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On Becoming Far-Sighted

Dear Friends,

I thought I would take a {quick} break from my planning.  I’ve spent my evening getting ready to participate in an Awana Children’s Ministry conference at the end of this month.  This will be the second time that I have been to this conference and this year I will be presenting two new workshops called “What is a Biblical Education?” and “Day by Day and Side by Side”.  Even though I do get nervous and pretty perfectionist about my preparations I am really looking forward to sharing some of the new things I have been learning and pondering.

At the encouragement of our local Awana missionary, I picked up a copy of Raising  Modern Day Joseph by Larry Fowler and tonight I got to curl up with a good book to do some “work”.  (This is one of the reasons that I love my job: reading is a requirement!)  I am only part way through it but I am feeling challenged already.

The author asked this question, “What do you want to be able to say about your children when they are thirty?”  Good question…

I think that as homeschooling parents we often consider ourselves more intentional than our counterparts that don’t spend hours mulling over lessons plans and curriculum choices.  But do we often look at our children’s education with such far-sighted lenses?

This was a great reminder to me that I really do need to remember to live beyond just this moment and to think of what the long term goals are that I have when I am educating my kids.  Charlotte Mason stressed that an education was so much more than simply the cramming of much knowledge into a little mind but that equally important was the motivation for learning and the habits that were formed along the way.

Diana Waring recently reminded me in a talk that she did (Thank you Lord for seminars on CD!) that biblical education is a blend of knowledge, piety and morality.  To be truly educated we must be assimilating knowledge in accordance with our relationship with the God of the universe and our love for Him and we must apply that love and knowledge to the world around us, learning to live in a way that is fitting for a child of The King.

I still have so much to learn in this respect but my husband and I have put some thought into what we want to be able to say about these children of ours when they are thirty and, so far, it looks something like this, “It is our hope and prayer that our daughters will become lovers of God and of their families, women of strong character who are contributors to family, church and society, who are unwavering in their faith and able to share it with and defend it to others.” 

Tall order, I know.  And I do struggle with the notion of expecting something of them that I don’t always see in myself.  I guess this is better to be called a hope, a prayer, than an expectation.  But without a plan, as we know, we will never get anywhere.  I like the quote that I read in the book this evening, an excerpt from a poem by Longfellow,

            I shot an arrow into the air,

            It fell to earth, I knew not where.

Without intentionality in our efforts to rightly guide these precious treasures in the path that they should go we can only be sure that we won’t know where they will end up. 

The path is long from finished in our journey of parenting and educating but it is my hope and prayer that, with God’s help, if we keep those long term goals in mind, we will have a better chance of answering that question with confidence someday: “My daughter is 30 today and she is all that I every imagined that God would want for her to be!”

What are your hopes, Friends, for your children?  What to you want to be able to say about them when they are beyond these intensive years in your care?

Looking forward to hearing from you!


Maple Tree Publications

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Whispers of Change…

I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t do well with change.  I don’t like the town’s new library because it is so huge and metropolitan and now I am just a number with a large fine and a lot of books that all to often seem to be reshelved before they are properly checked in.  I would never be the one to think of fixing or improving something in our home since “it’s doing okay as it is, isn’t it?”  I tend to shop at the same grocery store and walk the same aisles.  Trying out new recipes stresses me out because, first of all, it’s going to take time to figure out where to get the ingredients and then someone is going to complain because kids do tend to be “plain Jane” eaters.

Even with the changing of the seasons, though I do look forward to the march from spring to summer to fall to winter and back again – I think that the variety in our weather is one of the wonderful parts of living in Canada – it stresses me out.  It was only just last week that I finally got all of the winter coats and mittens out into the garage for “summer storage”.  I love summer but there is the constant pull in different directions: I want to be outside in my yard, in my garden but I know that I need to spend a few minutes here and there at the computer.  It’s great to get a break from the routines of the school year but then there always seems to be the absolute chaos of lost routines.  (Is it only my kids that think that when there is a break from formal spelling lists and grammar lessons that the bathrooms will never get dirty and the dishes will wash themselves?)

As such it has been easy for me, over the past few years to keep at the same old same old in terms of school planning.  It was comforting to know where we’d been and where we were going.  But then, it also got a bit too routine.  We got bored.

So this summer has been one of regrouping.  Thinking, evaluating, really asking myself what went well and what needs changing.  It has been a time of getting myself mentally ready for a walk down a different road.  We need something fresh.

What is changing in our learning plan this year, you might ask?  Nothing really and yet so much.  We haven’t decided to put the kids in school or to pitch all of the carefully chosen resources that we’ve been using in favour of others.  Rather, the change that we need is one of attitude, atmosphere.  I’ve always claimed to enjoy reading and revered it as the way to knowledge.  Like Ruth Beechick says, schooling can be reduced to two subjects: learning to read and reading about anything and everything.  The thing is that we have reduced reading to a subject to tackle amidst all of the other busy work of assignments and curricula. 

This year, I want to help to reignite the love of learning that we had but have more recently forgotten about.  I want to make reading the central part of our learning time rather than an add-on that we tackle if we can get through everything else.  This school year I want to go beyond the basics of knowledge through schooling and get into real wisdom through education. 

We need to learn afresh that a proper education goes well beyond the stuffing full of knowledge to greater subjects like piety (knowing God) and morality (character training).  We need to learn that real training for excellence is gained by learning to love our sisters, by practicing random acts of kindness, by loving God as more than just a subject in school. 

This school year, though we aren’t blowing away all of our previous habits, we are looking forward to the winds of change as the seasons plod on and we plan around a new set of subjects: love for God, love for our family, love for others and love for learning. 

I hope to share snippets of our learning plans with you as they continue to develop.  For now, I’m just getting comfortable with the changes that we will be making – which will include time again for my old favourites like reading and handicrafts.

Looking forward to the start of a new school year!

– Cori


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Preparation: Advent

Dear Friends,

As the Christmas season starts to get harried by the constant barrage of things that we are told we must do and buy in order to make the right impression on ourselves and others I always tend to get introspective, wanting Christmas to be more than a long to do list interspersed with fun parties and gatherings and punctuated by a big Visa bill.  I want to show those around me the love of Jesus and my love for them and yet does it always have to be with gifts of the more traditional sense? 

This fall has been a harried time too.  One of those seasons in which I often feel like I am helplessly being tugged here and there, not really able to get at the reins of this speeding wagon. 

Why is it that the house seems eternally out of order, that the bills seem to overwhelm my pocketbook, that my ability to gently love and guide my children is there one moment and then vanishes at the first sign of the every day speed bumps in life.

Maybe you know them, the things I didn’t think I would have to deal with as a parent…

“Sister, can you come and help me?” says one daughter.  “The baby just pooped on the floor!”

“Why didn’t you say that she was throwing all the board books in the bathtub?”

“What do you mean the Christmas tree just fell on you?”

Some times real life is too much. 

As Christmas approaches again I strive to peel away all of the pageantry and to survive the daily circus and just be a part of the anticipation, the advent of the King.  I feel so unready in my messy house and my dirty track pants (‘cause the laundry is piled so high).

Then I remember the focus in our school this year… “Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child”.  As I journey this crazy, bumpy path, I myself need to be prepared and not to focus on the preparations of the pageantry all around me.

This fall hasn’t been a good one for maintaining the best routines; it’s been “one of those days” more often than not.  There’s a lot of room for growing, learning and improving – and I’m mostly talking about me.  But if we focus on preparing both our children and ourselves for the seasons of life we will be ready to take on the circumstances.  In the short term I want to prepare my heart for Christmas: to thrill at the anticipation of the arrival of the King.  In the longer term: my desire for my family and for myself is that we will be prepared for the path laid out before us.  If being prepared for Christmas or for life was all about managing a “to do” list it would be so much easier – even though I am so often not “managing” the way I’d like to be.  Perhaps that is why we all need to take the harder route and let the One whose words are the light for our path to lead us.

Wishing you a blessed season of advent Friends as you prepare to celebrate the arrival of our King!

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Recently I was blessed to spend a few moments with a good friend praying for and preparing for the upcoming school year.  It was so refreshing to spend some time really focusing on where we were and where we hope to be a year from now.  At this time of year I so often get caught up in the charts and planners, comparing curricula and scheduling events that I often loose sight of some of the big goals. 

I remember how, last year, I had to step back and look at my planning anew realizing that I was immersing myself in geography, literature and science lessons and yet my “big picture” goals had so much more to do with character and relationship.

I had to stop and simplify all of my elaborate plans to make way for the more important lessons like attentiveness, loving kindness, patience, work ethic, responsibility.

And once again this year I need to take that step back and make sure that I am once again putting my focus in the right area.  So, as we prayed, my dear friend and I prepared our hearts for making the right priorities, for pursuing the more important learning goals.

While we whispered quietly and the children all buzzed about around us she pointed out a beautiful little plaque that she kept on her mantle.  It read “Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child” and I knew that I had met the theme for our school year. 

Though I will continue to spend many hours writing out schedules and choosing books to include in this year’s studies I first need to realize that if my children are properly prepared for their studies, for their interactions with one another, for their interactions with others, for life in general, then the don’t need me to smooth out the path that lays before them.

I don’t need to spend hours and hours on each science lesson, on the nitty gritty of our daily schedule, on finding just the right maps and colouring sheets.  My children and I are on a journey of living and learning together – day by day and side by side.  They will learn from my mistakes and see how I deal with my failings, they will have to take the initiative to complete their work when another sibling is sick or is misbehaving.  They will learn to walk the path without all of the bumps in the road removed for them.  My children will learn despite me.

I often have people ask me about one curriculum or another and though I am no expert, I am happy to review the resources that we have used in our home.  One of the first questions that often comes up is about “preparation time”:  I don’t have time to do a lot of preparation as I am teaching 8 different subjects to children in 3 different grades!  Is this going to take a lot of preparation?”  My answer almost always is that I choose learning resources that require as little preparation as possible, not only because I don’t have the time to throw into long lesson plans but also because it isn’t necessary for me to break my children’s learning meals into pre-digested bite sized chunks.  They need to taste, to savour, to digest their learning times or they won’t get nearly the same amount of learning out of it as I will.

Preparing our children for the path that lies before them means helping them to develop the right habits by which to govern their lives.  This is far more important that having a complete day by day set of lesson plans that covers every recommended learning outcome.  Real lesson preparation needs to focus on the heart and not on the head.

Dear Friends, if you feel unprepared, as I do, on this first week of school, remember to pray and to prioritize the building of strong habits and the rest will fall into line.



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In Search of the Secret

Summer seems to be zooming by so quickly.  I lament that there just isn’t enough time.  I wanted to make changes to my website, add some of my favourite products, share some new discoveries, finish making edits and changes to books.  What has been distracting me? Camping with the family, playing at the beach, lounging in my backyard, yummy treats in the garden.  One particularly sunny afternoon I found myself at a beach with friends wishing I could get wifi so that I could chatter on my blog a bit.  My friend and I sat with our littlest people all about us as our husbands played in the water with the older kids.  As her husband paddled off with some children in a canoe she commented, “I wish I could be in the canoe and not here on the beach with the little ones.”  It reminded me of so many other conversations, moms who wanted a change in the routine, friends that wanted more rest and less work in their vacations, me complaining that I don’t have enough time to get my work done because I am too busy resting and relaxing with the family.

As I reflect on it, it seems silly that I’d rather be twiddling on my laptop than resting with a cuddly toddler in my lap but human nature is so powerful: we always want what we don’t have.  It is in those moments that I have to step out of my circumstances and give my head a shake and wonder at my own stubbornness.  The Lord gave me so many things to rejoice at that there should be no room for envy, for wishing for that which I don’t have.

The apostle Paul wrote it well: I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13, NIV). 

I think it should read more like this, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want: I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (The Unauthorized Cori Version)  Did you catch that change?  The colon.  In Greek there were no punctuation marks so they have been added to help translate the meaning of the text.  I think that what Paul was teaching here was just this….

We are all seeking that secret to being happy.  Paul says it doesn’t have anything to do with your circumstances but that it has everything to do with Him who gives us the strength to rise above circumstances. 

If I find it a struggle to be happy when the sun is shining down, when surrounded by friends and family that love me, when the pantry is full and its hard not to run outdoors at all hours just to breath in the summery air, then what of the winter months when we feel like we have been locked inside for days and yet another little one is sick.  The challenge, in both circumstances is to find my contentedness in Christ who is my all in all.

True contentment is knowing that Christ’s death on the cross is really all that we have ever needed, more than food, more than shelter, more than family or acceptance, more than the air that we breathe.  Walking in contentedness then comes from relying on the strength that can only come from that supernatural source that makes us able to truly smile in difficult circumstances.  That is bliss!

Wishing you blissful summer moments Friends!

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What is Normal?

Dear Friends,
Often times I have friends (old and new) come to me with questions about homeschooling.  Some of you are new to homeschooling, so are thinking about it (or thinking how strange it is), some have been schooling at home for a while but want insight on how others are doing.  From time to time I will post my answers to these common and (and sometimes uncommon) questions that I have grappled with.
My answers are not the end all and be all.  I hope to dabble them with the truth but the only truth that I can guarantee is from the scripture itself.  Everything else is just my musings on what happens in our cozy little spot Under the Maple Tree.
Recently a friend wrote, “Hey Cori, would you be able to give me a run down of your average day.  I am interested in the practical aspects of how Charlotte Mason’s philosophy gets put into practice?” 
Ha ha ha!  What is a “normal” day!?!  I have been asking myself that a lot lately in light of our crazy renovations!
I hesitate to share our current schedule – as it is so different now that I am eight years into this career and am schooling three girls in three different grades and tending to a demanding toddler – but present day is what you will get.  It is a very different day than when we first started to homeschool and there was just one very young student and a toddler. 
Also I can tell you what I plan for most days to look like but there really doesn’t seem to be a “normal” day for us.  There is always a hitch, a headache, spilled milk, an attitude that needs to be addressed, an unexpected visitor.  Lately it has been renovations that have thrown us off.  And really, if I am rightly looking at education the day does need to bend around these things.  It is just as important that I teach my kids to clean up their messes, to love their sisters, to overcome attitudes, to work hard despite the excuses.
Our “average” day then might have many of these elements:
7:00-7:30 Get up (I don’t let the kids get up before 7 as they disrupt other tired people; They do need to be up by 7:30 as there is much to do in the day and there isn’t time for dawdling – though sometimes lately I am known to be the dawdler) 
7:30-8:00 Personal chores.  (make bed, tidy room, get dressed, brush hair, brush teeth) See Working Together.
8:00-8:30 Breakfast
*8:30-9:30 Corporate chores (things like watering the plants, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming, dusting, etc.) Also see Working Together.
*9:30-12:00 Table time (our table time includes things like language arts, math, nature notebook, copywork and spelling, etc.)
*12:00-1:00 Couch time (this is our time for Bible reading and other readings like geography, history and science, literature and poetry) Realistically, we get to this component one to three times per week.
* I used to be pretty set on this schedule but lately have mixed up these three main elements of our days according to our needs.  i.e. – If we haven’t had couch time for a couple of days then that might come right after breakfast or if we have an appointment early in the day then we might skip to language arts at the table first.
1:00-2:00 Lunch (The girls are starting to take turns at preparing a meal or two on their own – or with my help – each week!)
2:00-3:00 Quiet time (This is non-negotiable.  If I want to give my kids my best everyday I need to get some down time.  Remember most people spend 8-10 hours away from their whole family everyday, an hour of downtime is not a rejection of our kids and their needs.  Besides it helps the kids to be able to learn to quietly entertain themselves, to enjoy quiet reading time, to keep out of trouble without eyes constantly on them.  It also gives them time to pursue some of those passions that life is sometimes too noisy and busy for: painting, crocheting, creating, building)
3:00-6:00 Play time (mostly outdoors), time for mommy to do some work, finish my chores, read, prepare dinner, etc.
6:00-7:00 Dinner and clean up
7:00-8:00 Play, get ready for bed, baths, etc.
8:00 Little girls to bed
8:30 – 9:00 Oldest daughter to bed….
Sleep and then start again.
I hope that gives you a bit of an insight into our “Charlotte Masonish” day.  You will notice that I didn’t just stop at the academic learning time as I really do think that times like chores, outdoor play and quiet time are an integral part of our learning time.