A Post-Holiday Strategy: Parlour School

· Family,Homeschool,Education,Seasons of Life,Mothering

Back in our schooling days, we did Parlour School in January.

The kids could set up whatever they wanted in the name of Coziness in front of the fireplace. They had to bring their basic subjects (math, spelling, grammar?) and - beyond that - they could bring along anything they could do quietly. And they could bring in treats. And blankets. And stuffed animal friends.

Basic lessons, reading, munching, chatting, the rustle of Legos, the crackle of fire. As long as we were all quiet and cozy - Parlour School would commence.

Please don't get the idea that this was idyllic. It was survival!

Truth be known: Parlour School was for ME! Diving right back into the school routines seemed daunting. I remember thinking: this is why people have their kids in SCHOOL - so they can go off in busses and other people can make them get back to normal rhythms!

Truth be known: I had lesson planning to do - a semester to lay out. It had been planned prior to the start of the new school year - but it always needed adjusting and refreshing and reorganizing when the reality of first semester had happened.

Truth be known: My desk had become The Place for stray stuff people didn't know what to do with. Mail, assignments, invites, drawings, coupons, etc. Surely, I had to get it cleared and ordered before I could embark on a new year.

Truth be known: There were still Christmas treats to be eaten before they got even more stale! And there was Christmas to be boxed and put away.

Truth be known: I really just wanted to nestle into a corner with a book of my own.

Our Schoolroom in the Parlour was as much - or more - for the mom as for her students!

After several years of this tradition, I happened on the book Schoolroom in the Parlor by the incomparable Rebecca Caudill. What?! Another family did this?? From then on, we read it aloud - every January for years.

I won't give a book report here but suffice it to say: it's one of my most highly recommended titles for a family library (especially if you can find an old copy - the newer paperbacks are UGLY but are worth having until you can find an old one).

What happens, you ask? Pretty much nothing. But everything. A family (the Fairchilds) lived in the mountains of Kentucky. In January, the mountain pass to school was impassable, so they schooled at home. The book is about the year the 17 year old oldest sister took over and created a curriculum for the month: the basics and some beauty. One requirement was to memorize "great thoughts."

The most memorable portion of the book, for me, is when the parents bundle the kids out into a cold, snowy night to look at the northern lights. The brother, Chris, in wonder, quotes one of his memorized great thoughts:

The spacious firmament on high,

With all the blue ethereal sky,

And spangled heavens, a shining frame,

Their great Original proclaim.

I was taken by it but, as Ms. Caudill didn't cite it, I couldn't find the author or the whole poem. I assumed Caudill had authored it. Eventually, we got this thing called Google. I typed in the first sentence and found a poem called "Ode" by Joseph Addison written in 1712. We memorized it.

Later, I did more searching and found "Ode" had been made into a hymn: "The Spacious Firmament on High." It was only in my oldest hymnals. We learned it.

Still later, I read that there's is a path in Oxford called Addison's Walk (named after Joseph Addison). C. S. Lewis walked it often. It is the route he took with J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson at 3 am on Sept 20, 1931 - a walk that he said was a spiritual turning point.

Isn't this all a funny confluence of discoveries that stoked this weary mom's heart over the years - all due to the primal, crazy need to NOT do the normal?! To give in to the weary. To nestle in to the dark of January.

What happened at the end of our Parlour School? By the end of January - all of the old treats were (thankfully) gone, my school planning had (thankfully) happened, the fun of the unusual had become (mostly) stale, and everyone (mostly) longed for order, routine, and "normal." Our schoolroom was tidied up and we went back to our desks.

Once in awhile, I get a text from one of my kids in the bleak mid-winter, saying he/she is longing for Parlour School. And I confess I am as well. They know it was all for me anyway!

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