Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Why Choose Charlotte Mason?

As a homeschool mom, do you find yourself dreaming of meandering in the great outdoors exploring nature with your children and snuggling with them on the couch for a good book, but also torn because you desire your children to have the advantages of the excellence that a classical education has to offer with its high standards and discipline? Are you torn between relaxed days where you can simply enjoy life with your children, and a rigorously structured plan that will enable your children to attain to any career goal they set for themselves?

Why choose one or the other? Did you know you can have both?

A Charlotte Mason education offers structure, ease and enjoyment because of its well-rounded, expansive cohesion. It recognizes that the child is a complete, whole person -- not a trainable, formable being who has the potential to be a person "someday," but a full-fledged person right now -- an individual created in the image of God, with a right to know and experience all that's worthwhile in the wide world. It recognizes that education is supposed to do more than prepare a child for a job: education should expose a child to the diversity and vastness of the universe and give him the tools to appreciate all the variety of beauty and delight that the world has to offer. It should prepare him to live a life graced with zest, and full of connections with all kinds of interests, and a wide range of relationships with people -- not just the people around him, but also those in faraway places, and even distant times. His education should encourage him to find joy in being a useful part of his community. It should teach him to know God. Preparation for a career is important, but it's only one part of a full, rich life.

How can an education fill such a tall order? By carefully arranging an unusually wide variety of subjects in brief time slots at regular intervals that make for shorter school days with less tedious drudgery, and yet still cover a wider range of topics every week than a typical school schedule can offer. A shorter school day allows down time for reflection and dreaming. It allows free time for pursuing interests that have been awakened from the vast array of school subjects.

How does a Charlotte Mason education do this? If you imagine school like a huge church pot-luck laid out fresh every day, the curriculum offers carefully planned and arranged dishes such as lush paintings, constellations and planetary orbits, inspiring symphonies, the seed cycle of flowers, a selection of classic literature rotated for freshness, multiplication and division, Scripture, historical heroes, language arts, principles of the laws of nature, hymns that have built the faith of generations, peeks at what life was like in past ages, the beauty of words arranged in poetry, right triangles, a view of how people live on the other side of the world. All of this delicious fare is served in manageable-sized portions that won't cause indigestion, and without rushing or harassment so that the meal can digest and settle comfortably. The parent/teacher isn't there to force feed anybody, but to serve up portions with a smile, to sit down and even enjoy the meal with the child.

Each child's approach to the table is as individual as his personality. Some children take a heaping pile of art and just a little bit of math. Other children return for second helpings of history, or go back to nibble at science later. The only rule is that every child has to at least try a bite of everything every day. These dishes aren't just facts and data to be choked down like a vitamin-enhanced diet shake. They're ideas that spark curiosity, inspire wonder, and perhaps even lead to life-long passions.

Does the number of subjects sound like the makings of a long school day? It doesn't have to be! A Charlotte Mason school day is typically only two to four hours, depending on the child's age/grade. How can that be? Encouraging focused attention makes these lessons effective, even though they're short. Interesting, narrative books take the place of boring textbooks and maximize time by doing triple duty as they teach, inspire, and offer role models. To make the biggest impact in a student's limited school time, only a few of the best books are preferred over a lot of mediocre ones. Children assimilate not only the best ideas from these books, but the language and vocabulary of excellent writers, too -- and without weekly vocabulary lists!

Does it take a lot of memorization for a child to remember what they learn? No! The key to Charlotte Mason isn't memorization, but narration. A child tells back or writes down what was heard or read in his own words, and the process of mentally going over the material as he clarifies, sequences, and re-creates it in verbal form is what transforms reading into real learning. Narration itself is where the learning takes place! Learning isn't a passive activity, it's something the child does himself by wrestling with fresh material. The parent/teacher's task is to set the meal table at regular times; the child's job is to attend, be engaged, and narrate for the short time school is in session. By recognizing that learning is the child's work, and that it's rewarding work (after all, who doesn't enjoy knowing and understanding things?), pressure is taken off the parent/teacher to make the child learn, and school can become a pleasure. A Charlotte Mason education is enjoyable and life-enriching for both the parent/teacher and the student, yet it provides the kind of knowledge that any classical scholar would envy.

Are you wondering whether you could ever afford this kind of education for your child? Yes, you can! AmblesideOnline offers all of this for free. All you need is access to a computer, some books, and an investment of time to grasp this approach to learning.

-- Leslie Noelani Laurio

To read more about a Charlotte Mason education, see

To learn more about AmblesideOnline, or to view our booklists, links to free texts, schedules, and additional resources, see

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Is Plutarch too difficult for children? A few century-old opinions

by Anne White

In 1919, twenty-six schools using the PNEU curriculum (i.e. the correspondence school based on Charlotte Mason’s methods) were surveyed as to their impressions of the books, methods, the success of the curriculum with their students, etc. The results were compiled into an article that was included in a booklet, Impressions of the Ambleside Method.

On the topic of Plutarch, the survey drew mixed responses.

“The study of Plutarch's Lives,” says another [teacher], “seems suitable only for riper minds. If the Lives as a whole were studied the scholar might get an idea of the foundation of the Roman and Grecian Empires.”

“But,” said [the editor] Mr. Household, “he has missed the whole purpose of the study, which is by no means to give them ‘an idea of the foundation of the Roman and Grecian Empires,’ but something very different.” 

Mr. Household quoted the French philosopher Montaigne:

 “He (the teacher) shall by the help of Histories inform himself of the worthiest minds that were in the best ages. It is a frivolous study if a man list, but of invaluable worth to such as can make use of it...What profit shall he not reap touching this point, reading the lives of our Plutarch? Always conditioned the master bethink himself whereto his charge tendeth, and that he imprint not so much in his scholar's mind the date of the ruin of Carthage, as the manners of Hannibal and Scipio, nor so much where Marcellus died, as because he was unworthy of his devoir he died there; that he teach him not so much to know Histories, as to judge of them...” (Of the Institution and Education of Children. Essays, Book I, Chap. xxv)

[One teacher] found that “Narration has greatly improved their English. The children have a larger vocabulary. They have a clearer way of expressing themselves, and are not afraid of speaking in front of the other scholars...Then again there are many subjects for Compositions and the Compositions have certainly improved; they are not as scrappy as they used to be. The subjects of their essays are more interesting.”

“The children very much appreciated the story of Romulus and Remus, ” said [a young teacher], “and seem to have set out with the determination to enjoy the life story of Lycurgus. It is this book--Plutarch's Lives--and the History of Rome which are the subjects of interesting compositions.”

To sum up, another teacher said,

“There is no disguising that the children find Plutarch difficult, but they are meant to find him difficult. The joy comes when the difficulties are mastered, and they are being mastered at [our school]. ”

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Q and A: What Would You Say....

Q. What would you say to a mom who is considering homeschooling but she says the books AO uses are too advanced, too difficult for children that are assigned to read them to understand?

A.  It is true that the books are quite advanced, and seem very challenging.  On the other hand, if we go back and look at classrooms and children's bookshelves in the past, we would see that well over one hundred years ago, the books in the AmblesideOnline curriculum were commonly read, understood, and much loved by average middle-class students of the same ages. (The Lambs wrote their Shakespeare retellings in 1807 and it was an immediate hit).

Charlotte Mason used many of these same books with children whose parents were coal miners and others from the uneducated working classes, and she found them very successful. They were used in India with children for whom English was their second language, and they worked.

 I would like to stop and think about why we believe today's average 7 year old cannot understand what the average 7 year old of 100 years or more ago could enjoy?   And after we have given that some thought, I would like us to further consider that insomuch as it is true that today's 7 year old cannot understand books that were the delight of 7 year old children over a hundred years ago, is this something to be satisfied with, or is it something to deplore and correct for our own children?

I recently learned that in America, public school texts, particularly the language arts and literature textbooks, were significantly simplified (dumbed down) after the Great War (WWI) and then again after WW2 - to the point that what currently passes for Advanced Placement courses for high school is equivalent to work done by average seventh graders before the mass stupification (sorry, it just makes me so mad).  (Source: The Perfect Score Project by Debbie Stier, a book primarily about helping your students do well on the SAT)- and I believe they have been revised and dumbed down again more than once since then.

So why is public school the standard?    Rather than accepting what was done to us and is being done to our children, fight back. Raise the standard. Children understood and loved these texts before. They can do it again. They are doing it again, as we have seen in hundreds and hundreds of families who are using AO, in our own children, and in a few CM-inspired small cottage schools we hear of here and there, some of which use our curriculum. These books were well within these same target ages appropriate in the 1800s and the 1900s, and (barring significant issues which would be obvious exceptions) there is no reason they cannot be read, understood, and much beloved by school aged children today.

Naturally, we are not all starting at the same point.  For some of us it takes some more work, some more effort, and some more sacrifices (namely, do give up electronic screen time if you are having trouble, and don't skip the glorious outdoor play and romps), but it is *so* worth it.

 That's what I wish I could say to such mothers - with earnest pleading, and a reminder that every one of the Advisory put this together for such a mom as you, and we and our fabulous Auxiliary team and dozens and dozens of other devoted volunteers reaching across the table and grabbing every young mother's hands and promising to help as much as we can on our fb page, on the forum, and via our website.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Plutarch comments on things, words, and learning languages

"But I my selfe that dwell in a poore litle towne, and yet doe remayne there willingly least it should become lesse : whilest I was in Italy, and at Rome, I had no leysure to study and exercise the Latine tongue, as well for the great busines I had then to doe, as also to satisfie them that came to learne Philosophie of me : so that even somewhat too late, and now in my latter time, I began to take my Latine bookes in my hand. And thereby, a straunge thing to tell you, but yet true : I learned not, nor understood matters so much by the words, as I came to understand the words, by common experience and knowledge I had in things. But furthermore, to knowe howe to pronownce the Latin tongue well, or to speake it readily, or to understand the signification, translations, and fine joyning of the simple words one with another, which doe bewtifie and set forth the tongue : surely I judge it to be a marvailous pleasant and sweete thing, but withall it requireth a long and laborsome study, meete for those that have better leysure then I have, and that have young yeares on their backes to follow such pleasure."  ~~ Plutarch, Life of Demosthenes

Thursday, August 25, 2016

What Can Happen When You Sing Hymns

My eldest daughter and her husband have been singing with their kids forever.  Okay, not literally forever, as her kids are not very old- 5, 4, 3, and 1.  However, from the childrens' perspective it is forever, because she was singing hymns to them when they were still in the womb.  I have a vivid memory of her singing to her firstborn while he was being resuscitated after being born gray, limp, and unresponsive. I am positive he stayed with us to hear more of his mother's songs.
   Very recently this busy family has been working specifically on the hymn Trust and Obey. This mainly means they make sure to sing it every day in a more focused, intentional way. I could tell Trust and Obey was their current hymn because while the grandchildren were visiting me recently, they gathered themselves and their baby cousins together on my stairs and sang most of the hymn together, and my grandma heart was warmed to the core. Imagine the joy of hearing your small grandchildren spontaneously singing hymns together just for fun, because they want to.
A couple of days ago, the four year old unfortunately did not obey, and this resulted in an unplanned trip to the emergency room where she had to have a blood draw to determine just how dangerous her disobedience had been.  To be honest, it  was a pretty rough experience for them all, and perhaps especially for our small grand-daughter..
Her brother was born with a medical condition requiring regular blood draws, so she knows more about it than most four year old children.  When she saw the white-coated staff coming toward her, she knew what to expect, and she was upset. Her mama offered to sing to her to help her think about something else, and asked what song she would like Mommy to sing. 
She was still thinking about what song she wanted when the process began. It wasn't their fault- the ER room was swamped, and other patients were waiting.  The staff was as kind as possible, but they were forced to rush.  They began with back to back. simultaneous and brutal sticks- again, not their fault. She is not an easy stick.  It was at the moment this torture began that my grand-daughter  blurted out her answer to her mama's question- she sobbed out "Trust & Obey!" as the hymn she needed her mommy to sing.
Paul and Silas sang hymns in prison, and they were able to do that because they already knew hymns and were used to singing them.  She was able to come up with that hymn when she needed it because she already knew it.  It's a recent part of her family stock of songs. She endured while Mommy sang. But more was yet to come.  They took the finished blood draws and dashed out of the room so they could quickly get it to the lab and move on to other patients.  Not much later a nurse returned, saying, "Bad news. one of them clotted before they could analyze it. I'm afraid we need another draw."

Can you imagine how my little grand-daughter must have felt when she heard this?  What do you suppose she was thinking when  someone else came in and chatted gently with her while looking for another vein to jab in this petite morsel of a four year old?  
Would you believe that she was thinking of another hymn to sing and even choosing the order (she is a bit of a control freak at times)?
 While the nurse was searching for her vein, my nervous and fearful grand-daughter asked her Mama, "Can you sing Jesus Loves me & Trust & Obey? Sing Jesus Loves Me until she puts the needle in and then sing Trust and Obey."   She then started chatting with the nurse about this song her family listens to on the computer and then sing together at home, and how it goes... and she sang a good chunk of Trust and Obey on her own to the nurse.  My daughter tells me the nurse listened for a while and then said, "I just think it's so special that you sing with them like this! 
We are all very encouraged and inspired by this story, although the irony is not lost upon us that she had this opportunity to share this 'testimony' with the nurse precisely because she had not obeyed.  She is not a holier than thou, priggish miss who never does anything she shouldn't.  She is much more like the little girl in the Longfellow poem, the one with the curl in the middle of her forehead ('when she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid!')
There are many children, and adults, too, who might find deep comfort and sustenance in singing these old hymns in times of trial (or in expressing joy).  But they cannot, because they have never learned these hymns.  Some Christians don't really even see the point in learning hymns. It smacks of rote religion, I suppose, or perhaps it brings a faint whiff of fusty, musty, dead faith. I do not know why- I grew up in a family where a hymnal was a standard part of our 'things to do in the car' on trips and we sang hymns while doing dishes as naturally and easily as we argued over whose turn it was to do the dishes.  It may be something 'not done' any more, but that doesn't mean it's outdated and old fashioned.  It means we are cut off from our roots.
Is any among you happy?  .... merry? .... sing praises.... (James 5:13)
I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. (1 Corinthians 14:15)
...sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord. Ephesians 5:19
About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God.  Acts 16:25
 Regular singing, both personal and congregational, of Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs has been part of the Christian tradition from the dawn of Christianity. It is the birthright of every child from a believing family. But we, like Esau, have squandered our heritage for a mess of pottage, very much like Esau, in fact. Esau didn't want to bother to prepare or fetch his own food, and we don't think we need to sing our own songs any longer.  In fact, we think we can't because we don't sound like trained musicians and we don't have dub-step at home, so we might, at best, listen to somebody perform these songs once in a while.  Listening to a performance may lift our spirits, but Christianity is not a spectator sport. It's personal. It's intimate. It's relationship.  
We think the hymns that sustained the believers who went before us are  too hard, too old fashioned, out of date, irrelevant, especially to little children.   My grand-daughter is, of course, quite advanced for her years.  She is bright beyond her chronology.  Nevertheless, she is still only four years old.   She was near panic in a very frightening and painful situation, and yet, even in that traumatized state, she was encouraged, strengthened, and comforted by a hymn over 100 years old. In fact, it is the hymn that came to mind first for her.  This happened because she knew the hymn, because her parents did not decide for her that she could not relate to it or understand it.  
In a CM education we build relationships, develop good habits and nurture affinities to complex ideas and practices such as singing hymns, personally engaging in observation for nature study, poetry, art, and great books.  We do these things when the children are young so that these connections are already there for the children to draw on when they need them.   While God can, of course, work miracles, most often, he works with us where we are. Just the right hymn coming to mind when and where we need it is more likely to happen when those hymns are already a natural, integrated, whole part of our lives. 

Please. Sing with your children.

P.S. Grand-daughter's bloodwork all came back fine, and she left the ER saying to her mum, "I guess next time I should.... obey."

Thank-you to my oldest daughter for many things- permission to share this story and edit your words for an AO publication and for being the mother you are to those precious children, and for choosing the good man you did to father those darlings.  A big thank-you to all the mothers of my grandchildren, because you all sing hymns with your children regularly and you all have married good men, so a story like this could have come from any of you.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Charlotte Mason and the handicraft of making 'smyrna rugs'


Basically, I'm thinking latch-hook kit.

Ah- see also here for more info.

Handwork and Crafts from CM, Volume 1

I offer the following information in the spirit of scholarship and understanding, because I totally groove on discovering this stuff.  It really helps me flesh out what Mason meant, what her philosophy looked like in practice, when I find more specific and concrete examples like the information below.  When I see exactly what she did, it helps me come to a better understanding of what we  might do today to further the same goals.

If it might be fun and enriching and delightful to reproduce the same crafts in your home, by all means, please do, and share.  If, however, the reading of this post makes you beat your head against the wall while repeating a tired and harmful mantra about your own worthlessness as a CM mama, please, stop.  I am not sharing this to burden anybody.  Don't beat yourself up.

 In CM's volume one, page 315 on our website, we find:

"Handicrafts and Drills.––It is not possible to do more than mention two more important subjects––the Handicrafts and Drills––which should form a regular part of a child's daily life. For physical training nothing is so good as Ling's Swedish Drill, and a few of the early exercises are the reach of children under nine. Dancing, and the various musical drills, lend themselves to grace of movement, and give more pleasure, if less scientific training, to the little people.
The Handicrafts best fitted for children under nine seem to me to be chair-caning, carton-work, basket-work, Smyrna rugs, Japanese curtains, carving in cork, samplers on coarse canvas showing a variety of stitches, easy needlework, knitting (big needles and wool), etc. The points to be borne in mind in children's handicrafts are: (a) that they should not be employed in making futilities such as pea and stick work, paper mats, and the like; (b) that they should be taught slowly and carefully what they are to do; (c) that slipshod work should
not be allowed; (d) and that, therefore, the children's work should be kept well within their compass."

In the appendices of a 1906 edition of volume 1, page 389, we find this fleshed out a little more:

 Six twigs of trees (not done before) in brushwork. For occasional use, Pour Dessiner Simplement, par V. ...

 Attend to garden (Aunt Mai's Annual, 1894).

Carton Work, by G. C. Hewitt (King & Sons, Halifax, 2s.) : make a pillar-box, a match-box, a pen-tray, and a vase.

Smyrna rugs (see Aunt Mai's Annual, 1894). Children make their own designs.

Self-Teaching Needlework Manual (Longmans, is.) : children to be exercised in stitches, pages 1-15. Use coarse canvas and wool ; then, coloured cotton and coarse linen."

Here is the pertinent section from Aunt Mai's Annual, 1894, which I was thrilled to discover online (it's lovely!).

(Keep in mind 1894 British prices are given for supplies.)

THE educational advantages of this work are many ; it teaches carefulness, numeration, colour and design. Carefulness, in pushing the string through the bamboo ; numeration, in getting the right number on each string ; colour, in choosing the coloured reeds and beads ; and design, whether the alternate lines should be the same colour, or two and two, or two and three, etc.

The materials required for this work are :
1.  Bamboos or reeds, 2/9 per 100.
2. Beads, 10d. per 500.
3. A ball of string, 6d.
4. A bar of wood for each curtain.

The bamboos are supplied in bundles of 1000 tubes, and can be had in white, red, purple, green, yellow, etc. They are each three and a half inches long, and are hollow, so that the string easily slips through. The round beads are the best for the nursery, and can also be had in many colours.

A little four-year-old is very busy at present making a short curtain for the studio window, of cut green and yellow reeds, and bright yellow beads, and the effect is charming.

The bar of wood can be made by any local joiner for a few pence. This must be three-quarters of an inch broad and thick ; the length must vary according to the width of your windows. Holes must be bored through at regular intervals of half an inch, one from the other, and he had better stain it brown or black before the children begin to work.

The following lengths are those we have found to be most useful ; but each mother can measure and decide for herself whether the curtains must be longer or shorter.

1.  Cut the string into lengths of forty inches.
2. Thread a bead on to each piece of string, hold the bead in the middle, and tie once. This prevents the little fingers pulling the string out of its hole. To vary this, you can again place a bead on each side of the tied one.
3. Push one end of the string through the first hole in the rod, and the other through the second hole, leaving the bead or beads or. the top.
4. Thread four beads on the first string. This makes an effective border.
5. Thread one reed, one bead, one reed and so on, until four reeds are on. Then put a bead on and tie. The first row might be green.
6. Work the second row in the same way, substituting yellow reeds for the green ones.
7. Take another piece of string and thread one end through the third hole, and so on.
     A very effective and simple pattern can be worked in the following way:
After the string has been threaded through the two first holes put—1st row; 1 bead, 1 green reed, bead ; 1 yellow reed, bead ; green reed, bead ; 1 yellow reed

2nd row; 2 beads, the rest in the same order—green, yellow ; green, yellow.
3rd row; 3 beads; &c.
4th row; 4 beads, &c.
5th row; 5 beads, &c.
6th row ; 4 beads, &c.
7th row; 3 beads, and so on, until the child comes again to one bead, when she again begins the next row with two. "

What can we take from this? Breaking this down, it's essentially stringing beads and rods in a pattern, right?  Not just randomly, but for a specific project of some use.   But you could begin with a tin of beads and some string- a shoelace, perhaps.  Our disabled child used to 'string' beads on a pipe cleaner, which I had anchored a bead at the end so she could not pull it off.  A pipe cleaner was easier for her to handle.  When she had a pipecleaner of beads, I would bend it into a shape- a circle, a heart, a star.  one of my favourite Christmas ornaments is a bell shaped from a pipecleaner of beads she worked.  Our beads came from thrift shop finds- they used to be popular in macrame projects.

You could duplicate the window curtain, or make a door curtain as a family project- if you have a place where you could keep the project out for a while, safe from babies, each family member could work on their own string, or everybody could add whatever, as they have time.

You could make jewelry, elastic string and beads are fairly inexpensive (when we orphan-hosted, we made our four boys bracelets with our phone numbers on them using number beads, interspersed by coloured beads).  Youtube videos explaining how to tie these off abound.   You could make key chains or Christmas ornaments or cell phone charms or something to hang from a car rear view mirror.

Mainly, you want a project involving stringing beads in a simple pattern of the child's design, the more useful the better, keeping in mind that a beaded window curtain is our standard for useful here.  IOW, don't overthink the useful aspect.

Supplies are far more readily available to us than they were to mothers in CM's time, and not much more expensive in terms of real dollars.

Amazon has wooden cylinder beads, dark or light , round and oval beads of coloured wood, holes large and small (so does ebay, in an impossible variety of colours, shapes, sizes, in wood, plastic, glass and stone or clay).
You could use hemp cord or cotton embroidery thread.

You could even resort to macaroni.  Dye it by shaking in a bag with a few drops of rubbing alcohol and food coloring, spreading to dry on waxed paper.  I prefer more permanent supplies, and don't recommend macaroni jewelry.  But for early practice in stringing colored beads in a pattern, this may be an economical alternative.  I have a cupboard over my bathroom sink which is missing a door.  I am thinking a beading project to hang over a shelf or small cupboard indoors might be a useful way to display a child's beading craft while improving the appearance of a messy shelf or a bathroom cupboard missing a door.

Up next, the smyrna rug.

More here as well.