Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Considering BFB? Here's the info you need, Part III

We hope you've been enjoying this series and are finding the information provided useful. Today we're going to link to provide some history of BFB. For instance, did you know that we have been working with homeschoolers since 1984! Here's some background.

"Meeting" Charlotte Mason

In 1984 my parents, Russ and Rea Berg, began looking into homeschooling. They had three young children at the time and had been reading For the Children's Sake, Foundations of Education for Home and School by Susan Shaeffer Macaulay. It was a revelation! Macaulay championed a return to traditional forms of education centering around curiosity and creativity, and surrounding your child with an environment that nurtured those traits. In contrast to the one-size-fits-all classrooms and post-industrial educational models, Macaulay, championing the ideas of Charlotte Mason, advocated the development of each child's unique giftings. The role of literature in this mission was foundational. Children should be reared on the best books available. They should have easy access to inspiring biographies of historical heroes, they should be able to enter the imaginative worlds of fantasy, know what it was like to live long ago by reading great literature set in other times. This approach would encourage a child's natural curiosity and foster a life-long love of learning. It would also encourage the development of empathy and compassion as children learned about their place in history and the courage and struggles of those who came before them. To read more about Rea's discoveries, you can read this article

Building a Library of Classics

Once Rea was sold on this unique and inspiring educational method, she set about to find the very best children's literature for her young children. Books like Honey for a Child's Heart, The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life by Gladys Hunt and Books Children Love, a Guide to the Best Children's Literature by Elizabeth Wilson proved invaluable. Hunt and and Wilson combed through the available literature, listed Newbury and Caldecott award winners, provided direction in creating an inspiring family library. As a child, I devoured the books that surrounded me. In these stories I found inspiration, purpose, and identity. Family read-aloud time was a priority and I have many fond memories of countless nights spent reading wonderful stories. I learned to love E. B. White, Ralph Moody, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Brinton Turkle, Robert McCloskey, Alice Dalgliesh, Carol Brink, Ingri and Edgar d'Aulaire, Marguerite De Angeli, Eleanor Estes, Elizabeth George Speare, and many more. We never had television and this allowed us the freedom of time; time to spend reading alone and together, time to explore, and time to partake of imaginative play. Once formal education began in our home, Rea continued to emphasize the role of literature. We did not use history textbooks, we read biographies, original source documents, great books by authors like Jean Fritz who have a gift for making history come alive.

As a child I remember boxes of books arriving regularly and I knew this was special. Each box held multiple worlds and ideas and new experiences. We also made regular trips to the library where caring librarians help us find dusty treasures that had been sitting for far too long in forgotten corners. Each time we left the library we all had checked out our limit and with four children, that was lot of books.

The power of story as teacher

As my siblings and I got older our homeschooling adventure naturally shifted from lots of informal reading time to a more structured form. Frustrated by the dreariness that marked so many of the history textbooks available,  Mom began formulating our history and English curriculums around the books we were reading. We learned about 
American history through biographies on Abraham Lincoln, old collections of Pilgrim stories, first hand accounts of encounters with George Washington, and harrowing recollections of Revolutionary War soldiers. Living in California offered great opportunities to delve into the history of the Wild West and we read about gold miners seeking their fortunes, the doomed Donner Party expedition, the great San Francisco earthquake, Buffalo Bill and his traveling spectacular. It was exciting. History was the stories of real people just like us! By reading biographies, historical fiction, award-winning literature, and first-hand accounts, we were being given the gift of a legacy. History became personal and relevant. It was not just a collection of facts consisting of names and dates. It was "our" story, it told us why we were here. That is the beauty and importance of history. It is not necessarily the dates and facts that are of most importance. It's the reasons behind the stories that give our lives meaning and help us understand who we are. I have never heard of a child not wanting to hear stories of her parents and grandparents childhoods and that is simply because as humans we long for connection and placement. And yet, so many children's natural curiosity for what came before them is squelched when they're given a history textbook. It may provide all the facts but no matter how well-written, it cannot provide the narrative that we long for as human beings. Story does that.

Word spreads

So we were immersing ourselves in story and as anyone who knows my mom can attest, when Mom is excited about something, she's evangelical. Her friends rarely left our home without a book loan, she had a book recommendation for everything. As a child, I was sure that birthday party invitations would soon dry up because we were arrived with our tell-tale flat, square gifts!

Mom faced a couple of challenges in her pursuit of the best books. The first was that this was in the early 1980s so there was no access to the internet and finding some of the more obscure titles required hours of research and lots of phone calls to book finding services. Secondly, we lived in a tiny little gold-mining town and did not have access to vast libraries or other resources. Mom decided the best way to ensure that her friends all had access to these books, was to start selling them herself. She applied for a business license and soon the UPS man was making daily deliveries and boxes of books were taking over an entire room in our home.

Creating structure

Now all my mom's friends and fellow homeschoolers had easy access to the books that were making history come alive, but now what? It was great to have a wonderful library, but people craved a bit more structure. While she was teaching us, Mom had been putting together study notes, reading assignments, discussion topics and unwittingly creating a history curriculum entirely based on literature. As we got a bit older, Mom and her other homeschooling friends starting doing co-op classes and guess who always taught history? As their children became excited about history, these happy parents began asking for Mom's study notes. And so she typed them up on a typewriter and made photocopies. I distinctly remember this point in my childhood because we were making lots of trips to the little printing store around the corner from our house.
These hand-typed study notes became the basis for Beautiful Feet Books' History Through Literature curriculums. Soon enough there was a growing demand from parents seeking to switch from textbooks, or others who loved literature but wanted a guide for using these wonderful books as a history curriculum. The typewriter was traded in for one of those original Apple Macintosh computers and homeschooling time now included lessons in running a small business! Lessons like how to take inventory, how to collate the printed study note pages and bind them in a plastic binders, how to check in arriving shipments and politely take an order. And as the homeschooling movement grew from those early days, so did BFB. Conventions and speaking engagements soon followed as people latched on to this new approach that harkened back to a long storytelling tradition we had lost sight of in our educational approaches.

BFB now sells over a dozen history study guides covering everything from ancient to modern history, geography, literature, and more. If you have any questions relating to the history of BFB, please feel free to ask! 
We would love to hear what you think! Chime in below in the comments section and share your thoughts. Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Pinterest pages.  To learn more about Beautiful Feet Books, click here.
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