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Continuing a summary of Charlotte Mason’s 20 principles, we arrive at number 3:

If you need to go back and read about the first 2 principles, click here.

3. The principles of authority on the one hand, and of obedience on the other, are natural, necessary and fundamental

Notable: When Charlotte discusses this principle in Volume 6, it’s striking that she mentions The War.

Her first book on education was written in 1905. Volume 6 was 1922 – after she had seen the devastation of the first World War. It’s hard to overstate how surprisingly terrible this war was to people alive at the time. People suspected that Europe had reached a time of such peace, and humanity was on a trajectory that war was impossible. So 20 million deaths was unthinkable, but that’s exactly what happened.

The war informed Charlotte’s later ideas. 

And onto number 3:

She makes a point that authority is necessary to society. When we are under a proper authority, and obeying that authority, we are the most free. A Tim Keller sermon illustration that stuck with me is of a fish that wants to be free to walk on the land, but he is only actually free when he follows the rule to stay in the water. That’s what these ideas remind me of.

Charlotte says:

“Without this (authority), society would cease to cohere. Practically there is no such thing as anarchy; what is so-called is a mere transference of authority, even if in the last resort the anarchist find authority in himself alone. There is an idea abroad that authority makes for tyranny, and that obedience, voluntary or involuntary, is of the nature of slavishness; but authority is, on the contrary, the condition without which liberty does not exist and, except it be abused, is entirely congenial to those on whom it is exercised: we are so made that we like to be ordered even if the ordering be only that of circumstances. Servants take pride in the orders they receive; that our badge of honour is an ‘Order’ is a significant use of words. It is still true that ‘Order is heaven’s first law’ and order is the outcome of authority.

That principle in us which brings us into subjection to authority is docility, teachableness, and that also is universal. If a man in the pride of his heart decline other authority, he will submit himself slavishly to his ‘star’ or his ‘destiny.’ It would seem that the exercise of docility is as natural and necessary as that of reason or imagination; and the two principles of authority and docility act in every life precisely as do those two elemental principles which enable the earth to maintain its orbit, the one drawing it towards the sun, the other as constantly driving it into space; between the two, the earth maintains a more or less middle course and the days go on.”

I’ve heard some folks mistakenly say that the Charlotte Mason method is “child-led.” It’s certainly not that, and this principle should illustrate the point. The child is under the authority of the teacher. The child should understand that the teacher is under the authority of God and that they are both under the authority of God.

Principle 4:

4. These principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire.

The delicate balance of teaching from authority and having children willfully obey and learn the first time, is something I have not mastered. But, going back to the first principle, “Children are born persons:” when you treat children with respect, they are far more likely to respect you back. Put knowledge in his hands, don’t force it down his throat and see what happens.

There’s no need to use fear or manipulation. 

This also reminds me very much of the book How to Talk so Kids Will Listen, and Listen so Kids Will Talk. I read it when my oldest was young and it influenced my parenting so much that I’m sure it’s one reason I’m draw to the CM method. I used to get it for every new mom. If you haven’t read it, stop and read it now.

So – authority and obedience should be natural but children are not puppies – Children are persons and should be treated with respect.

 

Here’s a principle that may ruffle some feathers, but stick with me here:

2. Children are not born bad but with possibilities for good and for evil.

At first glance, it might seem like Charlotte is talking about original sin, or, rather, a lack of original sin, but it’s actually more like a call not to be prejudiced against children for socio-economic status. Remember the part in Oliver Twist when Mr. Grimwig insists that Oliver will swindle Mr. Brownlow simply because Oliver was thin and poor? This is the exact culture that Charlotte Mason was raised in. When she went to teaching school, these prejudiced ideas were likely the norm.

Charlotte saw for herself that children from many backgrounds could be positively influenced by a proper education.

BUT – VERY IMPORTANT HERE: She did not mean attaching a “moral” to every story or lesson. In fact, she says in Volume 6:

“As for moral lessons, they are worse than useless; children want a great deal of fine and various moral feeding, from which they draw the ‘lessons’ they require. It is a wonderful thing that every child, even the rudest, is endowed with Love and is able for all its manifestations, kindness, benevolence, generosity, gratitude, pity, sympathy, loyalty, humility, gladness; we older persons are amazed at the lavish display of any one of these to which the most ignorant child may treat us. But these aptitudes are so much coin of the realm with which a child is provided that he may be able to pay his way through life; and, alas, we are aware of certain vulgar commonplace tendencies in ourselves which make us walk delicately and trust, not to our own teaching, but to the best that we have in art and literature and above all to that storehouse of example and precept, the Bible, to enable us to touch these delicate spirits to fine issues.” 

Tying a story up with a nice moral “bow” completely takes away the magic of the story and doesn’t let the story do it’s work on the child. Imagine finishing Charlotte’s Web, children tearing up, and as you close the book saying, “Now remember kids, it’s important to be a kind friend.” Or, “If you wake up early, you might get to raise a pig.” Or “There can be redemption in grief.” Those are all things that one could pull from the text, but spelling it out for the child is *you* doing the work and taking the opportunity away from the child to draw their own conclusion.

Interestingly, even Aesop’s Fables, I have heard, did not originally include the “morals” at the end of each tale. So, when we read the stories, I always leave off the “moral,” and instead, we talk through what happened in the story. Often, the child will work out a perfectly fine conclusion on her own. And if she doesn’t, let the story marinate. The story will always be tucked away in the back of her mind to recall as needed. 

Let the child do the work. Trust that the Holy Spirit will do the work.

 

Charlotte Mason was an educator in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. After some time teaching, she became ill and this gave her plenty of time to think and write about education. In 1905, she wrote “Home Education” which included 18 principles of education and in 1922, she wrote “Towards a Philosophy of Education” which revised those principles and added 2 more. (There were 4 more books in the middle of these titles, which I’m sure I’ll discuss later.)

For the next several weeks, I will review those 20 principles and explain how they work out in real life. I’ve used these principles in our homeschool and also in my church/tutoring classes.

  1. Children are born persons.

This is simple, but some educational systems and adults completely overlook this fact. I will give some examples:

Often, I have been talking with a child and an adult will walk up and interrupt as if what the child is saying is not important.

I have seen adults hear the words children say, but not really listen and not care to understand.

I have seen adults discount children’s hopes/fears/interests.

If you believe a child is a real person, you will:

Talk to the child like a person. 

Treat even young children like they are important by what you say and do.

Trust the child to do the work of his or her education.

In Charlotte’s own words:

“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.”

 

We don’t do children any favors by watering down learning material for them. They need good nourishment and all we have to do is put them in touch with age-appropriate readings/ideas for them to take in as they will. Ambleside Online does an excellent job sorting great books into age/grade-appropriate groups if you need some ideas. In general, children are capable of understanding much more than you think.

Examples: In my church classes, I have taught two different ways. At times, I have read the Bible passage myself, then used puppets, stick figures, or drawings to explain what happened to a group of children. This is fine. The children are often able to repeat back what I said and repeat back the inferences I made in my lesson. There’s a time/place for this type of teaching.

The other way I teach, more often, is: I read the passage ahead of time, but for the actual lesson, I do a few minutes of scaffolding (i.e. What is leprosy? How were taxes collected in Rome? What would it be like to be disabled in the first century?) Then I read the actual Bible to the children without my commentary. Every few verses, I ask, “What’s happening here?” The children jump in and are usually excited to tell back what they heard. 

Then, the most amazing thing happens: as they tell back what they heard, the children make their own connections and add their own commentary. The most striking example was with a 7-year-old girl telling about Genesis 3, The Fall. When she told back, “They ate the apple and started to die,” she added, “It’s like the apple was poison for their bodies. The sin is poison.” A 7-year-old girl. And it was one of her first times narrating in this way.

Whoever does the work learns. When we let children be the persons they are, and we let the children do the work, they will learn and reason more effectively than when we step in and do the work for them.

Children are, indeed, born persons. 

Summer Goals

Summer Reading | Book It

  • Lots of Splash Pads
  • Lots of Swimming Pools
  • Keep some structure
  • Catch up on a few school-ish items
  • Book-it Free Pizza

 

The lovely thing about the summer, for public school kids, is they are home! So you can do more to incorporate the family culture you desire because you have your kids with you more.

 

Some recommendations: 

Pick one composer and listen to their music for a little bit every time you’re in the car, in the evenings when you’re making dinner, or when everyone is getting ready for bed. Every once in a while, mention the name of the composer and what song is playing. Don’t overdo it! Just make this composer that you like part of your culture. 

Pick three great classic movies that you want your kids to watch. Plan one movie night per month to introduce them to your favorite films.

Pick a classic book to read in the mornings or evenings. 

Let your kids pick a country on the map. Learn about what the people there eat, how they dress, what music they like – let the kids prepare a meal from that country. 

Summer Plans


We do not do official school year-round. Some families do, and that’s fine. But we need an extended break and we do that in the summer time. 

However, we need structure and a schedule or else we feel crazy. So our summer days include a “morning time” that is a bit less intense than our normal “morning time.” It’s time for Summer Homeschool Plans….

In the summer, we will:

  1. Read Proverbs
  2. Read scheduled Bible passages from Ambleside Online.
  3. Read Animal Farm and Watership Down.
  4. Finish Robin Hood.
  5. Finish Lord of the Rings.

I pick these books because they are coming up quick on my kids’ curriculum and if we read them in the summer, it frees up time during the school year.

We will also work on little skills that need work…(I’m looking at you, copywork.)

Every homeschool family I know does summer a little differently. We need lots of time for my full work schedule and the kids need a break from some things (like math and Latin). 

“You have to do what works for your family.”

Summer Reading

Book It

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Science, Nature Study, and Charlotte Mason

Maybe the most common question I get after “What curriculum do you use?” is “What about science?” There’s a bit of a misconception out there about Charlotte Mason and her approach to science. People think she was light on science, maybe because she was so heavy on literature. 

The thing to keep in mind is: the Charlotte Mason method says that education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life. Just because we aren’t pulling our hair out trying to make random science experiments work or buying expensive science curriculum does not mean we are not learning biology, chemistry, physics and more.

There are several ways we incorporate science in our lives:

Nature Study

Charlotte recommended hours and hours of outdoor time in the afternoons after lessons are completed.

This is so special and also impossible for our family (and I suspect yours, too.) We do school in the mornings and our afternoons are full of dance lessons, church, and work commitments. 

But one morning a week, we meetup with a small group and visit a local park. We are fortunate to have a one nearby park that is entirely nature-focused. There’s a creek to play in, paths to hike, a few fishing ponds. It’s really great.

12-week Focus

If we just took nature in as we found it, we would find a great deal: trees, birds, bugs…But there are so many things out there so:

12 weeks at a time, we pick a nature topic from Anna Cromstock’s Book of Nature Study. Usually we follow along with the plan at Amblesideonline.org.

During that 12 weeks, we seek out opportunities to learn about our topic. For example, last term, we learned about Rocks and Minerals so we reached out to a local Gem and Mineral Club and discovered they offer a free kid’s class on Geology. Next term, we will learn about fish, so we will visit an aquarium and go fishing. 

Memberships

One educational investment we make is memberships to our local museums and zoos – but a membership to all of them at the same time is not financially feasible – so if there happens to be a location that is specific to our 12-week focus, we will pick up a membership for that location.

For example, mammals and reptiles were both on our nature study list for last year, so we made sure to get a membership to our zoo. This year, since one focus is fish, we will get a membership to our state park so we can fish/camp easily.

When it’s time to learn about flowers, head to the arboretum or invest in some new flowers for your own garden. Let the kids pick them out and help plant them.

Science experiments

In my experience, when we’re doing a mom’s-idea science experiment, mom is the one doing all the work, the kids are not very interested, and half the time, the experiment doesn’t work anyway. However, the times my kids got an idea and wanted to try something out, the whole situation turned around. They were the ones searching for experiment ideas. They were the ones gathering supplies. They were the ones excited about seeing the results. And if it failed, they were the ones trying to figure out what went wrong and trying again.

Whoever does the work, learns. This is not child-led education. There are plenty of ways to get a kid wondering about a science topic to the extent that they ask a question that requires an experiment. And those are the science moments they will remember.

 

In Summary

It may sometimes look like science learning is not happening, but that’s just because there are no worksheets and vinegar volcanos (although, we did make a vinegar volcano once…). When nature and all the science that comes with it is a normal part of your life, the learning comes naturally.

Free Reads

“Free Reads” in our home come from the Ambleside Online list for whatever year my kids are in.

In the Ambleside Online community, families handle the Free Read section in different ways. The way I do it is not the only way, although it does work well for us.

For the younger years, I pick a selection from “Free Reads” and add it to our morning time. We read about 15 minutes per day. I alternate from the list of each kid.

I started doing it this way because my oldest started at AO4 and missed the younger year free reads. By doing them as a family, he got to hear those stories while my daughter did. 

Sometimes we do a free read because it fits with the season or topic. For example, we visited the fair recently, and my youngest fell in love with the little piglets PLUS our nature study topic was spiders – so we had to read Charlotte’s Web. Also, every November/December, we read The Christmas Carol because it’s such a great story.

The other way we sometimes handle Free Reads is audiobooks from the library. I’ve written before about my captive car audience, and one way I take advantage of this time is audiobooks. We can’t swing a monthly audible subscription, but the occasional library fee is worth it.

Article on Free Reads from Ambleside Online

 

Shakespeare

We love Shakespeare.

Shakespeare can be an intimidating addition to your homeschool journey – but it does not have to be! By biting off small chucks and going slowly, you can dig in and the Bard can enrich your home. Here are tips to get started:


The Play’s the Thing.

-Hamlet

 

Pick a Play You Love

 

Shakespeare wrote 39ish plays and it can be hard to decide where to start. Your feelings for the work will spill over to your kids and influence their reactions, so it’s important to pick a play that you like.

Do you have fond memories of Baz Lehrman’s Romeo + Juliet? Read Romeo and Juliet! Do you have strong feeling about Brutus and Julius Caesar? Start there.

Does the thought of Shakespeare only fill you with boredom and fear? Don’t worry! You can still pick a play and have fun reading it with your children.

If you don’t love a play, it may help to pick a play that you already know a bit. If you’re worried your kids will ask you questions and you won’t be able to answer, buy yourself a copy of the “No Fear Shakespeare” version. It has a modern translation on the opposite page from the original text and can help you interpret on the fly. (Although I do not recommend No Fear versions for kids. More on that below.)

Another way to decide what play to read is to check with your local theaters to see if anyone is doing any Shakespeare in the Park. Pick a play that you can see in person as a treat.

Which Version to Purchase

Half-Priced Books is my best friend when it comes to buying Shakespeare plays. They almost always have three copies of what I’m looking for and I can touch the books in person to see what’s between the covers.

  1. Some versions have annotations on the left-hand page. These are so helpful when you come across a word that has changed meaning or a mythology reference that you just don’t remember.
  2. No Fear Shakespeare looks appealing and it may work for your family. It includes the original text plus a modern translation. The Modern version will not have the same ring as Shakespeare (Shakespeare was a great writing and chose his words for a reason.). Also, if there are any objectionable jokes (I’m looking at you, Mercutio) that would otherwise fly over your children’s heads, they may be plainly spelled out in the modern version and lead to conversations you weren’t expecting to have.
  3. Folger’s Library versions will often have notes at the beginning of the play to help with context, themes, etc. I really appreciate those for my own education although I do not burden my younger children with all these ideas. With younger kids I prefer to let the text talk for itself and save the themes/motif talk for when they are older and notice these things on their own.

Mercutio

Will they get it?

Not at first. The language is different and it will take time – but it’s worth stumbling through a few plays so they can reap rewards later.

As an example, the second play we did was MacBeth with my oldest in grade 5. On his own, he connected the knocking that MacBeth and his wife hear after the murder with the drumming sound in Tell-Tale Heart. ON HIS OWN. Any theme or idea I pointed out to him I’m sure he’s already forgotten, but his own brain working out that connection will be with him forever. Any child can make these connections when presented with good literature and it’s worth the hard reading work to get there.

But they do bad things…

There are people in Shakespeare’s plays that do ugly things. They sin. It’s true. They make poor choices, get angry, murder, and more. But on the whole, their poor choices have terrible consequences and the basic world-view of most of the plays is Christian. 

The good that can come from reading Shakespeare outweighs the bad and it’s worth digging in a having discussions about what the characters do and what happens to them. (not in a moralizing way…but that’s a talk for another day.)

Can we do the same play twice?

Yes! We’ve read Much Ado About Nothing, like, three times over the years and every time we see something new. When you are already familiar with the plot, you can catch more jokes and tropes.

Some families start by reading a summary, like Lamb’s Shakespeare, before they read the real play for that very reason – so they don’t have to focus on plot and can just have fun reading. That’s a fine idea. Our family has always had at least one kid old enough to read the real play, so we just read the play and follow up with a film or live version if we can find a good one.

Go Slow – just reading a scene a day, you can read at least three Shakespeare Plays easily. Let everyone pick a character or two and act it out in your own living room. Not enough family members? Make simple peg dolls to be your actors.

Film Adaptations

It can be fun to have a movie night and watch a good Kenneth Branagh version of a play. A subscription to your local PBS station can be a cost effective way to find some Shakespeare on TV.

After you have a few plays under your belt, check out Shakespeare Live! from the RSC. It was a celebration at the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and features lots of actors you family may appreciate.

 

 

 

Another great resource I have found is The Play’s the Thing  – a podcast by Circe Institute. They pick a play and talk about it one act at a time. Very helpful for parents and older students to find another level of understanding Shakespeare and his work.

Poetry

Filling your children’s heads and hearts with poetry is one of the most important things you can do. No one is bored when they have a poem to recite. Internalizing those rhythms and rhymes will help with writing and style later in life. Here is what we do for poetry time each morning.

Who: We chose poets based on what year our children are studying at Ambleside Online. Over the years, we have read Mother Goose, A.A. Milne, John Dunbar, James Riley-Whitcomb, Longfellow, Christina Rossetti, Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter De La Mare, Emily Dickenson, and many more.

 

What: Most of the years, Ambleside has a free, printable list of poems on their website. Some years we have printed the list and read from it. Other years, we have bought a small collection of poems from Half Priced Books. 

We study the same poet for 12 weeks.

How: First, we read one poem per day by our poets. It can be that simple and still be effective. 

If there is a good, short biography on our poet, we may add that.

If we are feeling very creative, we might pick a poem and do an art project inspired by the piece.

We have also had seasons of life that we hosted a Poetry Hour at our home. We picked a poet, had friends over to read a few of his/her poems aloud, and did a small project based on the poems we liked (like painting a rock about our poem, for example.) It helped us to focus on a poet and allowed some kids to recite their poetry in front of peers. Fun all around.

“Homeschool moms love planning more than the actual homeschooling.” — I’m not sure who said that, but sometimes it’s true.

Proverbs, Bible, Catechism are for everyone.

Spanish – We use Speaking Spanish with Miss Mason and Francois

Pilgrim’s Progress – we have an old copy. We may be switching to Dangerous Journey soon.

Poetry – We follow Ambleside’s poetry rotation depending on the year my kids are in.

Shakespeare – Ambleside Shakespeare Rotation. (Usually)

Free Read –  a book I pick that I want us to read aloud together.

Halliburton – His “Book of Marvels.”

Art Study – Ambleside’s Art Rotation – using a study guide from either Humble Place or Simply Charlotte Mason.

Composer – Reading a book about our composer, chosen from Ambleside’s Composer Study.

Art Instruction – You Tube Videos, usually connected to another topic. More on that later.

Geography – From from both Home Geography for Primary Grades by Long, and/or Elementary Geography by Charlotte Mason 

Plutarch – We used Anne White’s Study Guides. This is aimed at my older kids, but the younger one listens, too.

Nature Study – Using Anne Comstock’s book as a guide plus the Ambleside Nature Rotation.

Dictation – For my oldest, we had to add Diction to the list so we would remember to do it.

Morning Time

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“Morning Time,” while not strictly Charlotte Mason, is an essential part of our homeschool. It’s the time that we read the Bible together, do any lessons that all the kids need, and review our day so everyone knows what to expect.

And this week I’m planning for next term.

To keep myself as organized as possible, I make a list of goals for each week. Ambleside runs 12 week terms, so I work in 12 week chunks.

I print one page for each week. Each pages as a “daily” section and a “weekly section.” We do the daily items daily and try to get in 2 weekly items per day.

Daily sample:

Proverbs

Bible Verses

Catechism

Spanish-imperatives

Pilgrim’s Progress (10 pages per week)

Poetry – Whitcomb-Riley and Whittier

Shakespeare – Two Gentlemen – 1 scene per day

Two from weekly list

Free Read

Weekly sample:

Halliburton

Art Study – Botticelli

Composer – Bach

Art Instruction –  TBD

Geography – TBD

Plutarch-Pompey

Nature Study – soil/erosion

Dictation (x3)

Look mysterious? Over the next few months, I’ll be posting more about each of our morning time activities. I hope these ideas may help you on your homeschool journey!

 

For an excellent podcast about morning time

Check out Cindy Rollins – The New Mason Jar or Pam Barnhill’s Your Morning Basket. Both have seriously influenced my homeschool journey in a big way.

For further reading on Charlotte Mason

You can always read Charlotte’s words herself for free on the web, or check out Susan Schaffer Macauley’s For the Children’s Sake

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