Hey Friends! We are so excited to introduce our Veteran Edition takeover host for today Rea Berg!
Follow along to read about her homeschool experiences, helpful insights and SO much inspiration and encouragement!
My adorable grandson, Dash, was not thrilled with all the fuss associated
with a family reunion photo. His older brother Brick and I both thought it was pretty funny.
Happy mid-March to the Learning Well Community. I’m Rea Berg and I’m pleased to be able to connect with this beautiful group of passionate mamas in our shared journey of life and education! I began home schooling my first three when I had just found out I was pregnant with our fourth. My introduction to home schooling began in bed with morning sickness, three littles cuddled around me, teaching my 5 year-old daughter to read with Professor Phonics. Fortunately for me, my firstborn took to reading almost effortlessly, and despite our highly unorthodox classroom abed, in three weeks she had learned to read, and I was over the worst of the morning sickness. Thirty-two years later, I am blessed to actually be home schooling part time, as we still have a 17 year-old daughter at home. When I began this journey all those decades ago, I had no real concept of how truly life changing it all would be. I naively thought home education was about the best choice for our children’s education, little dreaming that this journey would transform nearly every aspect of our lives, lead us on incredible adventures, become our livelihood, all the while–imagine . . . not only providing our children an education that fitted them to successfully pursue their dreams, but also laid a foundation for them to become the kind, compassionate, and servant-hearted adults they are today. They are continually touching my heart with the way they serve their families and their communities around them. This is humbling for me, as I am deeply aware of the mistakes I made along the way, but I do rejoice that there is always grace for us when we can take this road humbly, learn the hard lessons well, and keep our eyes focused on the beauty, glory, and joy of the beautiful world God has given us. Thirty-two years after starting this journey of home education, my husband and I are now the delighted grandparents to 7. Our six children and spouses live here, there and everywhere, but we relish the sweet times we are privileged to share together, and that the bonds we established through all those years, of reading, discovering, and experiencing life together, have held firm and true. We are truly blessed.
Caption: Here we are in a recent photo with our six children (3 spouses), and 7 grandchildren. The bookends are our daughters Tatiana (L) and Katie (R). Our children range in age from 17-37 and we’ve been blessed to add two beautiful daughters through the miraculous adventure of adoption.
Dear LWC mamas,
I want to introduce you to our family. We are the very grateful parents of 6 children, ages 17-37, and 7 grandchildren under 7, so our lives are crazy, fun, and rewarding. One of the important motivations we had for choosing to home school over 32 years ago, was that we wanted our kids to have deep and meaningful relationships with their siblings. Having grown up in a dysfunctional family myself, I knew the pain of broken family dynamics and wanted something better for our kids. Giving our children the gift of time with each other seemed like an organic way to cultivate that closeness. Because our first four children were all born about two years apart, they always had built-in playmates which was a gift in the early years. We were able to stay home a lot, which meant abundant time for backyard and basement adventures, including theatrical performances, tree-house building, kid designed mini golf courses, tea parties, and weddings–lots of dress up weddings! I think our youngest boy was married to three different girls by the time he was 5!
When we began home schooling there was little curriculum available and what was there was often of a very home made quality. So blazing a trail into this new realm of unorthodox education meant being resourceful and inventive. One reading program available was the phonics-based McGuffey Readers, old carry overs from 19th-century America, packed with moral tales and instructions on virtue, but with sometimes delightful stories that built a solid foundation for reading. For math, we began with another product of the same era, written by a colleague of McGuffey’s– Ray’s Arithmetic. That didn’t end up being a great choice and we eventually left that when we discovered Miquon Math with Cuisenaire Rods. This hands-on manipulative approach was very beneficial particularly for my children who needed kinesthetic stimulation that helped to take abstract numbers and make them into something concrete they could touch and see.
In the next installment I’ll focus on the books that inspired us from our very earliest days of home education into the middle grade years and how those books challenged and informed a radically different paradigm of education focused on nature, nurture, and good literature.
Caption: A selection of the books that impacted us as young parents.
Photo 2: Some of the gorgeous dresses from our basement treasure trove.
One of the early decisions my husband and I made when we first married (nearly 40 years ago) was that we would forego television in our home. The statistics at that time were pretty grim regarding how much time Americans spent in front of the “tube” and how destructive a force it had become in family life. We were able to successfully manage raising four children without television and not surprisingly, when you remove a force that is such a time-waster, you suddenly have an abundance of time to be filled. We filled that time with reading. The selection of books I’ve feature here were those that had dramatic effects on how we viewed education, childhood, parenting, and family life. Because neither my husband or I grew up in particularly literary homes, our new love affair with reading opened up vast channels of thought and experience we never imagined. For instance, it was through Books Children Love by Elizabeth Wilson that I first learned of the biographical works of Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire–their Caldecott Medal winner Abraham Lincoln, their delightful Benjamin Franklin, Leif the Lucky and others. From Wilson I also learned of the horizontal history books of Genevieve Foster–George Washington’s World, The World of Captain John Smith, Augustus Caesar’s World and so forth. Foster had an intuitive ability to write history that absolutely came to life for students, and for the adults fortunate to share these books with their children. I find it remarkable all these decades later, that flipping through my dog-eared, worn-out copy of Books Children Love, that Wilson’s work became like the magical wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It was a portal to an adventure that we could not have dreamed of at the time, because we ultimately found ourselves publishing the works of the D’Aulaires and Genevieve Foster, through our company Beautiful Feet Books. For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay was the book that introduced me to the revolutionary work of Charlotte Mason. I read this book before I even had children, and was profoundly intrigued by Mason’s philosophy and paradigm for education. What struck me most was her insistence that “children are born persons” and that they come equipped and designed with particular bents, dispositions, and gifts. Our responsibility as parents is to patiently study them, learn who they are as individuals, and then help provide the skills and opportunities they need to fulfill their God-given destiny and purpose. While a lot has been written on this type of parenting in the last few decades, 40 years ago, it marked a sea change, for me personally and for many, in how to view our role as parents and teachers.
Dress-up, basement theater, Victorian tea parties and silliness are all key parts of cultivating childhood.
The works of Neil Postman–The Disappearance of Childhood, and Michael Medved–SavingChildhood, gave my husband and I a mild militancy about protecting our children from the ravages of contemporary society in its determination to rob our children of the gift of childhood. Not having television was one way we protected them, another was providing them with an abundance of time to just be children, to play, go on adventures, read, live in their imaginations. When our children were little we were fortunate enough to be asked to caretake a massive Queen Anne home in Sonora, California. This home, built in 1903, was like a castle to our four littles, with a full basement, old chests full of beautiful gowns from the 1930s and 40s, and a library full of books. Countless afternoons were spent dressing up, enacting plays of something we were reading, putting together Victorian tea parties, or just being silly. That was a gift we gave our children. In my next installment I’ll look at how we endeavored to stretch out childhood into the adolescent and early teen years.
Caption: Sandwich, Massachusetts on our early American History field trip–a town we serendipitously ended up moving to five years later.
Travel seems to be an integral part of a truly vital home education experience. Spending time with our children reading the stories of the Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers, and pivotal moments in America’s story, kindles a longing to visit the iconic places of history. Like a spiritual pilgrimage, traveling with our children becomes an historical pilgrimage that underscores, affirms, and broadens the face of history in ways not possible through the pages of a book. Our first real adventure with our four littles, (ages nine and under) involved just such a trip–originating in Boston and culminating in Washington DC and Mount Vernon. Walking in the footsteps of Paul Revere, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin on Boston’s Freedom Trail, going ‘tween decks’ on the Mayflower, and touring the home of George Washington, lifts the veil of myth from history and helps us to stand before it humbled by what others have paid for the freedom we enjoy. There are always surprising serendipitous things that happen when we travel.
Caption: Visiting Mount Vernon with four young historians.
We loved Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and had in fact memorized parts of it, because of how much we loved it. Imagine our amazement when we visited the Lincoln Memorial on a sultry summer night to see the entire speech etched four stories tall in marble! These moments bring a tear to the eye and fill the heart with gratitude. The best kind of travel does that, and traveling with historically literate children is a sweet benefit of spending time learning together. The other remarkable thing about travel, is that it can literally turn your life upside down! Our travel did that. In the photo of myself and our four littles standing in front of the Georgian-style home amid the cosmos and the marguerite daisies, we are literally across the street from a home (unbeknown to us at the time) that we would purchase and move into exactly 5 years from the day this photo was taken. This was just another amazing adventure that home schooling brought about in our lives. But that story is for the next time!
Caption: Ice skating on Shawme Pond in Sandwich.
In my last post I talked about how important it was to our family to preserve that fleeting time known as childhood. I also mentioned that travel as an integral part of a broad education brings the reality of important historical events to life for us and our children. These two elements of our educational experience came together in a very serendipitous way after we took our first “early American History field trip” with our four. My husband Russ and I tend to be hopeless romantics, we love history, antique homes, classic books, and quaint villages. On this trip, as we took leisurely excursions through the winding New England countryside, we were completely smitten with all the aforementioned elements. We also saw how enchanting it might be to raise our children in an area with continual access to ponds for ice skating, to creeks and forests for exploring, and to the beach for canoeing, jumping off the boardwalk, and discovering marsh wildlife–a dream of a childhood with ready access to nature and all its wonders. So, five years after that first field trip, we purchased a home in the quaint village of Sandwich, Massachusetts and began a new life 3300 miles from our California roots.
Caption: Our kids (being the imaginative home schooled kids!) instituted a water war during the annual 4th of July parade between us and the fire department. This became a town tradition that was reenacted every year during our decade in Sandwich
Living in a small village afforded our children the freedom to branch out in the above areas in safety–they could ride bikes everywhere, trek into the forest on their own, experience the brutal beauty of a Nor’easter at night, and be part of village life where all the neighbors knew one another. The gristmill across the street– a relic of Pilgrim days–dammed a pond that hosted turtles, ducks, swans, and magical fireflies on summer nights. The creek that ran through the back of our property was a herring run (though we didn’t see too many of those) that attracted blue heron, muskrats, and snapping turtles laying their eggs–a focus of hours of interest and discovery.
Our kids atop our roof during the annual Fourth of July parade. This was followed after sunset by a kids boat parade. The town provided Chinese lanterns for the village kids to decorate their boats which they then paraded on the pond.
As our children moved into adolescence and the teen years, their outdoor exploits grew more sophisticated, including mountain biking, ice skating, English riding, and night time canoeing. The barn on our property became a quite professional-looking theater where they enacted plays and humorous skits. Access to these types of activities and experiences enabled our children to be kids longer. We believe that when childhood is protected and nurtured, children transition into adulthood confident, imaginative, secure, and eager to meet the challenges and responsibilities of adult life. Now, though this may seem an idyllic life, it wasn’t. We still had our tears during algebra, adolescent boys reluctant to craft any sort of essay, loneliness for friends left behind in California, and sibling fights during dishwashing. Still, it was a good, home schooling life.