Life is a strange, unpredictable thing. It took me longer to figure this out than it should have. Even so, by the time I was seven years old, I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up: I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to have a classroom with monthly bulletin boards and stacks of textbooks. I wanted to grade papers with glitter stickers, star stickers, any stickers, really. I thought the idea of standing before a group of students and giving them a list of nouns versus verbs sounded perfect. Had people come to me and told me I would one day be teaching in a classroom where these things were all but nonexistent, I would have told them right away that their idea was just crazy. With life’s twists and turns, though, I eventually found that this wasn’t a crazy idea at all.

From 2008-2012, I spent my time learning how to teach. I learned that children respond well to motivational rewards, that they thrive with hands-on learning, and that worksheets are damaging instead of helpful. As you can probably already guess, I don’t believe many of the things I learned in college are useful to the teacher I am today. However, there were ideas that truly resonated with me. These three ideas seemed to crop up in every class, and I was truly motivated to use these ideas in my student teaching. Giving rewards for good behavior—that would be perfect! Teaching with more hands-on experience—I could definitely do that. Getting rid of worksheets, no problem, that is an easy one. I was ready for the real world.

Unfortunately, what college professors teach as an ideal school setting and what the real world has to offer are two completely different things. I quickly learned this as I was completing my student teaching. I was assigned a sixth grade English class. I knew it would be a challenge to find engaging hands-on lessons for the group I was teaching, but I was determined. I presented my ideas to my co-teacher. She thought they were engaging, fun, educational, and, above all, impossible. They are too time-consuming, she said. Well, what if I modify them? Too unpredictable, she said. Standards need to be met, tests need to be taken, and lessons need to be done. Okay. That was a little discouraging. Sadly, it got worse. She handed me a packet of worksheets. These will get the job done she assured me. Great. I felt like a con artist. Worksheets? Lectures with no real experience? Where is the learning? This isn’t what I was taught to do! Then the ah-hah moment came: motivational rewards.   I was assured the kids would love them. It seemed to work. It was classroom management and a reward system all in one. In hindsight, all it really did was make my wallet a little lighter and my students a little more focused on what they were getting, not truly what they were doing or learning.

I graduated in 2012 with an overwhelming feeling. I knew I wanted to teach, but how was I supposed to be a successful teacher within the walls of the current school system? I couldn’t afford to live off a private school salary, and I certainly couldn’t afford to silently rally against the public school system and just not work. My hands were tied. I began applying for the public schools in my area and hoped for the best. During my long days of school researching, I came across a school I had never heard of, and it was only 25 minutes away. Charter school? What the heck was a charter school?

I know I could have researched this, but I didn’t. Sometimes the unknown can lead to wonderful things. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t. There is more negativity surrounding this school than is warranted or needed and I’m glad I didn’t walk in feeling jaded by the media. I applied, I waited, and I got an interview.

I walked in with an uneasy feeling. What if they asked me about this Charlotte lady? What if they asked me about my knowledge on charter schools? I took a seat, calmed my nerves, and faced my fears. The first question I was asked? “What is it you know about Gillingham Charter School and the Charlotte Mason philosophy?” Lie, Olivia. Make something up. That’s what interviews are for, right? I decided on the best answer my mind could come up with and I told her the truth: I didn’t know much. A smile spread across her face, she leaned back in her chair, and my heart rate settled. She explained the philosophy to me in a condensed, compacted version and I, too, leaned back in my chair. She told me children are persons. She said learning should be done with a purpose. She said education should be a part of their life, not something done for a few hours a day. For the first time in a long time, I felt like my dreams were back in my heart and finally within reach.

Even though I felt a fresh breath of air come into my world, I can’t lie and say I understood everything. What do you mean no rewards? NO rewards? How does one teach with no rewards? How can you manage a classroom this way? I accepted a job as a substitute and I substituted in many different classrooms my first year, and there was a lot I didn’t understand. Bribing for good behavior was always in the back of my mind.

I used questioning after every reading. That is what I was trained to do. Now you are saying that at this school, a teacher doesn’t ask questions? They what? They narrate? I was lost, but I was interested.

Not only did they narrate, but there was talk about habits. Slowly, I started picking up on different habits. I started noticing higher expectations set for the students. I also noticed the students rising to these expectations, not disregarding them. When I stopped questioning and started listening, I learned even more from the students than I did when I asked the children questions. They noticed things I looked past. They were living what they were learning. And the best part is that as a substitute I didn’t come across any worksheets. From my experiences I had throughout the year as a substitute, I didn’t even hesitate in accepting the position of a full-time teacher.

Now, let me just say having a classroom of your own is quite different than substituting. It was a challenge not to have a textbook to guide me, not to have a rewards system to bribe good behavior, and certainly a challenge for me not to jump up and down with joy when I passed a teacher’s supply store.

I changed a lot both as a person and as a teacher during my first full year at Gillingham Charter School. I became more patient with what the students were telling me. I found ways to assess their knowledge simply by listening to them speak. I stopped asking questions when I realized they answered them without knowing the question even existed in my mind. I discovered their ability to look at nature and see things I look past every day. I formed a relationship with the books we read as a class. I wasn’t just reading definitions or dates telling me when this guy discovered this or that with this or that group of people. With the children I was reading stories. They were stories behind the stories. I learned more in my year here at Gillingham than I probably did in all my years of high school. I know this because I can still tell you who discovered the upper and lower parts of the Mississippi River. I can tell you what the Wright brothers were inventing long before they had an idea of an airplane. I can show you how to successfully crochet, make a kite, or a sew on a button. I can tell you a lot of things that I learned along with my students for the sake of knowing, not for the sake of repeating on an examination.

Some stories I tell my friends and family still don’t resonate as true to them, such as the boy coming back after he was dismissed for the day to ask for math homework just because he liked it. There’s also the story how my fourth graders successfully read The Hobbit and liked it (9 year olds can read that!). No one understands how I could gain control and respect from students simply by taking the time to form good habits with them. There are countless stories of students telling me they loved school because it felt like home to them, and I will never forget the look in their tearful eyes as they hugged each other goodbye on the last day.

Have I got it all figured out? Not a chance. Do I still make mistakes? Almost every day. I am learning, though, and I am growing. This school has changed my life in so many ways and I couldn’t possibly be more grateful. I know these children will walk out of this building with a mind full of knowledge and a heart full of happiness every day. After all, education is a life.


© 2014 by Olivia Groody

I can’t remember when my adventures with birds began, but they seem to have been going on all my life.  Everything a little out of the ordinary was an adventure.  I have a vivid recollection of my first baby cuckoo, in a hedgesparrow’s nest . . .the hideous creature, rearing up and puffing itself out to an enormous size, opening that vast red mouth until it looked big enough to swallow me!  It was revolting and fascinating.  Then there was the thrush that built a most decorative nest of flowers out of the rockery, the pied wagtail that built between two seed-boxes in the greenhouse, and the hedgesparrow that lined its nest quite unmistakably with my aunt’s red hair.

To this period of early childhood, too, belongs the memory of the blackbird’s evening song, which I shall carry in my head and heart for always.  I associate it with the drowsy feeling that comes just before sleep, the rustle of the heavy curtains as the breeze sucked them to the open window and let them flop back again, and the occasional sound of grown-up talk and laughter floating up from the drawing room below.  My particular blackbird had one snatch of song so sweet and beautiful that it gave me a strange feeling inside—an uplifting joy that was almost a pain.  Other birds were singing too, but I was listening to the blackbird—waiting for my song to come round again and hoping that I wouldn’t fall asleep in the meantime.  What strange beings grown-ups must be if they could laugh and talk just as though nothing were happening!

Soon after my tenth birthday infantile paralysis threatened to put a stop to bird-watching, which had by now become my favourite hobby.  But one of the beauties of bird-watching is that no special physical assets are required beyond good eyes and ears.  Even during the months in bed my feathered friends provided me with memorable adventures—a robin who allowed himself to be coaxed daily on to a table in my bedroom for crumbs; a starling, known to us as Susie because of her cheery call, ‘Wait for Susie,’ interspersed with imitations of hens and that characteristic, watery purring.  During this time, too, came an introduction to Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selbourne, which gave me new ideas about bird-watching.  And as my health returned I became a member of the British Empire Naturalists’ Association, of which there was a flourishing branch in our neighbourhood.  We used to meet early on Sunday mornings, may be 6 or 7 a.m., at a prearranged place.  Our little party usually consisted of two farmers, their wives and sons, the station-master, the school-master’s son, the postman, my aunt and myself.  Many a mile did those splendid people carry me—bandy-chair or pick-a-back—so that I should not miss any of the adventures.  And they were many.  Pheasants’ eggs (I remember our leader’s excited words, ‘Take a good look everybody!  These are the first and last nightingale’s eggs you are every likely to see outside a collection’); our leader’s imitation of a cuckoo’s call—so real that the answering bird flew low over us, searching for a mate he did not find!

Three or four years’ membership of this splendid society taught me these things.  I gained knowledge from the enthusiastic grown-ups, both about birds and in the art of stalking and observing.  I became quite suddenly aware of the pleasure to be gained from bird-watching.  I learned the importance of a reliable handbook for identification, and how to use it.

When I was fourteen I was sent to a boarding school in Surrey, and as I could not play games or go for walks I had a splendid opportunity of pursuing my favourite hobby.  The grounds were large, hilly and wooded.  Everything was so different from the flat cultivated land of home.  The first lesson to be learned from the strange new surroundings was that the same birds in Surrey do not sing quite the same songs as they do in Lincolnshire.  Even the totally different acoustics played tricks.  All had to be learned again.  I remember what a lot of trouble the great tit caused me, and how many times I followed him up, thinking he must be some bird unknown to me!  But there were many rich rewards—many kinds of warblers I had little chance to study at home, and nuthatches, bullfinches and long-tailed tits.  The greatest single adventure was undoubtedly a wood lark’s nest, which I found in a wood of Spanish chestnuts after five hours’ stalking.  As I watched the yellowish-brown bird with strange, arresting movements, and a song that I can only describe as sounding like a cork being squeaked in a bottle-neck, I couldn’t imagine what it might be.  But later, with a nest of eggs to help in identification, the mystery was triumphantly solved.

It was also in Surrey that the goldcrest became such an everyday acquaintance that, at a later date, I very unexpectedly found a nest by seeing the tiny green bird slip out of a shoulder-high branch of a fir tree.  Perhaps that was the greatest adventure of all, for although the birds are not uncommon, the nests are extremely difficult to find.  I returned to the spot some weeks later when the nest was deserted and brought the branch back with me—mainly as proof to my sceptical friends.  My pride knew no bounds when an ornithologist of considerable local repute told me that in his whole life he had only seen three such nests—and he didn’t find any of them himself.  The nest itself was of moss, lichen and cobwebs, lined with hair and feathers, and cleverly slung below the branch like a hammock, several of the smaller twigs being pulled down and woven into the nest to give support.  The whole thing was incredibly small and neat, and it seemed hard to believe that a family had been reared in it.

This last adventure was a comparatively recent one, and the scene now shifts once more to Lincolnshire, during the 1940’s, when again the simple, fascinating and inexpensive hobby of bird-watching took the place of other pleasures that were out of reach—this time because of the war.  Now I was married and had a creeper-covered house and half an acre of garden, with trees, shrubs and well-grown hedges.  It was a marvellous place for birds, and I did all I could to encourage them.  One year twenty-eight nests were actually recorded within the half-acre, and these were of sixteen different kinds.  Besides plenty of the commoner ones like thrushes, blackbirds and hedgesparrows, I was happy to be able to include a spotted flycatcher, a small colony of tree sparrows in a hollow elm, and a goldfinch which made a nest of forget-me-nots.  The tree sparrows were something quite new to me, and I remember how my heart jumped when I first realised that the ordinary-looking sparrow outside my kitchen window had a bright ginger topknot.  This was no house sparrow.  It could only be a tree sparrow.  I flew for the reference book.  Yes, there it was quite unmistakably, with ginger head, white cheeks and small, neat, black moustaches!  During the following months I saw them every day at such close quarters that I could never again muddle the two.  Everything the tree sparrow does is a shade neater, a shade more ‘respectable’ than his cheeky cousin.  Even his chirrup, though similar, is a little more ‘refined.’

One other adventure must be fully told.  Towards the end of March 1941 a rather unpractical song thrush decided to build a nest on a ledge two inches wide in the gable of my roof.  Needless to say, every piece of grass fell to the ground as soon as she tried to put it in place.  At first she flew off to find another bit.  Later she simply flew down to the ground and picked up a bit from the ever-growing heap below the ledge.  I watched this amazing performance for over a fortnight, and she worked desperately almost every daylight hour of that time.  How long it would have gone on I cannot imagine, but in the end I took compassion on the silly bird.  I called in a young enthusiast who, with the help of a ladder from the farm next door, climbed up and nailed a board on the ledge, making a platform about six inches by ten, with nails sticking up round the edge to prevent the nest blowing off.  The nest was complete in three days, and before a week was out she was ‘sitting.’  Even then the thrush’s adventures were not over.  I remember that a day or so before the young birds flew, a sparrow hawk discovered the nest.  The weather was warm and my husband and I were sitting in the garden.  The first thing we noticed was a most unnatural silence—a silence so intense that we could not fail to be aware of it.  One could feel that something was about to happen.  Then I saw a silent shadow slip from the apple tree close at hand, and move a little further away from us.  It was a sparrow hawk and was undoubtedly after our young thrushes.  Mrs. Thrush was standing on the corner of the platform with her young ones behind her.  She was poised in a defiant attitude, with her feathers drawn in tightly to her body so that she looked strangely long and thin.  She kept this position—and I never saw her move so much as an eye—for over one and a half hours.  The hawk made three or four more visits to the garden that afternoon.  We never saw him come and seldom saw him go.  He just appeared in his stealthy way, and each time we first became aware of his presence by the deathly hush that fell upon the garden.  At length my husband got his gun.  He did not have to wait long.  There was the hawk in the apple tree, not ten yards from the thrushes, the villain!  One bang and he slipped out of sight and did not return.  He was not hurt, but must have realised that we meant business.  The young thrushes were safe and life and song returned to the garden.

It is easy to be led away on a quest for the ‘rare’ without realising how much we all have to learn about the commonest of our birds.  Why do starlings continue to congregate in their thousands far into the breeding season?  Do tits do more harm than good to fruit buds while searching the trees for grubs?  Do female robins really sing a song indistinguishable from the male?  In 1941 I was able to answer this last question, at least to my own satisfaction.  Once again my observation post was the kitchen window.  The robin’s nest was in the bottom of a hawthorn hedge barely five yards from the window.  I knew the female from her mate because for some reason or other she had no tail.  I watched both birds closely and was surprised to find that though she made no attempt to find her own food while brooding the eggs, she would sit on a branch and sing snatches of song every bit as full-blooded as the male.  In fact they frequently held lively conversations in this manner.  It is from little bits of observation such as this, carefully collected, recorded and passed on, that our knowledge of birds is gradually built up.  The compilers of reference books do not draw upon their own knowledge only, and the text is usually full of references to the observations of other people—nearly all of them amateurs.  The same story has to be heard from many different sources before it is regarded as proven.  The importance of records cannot be over-estimated—memory is such a fickle friend—and although the pure pleasure of any hobby can be spoilt by being taken too seriously, it is obviously more fun to find, on looking through other years’ records, that the blackbird is nesting a week earlier than ever before.

Bird-watchers, like fishermen, have an endless supply of anecdotes—though the former are usually more truthful!  To me bird-watching has been one of the greatest joys of my life.  It has never become an obsession to the exclusion of other things, and I have never wished to become ‘an expert’—confining myself to a mere curiosity, which from the age of about six has possessed me.  When I sit back to contemplate the subject my mind flies away to the earliest years, the blackbird’s evening song and the never-ending background of the rooks, cawing in their gentle, homely way, in the rookery about my childhood home.  There was something so sweet and fresh, so wholesome and innocent about that first awakening of my love for and curiosity about birds.  I could wish for nothing better for my own three children.  How far the feeling can be engendered I do not know.  Too much encouragement might nip it in the bud.  It must be put in their way so that they experience for themselves the secret thrill of each new discovery.  That is the essence of the game.  If anything unusual comes our way I draw the children’s attention to it and leave it at that.  Usually my well-thumbed reference books come out and the game of identification is on.  And next time they will remember.  There was a greater spotted woodpecker that came every morning for a while last winter, to peck at an apple which had fallen from the tree and lodged in the top of the hedge . . . but there I go again!

Thanks to Eve Anderson for passing on to me a copy of PUS Diamond Jubilee:  1891-1951 years ago.  And thanks to the Armitt Trust for permission to publish this article on this blog.

The following blog appeared originally on the Great River Facebook page as part of a discussion about the use of digital tools in the family. It was suggested to CMI as a read that would be of interest to the Mason community.  This blog was prompted by a question to Maura Timko from Janet Pressley-Barr regarding screen time and battles related to screen time in Maura Timko’s home.  Here is her response.

Janet – I cannot answer your question briefly. I will not go into detail about what our screen time looks like now, because my boys are so much older. That is another conversation! But I can talk about how screens were handled in my home when my boys were much smaller. I think it will be more relevant to the group.

Recalling the days when my boys were in elementary school, I imposed very strict limits on their screen time. (I love how Jenn Stec places the responsibility to turn off the screens directly with the child – well done!) In our home, we had a routine to our homeschool days. This was a good thing. Everyone knew what was expected of them, what we were doing, when we were doing it, where we were going, etc. The screen time was worked into the mix, and at the end, everyone knew it was coming. After everything was done for the day, we all had free time – screens were usually a part of it. All of this was fine.

I used to set a kitchen timer, and when it went off, that child’s screen time was finished. If the device was not turned off promptly after the timer beeped, I turned it off myself. At that point, tomorrow’s screen time was taken away, as a consequence. Shoddy school work had to be redone, or no screen time. Attitudes had to be good, or no screen time. You had to be kind to your brothers, or no screen time. Chores had to be finished, and done well, or no screen time, etc.

In hindsight, I was much too harsh. Talk about a scarcity mentality! I set up the screens as the ultimate reward, and made “much ado about nothing.” I gave screens way too much power.  All I can tell you is this: please learn from my mistakes.

I was right to limit the screen time with my elementary-aged children. It can be harmful in excess. However, I should have been much more flexible and gracious. If they wanted to “bank” some screen time for a bigger project (e.g., building in Minecraft), I should have allowed them to do that. I should have talked with them, discussing how much time was reasonable, and why. I should have followed Jenn Stec’s example, placing the responsibility with the child – not with me. I should have treated them as persons, doing something they enjoy and easily forgetting the time. (How often do I do that?) If they were on a device for too long, I should have spoken to them calmly, reminding them of God’s desire for obedience – not ranting about the hazards of too much screen time. (Just so you know: no 10-year-old will ever care about that!) I should never have used screen time as a reward, and I should not have taken it away as a punishment (unless it was a natural consequence). By handling the screen situation the way that I did, I made a mountain out of a molehill, I gave it way more power than it deserved, and I lost a great opportunity for the Holy Spirit to train their hearts. SIGH.

But our God is so gracious. He showed me that the problem was mostly with me, and not them. I don’t know about you, but I hate it when the problem is with me! (God is always so right!)

So, how was I as a model? Because – sure enough! – they were always watching me. Did I watch too much TV? Did I stay up too late at night watching shows (and get grumpy the next day)? Did I sit for way too long at my computer? Am I on my smartphone too much? Updating Facebook? Reading my email? Texting my friends? Again – BIG SIGH.

After realizing that I was a terrible model, I began to think about screen time alternatives. I was just learning about Charlotte Mason, and I acquired tons of great books, which was great. BUT. . .”Education is a Life.” I needed to get a life!

I had to begin taking delight in other interests myself first, before I could ever expect it from my children.  My boys needed to see me enjoying poetry, learning to crochet a scarf, or learning about the Hudson River School artists. They had to see me reading God’s Word, journaling, and copying a scripture or a quote into my Book of Mottoes. I needed them to see me spending time with people – not screens. I needed to be ‘caught’ sitting outside, just listening to the birds. They needed to flip through my nature notebook or book of centuries. I needed to be excited about the new books that I read, and talk about them. I needed to make the time to go outside with my children – and not just ‘send’ them out. (“Will you boys turn that thing off and just go play outside!?”)

I realized that my children needed me to spread the feast. The first step? It is spreading the feast for myself. I found that as I began to practice “Education is a Life,” my boys became interested in broadening their own interests as well. They were not always interested in the same things as me, but they began to see that there was much more out there. My boys’ desire for the screens became less – although it is still a source of great enjoyment and time.

Everything changed in our house when: 1) I became more present myself; 2) I practiced “Education is a Life” in front of my children, and with my children; and 3) They discovered ‘other affinities,’ with my help. Wow.

love what Mason says about the topic of ‘interests’ in School Education (Vol 3). The context of the quote is a quotation regarding business (things we “have” to do, out of duty) versus desire (things we want to do, out of joy):

“Quoth Hamlet, ‘Every man hath business and desire.’ Doubtless that was true in the spacious days of great Elizabeth; for us, we have business, but have we desire? Are there many keen interests soliciting us outside of our necessary work? Perhaps not, or we should be less enslaved by the vapid joys of Ping-Pong, Patience, Bridge, and their like. The fact is that ‘interests’ are not to be taken up on the spur of the moment; they spring out of the affinities we have found and have laid hold of.” (pp. 188-189)

For Mason, the antidote to becoming ‘enslaved’ by ‘vapid joys’ was BROAD INTEREST. Note that Mason never condemns these activities. Morally, they are fine. They can be fun, and they certainly have their place as recreation. However, her language gives me pause: ENSLAVED. Yikes! Yet, I think that parental over-reaction, and playing out a scarcity scenario, can push kids further toward enslavement, and not toward freedom.

So what would I do now with elementary-aged children, regarding screens? I would have some boundaries, but I would also lighten up. I would make screens much less of a ‘thing.’ I would give screens much less power. I would help my children, instead, to learn moderation and obedience. I would be gracious with their failures to turn off the screens, and treat them as persons while I hold them accountable. I would make that “sliver time” the time spent relating to the MOST SPECIAL people and things in my home. I would keep a keen eye out for my children’s ‘affinities,’ which may be turned into ‘interests’ and ‘laid hold of,’ given time and encouragement. I would keep a very careful, prayerful watch over it all, so that no one would become ‘enslaved.’ And I would play Minecraft WITH THEM (or at least I would try – I would be really awful!) I would redeem the time.

Disclaimer from Maura Timko:   I make no claim to being an ‘expert’ on this topic.  There are many, wiser minds who would disagree with my perspective; they may be right.  I am always open to the Lord changing my mind about it.  But we, as a family, have made our peace with the screens.  They are a part of our lives, inevitably, but no longer a source of strife.  We can interact with screens AND persons.  Hooray!

©  2014 by Maura Timko

In an effort to make this applicable to the greater audience, I won’t insert much of my own personal journey with math, but you should know this nugget about our family and math: We dont love it. At least we didnt. It was a subject on a list to be checked-off, especially for my youngest daughter, age 10.

Our daily math instruction went like this:

1. Complete corrections on previous day’s math lesson

2. Teach current lesson

3. Complete 30 problems

4. Cry at regular intervals

In hopes to discover the missing link, I attended the Bazaks’ Math is More Than Passing a Test session at the recent CMI Conference. The Bazaks discussed the importance of bringing math into the students’ context. The missing link was that my daughter did not have a math problem that she wanted and needed to solve. She had no context for which to apply the concepts and formulas she was practicing in her textbook. If we are to know the child and the needs of the child, we need to do so in the subject of math as well. So we started with a problem she wanted/needed to solve: saving for an item she wanted.

We began our math lesson exploring ways to solve her “problem” by adding up her allowance, her birthday money, and other savings she had put aside throughout the year. We estimated the shipping cost and tax on the item. She then determined how many more weeks it would take of daily chores (@ 3cents/chore) to reach her end goal.

All this was done with great enthusiasm and excitement as she now had a purpose for concepts such as estimation, adding, multiplication, percentages and so on.

The Bazaks’ practical approach to math included focusing on concepts such as estimation vs. long division. “How many times have you used long division in the past several months?” they inquired. This statement alone freed me from bondage to the textbook drill method and granted me permission to ask myself, “What are some useful mathematical concepts I want my children to be confident in?”

I started realizing all the ways we had missed out on LIVING MATH. My eldest daughter had what I thought was a grasp on certain math concepts until she attended a theatrical school in which they were given stage direction in degrees. It had never occurred to her that you could rotate your head 30 degrees or your body 180 degrees. Though she had worked out problems with angles and degrees in her math text and mastered the concept easily, she had been looking at these problems one dimensionally. I naively never thought she would have difficulty transferring the idea outside of pencil and paper. Standing on stage and being forced to look at a problem (degrees and angles) from many dimensions made the math come alive.

Math plays a role in each of our children’s lives, whether in sports, traveling, saving/giving, building, or cooking. It is a privilege to give them access to the tools to learn what is needed of them to reach their goals. Textbooks can be a guide. Even now I glance at our textbook lesson to determine the concept and teach it to our children in this three dimensional manner. If they understand the concept, I certainly do not hinder their time with 30 additional problems for drilling!

The Bazaks stressed the importance of working toward a solution and not necessarily toward a “correct” answer.  Allow kids to create, figure and sort, and solutions will arise. Solutions for problems they need answers to.

My daughter is a testimony to Living Math. I recently overheard her discussing the topic of favorite and least favorite school subjects. Her friend declared, “Math is my favorite.” My daughter replied, “I used to not enjoy math, but now it’s fun, and I really like it.” Her statement marked a shift in my commitment to teach Living Math.

Below is a minimal list of resources to encourage you on your journey toward Living Math:


Anno’s Magic Seeds

The King’s Chessboard

Sir Cumference and the 1st Round Table (A Math Adventure Series exploring Math Concepts thru Story)

What If Your ABC’s Were Your 123’s? Building Connections Between Literacy and Numeracy

The Van de Walle Mathematics Series: Teaching Student Centered Mathematics

The Librarian Who Measured the Earth: Kathryn Lasky

Archimedes and the Door of Science: Jeanne Bendick





The Moscow Puzzles

 YouTube Channels (Mathematical Concepts):


-Vi Hart

© 2014 by Christina Pittman


Nature Center in Miss Lengle’s Classroom

Interview, interview, update my resumé, interview, complete my clearances and send out copies and answer these questions: Why do I want this job? What sets this job apart from others? What is my teaching philosophy? Why do I want to teach here?

After Graduating from East Stroudsburg University in 2012, these words and questions boggled my mind. I was constantly researching school districts and kept coming up with the same answers to these questions. “I want this job because I love to teach and enjoy being around children. I want this job because I am dedicated and willing to go the extra mile. I think that children are ongoing learners, and we need to teach them self-discovery.” “I want to teach here because . . . .” That was a tough one. All the schools are so different.

Then I received the call to be the 1st and 2nd grade teacher at Gillingham Charter School. A CHARTER SCHOOL as my first full time job?! But I’ve only ever taught in a regular public school district, and I was a public school student myself. I wondered how this school would be different from the traditional public school of which I was accustomed!

At the interview with Gillingham Charter School, I already felt a little more at ease when I first walked into the building.  A beautiful painting by Henri Matisse was hanging on the wall. The desks were beautiful and wooden and were all throughout the building. One of the directors greeted me at the door with a smile on her face and welcomed me into the room. (Is she allowed to smile?) I was used to someone who gave an intimidating look at interviews; does she actually care about how nervous I am?   There were chairs in a circle around a wooden table that were different sizes, colors, and had different, but beautifully designed cushions. It made me feel relaxed and comfortable. They began the interview asking me to introduce myself! (What are my hobbies and interests?!) I was amazed that they wanted to know about more than just my professional life. They wanted to hear about what I love to do! My mind was in a whirl….”The interview questions are so different! Why are they different?  But, for some reason I feel comfortable, and the answers to my questions are coming out so easily and just seem to be what I want to say, not exactly what I have to say to get a job. They seem to actually be listening. They are not writing down what I am saying, but instead looking with caring faces showing they were listening to all I had to say!”  I remember walking out that door and knowing I wanted this job!


Making use of all available space

When I received that call, I knew that Gillingham was the place for me. During the two weeks of training, I met my colleagues who were people who wanted to help, wanted to work together for the common goal of the children, and who cared about each other and the school! We learned a lot about the philosophy of the school and the way of teaching, and I was intrigued. I knew why the interview went the way it did, why the school environment looked so inviting, and why I was cared about in my interview. My ideas, concerns, and questions were important to these people because that is how the school looks at any person or child – as person who matter. Since then the philosophy of Charlotte Mason has done nothing but strengthen my way of teaching, my way of interacting with others, and my way of living life.


This past year I made amazing friends/colleagues, met inspiring and talented children, and gained a love and passion for the philosophy of Charlotte Mason and Gillingham Charter School. I watched children narrate entire stories with great detail and sequence at only a first grade level. I sat back and watched my class debate and converse on the significance of the stories we read. The students learned self-discovery, something which has always been part of my own philosophy of education. A child needs to want to learn, and with the living books that are chosen for the curriculum at Gillingham Charter School, it is easy for them to get lost in a book and want to know more about the story and its ideas.

The philosophy of Charlotte Mason sets students up for success without forcing facts and textbooks upon them. Instead they are given ideas which spark and ignite a flame. They want to keep learning, turning the flame into a full-fledged fire of knowledge. These ideas give the students the desire and need to learn more because we are not feeding them all the answers but leaving them to wonder and to make their own conclusions.

In a regular, systematic public school, this is not the case. I can vouch for this having grown up in a public school district. I was “fed” textbooks beginning in kindergarten all the way to my senior year of high school. I hated reading and would never read at home because I read too much in school. Was it really that I was reading too much? No, it was that I was fed facts and forced to read text books which had deteriorated my understanding of what reading for enjoyment truly meant. I had this same experience in college. I had to wait until I graduated from college to find my love for reading.

Gillingham Charter School and the Charlotte Mason Philosophy ignite a love of reading in children by presenting rich, living text of which they truly become a part. They feel as if they know the characters and are in the books with them. I have watched stories unfold this year and see how much my students love to listen to the stories. And they love to try to read because they want to read these stories on their own. The living books are setting these children up for a love of reading and a passion for lifelong learning.

I have found the place that I call my “second home” at Gillingham Charter School. Our beliefs, philosophy, and passion for our children and their future have helped to change my outlook on my own philosophy of education. After reading Charlotte Mason’s works, I have come to love that she viewed children as people. I, too, feel that they deserve the same respect as any other adult or human you would encounter. When a teacher treats children as persons, they feel important and a part of the classroom community. They feel that their opinions matter and that they should have a voice in the classroom.

I have treated my students as persons this year, and because of that, I feel I get a level of respect from them that you would not see in a normal classroom. I want them to know that their opinions are important, I want to feed them ideas that spark their fire, I want to read the living books that spark their love of independent reading, and I want to help them become successful well-rounded persons. I feel that Charlotte Mason has changed my philosophy for the better, and I am excited to see what Year Two will bring to my table of education because I am also an ongoing learner. Charlotte Mason has brought ideas to me that will spark my own philosophy and help me to better educate in the future.


© 2014 by Megan Lengle

As he came away .  .  .  .continued

So far the P.U.S. methods were considered suitable for girls, but people wondered about boys.  A friend of mine, Mr. Underhill, who was about to start a school in Kent and who had always been rather suspicious with regard to Charlotte Mason’s teaching as presented to him through me, was persuaded to come to hear her speak at a meeting organised at my parents’ house in Kensington Palace Gardens.  As he came away, entirely won over by Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, humility and inspiration, he said, ‘I take off my hat to Miss Mason.  I should be proud to be allowed to work under her.’  He then engaged a ‘House of Education’ student and put his lower forms into the P.U.S.

A great joy came to Charlotte Mason when the P.N.E.U. decided to print and publish her pamphlet on A Liberal Education for All, which they circulated to all the educational committees of the country.  Most of the authorities ignored it, but Mr. Household, Secretary for Education for Gloucestershire, read this pamphlet with thoughtful interest, went to see Charlotte Mason and decided to try her methods in five schools.  After these five he never had to ask a principal to adopt them, he was bombarded with requests when other principals of schools saw what refreshing and real education the P.U.S. gave their children.

I remember sitting on a village seat in Gloucestershire during a school holiday and being surrounded by little children.  I asked them what subjects they like best and one started sharing with me her love for and knowledge of The Voyages of Ulysses.  We all like to share what we value (I am trying to share with you now my experience of early days).  Another little maiden said, ‘I love Fra Angelico’s pictures.’  One cannot help feeling that her daily chores in later life would have become far less burdensome when she had the pictures of Fra Angelico’s clouds and colours in her mind.

Following her principle of embodying in her programmes of work the best that she could find, Miss Mason rejoiced when a member of the Executive Committee, Mrs. Whitaker Thompson, introduced to her notice the Perry pictures, inexpensive reproductions of Old Masters which she suggested should be used for picture-study.  This was followed by beautiful reproductions prepared by Mr. Mansell and since his death we have had those prepared by the Medici Society.  Picture-study in the way Charlotte Mason introduced it is still a unique feature of our school and many children will echo the young man’s exclamation when seeing Carpaccio’s ‘St. Ursula’ in Venice:  ‘I learnt to know and love that in the P.U.S.—God bless it!’

Similarly, when staying with Mrs. Robert Bridges, a P.U.S. mother, Charlotte Mason saw her beautiful script writing adapted from Italian MSS.  She persuaded her to publish A New Handwriting and adopted it for the P.U.S., a great revolution from copybook writing and the fore-runner of reform in handwriting.

I need not tell you what must be familiar to you all, of the feeling of loss which seemed to penetrate the whole educational world when Charlotte Mason died in 1923.  There was, thank God, no real interruption in the continued growth and development of the P.U.S.  Miss Mason had nominated Miss Elsie Kitching as Director of the School.  She was indeed a true follower and disciple and with her long training as Charlotte Mason’s secretary and friend, and her own mental grasp of the principles underlying the whole work, parents and children alike still receive help, inspiration and guidance.  Two years ago she resigned in order to write the life of our Founder.  In the hands of Elizabeth Molyneux we know that the future is safe and that our work will grow from strength to strength.

Charlotte Mason’s best memorial was, and is, in the lives of her pupils, but still we felt that a tangible memorial should be organised.  There was a general feeling in the outside world that Charlotte Mason methods were good ‘for little children.’   The Misses Goode had created a wonderful school at Burgess Hill, where the girls remained to take their university and professional examinations, but there seemed a demand for a girls’ public school with the amenities of large grounds, laboratories, playing fields, such as were now general in the country.  It was therefore decided that the memorial to Charlotte Mason should take the form of a company, the Charlotte Mason Schools Company, which should found a school combining the amenities of an ordinary girls’ public school with P.N.E.U. methods.  The response in the way of applications for shares was most encouraging, and Overstone was purchased.  Mrs. Esslemont (Principal) and Miss Wix (Head Mistress) both resigned important and lucrative posts to create this great school, which has just celebrated its twenty-first birthday.

One outcome of Overstone was the fact that I was invited by the mother of a former pupil to start a P.N.E.U. school at Estoril, in Portugal, which flourished and was subsequently taken over by the government.  Henrietta Bucknall, an early pupil, is now a student at Charlotte Mason College.

To complete the story of our School, after the war, in memory of the boys of members who had fallen and in gratitude for those who survived, a company was formed to established a boys’ preparatory school, Desmoor, Ewhurst.  The greatest credit is due to Mr. and Mrs. Perkin for having overcome the early difficulties of such an undertaking.  They have sent on boys to their public schools who show that a P.N.E.U. prep. school can well prepare them for the future.  Perhaps our successors will see fit to complete the chain by founding a Senior Co-education P.N.E.U. School.

And now to pass to some of the other activities in connection with the Parents’ Union School—our Natural History Clubs.  An exhibition was held at 50 Porchester Terrace in 1895, when the house was still empty of furniture, another, reading under the guidance of Mrs. Hart Davis, Charlotte Mason’s great friend and supporter.  How interesting it is in this connection to think of Charlotte Mason’s joy in noting the return of the first migrant and spotting the first wild flower on her afternoon drives!  Her emphasis on an understanding of nature was very new then.  It has had an influence on homes through the country, and now we are all thrilled when we hear on the B.B.C., for example, that the avocet is again breeding in this country after a hundred years’ absence.  Bird-watching and bird-lore have become the natural delight of hundreds.  How well, too, I remember the scorn with which my ‘sticks’ were looked on when I brought them home from Ambleside to flower in my vases here, and now we are offered them on every barrow.  How much joy, great and small, we owe to her!  In travelling over the country and visiting home-schoolrooms and small classes or schools I could tell as I entered the hall that this was a P.N.E.U. atmosphere—twigs in vases, bowls of moss, etc., old master reproductions on the walls—Charlotte Mason was there in spirit.

We are celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the Parents’ Union School with a gathering here in London.  We have had other gatherings at Canterbury, Whitby, Reading, Bournemouth, London—and musical festivals as well in these last towns—and last, in 1936, at Ambleside, the memory of which may be fresh in the minds of some of you.

A word on these musical festivals.  Mrs. Howard Glover was, one may say, the originator of the idea of musical appreciation.  She wrote to the Parents’ Review urging that children’s musical education should not be limited to their own efforts at learning an instrument, but that they should be trained to hear and enjoy music, to become good listeners.  Charlotte Mason induced her to prepare a programme of composers’ work each term, and her son Cedric continued this helpful activity.  He also arranged that P.N.E.U. schools should meet and sing together, their orchestras play before an adjudicator—one is proud to remember that Sir John Barbarolli was one of these.  How delightful we all were when one of the L.C.C. schools, using a P.U.S. programme, was judged to have the best orchestra, in spite of cheap violins, and received the delightful reproduction of an Italian picture presented by Mrs. Howard Glover.

Home-schoolroom children in London also had fun in reading together the Shakespeare play of the term and sharing musical appreciation classes.  Nature rambles in the parks were arranged for nannies (for there were nannies then) so that they too could recognise the trees in winter and spring and greet the first flower on the elm tree—with joy.  Yes, ‘Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life,’ and our dear Founder helped us to realise this in our homes and schools.

This article is dedicated to Eve Anderson who gave me the magazine from which it came.

Franklin, H. (1951). The Parents’ Union School.  In PUS Diamond Jubilee 1891-1951.  Ambleside:  PUS.

Mrs. Henriette Franklin was the Hon. Secretary of the P.N.E.U. and Chairman of Charlotte Mason Foundation.

Appreciation also goes to the Armitt Trust, Ambleside, England.

After Charlotte Mason had published her Home Education she was approached by earnest-minded parents and asked to form the Parents’ National Educational Union.  Sixty years ago there were no magazine articles, lectures or radio talks to help those in whose hands was the training and teaching of the child.  ‘How shall we order the child?’ was echoed along the ages in many a mother’s heart since Manoah first uttered the cry.  Many mistakes were made, battles of will, nagging, spoiling (which can be brought about by over-severity as well as over-indulgence) were all too usual in spite of love and earnest endeavour.  Charlotte Mason put the psychological teaching of the day, often to be found only in heavy and difficult tomes, into language which all could understand, and added her own interpretation of the laws of habit formation, inspiration of ideas, and the ways of reason and of will.

Three years after the Union was formed Charlotte Mason founded the ‘Parents’ Review School’, as it was then called.  She felt, and parents felt, that they needed additional help in the training and teaching of their children according to the methods and principles of education that she was spreading far and wide through the P.N.E.U.  Many British children were being taught in their homes but their schoolroom life was not always happy.  Most mothers seldom attempted to do more than teach the three ‘R’s and governesses, being untrained and often with little understanding or love for children, became bad-tempered, objected to being asked questions and, even when taking children for walks, were known to make the children keep in step with them, so little did they realise the needs of childhood.

Charlotte Mason had a deeply-rooted love for children.  In her personal relations with her friends’ children and those she met in the village there was a reverence and courtesy which one recalls as one of the most beautiful experiences in life.  Her sense of humour, too, helped her to understand children and she knew that if they were to grow and develop all their innate powers they must be given ideas to nourish their minds as food nourished their bodies.  They must, as she said, establish relations with God and man, the past and present, with science, art, music and nature:  they must run and skip and swim and play and all these ‘musts’ she taught the parents through her writings and lectures.  She gave parents the beautiful motto: ‘Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life,’ and to the children their inspiring challenge:  ‘I am, I can, I ought, I will,’ which my readers know so well.

Hers was a unique school, Miss Mason herself was the principal, and the teachers were parent, aunt, friend or governess.The pupils very soon numbered thousands, working in schoolrooms differing much from each other, in rectories, in farmhouses, in country houses scattered all over Great Britain and Ireland, in the Dominions and in the Embassies all over the world.  These children learnt to feel that they were part of a big school united by the best foundation for friendship—a mutual approach to what is most worthwhile in life, a kindred appreciation of the beautiful and true in literature, science, nature, art and music.  What a delightful programme!  No more dull text-books, no more lists of capes and bays and rivers, no more rows of dates and words to spell.  When Miss Mason was herself a child she learned geography out of a book called Cornwall’s Geography; I had that book, too—full of lists and facts, but at the bottom of each page in tiny print were notes on the character of the country, flora, fauna, etc.  Miss Mason determined to give her pupils books written by men and women who knew these countries, who in fact put the notes at the top and made one live in one’s imagination in the countries described; then the names of the rivers and bays would fall naturally into place.  Similarly a delightful approach was suggested to other subjects through books of literary value which were arresting and stimulating.  Thus she opened the door and windows to realms of knowledge through which the children could wander, then and now and forever.  Of her methods of using such books and the consequent training in concentration and attention this is not the place to speak.

She showed the parents how they could give the children the joy of creation, of making things, of painting, of listening to good music, of wandering out and learning the secrets of nature.  This was unusual sixty years ago.  Her influence has permeated thought, and bird-watching and flower-hunting are now a universal joy.  The happiness of achievement came to parents and teachers and children alike when at the end of the term the examination papers arrived with questions set to find out what the children knew, not what they did not know, and the task of answering was a pleasant, not a dreaded one.

Charlotte Mason eliminated from the first the spirit of competition:  the marks and remarks on the answers sent up showed a relation to the standard set not as between one child and another.  Later on when schools of various kinds became members of the P.U.S. her influence inspired teachers with the confidence that children would form habits of work without the stimulus of marks, places and prizes. She taught us that one natural desire replaced another and that the desire of excelling could not be co-existent with the desire for knowledge.

There was great satisfaction, too, for the anxious pioneer parents when boys entering their prep. and public schools did as well as their fellows, showing powers of attention and concentration that helped them all through life.  We were told by one public schoolmaster that he could pick out a P.N.E.U. boy right through his school life.  Such encouragement was very helpful at the beginning of our movement.

The home-schoolroom naturally lacked much that the well-equipped school possessed, but Miss Mason helped parents to fill many such deficiencies.  She introduced ball-drill and skipping on the programmes and later, when Sir Robert Baden-Powell brought out his book on Scouting for Soldiers, she, ever on the look-out for the best for her pupils, put this book on the programme.

Before I leave the home-schoolroom I must not forget to emphasise what so many parents felt, and still feel, namely, that through its medium their children’s inner thoughts were often revealed to them and real friendship established.  Who, indeed, are our friends?  Not necessarily the people who agree with us but those who care for the same things, who have similar tastes.  As the parents travelled with their children in the realms of history and literature, art and science, they grew to understand one another.  Family reading, so much encouraged in the P.U.S., leads to talks on many subjects which should be discussed between parents and children, but shyness or difficulty in beginning has often prevented it.  I hope it is not forgotten that our Union is a parents’, not a mothers,’ union and that many fathers have helped in the teaching of their children and often shared the joy of entering a new field of knowledge.  I can recall being told by one father that he had continued the study of geology and become a real enthusiast after having been introduced to the subject by reading with his little boy the P.U.S. book on fossils and shells.

En passant, were you, my younger readers, not thrilled and proud when His Majesty the King in his Christmas broadcast referred to The Pilgrim’s Progress and deplored how few read that great classic now.  We are not among those to whom it is unknown—it is one of the school books in Form I.

The P.U.S. was not to remain only in home-schoolrooms.  In 1892 I started the first class for children.  I wrote a letter to The Parents’ Review emphasising the fact that, though we all valued the programme, examination papers and guidance of the P.U.S., still children needed companionship, and asking for names of those who would like to join a P.U.S. school if we founded one.  We had a gymnasium built in Linden Gardens, and Miss E. C. Allen, the first teacher, needs no introduction to any of you.  Then came Miss Faunce’s first class at my sister’s house, leading to the great school which she, and now Miss Lambert, have run for over forty years.

Before this, two Quaker ladies, the MIsses Gardner of Yorkshire, having admitted to their school girls who had been taught in home-schoolrooms of the P.U.S. and, being impressed by their habits of work, powers of concentration and love of knowledge, asked to be allowed to enrol their school in the P.U.S.  They later moved on to Buckhurst Hill, Essex, where Miss Wakefield’s successful school is their descendant.

So far the P.U.S. methods were considered suitable for girls, but people wondered about boys.  A friend of mine, Mr. Underhill, who was about to start a school in Kent and who had always been rather suspicious with regard to Charlotte Mason’s teaching as presented to him through me, was persuaded to come to hear her speak at a meeting organised at my parents’ house in Kensington Palace Gardens.  As he came away,  . . . . to be continued next week.


This article is dedicated to Eve Anderson who gave me the magazine from which it came.

Franklin, H. (1951). The Parents’ Union School.  In PUS Diamond Jubilee 1891-1951.  Ambleside:  PUS.

Mrs. Henriette Franklin was the Hon. Secretary of the P.N.E.U. and Chairman of Charlotte Mason Foundation.

Appreciation also goes to the Armitt Trust.


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