Mum To Mom

Musings of an Aussie Mother Living in the USA

Category: Homeschooling (page 1 of 3)

Heredity, Total Depravity, and the Role of Education

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles: Principle 2

They are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.

Before beginning my study on this principle, it was clear to me that I would need to place this statement in its historical context to properly understand Charlotte Mason’s meaning. On first reading, this statement appears to say something against the doctrine of original sin. I had been told and believed that this was not the case, but until studying this principle this month I had not spent any time investigating for myself.

Mason does not deny the doctrine of original sin. Karen Glass, author of Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition and Know and Tell: The Art of Narration, has written a very helpful article on what it was that Mason was addressing, which I encourage you to read. In my own rudimentary Google searching into the subject I found historical explanations that will help set the context.

In the time of Mason, the beginning of the 20th century, the rise of Darwinism and the theory of evolution through natural selection led to a greater consideration of the role that genes play in the development of psychological as well as physical traits in an individual. The idea, now termed biological or genetic determinism, known then as heredity determinism, became an idea widely disseminated in society. “Most theories of biological determinism viewed undesirable traits as originating in defective genes” (Garland Allen)—that is, that the behavioral, as well as physical characteristics of a person, were solely determined by genetics. Mason saw that many parents and educators began to think that there was no point in trying to instruct a person in morals and right behavior because it was already determined by their genes. A bad egg will breed a bad egg and that was that.

In this principle, Mason argues that this is not the case and that education can contribute a great deal in training a person to right living and thinking. She says,

“There are good and evil tendencies in body and mind, heart and soul; and the hope set before us is that we can foster the good so as to attenuate the evil; that is, on condition that we put education in her true place as the handmaid of religion.” Towards A Philosophy of Education, p.46

As Glass points out in her article, Mason is not making a theological statement. She is commenting on the potential of all children to learn as an argument against the commonly held belief that some children, particularly the poorer classes, did not have any potential.

With this context in view, through my study of this principle, my mind has been occupied with considering the idea of the “possibilities for good.” Specifically, how much potential for ‘good’ do we really have outside of Christ in light of the doctrine of original sin and total depravity; and what role does education have, if any, in the training of good in our children.

The work of justification is the work of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing that education can do, in and of itself, toward the salvation of a person’s soul from being “dead in trespasses and sins” to “alive again in Christ.” Nor is sanctification a work that we alone can do. It is only with the Holy Spirit that we can grow in Christlikeness. Mason does not deny these truths. But she saw from experience that education is a servant to religion, a tool which ought not to be squandered, in leading children toward right thinking and living, and our ultimate hope, toward God. That all children, no matter what their station or economic status in life, no matter if their father is a poor alcoholic or a statesman in good standing, all have the possibility to learn what is good, just as much as they have of what is bad. This is directly related to Principle 1: Children are born persons. God has given all children His image and therefore, as discussed last month, His communicable attributes. He has given the ability to love, to be generous, to show mercy, kindness etc., and a mind with which to learn and grow in knowledge and wisdom.

As Christians, we acknowledge that it is only by God’s grace, common to all, that we can say or do any good. Any good we do in this life is still marred by sin. It is not the perfect good that is found in God alone, but it is a broken good that, by His grace of restraining our sinfulness, many, even non-Christians, achieve to some degree.

John Calvin explains.

“But here it ought to occur to us that amid this corruption of nature there is some place for God’s grace; not such grace as to cleanse it, but to restrain it inwardly… This God by his providence bridles perversity of nature, that it may not break forth into action; but he does not purge it within.” Institutes, p. 292-293.

Education is a tool that God can use to extend that common grace to us and restrain us from being as wicked as our hearts have the potential (and desire) to be.

I labor this point because of a great many discussions I had with my husband this month as I studied this principle. I struggled to articulate to him why Mason was not making an unbiblical statement. And each attempt at an explanation revealed that I did not hold rightly to, or at least could not articulate rightly, a biblical view of the sinful state of man’s heart. My husband took great pains to impress upon me how dire my heart really is without Christ. Yet my brain still wanted to say, “I have the ability in and of myself to be good because I choose to be.” But Jesus disagrees with me.

“No one is good except God alone.” Mark 10:18

Calvin expounds.

“Man’s understanding is pierced by a heavy spear when all the thoughts that proceed from him are mocked as stupid, frivolous, insane, and perverse.” Institutes, p. 290.

No. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, we have no possibility for good. And yet, God, because of His common grace, and out of His mere good pleasure, saw fit to endow to some a special grace that makes possible admirable and heroic actions for the blessing of mankind. These “special graces,” as Calvin calls them, are gifts from God and reflect His image. Education is used by Him as a tool to instruct all in what is right and be a blessing to mankind. Further, that through education some might be lead to know Him. “How are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14). Or, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). By the means of education, He can lead us to humbly accept our fallen state and our need of Him.

“Thus it rests with parents to ease the way of their child by giving him habits of the god [spiritual] life in thought, feeling, and action, and even in spiritual things. We cannot make a child ‘good’; but, in this way, we can lay paths for the good life in the very substance of his brain.  We cannot make him hear the voice of God; but, again, we can make paths where the Lord God may walk in the cool of the evening.” Formation of Character, p. 141-142

If you’d like to join me in studying Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles, get your copy of Start Here and see this post for details.

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles Directory

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.

Studied Dictation: Part 2

Last week I explained what Charlotte Mason’s studied dictation was, and gave an example of a lesson plan. This week I want to share with you a modified Charlotte Mason dictation lesson that I developed for one of my daughters.  It combines Charlotte Mason’s idea of studying a passage from literature with an analytical style spelling program. I heavily relied on Uncovering the Logic of English by Denise Eide to plan this lesson. I want to stress that this is not dictation as Mason described. It does not contain her method of visualization, and pulls apart the words for analysis far more than Mason would.

My oldest daughter learned to read very quickly. After learning her letters and a few of the most common multiple phonograms, she taught herself whole words. This was great for fast reading, not so great for breaking down the words for spelling. When it came to writing words, she had no idea how to break up a word into its sounds. She didn’t have the phonetic tools. So I developed a plan that focused on phonograms, common spelling rules, and rules for punctuation. My daughter was 11 when we began these lessons. They served as a crash course to give her phonetic tools quickly. After a year, it was clear that this kind of lesson was no longer necessary and we have gone back to the standard Charlotte Mason Dictation lesson as described here.

Lesson Plan

Download the PDF version.

From The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford.

Suddenly, there was a sound of a heavy body pushing through the underbrush, accompanied by a sharp cracking of branches, and the spell was broken.

Phonograms: th, ou, ea, sh, ng, ough, er, ed, ar, ck, ch

Rules:

  • heavy, body. Rule: English words do not end with IUVJ. Rule: I and Y may say /i/ or /I/ at the end of a syllable.
  • accompany – accompanied. Y changes to i when adding ed
  • branch – branches. Add es when pluralizing a word that hisses
  • broke – broken. Silent final e makes the o say O. Every syllable must have a written vowel.

Punctuation:

  • Suddenly, –  Use a comma after introductory adverbs.

“Finally, I went running.”

“Unsurprisingly, I saw a duck when I went running.”

“Many adverbs end in “ly” and answer the question “how?” How did someone do something? How did something happen? Adverbs that don’t end in “ly,” such as “when” or “while,” usually introduce a dependent clause, which rule number two in this post already covered.

Also insert a comma when “however” starts a sentence, too. Phrases like “on the other hand” and “furthermore” also fall into this category. Starting a sentence with “however,” however, is discouraged by many careful writers. A better method would be to use “however” within a sentence after the phrase you want to negate, as in the previous sentence.” (1)

  • branches, – Comma Before And That Joins Two Independent Clauses

“The word and is a conjunction, and when a conjunction joins two independent clauses, you should use a comma with it. The proper place for the comma is before the conjunction.

“On Monday we’ll see the Eiffel Tower, and on Tuesday we’ll visit the Louvre.”

The sentence above contains two independent clauses, so it requires a comma before and. (By the way, you can tell they’re independent clauses because each one could stand on its own as a complete sentence.)” (2)

References
1. https://www.businessinsider.com/a-guide-to-proper-comma-use-2013-9
2. https://www.grammarly.com/blog/comma-before-and/
3. https://www.grammarly.com/blog/comma/
4. Uncovering The Logic of English by Denise Eide

Day 1

  • Underline all multiple phonograms and write above it which number sound is being used. (e.g. heavy – ea 2nd sound)
  • Mark known rules.
  • Take note of comma placement.
  • Use for copywork.

Day 2&3:

  • Teach the spelling of unknown words (as many as can be taught in 10 – 15 minutes).
  1. Every syllable must have a vowel. Have students identify the syllable by drawing a dotted line through each syllable of each word on their student paper. Write out the word with the syllabic breaks in them.

e.g. sud  den  ly, un  der  brush. bod  y,  heav  y, ac  com  pan  ied,  brok  en.

  1. Analyze the word in the direction of writing.

sud   den  – all first sound vowels
ly – Rule: English words do not end with IUVJ. Rule: Y says /E/ only at the end of a multi syllable word.

  1. Analyze roots for spelling

sudden  – add suffix ‘ly’

  1. Write from memory

Day 4:

  • Teach adding suffixes to single vowel Y words.
  1. Write on board: Single vowel Y changes to I when adding any ending, unless the ending begins with I.
    So there are two questions to ask: does it end with a single vowel Y? Does the suffix begin with any letter except I? If the answer is yes to both of these, change the Y to I and add the suffix. If the answer is no to either, just add the ending.
  2. Do some examples on the board.

try – tries, happy – happiness, busy – business, boy – boys (phonogram ‘oy,’ not a single vowel Y), worry – worrisome, annoy – annoyed (phonogram ‘oy,’ not a single vowel Y) cry – crier, study – studied.

Day 5:

  • Review any words learned this week and teach comma rules above.

Day 6&7:

  • Continue teaching the rest of the words, following the pattern of Day 2&3

e.g. Teach accompanied.

  1. Identify syllables –  ac  com  pan  ied.
  2. Analyse the word in the direction of writing.

ac com pan – all first sounds
ied – Rule: Single vowel Y changes to I when adding any ending, unless the ending begins with I.

  1. Analyze roots for spelling – accompany
    – does it end with a single vowel Y?  Yes
    – Does the suffix begin with any letter except I? Yes
    Then Y changes to I and add the suffix.
  2. Write out the word accompanied from memory.

Day 8:

  • Review comma placement
  • Discuss spelling of challenging words learned.
  • Practice writing the sentence out without looking. Provide help when needed.

Day 9:

  • Dictate.

Day 10:

  • Bonus challenge: spell unseen words that use the same rules we have learned the last two weeks.
  1. Rule: English words do not end with IUVJ.  and, Rule: Y says /E/ only at the end of a multi syllable word. sandy
  2. Rule: Single vowel Y changes to I when adding an ending, unless the ending begins with I. puppies, cried, toys, blindness
  3. Rule: The vowel says its long sound because of the E.   spoke
  4. Rule: Every syllable must have a vowel. Rule: AEOU usually say AEOU at the end of a syllable: despite

Studied Dictation: Part 1

What is it and why would we use it?

Studied Dictation is a method to teach spelling that was developed by Charlotte Mason. It is outlined in Home Education (Volume 1). Briefly, it is where a child studies the spelling of unknown words and punctuation in an assigned passage of poetry or prose. When the student has learned the passage, the teacher dictates the passage for the student to write from memory. I will discuss the step-by-step method of what this looks like in my daily lessons soon, but first I feel it is important to discuss why we would choose to study spelling in this way. Why not grab the boxed spelling curriculum off the shelf and learn spelling through lists that have already been laid out for us? 10 or 20 words a week. No planning. Just learn the words and you know how to spell, right?

To answer this question, we must look at Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education. Out of the 20 principles of her philosophy, one stands out to me as the hinge to which all the others hang. It is the first principle: “children are born persons.” She begins her whole philosophy by thinking about who the child is. The child is not an empty vessel to be filled with information, they are a whole human being: mind, body, and spirit, whose whole being needs to be educated.

In her book Consider This, Karen Glass quotes David Hicks who puts it this way,

“The purpose of education is not the assimilation of facts or the retention of information, but the habituation of the mind and body to will and act in accordance with what one knows.”

Glass explains that,

“When our knowledge is transformed into action, it becomes virtue, and virtue was the goal of the classical educators … Our educational methods should inspire and lead children toward right thinking and acting…”

Charlotte Mason’s entire Language Arts approach is based on the premise that we are educating whole persons. The purpose of language is to communicate truth—to learn and understand ideas. If the purpose of education is to “inspire and lead children toward right thinking and acting,” then studying the spelling of a word within the context of the idea that it was used to convey will more directly achieve that purpose.

I can attest from personal experience the richness that can be found in a dictation lesson. An example is when we were learning the line “We should try to succeed by merit, not by favor.” I had planned the lesson to teach spelling, only to find that not only did my children focus on spelling, they discussed the ideas in the passage at the same time. They discussed what merit was and what favor was, and why it was better to succeed by merit. This was not in my mind when we began the lesson. It happened because the living ideas in the passage being considered were worthy of my children’s thought. Through dictation a child can grow in wisdom.

Putting it into practice

I encourage you to read Charlotte Mason’s own words on the steps of dictation lesson.

It is a very simple method. To summarize, the child looks at a passage for any words that they don’t know and spend time studying them by visualizing them in their mind.

“The teacher asks if there are any words he is not sure of. These she puts, one by one, on the blackboard, letting the child look till he has a picture, and then rubbing the word out.”

Charlotte Mason cautions teachers not to allow the child to see a misspelled word, which can confuse the child as to the correct spelling. I know there are still some words that I will often spell wrong because I have seen it misspelled too often.

For continued study of more difficult words, she says:

“If anyone is still doubtful he should be called to put the word he is not sure of on the board, the teacher watching to rub out the word when a wrong letter begins to appear, and again helping the child to get a mental picture.”

Charlotte Mason also emphasizes over and over in her volumes the importance of the child reading living books themselves.

“A lesson of this kind secures the hearty co-operation of children, who feel they take their due part in it; and it also prepares them for the second condition of good spelling, which is––much reading combined with the habit of imaging the words as they are read.”

“Illiterate spelling is usually a sign of sparse reading; but, sometimes, of hasty reading without the habit of seeing the words that are skimmed over.”

Studied dictation does not begin until around 4th grade, or when the child is 9 or 10. They have had 3 years of formal reading lessons and phonics instruction before this (Discover Reading is a comprehensive explanation and guide for the Charlotte Mason method of teaching reading). They have also been, from the time they can form their letters correctly, doing copywork. The habit of attention and visualizing words to learn them has (hopefully) already been established. Therefore, further phonics instruction is not necessary during dictation.

Below is a sample lesson. Next week I will share a couple of modified dictation lessons I developed for my oldest daughter, who fell into what Charlotte Mason calls “hasty reading.” Those lessons were a blend of ‘Spell to Write and Read’ and dictation, which emphasized phonics and spelling rules much more than Charlotte Mason prescribed.

The following lesson plan is a way to teach studied dictation. Others may break down the lessons differently to me. The lesson should not be longer than 10-15 minutes. Charlotte Mason (as far as I am aware) did not teach spelling rules. I have found teaching a few of them helpful, particularly for my first and third child, but you do not have to teach them. They are there simply as a reference for the teacher. The work of studying the words is for the students to do. The instructions are a guide to get the student going, but once the student has developed a good study practice, they will be able to do these steps automatically for themselves without much instruction from the teacher.

Dictation Lesson Plan Example

(Download PDF version. Updated.)

From The Birth of Britain by Winston Churchill:

“In the summer of the Roman year of 699, now described as the year 55 before the birth of Jesus Christ, the Proconsul of Gaul, Gaius Julius Caesar, turned his gaze upon Britain. In the midst of his wars in Germany and in Gaul he became conscious of this heavy Island which stirred his ambitions and already obstructed his designs.

Day 1

  1. Use for copywork
  2. Have student identify (circle, highlight, asterisk, etc) words likely to give her trouble. e.g. Proconsul, Gaul, Gaius, Julius, Caesar, Britain, conscious, island, stirred (double ‘r’ when adding suffix), ambitions, already, obstructed, designs, 
  3. Student study unknown words.
  • Study first word Gaul. Notice capital letter. It is a proper noun. Notice phonogram “au”. Student close eyes and picture the word in her mind (reference removed from sight). When sure of it, write the word down.
  • Study word Gaius. Notice capital letter. It is a proper noun. Notice it’s Latin masculine ending. Close eyes and picture the word in your mind. Remove reference. When you have it, write it down.
  • Study word Julius. Notice capital letter for proper noun. Notice Latin masculine ending. Close eyes and picture the word in your mind. Remove reference. When you have it, write it down.
  • Study word Caesar. Notice capital letter for proper noun. Notice Latin spelling ‘ae’. Notice phonogram ‘ar.’ Close eyes and picture the word in your mind. Remove reference. When you have it, write it down.
  • Study word Britain. Notice capital letter for proper noun. Notice phonogram ‘ai.’ Close eyes and picture the word in your mind. Remove reference. When you have it, write it down.
  • Study word conscious. Notice the phonogram ‘ci’ (Latin ‘sh’), notice the s before the ‘ci’ (like science), notice suffix ‘ous.’ Close eyes and picture the word in your mind. Remove reference. When you have it, write it down.

Rule: TI, CI, and SI are used only at the beginning of any syllable after the
first one.

  • Study word island. Notice silent ’s’. Notice the word ‘land’ (not emphasized in speech for spelling.) Close eyes and picture the word in your mind. Remove reference. When you have it, write it down.

Day 2

  1. Continue study of unknown words, Continue to notice phonograms and spelling rules (if applicable). Visualize each word and write them down when known. Teacher be mindful not to allow student to write down words misspelled. Erase mistake immediately and have them look at the word again to learn it accurately.
  • Stirred (double ‘r’ when adding suffix). Notice phonogram ‘ir’, notice suffix ‘ed’. Student close eyes and picture the word in her mind (reference removed from sight). When sure of it, write the word down.

Rule: Double the last consonant when adding a vowel suffix to words ending in one vowel followed by one consonant only if the syllable before the suffix is stressed.

  • ambitions. Notice Latin phonogram ‘ti’ (’sh’). Divide into syllables if needed.
  • already. Notice prefix ‘al’. Notice phonogram ‘ea’ (second sound), Notice ‘y’ at the end of the word.

Rule: ‘al’ is a prefix written with one L when preceding another syllable.
Rule: English words do not end in I,U,V, or J.

  • obstructed. Notice suffix ‘ed’. Divide into syllables.
  • designs.  Notice phonogram ‘gn’.
  • Day 3

    1. Teach punctuation
    • Commas 1 & 2. …, now described as the year 55 before the birth of Jesus Christ, – Modifier (p447, The Little Brown Handbook) “Commas around part of a sentence often signal that the element is not necessary to the meaning of the sentence.”
    • Commas 3&4 – … Gaul, Gaius Julius Caesar, – Nonessential appositives (p.451)

    Note: It is very likely that I would only choose one of these punctuation rules to explicitly teach during our lesson. The student will still study the text for correct placement for the purpose of dictation, but will not be taught the ‘why’ for every punctuation mark. These lessons will come up over and over in our dictation lessons. It is enough to just mention the rule in the context of learning the passage. Students will have plenty of opportunity to practice these rules when editing their own written narrations.

    Day 4

    1. Dictate

    If the passage that has been studied is long, you can just choose to dictate a portion of the studied selection. Select a portion that will keep the lesson to 10 minutes in length. The student will not know which portion you will dictate so must study the whole thing to be well prepared.

    Note: The division of days is just a suggestion. Depending on how many words the student needs to study and how long it takes them to study, you may move faster or slower. Allow the student to determine the pace.

    Resources used:
    The Little, Brown Handbook 12th edition by H. Ramsey Fowler and Jane E. Aaron.
    Uncovering The Logic of English by Denise Eide.

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles

As I mentioned last week, I will be studying Charlotte Mason’s 20 principles of education. To do this I will be using Brandy Vencel’s Start Here study guide. I invite you to study along with me. Here are the details for the study.

Required reading
In addition to the Start Here study guide, you will also need For The Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay and A Philosophy of Education (Volume 6) by Charlotte Mason. Volume 6 is available to read for free online at Ambleside Online if you don’t own the hard copy.

Schedule
We will discuss a principle a month most of the time, except where Brandy has combined principles that are related. These are outlined in her Start Here study guide. I plan to post my thoughts on the 3rd Tuesday of every month. I will try really hard to keep to this schedule but I cannot guarantee that life will not get in the way from time to time. I highly recommend that you subscribe to the blog to get notified of the next post in the study. You can do this by entering your email address into the orange box on the right or the bottom of the page.

Participation
Once I’ve posted my thoughts about the principle, it is your turn. Post your thoughts, questions, and discussions points in the comments. Feel free to link to your own blog in the comments if you have a post that discusses the principle being considered.

Keeping it together
This page will serve as a landing page for the study. There will be a list of links to each post for easy navigation. I will continue to add links as we make our way through the study.

Who was Charlotte Mason?
Lastly, Brandy says it is a good idea to know who Charlotte Mason was and why it is worth our time to study her. Read this article to learn about Charlotte Mason herself.

 

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason 20 Principles Directory

  • Principle 1:
    Children are born persons.
  • Principle 2:
    [Children] are not born either good or bad, but with the possibilities for good and for evil.
  • Principle 3:
    The principles of authority on the one hand, and of obedience on the other, are natural, necessary and fundamental…
  • Principle 4:
    These principles [of authority and obedience] are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire.
  • Principle 5a & 6:
    Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments – [the first is] the atmosphere of environment…
    (6)When we say that “education is an atmosphere,” we do not mean a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child environment’ especially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere, both as regards persons and things, and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the child’s level.
  • Principles 5b & 7:
    Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments – [the second being] the discipline of habit…
    (7)By “education is a discipline,” we mean the discipline of habits, formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structures to habitual lines of thought, i.e., to our habits.
  • Principles 5c & 8:
    Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments – [the third of which is] the presentation of living ideas…
    (8)In saying that “education is a life,” the need of intellectual and moral as well as of physical sustenance is implied. The mind feeds on ideas, and therefore children should have a generous curriculum.
  • Principles 9,10, and 11:
    We hold that the child’s mind is no mere sac to hold ideas; but is rather, if the figure may be allowed, a spiritual organism, with an appetite for all knowledge. This is its proper diet, with which it is prepared to deal; and which it can digest and assimilate as the body does foodstuffs.
    (10)Such a doctrine as e.g. the Herbartian, that the mind is a receptacle, lays the stress of education (the preparation of knowledge in enticing morsels duly ordered) upon the teacher. Children taught on this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching with little knowledge; and the teacher’s axiom is, ‘what a child learns matters less than how he learns it.’
    (11)But we, believing that the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, give him a full and generous curriculum; taking care only that all knowledge offered him is vital, that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas.
  • Principle 12:
    Out of this conception [that the child’s mind comes fit to deal with knowledge, and that facts must not be presented without their informing ideas] comes our principle that, – “Education is the Science of Relations”; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, naturelore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of–
    “Those first-born affinities
    “That fit our new existence to existing things.”
  • Principle 13:
    In devising a SYLLABUS for a normal child, of whatever social class, three points must be considered:
    (a) He requires much knowledge, for the mind needs sufficient food as much as does the body.
    (b) The knowledge should be various, for sameness in mental diet does not create appetite (i.e., curiosity).
    (c) Knowledge should be communicated in well-chosen language, because his attention responds naturally to what is conveyed in literary form.
  • Principles 14 & 15:
    As knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced, children should ‘tell back’ after a single reading or hearing: or should write on some part of what they have read.
    (15) A single reading is insisted on, because children have naturally great power of attention; but this force is dissipated by the re-reading of passages, and also, by questioning, summarizing, and the like.
    Acting upon these and some other points in the behaviour of mind, we find that the educability of children is enormously greater than has hitherto been supposed, and is but little dependent on such circumstances as heredity and environment.
    Nor is the accuracy of this statement limited to clever children or to children of the educated classes: thousands of children in Elementary Schools respond freely to this method, which is based on the behaviour of mind.
  • Principles 16a and 17:
    There are two guides to moral and intellectual self-management to offer to children, [the first] we may call ‘the way of the will’…
    (17)The way of the will: Children should be taught, (a) to distinguish between ‘I want’ and ‘I will.’ (b) That the way to will effectively is to turn our thoughts from that which we desire but do not will. (c) That the best wayto turn our thoughts is to think of or do some quite different thing, entertaining or interesting. (d) That after a little rest in this way, the will returns to its work with new vigour. (This adjunct of the will is familiar to us as diversion, whose office it is to ease us for a time from will effort, that we may ‘will’ again with added power. The use of suggestion as an aid to the will is to be deprecated, as tending to stultify and stereotype character. It would seem that spontaneity is a condition of development, and that human nature needs the discipline of failure as well as of success.)
  • Principles 16b and 18:
    There are two guides to moral and intellectual self-management to offer to children, [the second] we may call ‘the way of the reason’…
    (18)The way of reason: We teach children, too, not to ‘lean (too confidently) to their own understanding’; because the function of reason is to give logical demonstration (a) of mathematical truth, (b) of an initial idea, accepted by the will. In the former case, reason is, practically, an infallible guide, but in the latter, it is not always a safe one; for, whether that idea be right or wrong, reason will confirm it by irrefragable proofs.
  • Principle 19:
    Therefore, children should be taught, as they become mature enough to understand such teaching, that the chief responsibility which rests on them as persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas. To help them in this choice we give them principles of conduct, and a wide range of the knowledge fitted to them. These principles should save children from some of the loose thinking and heedless action which cause most of us to live at a lower level than we need.
  • Principle 20:
    We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.

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.

The Story of My Tree

I have a tree in my backyard. It is my favorite tree. Happily, it can be seen through the french door windows as I sit in my reading chair in my room. It is quite tall, probably 30-40 feet high, with a moderately sized, 8-9 inch, light brown/gray trunk. It’s beautiful three-pointed leaves have a two-toned green color in the summer that become almost fluorescent after an afternoon summer shower. And right on the tip of certain branches are handfuls of leaves that are orange and red. I am filled with wonder at these little accents dotted around the tree, which give it such interest and beauty. As lovely as these leaves are in their luscious green dress, the beginning of winter is when this tree really shines. The leaves turn from green to a bright orange and red that glows as though it is on fire. It only lasts a week or two (sometimes longer if I’m lucky), but it is one of the most majestic, beautiful sights I have ever seen. Its color turns later in the season than one would expect, usually some time in December, likely because the weather isn’t cold enough here in Florida until then.

Through the years I have seen this tree provide refuge to many wild life in our neighborhood. I love watching the cardinals and wrens and chickadees alight in the tree, flitting from branch to branch in search of seeds. Mrs. Cardinal never far behind Mr. Cardinal as he leads her here and there among the branches. I have watched with amusement as squirrels have used the trunk of this tree as a stage for their drama of theft and retribution. And then there’s the laid-back lizards, who you can always find on the trunk or a branch, blending in as its color almost matches perfectly with the tree, with just its orange dewlap pulsing in and out to remind you that it is actually there. I have been under the boughs of this tree in the spring as green caterpillars and furry caterpillars have seemingly exploded from its leaves and dropped all over my table and chairs. And ladybug pupas crawling in and around, waiting for their time to come when they will enter their deep sleep and awake to find the world changed, bigger and wider and more glorious than they could have ever imagined, as they discover wings with which to see it all with.

This tree has been a silent companion to our family as we have sat on our log chairs around our fire pit, trading stories while roasting hotdogs and marshmallows. It has listened as we sat beneath its boughs teaching math, reading stories, painting flowers, crying over learning to read, and mom yelling at the kids to pick up their toys for the hundredth time. It has stood strong as my children have climbed it’s branches and seen the world from a different perspective, giving them a view that is beyond their usual scope, inspiring them and filling them with joy and comfort and hope.

It has affectionately become known as “Mom’s favorite tree.” This is because I love it. But also because we don’t actually know what kind of tree it is. Oh, I have been told half a dozen times or more, by clever people who remember facts about trees, what kind of tree it is. There have even been times when I have known its name, and many more times when I have promptly forgotten it. I would very much like to keep it in my memory permanently, and after I write this post I intend to look it up and write it down in an effort to commit it to memory. But not knowing right now what it is called does not preclude me from knowing the tree. I am more intimately acquainted with this tree than any of the other flowers or plants that are in my garden. Because the classification of this tree, while important for identification and clarification, is not the tree. The tree is what it is, whether I know what it is called or not. I have a relationship with this tree. I know this tree. I care about this tree. And therein lies the vision for the education I seek for my children: an education that is not about the memorization of facts for facts sake, but the nurturing of knowledge—through relationships, through the ordering of their affections. And ultimately pointing them to the knowledge Giver and Creator of all.

“The question is not,— how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education—but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?” – Charlotte Mason, School Education

As we homeschoolers plan for the year to come, let us cultivate an environment that guides our children to build relationships with the knowledge that is set before them. Where facts are not presented as rote memorization in order to pass a test, only to be promptly forgotten when no longer required, but where our children come to a true understanding through relationship with the ideas that the facts are connected to.

“To know by rote, is no knowledge, and signifies no more but only to retain what one has entrusted to your memory. That which a man rightly knows and understands, he is the free disposer of his own full liberty, without any regard to the author from whence he had it, or fumbling over the leaves of his book. A mere bookish learning is a poor paltry learning, it may serve for ornament, but there is yet no foundation for any superstructure to be built upon it.” – Montainge quoted by Karen Glass, Consider This.

What have I gained by knowing the species classification of my tree if I do not care about it?

I plan to study and blog through Charlotte Mason’s 20 principles in a couple of weeks and I’d love for you to join me. If you would like to join me, let me know in the comments. Be sure to grab Brandy Vencel’s study guide, get your copy of For The Children’s Sake, and get reading!

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?

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