A VETERAN HOMESCHOOL MAMA LOOKS BACK
Happy mid-March to the Learning Well Community. I’m Rea Berg and I’m pleased to be able to connect with this beautiful group of passionate mamas in our shared journey of life and education! I began home schooling my first three when I had just found out I was pregnant with our fourth. My introduction to home schooling began in bed with morning sickness, three littles cuddled around me, teaching my 5 year-old daughter to read with Professor Phonics. Fortunately for me, my firstborn took to reading almost effortlessly, and despite our highly unorthodox classroom abed, in three weeks she had learned to read, and I was over the worst of the morning sickness. Thirty-two years later, I am blessed to actually be home schooling part time, as we still have a 17 year-old daughter at home. When I began this journey all those decades ago, I had no real concept of how truly life changing it all would be. I naively thought home education was about the best choice for our children’s education, little dreaming that this journey would transform nearly every aspect of our lives, lead us on incredible adventures, become our livelihood, all the while–imagine . . . not only providing our children an education that fitted them to successfully pursue their dreams, but also laid a foundation for them to become the kind, compassionate, and servant-hearted adults they are today. They are continually touching my heart with the way they serve their families and their communities around them. This is humbling for me, as I am deeply aware of the mistakes I made along the way, but I do rejoice that there is always grace for us when we can take this road humbly, learn the hard lessons well, and keep our eyes focused on the beauty, glory, and joy of the beautiful world God has given us. Thirty-two years after starting this journey of home education, my husband and I are now the delighted grandparents to 7. Our six children and spouses live here, there and everywhere, but we relish the sweet times we are privileged to share together, and that the bonds we established through all those years, of reading, discovering, and experiencing life together, have held firm and true. We are truly blessed.
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DEAR LEARNING WELL HOMESCHOOL MAMAS
One of the early decisions my husband and I made when we first married (nearly 40 years ago) was that we would forego television in our home. The statistics at that time were pretty grim regarding how much time Americans spent in front of the “tube” and how destructive a force it had become in family life. We were able to successfully manage raising four children without television and not surprisingly, when you remove a force that is such a time-waster, you suddenly have an abundance of time to be filled. We filled that time with reading. The selection of books I’ve feature here were those that had dramatic effects on how we viewed education, childhood, parenting, and family life. Because neither my husband or I grew up in particularly literary homes, our new love affair with reading opened up vast channels of thought and experience we never imagined. For instance, it was through Books Children Love by Elizabeth Wilson that I first learned of the biographical works of Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire–their Caldecott Medal winner Abraham Lincoln, their delightful Benjamin Franklin, Leif the Lucky and others. From Wilson I also learned of the horizontal history books of Genevieve Foster–George Washington’s World, The World of Captain John Smith, Augustus Caesar’s World and so forth. Foster had an intuitive ability to write history that absolutely came to life for students, and for the adults fortunate to share these books with their children. I find it remarkable all these decades later, that flipping through my dog-eared, worn-out copy of Books Children Love, that Wilson’s work became like the magical wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It was a portal to an adventure that we could not have dreamed of at the time, because we ultimately found ourselves publishing the works of the D’Aulaires and Genevieve Foster, through our company Beautiful Feet Books. For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay was the book that introduced me to the revolutionary work of Charlotte Mason. I read this book before I even had children, and was profoundly intrigued by Mason’s philosophy and paradigm for education. What struck me most was her insistence that “children are born persons” and that they come equipped and designed with particular bents, dispositions, and gifts. Our responsibility as parents is to patiently study them, learn who they are as individuals, and then help provide the skills and opportunities they need to fulfill their God-given destiny and purpose. While a lot has been written on this type of parenting in the last few decades, 40 years ago, it marked a sea change, for me personally and for many, in how to view our role as parents and teachers. The works of Neil Postman–The Disappearance of Childhood, and Michael Medved–Saving Childhood, gave my husband and I a mild militancy about protecting our children from the ravages of contemporary society in its determination to rob our children of the gift of childhood.
Not having television was one way we protected them, another was providing them with an abundance of time to just be children, to play, go on adventures, read, live in their imaginations. When our children were little we were fortunate enough to be asked to care take a massive Queen Anne home in Sonora, California. This home, built in 1903, was like a castle to our four littles, with a full basement, old chests full of beautiful gowns from the 1930s and 40s, and a library full of books. Countless afternoons were spent dressing up, enacting plays of something we were reading, putting together Victorian tea parties, or just being silly. That was a gift we gave our children. In my next installment I’ll look at how we endeavored to stretch out childhood into the adolescent and early teen years.
Travel seems to be an integral part of a truly vital home education experience. Spending time with our children reading the stories of the Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers, and pivotal moments in America’s story, kindles a longing to visit the iconic places of history. Like a spiritual pilgrimage, traveling with our children becomes an historical pilgrimage that underscores, affirms, and broadens the face of history in ways not possible through the pages of a book. Our first real adventure with our four littles, (ages nine and under) involved just such a trip–originating in Boston and culminating in Washington DC and Mount Vernon. Walking in the footsteps of Paul Revere, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin on Boston’s Freedom Trail, going ‘tween decks’ on the Mayflower, and touring the home of George Washington, lifts the veil of myth from history and helps us to stand before it humbled by what others have paid for the freedom we enjoy. There are always surprising serendipitous things that happen when we travel. We loved Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and had in fact memorized parts of it, because of how much we loved it. Imagine our amazement when we visited the Lincoln Memorial on a sultry summer night to see the entire speech etched four stories tall in marble! These moments bring a tear to the eye and fill the heart with gratitude. The best kind of travel does that, and traveling with historically literate children is a sweet benefit of spending time learning together. The other remarkable thing about travel, is that it can literally turn your life upside down! Our travel did that.
In the photo of myself and our four littles standing in front of the Georgian-style home amid the cosmos and the Marguerite daisies, we are literally across the street from a home (unbeknownst to us at the time) that we would purchase and move into exactly 5 years from the day this photo was taken. This was just another amazing adventure that home schooling brought about in our lives. But that story is for the next time!
LIVING AND LEARNING
In my last post I talked about how important it was to our family to preserve that fleeting time known as childhood. I also mentioned that travel as an integral part of a broad education brings the reality of important historical events to life for us and our children. These two elements of our educational experience came together in a very serendipitous way after we took our first “early American History field trip” with our four. My husband Russ and I tend to be hopeless romantics, we love history, antique homes, classic books, and quaint villages. On this trip, as we took leisurely excursions through the winding New England countryside, we were completely smitten with all the aforementioned elements.
We also saw how enchanting it might be to raise our children in an area with continual access to ponds for ice skating, to creeks and forests for exploring, and to the beach for canoeing, jumping off the boardwalk, and discovering marsh wildlife–a dream of a childhood with ready access to nature and all its wonders. So, five years after that first field trip, we purchased a home in the quaint village of Sandwich, Massachusetts and began a new life 3300 miles from our California roots.
Living in a small village afforded our children the freedom to branch out in the above areas in safety–they could ride bikes everywhere, trek into the forest on their own, experience the brutal beauty of a Nor’easter at night, and be part of village life where all the neighbors knew one another. The gristmill across the street– a relic of Pilgrim days–dammed a pond that hosted turtles, ducks, swans, and magical fireflies on summer nights. The creek that ran through the back of our property was a herring run (though we didn’t see too many of those) that attracted blue heron, muskrats, and snapping turtles laying their eggs–a focus of hours of interest and discovery. As our children moved into adolescence and the teen years, their outdoor exploits grew more sophisticated, including mountain biking, ice skating, English riding, and night time canoeing. The barn on our property became a quite professional-looking theater where they enacted plays and humorous skits. Access to these types of activities and experiences enabled our children to be kids longer. We believe that when childhood is protected and nurtured, children transition into adulthood confident, imaginative, secure, and eager to meet the challenges and responsibilities of adult life. Now, though this may seem an idyllic life, it wasn’t. We still had our tears during algebra, adolescent boys reluctant to craft any sort of essay, loneliness for friends left behind in California, and sibling fights during dishwashing. Still, it was a good, home schooling life.
Thank You so much for that wonderful window into your homeschool years Rea!
Please go and check out Rea’s site, Beautiful Feet Books !