socrates had for the necessity of what he called “gymnastic” for his beginners, to learn the interdependence of the sensory faculties in contact with nature and crafts. This is learning in the poetic mode, and for Charlier, to learn by the language alone is simply the opposite of gymnastic and the logic of crafts. Language means the realm of formulas and general ideas bereft of the their actual antecedents. Under such teaching, there will be no images offered to the memory of the real things placed there by actual experience of the way things are…. [O]ne cannot simply think; one has to think about some thing.

So, give your children plenty of real play in the out of doors, and plenty of real, useful, work to do around the house and yard. Sing with them. Teach them the childhood games you played, like “London Bridge.” Teach them how to sip the nectar out of honeysuckle. Enjoy the journey together.

Poetic Knowledge(Follow the discussion of Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of Education, by James S. Taylor at Mystie's blog)


  1. It's a relief to realize all we really have to give our kids is a childhood! Whew! But then again, not so easy anymore.

  2. Thanks for this series of posts on education and your little homestead. I appreciate hearing your thoughts and the tidbits that let us inside your home.

    It's very helpful for a side-tracked, tired, confused young mother! :)


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