Mum To Mom

Musings of an Aussie Mother Living in the USA

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When The Ideal Meets The Real

As I study principles of education, I am reminded that there is a gaping chasm between the ideal and the real. I study educational philosophy because it is my vocation. Educating my kids is what God has called me to do and I want to do it to the best of my ability for the glory of God. But I do not measure up to the ideal. Education in my home is not always joyful, happy, or peaceful. I do not always treat my children with care for their emotions and personalities. I am often times met with bad attitudes (including my own), children who do not want to read the books I have given them to read, and who resist any kind writing with every fiber of their being. But I must not grow weary in doing good. I will never attain the ideal in my home. But I continue to work diligently toward it, knowing that anything that is achieved is not my own achievement but is a result of God’s grace. Educating is humbling. It requires leaning on the Lord for His strength, His help, His comfort. I cannot live the ideal. But He did. And only by His grace can I go forward. He is trustworthy when I fail. He is true when I am false. He is good when I sin. He is beautiful when my best is filthy rags. He is strong when I am weak. He is faithful when I am not. So whether I measure up to the educational standard set by philosophical thinkers that have come before, I can rest in the knowledge that, “all I have needed thy hand hath provided, Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”

To God be the Glory.

We Are Made To Know

Last week, I discussed Charlotte Mason’s principle of authority and obedience. I chose to focus on her exploration of parental authority. This week, I am continuing the discussion by considering the other side of authority: self authority.

Parents have authority in the home, but we need to recognize that our children have been given a certain degree of authority too. Their authority, like ours, has been given by God. Their authority is the responsibility they have for their own learning.

Education Is a Feast

Throughout her philosophy of education, Mason uses the analogy of a feast to describe what education ought to be. Imagine Christmas dinner. When you sit down to share this celebratory meal with your family, you do not expect to be served only one kind of food. If all you got served was meat that was two days old and had already been chewed up for you, you would feel pretty disappointed and would likely not want to eat at all. The expectation is that the Christmas dinner table will be full of all kinds of food—rich, delicious, nourishing food that will feed your body the nutrients that it needs while tasting amazing. There will be plenty and there will be variety. And being a special meal, it will be the best food that the cook is able to produce for such a special occasion. This is the analogy that Mason has in mind when she discusses education. The teacher/parent supplies a well-ordered, varied, and nourishing feast of living books filled with living ideas. Mason explains over and over that ideas are the food for the mind. And ideas themselves are found in living books. These living books should be of the best quality that will nourish the mind with ideas of history, science, geography, art, music, and all areas that touch humanity. Since children are born persons, made in the image of God, their mind has the same capabilities as yours to deal with these ideas for themselves.

Learning Is Their Responsibility

“All school work should be conducted in such a manner that children are aware of the responsibility of learning; it is their business to know that which has been taught.” Vol. 6, pg. 74

Self-authority means that it is up to the children to “deal with these educational offerings in their own way and for themselves.” This is where Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education diverges greatly from the traditional school/teacher mindset of how to educate children. It is tempting to want to hand feed them to make sure they ‘know’ all the facts. To drill them to oblivion to make sure they ‘get’ it all. We, in a sense, want to chew up their food for them. But what does that say about how we view the child? Do we believe that they are capable of dealing with ideas for themselves, or is it necessary to chop it all up and pre-package it with nice little fill-in-the-blank worksheets and comprehension questions? When we chop it all up we have decided for them what their minds should take away from a lesson. Instead of predigesting knowledge for them, the role of the teacher is to provide the best and most nourishing “food” through living books and allow the children to digest the food (ideas) and take what nutrition their mind needs for themselves. Teachers are to give the children the best books and let them do the work of knowing.* This is how they learn to think. Children need to be allowed to develop their own relationships with history, science, geography, and especially God. Lets not deprive their minds of the food’s nourishing properties but instead allow their mind to do its own work.* It is their responsibility to know.

We Are Made To Know

“But to make yourself attend, make yourself know, this indeed is to come into a king-all the more satisfying to children because they are so made that they revel in knowledge.” Vol 6. pg. 77

Remember when you went to the zoo and the children got excited seeing “Prickly Porky” the porcupine and proceeded to tell you all about their quills and their diet because you had read about them with delight in The Burgess Animal Book? Remember when you read Robinson Crusoe to your daughter and she earnestly interrupted you to tell you why Robinson shouldn’t have been complaining, but should have been grateful? Remember when you read that chapter in the history book about the steam engine being built, and she became excited as she remembered reading about the steam engine in her science book, making a beautiful connection between the invention and the time period for herself, while telling you all about it? We are made to know. We are made to revel in knowledge.

Mason’s lofty vision for education is “that children grow to revel in knowledge. That knowledge for its own sake is satisfying.” This might sound idealistic, but if we consider that children are creatures that bear the image of the Creator, isn’t it possible that these children, born with capable minds, are able to know and be satisfied in that knowledge?

It is true that children will not always want to know everything that is set before them. But why should that alter what is offered to them? They should want to know. The responsibility for knowing should be kept with them. Their minds have been created by God for the work of knowing. So as parents, we need to make it clear that this is what God requires of them. They will also learn the habit of wanting to know through a continual offering of the feast. We can hinder our children’s love for learning by repeating lessons instead of requiring them to pay attention the first time around. We can aid this growth by reducing the effort of their decisions through developing routines and habits as part of their school day.* This also removes the constant negotiating of the child to do what he wants to do rather than what ought to be done. This training in “mechanical obedience will set them in good stead for reasonable obedience later.”

Mason explains,

“The man who can make himself do what he will has the world before him, and it rests with parents to give their children this self-compelling power as a mere matter of habit.” Vol 3. pg. 20

Obedience

Parental authority (discussed in this post) and a child’s self-authority are the two conditions which Mason believed were necessary to secure the willing obedience of the children.

“Two conditions are necessary to secure all proper docility and obedience and, given these two, there is seldom a conflict of wills between teacher and pupils. The conditions are,—the teacher, or other head may not be arbitrary but must act so evidently as one under authority that the children, quick to discern, see that he too must do the things he ought; and therefore that regulations are not made for his convenience… The other condition is that children should have a fine sense of the freedom which comes of knowledge which they are allowed to appropriate as they choose, freely given with little intervention from the teacher.” Vol 6. pg.73-74

Children will not always obey all of the time. They are sinners just as we are. We live in a sinful world. Just as we sin and fall short of the glory of God, so too children sin and fall short of the glory of God. They will disobey. There will be times when discipline is required. But Mason believed that the establishment of this principle of authority will give surer footing for both teacher and taught. We will help our children toward obedience when they observe and are taught that parents are under the authority of God just as they are. They are to obey because parents are to obey. We will also help the children by showing them that the responsibility for learning is on them. They will come to understand that if they do not attend, if they do not give their full attention, if they do not make themselves know, they will not know. There is also joy in learning for the child who knows that they have freedom to deal with the educational offerings themselves. They more happily obey because of this freedom. These two principles will help to establish a right thinking of what the role of the parent and the student is and what God has created them for. We have been created to know. We have been created to know Him first, and then to know about what He has created. The responsibility for learning is on each individual for themselves. When this self authority is established, it is more joyfully attended to as we spread the educational feast fit for the minds of these persons.

*how to do this will be discussed in later principles.

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 20 Principles Directory

Don’t Abdicate Your Parental Authority

A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles: Principle 3

The principles of authority on the one hand, and of obedience on the other, are natural, necessary and fundamental…

The ideas of authority and obedience in Charlotte Mason’s 3rd Principle probably seem obvious to most parents. Of course parents are in authority over their children and children ought to obey their parents (although to look at today’s culture, perhaps that is not so obvious anymore). Mason speaks thoughtfully and at length about this principle. She discusses what authority is for both parent and child, what it looks like in homes and schoolrooms, and how to gain the obedience of the child. For the sake of length, I will restrict my discussion today to considering parental authority, and next week, Lord willing, I will discuss authority as it relates to the child.

Parental Authority Is God-Given

Our authority as parents is given to us by God. This is foundational and central to Mason’s principle of authority. Your authority finds its source in God. Stop and think about that for a minute. This is profound. When we truly understand where our authority comes from, it informs and affects everything else that comes out of our parenting. As a gift from God, our authority is to be used wisely for the good of the children and for His glory. Because it is from God, it is not absolute authority. We are not an authority unto ourselves. Mason describes our authority as deputed, meaning it is delegated. We are, in a sense, made His representatives in our homes. We have been deputized to fulfill the duty of raising our children in “the fear and admonition of the Lord.” Our children are not ours, but have been entrusted to us for a time to love and disciple and “train up in the way he should go.” It is for a purpose that God has entrusted this role to us. He has given us this authority as ones also under authority. Mason urges parents to make known to our children that our authority is given by God and we are under His authority just as they are. Mason stresses the importance of this because she believed children will more readily accept and understand their role to submit to our authority when they know it comes from God.

Parental Authority Is Not Arbitrary

Since we are under God’s authority and our authority comes from Him, it should not be arbitrary. This means our authority should not be wielded on a whim or without reason. It should not be unrestrained authority for its own sake, ruling from a height with no intimacy with the children, like some authoritarian dictator. We should not bark out orders like a sledgehammer, with a harshness that shows no care for the hearts and minds of these precious images of God, or encroach on their personhood.

Instead, we should parent in humble recognition and obedience to the God whose authority we are under. Our authority is to be born out of love for God and love for our children.

“Authority is that aspect of love which parents present to their children; parents know it is love, because to them it means continual self-denial, self-repression, self-sacrifice: children recognise it as love, because to them it means quiet rest and gaiety of heart.” Vol. 3, pg.24

Parental Authority Serves

Our role as ones in authority is one of service. Our authority is not self-seeking. It is “…neither harsh nor indulgent,” but is an authority that is “gentle and easy to be entreated in all matters immaterial, just because [it] is immovable in matters of real importance.” (Vol. 1, pg.17)

Mason paints a wonderful picture of how biblical authority in the home provides the best atmosphere for a child to thrive.

“Authority is just and faithful in all matters of promise-keeping; it is also considerate, and that is why a good mother is the best home-ruler; she is in touch with the children, knows their unspoken schemes and half-formed desires, and where she cannot yield, she diverts; she does not crush with a sledge-hammer, an instrument of rule with which a child is somehow never very sympathetic.” Vol. 1, pg.23

Parental Authority Is Not To Be Abdicated

Not only is our authority not to be arbitrary, it should not be abdicated. Parents can be tempted, for the sake of ease or the favor of their children, to abdicate their authority in the same way that a king might abdicate the throne. They can be tempted to give over their God-given authority and obligation to another. This could be by expecting the school to deal with all aspects of raising your child, beyond their education, or defaulting your authority to another family member, or worse still, leaving the child to themselves. We must remember that it is our duty to be good stewards of the authority deputed to us by God, out of loving obedience to Him, for the good of the child.

Parental Authority Is For The Good Of All

Biblical authority is necessary for the good of the child. Our authority is integral to the development of character in children and instruction in right living. If a child is left to themselves to pursue the way that seems right in their own eyes, folly is sure to follow. It is good for the children to “…’faithfully serve, honour, and humbly obey’ their natural rulers”(Vol. 2, pg.14). It is an example of how we are to serve, honor, and humbly obey God.

“parents hold their children in trust for society.” Vol. 2, pg.15

Parental authority is also necessary for the good of society. It is necessary for raising good citizens. When parents abdicate their authority, the result is not only disastrous for the children, but also to society.

“…the child who knows that he is being brought up for the service of the nation, that his parents are acting under a Divine commission, will not turn out a rebellious son.” Vol. 2, pg.17

This does not, of course, guarantee children will heed the instructions of their parents and live godly, productive lives in the service of others, but it gives them the best opportunity and fulfills our God-given role to teach them to love Him and serve others. This is certainly not the message of today’s culture to children, which seems far more concerned with personal happiness than instilling a willing service to others.

Parenting is a difficult yet rewarding vocation. It can sometimes feel like a battleground. But when we look to God as the source of our parental authority, knowing that we too are under His authority, we can be comforted. Because He is good and just, and because He has deemed it so and thus ordered it, He will give us the grace and means to fulfill His God-given purpose for us as parents.

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 20 Principles Directory

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.

Nature Study Notebooking

What’s the Point?

There is no part of a child’s education more important than that he should lay, by his own observation, a wide basis of facts towards scientific knowledge in the future. He must live hours daily in the open air, and, as far as possible, in the country; must look and touch and listen; must be quick to note, consciously, every peculiarity of habit or structure, in beast, bird, or insect; the manner of growth and fructification of every plant. He must be accustomed to ask why––Why does the wind blow? Why does the river flow? Why is a leaf-bud sticky? And do not hurry to answer his questions for him; let him think his difficulties out so far as his small experience will carry him. Above all, when you come to the rescue, let it not be in the ‘cut and dried’ formula of some miserable little text-book; let him have all the insight available and you will find that on many scientific questions the child may be brought at once to the level of modern thought.

Charlotte Mason, Home Education, pg. 264-265

As soon as he is able to keep it himself, a nature-diary is a source of delight to a child. Every day’s walk gives him something to enter: three squirrels in a larch tree, a jay flying across such a field, a caterpillar climbing up a nettle, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider dropping suddenly to the ground, where he found ground ivy, how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, how bindweed or ivy manages to climb.

Innumerable matters to record occur to the intelligent child. While he is quite young (five or six), he should begin to illustrate his notes freely with brush drawings; he should have a little help at first in mixing colours, in the way of principles, not directions. He should not be told to use now this and now that, but, ‘we get purple by mixing so and so,’ and then he should be left to himself to get the right tint. As for drawing, instruction has no doubt its time and place; but his nature diary should be left to his own initiative. A child of six will produce a dandelion, poppy, daisy, iris, with its leaves, impelled by the desire to represent what he sees, with surprising vigour and correctness.

Charlotte Mason, Home Education, pg. 54-55

New and Improved

One of my goals for this new school year was to improve how we did nature study. We had always used regular composition books to draw our object of interest in with pencils or markers. But the ruled lines intersecting all their drawings was not cultivating the delight in notebooking that I had envisaged for my children. So this year I bit the bullet and bought my children quality water color paints and Moleskine notebooks.

Paints

Moleskine Watercolor Notebooks

I was apprehensive about giving the children what I consider to be expensive materials. So I impressed upon them how special these materials were and how these nature notebooks could be something that they treasured. They were to be looked after and respected. A few weeks in and I have been pleasantly surprised at the care with which the children have used these new materials.

They have made two entries in these notebooks so far. There have been a few tears and frustrations because they couldn’t get a tint exactly right, or they couldn’t get the shape exactly right, or they had used too much paint in creating the desired tint thereby “wasting” their precious paint. While these issues were traumatic for my children at the time (you can see some evidence of their frustration in their paintings) I was pleased that they cared enough to be bothered by these issues.

We took our first nature walks of the school year at a friend’s property. We were there to do some school work together (they homeschool too) and to play. These friends have a chicken coop and a number of chickens. My children had such a wonderful time holding and playing with these chickens that they decided they wanted to paint them in their nature books.

G-Age-6

G-Age-6

E-Age-7

E-Age-7

A-Age-9

A-Age-9

None of our family are naturally artistic, so I’m quite pleased with how their paintings turned out.

After another play date, the two older ones drew a different variety of chicken.

E-Age-7

E-Age-7

Age-Age-9

A-Age-9

Nature notebooking had always been a struggle for us, no one (including me) took delight in the activity. Although we have a long way to go, now that we have more appropriate materials, we are enjoying it a great deal more, and it is quickly becoming a favorite time of school.

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