Sunday, November 18, 2018

AO: Challenge the Seventh

Previous challenges:

Challenge 1 is here.

We concluded the text portion of the previous challenge with Miss Mason's disclosure that she is labouring 'to disclose for public use' the way to give children that 'attention, interest, literary style, wide vocabulary, love of books and readiness in speaking' which unlocks an education so rich and meaningful it continues long after school days are over.  She is excited about this, and she is sure of her ground.  This is volume 6, written fifty years after her first volume and after decades of work.  These methods are not mere theories.  What she writes about has been tested in real, practical, boots on the ground, teachers in classrooms, parents and governesses and tutors in homeschool rooms experiences.  Mason required families who signed up with her PNEU schools to submit exams to the PNEU office for grading. She was strict about this, so she could see the results of these methods put into practice in homes, cottage schools, experimental schools, boarding schools, around the world.

  It is true most of the P.N.E.U. members were indeed middle to upper class with educational and financial advantages we would consider upper class in most western cultures today.  However, many of them were also deeply philanthropic and active in social reforms and either started or contributed to schools for working class children, continuation night schools for children who had to work for a living, small country schools for the children of miners or other disadvantaged workers.  There are articles in the Parents' Reviews about reaching out to help mothers in the slums.  During World War I, at least some of the teaching students from the House of Education made it part of their work to run girls' clubs in London, specifically to give at risk girls skills and interests that would keep them off the streets, and the used such P.N.E.U. methods as they felt would reach the girls where they were.  Miss Mason was serious about helping as many people as possible by sharing what she could about putting her methods to 'public use.'  It is for this audience that she wrote volume VI- the general public who may not have previously known about her work.  She explains here her audience, her experience and justification for reaching out to this new audience:

"I am anxious to bring a quite successful educational experiment before the public at a moment when we are told on authority that "Education must be . . . an appeal to the spirit if it is to be made interesting." Here is Education which is as interesting and fascinating as a fine art to parents, children and teachers.
During the last thirty years thousands of children educated on these lines have grown up in love with Knowledge and manifesting a 'right judgment in all things' so far as a pretty wide curriculum gives them data."
Now she explains some of the differences in her approach, the things that justify her bringing this old/new idea before the public, what it is she wants done differently.  Note that this 'new' thing is not necessarily 'new' in the annals of education history. It could be 'new' in the sense that the British school system wasn't doing this anymore.  
She wants the children prepared for school by having heard stories in good English. She does not want their schoolbooks limited to the restricted vocabulary limitations of what they can read for themselves.  So while teaching them the nuts and bolts of reading, she wants them to be *hearing* well written stories and literary passages beyond their ability to sound out on their own: 
I would have children taught to read before they learn the mechanical arts of reading and writing; and they learn delightfully; they give perfect attention to paragraph or page read to them and are able to relate the matter point by point, in their own words; but they demand classical English and cannot learn to read in this sense upon anything less. They begin their 'schooling' in 'letters' at six, and begin at the same time to learn mechanical reading and writing. A child does not. lose by spending a couple of years in acquiring these because he is meanwhile 'reading' the Bible, history, geography, tales, with close attention and a remarkable power of reproduction, or rather, of translation into his own language; he is acquiring a copious vocabulary and the habit of consecutive speech. In a word, he is an educated child from the first, and his power of dealing with books, with several books in the course of a morning's 'school,' increases with his age."
It is from these excellent books, in advance of their reading skill, that children will gain the expansive vocabulary that is one of the foremost tools for gaining more knowledge.  Consecutive speech is the ability to communicate clearly, in order. It is not just a pleasant and useful habit- it is the sign or an orderly mind, of clear thinking. 
She knows there are going to be objections to her method, she has heard them- and, oh, so have we, so many times, in exactly the same words as the the next sentences Mason writes:
But children are not all alike; there is as much difference between them as between men or women; two or three months ago, a small boy, not quite six, came to school (by post); and his record was that he could read anything in five languages, and was now teaching himself the Greek characters, could find his way about the Continental Bradshaw, and was a chubby, vigorous little person. All this the boy brings with him when he comes to school; he is exceptional, of course, just as a man with such accomplishments is exceptional; 

Not all children are the same, we hear, and Mason heard.  Some children are advanced in quite astonishing ways, such as this youngster who joined Mason's PNEU correspondence school.  
Of course not children do not all have a matching set of gifts, strengths, weaknesses. That has little to do with the application of Mason's methods, however, because of the areas in which all neurologically normal children (and adults) do have in common:

"I believe that all children bring with them much capacity which is not recognized by their teachers, chiefly intellectual capacity, (always in advance of motor power), which we are apt to drown in deluges of explanation or dissipate in futile labours in which there is no advance."
All children may not be duplicates of each other in precise abilities. But all children have great potential, often un-known by their elders.  The current (to Miss Mason) method of doing school tends to suffocate those natural intellectual gifts, or waste them- by wasting their time with lectures and useless busy work.  That busy work, by the way,  may amuse and entertain the children, but that doesn't mean it informs and educates them. "There is no advance."  Have you thought about what this might mean?  I'm wondering. How much advance is there is filling out worksheets? Making pretty designs and collections of scripted information on file folders using scissors, glue, and some tape is fun for children with certain artistic bents.  There is nothing wrong with fun.  But what direction does it go, and how far? Is this something you do as an adult to learn, to process information, to communicate information to friends or employers? With narration, there is not level at which it is a bit babyish or immature to narrate. You can take narration up to the next level, and it becomes composition, and then essays, and more. Whatever work projects you assign to your children, what is the advanced version? How will they advance in this area? What will it look like?  Maybe, if there is no advance which takes them into their adult lives, it is not work worth assigning for school, no matter who they are.   And while all children may not be alike, we are all more alike than we think:

 "People are naturally divided into those who read and think and those who do not read or think; and the business of schools is to see that all their scholars shall belong to the former class; it is worth while to remember that thinking is inseparable from reading which is concerned with the content of a passage and not merely with the printed matter."

Regardless of individual strengths and weaknesses, the business of education is to help the learners read and think.
If this is not happening, neither is education.  Of course, other things are happening, too:

"The children I am speaking of are much occupied with things as well as with books, because 'Education is the Science of Relations,' is the principle which regulates their curriculum; that is, a child goes to school with many aptitudes which he should put into effect. So, he learns a good deal of science, because children have no difficulty in understanding principles, though technical details baffle them. He practises various handicrafts that he may know the feel of wood, clay, leather, and the joy of handling tools, that is, that he may establish a due relation with materials. But, always, it is the book, the knowledge, the clay, the bird or blossom, he thinks of, not his own place or his own progress.
[His focus is on the work, not on himself.]"
His focus is on the work, not himself, not his grades, not his scores, not how much he is beating the other students nor how far behind. These things are irrelevant to the actual work he is doing because the work itself is valuable and meaningful for its own sake.

"I am afraid that some knowledge of the theory we advance is necessary to the open-minded teacher who would give our practices a trial, because every detail of schoolroom work is the outcome of certain principles. For instance, it would be quite easy, without much
vol 6 pg 32thought to experiment with our use of books; but in education, as in religion, it is the motive that counts, and the boy who reads his lesson for a 'good mark' becomes word-perfect, but does not know. But these principles are obvious and simple enough, and, when we consider that at present education is chaotic for want of a unifying theory, and that there happens to be no other comprehensive theory in the field which is in line with modern thought and fits every occasion, might it not be well to try one which is immediately practicable and always pleasant and has proved itself by producing many capable, serviceable, dutiful men and women of sound judgment and willing mind?"

It's not enough to just use the same books- if you are mucking them up with vocabulary tests and multiple choice questions, rote memory and grades which are compared to those of the other children, that is missing the point of this form of education, and removing its value.  You need the principles, and the student needs to be the one doing the learning. 

"In urging a method of self-education for children in lieu of the vicarious education which prevails, I should like to dwell on the enormous relief to teachers, a self-sacrificing and greatly overburdened class; the difference is just that between driving a horse that is light and a horse that is heavy in hand; the former covers the ground of his own gay will and the driver goes merrily. The teacher who allows his scholars the freedom of the city of books is at liberty to be their guide, philosopher and friend; and is no longer the mere instrument of forcible intellectual feeding."
"Vicarious education."
What does an vicarious education look like?  It looks like somebody who knows hwo to read and to think, and who does it.
  Who should be working the hardest at the children's education?  The person doing the reading and the thinking, and that should be the student.
The teachers or the students themselves?  How do we see to it that they do the work? By giving them the books, the real books containing real knowledge and ideas, not just lists of facts that other people put together in textbooks, and then by giving them the work of thinking- which happens with narration.

This concludes this first set of AmblesideOnline Challenges.  By now you should have read from the opening page of Volume VI to the end of the first chapter, which is more material than it seems like. Most books today have a whole idea perhaps in an entire chapter. Mason's books are densely packed with multiple ideas worth thinking about on every single page. 

By now, you should know some of the plants in your own backyard or neighbourhood, something about the different categories of leaves, and you should be comfortably singing folksongs.  You have been reading for your own education and personal growth several times a week.  I hope you have attempted the forum.

There will be other challenges- I am preparing to move from the Philippines back to the U.S. and the holiday season is upon us, so I won't be working on another set of challenge posts until sometime in January.  However, you should continue to challenge yourself. I hope you have grown through this series.  I hope where you are now is a little further in understanding and practice than you were two months ago.  I hope you've been encouraged.

Here are some challenges to work on for the next couple of months.

1. This is an open-ended challenge to consider.  Let me review a handful of Mason's statements:
a. "One discovers a thing because it is there, and no sane person takes credit to himself for such discovery. On the contrary, he recognizes with King Arthur,––"These jewels, whereupon I chanced Divinely, are for public use." 

b. For many years we have had access to a sort of Aladdin's cave which I long to throw open 'for public use.'

c. The public good is our aim; and the methods proposed are applicable in any school. 

This has been a cherished goal of the AO Advisory for all many years. We also want to help you put these ideas to use, first in your own lives, homes, and families, and then, if at all possible, in some other public use.  Use these methods and ideas to reach out to children in your neighbourhood, churches, and community, the people God brings into your life.   Will you pray with us for all our eyes and hearts to be open for these additional opportunities? I can't tell you where or what they may be. Here are some I know of:
Start a story hour at your library or volunteer to help at one. Or do this with your church. Or ask if you could try this at a local homeless shelter or battered wive's shelter.
Foster care- officially, or unofficially.
Foster care respite care
Mentor family for drug rehap program (look into what is available locally and see if this is something you can do)
For that unofficial foster care-  Maybe there is a single parent or a struggling family that would benefit from you offering to do something fun with their kids once a month.  Take them to a park. Tell them a story, a fable from Aesop's, or the story of the three little pigs or Goldilocks. 
Visit a nursing home as a family and sing for some of the residents. Or bake cookies for the staff.
Plan a meaningful craft activity and invite another family over to do it together.
Volunteer to hold babies in the NICU. 
Serve a meal 
I'd love to hear of any other ideas, suggestions, or examples!  Not all of these will work for every family in every season, of course. You may be the family in need!  This is not a guilt trip, it's a list of hopeful possibilities for some time in your life.

Challenge 2:  Try something in the century-book, century chart, timeline department.  There are multiple ways to approach this. Start simple. In my family what we did most frequently was a family timeline essentially composed of duct tape on a large set of pocket doors. We used half of an index card and sketched figures or events on them and taped them to the appropriate lines on the wall.  My goal was to do this once a week. The children chose from their own readings, although sometimes I would ask them to choose from a specific book.
 If you want some help and ideas on timelines and time charts- see this thread in the forum- Forum: Timelines and History Charts

Challenge 3: for nature study look at Moon cycles.  One thing to do is to pick one night a week to look at the moon and then sketch it on a calendar- look at the moon November 21, for instance, and then sketch it on the Nov. 21 square of your calendar.  Do this for at least one month, preferably 2, and see hat you notice.  You can also make a chart: Moon cycle chart

Challenge 4: Read something for you.  One of the sweetest, most practical and helpful of the PR articles I have ever read is a paper delivered to a PNEU group by an older mother whose children are apparently grown.  The title is "The Limitations of Theory," which is delightful in itself, but even better is the title she says she considered- "Experiences of a Muddler".  The goal expressed in this paper is perfectly in keeping with the goals of these challenges, 
" to encourage parents to confer together, and that the papers read need not always be didactic treatises, but might sometimes be homely chats on what is interesting us all so much—the training of our children."

Challenge 5:  Start working on some Crafts for Christmas gifts.  We have quite a collection here in the forum: Forum: Christmas gifts to make

Challenge 6. Consider working together on memorizing a poem to present to grandparents, or adopted grandparents, or residents of a nursing home, or for a little family party for Christmas or New Year's. Or start a poetry night.  Here's how the author of Please Don't Eat the Daisies conducted their poetry night (get a tissue). 

Challenge 7: Read Karen Glass's recent series called The White Post.   You don't want to miss these!
And don't forget to narrate!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Challenge 6

Previous challenges:

Challenge 1 is here.

Last challenge we read about:  Hmmmm.  What did we talk about?  Take a moment to review in your own mind.  Something about conduct, character, reading, anything else come to mind? :-D

We ended with Mason asking this question: 
"We go round the house and round the house, but rarely go into the House of Mind; we offer mental gymnastics, but these do not take the place of food, and of that we serve the most meagre rations, no more than that bean a day! Diet for the body is abundantly considered, but no one pauses to say, "I wonder does the mind need food, too, and regular meals, and what is its proper diet?"

Now we'll read her answer: "I have asked myself this question and have laboured for fifty years to find the answer, and am anxious to impart what I think I know, but the answer cannot be given in the form of 'Do' this and that, but rather as an invitation to 'Consider' this and that; action follows when we have thought."

No do this or that, but principles to consider, thoughts to think and ponder- and the practice will follow from carefully thinking through the principles. 

"The life of the mind is sustained upon ideas; there is no intellectual vitality in the mind to which ideas are not presented several times, say, every day. But [we may ask] scientific experiments, natural beauty, nature study, rhythmic movements, sensory exercises, are all fertile in ideas? Quite commonly, they are so, as regards ideas of invention and discovery; and even in ideas of art; but for the moment it may be well to consider the ideas that influence life, that is, character and conduct; these, would seem, pass directly from mind to mind, and are neither helped nor hindered by educational outworks."

So we want our children's minds to feast upon these ideas that influence the character and conduct of our lives.  Where shall we find this mind-food?

 "Every child gets many of these ideas by word of mouth, by way of family traditions, proverbial philosophy,––in fact, by what we might call a kind of oral literature. But, when we compare the mind with the body, we perceive that three 'square' meals a day are generally necessary to health, and that a casual diet of ideas is poor and meagre. Our schools turn out a good many clever young persons, wanting in nothing but initiative, the power of reflection and the sort of moral imagination that enables you to 'put yourself in his place.' "

Here are three specific goals of a CM education- initiative, the ability to do some self-reflection, and, again, the goal of imagination (as we saw in a previous challenge) is empathy.  In order to attain these goals, the children need a full and varied diet of ideas, in regular servings and generous proportions:

"These qualities flourish upon a proper diet; and this is not afforded by the ordinary school book, or, in sufficient quantity by the ordinary lesson. I should like to emphasize quantity, which is as important for the mind as the body; both require their 'square meals.' It is no easy matter to give its proper sustenance to the mind; hard things are said of children, that they have 'no brains,' 'a low order of intellect,' and so on; many of us are able to vouch for the fine intelligence by children who are fed with the proper mind-stuff; but teachers do not usually take the trouble to find out what this is. We come dangerously near to what Plato condemns as "that lie of the soul," that corruption of the highest truth, of which Protagoras is guilty in the saying that, "Knowledge is sensation."

Wait, who does she quote here?  PLATO?  But I was told.... oh, never mind. I won't be snarky any more. 

"What else are we saying when we run after educational methods which are purely sensory? Knowledge is not sensation, nor is it to be derived through sensation; we feed upon the thoughts of other minds; and thought applied to thought generates thought and we become more thoughtful. No one need invite us to reason, compare, imagine; the mind, like the body, digests its proper food, and it must have the labour of digestion or it ceases to function. But the children ask for bread and we give them a stone; we give information about objects and events which mind does not attempt to digest but casts out bodily (upon an examination paper?). But let information hang upon a principle, be inspired by an idea, and it is taken with avidity and used in making whatsoever in the spiritual nature stands for tissue in the physical."

 "Education," said Lord Haldane, some time ago, "is a matter of the spirit,"––no wiser word has been said on the subject, and yet we persist in applying education from without as a bodily activity or emollient. We begin to see light. No one knoweth the things of a man but the spirit of a man which is in him; therefore, there is no education but self-education, and as soon as a young child begins his education he does so as a student."

Information vs ideas, thoughts, principles. 
  And what are we do to in this?

"Our business is to give him mind-stuff, and both quality and quantity are essential. Naturally, each of us possesses this mind-stuff only in limited measure, but we know where to procure it; for the best thought the world possesses is stored in books; we must open books to children, the best books; our own concern is abundant provision and orderly serving. I am jealous for the children; every modern educational movement tends to belittle them intellectually; and none more so than a late ingenious attempt to feed normal children with the pap-meat which may (?) be good for the mentally sick: [This may refer to Montessori, who built her approach based on her experiences working with mentally ill children. Charlotte Mason was so alarmed at the way Montessori's ideas were sweeping the educational world, that she wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper, which you can read about here.] but, "To all wildly popular things comes suddenly and inexorably death, without hope of resurrection." If Mr. Bernard Shaw is right, I need not discuss a certain popular form of 'New Education.' It has been ably said that education should profit by the divorce which is now in progress from psychology on the one hand and sociology on the other; but what if education should use her recovered liberty make a monstrous alliance with pathology?"

Mason is definitely speaking of Montesorri here, but there are still greater principles for us to keep in mind.   The alliance with pathology here is likely a reference to the fact that Montesorri's method wer born out of her initial work with disabled children who were institutionalized, and thus needed some more basic approach to begin with.  Be careful that our cherished tricks and tips, too, do not come from a pathological view of children and education, but from a whole, sane, and sound foundation.

"Various considerations urge upon me a rather distasteful task. It is time I showed my hand and gave some account of work, the principles and practices of which should, I think, be of general use. Like those lepers who feasted at the gates of a famished city, I begin to take shame to myself! I have attempted to unfold (in various volumes [Home Education Series.]) a system of educational theory which seems to me able to meet any rational demand, even that severest criterion set up by Plato; it is able to "run the gauntlet of objections, and is ready to disprove them, not by appeals to opinion, but to absolute truth." Some of it is new, much of it is old. Like the quality of mercy, it is not strained; certainly it is twice blessed, it blesses him that gives and him that takes,* and a sort of radiancy of look distinguishes both scholar and teacher engaged in this manner of education; but there are no startling results to challenge attention. [*Portia, from The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I] Professor Bompas Smith remarked in an inaugural address at the University of Manchester that,––"If we can guide our practice by the light of a comprehensive theory we shall widen our experience by attempting tasks which would not otherwise have occurred to us." It is possible to offer the light of such a comprehensive theory, and the result is precisely what the Professor indicates,––a large number of teachers attempt tasks which would not otherwise have occurred to them. One discovers a thing because it is there, and no sane person takes credit to himself for such discovery. On the contrary, he recognizes with King Arthur,––"These jewels, whereupon I chanced Divinely, are for public use."

And what are the results? 

"For many years we have had access to a sort of Aladdin's cave which I long to throw open 'for public use.' Let me try to indicate some of the advantages of the theory I am urging––It fits all ages, even the seven ages of man! It satisfies brilliant children and discovers intelligence in the dull. It secures attention, interest, concentration, without effort on the part of teacher or taught. Children, I think, all children, so taught express themselves in forcible and fluent English and use a copious vocabulary. An unusual degree of nervous stability is attained; also, intellectual occupation seems to make for chastity in thought and life. Parents become interested in the schoolroom work, and find their children 'delightful companions.' Children shew delight in books (other than story books) and manifest a genuine love of knowledge. Teachers are relieved from much of the labour of corrections. Children taught according to this method do exceptionally well at any school. It is unnecessary to stimulate these young scholars by marks, prizes, etc. After all, it is not a quack medicine I am writing about, though the reader might think so, and there is no IS. I 1/2d. a bottle in question!

Over thirty years ago I published a volume about the home education of children and people wrote asking how those counsels of perfection could be carried out with the aid of the private governess as she then existed; it occurred to me that a series of curricula might be devised embodying sound principles and securing that children should be in a position of less dependence on their teacher than they then were; in other words, that their education should be largely self-education. A sort of correspondence school was set up, the motto of which,––"I am, I can, I ought, I will," has had much effect in throwing children upon the possibilities, capabilities, duties and determining power belonging to them as persons. "Children are born persons," is the first article of the educational credo in question. The response made by children (ranging in age from six to eighteen) astonished me; though they only shewed the power of attention, the avidity for knowledge, the clearness of thought, the nice discrimination in books, and the ability to deal with many subjects, for which I had given them credit in advance.

 I need not repeat what I have urged elsewhere on the subject of 'Knowledge' and will only add that anyone may apply a test; let him read to a child of any age from six to ten an account of an incident, graphically and tersely told, and the child will relate what he has heard point by point, though not word for word, and will add delightful original touches; what is more, he will relate the passage months later because he has visualised the scene and appropriated that bit of knowledge. A rhetorical passage, written in 'journalese,' makes no impression on him; if a passage be read more than once, he may become letter-perfect, but the spirit, the individuality has gone out of the exercise.

An older boy or girl will read one of Bacon's Essays, say, or a passage from De Quincey, and will write or tell it forcibly and with some style, either at the moment or months later. We know how Fox recited a whole pamphlet of Burke's at a College supper though he had probably read it no more than once. Here on the very surface is the key to that attention, interest, literary style, wide vocabulary, love of books and readiness in speaking, which we all feel should belong to an education that is only begun at school and continued throughout life; these are the things that we all desire, and how to obtain them is some part of the open secret I am labouring to disclose 'for public use.'"

This is exciting stuff.  I get wriggly and happy every time I read it.  Think of all this delicious knowledge, the Aladdin's cave she is describing.  We want this for you and your families!

Challenges- This time, just for fun, I'm suggesting some points for each challenge and you add them up.

Reading- Charlotte Mason is a literature based curriculum.  There is no way to really get through this and do it well if we don't read.  It's okay to begin even if you aren't much of a reader, but to be honest, it's not going to be at all easy to continue if we don't work on this.  We cannot start any sooner than now, and we cannot work on this any better way than to read a little bit every day, steadily, consistently, over time, little by little, line upon line, precept by precept. 
  • Read and then narrate the above post. 5 points, 10 if you leave a comment with your narration.
  • Pick some mom-culture to read- it can be a Parents' Review article, something from one of Miss Mason's books, a book in the curriculum schedule or anything else.  Assign yourself a set number of pages to read a day and work toward that goal.  2 points for every day you meet your goal. 5 points if you meet your goal for the week (whether or not you met your goal each day). 
You need to aim for reading some of it every day, advancing week by week. 
Do this, and when you finish the book and choose the next one, I guarantee that you will find the next book easier than the one before.  And after that you will find the next book just a little bit easier than the one before.  And one day soon you will re-read that first book for pleasure and be surprised at how easy it is for you!

        Advice: In all of the suggested readings, please don't worry about the notion that you are not a reader, that you find this or that reading too hard, too challenging, very difficult.  "Not a reader' is who you were, it does not have to be who you are, forever.  You can change this.  This is what I want you to work on- pick something to read that is just a little more challenging, just a little harder, a bit more difficult than what you usually read.  For one person, this will be Shakespeare, for another it could be one of the Narnia books or Little Women, for another it will be this post, for another it will be Understood Betsy.  IT DOES NOT MATTER. Here is what matters:
It needs to be a living book
It needs to be more complex than what you normally read, but just challenging enough- not incomprehensible. 

AO Forum-   Why?  Because the most thoughtful, in depth, parent to parent discussions are found here in the forum and we care a lot more about your privacy than Facebook does.  Also, we have a teen discussion area, and if you have a teen, they just might love the chance to chat with other teens reading the kinds of books they are reading.

  • Register.  Here.   Choose a log-in name and password you will find unforgettable.  Spend 20 minutes just browsing, looking here and there.  Don't try to do anything else. Just read, randomly scroll, click, read some more. 5 points

  • Another day, visit the book discussion area and browse again.   To visit the book discussion area, click here--  Six points

  • ANOTHER day, click on 'today's posts' (you'll find it on the front page of the forum a bit to the right of center, somewhere in the top 1/4 of the page, or click here- and scroll down to see the latest posts people have made. The first column is the title of the thread or post that somebody has made, and the user name of the person who posted.  If you over your mouse over it, you can see the first line of their post.  The next column as the area of the forum, or its address, if you will, where that post can be found.  Don't stress over any of this, just browse, wander, read a little, skim a little.  Only spend about 20 minutes at at a time doing this until you feel more comfortable.  five points

  • If you want to post anything at all, go to the general Q and A section- click here: look for Post Thread (over to the right beneath the welcome area). ten points for posting!


  • Mason wrote a pamphlet introducing her methods to those who were unfamiliar with them.  Karen Glass would love it if you would read that pamphlet and answer a couple questions for her (feel free to comment to this post).  In your opinion, can you read it today and feel like you have a better understanding of the answer to the question "what is a CM education?" Would we be justified in suggesting to people in the future, "reading this will give you a good overview of CM's ideas and philosophy?" 20 points for reading.  Ten points for answering one of these two questions.
You can read the abridged version from Mind to Mind here:

You can read The Basis of National Strength in full here:


  • PlutarchYou are invited to come join us for a Plutarch book discussion on the AmblesideOnline Forum in the Book Discussion area of the Forum.

ETA: We will be starting Demosthenes on Monday, Oct 8, as he is this term's life. If that seems too quick, please plan to join us on Nov 12 when we start Cicero.
Sign in to the forum first in another window, and then come back over to this tab, rightclick one of these links and select open in a new window (or tab):
10 points for joining.  15 points for joining, reading, and commenting. 

Music: What are you singing?  If you've been following our challenges you should be doing a folksong at least three times a week now, and you should have done at least one of Heather Bunting's Children of the Open Air tutorials.  If you're keeping up- keep on keeping up.=) 

  • Sing every day.  Try a folk song to wrap up a math lesson or when transitioning from foreign language to the next topic.  Every day!  If you use the youtube videos to learn the songs, remember that the kids do not have to see the video- they are to be listening and singing along, not watching. Print the lyrics, hand each reader a copy, and sing along together, weaning yourselves from the accompaniment as soon as possible.  1 point each school day (M-F) you sing a folk song.

Folksong youtube playlist:  Here's my folksong playlist for this year.

  • Hymns:  Follow our line-up, print out or write out a copy of this term's hymn(s), listen to it on youtube while trying to sing along. Once you have a good idea of the hymn tune, turn off the computer and sing.  This should take maybe five or ten minutes at most.  Try taping copies of the hymn lyrics to your kitchen wall near the sink or stove, on the refrigerator, in the bathroom on a door or near the mirror, over the bed, on the kitchen table under some plastic protective covering- any flat surface convenient to you, so you can easily sing out your new hymn at other times.  Hymn singing is a great transitional activity after Bible or science studies. 2 points for each day (M-F) you sing a hymn.

  • Children of the Open Air: Sol-Fa Subscribe to Heather Bunting's Children of the Open Air youtube channel.  Pick a tutorial and watch it a couple of times this week. 5 points for watching once, an additional point for each additional watch.

Nature study:

Most of us know that we tell mammals from birds by certain characteristics- fur or hair vs feathers, live births vs eggs, nursing young, etc  Plants are also identified by sorting out a few basic characteristics, which sounds a bit daunting, but once you get started, it's not as difficult as you imagined.  It's a matter of pattern recognition, and God wired our brains for pattern recognition. It's just that most of us never got past "what colour are the flowers?" so it's unfamiliar.  The unfamiliar always sounds scarier than it is, so we're working on making it familiar. 

The colour of the flowers is the most visible, but it's not the most important thing to know in order to learn to identify plants.  In order to develop our plant I.D. skills, we first need to notice some other plant characteristics. In these challenges, I've been asking our players to notice some of these other important characteristics.   Things you need to notice include characteristics such as the shape of the leaves, the way the leaves grow on the stems, the shape of the stems (all plants in the mint family have a basically square shaped stem), the number of petals on a flower (all mustard family members have four petals and six stamens, 4 tall and 2 short) and the edges, or 'margins', of the leaves.
  • Identify smoothe, wavy, and lobed leaves in your area.  If you do not live in the tropics, add toothed or serrated to your identification.
To aid in this pattern recognition, above you'll see a handy chart of leaf margins- or edges. Look at the edges of the leaves of the plants, trees, shrubs, weeds available to you first hand. Look at a few plants in your yard, neighborhood, local park, plant nursery, or visit an arboretum. See if you can identify how the edges of the leaves would be described. Find a leave with smoothe or 'entire' margins. Find a lobed leaf. Look for a wavy or sinuate leaf. This is not much more complicated than learning the difference between a triangle and a rhombus and you did that once, so know that you can do this, too. We believe in you!

These two sites may help you as well:

However, nothing at all will help like getting outside to look at an actual tree and the real leaves on real plants. That is far more important at this stage then memorizing terms. 

Interesting sidenote: If you live in the tropics, you probably won't see many serrated edged leaves. In a year and a half of living in the Philippines and looking at trees and other plants several times a week, often some of the same trees at least once a week for the last year- I have not noticed that, but now that I think about it, it's true! 

See what you notice outside near your own home (Hint: If it's very hot, do this in the morning or evening, bring out a chair and a fan and a dishpan of cold water. Gather leaves, sit in the shade (use an umbrella if you need to bring your own shade, have the fan blowing and your feet in the dishpan of cold water and sort your leaves by their margins.
Points for Nature study:
Five points for each day you go outside.

Ten points for identifying a new plant, insect, or bird, 5 points for trying but failing.
One point each for each category of leaf you find.
Ten points for drawing in a nature journal.

I've added a point system to this post just for fun (Thanks, Leslie, for the idea!)

120 or more points:  You are a SKYLARK!  Keep on soaring and singing.

100-119 points- You are an adorable baby skylark chick.  Keep on growing!

75 to 99 points- You are a beautiful, shining, precious egg.  Stay warm, safe, and nourished.  You'll hatch soon if you just continue with what you are doing.

40 to 74 points-  You've got a great nest started! You can work on the egg next.  Keep on building and growing.  You can do it!!

19-39 points-  In the hole, there was a tree, the prettiest tree you ever did see, and the tree was in a hole, the hold was in the ground, and the green grass grew all around all around, and the green grass grew all around!  That's a habitat, an environment you've been creating, and it's a good start.  You can't have the bird without the tree and the green grass and grubs for the bird to eat, so this is a great start. Just keep going from where you are now.

1 to 18 points-  You've got the green grass, and the hole, and now it's time to work on that tree!

0 points- We love you.

Seriously.  As I typed this I've prayed- let this not be a discouragement, but rather, a bit of laugher, a cheering up, a warm helping hand, and for those who have had those rough horrible weeks (or years) that I, too, have experienced, Lord, love them, lift them, nourish them and let them feel and know your love and infinite compassion.  Healing, Lord, I beg of you, healing of lacerated spirits and souls, worn down and worn out with seriously hard things, with medical diagnoses that turn the knees to jello and the bones to zero at the bone, with hardship and heart-ache of every kind, whether it be relationships, sickness, sadness, poverty, disaster or all the other painful realities of this world.  What matters most is, of course, your relationships- first and foremost with your creator, then with your family and those around you.  God bless you and yours in those most important fields.

This little quiz does not define anybody, of course.  It's just meant to be a fun little exercise to help with the challenges.   Even within that narrow restriction, what matters most is not racking up all the points, but considering whether or not you would have more points this week than previous weeks or months  if you awarded yourself points in the same way?  What would the trend look like if you made a graph? Are you reading a bit more than you were six months ago? Is the reading you do now more challenging than the reading you did six months ago?  Are you singing more?  Are your children singing?  Do you know a plant in your area that you did not know last year or last month?  And how much do you care?  Keep on working and growing with us, feeding your mind regular servings of nourishing food, and a wide variety!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Challenge 5

Previous challenges:

Challenge 4 is here.
This week's challenge: Read this post!  Scroll down to the end for a few more.=)

 If you have been following along these challenge posts, congratulations!  If all you have managed to do is to read the four previous blog posts in the challenge series, you have now read through the introduction and preface of volume six, which contain the principles as well as other gems.  

This week we'll start with about the first half of chapter 1, which is titled "Self-Education."  Mason begins by stating what she does *not* mean by self-education.  She does not mean self-expression.  She says there's no objection to training the body, hands, eyes, ears, and voice in various means of self-expression, and she agrees that "all these possibilities of joy in living should be open to every child."  However, she says, even though even the PNEU schools may themselves use many of the then-popular forms of training body, eye, and voice, etc. to creative forms of self-expression (dance, projects which give dexterity and precision to the hands, train the voice to interpret beautifully, and so on), she has a caveat:

"...yet is our point of view different; we are profoundly skeptical as to the effect of all or any of these activities upon character and conduct."


That's a pretty broad field, isn't it?  Basically she's saying what we're looking for is that education which effects who we are, and what we do.  It carries with it the connotation of a standard against which we measure- "Anything goes" is not compatible with the development of character and conduct, and neither is 'you do you,' or  'just be yourself.'  Neither are we seeking little clones of ourselves.  It is also important to remember that Miss Mason advocated respecting the children's personalities and personhood. We are educating our children (and by the way, ourselves) to 'Be a better version of ourselves.' No wonder this is the title of one of her six volumes on education.

This course of self-improvement does not focus on externals because "A person is not built up from without but within."

It does not seek a better self through shopping and external improvements because:
"...all the educational appliances and activities which are intended to mould his character are decorative and not vital."

Vital here should be understood as being used the same way we use it when we speak of the vital organs, necessary for, pertaining to life- we wish for living, inner change of the heart and life.

Next Miss Mason explains some logical propositions to us, 'corollaries' or related truths,  some if, then statements.  If  a child is a person, then that means...

"consider a few corollaries of the notion that 'a child is a person,'and that a person is, primarily, living...."

In other words, if it's true that a child is born a full person, then it follows that, as with other living creatures,  growth happens naturally given normal conditions. We don't have to do anything extraordinary for normal growth.  When we look at the physical body we understand that the most important material for growth is the stuff the physical body takes in and assimilates (digests), not the stuff that is applied from the outside.  There's nothing special you have to do for physical bodies to grow normally, although there are things you can do from the outside that will *hinder* proper physical growth.   All the attention in the world devoted to external development is irrelevant if nothing is *taken internally.*  The body must have food. Well, this is all so obvious that we wonder why she even bothers to explain it.  Her point is that the mind, too, is living.  Therefore, the mind must also have its food, and as the mind is a living organism that grows, "the life of the mind is sustained by what is taken in," what the mind digests, assimilates.

She says she believes this is the only analogy that helps us properly understand mind- comparing it to a living organism that must take in and absorb its own proper food in order to grow.  Now she's going to tell us about a different, but very popular analogy, and she has, for Charlotte, a quite scathing criticism of what she considers utterly wrong-headed about it:

"the well-worn plant and garden analogy is misleading, especially as regards that tiresome busybody, the gardener, who will direct the inclination of every twig, the position of every leaf; but, even then apart from the gardener, the child-garden is an intolerable idea as failing to recognize the essential property of a child, his personality, a property all but absent in a plant."

I confess, 'that tiresome busybody' always makes me laugh, every time I read it.  What is the well-worn plant and garden analogy she is talking about?  What is 'the child-garden?'  Everybody knew the 'child-garden' was simply the English translation of a popular movement which had swept across England and America and was promoted with zealous enthusiasm, the kindergarten (kinder is, of course, German for child, and garten is German for garden). CM is not being at all subtle here.  Children, says Charlotte firmly, are not to be compared to plants, not even pretty little flowers in a charming little garden.  They are persons, with their own personalities. We have no authority to direct the inclination of every twig of their being, and because they are persons and not topiaries, we won't be very successful at it even if we try (although we could do great harm).

 Charlotte points out that both bodies and minds need fresh air, must have food or there is no growth, require a balance of activity and rest, and both grow their best when their diet of food is 'wisely various,' that is, not all the same old thing. 
If you're in doubt as to what she means by mind, she isn't limiting this to the brain and knowledge- she says by mind she means 'the entire spiritual nature, all that is not body.'  "We go round the house and round the house," she says- I take this to mean the body, the case for the mind, but we never actually consider the needs of the mind, we don't even go in.   "we offer mental gymnastics, but these do not take the place of food, and of that we serve the most meagre rations, no more than that bean a day!"

There's a useful thought to hold onto at the next curriculum fair- is this shiny new thing going to feed the mind, or is it mental gymnastics?   

We are all about nutrition and diet these days, (and her day, too, human nature is a wonder in its unchanging sameness).  But we never stop, says Charlotte, to give the same attention to mind that we do to nourishing the body.  We need to be asking ourselves, "I wonder does the mind need food, too, and regular meals, and what is its proper diet?""

Can we look again at her definition of mind- 'the spiritual nature' basically, everything that is not the physical part of our lives.  

She addresses this in at least two of her principles as well- the 20th principle (as found in volume VI), which begins "We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and 'spiritual' life of children" and the 9th principle, which says, "9. We hold that the child's mind is no mere sac to hold ideas; but is rather, if the figure may be allowed, a spiritual organism, with an appetite for all knowledge. This is its proper diet, with which it is prepared to deal; and which it can digest and assimilate as the body does foodstuffs."  Knowledge, real knowledge, the stuff in living books, works on mind and spirit because there is truly a separation there.

If mental gymastics, dance, gymnastics, games, external applications and devices, and so on are not food for the mind, then What is food for the mind?  We'll look more at what Charlotte says about that next time. 

This is more than enough to think about this week.  So lets go to our challenges for the week!

1. Read this post and think about it.  Go to and read to page 25 (if you've been keeping up, this is only a couple of pages)- what strikes you?  Read ahead a little.  The best advice I ever got on reading CM or any other good book is to assign myself a set number of pages a day and just make sure I read them.  Make it one page if that's all you can do.  Start somewhere.  This week, read a little bit more than you did last week, and set yourself an attainable goal for how much to read- you can average it out over the week if need be.

2. Singing: have you been keeping up with the previous week's challenges? Sing a folk song or a hymn.   (or better yet, both!) at least 3 times this week.     Keep it up!

~Subscribe to Heather Bunting's Children of the Open Air youtube channel.  Listen to this one: or pick another one.  Do just one lesson this week.

3. Nature study: Did you pick a tree to look at?  There's a Kopok tree we pass on our way to church her in the Philippines, and I look at it every week.  Every week I notice something different.  Tie a ribbon around the branch of your tree and check that branch a couple times a month.  
What do the leaves on one of the trees near your house look like?  What do the leaves and petals on any other plants near your house look like?  Shape, size, how do they grow, edges of the leaf smooth or lobed or serrated?  Is it darker on top than underneath? Vein pattern? Just notice.
Draw one thing in a nature journal this week.  You can do it!
Do you have access to a pine tree to observe?  Read this thread in the forum and join in!

4.  The forum- If you have not joined the forum yet, give it a shot.  Once you've joined, you might dip your feet in at entry level by just looking at the most recent posts of the day- click on the button toward the top right of center that says 'View Today's Posts', then scroll down and see what people are talking about.

Have you read Leslie's Patio Chats?  These are short vitamin bursts of CM information that will take less than 20 minutes to read.  You could subscribe to them at the forum: 

Once in, you might enjoy this thoughtful discussion about the role of the teacher in the high school years:
Or perhaps building fortitude to deal with hard topics:
There is a terrific discussion here on writing skills for the kids in years 1-3 and how that should or shouldn't happen:
Btw, did you know the forum has a special chat area for AO teens?  And we have special groups for families with special needs, for gifted, and for families in the adoption/foster care world.  

5. Feed your mind.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Challenge 4

Previous challenges:

Challenge 1 is here.
Challenge 2 is here.
Challenge 3 is here

Vocabulary words:
1.  Pabulum: "1. Food; aliment; that which feeds.  2. Fuel; that which supplies the means of combustion."
2. Magnanimity: Greatness of mind; that elevation or dignity of soul, which encounters danger and trouble with tranquillity and firmness, which raises the possessor above revenge, and makes him delight in acts of benevolence, which makes him disdain injustice and meanness, and prompts him to sacrifice personal ease, interest and safety for the accomplishment of useful and noble objects. (Websters 1828 Dictionary)

This week we are reading in volume 6 beginning on the bottom of page 9.  
Volume VI is free online here.    If you want to read the pages without my commentary, this was approximately pages 9-21.  If you prefer, you can print these pages out and highlight, underline, make notes in the margins, write out your disagreements or exclamation points, and also stop every other paragraph or two to jot down a quick narration or list of key points.  Staple the pages together or put them in a peechee folder you keep in your bathroom so you can snatch a minute or two of reading here and there throughout your days.  So let's begin!

Miss Mason explains how seeing a group of children in their own home challenged her notion of children and education.  Previously, what she knew of children came from reading and from her work with a church school and an elementary school.  But she says seeing these children in their natural environment at home showed her more of their character and true nature and she realized, "they were persons of generous impulses and sound judgment, of great intellectual aptitude, of imagination and moral insight."  Their ability to imagine particularly struck Miss Mason as illustrated by the reaction of a 5 y.o. girl who came home devastated by seeing a poor homeless man- in thinking of his condition the child grieved over the thought of "a poor man––no home––nothing to eat––no bed to lie upon..." 

Think about that.  Miss Mason, hunting for an example of the power of a child's imagination, used for her illustration this child's broken heart over a homeless stranger.  That's an interesting choice.   We usually think of examples of imagination in children as having something to do with creative story telling, painting, vast 'pretends' and dressing up and play acting the day away with imaginary friends in a living room that alternately becomes an enchanted forest, a seabed, a castle on a hill or a cottage in the woods.  Yet here Mason is demonstrating the value of imagination for enabling a comfortable, well fed, upper middle class 5 year old child to picture the life circumstances of a poor homeless man so clearly it moves her to tears.  This imagination that we want in our children leads not primarily to creative self expression, or to self anything- but to empathy.

Charlotte Mason continues to explain the impact her exposure to real children in their own home had on her philosophy.  She says had been reading philosophy and 'Education,' and studying 'children in large groups' at her elementary school and a pioneer church high school, and she expected "that Education should regenerate the world."  Through exposure to this family in their natural home setting she learned that all her reading and study of children in large groups was not as helpful to her as she had thought, because  "school children are not so self-revealing as at home."   She realized that there was far more to children than she had previously believed or realized- the biggest difference between them and the adults around them being that the children's "ignorance is illimitable."
I always think of that comment when somebody tells me that a Charlotte Mason education is child-led or too self-centered.  A woman who says that the ignorance of children is limitless is not a woman who designed a child-led education.

She attempted to teach abstract grammar concepts to the 7 and 8 year old children, and was unsuccessful- "their minds rejected the abstract conception just as children reject the notion of writing an "Essay on Happiness." 

Great Gravy.  Here she is in 1924 mocking the hackneyed essay on happiness topic already, and yet I was being asked to write an essay on precisely the same subject in an honours English class fifty years later!   I didn't like it any better than MIss Mason's students!
At any rate, she also made a more positive discovery.  She realized: "that the mind of a child takes or rejects according to its needs."  This observation served as a doorway into a hall of wonders, one discovery leading to another.

"From this point it was not difficult to go on to the perception that, whether in taking or rejecting, the mind was functioning for its own nourishment; that the mind, in fact, requires sustenance––as does the body, in order that it increase and be strong; but because the mind is not to be measured or weighed but is spiritual, so its sustenance must be spiritual too, must, in fact, be ideas (in the Platonic sense of images)."
 I soon perceived that children were well equipped to deal with ideas, and that explanations, questionings, amplifications, are unnecessary and wearisome. Children have a natural appetite for knowledge which is informed with thought. They bring imagination, judgment, and the various so-called 'faculties' to bear upon a new idea pretty much as the gastric juices act upon a food ration. This was illuminating but rather startling; the whole intellectual apparatus of the teacher, his power of vivid presentation, apt illustration, able summing up, subtle questioning, all these were hindrances and intervened between children and the right nutriment duly served; this, on the other hand, they received with the sort of avidity and simplicity with which a healthy child eats his dinner.The Scottish school of philosophers came to my aid here with what may be called their doctrine of the desires, which, I perceived, stimulate the action of mind and so cater for spiritual (not necessarily religious) sustenance as the appetites do for that of the body and for the continuance of the race. This was helpful; I inferred that one of these, the Desire of Knowledge (Curiosity) was the chief instrument of education; that this desire might be paralysed or made powerless like an unused limb by encouraging other desires to intervene between a child and the knowledge proper for him; the desire for place,––emulation; for prizes,––avarice; for power,––ambition; for praise,––vanity, might each be a stumbling block to him. It seemed to me that we teachers had unconsciously elaborated a system which should secure the discipline of the schools and the eagerness of the scholars,––by means of marks, prizes, and the like,––and yet eliminate that knowledge-hunger, itself the quite sufficient incentive to education.
Take a minute or two to review this in your mind.  If you have a chance, write down as much you can summarizing the above.  Then stop and consider- what does it mean?  If these things be true, then what should education look like?  Are the tools you are using to teach your children an accurate reflction of how you believe children learn?  Are they tools that are compatible with what you are trying to do, or are the tools that do the very opposite of what you mean to do? Mason continues:
Then arose the question,––Cannot people get on with little knowledge? Is it really necessary after all? My child-friends supplied the answer: their insatiable curiosity shewed me that the wide world and its history was barely enough to satisfy a child who had not been made apathetic by spiritual malnutrition. What, then, is knowledge?––was the next question that occurred; a question which the intellectual labour of ages has not settled; but perhaps this is enough to go on with;––that only becomes knowledge to a person which he has assimilated, which his mind has acted upon.Children's aptitude for knowledge and their eagerness for it made for the conclusion that the field of a child's knowledge may not be artificially restricted, that he has a right to and necessity for as much and as varied knowledge as he is able to receive; and that the limitations in his curriculum should depend only upon the age at which he must leave school; in a word, a common curriculum (up to the age of say, fourteen or fifteen) appears to be due to all children.

We have left behind the feudal notion that intellect is a class prerogative, that intelligence is a matter of inheritance and environment; inheritance, no doubt, means much but everyone has a very mixed inheritance; environment makes for satisfaction or uneasiness, but education is of the spirit and is not to be taken in by the eye or effected by the hand; mind appeals to mind and thought begets thought and that is how we become educated. For this reason we owe it to every child to put him in communication with great minds that he may get at great thoughts; with the minds, that is, of those who have left us great works; and the only vital method of education appears to be that children should read worthy books, many worthy books."

Close your eyes and review this section in your mind.  Spend a minute or two writing out as much as you can remember for your own summary.  Question for today:  Have we left behind the feudal notion that intellect is a class prerogative?   Is it possible we really do still believe that the books and thoughts historically called the works of great minds are only for one class of people,  only now we think they not worth the time of ordinary people, but they are only for useless elites who have little to do with real life?  

Is this disparaging of book knowledge really an improvement?
How do we stunt a child's appetite for knowledge? 

"It will be said on the one hand that many schools have their own libraries or the scholars have the free use of a public library and that children do read; and on the other that the literary language of first-rate books offers an impassable barrier to working-men's children. In the first place we all know that desultory reading is delightful and incidentally profitable but is not education whose concern is knowledge. That is, the mind of the desultory reader only rarely makes the act of appropriation which is necessary before the matter we read becomes personal knowledge. We must read in order to know or we do not know by reading."

As for the question of literary form, many circumstances and considerations which it would take too long to describe brought me to perceive that delight in literary form is native to us all until we are 'educated' out of it.It is difficult to explain how I came to a solution of a puzzling problem,––how to secure attention. Much observation of children, various incidents from one's general reading, the recollection of my own childhood and the consideration of my present habits of mind brought me to the recognition of certain laws of the mind, by working in accordance with which the steady attention of children of any age and any class in society is insured, week-in, week out,––attention, not affected by distracting circumstances. It is not a matter of personal magnetism, for hundreds of teachers of very varying quality, working in home schoolrooms and in Elementary and Secondary Schools on this method (in connection with the Parents' Union School) secure it without effort; neither does it rest upon the 'doctrine of interest'; no doubt the scholars are interested, sometimes delighted; but they are interested in a great variety of matters and their attention does not flag in the 'dull parts.'
It actually really does matter what they are reading.  It's not true that it doesn't matter, so long as they are reading.  This is not snobbery, this is valuing the minds of children as precious and worthy of the best. This is how our minds work- what we labour at and think about is what we retain the longest and deepest. 
It is not easy to sum up in a few short sentences those principles upon which the mind naturally acts and which I have tried to bring to bear upon a school curriculum. The fundamental idea is, that children are persons and are therefore moved by the same springs of conduct as their elders. Among these is the Desire of Knowledge, knowledge-hunger being natural to everybody. History, Geography, the thoughts of other people, roughly, the humanities, are proper for us all, and are the objects of the natural desire of knowledge. So too, are Science, for we all live in the world; and Art, for we all require beauty, and are eager to know how to discriminate; social science, Ethics, for we are aware of the need to learn about the conduct of life; and Religion, for, like those men we heard of at the Front, we all 'want God.'

In the nature of things then the unspoken demand of children is for a wide and very varied curriculum; it is necessary that they should have some knowledge of the wide range of interests proper to them as human beings, and for no reasons of convenience or time limitations may we curtail their proper curriculum.Perceiving the range of knowledge to which children as persons are entitled the questions are, how shall they be induced to take that knowledge, and what can the children of the people learn in the short time they are at school? We have discovered a working answer to these two conundrums. I say discovered, and not invented, for there is only one way of learning, and the intelligent persons who can talk well on many subjects and the expert in one learn in the one way, that is, they read to know. What I have found out is, that this method is available for every child, whether in the dilatory and desultory home schoolroom or in the large classes of Elementary Schools.Children no more come into the world without provision for dealing with knowledge than without provision for dealing with food. They bring with them not only that intellectual appetite, the desire of knowledge, but also an enormous, an unlimited power of attention to which the power of retention (memory) seems to be attached, as one digestive process succeeds another, until the final assimilation. "Yes," it will be said, "they are capable of much curiosity and consequent attention but they can only occasionally be beguiled into attending to their lessons." Is not that the fault of the lessons, and must not these be regulated as carefully with regard to the behaviour of mind as the children's meals are with regard to physical considerations? Let us consider this behaviour in a few aspects. The mind concerns itself only with thoughts, imaginations, reasoned arguments; it declines to assimilate the facts unless in combination with its proper pabulum; it, being active, is wearied in the passive attitude of a listener, it is as much bored in the case of a child by the discursive twaddle of the talking teacher as in that of a grown-up by conversational twaddle; it has a natural preference for literary form; given a more or less literary presentation, the curiosity of the mind is enormous and embraces a vast variety of subjects.
How much attention do we pay to our children's physical meals? How many articles do we read about healthy nutrition, when and how to feed babies solid food, what they should eat, the best methods of food preparation and food preservation?  How many of us know which foods are high in potassium or vitamin C, and what to give our children if we want to improve their calcium levels?
Now, how much time do we spend learning about the mind and how the mind works?  Do we give kids multiple choice, true/false tests and word search puzzles as part of their studies because we have studied the subject ourselves and believe that is how we learn, or isn't this rather the default position because that's what we are used to?  The mind concerns itself with thoughts, imaginations, reasoned arguments- it declines to assimilate bare facts unless in combination with the proper food- literary form.  Stories.  Ideas.  
I predicate these things of 'the mind' because they seem true of all persons' minds. Having observed these, and some other points in the behaviour of mind, it remained to apply the conclusions to which I had come to a test curriculum for schools and families. Oral teaching was to a great extent ruled out; a large number of books on many subjects were set for reading in morning school-hours; so much work was set that there was only time for a single reading; all reading was tested by a narration of the whole or a given passage, whether orally or in writing. Children working on these lines know months after that which they have read and are remarkable for their power of concentration (attention); they have little trouble with spelling or composition and become well-informed, intelligent persons. (The small Practising School attached to the House of Education––ages of scholars from six to eighteen––affords opportunities for testing the programmes of work sent out term by term and the examinations set at the end of each term. The work in each Form is easily done in the hours of morning-school. )
This enthusiastic claim often causes much worry and discouragement to busy moms trying to do many things at home without another adult to help. Please take a deep breath.  I quibble a bit with CM here- the programmes we have include work taken home to be read on weekends and for Sunday readings or for family reading on holidays, and one of the Parents' Review articles summing up the work of the PNEU schools plainly says
"Miss Mason chooses a book, in whatever subject, for its literary value as well as for what it contains. All lessons in which the child uses good, well-written books are teaching him form, style and polish in composition and also such books teach him to think—what we ponder over, we remember.
A great deal of time is given to Literary Subjects in the Parents' Union School, and as it is not always possible to read the books in school hours, the father or mother may help much by reading to the children at home.... "
 So give yourself a bit of a break here.  Mason goes on, now addressing a probably criticism which she has probably heard more than once:
But, it will be said, reading or hearing various books read, chapter by chapter, and then narrating or writing what has been read or some part of it,––all this is mere memory work. The value of this criticism may be readily tested; will the critic read before turning off his light a leading article from a newspaper, say, or a chapter from Boswell or Jane Austen, or one of Lamb's Essays; then, will he put himself to sleep by narrating silently what he has read. He will not be satisfied with the result but he will find that in the act of narrating every power of his mind comes into play, that points and bearings which he had not observed are brought out; that the whole is visualized and brought into relief in an extraordinary way; in fact, that scene or argument has become a part of his personal experience; he knows, he has assimilated what he has read. This is not memory work. In order to memorise, we repeat over and over a passage or a series of points or names with the aid of such clues as we can invent; we do memorise a string of facts or words, and the new possession serves its purpose for a time, but it is not assimilated; its purpose being served, we know it no more. This is memory work by means of which examinations are passed with credit. I will not try to explain (or understand!) this power to memorise;––it has its subsidiary use in education, no doubt, but it must not be put in the place of the prime agent which is attention.
In case you missed it, this is pretty much what I have not so subtly been asking you to do during these challenges, and in this very post- stop,  narrate. Go over what you have read.  If you've been doing this, did you notice the way your mind worked and reworked the material? Did new ideas, questions or points you had previously missed come to mind?  Are you getting a better idea of the big picture through these small exercises in narration? 
Long ago, (says Miss Mason) I was in the habit of hearing this axiom quoted by a philosophical old friend: "The mind can know nothing save what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question put to the mind by itself." I have failed to trace the saying to its source, but a conviction of its importance has been growing upon me during the last forty years. It tacitly prohibits questioning from without; (this does not, of course, affect the Socratic use of questioning for purposes of moral conviction); and it is necessary to intellectual certainty, to the act of knowing. For example, to secure a conversation or an incident, we 'go over it in our minds'; that is, the mind puts itself through the process of self-questioning which I have indicated. This is what happens in the narrating of a passage read: each new consecutive incident or statement arrives because the mind asks itself,––"What next?" For this reason it is important that only one reading should be allowed; efforts to memorise weaken the power of attention, the proper activity of the mind; if it is desirable to ask questions in order to emphasize certain points, these should be asked after and not before, or during, the act of narration.Our more advanced psychologists come to our support here; they, too, predicate "instead of a congerie of faculties, a single subjective activity, attention;" and again, there is "one common factor in all psychics activity, that is attention." (I again quote from the article on Psychology in the Encyclopedia Britannica.) My personal addition is that attention is unfailing, prompt and steady when matter is presented suitable to a child's intellectual requirements, if the presentation be made with the conciseness, directness, and simplicity proper to literature.
You should review this in your mind before reading what I have to say about two observations of my own.:-D
1.   Mason previously referenced Platonic images to explain what she meant by ideas, and here she admits the value of 'Socratic questioning for purposes of moral conviction.'  Hmmm. Those who have ears to hear...
2. You may ask your children questions and draw their attention to points you want them to see- keep this moderate.  Overmuch talking dilutes the attention and the value of what you have to say.  And make sure it comes *after* the children have narrated- narrating focuses the attention on the meaning, the ideas. Rote memory and fill in the blank type stuff redirects the attention from the things that matter, from the ideas and the meaning. 
Another point should be borne in mind; the intellect requires a moral impulse, and we all stir our minds into action the better if there is an implied 'must' in the background; for children in class the 'must' acts through the certainty that they will be required to narrate or write from what they have read with no opportunity of 'looking 'up,' or other devices of the idle. Children find the act of narrating so pleasurable in itself that urgency on the part of the teacher is seldom necessary.
What is *your* moral impulse, implied 'must' in the background? 
Here is a complete chain of the educational philosophy I have endeavoured to work out, which has, at least, the merit that it is successful in practice. Some few hints I have, as I have said, adopted and applied, but I hope I have succeeded in methodising the whole and making education what it should be, a system of applied philosophy; I have, however, carefully abstained from the use of philosophical terms.
This is, briefly, how it works:–– 
*A child is a Person with the spiritual requirements and capabilities of a person.*Knowledge 'nourishes' the mind as food nourishes the body.
*A child requires knowledge as much as he requires food.
*He is furnished with the desire for Knowledge, i.e., Curiosity; with the power to apprehend Knowledge, that is, attention; with powers of mind to deal with Knowledge without aid from without––such as imagination, reflection, judgment; with innate interest in all Knowledge that he needs as a human being; with power to retain and communicate such Knowledge; and to assimilate all that is necessary to him.
*He requires that in most cases Knowledge be communicated to him in literary form; and reproduces such Knowledge touched by his own personality; thus his reproduction becomes original. 
*The natural provision for the appropriation and assimilation of Knowledge is adequate and no stimulus is required; but some moral control is necessary to secure the act of attention; a child receives this in the certainty that he will be required to recount what he has read.  
*Children have a right to the best we possess; therefore their lesson books should be, as far as possible, our best books. 
*They weary of talk, and questions bore them, so that they should be allowed to use their books for themselves; they will ask for such help as they wish for.*They require a great variety of knowledge,––about religion, the humanities, science, art; therefore, they should have a wide curriculum, with a definite amount of reading set for each short period of study.*The teacher affords direction, sympathy in studies, a vivifying word here and there, help in the making of experiments, etc., as well as the usual teaching in languages, experimental science and mathematics. 
*Pursued under these conditions, "Studies serve for delight," and the consciousness of daily progress is exhilarating to both teacher and children.

The reader will say with truth,––"I knew all this before and have always acted more or less on these principles"; and I can only point to the unusual results we obtain through adhering not 'more or less,' but strictly to the principles and practices I have indicated.
To which practices?  She tells us herself-  those she has just indicated.  If you have time, this is a good place to stop and go over the material in your own mind, thinking about it and trying to organize it. If you were going to tell somebody else what you had been reading, how you would you explain it? 
I suppose the difficulties are of the sort that Lister had to contend with; every surgeon knew that his instruments and appurtenances should be kept clean, but the saving of millions of lives has resulted from the adoption of the great surgeon's antiseptic treatment; that is from the substitution of exact principles scrupulously applied for the rather casual 'more or less' methods of earlier days.Whether the way I have sketched out is the right and the only way remains to be tested still more widely than in the thousands of cases in which it has been successful; but assuredly education is slack and uncertain for the lack of sound principles exactly applied.  

The moment has come for a decision; we have placed our faith in 'civilisation,' have been proud of our progress; and of the pangs that the War has brought us, perhaps none is keener than that caused by the utter breakdown of the civilisation which we have held to be synonymous with education. We know better now, and are thrown back on our healthy human instincts and the Divine sanctions. The educable part of a person is his mind. The training of the senses and muscles is, strictly speaking, training and not education. The mind, like the body, requires quantity, variety and regularity in the sustenance offered to it. Like the body, the mind has its appetite, the desire for knowledge. Again, like the body, the mind is able to receive and assimilate by its powers of attention and reflection. Like the body, again, the mind rejects insipid, dry, and unsavoury food, that is to say, its pabulum should be presented in a literary form. The mind is restricted to pabulum of one kind: it is nourished upon ideas and absorbs facts only as these are connected with the living ideas upon which they hang. Children educated upon some such lines as these respond in a surprising way, developing capacity, character, countenance, initiative and a sense of responsibility. They are, in fact, even as children, good and thoughtful citizens.

I have in this volume attempted to show the principles and methods upon which education of this sort is being successfully carried out, and have added chapters which illustrate the history of a movement the aim of which is, in the phrase of Comenius,––"All knowledge for all men." As well as these I have been permitted to use the criticisms of various teachers and Directors of education and others upon the practical working of the scheme.It is a matter of rejoicing that the way is open to give to all classes a basis of common thought and common knowledge, including a common store of literary and historic allusions, a possession which has a curious power of cementing bodies of men, and, in the next place, it is an enormous gain that we are within sight of giving to the working-classes, notwithstanding their limited opportunities, that stability of mind and magnanimity of character which are the proper outcome and the unfailing test of A LIBERAL EDUCATION.I shall confine myself in this volume to the amplification and illustration of some of the points I have endeavoured to make in this introductory statement."

Stability of mind.
Magnanimity of character. 


If you listened to my possibly annoying interruptions and suggestions, you have already narrated this long passage.  Well done!!  If not, or if you just want some ideas for alternative types of narration to use with your own older students,  consider the following:

1. Spend just three minutes narrating- grab a paper and pen or use the comments below or grab a child or a spouse nearby and spend 3 minutes writing or telling as much as you can remember as fast as you can, either orally or in writing.  This is not the only way to narrate, but it is one of my favourites, especially for busy students who may otherwise be reluctant to narrate.

2. This is another one of my favourite narration questions- Does this remind you of anything else?  Tell me about it.

3. Here's another good option for older students- if you were going to write a quiz about the material from one of these challenge posts, what are five questions you would ask? 

Papaya Tree, Philippines
Challenges for this week:

~SING!  What is the subject each day that leaves you and/or your students feeling most frazzled, fractious, and irksome, or just brain-weary?  This week, conclude that subject each day by singing a folk song or a hymn.   

~Subscribe to Heather Bunting's Children of the Open Air youtube channel.  Listen to this one:
Try this: Three days a week, sing a folk song together.  On the fourth day at the same time you usually sing a folk song, watch the next Children of the Open Air video together. On the fifth day, watch it again, or practice without the video, or sing the folk song together- whichever you prefer.  This is only a suggestion of one way to do this. You are not more or less of a homeschool mom  if you choose a different folk song, a different schedule, or you need to defer solfa lessons until a more opportune time.

~Nature Study: AO Recommends the use of the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Comstock as a resource and reference for parents.  We also have a recommended line up to help parents go through the book and topics in an organized way. You can see that here.  You do not *have* to follow it. We offer this just as a helpful framework for those who want it.  The line-up for the 2018-2019 school year is:

     summer/fall: Trees/shrubs/vines
     winter: Stars/sky
     spring: Amphibians
(That's why I chose pictures I've taken of the local trees for this post.)

Look out the windows of your home.  Look for a tree you can see easily and comfortably.  Loosely  tie a bright coloured ribbon around one of the branches, preferably one that you can see from the window.  Throughout this winter try to look out the window at that particularly branch at least twice a month (once a week is better) and notice in changes.
Read this post on the easiest and best way to approach a nature journal (short answer: Just do it!)
             - Challenge: Draw something in your nature journal this week.  Anything at all.

~Level up in your reading standards- Read this post. Pick a meatier book to read than you usually choose.  Assign yourself a set number of pages you commit to reading each day. Don't set yourself up for failure. Make it realistic, doable.  Tell yourself you must read that many pages a day in that book before you can watch a K-drama, a Netflix movie, read your favourite elbow chair for the mind book, or fritter time away on facebook.  This is an aspirational goal and we take it seriously, but we don't get legalistic about it, either. Life circumstances matter.  Do not berate yourself for failure. Do not call yourself a loser and drown yourself in a carton of ice-cream and a youtube binge.  Just pay attention to the habits you are building.  If the weekend comes and you didn't meet a single day's goal, then you know you should revise your target page down, make an effort toward some progress forward over the weekend, and try again.  Do not decide to start this tomorrow.  Make some progress today. 

Here's a little gift: Free printable bookmarks with quotes from Miss Mason on 'reading to know'vs desultory reading. Print them and write your name and contact information on the back and leave them in a Charlotte Mason book at the local library. Maybe you could be the start of a friendly, encouraging support group.  Don't want to use your printer for color printing? Just write some info on a sticky note and put it in the library book.  You can also post to the FB or forum looking for other moms in your area.  

Having others in real life for mutual support and encouragement in our homeschooling and mothering journey is something most of us long for.  But make sure it is encouraging and not discouraging.    This is a helpful read on what to look for in your CM community- and we can apply this inwardly, as well, and consider how to *be* that support and encouragement to others.    Here's an excerpt:
"... I should not like to apply your word “unpermissible” to what you have considered it well to do in your school. Miss Mason would not have used the word herself, but in her work with those with whom she came most into contact here she always took any debated point back to the principle at issue, and made us decide whether or not a certain practice could bear the final test of the principle. No doubt able and thoughtful teachers will always interpret Miss Mason’s writings in their own way; but this should not prevent close cooperation between those who are immediately concerned in carrying out a trust which has been left to them, and those who are endeavouring to carry out Miss Mason’s Method in wider fields of action from their reading of her books.

Bamboo, which is technically not a tree

Additional reading suggestions and digging deeper for those who can:

Be sure to read Karen Glass' excellent article on what a Charlotte Mason teacher does. It will inspire you.  After reading, try narrating it to yourself, or use one of the three methods above.  

Kopok tree, Philippines

The neuroscience of reading great literature- this is a good explanation about why it matters so much that the children read living books rather than twaddle.  

This is not because we are pretentious or elitist, unless it is pretentious or elitist to say that children should have a diet rich with delicious, attractive, nourishing fruits and vegetables and rather sparing of cotton candy, jawbreakers and McDonald's Happy Meals.  More about what sorts of books Mason recommended for moral instruction, and also what sort of books she pointedly did *not* recommend.

Flame Tree, Philippines

Here's a good forum post on not being elitist.  Remember that you need to be signed in to the forum for that link to work.  Joining the forum and navigating it is  a challenge and a learning curve, but if you can do it, it's worth it. Consider it part of an ongoing challenge from week to week.    

Mango tree, Philippines

Digging Deeper Still:

I linked this above, but if you want to know more about Charlotte Mason and Comenius, you need to start here and read Karen Glass's series about those connections. 

Unconvinced about nature study?  Here's a short topical collection of Miss Mason and others on why we study botany.

A very thoughtful forum discussion on this section of volume VI

Enobling the masses, and a liberal education for all, a forum post (you need to be signed in to the forum for the link to work for you)

More discussion on a liberal education for all

When you are ready to choose a nature study notebook, this thread in the forum might help you pick one. But first be sure you did some sketching using what you have, even if it was just a 3 ring binder or a ragged index card stuck in the back of your purse because you jotted down an old shopping list on it once.

More help from the forum on the study of trees.  Also here.

Not strictly Charlotte Mason, but there are corollaries:

How American education became an education that is really not for all, and consequently makes us wary of seeming to be 'elite' because we read Shakespeare.


Mortimer Adler on what is a liberal education