I sometimes feel like I am already locked into an educational path in our family, that we've gone so far down this road that there's no deviating, no altering our course. After all, I'm in my eighth year of this home education journey, and I have one child who is solidly on her way in her education. But I also have four more, ages 8, 5, 2, and 4 months old. I have two children who aren't even school age yet, and two who have barely begun! I may have some time and experience under my belt, but I also have a lot more time to get even better.
The practice of using these books is begun and buttressed by the atmosphere, discipline, and the life of the school and teacher, but their content is clearly driven by the child and comprises a highly personalized journey and retelling. ~Bestvater, p. 63There is still so much time available to improve our atmosphere, discipline, and life. And even if all my children were much older, there would still be time to build, grow and learn. In reading this section, I was reminded of a blog post Cindy Rollins wrote at CIRCE last month.
I suppose I was worried that the book would make me feel guilty. We had, after all, failed at keeping a Book of the Centuries. My children had not made a Book of Firsts or a Bible Notebook, but as I read the book I began to see the very thing I so often promote: the idea that we are working on something for the long haul--the very long haul--an entire lifetime. If I start something with a twelve-year-old, something educational in the truest sense of the word, then he has his entire life to complete it. No, not to complete it: to enjoy it. Even at fifty-something I can begin my own Book of the Centuries, just as last year I finally started my own nature notebook.So long as I am still alive there is time for me to build, grow, and learn -- and this is vitally important work for me as a human being and a child of God.
Teachers learning Mason's methods today could not do better than to keep these notebooks for themselves; the notebooks constrain us to transformation over information. We learn to ask different questions: "What are you thinking?" "Are you satisfied with your work?" "Is there anything you'd like to add?" "You seem to have a problem; do you want to talk about it?" "Do you want some help?" and sometimes even, "I need to ask you for more." ~Bestvater, p. 65I was heartened and encouraged when I considered Bestvater's words about a blank page and the life in my homeschool. I realized how much of the above quote describes much of what already happens in my family. I have always largely eschewed workbooks and pre-formatted, fill-in-the-blank sort of work as well as required frequent narration, and because of this I believe my children have no hesitancy about the blank page. Emma, my oldest, can create Shakespeare maps, write poems, draw maps, and write detailed narrations with excellent vocabulary and sentence structure without any hesitation or fear. Gregory (8), while certainly not as far along, shows ample signs that he's heading down this same path. Emma recently completed a "History of the Swords of Eol", a rich and detailed piece of writing born out of her love for Tolkein's Silmarillion. This wasn't an assignment, beyond being told to spend some time writing, but she wrote it, revised it carefully, and presented it to me. Clearly there are things that are going very well in my homeschool.
Bestvater ends the chapter by saying, "If a person can only be built up from within, what else but the freedom of blank page transmits that confidence? Is it too much to say a child's growth and transformation demand these open-ended postures, that Mason's forms of vitality are an imperative to true education and the Grand Invitation?" (p. 67) After coming this far, I can't but agree with her. And more so, I'm happy to agree with her. I can finally stop feeling guilty because I don't use all the various pre-formatted, prepackaged notebook pages out there, and instead offer my children nothing but the blank page and verbal guidance of expectations for their writing and creating. By offering them nothing but this, I am apparently offering them everything.