Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Commonplace Book....Charlotte Mason

"Thou hast set my feet in a large room, should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul.  Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking - the strain would be too great - but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest.  We cannot give the children these interests; we prefer that they should never say they have learned botany or conchology, geology or astronomy.  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 (Vol 3, School Education, Chapter XVI, p. 170)

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Art of Narration...

"Narrating is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there, in every child's mind, waiting to be discovered, and is not the result of any process or disciplinary education.  A creative fiat calls it forth."   
- Charlotte Mason (Home Education, Part V, section IX, page 231)

Narrate is a verb meaning to give a spoken or written account of.  Narration is one method of a Charlotte Mason education.  It's taking what is heard, mixing it with mindful thoughts and experiences, then telling back or giving an account of, either spoken or written, in your own words.  Comprehension and understanding are a result of narration.  As the child narrates, they must compose their thoughts in order to convey them in an organized meaningful way.  One must understand something in order to tell it back in your own words.  In this way, narration is also preparation for public speaking and composition.   

Let's take a look today at Charlotte's writings on the method of narration....

The simplest way of dealing with a paragraph or a chapter is to require the child to narrate its contents after a single attentive reading, - one reading, however slow, should be made a condition....
- Charlotte Mason (Vol. 3, School Education, Chapter XVI, p. 179)

They must read the given pages and tell what they have read, they must perform, that is, 
what we may call the act of knowing.  
- Charlotte Mason (Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, Book I, Chapter VI, p. 99)

As knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced, children should "tell back" after a single reading or hearing: or should write on some parts of what they have read.  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, summarising, and the like.  
- Charlotte Mason, (Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, Book I, Chapter X Preface, p. 155) 

When the child is six, not earlier, let him narrate the fairytale which has been read to him, episode by episode, upon one hearing of each; the Bible tale read to him in the words of the Bible; the well-written animal story; or all about other lands....The seven-year-old boy will have begun to read for himself, but must get most of his intellectual nutriment, by ear, certainly, but read to him out of books.....The points to be borne in mind are, that he should have no book which is not a child's classic; and that, given the right book, it must not be diluted with talk or broken up with questions, but given to the boy in fit portions as wholesome meat for his mind, in the full trust that a child's mind is able to deal with its proper food.  

The child of eight or nine is able to tackle the more serious material of knowledge; but our business for the moment is with what children under nine can narrate.  

In every case the reading should be consectutive from a well-chosen book. Before the reading for the day begins, the teacher should talk a little (and get the children to talk) about the last lesson, with a few words about what is to be read, in order that the children many be animated by expectation; but she should beware of explanation, and, especially, of forestalling the narrative.  Then, she may read two or three pages, enough to include an episode; after that, let her call upon the children to narrate, - in turns, if there be several of them.  They not only narrate with spirit and accuracy, but succeed in catching the style of their author.  It is not wise to tease them with corrections; they may begin with an endless chain of 'ands,' but they soon leave this off, and their narrations become good enough in style and composition to be put in a 'print book'!

This sort of narration lesson should not occupy more than a quarter of an hour.  

The book should always be deeply interesting, and when the narration is over, there should be a little talk in which moral points are brought out, pictures shown to illustrate the lesson, or diagrams drawn on the blackboard.  As soon as children are able to read with ease and fluency, they read their own lesson, either aloud or silently, with a view to narration; but where it is necessary to make omissions, as in the Old Testament narratives and Plutarch's Lives for example, it is better that the teacher should always read the lesson which is to be narrated.  
- Charlotte Mason (Vol. 1, Home Education, Part V, Chapter IX, p. 232-233) is important that only one reading should be allowed; efforts to memorise weaken the power of attention, the proper activity of the mind; if it is desirable to ask questions in order to emphasize certain points, these should be asked after and not before, or during, the act of narration.  
- Charlotte Mason (Vol. 6, Introduction, p. 17)

There is much to glean in these passages from Charlotte's writings regarding narration including:

- Children should narrate after a single reading.
- Children should not be required to narrate before age six.
- Children before age nine should have required narration books read aloud to them. 
- Children must be given living books that are interesting to them, on level for their intelligence, and written with beautiful literary expression.  No twaddle. 
- The Bible should also be read and narrated.  
- The readings should be consecutive, flowing through the book from beginning to end.  
- The parent/teacher should encourage the child to talk a little about the previous day's reading prior to reading, without explanation or giving away that day's reading.  
- The parent/teacher can use key words written for the child to see prior to the reading to trigger careful listening.
- The reading should allow for short lessons, 2-3 pages, enough to include an episode, and narration, with a total time not taking over 15 minutes.   
-  Do not interrupt a child's narration for corrections.  If you must ask questions or want to talk about a moral point, wait until after the narration is complete.  Do not ask direct questions related to content of passage.  However, you can invite the child to narrate a specific event it it's missed in the original narration.  

Some other thoughts on narration are...
- Beginning narrators should begin with a paragraph and work up to a chapter.  Aesop's Fables are a great place to begin oral narration. 
- After age ten and if a child has mastered oral narration, they may transition to written narration. 
- Even older children new to narration should begin with oral narration.  They should not be expected to move onto to written narration until they have mastered the art of narrating orally.    

Narration does require an act of knowing.  I recently tried it myself with Riley and it took some time to not only remember the passage, but to organize my thoughts in an orderly, intelligent manner.  If you have not tried narration, I encourage you to give it a shot and share your experience by leaving a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts! 

For further reading on living books, see this post.   

Saturday, July 26, 2014

"Books Must Be Living" - Charlotte Mason....

Today, I want to expand on this notion of "living books".  I will also share some of my favorite places to find living books.  To begin, let's look at Charlotte's writings.  She said...

"Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas.  Ideas are of spiritual origin, and God has made us so that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another, whether by word of mouth, written page, Scripture word, musical symphony; but we must sustain a child's inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food." - Charlotte Mason (Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, Book 1, Chapter VI, p. 109)

Living books spark ideas.  They make the subject come alive and feed imagination; like sustenance to the body and nourishment to the mind and soul.  Notice the reference to "Scripture word".  The Word of God (Bible) is a living book.  It gives ideas for life.

"BOOKS MUST BE LIVING -  We recognize that history for him is, to lie in the lives of those strong personalities which at any given time impress themselves most upon their age and country.  This is not the sort of thing to be got out of nice little history books for children, whether 'Little Arthur's', or somebody's 'Outlines.'   We take the child to the living sources of history - a child of seven is fully able to comprehend Plutarch, in Plutarch's own words (translated), without any diluting and with little explanation.  Give him living thought in this kind, and you make possible the co-operation of the living Teacher.  The child's progress is by leaps and bounds, and you wonder why." - Charlotte Mason (Vol. 2, Parents and Children, Chapter XXV, p. 278)  

Living books will help the child build connections with "personalities" of the past.  They will touch emotions.  The characters will come to life and become the child's friend in a way not to be forgotten.  We experienced this over the past school year with books such as This Dear Bought Land by Jean Lee Latham, Wilderness Wife by Etta DeGering, and Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes.  John Smith, Daniel and Rebecca Boone, and great revolutionaries like Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and John Hancock will live on in our mind forever.  These are books I look forward to reading again.  

Most often, living books are written by a single author who is passionate about their subject, lending to a narrative or conversational flow.  Biographies and autobiographies fall into this category.  

"...- children have no natural appetite for twaddle, and a special literature for children is probably far less necessary than the book-sellers would have us suppose....What they (children) want is to be brought into touch with living thought of the best, and their intellectual life feeds upon it with little meddling on our part." - Charlotte Mason (Vol. 3, School Education, Chapter XI, p. 122)

It's not necessary to buy child versions of a book.  Give children primary sources.  Let them explore the life and times through the original written language.   In another passage, Charlotte refers to giving a 7-year old Robinson Crusoe, Tanglewood Tales, and The Pilgrim's Progress.  These were read aloud to the child by an adult in original form, not children's Illustrated ClassicsGive children living books and get out of the way.

"For the children?  They must grow up upon the best.  There must never be a period in their lives when they are allowed to read or listen to twaddle or reading-made-easy.  There is never a time when they are unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told.  Let Blake's 'Songs of Innocence' represent their standard in poetry; De Foe and Stevenson, in prose; and we shall train a race of readers who will demand literature - that is, the fit and beautiful expression of inspiring ideas and pictures of life." - Charlotte Mason (Vol. 2, Parents and Children, Chapter XXIV, p. 263)

There are many references to "twaddle" in Charlotte's writings.  Twaddle is talking down to a child.  It's a dumbed down, diluted version.  Often twaddle will contain short, choppy sentences or cartoon like characters and illustrations.  Living books are well written with "beautiful" language that inspires living ideas, not just dry boring facts.  

I underlined parts of this passage that really spoke to me.  I believe it shows Charlotte's love for mankind, particularly the worth of children, who, in my humble opinion, have become devalued in our society of bigger, better, faster.  We owe it to our children to give them "the best", not necessarily in material stuff, but in ideas, thoughts, and moral values.  Living books can do this.  

"The points to be borne in mind are, that he should have no book which is not a child’s classic; and that, given the right book, it must not be diluted with talk or broken up with questions, but given to the boy in fit portions as wholesome meat for his mind, in the full trust that a child’s mind is able to deal with its proper food." - Charlotte Mason (Vol. 1, Home Education, Part V, Chapter IX, p.232)

Again, original works are best.  Children will delight in "beautiful expression" - language.  Let the classics speak to the child and they will come not only to appreciate, but to "demand" great literature.  

Never allowing children to read or watch twaddle is ideal, but may not be practical in the world we live in today.  Do not despair, I believe it's never too late to start.  And though it may be difficult at first, Charlotte says given to the boy in fit portions, which goes back to the idea of short lessons that will promote the habit of attention, paving the way for ease over time. 

"How injurious then is our habit of depreciating children; we water their books down and drain them of literary flavour, because we wrongly suppose that children cannot understand what we understand ourselves; what is worse, we explain and we question." - Charlotte Mason (Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, Book II, Chapter IV, p. 304)

Here we see another reference to our habit of depreciating children.   Charlotte believed children are born persons and have the innate ability to take what they need, leaving the rest behind.  We do not need to "water down" their books to help them understand.  Also, we do not need to question them for comprehension and give explanations of our interpretations, unless the child asks.   Rather, provide quality literature and living books.  Then back up and let children make their own connections.   When connections are made, ideas will come.  Living books promote thinking! 

Some of my favorite places to find living books are (listed alphabetically)...

All Through the Ages by Christine Miller

Ambleside Online

Beautiful Feet Books

Bethlehem Books

CM Bookfinder

Lamplighter Publishing


TruthQuest History by Michelle Miller

Veritas Press

Yesterday's Classics

I enjoyed reading this article written by Colleen Manning at Ambleside Online.   It furthers the definition of a living book.  

To find out how to use living books, consider reading this post on narration.  

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Silver for General Washington....

Silver for General Washington by Enid LaMonte Meadowcroft is a delightful story!  It's set during the American Revolutionary War through the long hard winter at Valley Forge.  When twelve year old Gil Emmet and his sister, Jen, are sent to live with cousins in Valley Forge, they have no idea how it's going to change their world.   Through high adventure, they learn what it means to be a Patriot and give freely for the cause.  The lively characters make history come alive.  Riley, Ruben, and I thoroughly enjoyed this story.

While researching Meadowcroft, I came across this brief biography and an excerpt of Silver for General Washington.  Unfortunately, this little gem is out of print.  We were blessed with a copy when a small local library closed its doors.  Though the well worn pages are yellowed and falling out, it is a book we will keep on our shelves for generations to come! 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ode to Thomas Jefferson....

"This ball of liberty, I believe most piously, is now so well in motion that it will roll round the globe." 
                                                                                                                                                      - Thomas Jefferson, 1795

I was very fascinated by the life of Thomas Jefferson. Over two hundred years later, I can't help but wonder what he would think of liberty in America today.  Without a doubt, Jefferson's accomplishments helped to make America great, from building Monticello to serving as a member of the Continental Congress, authoring the Declaration of Independence, serving as Governor of Virginia, ambassador to France, U.S. Secretary of State, Vice President of the U.S., President of the U.S., purchasing the Louisiana Territory from France, and opening the University of Virginia.  Did you know Jefferson was also an inventor?  This soft spoken man had many talents.  He believed strongly in the power of eduction and freedom.  He fought for America's future on many fronts.  Jefferson also struggled with the idea of slavery, the loss of his wife and most of his children.  I found Thomas Jefferson to be quite an amazing man! 

While studying the life of Thomas Jefferson with elementary children, some books I recommend are:

Thomas Jefferson: A Picture Book Biography by James Cross Giblin - This beautifully illustrated picture book tells the story of Thomas Jefferson from his earliest memory at age three to his death.  The book shows Jefferson's character and highlights achievements throughout his life.  The end pages offer a timeline of Jefferson's life, quotes from his writings, and a two page tour of Monticello. 

The Story of the Declaration of Independence and The Story of Monticello both by Norman Richards - The Cornerstones of Freedom series give a great factual overview of events in an easy to read form.  I believe they were originally written for older students, but at around 30 pages with a smattering of images, the larger text is suitable as a read aloud for younger children.  I have found them to be historically accurate and the kids love them. 

Journey to Monticello by James Knight - We've read many of Knight's Adventures in Colonial America series this year.  In this series, you can explore the world as it once was, live in a colonial village, build a fort at Jamestown, and fight for independence during the Revolutionary War.  Featuring finely detailed illustrations and exciting stories in the life and times of Colonial America, these books bring history to life.  Other titles in the series are....
  • Blue Feather's Vision: The Dawn of Colonial America
  • Jamestown: New World Adventure
  • Sailing to America: Colonists at Sea
  • The Village: Life in Colonial Times
  • The Farm: Life in Colonial Pennsylvania
  • Boston Tea Party: Rebellion in the Colonies
  • Salem Days: Life in a Colonial Seaport
  • Journey to Monticello: Traveling in Colonial Times
  • Seventh and Walnut: Life in Colonial Philadelphia
  • The Winter at Valley Forge: Survival and Victory
The Hatmaker's Sign: A Story by Benjamin Franklin retold by Candace Flemming - This delightful Five in a Row picture book told in parable form is based on a true-life conversation between Ben Franklin and his friend Thomas Jefferson.  After drafting the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson's pride is hurt when members of the Continental Congress want to change his words and an argument ensues.  Franklin consoles  Jefferson with this tale of a hat maker who tries to create the perfect sign for his shop.  However, on his way to the sign maker's shop, everyone he encounters finds fault with his sign until he comes up with the perfect solution.  The Hatmaker's Sign is a wonderful story!

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Scarlet Letter - Part 1

If you've been reading for a while, you may have guessed that as a self proclaimed bibliophile, I love great books!  But sometimes I get so wrapped up in reading to our children that I don't take time to read for myself.  A while back, while reading this post on LindaFay's Charlotte Mason Help blog, I was struck by the idea of "Mother Culture".  Karen Andreola devotes all of Chapter 46 in A Charlotte Mason Companion to Mother Culture.  In my mind, this notion of the teacher/mother replenishing her soul with a continual supply of ideas is paramount to preventing burnout.  In order to be of great service to our children, we must make time to refill ourselves. Therefore, as part of my New Year's resolution, I vowed to read four classic novels this year as part of my Mother Culture. 

I started the year with The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.   I read the first four chapters back in January/February/March, but because I am only afforded the opportunity to read in small snippets got sidetracked and a little confused.  I set it aside for a week couple of months.  I have since went back and re-read those chapters, because I forgot everything, plus two more.  In addition, I checked out Spark Notes and I think it's finally coming together.

Hester met with her "husband", who is not the father of her child after he spotted her standing on the public square holding her babe and wearing the red letter "A" for adulterer.  I'm wondering about his disability.  I'm also trying to figure out why he left Hester and where he's been.  I did not catch the significance of the rosebush before reading SN.  And how ironic, that Pearl is such a beautiful child with a devil like spirit.  OK, I just re-read this paragraph and realize these are very random thoughts ;-)

After telling a dear friend about my reading, she disclosed that she didn't like the book, nor Hawthorne's writing in general.  So far, I'm liking The Scarlett Letter, though the writing is difficult....not "too hard" difficult, but "need to focus to comprehend" difficult.  I'll let you know if I ever finish..........

Monday, July 14, 2014

Softball & Baseball...

We love softball/baseball here on Drywood Creek!  Our older girls played fast pitch softball for years and now it's time for the younger kiddos.  I think organized sports are a great way to learn cooperation, hard work, ethics, and how to be a team player.   Not to mention, it's great exercise!  I had the wonderful opportunity to help manage Riley's team this year.  Boy, did I learn a lot!  Also, Ruben had his first experience with baseball.  He tried t-ball a few years back, but didn't take an interest in furthering his experience until this year.  Here are some highlights....

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Learning and Living....A Charlotte Mason Study Group

Learning and Living Box Front

As many of you know, I've dabbled in some of Charlotte Mason's methods in our homeschool.  Earlier this spring, I felt a calling to deepen my understanding of Charlotte's methods though I was unsure how to proceed.  I contemplated starting a CM Study Group, but didn't know if I wanted to tackle the task.  However, I felt after seven years of homeschooling, I was ready to dig deeper and advance to the next level...whatever that may be.  
A short time later, Simply Charlotte Mason's new DVD series, Learning and Living - Homeschooling the Charlotte Mason Way was released.  After much thought and prayer, I decided to go ahead and start a CM Study Group utilizing the series as a jumping point.  Last night, I had the privilege of meeting with a dozen other lovely ladies, homeschooling mamas, like me, to kick off our study.  What a treat!

After a bit of social time and introductions, we watched the first DVD in the series, "Meet Charlotte and Her Methods". It covers a brief history of Charlotte Mason's life and an overview of some of Charlotte's methods.  Sonya Shafer does a bang up job of presenting the material.  There are points to pause the DVD for group participation in Charlotte's methods.  Shafer's passion for Mason shines through.   I really appreciated how she presented Charlotte's student motto, "I am , I can, I ought, I will" attaching scripture to each phrase.  

Some of the methods covered are:

Narration - The telling back of a reading in the child's own words.  Shafer gives two opportunities for viewers to practice this method.

Book of Centuries - This method of each student keeping a timeline book, where they can add people and events that interest them as they learn, has intrigued me for some time.  After reading Laurie Bestvater's book, The Living Page, Keeping Notebooks with Charlotte Mason, I wrote a post here on my ah-ha moment regarding the BOC.  

Copywork - Giving children a living idea to practice handwriting by allowing them to copy a passage from their reading.  

Poetry Study - Reading beautiful poetry that sparks living thoughts and ideas.

Prepared Dictation - Charlotte used this method to teach spelling.  Again, Shafer allows seminar participants to practice this method.  

Picture Study - used for art appreciation.  We practiced this method by studying a Millet print for a short time, until we could see it in detail in our mind.  Picture study gives the child an idea of an artist's style.  

I'm looking forward to our next CM Study Group meeting where we'll learn more about narration and the use of "living books".  We plan to gather every two weeks throughout the fall to complete the DVD series.  I will post a follow-up here after each meeting.  If you are interested in learning more about the Charlotte Mason method of teaching, I highly recommend the Learning and Living DVD series.    

For further thought, you may consider reading a four part series I wrote in the spring of 2012 regarding a Charlotte Mason Education....

Part 1 - Who was Charlotte Mason?
Part 2 -  Basic Methods Used in a CM Education
Part 3 - Why did I choose Charlotte's methods for home educating our children?
Part 4 - Q & A

Monday, July 7, 2014

Guns for General Washington...

In January of 1776, Henry Knox attempted what would seem an impossible task.  He led teams of men through three hundred miles of winter mountain wilderness to Fort Ticonderoga to retrieve weapons and ammunition captured during the French and Indian War.  The arsenal was much needed for General Washington's battle to win the American Revolution. 

Guns for General Washington by Seymour Reit is based on the true account of Knox' daunting task.  In preparation for the book, Reit consulted a variety of historians and writers who studied primary source materials including a diary kept by Colonel Henry Knox, reports sent to General Washington, and a story by participant John P. Becker written in a newspaper called the Albany Gazette

The story of Knox' seemingly impossible feat is absolutely amazing!  Reit's historic high adventure tale brings Knox' task to life.  I had no knowledge of this story prior to reading Guns for General Washington.  Once again, I was blown away by the bravery and courage of the men who fought so gallantly to free America.  Riley and Ruben were constantly chanting, "Read another chapter!" throughout the book.  Whether you're like me and have no prior knowledge of Knox' story or your well versed in the story, Guns for General Washington is a book you'll want to add to aid in your knowledge. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Four Year High School Plan in Retrospect....

I'm officially in full planning mode here on Drywood Creek!  Planning just happens to be one of my favorite things :)  I will only have two students this fall after graduating our second child, the first through homeschool, in May.  After seven years of high school between two kids, it seems a bit strange not planning high school this summer. 

A while back, in this post, I talked about creating a four year plan when starting high school.  Recently on the SCM Forum, a question was asked regarding sharing of middle and high school plans.   This prompted me to reflect on our homeschool high school, which I thought I would share here in the hope of helping others in the high school planning mode. 

As mentioned in that former post, this was a fluid document that changed annually until graduation.  Here is the final version showing what curricula we used each step of the way...

 Drywood Creek Academy
Four-Year High School Plan

Required Number of Credits




English including                    Grammar, Composition,     Literature, Speech, & Vocabulary

MFW English
Queen Language Lessons
Wordly Wise 8 (1)
MFW English
Beautiful Feet
Language Lessons (1)
Lightning Lit & Comp
Beautiful Feet
Spelling Wisdom (1)
Beautiful Feet
Commas are our Friends
MFW Speech (partial) (1)

Math –U-See Pre-Algebra (1)

Algebra 1
Keys to Algebra (1)
Math-U- See Geometry (1)
MFW Personal Finance (.5)
Social Studies including                      Geography
   Ancient Civilizations
   World History
   U.S. History

MFW Ancient History (1)
MFW World History
Beautiful Feet (1)
Beautiful Feet U.S. History (1)
Notgrass Government  Never Before in History Under God (1)

Beautiful Feet U.S. History
TruthQuest AOR III  (1)
A Beka Economics  Uncle Eric books (1)

   Physical Science
   Chemistry, Astronomy,
   Physics, Anatomy,
   Marine Biology

Apologia Physical Science w/lab (1)
Apologia Biology w/lab (1)
Chemistry 101 DVDs
TOPS Solutions 12 – labs
The Great Course Chemistry – lecture DVDs
Exploring the World of Chemistry + Misc. Books (1)
Master Books Pre- Med Studies (Anatomy) (1)
    Old Testament
    New Testament

MFW Old Testament (1)
MFW New Testament (1)
MFW Biblical Worldview (1)
MFW Spiritual Disciplines
Starting Points (1)
Physical Education
Physical Education (.5)
Personal Fitness (.5)
Personal Fitness (.5)


Total Health (.5)
Electives – Music; Art; Logic; Ag; Life Skills, Computer, Foreign Language, Culture, etc.
Animal Science (.5)
Typing for Christian Service (.5)
Ag Processing (.5)
Choir & Music Appreciation (1)
Introductory Logic (.5)
Natural History & Outdoor Recreation (.5)

Life Skills (.5)
Art History (1)
Intro to World Cultures(1)

**Please don't get hung up on credit assignment.  There are many ways to go about it.  This just happens to be the way it worked for our family.