Saturday, August 8, 2009

Remote and Proximate Preparation for the School Year

Starting "school" in only two days -- I have mixed feelings.

I'm excited about starting the year. I almost always am. I love planning and new beginnings. It's when the treads hit the tarmac that I get disillusioned, mostly by my lack of ability in practical action, but I've learned that this is part of the process.

I have a theory about education. The theory is that for 1 part of anything academic or skill-oriented or production-oriented you should have about 10 parts of groundwork or behind the scenes development. Sometimes I've used the "iceberg" analogy. You could also think of a play where 98 percent of the work is probably preparation and construction and practice. So maybe it's 100 hidden parts for every 1 obvious parts. So the ratio is subject to errors of magnitude -- I'm sure it isn't a straightforward linear proportion, either -- but thinking in those terms help me respect what's going on under the surface and ponder what I can do to help with that.

On my other blog I wrote about my fundamental priorities that seem to lay the groundwork for what we actually do or assign in our homeschool. Setting Their Feet in a Spacious Place. This year, I decided that before starting our studies for this year, I'd pay attention to getting these habits established in the day -- my attentiveness seems to be the main difference in whether they happen or not.

It's not like we DON'T usually work, pray, go outside, read together during the summer. We always do those things, more or less. It's just that in the past week I've been trying to get more of a rhythm and intentional pattern going, and do "more" rather than "less". I suppose it's sort of like the first step in mental prayer -- recollection. The vocabulary of mental prayer says that there is something called "remote preparation" which means a general overall habit of keeping the most important things in mind rather than frittering away the attention on a host of tiny things. Then there is something else called "proximate preparation" which is done right as you start getting ready to pray and meditate. This is the immediate process of pulling your mind away from all the dozens of things that try to dive into the vacuum, and focusing. Most spiritual writers say that if you spend your whole prayer time just struggling to push back all those mind mosquitoes, and never even get to what you consider to be "prayer" or "meditation", still, if you have been offering this whole struggle as a prayer it can actually be a very successful prayer in itself, even if it doesn't feel like it.

I'm getting away from my subject now, but not as much as it looks. The point is that I think that even if I ONLY paid attention to those basic priorities I mentioned, the children would have a lot of the groundwork of future learning laid. And without the basic "pre's" -- the under-surface of the learning process, the hidden bulk of the iceberg -- you don't really have much to build on. (I'm not saying my priorities are the ultimate ones or the only ones, just that the foundation of learning is not sitting at desks with rulers and pencils and copybooks, or even massively expensive, brightly colored California State Prentice Hall hardcovered textbooks that have to be bought new by the school district every couple of years. The foundation takes place elsewhere, and it's important to ensure that it has time to do that.)

So as far as practical resolutions and carry-throughs, in the past few days I've:

  • Tweaked the "screen time" rules. (I put them here though they probably won't apply to any family but mine -- I'm sure everyone has their own notions about how much electronic time is healthy and how much is too much and how much the parents should be in charge of setting the policy, etc). It "felt" weird to lay out things so specifically -- specificity is NOT my strong point. To help me past this hesitation I told the children that this was a first draft and that if they saw any concerns they could input now.... also, that I'd probably have to revise after we playtested it for a bit because I was sure there would be glitches. It's funny, though, I posted them on the fridge and all the reading children read them with great attention and have been QUOTING them and abiding by them with great fervor. My kids probably would like more guidance than I actually give them, sigh.
  • Built a regular outside time habit. It was irregular, but now I'm trying to make it more intentional, that I get outside with them every day, whether to the beach or on a forest walk, or whatever.
  • Resumed the Ambleside readings with Paddy. This was his idea. He requests read-alouds several times a day and so I hope to be more conscious of the rhythm, respect it and build upon it
  • Resumed "reading lessons" with Aidan -- this means that he journals orally and I write down what he says, and then he grabs the pen and devotes several pages to trying to write letters and numbers and words. This was his initiative, actually; again, I'm trying to respect it and be more accessible.
  • Resumed planning with Kieron. I have a hard time with letting kids participate in the planning process. I think it is because I'm rather ambivalent about schooly things. But getting his honest feedback and suggestions is very valuable.
  • Started establishing some tidying habits -- for myself and the little ones, mostly.
So next week when we "start" -- which we usually do in a very incremental way, one subject at a time -- some of the groundwork will be established already.

I have some ideas about how I want things to work that I've been jotting on post-its and stuffing in a vinyl pencil holder -- my new material representation of my cluttered, loosely compartmentalized mind! Someday I will probably type them out, but this post is too long already!


  1. Sounds good! I think I've got ours done but keep get interrupted with moving issues that require us travelling to our new home...

    Good luck on a successful year!


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!