The Stick and Sand Principle
(Sorry, I couldn't find a picture in my archives that contained BOTH sticks and sand, so you'll have to settle for just sand here.) =)
Leigh Bortins, the founder of Classical Conversations and mom of 4 boys, writes,
"When teaching my own boys or when tutoring CC students, I always ask myself this question: If I only had a stick and sand, could I engage and effectively dialogue with my students about the concept I want to teach them?"
I think Leigh is saying:
You don't need a lot of stuff to homeschool.
You don't need all of the latest tech gadgets.
You really only need a "stick and sand" to instruct your child.
(Or in Abraham Lincoln's case, a wooden shovel, a piece of charcoal, and 6 books. )
Exactly 9 hours after arriving home from the CC conference, I joined my husband, kids, and in-laws for a camping trip to Yellowstone. I decided to test out the "stick and sand" thing on my kids while we were camping. Around the campfire, as the boys lit sticks on fire and Ali learned to whittle with a pocket knife I began drilling them with questions from their book "My First Book of Questions and Answers." Then we practiced our 26 verses we had been memorizing over the summer. I found out, to my surprise, that Ali had already learned all 26 verses, one for each letter of the alphabet, and could recite them perfectly. Even though I didn't have any "school materials" along with me on our camping trip, we went over verses, math facts, theological questions, and talked about the wonders of nature all around us. We sang together while Grandpa played his harmonica. The boys could practice making their letters with a stick in the dirt. It was amazing to me how much learning took place without the kids even realizing we were "doing school" orally.
The Stick and Sand Principle really works!
I appreciate the fact that CC requires simplicity during our teaching time, because my family can't afford to have a lot of gadgets. We still don't even have a cell phone! Tutors are not supposed to use computers, power point, tablets, etc. in our class time each week. We are not even supposed to bring "souped-up" tri-fold boards or lap books into the classroom that will intimidate other parents. Tutors must model simplicity so that the parents can emulate that at home as they instruct their children. Not everyone has the fancy gadgets or is talented with fancy school projects, so if we are using them in class, the parents will go home and feel like they can't do what we've done in class because they don't have the technology, talent, or motivation. That is why we drill the kids using just a simple white board and dry erase marker, the modern version of the stick and sand!
It seems that everywhere you turn people are embracing or striving after the simple life. It is refreshing as a homeschool mom to realize that you don't need a lot of "extras" to give your kids an outstanding education and for us to see that the schoolroom really can be simplified. Now don't get me wrong, I do have a huge, organized homeschool closet that is the envy of many of my friends and my kids do love getting into the playdough, puzzles, craft box, markers, glue, books, etc. so I'm not saying that it's wrong to have all of that "fun stuff." It's nice to have toys, activities, and games to play with. But we don't have to have shiny stuff to help our kids obtain grammar, learn to think and dialogue, and express themselves.
Lately, I've been reviewing memory work with the kids as we drive to swimming lessons in the van, and Daddy quizzes them at the dinner table. The other day we went to the skate park nearby and were the only ones there because public schools were in session, so I whipped out my CC Cycle 2 flashcards and we worked on our schoolwork together in the park, with the kids biking and ziggling wildly around. We often drive up to a nearby canyon to explore and hike with friends, and it's a snap to bring "school" with us, with or without our one textbook or our ring of flashcards, since Mommy is learning all of the grammar too and has it in her head, ready to sing it with the kids at a moment's notice!
I have about 1/4 of the school textbooks/workbooks/binders/supplies to manage this year as opposed to last year.
I spend 1/2 of the time I used to on doing school, and my kids are retaining more.
I have given away a LOT of our homeschooling "extras" that we don't use.
Other great thoughts from Leigh:
One of the concerns I raised in my book The Core is that students in the modern education system do not get to spend enough quality time with caring adults. I believe this system results in children forming attachments with peers who often steer them toward foolishness rather than with adults who steer them toward maturity and wisdom. In his book, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future, Mark Bauerlein also highlights these issues (Chapter 5, “The Betrayal of the Mentors”).
In Classical Conversations, we want to use technology wisely so that it enhances our knowledge and skills instead of doing our thinking for us. On the community day, my desire is for tutors at all levels to spend the day modeling and discussing rather than showing media presentations. I am excited by the quality of the review resources that the Classical Conversations Multimedia team has created. These products—such as the Memory Work resource CD, the online tutorial, the IPad app—are wonderful tools for parents to use at home, but these digital tools are not designed for use in the classroom on the community day. Instead, the tutor builds a personal relationship with the students, engages, guides, and leads the community through ideas, questions, forms, examples, and illustrations.
Engaging in relational recitation in the younger years and moving into idea-centered, truth-seeking conversations in the older years is the life blood of the Classical Conversations community. Often, the use of technology gives our children (and sometimes their tutors and parents) the illusion that education should always be fun, quick, and easy. Even worse, they may come to believe that raw information equals knowledge, understanding, or wisdom. In contrast, students and teachers of the past knew that education was often slow and difficult. In earlier generations, students understood that a quality education involved wrestling with big ideas and agonizing over the right words to express the ideas well. They understood that true education results from hard work and occurs over a lifetime. Their labors often rewarded them with deep satisfaction when they conquered a difficult skill. I want to help our students regain the pride of a job well done through reading, writing, ciphering, and thinking.
To read Leigh Bortin's article in its' entirety, go here.
Did you miss my previous posts in this series?
If so, go here to read about Freak-Out Homeschool Moms, How We Learn, and Modern Education vs. Classical Education.