Friday, December 1, 2023

Connecting and Coffee

by Anne White

A few years ago, my husband and I bought an electric coffee percolator. We usually make a potful in the late morning, and spend our “coffee break” together before going back to whatever we’re working on. I had thought for awhile that it might be nice (and a bit Mitfordish) to grind our own beans, so when we saw not one but three different electric grinders at the thrift store, we picked out one that looked clean and sturdy. It even came in its original box, which we thought was a good sign.

However, packaging isn’t everything.

We bought a bag of coffee beans, watched someone’s “unboxing” video online, and prepared to grind. We plugged it in, the motor ran, and a few of the beans got a bit chewed up, but it obviously wasn’t working properly.  Did we have one of the parts in upside down? Was anything jamming the works? No, everything seemed fine. My husband, ever ready with the screwdriver, took the thing apart, and he saw the problem: the drive shaft was broken, so the grinding burrs wouldn’t turn. It didn’t matter how clean or new it looked, what kind of coffee we used, or for what grind we set it. Without that main connection, the machine was useless. My husband snipped off the cord (those often come in handy) and put the rest aside as e-waste.

Is there an educational metaphor in a broken grinder? In a Herbartian view of education, we might ourselves be viewed as machines in need of replacement parts. Should we say that students (or other people) who lack drive are useless, and, worse, unrepairable? Perhaps yes to the first, but no to the second. Since we hold to a more organic view of the mind, we can also take confidence in the work of the Spirit that strengthens both our “drive” and our ability to connect, to see and form relationships.

I think we got more out of our dud coffee grinder than just an extra cord.

P.S. I heard an interesting thought about the quality of coffee beans, too, but I'll save that for another post.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

How Six Voices, One Story Came To Be (For Those Writing Their Own Chapters)

Most of you reading this know about the new book written by the AO Advisory, Six Voices, One Story: The Heart of AmblesideOnline. Some of you may have already read it. What you may not know, although Donna-Jean hints at it in the introduction, is that this book took several years to go from “we could do that” through “are we ever going to do that” to “here it is.” We wanted to write something that was not only our story, but that would be a book of encouragement; not only about Charlotte Mason, but about the ways that God works in drawing people (many people!) together to act on small ideas; not only about how a curriculum came together, but also a deep friendship.

The project, as we originally envisioned it, was going to be a “let’s make this simple”  collaboration: you bring salad, you bring lasagna, I’ll bring dessert. Everybody contribute what they can, and we keep writing until we have enough pages.  But for some reason, the book kept stalling. We all had other things to do, sometimes very big things, and it seemed we would always have time enough to get back to it. Then, about a year ago, a new version of the book started to take shape. Instead of just a few long chapters, we began to pull some of our other writing together: talks, blog posts, even emails. It tells our story in a different way than we had planned, but that’s so often the way things have gone. It’s also a reflection of the way the Advisory have worked together: occasionally in person, quite often by video chat, but most often and always through daily writing.

The minutes of an Advisory meeting from about two years ago (yes, we are That Organized)  record that “We talked about the need for all of us to encourage those whose chapters are unwritten…” At the time, that referred only to ourselves, but as I look at that now, I think it is more about the fellow travelers, those whose chapters are partly written or who have just begun. As Wendi Capehart once wrote, “We pray that our efforts continue to be a legacy for others seeking to strengthen their own precious family bonds by educating their children using this beautiful philosophy of education popularized by Miss Charlotte Mason.”

(Six Voices, One Story is available on Amazon in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle versions.)

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Hearts and Zucchini


JoAnn Hallum

It's a new school year and I have seen all the printables and wooden blocks, the panic and the purchases, the general clamor to figure out how to home educate your kid.

A child is a human, and humans have brains, but they also have souls. They have things that interest them, and usually it’s an inconvenient interest. There are often piles of rocks stuffed into pockets and once I had a child who developed an obsession with collecting milk cartons. Three-year-olds are especially wild in their interests. But go ahead. Sit them down. Show them the letter A. We might as well all be bored together. We need to feed the cogs of the global economy, isn’t that why you were born!?

I am reading the Princess and the Goblin to my 8-year-old. Maybe you haven’t read it but you should know, for safety’s sake, the only way to keep Goblins away is to sing silly songs. A poetic chant. A laugh in the face of reason. The data monsters are real, they have come to the surface. They promise you knowledge but you’ll only get information.

You will have a head full of facts while you drown in reality.

Now is the time for poems. Now is the time to grow hearts and zucchini. Now is the time to read the books that kept us human for so long. There are enough computers. We need more harvest mice scampering by. We need more gardens with thistle and dock. We need the charms of the old words to keep the goblins away.

There was a time when people knew the world was full of forests, but they didn’t care enough about the trees to keep them. The Limberlost swamps are gone. We used to know about bread, and how to make it, but now we can find it easily, in its mummified form. We have lost our way, with pure knowledge, fake bread, and a lack of love. The cure is in the books, it’s in the words, it’s in the silly rhyme you learned in ancient times on a knee.

Beware! If you find knowledge, you will fall in love and everyone will think you are crazy for getting emotional about Charles Dickens. But the Goblins won’t get you, and you will have gotten an education. You will care, and you will know the lyrics to the songs that will carry us through. One, two, hit and hew!

This post is written by guest blogger JoAnn Hallum, a mom of four boys who homeschools them using AmblesideOnline. JoAnn writes on her Substack at JoAnn’s Substack | Collections | Substack

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Single Readings and CM Exams

Several years ago, Wendi Capehart planned a post to share her thoughts on Charlotte Mason-style term examinations. We are pleased to (finally) post this, and trust that it will bless those who have missed Wendi's voice.

I am coming to this as somebody who singularly failed at exams and really regrets it. One of the benefits of exams that I see, from my spot with my nose pressed firmly on the glass window, outside looking in to the Little Shop of CM Regrets, is that the exams themselves work to help focus the child's attention and probably gently prompt some internal review in ways the child doesn't even realize. With re-reading before the exam, that beneficial spur is blunted.

I would be hesitant to lose that benefit. Now, if a kid wanted to reread his favourite paragraph to Dad at dinner, I wouldn't discourage that. And I can see an occasional exception made for something like the Parables of Nature, with its deep spiritual lessons, and sharing with Dad is also incredibly wonderful and important and you wouldn't want to interfere in that or discourage it. But I would probably not include a reread story in the exam.

I would want to be very careful that rereading something before exams does not become a habit, because it will take the edge off the keen interest and attention and focus of CM's only one reading, and then later comes the exam tool. If we're used to doing a lot of rereading, the single reading feels so counterintuitive. CM said that really, when it comes to education, the mind can know nothing save the answer to the questions it puts to itself. That's something to think about.

A few weeks ago I was reading some material on studying and learning, and I read this interesting study that showed the most effective way to study had nothing to do with flash cards, and highlighters and notes--it was to read the material carefully, turn it over, and then write down as much as you could remember. Basically, a written narration. What we are hunting for is for the children themselves to basically find themselves so beguiled by the stories they do all the reviewing themselves, internally, by thinking about them. This happens under various conditions:

         · Narration

         · Short readings that stop before they are ready for them to stop, so they are left hanging, wanting more. they think about the story more this way.

         · When you start to read the next time, you ask first, "Where were we? What was happening?" And they review again.

         · Timelines and maps, if applicable, are another review.

         · Free play--when they incorporate the readings into the story.

         · Sometimes when you ask (after the narration), does this remind you of anything else? They will review a few stories, looking for connections (which is something the brain does naturally anyway).

And because all this comes from within the child, it has increased power and the child remains alert--and once he's had his first exams, he remembers how that goes, and, I presume, will have that extra little bit of push to remember, to think about, what he's read.


          Wendi Capehart

Monday, April 17, 2023

Introducing the AO Folk Songs for 2023-2024




Some of you may remember these songs from the last time we worked our way through the cycle of folk songs. But if you're new here, and even if you're not, we think you'll get more out of these songs if you read the blog posts we've put together for them.

For selected video links, please visit our Folk Songs page at 

We are also featuring each folk song on its very own post here on Archipelago, linked in the list above. These posts will be linked from the AO Folk Songs page, too. This way, when you start preparing to introduce a new song, it will be easy as pie to click straight to that song's blog post. Be sure to check out each song's post for recommended lyrics and recordings, and interesting info about each song.

And Now For A Few Helpful Hints

If you’re new around here (and if so, welcome and we’re so glad you’re here!), please (we beg you!) read/re-read Wendi Capehart’s post Folk Songs: Some Back Story. It'll do you good.

Then read her brief but terrific introductory comments here, where she shared some of her easy but brilliant ideas for living the folk singing life.

And if you’re still not quite sure why we AO folks make such a fuss about singing, please read Folk Songs: Some Real Life Experiences for a hearty dose of encouragement. 

You may also enjoy this essay by Lynn Bruce: Folk Songs, Unplugged

Here's to another great year of folk songs! 

Folk Song for June 2024: Click Go the Shears

"Click Go the Shears" is a traditional "bush ballad," which many Australians remember learning in their first years of school. The song describes the process of shearing sheep with blade shears, and the roles of the different people in the shearing shed, including the "ringer" and the "tar boy."

Variations in the Lyrics

Is it a "blue-bellied joe," a "bare-bellied ewe," or a "bare-bellied yoe?" Is there a correct, "authorized" version? Apparently not! We have chosen one set of lyrics, but if you learned it a different way, feel free to use your favourite version.

One or Two Cautions

In the last verse, the "old shearer" takes his paycheque and heads to the pub. You may or may not choose to include this verse.

Also, the original version of the verse about the "colonial experience man" (a young Englishman sent out to the colonies) uses a non-family-friendly word, and this is still used in certain recorded versions. However, even some of our Australian AO informants were not aware of that, as they were taught only the first verse, or (if they did learn the rest) that  he was "smelling like a flower" (or similar words).

So if you would like to simplify the song, especially for younger children, it would be fine to sing just the first verse and the chorus.


1. Out on the board the old shearer stands,
Grasping his shears in his thin bony hand,
Fixed is his gaze on a bare-bellied yoe —
Glory, if he gets her won’t he make the ringer go.

Click go the shears, boys — click, click, click,
Wide is his blow and his hands move quick,
The ringer looks around and is beaten by a blow,
And curses the old snagger with the bare-bellied yoe.

2. In the middle of the floor in his cane-bottomed chair,
Sits the boss of the board with his eyes everywhere;
Notes well each fleece as it comes to the screen,
Paying strict attention that it’s taken off clean.

3. The tar boy is there, awaiting in demand,
With his blackened tar pot, in his tarry hand,
Sees one old sheep with a cut upon its back;
Here is what he’s waiting for — it’s “Tar here Jack!”

4. The colonial experience man, he is there of course,
With his shiny leggings on, just got off his horse.
He gazes all around, like a real connoisseur,
With brilliantine and scented soap — he’s smelling like a flower.

5. Shearing is all over and we’ve all got our cheques,
So roll up your swags, boys, we’re off on the track,
The first pub we come to, it’s there we’ll have a spree,
And everyone that comes along, it’s “Come and drink with me!”

Video Links

This version by the Stringybark Band includes lots of footage and photos of sheep shearing. (The Colonial Experience man is there, "smelling pretty good.")

Rolf Harris's version is sung with much enthusiasm, and includes some spoken explanation of the difficult words. One verse refers to drinking. (Another way around the problem line: "You can hear him whistling, 'Ain't I the perfect lure?'")

This blogpost, suggested by an Australian AO user, includes a recording of a gentleman singing the song. (Caution: it does include the non-family-friendly word, and an extra verse which you might not want to sing with children.)

This recording by Slim Dusty seems to be popular. (This version includes only the first and last verses, and then switches to other songs..Also, for North Americans: it goes a bit slower!)

Finally, for fun: Olivia Newton-John!

Our helpful intro post is sure to liven up your folk song adventures.

For more information on our folk songs, and for Amazon affiliate 
links to purchase individual songs, see our AO Folk Songs page.
These affiliate links help support AmblesideOnline.

Folk Song for April 2024: A Man's a Man For A' That

“A Man’s a Man for A’ That” was written by the Scottish poet Robert Burns. (Alternate titles are “Is There Honest Poverty” and “For A' That and A' That.” )

Like other poems by Burns, it was intended to be sung, and when Burns sent it for publication (in 1795), he included a tune based on “Lady Macintosh’s Reel,” which he had also used for earlier songs (including “I am a Bard of No Regard”). The song was soon translated into other languages, including German and French (scroll down to find the poem). It became widely known because of its message of equality, especially during the European uprisings of the nineteenth century.

We have included the original lyrics, and also a version in more standard English that was published in the 1840’s.

Understanding the Words

The lyrics are written in “light Scottish dialect,” meaning that, with a bit of attention, most of the words can be understood by English speakers outside of Scotland.  One of the few words whose meaning cannot be guessed by context is “coof,” which means a dunce or a fool (maybe a “goof?”). “Hodden grey” is a homespun cloth. A guinea was a gold coin.

But what does “for a’ that” mean?  It depends on the context. The closest current phrase might be “in spite of everything”; but the phrase can also be used to mean “et cetera,” for instance in the line “His ribband, star, an’ a’ that.” The German translation uses the phrase “trotz alledem,” and in French it is “apr├Ęs tout.”

The Lyrics

Is there for honest poverty

   That hings his head, an’ a’ that?

The coward slave—we pass him by,

   We dare be poor for a’ that!

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

   Our toils obscure, an’ a’ that;

The rank is but the guinea(’s) stamp,

   The Man’s the gowd for a’ that!


What tho’ on hamely fare we dine,

   Wear hodden grey, an’ a that?

Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;

   A Man’s a Man for a’ that!

For a’ that, and a’ that,

   Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that;

The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,

   Is king o’ men, for a’ that.


Ye see yon birkie ca’d a lord,

   Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;

Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,

   He’s but a coof for a’ that:

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

   His ribband, star, an’ a’ that;

The man o’ independent mind ,

   He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.


A prince can mak a belted knight,

   A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that;

But an honest man’s aboon his might,

   Gude faith, he mauna fa’ that!

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

   Their dignities an’ a’ that;

The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,

   Are higher rank than a’ that.


Then let us pray that come it may,

   As come it will for a’ that,

That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,

   May bear the gree, an’ a’ that.

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

   It’s comin’ yet, for a’ that,

That Man to Man, the warld o’er,

   Shall brithers be for a’ that.


Simplified Lyrics

 Is there, for honest poverty,

                That hangs his head, and all that?

The coward slaves, we pass him by,

                We dare be poor for all that,

For all that and all that,

                Our toil’s obscure, and all that,

The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,

                The man’s the gold for all that.


What though on homely fare we dine,

                Wear hodden gray, and all that?

Give tools their silks, and knaves their wine,

                A man’s a man, for all that;

For all that, and all that;

                Their tinsel show, and all that;

The honest man, though e’er so poor,

                Is king of men, for all that.


You see yon fellow called a lord,

                Who struts and stares and all that?

Though hundreds worships at his word,

                He’s but a dunce for all that;

For all that, and all that;

                For all that, and all that;

The man of independent mind,

                He looks and laughs at all that.


A prince can make a belted knight,

                A marquis, duke, and all that;

But an honest man’s above his might,

                Good faith has he for all that;

Their dignities, and all that;

                For all that, and all that;

The pith and sense and pride of worth

                Are higher ranks than all that.


Then let us pray that come it man,

                As come it will for all that,

That sense and worth; o’er all the earth,

                May bear the palm; and all that;

For all that, and all that,

                It’s coming yet for all that,

That man to man, the world all o’er,

                Shall brothers be for all that.


Video Links

Here is a 1975 recording by The McCalmans.

And here is Ian F. Benzie singing, with a video showing scenes of Scottish life and artwork.

 American users may be particularly interested in this recording by folk singer Earl Robinson, from his 1963 album Songs for Political Action.

Finally, we present Sheena Wellington singing "A Man's a Man For A' That" at the Opening of Parliament in 1999. Advisory member Leslie Laurio comments, “it makes one proud to be Scottish! (And I'm not Scottish.)”

Our helpful intro post is sure to liven up your folk song adventures.

For more information on our folk songs, and for Amazon affiliate 
links to purchase individual songs, see our AO Folk Songs page.
These affiliate links help support AmblesideOnline.