Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Scheduling and Ritual as Habit*

*I just realized that 'ritual' is simply formalized habit. A little slow on the uptake this morning.

We broke out of timers and strict scheduling of subjects a few years ago, but lost discipline in the process, the ramifications of which my oldest, making her way through high school requirements, is feeling the effects. For the last year I have been backing up, trying to have some kind of schedule, but more free flowing, while helping Triss to regain some of the self-direction that characterized her elementary years. (What she really had was an amazing and humbling love for me, and, because of that, a willingness to follow the minute schedules I laid out. Obviously, that didn’t completely translate into self-discipline or we wouldn't be having this struggle, although she does get started and work on her schoolwork in a good way—she just does it on her own terms, which do not always fit the requirements of the assignment.) Our school schedule now contains hour-long blocks of time, with very few subjects glued to one specific hour. Instead, my helping one or more people is glued to each hour-- first hour is all of us together, second hour is for Cornflower and I, third hour is for Mariel and I, etc. This is working better than strict fifteen-minute subject-by-subject scheduling, and also better than the loose, free-flowing, what-kind-of-learning-is-in-the-wind-today scheduling. Non-scheduling, really. Although we always had the spine of AO and the math books to keep us in line, and I really do grow anxious if we don’t meet the requirements of something I have committed to. (This is key as well. We all need to be committed to it, so how do you help a student commit to a program? Some involvement in choice of books, etc., obviously, but you can’t leave it all to the student. He or she is going to have to study some things that aren’t pleasing to him or her. Reading and discussion on why this or that subject is vital, and the reading of inspiring literature related to the subject help as well-- living math books to inspire the motivation needed for hard math classes, for instance.)

Something is still missing, though, and I wonder if it might be ritual. We have been pretty successful with chores this year, and I think that is because I decided to schedule chore time at the same time of day and in a similar way to the way the kids do chores at two beloved camps we go to in the summer. After lunch it is shades of singing school as we clean up together, provoking shared memories and encouraging the creation of more good memories attached to cleaning up. (Not that they just adore cleaning up or anything-- there are still grumbles. But it has gotten easier.) I need to find something like that to help them stay focused on their independent work long enough to get finished without distraction, but I don't know what it might be yet.

Willa posted this quote about Montessori, and it made me think about how doing certain things at certain times (not necessarily *clock* times, but in order—washing your hands *before* lunch, for instance—although kids do need to learn to function within clock time as well if they are to survive in this world) and in certain ways might be helpful worked into a home context:

When one of the participants, a Montessorian from Brazil, offered her observation that "the pedagogy of love" was that link, all of my attraction and perplexity converged into a single cluster of research questions: What is a pedagogy of love? What does it look like? How is it constructed, practiced, and fulfilled?

To answer those questions, I turned to a concept that had already figured prominently in my analysis of teachers and teaching in traditional classrooms ... That concept is ritual. From the precise way a child learns to roll and unroll a mat or the intricate choreography of a lesson in handwashing to the larger ceremonies of the Great Lessons or the Birthday Celebration, ritualized activity is among the most distinctive features of Montessori education. In marking time, shaping space, and communicating values central to the culture, these rituals help define the contours of Montessori practice and, in so doing, they illuminate the complexity as well as the unity of the method. They enable us to "see" the pedagogy of love.

(Emphasis mine.)

I understand this to be saying that one way children learn virtue is from being taught deliberate and purposeful actions. For instance, I sit typing on the computer this morning while my children rush through their morning routines in order to have a couple of minutes outside (enjoying the abrupt change from warm to cold weather) before Bible lesson. There is a conflict of values here, because I want them outside as much as possible, but we also have a lot of work to get done today, and I have learned the danger of allowing too many “floaty” days where we simply turn to this or that activity as we desire.

Two conflicting values, or, if you prefer, character qualities: love of the outdoors in all its variations, and finishing your work. I wonder what CM virtues/daemons would line up with these two qualities?

CM said, “One time is not as good as another,” (I'm paraphrasing and can't find the exact quote, but I know she said it and will keep looking**) and “We all stir our minds into action the better if there is an implied ‘must’ involved.” (Vol. 6 p. 17)

How to secure the ‘must’ without losing spontaneity, interest and love?

**Update: I found a Catherine Levison article that references the 'one time not as good as another' quote, and am looking for the actual page number. The article is a good one.


Willa said...

Really interesting! That is sort of where I am too. Studying CM's ideas on habits has made me think hard. I am seeing that there is a sort of "rightness" in an intentional flow to the day.

Anonymous said...

Have you considered having a 10 or 15 minute morning homeroom class where you layout each child's studies for the day , sort of like the announcement session in homeroom before school started back when I went to highschool? You could mention what each child will be studying that day and what you all will be doing together. Then, at the end of the day you could do a short recap to see if there were any problems.

Katie said...

That's a great idea, Dad! I do that in the morning during Bible lesson, and then at each child's hour I have them tell me what they have done so far and do what I need to with them. We have another time after lunch where I find out what they have done and what they have left.

I'd like to hear any other ideas you might have, too. Thanks for the suggestion!