A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to AO…

As you know from earlier posts, I am an Ambleside Online girl. I love the organization of the materials, love the Advisory and the many women who give of themselves to make things run smoothly and I love the community!

However… (ahem)… I have found that I don’t love some of the selected books. I won’t go into detail at this point, but suffice it to say that some of the selections have felt a bit… stodgy?… or a bit… dry?… which is likely just a personal taste issue since I know AO searches for the best living books around.

Let me tell you about a book substitution I’ve tried this year that has really worked for us.

Second grade (Year 2) history is covered in AO by H.E. Marshall’s ‘An Island Story’. I was prepared to LOVE this book- and to this day, I refer to England as ‘the little island’. However, about the time that the White Ship was going down in the channel, I began feeling like the book was simply recounting one battle after another- and each chapter was really long. I was bored. And so was Alex.

So I had to revisit Dear Charlotte’s principals to remind myself that this particular author was not capturing my son’s attention and helping him make connections within the material- I also remember that the wonderful ladies at AO remind us that the book list alone does not a CM curriculum make- it is truly more than the sum of its parts.  I went in search of an appropriate alternative and- thank you Amazon Kindle!- found ‘The Story of the English’ Volumes I and II by Helene Guerber.

Story of the EnglishWe began this book by matching the included chapters to those in AIS. It is closely matched- we began this book at the start of the second semester and went right back to the very beginning of English history. Along with this book, we began a visual timeline- just a simple computer file in which we keep a picture that represents the major event or person in each chapter. We set a brisk pace of three chapters a week so we could finish the year about where AIS would let off at the end of Year 2. This means we do have to spill over into Volume II, but by just a few chapters.

I feel like ‘The Story of the English’ is superior to ‘An Island Story’. Why? Well, first of all, the language is clearer, but in no way talks down to the children. The stories are more succinct, allowing us to gain a feel and flavor of the person or event without dragging us through ‘fluff language’ (that is, language that, to the average reader, would often lead them down the many unnecessary, winding, and often cumbersome paths of language- just like this parenthetical sentence), and there is much more than an account of battle after battle after battle. For example, we have been able to learn about the culture and importance of the Druids to ancient English peoples, have come to celebrate the translation of scripture into the vernacular by both the Venerable Bede and Wycliffe, studied the Bayeux Tapestry, the Magna Carta, Eleanor Crosses, and the formation of Parliament, explored the architecture of the Tower of London and Canterbury Cathedral and much more, all by simply following the chapters in ‘The Story of the English’.  To be fair, as we didn’t finish AIS, I can’t be positive that many of these religious, architectural, artistic and literary events aren’t covered as well as the political and military history of the land, but I do notice enough differences in content and tone that I’m glad we made the switch.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Long time, no see…

Hey Friends!

It’s been a long while since I posted- much has changed with our family, but I am feeling a need to once again process our homeschool journey.

So, since I last posted in 2013 (!), we have:

    • Moved to a new town about an hour away from our old community. Culturally, Lancaster County PA (of Amish and Mennonite fame) is a million miles away from our old home town. There are actual homeschoolers here! And organized co-ops! Which brings me to-
2013 Christmas in the new house

2013 Christmas in the new house

  • We joined a co-op. We’re actually at the end of our second year of co-op (I’ll have to write some time about my endeavor to teach an Kindergarten-level Aesop’s Fables class in a Charlotte Mason style).
Fae in co-op

Fae in co-op


  • Alex is finishing second grade- Year Two of Ambleside Online- and as June 30th of this year, I will be submitting my first official paperwork to the state of Pennsylvania as a homeschooling family.
Alex with a cool Lego creation.

Alex with a cool Lego creation.


  • Alex as a British soldier in a play he and the homeschooling neighbor kids put on July 4, 2014

    Alex as a British soldier in a play he and the homeschooling neighbor kids put on July 4, 2014. Fae is an American villager in the background.

  • Fae is finishing Kindergarten- Year 0 in AO- and my experience homeschooling her has been so strange. Another post about the differences between Alex and Fae will surely follow.
  • All smiles getting her ears pierced in December 2014

    All smiles getting her ears pierced in December 2014

    Fae painting

    Fae painting

  • The Lord has moved me- way sooner than expected- into a midwifery apprenticeship. So I am homeschooling my kiddos every day (education is a LIFE after all), doing formal academics three to four days a week and I am also serving Amish/Mennonite families in Lancaster as a midwifery apprentice. I’ve become a ‘working homeschooling mom’ and have had to learn all about how to make both callings work. I am really trusting the Lord with this process. Yet another post about alternative education methods to come!
  • Home schooling midwifery education

    Home schooling midwifery education

So here we are at the beginning of 2015, homeschooling a kindergartner, a second grader and a mom leaning fully on the grace of our Lord as we move through life. I added lots of pictures to this post to bring you up to speed on how things have been over the last couple of years- glad to be back and honored to have you with me!

We're all in for quite a ride...

We’re all in for quite a ride…

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Life with Dear Charlotte

Getting Into The Game

One of the things that most homeschoolers hear when they decide to homeschool is “Well, what about the socialization?” And most homeschoolers roll their eyes and share many thoughts about public school socialization from ‘I’ve seen the village and I don’t want it socializing my child!’ to ‘I don’t really want my child being socialized in such an unnatural way’ to ‘children don’t get to truly socialize in school- they get to have their relationships controlled and managed’. One thing homeschoolers often say is “Homeschooled kids socialize in a TON of different, real world ways- sports, clubs, church, volunteering, co-ops, etc”… And this is true- homeschool kids DO participate in more NON-academic organizations/activities than their public-schooled counterparts do.

But for someone like me, who has intended to homeschool my children since I was in public school myself, there comes a time when we actually have to involve our kids in those activities. Alex is 6 1/2. He’s finally at an age when he’s old enough to participate in community activities- mostly sports. My husband played baseball as a kid from age 5 through 13 (when he went to work in a gravel pit, ya know- cause that’s what all 14 year olds do), so we asked Alex if he thought he’d like to play this year. Well, Wii Sports baseball was fun, so he enthusiastically agreed.


We happily bought him a bat, glove, helmet and cleats. My hubby took him out to practice (Alex wasn’t really that interested in practicing- he’d rather run around looking at flowers and pretending to be a super hero) and we eagerly awaited Alex’s first ‘socialization’ activity…

When the practices began, my hubby took him to the first few. Alex came home happy, my husband reporting that he’d done alright for a first year player. Then I took Alex to a practice. Alex’s skills are clearly not up to the other kids’ who likely played T-ball last year. The coaches (SO GRATEFUL for these kind men) worked patiently with Alex giving him opportunities to improve his skills. Alex often had to use a T instead of being able to hit the coach’s pitch and he found playing in the dirt more interesting that following what the next kid at bat was doing.

But I- who went through public school- was aware of the other children’s grumbling. The coach put a quick stop to the criticism of his team mates, and Alex didn’t even notice they’d been saying anything about him. I did, though, an a sickening doubt filled my gut. These other kids could hurt Alex’s feelings so quickly- a few bullying statements could break his heart! Should we pull him out of baseball? But isn’t this the ‘real world socialization’ we as homeschoolers felt so sure we’d offer to our kids?

During one game, the boys in the dug-out (what I described to my husband as the cage they keep the boys in- yeah, baseball knowledge not so expansive here) were picking at each other. I could see that it was puppy-ish exuberance and they were tipping one another’s hats off their heads. They attempted to tip Alex’s hat off and he was so offended he came stomping out of the dug-out to tell me the other boys were being mean to him. We tried to reassure him that they boys were trying to play with him, even if it was annoying play… he didn’t seem convinced, but he marched back into the dug out and sat at the far end of the bench keeping a wary eye on the boys.

I spoke to my husband about it- we decided we’d follow Alex’s lead. If he felt unhappy or bullied, we’d pull him out of baseball. Alex continues to enjoy baseball and to look forward to his games. His skills are improving- he even got THREE HITS in one game last week! And between his coaches and the pointers my husband and I have been giving him- all received openly- Alex’s field skills are also improving. Or, at least he’s trying really hard and enthusiastically.


One morning, Alex asked me if what would happen if he let his team down. I wanted to use this conversation in an empowering way- it IS possible that his team might be unhappy with him. We may not always please those around us- but how to we handle these situations? I asked him, “Are you worried you might let your team down?” and he replied that he was. So I asked him “What do you think you could do to not let your team down?” and he said he could practice his skills more. So we did. And IF Alex does let his team down, I want to reassure him that doing is best- not pleasing everyone all the time- should be his goal.

It’s been strange for us, wondering if it’s the right time to involve Alex with those extracurricular activities, wondering about the value of failure in our boy’s history, wondering how he’ll navigate any situation when he feels put down OR when he feels supported (as he did when the boys chanted his name while he was at bat). This whole situation is FILLED with pitfalls and possibilities and has really revealed our own insecurities. But Alex is happy and this is the kind of ‘real life’ we homeschoolers pride ourselves on. We’ll simply have to trust that our boy will get the kind of lessons from life that he needs to be successful…




(Content below this line is not TSotD generated. Please disregard.)

1 Comment

Filed under Daily Life with Dear Charlotte

Rewording of Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles- Part II

Part I of this series was begun so long ago, and yet I still receive requests to continue! I must admit, part of the reason I haven’t moved on in this series is because I’ve been stumped about how to handle the following section. I feel inadequate to the task to flesh out what Dear Charlotte gifts us to use for our little ones’ education. But I will do my best and I ask that you discuss freely in the comments!

To continue our discussion of dear Charlotte’s 20 Principles, we’ll look at what we CAN do to teach our children. I don’t know about you, but after reading all the ‘thou shalt nots’ of number 4, I wondered what was possibly left! Thankfully, Charlotte gives us some really excellent thoughts about how to best teach our littles.

5. The only means a teacher may use to educate children are the child’s natural environment, the training of good habits and exposure to living ideas and concepts. This is what CM’s motto “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life” means.

So here are the three weapons in the Charlotte Mason educational arsenal; environment, habits, ideas. Three simple, powerful ways parents can influence their children toward education. A more detailed of each follows.

6. “Education is an atmosphere” doesn’t mean that we should create an artificial environment for children, but that we use the opportunities in the environment he already lives in to educate him. Children learn from real things in the real world.

In my mind, this point of educational philosophy is placed squarely in the parents’ laps. This isn’t about what a parent can ‘work up’ to create a child-centered atmosphere- imagine preschools where the environment has been carefully engineered to be childish- instead, this point sees that child as an appropriate part of the existing environment. And the existing environment of the home is the exact right place for education to take place.

What are our homes like? What would an ideal environment look like? I believe that Charlotte is advocating for an environment that is rich in things an educated *person* (not simply child) should have a relationship with. In my mind’s eye, I’m envisioning a garden filled with flowers, vegetables and herbs to be tended, handled, prepared and consumed- so the child is not only learning *about* the plants, but is also learning about the *life* of the plants. I see a library that is full of living books that speak with the voice of the author- here the child meets them one by one and spends many an hour ‘discussing’ their stories and views of the world. Here, too, the child brings the authors together to compare and contrast their ideas and then, to add his or her own. I see a telescope, an abacus, walls filled with maps, pets to tend, instruments to play, and friends to pray with and to enjoy.

Daybreak 2007

The environment in which we rear our child should be nourishing- emotionally, spiritually, educationally. We should fill our lives with the things and experiences that draw us to a deeper place in our community, ourselves, our God.

M.F. Jerrold once wrote in the Parents National Education Union newsletter, “…there is nothing in the way of direct teaching that will ever have so wide and lasting effect as the atmosphere of the home… the atmosphere emanates from ourselves- literally is ourselves; our children live in it and breathe it and what we are is thus incorporated into them.”

There was never a scarier or more wonderful thing written concerning how we may educate our children. Being the living, breathing example we wish our kids to follow is one powerful way to educate them. Allowing them to see us being self-disciplined, kind, interested in the world, curious, loving, humble, happy, thankful, careful- just letting them see good things in us- is one third of a Charlotte Mason style education.

But that means that the opposite is also true- our laziness, stinginess, apathy, pride, callousness, anger, discontent, carelessness- all these things may ALSO be a part of what our children are breathing in (gulp!).

Let’s start with an honest appraisal of our children’s environment, our educational atmosphere. Then, let’s continue with prayer and seek the Lord to help us in the areas we are weak. Let’s not get stuck in guilt and shame over the things we struggle with- let’s instead allow our children to see us admitting our sin & the places we fail. This is a good lesson for our children to learn.

7. “Education is a discipline” means that we train a child to have good habits and self-control.

Here is Charlotte’s expression for the need for order. One of my favorite new ideas is ordo amoris (discovered via one of my favorite blogs of the same name) which was described by C.S. Lewis (in the Abolition of Man) thusly:

“St Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it.Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in ‘ordinate affections’ or ‘just sentiments’ will easily find the first principles in Ethics; but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science. Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful.”

I believe that likening education to a discipline means setting all things in their proper order- facts, experiences, and relationships. Our first discipline is a right relationship with God- our relationship with *everything* else is determined by this primary discipline being in the right place. When this first discipline is in place, we can rightly discern everything else- astronomy flows *from* God and points back to Him; Algebra comes *from* God and reflects back to Him; Poetry comes *from* God and reflects back to Him.

So, as parents, we acknowledge the need for good discipline- good order- in our lives. And we assist our children to create good discipline/habits from childhood to assist them as they discover ordo amoris in their own lives. So we help them practice simple disciplines- obedience to parents, making the bed each morning, completing a task well and thoroughly.

But, to me, this isn’t only about what we love most, it’s about the process of discerning what is most worthy of our love. So our children walk the pathways with various authors, listening to their ideas, studying the impact of those ideas on history and then comparing both to what they know is right. For our children who have discovered God’s primary place in his/her world, they will be comparing the ideas to scripture. For our children who have not discovered God’s primary place, they will be comparing the ideas to the vein of man’s morality. Either way, they are gaining the discipline of weighing the *worth* of an idea- as adults do.

8. “Education is a life” means that education should apply to body, soul and spirit. The mind needs ideas of all kinds, so the child’s curriculum should be varied and generous with many subjects included.

Education is not only what is learned in books. Education is discipleship. Education is child rearing. So, then, education is the sum of the life we give to our children. It’s the books we read, the math problems we solve, the garden we tend, the courses we run, the instruments we play, the cultural events we attend, the church we serve in- EACH of these together are the sum of education. Just as a child needs a well-rounded diet for proper physical health, a child needs a well-rounded set of experiences and exposures for educational health. So a child needs books and art and exercise and a chance to work. All the many things that we call ‘life’ are, indeed, education and come together to inform the child about the world we all live in and his place in it.

We see the value of our child ‘tasting’ many different dishes so s/he may discover what kinds of food are most to his/her liking. So we spend time exploring as many kinds of ideas & experiences as we can knowing that our child will begin making the connections that are appropriate to him. This *life* is not about memorizing rote facts for the sake of knowing rote facts, but is about discovering one’s individual gifts and talents. As our children discover aptitudes and affinities, s/he is also discovering callings to service and his/her own path to wholeness. And isn’t that the real goal of education? To adequately prepare a child to pursue passions, to live independently and to serve well?

Well, my friends, I certainly hope the post has been worth the wait! And I hope to continue the series sooner rather than later. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these points!


Filed under Family Discipleship, Masonian Educational Philosophy

Things That Change a Life

I’m stealing a few moments to write in because my kids, somehow, are all still sleeping! Ah, silent home…

My poor homeschooling blog, which I really enjoy, has been squeezed to the side the past few months. I do apologize to anyone who was actually enjoying the things I’ve shared. But I wanted to give a quick update as to why I’ve been so quiet.

Firstly, I’m moderating over on the new AO Forum. It’s an excellent resource for all things Charlotte, so if you aren’t over there, please join us! I’m leading a Count of Monte Cristo Book Discussion and it’s going really very well. You can still join us- read like mad to catch up and then share for the second half of this novel.

Secondly, I am a working woman! Well, to be fair, I’ve been working hard on my birth/breastfeeding related business ever since Fae was born, but things have ramped up since the spring. I work at least 15 hours a week writing, teaching, etc. New and exciting opportunities have opened up before me and the best part is- I get to do most of my work once the kiddos are tucked up tight in bed for the night. Homeschooling is protected!

And speaking of, homeschooling is going really, really well this Alex (and tag-along Fae) this year. Alex is full-out reading, so no more lessons except for the practice of reading things. He’s doing addition to 8 now and we’re all very much enjoying our literature, poetry and history reading. (list below)  Nature study has been an especial joy for us- we’ve found a new rocky river beach to visit filled with crayfish, acorns, cranes, minnows… Alex and Fae love wading in the water and just watching what moves!


Yes- they are holding hands as they face a monstrous crayfish!


Our books: Winnie the Pooh, My Father’s Dragon, The Hobbit, Stories of American Life and Adventure, Burgess Animal Tales, among the Forest People, The Red Fairy Book, and The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter.

And also speaking of homeschooling, I am now homeschooling a teenager. Yup. For many, many reasons, Brian and I decided to bring Selena home from school. Now Selena is *everything* your homeschooling friends warmed you public schooled kids are: apathetic, behind, unresponsive, etc. But, we knew this would be best for her on many levels so we discussed our concerns with her. She didn’t resist. We were surprised that she seemed relieved to be removing all unnecessary stressors from her life and her education.

So there I was, tasked with putting together an education for a sophomore, of course I turned to AO. I quickly realized that Selena would in no way be able to handle a full Year 10. Or a lite Year 10. So I went to a lite Year 8 and then slimmed it down…

Selena’s been a trooper. She’s been willing to try, but even after cutting everything except a paired down AO (or more correctly House of Education) Literature and History, she’s still struggling. So we’re going to a text-book (sigh) for History. In the three years of schooling she has left, I want Selena to learn to think about things she’s told, not to just passively receive and regurgitate. I’ve had her narrate everything via a journal both Literature, Grammar and History and we’ll continue that even with the text-book.

Selena’s schooling looks like this:

Literature: The History of English Literature for Girls and Boys by HE Marshall; Poetry: John Donne & selected Shakesperean sonnets; Shakespeare in Film: Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V and Othello (with selected reading); Independant Reading: Little Women and A Christmas Carol (on Audio). I’m going to ask her to do a small project when she’s completed a selection, but I don’t know what that will look like, just yet.

History: We’ve chosen British History by John Stobaugh (which is a book written by a single author. I hope, hope, hope it will capture her imagination!) to replace Churchill’s Volume II, she is mapping England, and is reading biographies of important people in British history. These are all journaled and she’ll have a test at the end of each week on her textbook readings. She also has a weekly PA history research assignment and two current event articles to read that she narrates orally.

At the end of the semester, she’ll take an oral exam in which she’ll share her overall thoughts and impressions about her Literature selections and will share what she knows about the English Reformation.

Math: We’ve selected the Algebra Survival Guide by Sally Blakemore along with the accompanying workbook. She completes almost a chapter per week along with about 50 practice problems. She has a quiz each Friday.

Science:  Selena is completing CK12.org’s biology course. We may split this up into two sections Biology I being completed this year and Biology II (the second half of this course) next year. Selena is not science minded, so the short lessons, videos and online quizzes work for her. I offered to find a way to add a lab to this and she wasn’t interested.

Overall Impressions: Selena is actually working diligently at her studies, even with those that aren’t to her liking. I think she’s expanding her mind a bit and I’ve had to find a way to balance the desire to push her toward growth and respecting her individual needs (which have been shaped by her last decade plus of inadequate education). But she’s working and she’s responding. It’s been nice to hear her thoughts about Every Man (a 12th century morality play- she liked it!), the events in Gaza recently and to see her working with her uncle on Algebra. I feel she’s more connected to us as a family and she is thriving under an education that has been and will be adjusted to fit her needs.

So that’s my update, friends! I hope you’ve found a little nugget of something to enrich your own schooling here and I hope (hope, hope!) to be able to post again soon. This week is Thanksgiving and the first Sunday of Advent. Lots of good richness for family life and I hope to share what ours is like!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Pigeon Milk

A few months ago, Alex and I had a disagreement.  He asked what baby pigeons eat and I told him they eat bugs and such. He disagreed and told me they eat milk as babies. I calmly explained that, no- birds are not mammals and only mammals produce milk for their young. He said he’d seen on a nature show that baby pigeons eat milk. I explained that he’d misunderstood- birds are not mammals and only mammals make milk. He insisted that baby pigeons eat milk. So, I said that he misunderstood and just let it go without further exploring the idea since I knew I was right (bad homeschool mommy!). Even though he was willing to drop it, I knew he still believed that pigeons make and drink milk.

Alex was right. Pigeons make and eat milk.

I recently saw this on Facebook:



And it got me thinking… the teacher above (if this isn’t just a mock-up to make a point) wants the student to be quiet and allow erroneous teaching, likely so the class can run smoothly. But the little boy refuses to allow an incorrect teaching to stand. He won’t allow the falsehood (intentional or mistaken) be left alone. I can imagine that the teacher felt the boy was being disrespectful, questioning his reasoning, his ability to think, his authority over the class even.

This picture made me think of that event with Alex- he’d insisted he was right about the pigeon milk. He knew what he’d seen- had been taught and had demonstrated before him- and he wasn’t willing to allow me to dissuade him…

In some ways, I guess it would be easy to have a pliable kid- really, Alex is generally pretty easy-going. But when I read the letter in the picture above and I remember that my son was willing to stand up for what he knew was right, it makes me feel good. I want my son to question. I want him to think independently and to take the sum of his knowledge and experience and to stand firm when he knows he’s right. There’s never a need for genuine disrespect (which I believe the teacher above is showing to his students)- disrespect is a failure to appreciate the imprint of God in others and to treat them without regard for that imprint. Questioning is not disrespect.

The flip side of that coin is humility. Alex needs to allow others to find their own path to Truth- he can’t spoon feed it (like pigeon milk) to others. Sometimes they have to find things out for themselves- like his mama did when I saw the nature program myself a few weeks later. Humility also demands that we question ourselves and our own understandings and beliefs when others challenge us. Instead of stubbornly sticking a point, humility allows us to ask the question again- even if our original answer is confirmed.

I hope that my son is gleaning from Brian and I the ability to stand firm, to allows others room for their own exploration and the ability to graciously accept correction when we are wrong. I hope these are the kinds of lessons that my kids are getting from us- their imperfect teachers and parents.

But I am really proud that Alex stood his ground. And pigeons make milk- who knew!?!

1 Comment

Filed under Family Discipleship

The place of virtue in the Christian home

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how children become the adults they become. Specifically, I’ve been pondering the ways in which ‘unpleasant’ things like responsibility, duty, and honor are learned. I know that some families have specific instruction in these topics, selecting stories or studies that focus on a specific character trait. But people were responsible long before someone wrote a curriculum about it. People displayed duty and honor without being told they should be dutiful and honorable. Even people who aren’t Christians can be and are responsible, dutiful and honorable… How? How have some people been able to instill these qualities in their kids? Install? Perhaps it’s just gleaned?

I have heard a lot of derision against the idea of Christian parents raising ‘righteous pagans’ almost as if we parents, by the quality of our parenting, can somehow convert our children into Christ-followers (look- no saving relationship required! Just be sure to read the Bible every night and don’t squash their little spirits and souls and they’ll love God!).  I don’t believe we can ‘raise up’ Christians. We can certainly ‘raise up’ church-ified kids who know how to talk the talk, but we cannot create salvation in our children. Ultimately, their spiritual state is between them and our Father.

So what does it mean to raise up’ children in the way they should go? What can it possibly mean since people don’t inherit holiness or salvation from their parents?

I’ve been thinking a lot about those righteous pagans. Sometimes (thanks Literature degree), I think about Dante’s ‘virtuous pagans’ who occupy the first (least horrible) circle of hell. These people are composed of the good people of the world who don’t know Jesus (perhaps an imagining of where He went during His 3 days in the tomb?). People like Virgil and Homer and Ovid- people who did nothing ‘bad’ and actually did some good things and yet, due to the basic corruption of all flesh apart from Christ, cannot enter Heaven…

Can Christian parents do anything BUT raise virtuous pagans? Since we can’t ‘save’ our kids- they need their own personal relationship with Jesus to do that (and we don’t control their hearts)- what ‘s the best we can do for our kids?

I’ve been thinking about my parenting instincts- why is it important that my kids learn to clean up after themselves? Why is it important that they know how to complete a project, offer people basic respect, understand how to accept ‘No’ without a melt down? It’s because the BEST I can give my kids is virtue- not holiness.

Virtue (perhaps Dear Charlotte would have called this magnanimity?)- is the ability to choose a way that is higher than base flesh. It’s the ability to exercise some control over the corrupt flesh. Virtue tells the man- Christian or not- that he must provide for his family and be faithful to his wife, even if his flesh pulls him toward self-indulgence and lust (second and third circles of hell, by the way). Virtue is what tells a woman she should give out of her own need and strive for a patience, even when she wants to hoard her money and scream whenever her will is frustrated (fourth and fifth circles). Instilling (allowing children to glean?) virtue in our children does two things for them:

First, on a completely material level, virtue allows our children to live quiet, peaceful, secure lives whether they become Christians or not. Since we can’t ‘bestow’ salvation, regardless of how well we parent, virtue literally IS the best we can possibly do for our kids. Virtue is what creates reliable employees (who then have some job security and basic material needs met), peaceful families (who then have fulfilled personal lives) and strong communities (who are then able to care for one another when times are hard). Virtue is the key to peace with this world.

Second, practiced virtue is a support to a Christ-following lifestyle. The child who has been taught to complete a task in honor of his parents has an easier time completing a task in honor of his God. The girl who understands what it means to deny her flesh and clean her room even when (especially when) she doesn’t feel like it, will better be able to deny her flesh and honor her God even when (especially when) she doesn’t feel like it.

Our witness of God’s intervention in our own lives is lived out in spirit and truth, word and deed in front of our children every day (Lord please cover my failings!) to invite our children to remember their Creator, to accept His invitation to make them new. But a careful and intentional focus on virtue is  the most loving gift we can give our children of our own power. Let’s not overlook it.


Filed under Family Discipleship

Alex’s Year 0 In Review- Geography

Yesterday I sat down to look at our schedule to see where exactly we are in our school year. Imagine my surprise when I discovered we actually aren’t behind (regardless of how I felt about the schedule the night before). We’re currently in week 34 of our 36 week ‘regular’ school year.

So now I’m reflecting on the work that we’ve done this year- how far we’ve come, what worked and what didn’t. Since this was a kind of ‘practice’ year of the Ambleside Online curriculum (as will be next year- Year .5), it’s so nice to be able to sit back and think everything through so I can make adjustments for next year (even though we’re schooling year-round and will beginning a summer term soon)…

Geography is exciting to me personally. I enjoy learning the topography of countries and regions and about the culture of the people who live there. I’ve been excited to introduce geography/cultures/social studies to my son (and daughter- Fae always follows along).

This year, I decided to slowly read through Jane Andrews’ ‘The Seven Little Sisters Who Live on the Round Ball That Floats in the Air’. Yeah, it’s a mouthful. Seven Sisters contains stories of little girls & their families who live in different regions of the world. The regions covered include those belonging to:

  • The Little Brown Baby- South America OR South East Asia/jungles (we chose South America)
  • Agoonak- the Arctic circle
  • Gemela- Arabian desert
  • Jeanette- Switzerland/mountains
  • Pense- China/rivers
  • Maneko- Africa/grasslands, and;
  • Louise- Germany/river valley

We would begin each section by looking at a huge map of the area. We’d discuss the physical characteristics of that area (climate, flora, fauna, natural resources which are all conveniently pictured in our atlas) and we’d compare the location to where we live on the little globe we own (I’d use words like ‘moving east’ or ‘south of where we live’). This generally took about ten minutes, but the kids enjoyed looking at the maps and talking about what animals could be found in the area. Then I’d begin reading about that Little Sister- each section begins with a short description of the Sister herself. After the first reading, I’d print out a picture from the internet of a girl in cultural dress that could be the Sister we were discussing.

This picture was placed in a manila file folder- we wrote the Sister’s name and her region next to the picture. This is the beginning of a Charlotte Mason-friendly ‘lap book’ (my apologies to those who create *real* lapbooks. *Real* lapbooks are beautiful, detailed and very directed. Ours is none of those things.)

Our first ‘lapbook’

We’d read for about 5 minutes twice a week. When we finished, I’d ask Alex what he remembered from the reading (proto-narration) and we’d jot down words around the picture. The next time we would read, we’d look at our picture of the Sister and would read/discuss the words we’d selected thus far.

I supplemented/supported geography lessons by selecting story books from the library about or from each region. I genuinely enjoyed some of these books and will have to write more about them later. We also have a world folk tale treasury- I would select a few folk tales from each region and would read those as well. This worked well as these picture books became our ‘Free Reading’ for the year. Sometimes, we’d watch a cooking or travel show that focuses on cuisine from a particular region (the cooking and travel shows on CREATE/PBS were wonderful for this purpose!)

What did I like about Seven Sisters? It’s written beautifully directly TO the child and my kids began talking about each Sister as if she were a real child they know. Used as I described above, I found this book a good ‘spine’ upon which to begin discussing world cultures with my kids.

However… I do not think I will be using this resource the next time around with Fae. In my opinion, the book stereotypes each region/culture and is, in some places, blatantly racist (for example foot-binding of little girls is discussed in the China section and in the African section, the narrator says that ‘we’ should not consider Maneko’s “wooly” hair beautiful. In fact, if Maneko knew any better, she’d want to be just like us). Yikes. It’s even worse when I write it out like that… And yet, that’s how the book reads. I found myself editing SO much and being genuinely disturbed by the way other cultures are presented by the narrator.

If I had it to do over again (and I do with Fae), I am going to use the supporting resources as the main resources. We’ll select a region, look at the map/atlas and will read lots of picture books and folk tales from that region. For Year 0, that’s plenty as far as geography is concerned.


Filed under Daily Life with Dear Charlotte, Masonian Educational Methods

Lessons Learned In The Meantime…

It’s been weeks since I’ve posted and, as of today, it’s been weeks since we’ve ‘done school’. I look at my wonderful 36 week curriculum schedule with all my subjects neatly lined up and realize that we’re weeks ‘behind’. I say ‘behind’ even though the beauty of this system is that it holds a fantastic amount of flexibility for my family. We can easily move days around, or work within a specific subject- it’s just awesome like that (thanks to the original Ambleside Online moms who actually created the schedule)…

And yet, I’ve been feeling ‘behind’. Life has gotten in the way of school. Oh, I know that education is the sum of what our children take into themselves and that includes all the lessons learned along the way that are not planned or scheduled, but still, lately, I’ve been asking myself what has been worthwhile during this pause in our official schooling? What have my children been learning while we’ve been away from school?

At the end of March my 15-year-old niece came to live with us. The situation has been unsettled and there is much healing to be done in her heart and mind. When Selena came to stay, all of us in the household had to make adjustments. School time became shorter as I handled phone calls, doctor appointments and therapy sessions. We think that perhaps this week the custody agreement might be finalized and Selena might legally be in our care for the forseeable future.

I ask myself ‘what have my children learned from this new living arrangement’?  It doesn’t take much to see they’ve learned that there’s enough space and love for everyone in our home and that no one gets left behind. They’ve seen that we all matter and that doing the right thing is sometimes hard and requires sacrifice. The atmosphere of this home lately has demonstrated that family is deeply important, but that ‘doing’ family isn’t always easy. Sometimes there is conflict, and we need the Lord so much to know the right way to behave and respond.

Then, about a month ago, our little family traveled to my in-laws to assist them after my mother-in-law’s knee surgery. Since they live just south of Erie, PA we took the opportunity to do some Charlotte-y things like visiting the lake and collecting lake-stones from the beach, spotting red-winged blackbirds for the first time, and visiting a small homestead to discover how the family lives almost completely self-sufficiently (lots of handicrafts going on there!).

Alex, Selena & Fae at the Lake

But during this trip they also learned how to sit quietly next to a fragile loved one and just spend time together. They learned that their presence and beautiful hearts can truly lift the spirits of someone going through something hard. They learned that we can all work together to get the job done and that fun happens in spite of hardship.

The day after we returned from our 9 day visit with the in-laws, I traveled to Albany, NY to collect my youngest sister and her two children. She has an almost 2-year-old daughter and her baby girl is about a month old now. For the past two weeks, we played host and opened our home to them. In this case, my kids learned something about generosity and being hospitable. They learned how to expand their circle of two to include their young cousin. They watched my sister faithfully care for her sweet newborn. They saw how we simply swept them into our daily life and made more room at the table. I think they saw how joy can come from giving one’s self to others. We all cried a little this past weekend as we waved goodbye to the plane that carried this precious little family away to Florida to my mother and grandmother.

As I sit here writing about some of the lessons I think my kiddos might have been receiving from Brian and me (and, mostly, from the Lord Who is their Great Teacher), I realize that the past two months have been opening and deepening the way my children understand family. They are seeing how we, their parens who are trying to live a life that is pleasing to our Savior, seek to serve and care for those around us. I am not patting myself on the back- doesn’t scripture say that even pagans care for those who care for them?- but these are good lessons for any child to learn…

These past months have been filled with lessons about faith, family, service, love, hardship, pain, joy and hope. The kids have learned these from real life instead of our beloved living books, from the script the Father has provided instead of the curriculum I’ve out together. And I’m ok with that; I’m ok with Life being my children’s Teacher.


Filed under Daily Life with Dear Charlotte, Family Discipleship

Poetry Surprise

As you know, we are currently doing an informal Year 0 since Alex is in Kindergarten. One of the topics I’ve been so excited to broach with my kiddos is poetry. As suggested, we began Term I with Poems and Prayers for the Very Young by Martha Alexander. The kids seemed… tolerant… of the poems. Sometimes they expressed enjoyment, but mostly the words seemed to wash over them and- as Alex is too young to require narration- I’d just let it lie. I knew the words, the rhythm and some of the images were working their way into his mind…

Term II brought us A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. The children did not connect *at all* with the poems in this book. I’d find one that seemed really delightful and would read it several times over a few days hoping for a spark of interest- nuthin’.

Well, I deviated from the recommended Year 0 selections for Term III. But, as a dear friend reminded me when I dithered about using an ‘unapproved’ book, this is *our* education we’re giving to *our* children. It’s ok to make a substitution to include a selection that is particularly meaningful to us.

And so we began Term III Poetry using Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. I don’t know what others think of this poetry collection as far as meeting dear Charlotte’s criteria for living books. It is written by a single author who is passionate about his subjects. But his tone is markedly different from the other poetry we’ve read. It’s… saucy. It’s clever. It explores the magic of the everyday and reveals the character of children in a way I haven’t seen in any other poetry.

But my favorite- my absolute favorite- thing about the poems in WTSE is the way they promote the endless possibilities that are available to us in life.

Consider the poem my kiddos are memorizing this Term:

 The Invitation

If you’re a dreamer, come in.

If you’re a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a hoper, a prayer, a magic-bean buyer

If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire.

For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.

Come in! Come in!

Ok folks, when I read this poem to Alex and Fae, their eyes grew round as saucers and they held stock-still. My whispery, conspiratal delivery invited them into to the world Silverstein has created that delights in children and understands both their wonder of the world and their sometimes less-than-perfect behaviors. It’s been only a few weeks and we reread this poem every day. The kids enjoy it so much, that even Fae- who is TWO- almost has it memorized. She recites it to me before she falls to sleep at night.

A few days later, we read this selection:

Listen to the Mustn’ts

Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the dont’s.

Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts.

Listen to the never haves, and then listen close to me…

Anything can happen, child, anything can be.

This is poetry to inspire and to amuse. Yesterday, we read The Farmer and the Queen:

“She’s coming,” the farmer said to the owl.

“Oh, what shall I, what shall I do?

Shall I bow when she comes?

Shall I twiddle my thumbs?”

The owl asked, “Who?”

“The Queen, the Queen, the royal Queen,

She’ll pass the farm today.

Shall I salute?” he asked the horse.

The horse said, “Nay.”

“Shall I give her a gift?” he asked the wren.

“A lovely memento for her to keep?

An egg or a peach or an ear of corn?”

The wren said, “Cheap.”

“But should I curtsy or should I cheer?

Oh, here’s her carriage now.

What should I do?” he asked the dog.

The dog said, “Bow.”

And so he did, and so she passed,

Oh, tra lala lala,

“She smiled, she did!” he told the sheep.

The sheep said, “Bah.”

Alex is IN LOVE with this poem. He asked me to read it to him about eight times yesterday. He does all the animal responses (in funny voices, of course) while I read the main text.

And this is what makes me love WTSE most of all. My kids are anxious to hear the next poem. They are engaged with the images, the stories, the ideas. They are having a conversation with Silverstein himself and are sharing a view of the world. I couldn’t have asked for a better response to any poetry we will read in the future.

My kids beg for poetry. That’s pretty awesome.


Filed under Daily Life with Dear Charlotte, Masonian Educational Methods