Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What is the Charlotte Mason Approach to Education?

Miss Charlotte Mason was a late 19th / early 20th century leader in British education. Her Parents National Educators Union schools, in homes and villages around that country, championed natural learning methods, high quality literature, the fine arts, orderly home atmosphere, healthy outdoor time, and the dignity of the child.

Her methods, outlined in the six volume Original Home Schooling series, have made a comeback in modern home schooling circles where they are also known as “living books” or “life experiences” education. Mind you, I haven’t yet been able to plow through all of her own writings, but I do appreciate the books and magazine articles I have read about them. If I had to choose one approach to home schooling, this would be it!

For language we use dictation, copy work and narration; choose interesting “whole books” written by authors with a passion for their subjects; and teach children to read with a commonsense blend of phonics and sight words. There are so many other ways we have used Charlotte Mason to appreciate art and nature, but to list them would start another whole chapter! My favorite book on this is The Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola.

Quick Tips for Using
The Best Facets of Charlotte Mason

♥ Choose interesting “living books” and biographies for reading aloud or independent study.
♥ Keep lessons short and varied so that the mind does not become dull.
♥ Assess comprehension by oral or written narration (the student tells what he has learned).
♥ Use the methods of dictation and copying to practice grammar, handwriting and spelling.
♥ Go on nature walks and draw what you see.
♥ Allow plenty of time for unstructured outdoor play.
♥ Study fine art and listen to excellent music, focusing on one artist or composer at a time.

The brief article above is excerpted from my first book, The Real Life Home School Mom.

Charlotte Mason Web Sites 

Here is a collection of several popular web sites that teach about various aspects of the Charlotte Mason approach to education. Please note that I do not endorse everything on each site.

I recommend that if you see a link that interests you, either in this Charlotte Mason section or the next one on my blog links, that you right click and open in a new tab. That way you can read each one in turn without losing track of the others.

Charlotte Mason Research & Supply with Karen Andreola (I'm not sure if this site has been updated recently since it doesn't list Karen's newest book, but there is still a lot of great stuff there.)

Ambleside On-line -- free curriculum, booklists, schedules, including free on-line texts, plus CM's original series in modern English paraphrase

Charlotte Mason Education with Catherine Levinson

Jeannie Fulbright writes Charlotte Mason style elementary science texts for Apologia, and has articles on CM for all school subjects

Simply Charlotte Mason

Intentional Parents -- sister site to Simply Charlotte Mason -- info on autism and other special needs

Harmony Art Mom
Barbara McCoy blogs about Charlotte Mason style home schooling, especially art and music. You can download her free Harmony Fine Arts Summer 2009 plans for art and music appreciation on Claude Monet and Felix Mendelssohn, including prints and notebook pages here: Other e-books are available for purchase

After I sent out this issue, I received some more links from readers.

Longtime Hope Chest reader Dana Wilson wrote to let me know about Epikardia, a Charlotte Mason style unit study curriculum that she has co-authored. You can find out more here: If you sign up for their e-mail newsletter, they will send you the link to two free poetry e-books, The Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, and poems by Henry Wadworth Longfellow. They also have a bunch of great articles, including "Charlotte Mason in a Nutshell" You will find much useful CM (and other) information at the Epikardia blog, too: Check it out!

Kathy Stuart send these links: This site is maintained by Jack Beckman, one of the authors of When Children Love To Learn and others.They publish a modern version of the Parent's Review and host an annual conference [Virginia's note: This one is from an American mom in China] This site has ideas for putting your own CM curriculum together Every two weeks a mini-onference of ideas of how other families are using CM methods at home

From one of Kathy's links, I found this site from a mom who uses Charlotte Mason methods:]


I wrote a blog post called Nature Study: It's For the Birds! about a little bit of Charlotte Mason style nature study in our home and co-op. My sons Andrew, Micah and Ben took the beautiful bird photographs in this post. Check it out!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Nature Study: It's For the Birds!

Nature Study: It’s for the Birds!

One of the key facets of the Charlotte Mason approach to education is nature study, and certainly one of the most fascinating aspects of this is learning about birds!

I love to read books about birds to my kids, and browse through field guides to see the variety of species.

We should take a field trip to our local Audubon Center for Birds of Prey soon.

Fortunately for busy home school moms, there is an easy to use resource for teaching your elementary age children all about them. Our home school co-op’s 5th-6th grade science class has been using Exploring Creation with Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day, which also explores the wonderful world of insects and bats.  (Five of the 12 lessons are on birds.)   I like the specific information she gives, such as her explanation of how the male mallefowl keeps the eggs in the nest mound at just the right temperature using its built-in tongue thermometer to determine whether to cover it with more or less sand and rotting plants.  Then, when the chiecks hatch, they have to spend about 15 hours digging out! Wow!  Or how about the albatross, which has an 11 foot sing span and can glide on guests of wind for days at a time?
 Like Fulbright’s other science books (Botany, Astronomy, Land Animals, and Swimming Creatures), the Flying Creatures book combines solid content (complete text, photos, diagrams), hands-on activities, and note booking. You can either purchase pre-printed Notebooking Journals for each of these courses, or download them for free from her web site,

My son Micah has particularly enjoyed the bird studies this year. As part of his homework assignments, he has made a bird booklet by downloading pictures from the web and writing about each species.

He has also enthusiastically drawn pictures of birds, and more recently, taken dozens of pictures of ones found near our home (see below). I can tell this is somewhat of a passion for him and that makes me as happy as a lark!

One of Micah’s favorite bird web sites is the one by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology,, which is full of pictures, textual information, audio clips, and video. One of the pages on this site has bird sketches by Catherine Hamilton.

These are some of the bird photographs which my sons Micah, Ben, and Andrew have taken in the past week or so.

Red-Tailed Hawk

The mockingbird is our Florida state bird.


Some sort of yellow bird -- yet to be identified!

Male cardinal

The next several photos are of white ibises
that sometimes visit our neighborhood. 
Micah, who took all but one of these pictures, 
identified them using the web site

Ben, who is 7, took the next one.

A red headed woodpecker, added on March 27.

Then there are birds that you don't find just strutting around your neighborhood.... 

Andrew took this one of a family of sandhill cranes while he and Dad were on a camp out with friends at Moss Park near Orlando.

Micah took these -- a sea gull and a chick -- at New Smyrna Beach on April 1.

And don't forget Bible birds!

Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young, at your altars,
O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise! Psalm 84:3-4

Look at the birds of the air:
they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns,
and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are you not of more value than they?
And which of you by being anxious
can add a single hour to his span of life?
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be added to you.
Matthew 6:26-27, 33

Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:30-31

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Read for the Heart: Whole Books for Wholehearted Families

Read for the Heart:
Whole Books for Wholehearted Families

Book by Sarah Clarkson
Review by Virginia Knowles

Bunny trails, even the cyber kind, can lead to serendipitous discoveries, and that is certainly the case with how I found a wonderful book that is reshaping my home education path.

Late last year, I happened to be reading a theology blog that linked to a music video, which in turn linked to a writer’s forum, which fortuitously deposited me onto Sarah Clarkson’s blog. Her name is no mystery to me, though. What jumped out to me is that she is a Clarkson, twentysomething eldest daughter of Clay and Sally, whose 1995 book The Wholehearted Child (later renamed Educating the Wholehearted Child), laid an early foundation for Charlotte Mason style education in our home. Now Sarah, who was nurtured in a literature-loving environment, has penned her own contribution to the cause. She was kind enough to send me a review copy, along with a sweet note, and I devoured it in January. It’s been doing its work on me ever since, pointing me back from whence I came, back to whole literature education. But that is another story for another time.

Let me talk about the book. Bare fact: 384 pages of sheer delight. With her own warm-hearted, imagination-sparking vignettes from her family’s experience, Sarah sets first sets forth a passionate and poetic plea for us to teach our children with an abundance of well-written books. She suggests several ideas for making reading accessible and attractive to children, such as filling book baskets for each one or reading aloud while they sketch.   She also presents solid research on literacy.  For example, did you know that 15-24 year old spend only 7-10 minutes a day on voluntary reading, but 2 1/2 hours per day watching TV?  How did this habit start?  In childhood!  This is more alarming when Sarah reports on studies which show that TV viewing causes the logical left side of the brain to go into a state of passivity, while at the same time stimulating the the emotional, less rational, less discerning right side of the brain.  So, "The child is indiscriminately receptive to whatever image or idea is presented, inhibited not only in his discernement of the truth or error of the idea, but also in the basic skill of rational comprehension."  However, when we read, our full minds are engaged, "resulting in a brain trained to interact with ideas and a mind able to comprehend, choosing what it will accept or reject as true."   (Thanks, Mom and Dad for pulling the plug on our TV for six years when I was a kid, and for always taking us to the library and bookstores!)

Then, so as not to leave us floundering about what to read, Sarah lays out a feast of titles, authors, and engaging descriptions in the categories of picture books, Golden Age classics, children’s fiction, fairy tales & fantasy, history & biography, spiritual reading, poetry, and music/art/nature. Throw in several appendices, such as Caldecott Medalists, and you have a veritable treasure chest. Many of these books have been favorites in my own family as well as in my English classroom at the Providence co-op. However, she listed scores of titles I had never heard of before. So, armed with a list of her recommended picture books, I raided our public library and came home with a rich stash. Our favorite new find is Jill Barklem’s cheerful Brambly Hedge series, of which we’ve read at least five or six.

To give you a flavor of Sarah’s book descriptions, here is part of what she says about Brambly Hedge:

After months of studying the customs and traditions of English country life, Barklem set out to craft a series of children’s books filled with the hominess she found. The Brambly Hedge series chronicles the colorful days of a cheerful community of mice who love a good feast, an adventurous foray, and the charming company of their families.

Sarah wrote more about this series here: Book Review of Brambly Hedge

And, a sweet childhood recollection from Sarah:

It might be my earliest memory. I am curled in the crook of my mother’s arm in the evening. Bedtime lurks just around the corner, but for now, the two of us are nestled in the worn cushions of the old brown couch with a battered storybook open between us. My mom is reading, her voice charmingly expressive as she smoothes the glossy pages for me to see. I am entranced. The rhythm of the simple words combines with the whimsical paintings to captivate my little soul. I gaze at it all in bright-eyed wonder until I am compelled to surrender to my bedtime hour. I am only pacified by the knowledge that is will all begin again the next evening. Over twenty years have come and gone since that night, but the memory came rushing back the other day when I stumbled across the very storybook that had so delighted me as a child. I felt that I was meeting an old friend whose soul was part of my own, and I sat down to renew our acquaintance.

(This reminds me of the time my family moved to San Carlos, California when I was at the end of second grade. When I first walked into the classroom, nervous to be the new kid, the teacher, Mrs. McMillan had all of the children gathered in a circle for reading time. The book? I could never forget Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey, another featured author in Read for the Heart. I checked out Blueberries for Sal from the library recently, read it to the kindergartners in our home school co-op, and enjoyed it as much as ever. The book is 15 years older than I am, with monotone ink illustrations, but it is timeless. And it was woven into my memory by a book-loving teacher. I also remember my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Mueller, reading aloud to us every day. One book that stands out is Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, of which Sarah remarks in RFTH, "I challenge anyone to read this book without tears.")

So you’ve figured out by now that I highly recommend Read for the Heart. It’s a beautiful book, list price of $17, very professionally published by Apologia/Wholeheart. You can find it on the WholeHeart web site, on the Apologia web site, or at CBD (where you can see inside the book).
I can’t resist one last quote from Read for the Heart. Sarah slips in inspiring quotes at the beginning of each chapter, and this is from the one on Music, Art and Nature:

“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.” Johann Wilhelm von Goethe


Read for the heart!

Virginia Knowles
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