Mum To Mom

Musings of an Aussie Mother Living in the USA

Category: Books

Children Are Born Persons

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles: Principle 1

At the foundation of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education is a simple, yet profound principle: children are born persons. As a Christian, this seems obvious. We believe that all of us, including children, are made in the image of God.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27.

 
From conception we bear His image. We have value and dignity as persons because we bear His image. We are not God, nor does being created in His image mean we share His divine attributes (immutability, omnipresence, omnipotence, etc.). But we do reflect to a much lesser degree the beauty of God, the ability to know and understand truth, to be creative, to love, to show compassion, mercy, kindness, and so on.

Even though this truth is understood by most Christians, its wider educational implications can often be overlooked.

What are the educational implications of this understanding of children? Why did Charlotte Mason feel it necessary to point to children as persons as the first and primary principle of her education philosophy?

Because how we view children impacts how we educate them.

Mason begins her discussion on this principle by considering the mind of a child. She explains that we are not created “huge oysters” with empty minds waiting to be filled. We are made fully equipped with a working mind that from the moment of birth interacts and learns from the world around him. She describes in detail all the ways that infants demonstrate their fully-functioning mind.

“The other view is that the beautiful infant frame is but the setting of a jewel of such astonishing worth that, put the whole world in one scale and this jewel in the other, and the scale which hold the world flies up outbalanced.” Vol. 6, pg34

As the child grows she explains that, 

“Reason is present in the infant as truly as imagination. As soon as he can speak he lets us know that he has powered the ‘cause why’ of things and perplexes us with a thousand questions.” Vol. 6, pg37

Those who have raised toddlers know this all too well.

If you have ever had the delight of raising a 4-year-old girl, you know that before they have even come close to a school book their little minds are more than capable of reason, to the point where you are unwittingly negotiated out of or into something by a true expert in the art of negotiation. Clearly this little human is born with a complete and capable mind to be able to do this before any formal education has begun. Mason puts it most profoundly this way:

“If we have not proved that a child is born a person with a mind as complete and as beautiful as his beautiful little body, we can at least show that he always has all the mind he requires for his occasions; that is, that his mind is the instrument of his education and that his education does not produce his mind.” Vol. 6, p36

Because the mind of even the smallest child is capable and fully equipped “for his occasions,” we ought to give it the fullest respect in regards to its capabilities. The child’s mind is to feed on ideas. Give them meat. Give them the best books that put their minds in direct contact with the minds of those that love and care for the subject and write with an excellence worthy of the child’s mind.

“Mind must come into contact with mind through the medium of idea.” Vol. 6, pg 39

As children are born persons, they already come to us with their own personalities intact. They come as they are. We can have ideas about what we would like our children to do or be, but the reality is, they are already them. We need to educate, cultivate, and direct within their personalities, but we are not to encroach on their personalities. This means we are not to manipulate children with wide eyes and baby voices, coaxing them to follow our lead, or squelch their personalities when they are different from our own. When we do this we devalue the child and his aptitude to deal with the ideas themselves.

My oldest daughter helped at Vacation Bible School for the first time this year. After the first day she came home quite disturbed, realizing that she had spent the day talking down to the younger children simply because they were younger and smaller than her. She realized she spoke to them in a higher pitched voice with wide, excitable eyes, condescending to them. It is so easy to do, yet she immediately identified that this was not truth. It was devaluing them as persons who were able to understand perfectly well without condescension. She made it her distinct work to talk to them as she would any other human being. “It just felt unjust. I’ve read in books when the younger sibling realizes they were being talked down to. It doesn’t feel nice. They need to be told the plain facts and not spoken to like they are lower than I am.”

Because children are born persons, made in the image of God, we not only need to esteem highly the capabilities of their minds, and respect their personalities, we also need to be careful about incessant prodding and coaxing that can negate their responsibilities as persons. Mason says,

“What we must guard against in the training of children is the danger of their getting into the habit of being prodded to every duty and every effort. Our whole system of school policy is largely a system of prods. Marks, prizes, exhibitions, are all prods; and a system of prodding is apt to obscure the meaning of must and ought for the boy or girl who gets into the habit of mental and moral lolling up against his prods.” Vol. 3, pg39

This idea of prodding becoming a crutch to the mind of a child is a difficult concept for today’s educational culture. As in Mason’s day, our curriculums and school philosophies are full of such prods. But instead of prodding with prizes and question after incessant question to arrive at the answer the teacher wants to hear,

“Our business is to give children the great ideas of life, of religion, history, science; but it is the ideas we must give, clothed upon with facts as they occur, and must leave the child to deal with these as he chooses.” Vol. 6, p40

The temptation to prod is difficult to resist. But the benefit to the child if we do resist is life altering. As Mason says,

“Children must stand or fall by their own efforts.” Vol. 3, pg38

With my daughter’s permission I tell you this story.  For 3 years my daughter had been narrating her books beautifully. But Last year (AO Year 4), when handed her history books to read on her own, she struggled to pay attention and narrate. I did my best to guide and support her, but still, her attention to what she was reading was not adequate to narrate well. I was beside myself with frustration. Every time she came to narrate to me with, “There was this guy…I think there was a battle… I don’t know…” I wanted to prod her with questions.

You might be wondering, what would be wrong with asking her questions to get something out of her? But this child had been asking and answering her own questions in her narrations for the last 3 years. Narration does that. So to go from asking and answering her own questions to being prodded with questions by me would be to devalue her mind’s ability to continue to deal properly with the ideas before her, and teach her that the habit of attention was not important.

I had come to a point where I had to seriously consider if holding to this philosophy was what was best for this child. This led me back to the question: what is the purpose of education? Is it so that she could answer some questions on a test, or so that she would grow in wisdom and knowledge and virtue? Is it something to endure in her childhood so that she can get a job as an adult, or something to embrace as a life? What was the worst thing that would happen if we continued as we were, with me encouraging the habit of attention and trusting that her mind would eventually do the work it was made to do? The worst thing would be that she would not know about the that period of history (right now). What would she gain? She would gain the understanding that “all education is self education.” That is, that her learning was her responsibility and her mind has been created to do its own learning. I came to the conclusion that if we got to the end of the school year and she learned that lesson, the year was far more valuable than if she did know all the answers. So, with great difficulty, I trusted Mason and resisted prodding. I told my daughter that this was her education, not mine. It was her responsibility to pay attention and narrate to the best of her ability. Because at the end of the day, she is the one that will not know if she does not. The year continued in much the same way. Then came exams. My daughter struggled. When she couldn’t answer, I moved on to the next question and said nothing. By the end, she was in tears. Afterwards, as we hugged it out on the couch, we talked about why she thought she couldn’t answer the questions. A couple of weeks later I interviewed the children about how they felt about their school year. When asked what she needed to work on, this daughter answered, “History… because it is hard concentrating and I want to learn more about what happened.” By resisting prodding, the responsibility for learning was properly placed on her. And I can tell you, this year, she has taken that responsibility with enthusiasm and has narrated beautifully.*

“…every child has been discovered to be a person of infinite possibilities.” Vol. 6, pg44

How we view children influences how we educate them. Their education should respect their minds and honor them as whole persons made in the image of God.

There is so much more that Mason spoke of in this principle that I haven’t even touched on and am still mulling over in my mind. But this post is enough to begin the conversation. Now it is your turn. What stood out to you in your study of this principle? What questions did it raise? What practices have you changed in your teaching because of considering this principle? What ideas are you struggling with or still pondering? I’d love to hear from you.

It’s not too late to start studying Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles along with me! Get your copy of Start Here and see this post for details.

* Physiological and developmental considerations were taken into account, but were beyond the scope of this discussion. The point remains, to prod her during this time would have been a disservice to her mind’s capabilities.

Bits and Pieces: Cake Recipes, Book Recommendations, and more…

Birthday Cake Recipes

From the middle of May to the first week of July my 3 girls each celebrate their birthday. This means we have 7 weeks of birthday cake! It has become something of a tradition for the girls to help me make their birthday cakes, and for the 9 and 10-year-old, this year was no exception (A-Age-12 decided that she could not possibly tear herself away from her stack of birthday books to help make her cake). We have always made our cakes from scratch. It was how I was taught and the idea of buying a boxed cake mix never occurs to me. It doesn’t feel like real baking to me (Sorry!). However, of the many, many cakes that have been baked in our kitchen, not all of them have measured up to the flavor found in your favorite boxed or store bought cake. But this year’s birthday cakes (found on Pinterest of course) were so moist and packed full of flavor that they rival any store bought cake.

G-Age-9 loves strawberry cake and has requested it for her birthday for 2 years in a row. This strawberry cake recipe is full of strawberry flavor and is light and fluffy.

Last year’s cake.
Strawberry Cake

Last year I made the buttercream frosting per the recipe. It tasted great but did not hold up well for any length of time at her outdoor party in the Florida heat. The butter quickly separated from the strawberry puree and I had to keep it in the fridge the whole time.

Strawberry Cake Slice

This year I altered the buttercream recipe to a cream cheese frosting. I replaced 1 cup of butter with cream cheese. It was delicious and held up well, although I think I will add more icing sugar next time for a thicker consistency.

E-Age-10 requested a vanilla cake.

Vanilla Cake

Vanilla cakes can be challenging because if you don’t get the flavor right they can tend to taste eggy or not have much flavor at all. Again, Pinterest did not let me down with this recipe. I had so many people tell me that they thought this cake was as good as, if not better, than any they had had from a store. When coming from a 13-year-old boy, this was high praise indeed!  Again, I used a cream cheese frosting with a bit more vanilla added for taste.

My biggest tip for baking a light and fluffy birthday cake is to use cake flour. It is much finer and lighter. Trust me, it makes a difference.

My second tip is not really my tip, it is my cake decorating friend’s tip. Add a tablespoon of Meringue Powder to your cream cheese frosting. It will get a slight crust and help to stiffen the frosting. Thank you, friend!

Kids’ Reviews

I have a new tab on my blog called Kids’ Reviews. Do you see it at the top there?  A-Age-12 is a voracious reader and freakishly fast. It would be nothing for her to finish 2 novels a day. I cannot possibly keep up with what she is reading so I rely heavily on review sites, particularly Commonsense Media. I have a number of aspects that I like to know about a book before I’ll let her read it. My daughter also knows what I’m looking out for and discusses her books with me, including these aspects. Sometimes she can be quite insightful. But for all her wide reading, she hates to write.  As a secret ploy by me to engage her in more writing, I encouraged her to write a review of the books that she likes, including helpful points for parents, with the promise that if she wrote them I would put them on the blog. I do not know how many of these she will do, but you can find her reviews at the top of the blog under the tab Kids’ Reviews.

Charlotte Mason 20 Principles Study

I am going to begin blogging through my study of Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles next month. I will use Brandy Vencel’s Start Here Study GuideStart2BHere2BPage2BGraph. The study guide contains links to all of the sections in Charlotte Mason’s volumes (free online) related to the particular principle studied, as well as the relevant chapter in For The Children’s Sake. It also includes links to Parents Review articles and blog posts written by others in the Charlotte Mason community. The plan is to study a principle a month. If all goes according to Brandy’s guide, this will take 15 months. I’d love for you join me. To follow along, get Brandy’s downloadable guide and let me know in the comments!

20th Century History Book Recommendations

This has turned into a long post, but before I go, I wanted to share a couple of books that are worth adding to your free reading pile when studying the 20th Century with your middle school or older students.

Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy. Yellow Star Cover
From the Prologue.
“In 1939, the Germans invaded the town of Lodz, Poland. They forced all of the Jewish people to live in a small part of the city called a ghetto. They built a barbed-wire fence around it and posted Nazi guards to keep everyone inside it. Two hundred and seventy thousand people lived in the Lodz ghetto. “In 1945, the war ended. The Germans surrendered, and the ghetto was liberated. Out of more than a quarter of a million people, only about 800 walked out of the ghetto. Of those who survived, only twelve were children. “I was one of the twelve.” —Excerpt from interview with Sylvia Perlmutter, March 2003

This true account written in poetic prose is sensitive and powerful. I read it in 2 days and was profoundly moved by the courage of this persecuted people and full of empathy for those who endured a time that I could never imagine. You may want to pre-read for sensitive children, but the atrocities of this time are told from a child’s point of view, which veils the horrific events to a certain degree.

Out of the Dust by Karen HesseOut of the Dust

Written in free verse and set in the harsh living conditions of Oklahoma during the 1930’s depression, this book highlights life during the time when “Dust piles up like snow across the prairie. . . .” But more than this, it is a story of how one young girl and her father find their way back to forgiveness and reconciliation after terrible tragedy.

Neither of these books are easy to read. Suffering is never easy to read. Yet, there is hope. Through reading and experiencing it within the safety of books, we can help guide our kids through it.

2017/2018 End-of-Year Round Up

Last week was exam week and marked the end of the school year for my 3rd, 4th, and 6th graders. I interviewed my kids about their year and gave them an opportunity to reflect, in their own words, on what they had learned. I too, answered the questions.

G-Age-8 (AO3)

AO3 Books Read 2017/18

Kindle books not pictured: Michelangelo by Diane Stanley, Secrets of the Woods by William Long, Beautiful Tales From Shakespeare by E. Nesbit, The Heroes by Charles Kingsley, Children of the New Forest by F. Marryat, The Jungle Book 1 by Rudyard Kipling, Parables From Nature by Margaret Gatty.

Favorite subjects/books
The Jungle Book 1 and 2, Princess and the Goblin.

Area that I grew the most in this year
Writing.

Area I need to work on the most
Math

The most interesting topic in history
The guy who dressed up as a girl. (“Bonnie Prince Charlie,” Charles Edward Stuart)

The most interesting topic in science
Drop of Water. How the bubble is a hundred times thinner than a thread of hair. E didn’t know that. The deers in Secrets of the Woods.

What was the hardest thing this year?
Learning to read.

What I am most proud of
The story I wrote for Daddy. That I can climb trees.

I am pretty good at
Swimming and climbing and catching animals.

Next year I hope to…
Rock climb. Mum read more stories to me.

E-Age-9 (AO4)

AO4 Books Read 2017/18

Kindle books not pictured: The Storybook of Science by Jean-Henri Fabre

Favorite subjects/books
Age of Fable, Abigail Adams, Kidnapped, Incredible Journey, Shakespeare, George Washington’s World, and Ocean of Truth.

(To summarize these titles – History and Literature)

Area that I grew the most in this year
Storybook of Science taught me things that I didn’t know. Abigail Adams because she taught me how it felt like to be married and how it felt to have somebody die and how it feels to have a husband that goes away and you don’t see him for years. And it just shows how it can be really hard and how much she suffered.

Ocean of Truth taught me how it feels to be someone new at school and to have hardships and turn out to be the greatest man alive (biography of Isaac Newton).

Area I need to work on the most
History. Because it is hard concentrating and I want to learn more about what happened.

The most interesting topic in history
The Reign of Terror. I like to know how things happen.

The most interesting topic in science
When Isaac made the fake comet and everybody thought they saw a comet but it wasn’t. About the bees in Storybook of Science and pollen how there are poisonous plants.

What was the hardest thing this year?
Madam How and Lady Why and George Washington’s World. They were the two hardest things to concentrate on.

I am most proud of
Being able to read hard books and accomplishing things and being able to do a lot of math in my head.

I am pretty good at
Reading and writing and imagination.

Next year I hope to
Learn even more about history and sciency things.

A-Age-11 (AO6)

AO6 Books Read 2017/18

Kindle books not pictured: The Story of Mankind by Hendrick Van Loon, Galileo and the Magic Numbers by Sidney Rosen

Favorite subjects/books
Literature and History because I like learning about world history and ancient history, and I just like the books that Ambleside Online puts in literature.

Area that I grew the most in this year
Math and written narrations.

Area I need to work on the most
I would say written narrations. Because I would of said math but I have been working really hard on math and it is becoming easier for me now but I still have to work on expanding my written narrations from just saying the bare facts.

The most interesting topic in history
Ancient history. Just because I learn about all the ways that they used to fight and the ways that people would come into power and how the army elected new emperors.

The most interesting topic in science
Elements. Because it is interesting to learn all of the elements that are in humans and what they do and how they react with other elements and how poisonous some are. And I also enjoyed It Couldn’t Just Happen because it gave me, from the Bible, answers to questions that I had concerning evolution, and it gave me answers that were helpful and I will remember all my life.

What was the hardest thing this year?
Expanding on my written narrations because I always had this stress that I would take too long and go too late in the day. But late in term 3 I started to find it easier to write more detailed written narrations without freaking out.

What I am most proud of
The way I have improved in math. I am proud of this because math has always been a hard subject for me and now it is easier and easier to learn new subjects.

I am pretty good at
Reading. Which I find very helpful considering half of my school is reading books. It has made school a lot funner, more enjoyable and less stressful, knowing that there are subjects where I can relax, have snack, and read a book.

Next year I hope to
Improve my written narration skills and be able to write written narrations without stressing and make them as long and detailed as my oral narrations.

Next year I hope to learn that all the subjects I don’t like aren’t bad and that I can learn them if I put my heart into it.

Me

Mom Reading 2017/18

Kindle books not pictured: Toward a Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason, The Liberal Arts Tradition by Kevin Clark and Ravi Jain

Since I have made my children’s booklist my booklist (with a few more added in for myself), I have essentially completed AO6 this year alongside my daughter. And what a year it was. I have enjoyed learning so much and have read books I never would have picked up for myself. I have used Ambleside Online’s curriculum from the very beginning and AO6 has been my favorite year so far. I say that with every year that we complete because the curriculum is SO good.

Favorite subjects/books
Hands down my favorite subject was science. This was surprising to me because I am not a sciency person. The living science books kindled a wonder that I never had when I was at school. I think I will dedicate a whole post to AO6 science, because it was so good. If I had to pick a favorite it would have to be It couldn’t just happen by Lawrence Richards.  It was the book that I had the most “wow!” moments. I ended up narrating every chapter to my husband because I just had to tell someone what I had learned!

Area that I grew the most in this year
Parenting. Not a school subject, but “Education is a Life” and learning how to parent through new circumstances has been the biggest area for growth for me. Also, consistency in quiet time with the Lord.

Area I need to work on the most
Consistency in dictation lessons with my two oldest. Dictation is how we study spelling and punctuation. There were too many weeks when I left it off the schedule or I hadn’t prepared a lesson. (If anyone is interested in how studied dictation works let me know and I’ll write a blog post about it.)

The most interesting topic in history
I loved reading a biography of Winston Churchill while reading a general overview of the same time period. Also, reading ancient history, especially Story of The Greeks and Story of The Romans simultaneously with Ben Hur, has made the Bible come alive for me. I feel like, through these books, I stepped back in time and was an observer of the time of Christ.

The most interesting topic in science
Am I allowed to say all of it? I really loved the apologetic style of It Couldn’t Just Happen as it touched on multiple areas of scientific study arguing for a creationist view. Also, The Mystery of The Periodic Table made the elements and the history of the periodic table come alive for me.

What was the hardest thing this year?
Managing the emotions of 3 very passionate young girls.

What I am most proud of
Geography has been a subject that I feel we have been the most successful with. Ambleside Online does not provide step-by-step, week-by-week instructions for how to use the assigned book to study geography. So the map work and how we use the book had to be planned and implemented by me and I think that the plan I developed worked well.

I am pretty good at
Reading aloud.

Next year I hope to…
Be more consistent with studied dictation. Read all of the many books scheduled for AO7. Enjoy learning along side my children.

 

Note: The ages given of the children reflect the age they were for the majority of the school year. Some have since had their birthdays.

How To Add Pilgrim’s Progress To Your Homeschool Day

The Pilgrim’s Progress (unabridged) is a beautiful example of the best of English literature. An analogy of the Christian life, it combines truth with the beauty of the written word. Yet, due to its 17th-century prose, it can be an intimidating book to attempt to read aloud to your kids. When Ambleside Online (AO) scheduled it to be read in Year 2 and pleaded with us to read the unabridged version, I was a little worried. I had tried to read it for myself once before and struggled immensely. How was my 7-year-old going to understand it? Yet I trusted Ambleside and believed it a worthy book to read. Because I was convinced that the richness and beauty of John Bunyan’s original language were worth the effort, I scoured Ambleside’s website and forum for suggestions and advice on the best way to approach reading this book to give us the best opportunity of succeeding with it. With these suggestions, I came up with a plan. Lo, and behold, the year was a success! When it came time for my middle daughter to read it I decided the whole family would benefit from reading it together. For the last 2 years, we have read short sections of The Pilgrim’s Progress each week as a family in our Morning Time. This is the plan that I follow.

Read Dangerous Journey first

Dangerous Journey is an excellent picture book retelling of the main events of The Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s language and story are simplified but not dumbed down. It is very respectful of the original. I read this book over two to three weeks. After each reading one of the children narrated it. This means that they told back to me in their own words what had been read to them. By reading this retelling first, the children became familiar with the main events of the story and the illustrations gave them a picture of the story that they were able to draw on later when they heard the original. The children loved this book and looked forward to it every week.

Use an audiobook

When I first saw The Pilgrim’s Progress on the school schedule I did not believe I had the ability to read it aloud well myself. Since I didn’t want my inability to read it well to interfere with my children’s understanding, I bought this dramatized unabridged audiobook version from Answers in Genesis. It is excellent. Each character is read by a different reader and the music and sound effects enhance and bring clarity to the story.

Read small sections and Narrate

The Pilgrim’s Progress is a dense, theologically rich analogy of the Christian life. There are many ideas to ponder. We are benefited greatly by not rushing through, but instead by reading small sections at a time to allow the mind the space to think over the truths encountered in these pages. AO has a 1-year and a 2-year plan. We follow the 2-year schedule which has divided the book up into small sections of 700-800 words. After listening, I always ask one of the children to narrate. Resist the temptation to preach at them. Resist the temptation to narrate it for them. Allow the children’s minds to digest what they have heard for themselves. Accept whatever they have told you and leave it. If they ask questions, by all means, answer them. Have discussion after narration, but don’t reduce the children’s enjoyment or limit what they get out of the book, by using it as a springboard for why they should obey you when you ask them to tidy their rooms. This is a time for listening and the children processing what they have heard by telling it back in their own words. It is also worth noting that it is very likely that your children are internalizing a lot more than they are able to communicate verbally. Narration takes time and practice. Be patient and allow the words of the book to do their work. You will likely think that you will have to explain a lot because the language is difficult. But if you give the children a chance, their insights might surprise you. Remember, you have already prepared them for the story by reading the picture book retelling. Often my children make connections and understandings that I had not thought of. Even my less academic child, who I have often accused in my mind of not paying attention, has had some profound insights that have left me speechless. You will all get used to the language. My kid’s narrations aren’t always great, but that is ok. Every now and then, after their turn for narrating, if they have totally missed an integral point, I have given my own narration, but never in a way to make my children feel that they didn’t do it right. And I will never interrupt a child while they are narrating or correct them while they are still speaking. Give them a chance to figure it out for themselves. It will be much more meaningful for them that way. My kids did not love this book, to begin with, but after a while, they got used to the language and the style of the book and are now disappointed when I press stop, begging me to play another section.

Scaffold each reading

Prepare for the coming reading by telling what you read last time. This is called scaffolding. It is even better if the children can tell you what was read last time. I usually ask the children to tell me because I often can’t remember! When it’s time for The Pilgrim’s Progress I will ask something like, “so what did we get up to last time?” or “does anyone remember what happened last time we listened?” This part should only be a very short summary of the previous reading. It is part review, but also helps set the scene for the coming passage to be read, and helps to provide further understanding. After recapping what was read last time you can also prepare them for what they are going to hear by giving them a brief (one sentence) summary of the passage to be heard. I have never done this as I am not well enough prepared to look ahead before we all listen together.

Do my children understand every theological point made in this book? No. Neither do I, and probably neither will you on first reading. There is a reason Charles Spurgeon read and re-read The Pilgrim’s Progress over and over in his life. But my children do understand that without Christ we are in the City destined for Destruction; that it is only at the foot of the cross of Christ that the burden of sin can be lifted; that the Christian journey will not always be easy and we will likely face persecution and sometimes death for the sake of Christ; that even though the journey to the Celestial City is often fraught with danger and we make many missteps along the way, the destination is far glorious and beautiful than one could ever imagine and is the reason to press on in difficult times. I can’t tell you how many times Christian’s burden, or Christian falling into the Slough of Despond, or Christian falling asleep in the garden on his journey, or Christian and Faithful in Vanity Fair has come up in discussions and conversations throughout the year or by the children in their play. I know that The Pilgrim’s Progress has enriched our family in more ways than I will ever even know. I encourage you to read or listen to The Pilgrim’s Progress with your family.

Best of 2017

The new year is a popular time on blogs for “best of” posts. As we are still in the first few weeks of a new year and today is also my birthday, it seemed a fitting time to reflect on my own “best of” for 2017.

Best 5 books read

I am a very slow reader. I mean, read-aloud-in-my-head slow. So I can’t fit too much more reading in after all the read-alouds and pre-reading I need to do for our homeschool. I am pre-reading at least 7-10 chapters a week. Because of this, I made the majority of my daughter’s school booklist my reading list. Ambleside Online’s booklists are so rich that I benefit greatly from pre-reading. I am learning too! As a result, most of my ‘best 5’ books are school books that were read in 2017. I also like to be reading a book on education as part of my ongoing vocational training… and because I really like reading and thinking about educational philosophy. It is also interesting to me that most of the books in my best 5 were read aloud to one of my family members.

Without any further ado:

1. A Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason

Number one on my list because… it’s Charlotte Mason! It is the comprehensive discussion of her educational philosophy, written years after refining her philosophy and practically applying it successfully in her schools. This one I began in 2016 and finished mid 2017. I wish I were a faster reader so that I could read this every year. It is SO good.

2. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

This was assigned reading for AO4. I read it aloud to E-age-9 and it became our favorite time of the week. It is often tempting to combine the children’s literature selections for school so that I can read one book to all of them at the same time and free up some of my schedule. I’m so glad that I don’t do that. Having one-on-one reading time with each of my kids is time that I treasure. If this book had not been assigned in our curriculum, I probably wouldn’t have prioritized it, but I am glad it was because it is wonderfully rich. More than a story of shipwrecks and survival on a deserted island, it is a story about repentance and redemption. There were so many conversations that I enjoyed with my daughter about rebellion against God, feeling sorrow for our sin, the continual need for repentance, the joy and lightness we feel when we ask for forgiveness, God’s providence in our circumstances—even difficult circumstances—that are ultimately for our good. There were so many times when my daughter would interrupt my reading to interject her own thoughts on how Crusoe was thinking. She would tell me times when she had felt like that or what the right thing to think was when Crusoe was being selfish and ungrateful in his thoughts. She still rates it as one of her favorite books.

3. Little Men by Louisa May Alcott

I loved this book so much that I wrote a whole blog post about it. You can read it here.

4. Never Give In by Stephen Mansfield

This is an excellent biography of Winston Churchill. It was assigned reading for AO6 which I pre-read. I actually pre-read it by reading it aloud to my husband. We both really enjoyed it. This book is divided up into 2 parts. The first part discusses the life of this fascinating man. The second part discusses characteristics of leadership, and examples of how Churchill displayed those characteristics. We gleaned a great deal of wisdom about leadership from this book.

5. The Princess and the Goblin by George Macdonald

Anything by George Macdonald is wonderful and this book is no exception. This is a story about faith and having faith when nobody else believes you. There are many allusions to the Christian faith in this book. This was assigned reading for AO3. This was the 2nd time I had read this book aloud, but the first time reading it to G-age-8. Reading this book was precious time with my youngest daughter and we enjoyed many conversations throughout the book.

 

It was hard to narrow down this list because my family enjoyed many lovely books this past year. So here are a few more honorable mentions:

Carry a Big Stick by George Grant
This is a biography of Theodore Roosevelt from the same series as Never Give In. It was tough to choose my favorite out of the two because they were both great. But having the experience of reading the Churchill bio aloud to my husband made it the winner.

Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
Would definitely be in #1 position only we are reading it slowly and haven’t finished it yet.

Heidi by Johanna Spyri
We listened to the audiobook which you can get for $0.99. Just buy the kindle edition for $0.00 and select “Add Audible book to your purchase for just $0.99” underneath the “Buy Now” button before purchasing.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
We listened to the audiobook narrated by Rachel McAdams. McAdams is delightful to listen to.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
I listened to the audiobook, which is only $3.95 at the moment! A great deal!

Best blogs

I don’t have as much time to read blogs as regularly as I used to. But there are 2 homeschooling blogs that I always find a few minutes to read because they are so encouraging and thought-provoking.

1. Afterthoughts

Brandi Vencel is a Charlotte Mason Classical homeschooler. She has written series of posts over the years discussing Charlotte Mason and her methods, which helped get me started when I first began homeschooling. I owe much of my early understanding and practice of Charlotte Mason educational principles to this blog. She also writes very meaningful posts about books, ideas, parenting, theology, Christian living, making connections between ideas through books, and loads more. She is always very thoughtful, and I know I am a better reader, thinker, and homeschooler because of her influence.

2. Simply Convivial

Mystie Winkler is a second-generation homeschooler who writes a lot about adjusting our attitude toward the mundane and repetitive work of homemaking, parenting, and educating our children. She has helped me a great deal, with practical organizational advice. I did her “Work the Plan” course a couple of years ago and it helped my organizationally-challenged mind to make order out of the chaos. She encourages and equips mothers in the work of the home. She also generously shares her lesson plans for various subjects. I unashamedly borrow ideas from her Shakespeare plans, and have copied her Memory Work Binder system (with modifications to suit our needs). I also regularly consult her Scripture Memory Work Index to pick the next Scripture that we will memorize.

 

The following blogs are on the honorable mention list simply because I don’t read them regularly enough to be in the top 5.

Modern Mrs. Darcy

A fun blog that is all things books. I especially like the daily kindle deal email that she sends out with kindle deals on more books than I could possibly read in a lifetime. I enjoy reading about good modern books and authors to look out for.

Joyous Lessons

Celeste Cruz writes a Charlotte Mason homeschooling blog. She shares wonderful, practical examples of the Charlotte Mason education that is happening in her home. Incidentally, If you are on Instagram, Celeste is one of the contributors of the @charlottemasonirl (Charlotte Mason in Real Life) account. It is amazing to me how much thought goes into each and every post that they make on that account. So much wisdom and practical advice. She is also the owner of @keepingcompanycm account on Instagram as well, which I enjoy following.

Karen Glass

Karen is one of the advisory of Ambleside Online and is the author of Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition. This month, hopefully, she will be releasing her much anticipated book on narration called Know and Tell. I can’t wait. She writes about Charlotte Mason education sporadically on her blog, but when she does write, you can be sure to learn a great deal and be challenged to think more deeply.

Circe Institute

Seeks to inspire, encourage, and provide resources for Classical Educators. They have so much content I can’t possibly keep up with them, but I do read a few articles a month that pique my interest and I find them to be thought-provoking and stretch how I think. I especially love their articles about fairytales, poetry, and other literary works.

Best 5 podcasts

1. Renewing Your Mind

Just in case you are tempted to accuse me of neglecting my spiritual encouragement and needs, I listen to the Renewing Your Mind podcast a few times a week. If you are a Christian and want to grow in your understanding of God and His Word, listen to this podcast. It’s founder (and our pastor), R.C. Sproul, passed away recently, but the truths that he taught have not. I am encouraged and stretched every time I tune in.

2. Schole Sisters

Without a doubt my favorite homeschooling podcast. Classical Mamas discussing how they can learn and grow while their children learn and grow. This podcast is hosted by my two favorite bloggers, Brandi Vencel and Mystie Winkler, as well as Pam Barnhill.

3. The Mason Jar

A close second to Schole Sisters, this is a podcast hosted by the wonderful homeschool veteran and author of Mere Motherhood, Cindy Rollins. It is about… you guessed it… Charlotte Mason education. She has lots of guests on to talk about different aspects of a CM education.

4. Your Morning Basket

Hosted by Pam Barnhill from Schole Sisters, YMB is a podcast dedicated to discussing the philosophy and practice of Morning Time. Pam also has guests on most episodes to discuss various aspects that can be involved in Morning Time.

5. Read Aloud Revival

I’m sure most of you already know about this one. Sarah Mackenzie, with her many guests, encourages us to read aloud with our kids. So good.

Best 5 educational apps

1. Squeebles

My favorite math fact app. This app has saved us from the tears and the monotony of memorizing multiplication facts. We bought the bundle a few years ago, which includes practice for all the basic math concepts (addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, fractions) as well as spelling. We have continued to use it almost every day. I add it to the children’s weekly schedule. I like how customizable it is. You can work just on one fact at a time, for example, the 3 x tables, or you can be quizzed on all of the timetables. There are rewards and games when the children achieve a certain amount of correct answers. There is step-by-step training which teaches one fact at a time, like 1×3, before moving on to teaching the next fact, 2×3. You can customize whether to use a timer, which was a big deal for one of my children who panics anytime there is a time limit. And you can customize which facts will be included in the quiz game. So if you have only learned the times tables for 1’s to 5’s, you can just quiz those multiplication facts.

2. Quizlet

A replacement and improvement on flashcards for learning Latin vocabulary (or any language for that matter). Visual Latin (our Latin curriculum) had pre-made sets that correspond with each of their lessons that I easily searched for and downloaded in the app.

3. Seterra

A fun and easy map quiz app for learning states of America, capital cities of America, countries of the world, and other geographical facts.

4. YouTube

I mean, you can pretty much use YouTube to learn anything. We use it to watch performances for composer study, learn folksongs, learn a new hymn, learn how to crochet, draw, paint, sew… Anything I don’t know how to do and we want to learn, we YouTube it.

5. Audible

Lots and lots and lots of audiobooks. I usually use an audiobook to pre-read the literature selection for AO6 and listen while vacuuming or cleaning the shower. We also listen to audiobooks as a family in the car.

Well, that wraps up my favorites for 2017. What were your favorites?

Little Men

Little Men Book Cover

Not long ago, my children and I listened to the Little Men audiobook* in the car. It has become a fast favorite in our family and I think, of all the parenting/homeschool books I have ever read, this one is my absolute favorite. That may sound strange since it is just a story and not a parenting book, but it does what only a well written story can do. It instructs the moral imagination of its reader in truth, through narrative, that cuts straight to the heart.

Aunt Jo and her husband, Fritz Bhaer, run a school for their own children, Meg’s children (Jo’s sister), and also for a number of orphaned boys. As the sequel to Little Women, Jo has grown up, outgrown her mischievousness (for the most part), and found her passion and joy in loving and caring for these lost, wayward little men. Jo’s heart is full as she seeks to provide a safe home and an education for these young people. She seeks their good while expecting the best from each of them. The children keep both Aunt Jo and Uncle Fritz on their toes with their childhood antics and mischievousness. Aunt Jo can always be relied upon to enjoy the fun, yet both she and Fritz take care to speak a gentle word of truth and wisdom in moments of folly. They seek out ways to instruct the character of the children in right living, so that they may grow up to be honorable men and women.

If I had read this as a child, I would have related to the childhood antics and frolics of the children in the story, as my own children have. They loved to discuss what they would have done as different situations arose. Their imagination was captivated by the play and the mischief of these new friends. Now, as a parent and a homeschooler, I found myself sitting at the feet of Aunt Jo and Uncle Fritz, whose wise governing and educating of the children washed over me like a gentle wave. Their example of parental love and care, treating each child as a person worthy of respect, penetrated deeply. It described exactly what Charlotte Mason meant when she said, “Children are born persons.” This has had a great impact on how I view my children and how I want to parent and teach them. I want to be Aunt Jo. She seems to have an endless supply of patience, and becomes passionate when she has the opportunity to provide for the needs of her charges in just the right way to suit each person individually. She doesn’t get it perfectly right, but her heart is for the children, and they know it, and develop a peace and contentment because of it.

Because they were loved, the children were not left to themselves. The Bhaers took seriously the responsibility of raising useful, honorable young men, and took pains to not only see to their intellectual needs but also to cultivate the character of the children. They sought to provide an atmosphere in which the children grew to love goodness for goodness sake and to choose to do what is right because it was right. When it was discovered that a theft had occurred in the school, Mr. Bhaer spoke very soberly to the boys,

“I am not going to try to frighten, bribe, or surprise the truth out of you, for every one of you have got a conscience, and know what it is for. Now is the time to undo the wrong done to Tommy, and set yourselves right before us all. I can forgive the yielding to sudden temptation much easier than I can deceit. Don’t add a lie to the theft, but confess frankly, and we will all try to help you make us forget and forgive.”

And when a young newly arrived boy was frightened of being teased by the other boys because he hadn’t learned as much as they,

Thinking that a lesson in learning to help one another was better than arithmetic just then, Mr. Bhaer told them about Nat, making such an interesting and touching little story out of it that the good-hearted lads all promised to lend him a hand, and felt quite honored to be called upon to impart their stores of wisdom to the chap who fiddled so capitally. This appeal established the right feeling among them, and Nat had few hindrances to struggle against, for everyone was glad to give him a “boost” up the ladder of learning.

In addition to developing intellectual and personal virtue, Aunt Jo and Uncle Fritz sought to prepare them for the world that they would soon enter. Their times of climbing trees and fishing in the lake taught them independence while learning to till the ground to reap a harvest and earn money for it, taught them to work hard. And when they didn’t work as they ought, they were allowed to suffer the consequences of idleness.

Jo herself reflects,

“I only want to give these children a home in which they can be taught a few simple things which will help to make life less hard to them when they go out to fight their battles in the world. Honesty, courage, industry, faith in God, their fellow-creatures, and themselves: that is all I try for.”

I leave the last words of this post to dearest Jo and with the encouragement that if you and your children have not read this book, put it on your read-aloud list. You will be glad you did.

As the year draws to a close and the taming of many a wild boy can clearly be seen, Laurie asks Jo,

“What magic did you use, Jo?”

And she simply replies,

“I only loved them, and let them see it.”

*To get the audiobook for $0.99, select “Add Audible book to your purchase for just $0.99” beneath the “Buy now with 1-click” button before purchasing.

How Martin Luther Helped Us to Pray

For the past year and a half, every school morning, we begin our day with what I call “circle time.” My four kids and I gather together on the couch, or around the table outside, to read Scripture, memorize Scripture, pray, and to read and memorize poetry. It hasn’t always been easy establishing this routine, especially with a baby and a five-year-old incessant wriggler whose maximum attention span is five minutes. Nevertheless, it has become my favorite time of the day. I hope over time it becomes my children’s as well. It is wonderful to begin the day together focussing on our Lord; emphasizing truth, goodness, and beauty. It really helps set the tone for the rest of our day, most of the time.

When we began to incorporate a regular circle time in our day the children each took a turn at praying. Their prayers would be something like this:

“Dear God, thank you for the day. Please help us at school and please help such and such to get better. Amen.”

There is nothing wrong with this prayer in itself. The Bible says we should come to Jesus like a child. God hears our simple, heartfelt, and fervent prayers. The concern I had was that I felt as if the children were praying on autopilot. The same prayers would be prayed each day, the exact same words said by rote, and I didn’t feel that they actually thought about what they were saying. I didn’t feel that they really understood that they were praying to God, the creator of the universe. As I thought about it more I realized something: that was how I prayed as well. I was praying in a haphazard, unthoughtful way. They were following my example.

The Barber Who Wanted to PrayOne day, as I sorted out the kids’ bookshelf for the hundredth time, I rediscovered the children’s book The Barber Who Wanted to Pray by R. C. Sproul. We had read and enjoyed this beautifully illustrated book several times before, but hadn’t pulled it out for quite some time. It is about a father, Mr. McFarland who, during family devotions, is asked by his young daughter how to “pray in a way that will make Jesus happy and will make me feel more comfortable.” Mr. McFarland tells her a 500-year-old story about a barber and his famous customer, the outlaw, Martin Luther. He tells her how Luther came to write a letter to the barber, explaining to him how to pray using the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Ten Commandments.

Thanking the Lord for putting this book in my path right when I needed it, I decided to read this story to the kids as part of our circle time. After spending a week or two reading it over a few times and having them tell me the story in their own words, I explained that we would do as Martin Luther taught the barber, and memorize the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Ten Commandments as part of our memory work during circle time. I wish I could tell you that the girls jumped for joy at this pronouncement. They did not. In fact, I’m pretty sure I heard groans. It sounded like a lot of work to them so, of course, they didn’t want to do it. But anything worth doing requires effort. We have been memorizing these verses and creed, five minutes a day, for the past year and a half. The oldest has memorized all of them and the younger two have memorized the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed and are at various stages in memorizing the Ten Commandments. Amazingly, I too have memorized them incidentally since I have been helping the children learn them.

As we have memorized each verse or sentence, I have encouraged the children to pray through them as was taught in the story.

“Think about the first petition in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.’ When you think about these words, allow your mind and your heart to give careful attention to what these words say, and let them move you to deeper prayer.”

Martin Luther goes on to give several examples in the story of praying in this way. I too tried (and continue) to model how to pray in this way. Each day I picked one line from whatever the children were in the process of memorizing, often focussing on the same verse for the entire week or more, sometimes even a whole month. Then I encouraged the kids to pray something about that. For example, when considering the line in the Apostles’ Creed, “Maker of heaven and Earth,” I would talk about how they could praise God for His wonderful creation. Thanking Him for the birds that chirp in our trees. For the sun and the moon and the stars. To thank Him for creating this world that we are living in and for providing plants to eat that bear seeds after their own kind. I would ask them to think about how powerful God must be to create such a perfect home for us. I then told them to include in their prayer at least one thing about God’s creation that they were thankful for and to thank Him for it.

As we have continued this practice of praying through these verses and creed I have seen my children grow in how they approach God and how they pray to Him. They still pray with their simple language, but they have begun to include whole verses from memory in their prayers and to apply them to specific circumstances for which they are praying. Not only has this book helped me to teach the children to pray biblically and to seek Him and His Word, it has also radically changed and enriched my own private prayer life as I too learn to “pray in a way that will make Jesus happy and will make me feel more comfortable.” While this book was written for children, it’s story will impact anyone who wants to grow in prayer and their Christian walk with God. If you’re interested, Luther’s original letter is also freely available online.

On Our Night Stand (Summer 2015)

He ate and drank the precious words,
His spirit grew robust;
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was dust.
He danced along the dingy days,
And this bequest of wings
Was but a book. What liberty
A loosened spirit brings!

—Emily Dickinson, A Book

I was a voracious reader when I was a kid. Once I left school though, I stopped reading for the most part. There were certain Christian living books that I read from time to time, but not a lot and not consistently. Since becoming a part of the homeschooling community online, I have enjoyed seeing what other mums are reading when they post updates on their blogs. This has inspired me to read again and to read more widely. These mums introduced me to the classics and encouraged me to cultivate an atmosphere of reading in our home. So, I made it my goal to read a chapter of something each day.

In the hope that it might encourage you, here are the books on our nightstand this summer.

What Mum Is Reading

Mum's Books

Mum’s Books

Devotional

Fellowship with God by Martin Lloyd Jones

These are Jones’ sermons from 1 John, to compliment my own personal reading of 1 John

Historical

Selected Letters of Jane Austen

I find the everyday life of Jane Austen’s world fascinating. I’m a big Austen fan. I read one or two letters a week just for fun.

Special Interest

Grammar Book For You And I (Oops Me) By C. Edward Good

Can I tell you my deep dark secret? My knowledge of grammar is appalling. It’s shameful, I know. I’m hoping this book will help me with this oversight.

Education

The Living Page by Laurie Bestvater

Loving this book about the power of Charlotte Mason notebooking. It has inspired me to keep my own commonplace book and encouraged me to be more intentional with our nature study notebooking.

School Education by Charlotte Mason (Online)

Gaining a more thorough understanding of the philosophy of education that I love, and how it works out practically as my eldest moves into 4th grade next year.

Novel

Emily of New Moon by Lucy Maud Montgomery (Kindle)

I started reading this to see if it would be appropriate to read aloud to my 5,7, and 8 year olds and found that I’d fallen in love with it for myself. I’m only in chapter 3 and it’s wonderful so far.

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, narrated by Stephen Fry (Audible)

Funny science fiction. What’s not to love. And Stephen Fry is brilliant to listen to. Hubby and I are enjoying this one together.

Read-Alouds with the Children

The Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton

These were my very favorite when I was a kid. I’m glad to be able to share them with my children.

Read-Alouds

Read-Alouds

Family Devotions

Grandpa’s Box by Starr Meade

Dad is reading this to us. Retelling the biblical story of redemption.

What the Kids Are Reading

Beginner Reader

Our 7-year-old has just started with the Little Bear books. They are so sweet.

Beginner Reader

Beginner Reader

Library Finds

I let the kids pick their own books but they have to bring them to me to approve. There were a hundred Halloween selections for some reason. I picked the nicest looking ones.

Library Books

Library Books

Our 8-year-old is a huge Marguerite Henry fan.

Library Books

Library Books

8-Year-Old’s Bookshelf

My eldest daughter reads so fast and so much that I cannot keep up with her. Because of this she rereads the books on her shelves over and over and over again.

8-Year-Old's Bookshelf

8-Year-Old’s Bookshelf

8-Year-Old's Bookshelf

8-Year-Old’s Bookshelf

Did I mention my daughter loves horse books?

I’d love to know what’s on your nightstand.

A Tale Of Two Honey Possums – A Grand Conversation

20140524-094612-35172007.jpg

Our read aloud for today was A Tale of Two Honey Possums by Felicity Bradshaw and beautifully illustrated by Patricia Negus. Bradshaw is a biologist from Western Australia who has studied honey possums for over 20 years. It is a sweet story about Benji and Noola, brother and sister honey possums born to Mother Possum, and their first year of life.

I am no expert on living books but I love this story. It is a wonderful book that can easily be used as a natural science book for young children. It contains great detail of the honey possum, their physical attributes, what they eat, where they live, how it’s young are raised, and what the dangers are for them. It also contains a great deal of information about other animals who share there habitat amongst the Banksia in the Australian bush. But it is not a boring textbook. I would put it in the same rank as The Burgess Animal Book and The Burgess Bird Book. In fact I think it’s a little better. The story is engaging and captivated my children’s imagination. Especially when the honey possums endured a bush fire and their home was completely burnt. The development of the fire in the story sparked a long conversation with my children about bush fires. For most Victorians (people who live in Victoria, Australia, where I was from) the topic of bush fires is really close to home, as a few years ago Victoria suffered one of the worst bush fires in our history. There were around 300 fatalities and entire towns were burnt to the ground. Bush fires are a very big threat every summer in rural Victoria and fire safety ads flood TV and radio to help ensure people are prepared in the event of a fire.

When I first brought this book out to read to the children my hopes were that they would learn some wonderful, interesting facts about Australian animals and our beautiful flora. Instead, unexpectedly, this simple story about the adventures of two honey possums sparked, as Charlotte Mason would call it, a “grand conversation” about bush fires, what they’re like, how they start, and what we should do. This then led to practicing what to do in the event of a house fire, having lots of fun crawling around the house, testing to see if doors were hot, and eventually making our way out of the house to the letter box. I’m not sure if there is much danger from fires here in Florida, but our impromptu lesson on fire safety sparked by our little book of A Tale of Two Honey Possums, I count as one of our best examples of stories having a meaningful impact on our children. I feel confident that this will be a treasured book in our children’s library and I look forward to the next grand conversation when we read it again. Perhaps it will be a discussion about endangered Australian marsupials? Here’s hoping…

This book is available from the artist Patricia Negus and at Abebooks

What stories have sparked a “grand conversation” in your home?

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