HollyAnne Dobbins Knight grew up coming to the Charlotte Mason Education Conference with her mother Deborah Dobbins.  She helped her mother for many years present a session on teaching first and second graders Nature Study.  Now, as an adult HollyAnne Knight shares with us her hopes and dreams for her first born, a son, Jem, who is due to arrive around Christmas. . . .Here is HollyAnne’s post.


So many of  you have watched me grow up from Nature Study sessions at the Charlotte Mason Institute conferences and thru College; it is fun to continue the story. I graduated from Covenant College in the spring, but rather than pursuing my MAT (Masters of Arts in Teaching) as “originally planned,” John and I began to count down to the arrival of our first child. “Jem” is due near Christmas time, so I’m six and a half months pregnant and, of course, wrapped up in all things baby. This includes, naturally, my hopes and dreams for my son’s education.

Charlotte Mason said: “Nothing less than the Infinite will satisfy the spirit of a man.  We again recognize that we are made for God, and have no rest until we find Him.” Thus, my first priority is discipling Jem in Jesus—teaching him about the Word, worship, and prayer, but also showing him traces of our Creator in nature, art, music, and books. I look forward to teaching him a children’s catechism as I change his diaper and reminding him daily that he is a Child of God, a Covenant child.

As far as the rest of his education, I think of the four areas I’ve already mentioned: Nature, Art, Music, and Books.

John and I strolled through Barnes and Noble last night and looked at their toys as well as their books. I understand the angst of all those shelves no longer being filled with books, but I’m also fascinated by the puzzles, board games, and Smithsonian science sets that are now part of their inventory. Those are the kinds of pastimes I hope will fascinate my son—stories to enrich his experiences, games and the like to challenge his mind, and opportunities to encounter, experiment with, and learn about the natural world.

I’d love to see Jem curled up with a book about fungi of the Southeast one night and have him beg me for a walk in the woods the next morning so he can find specimens to identify and look at under a microscope. I’d love to see him lost in the stories of Sherlock Holmes and then ask to play Clue so he can solve a mystery, too. Or maybe we’ll read about Leonardo da Vinci, and he’ll spend a rainy afternoon researching and drawing what our cats’ skeletons look like under all their fur and skin.

This kind of growth and learning, however, is not an “experience” I can create for Jem. Mason declared boldly in An Essay Towards A Philosophy of Education that, “All education is self-education.” Ultimately, my goal for Jem is to model self-education to him and encourage him to foster and pursue his curiosity. I can only create time, an environment, and be an example. Perhaps this is not so much a dream for Jem as a dream for the kind of mom I want to be.

I want to guard against distractions—against too much screen-time, against trying to do too many things, against hovering and over-structuring. And I want to be for things like quality time, independent play, reading the story one more time, involving him in household tasks to teach responsibility and skills (even though it makes that task last fourteen times longer), and healthy challenges. I want us to work hard and play hard, love hard, laugh hard, and learn hard. In our home and family, I want “hard” to be a challenge, an adventure, not an anxiety.

“Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life” (Mason, School Education), and those pillars are what I hope to erect for Jem and for all the children yet to come, our own “House of Education.”


© 2014 HollyAnne Knight

I have seen that look on your face, the one that says, “I can’t do that; what is more, my children can’t do that!” at the mention of using watercolors in your and your children’s nature notebooks.

It is not as challenging as one might think.

Let me preface what is to follow by saying that this is NOT one area in which my performance shines. In fact, I have four children and out of my four children, only one of them consistently kept a nature notebook and learned the dry brush technique. But I still have one at home and in preparing for writing this post, I am newly inspired to take up the dry brush in a much more consistent manner with my youngest child, now 11.

This year we are once again part of a little Charlotte Mason co-op in which we meet just once a month for group singing of a hymn and a folk song, individual recitations of poetry from memory, a picture study, composer study (following the AO schedule) and last, but not least, a time to make an entry in our nature notebooks. I have come to cherish this time near the end of our co-op meeting when I can set a specimen in front of me, study it and then attempt to render it in dry brush. There is something so very satisfying in mixing colors, in discovering brush techniques, in really looking at God’s creation.

It goes without saying that there is great value, inestimable value in your life and that of your children’s to take the time to actually study nature. God speaks to our spirits in His creation. It calms our over-stimulated minds, reminding us of our Father and His love for us as He has placed us in this gorgeously beautiful and intricate world. There are many worthy articles in the Parent’s Review on the importance of Nature Study if you need more convincing.

But I see now that this practice of keeping a nature notebook, of learning dry brush was not just a fad of the Victorians. Charlotte Mason gives a reason for keeping notebooks in this way and for expecting children to learn this method. Dry brush is unique in that it allows one to paint the smallest details. It allows one to build from a simple under painting, adding layers upon layers of transparent color until a lifelike rendering is reached along with the delightful realization of how many colors go into something as simple as a green leaf.

The child of mine who learned dry brush and kept a nature notebook for many years is now 22 and a classical figure sculptor in New York City. While she was home for a few weeks after spending this past summer drawing and painting in Europe, we, as is our tradition, set aside a day for girl’s day out (my other three children are sons).

Usually we spend these days thrifting, or culling local antique stores for books. But in answer to her query, “What would you like to do mom?” I responded with, “Let’s go up the mountain, find a covered pavilion, get out our watercolors and collect some specimens to paint and you can teach me more about watercolor.”

After 4 years of art studies at an atelier in Manhattan, my daughter had much to teach me. I will include some of her notes in this post. I share this little story because it so delighted my heart that a skill that I attempted to teach my daughter has blossomed into this amazing talent. The shared activity of nature notebooking still ties us together and as part of our heritage now that is a wonderful thing. Here is my entry:


And this is hers. The student has far surpassed the teacher!


Now on to the tutorial.

I glean from several resources. I will try to give you the highlights of each one. Probably the most helpful tutorial is one written by Melissa Duffy, one of the art teachers at Perimeter School. She and Bobby Scott, the headmaster, gave me my first lessons in dry brush at a teacher training retreat of Perimeter School held at Covenant College many years ago. Eve Anderson, a PNEU trained Headmistress from England taught Melissa and Bobby. Melissa’s tutorial may still be available from Perimeter school. Bobby also has some notes, which are very helpful. There is still a DVD of Eve Anderson teaching dry brush to young students available at Perimeter School in Atlanta.

Let’s start with the supplies. These are important because the quality of your results can only be as good as the quality of your tools. I am from frugal Dutch stock but I say, do not scrimp on art supplies. Buy the best you can afford.

  1. The Notebook. You will want one that has a sturdy cover. A good size is 8 x 5 according to Melissa but I like a 10 x 7. Spiral bound is essential so it can lie flat. Look for at least 70 lb acid free paper. Mine is 75 lb and is made by Cachet.

Alternatively, you can purchase very good quality watercolor paper and cut out your paintings and mount them in a notebook and label them after you are finished. However if you are really following the dry brush technique, you will not need true watercolor paper.

  1. Brushes. Again get the very best you can afford. Sable brushes are the best quality. You will need a number 3 or 4, and a number 1 round brushes. I also buy some less expensive 4’s or 5’s for transporting color from box to palette. To test a brush, you want to make sure it comes to a nice fine point, no stragglers. You can pull on the bristles to be sure they are fixed tightly to the ferrule (the metal jacket for the bristles). If you flick the bristles, they should snap back into place. A good quality number 1 round brush is the most important.
  2. The paints. The best beginner set is the 8 pan Prang watercolors. At all costs, avoid washable paints. The Prang set is inexpensive and Dixon Prang has consistently used quality pigments in the making of its paints. I started with Prang but a few years ago I was urged by Teresa Miller of Miller Pads and Paper to try Yarka, which came in a 12 pan set. The tones of Yarka are earthier and I like them very much. This year I invested in a Cotman Water Color Sketcher’s Pocket box that has been simply lovely to use (even my daughter is a bit envious!).
  3. Miscellaneous supplies. Water. I have filled a contact lens solution bottle with water and added small plastic bowls in my sketch travel kit for fieldwork, but if you are close to home, any small cup or bowl will do. For younger children, make sure your cup is not tippy—the heavier the better. I use old glass juice cups when I am at home. Small margarine or cream cheese tubs also work well.

Paper towels. Have paper towels to blot and keep your brush dry.

Scrap paper. Use scrap paper to test colors.

White paper. Have a piece of white paper as a background for your specimen (more about this later).

  1. Pen. A fine tip black pen is needed to label your drawing (more about this later) and a fine tip gray one to add fine details. Gray will give a softer effect than black.
  2. Other helpful but not essential supplies. A separate palette for mixing (or you can just use your lid) is useful.

Now you have gathered your supplies you are ready to paint. It is time for the most important thing: your specimen subject. For a first painting nearly everyone recommends a single leaf. In the Eve Anderson DVD, she has each child find “their special oak leaf.” All of them are similar and rather plain brown. Remember you are painting life size so you do not want your specimen to be too small or too big. It should fit nicely on the page of your notebook. Eve’s criteria are the size of the leaf and if the child likes it. For your first painting, it is good to keep it simple. One broadleaf is ideal.

I do some nature notebook paintings en plein air, out of doors, where the specimen is found but it is much nicer to bring the specimen to a large table either outside or inside. You can then lay all your supplies out where you have access easily to water and everything you need.

I used to think it would be good idea to lay your notebook open and place your specimen on the left side of an open notebook while you sketch it on the right side, but in researching nature notebooks, its points out that if you are right handed and are sketching something on the left, you will be interfering with the natural light source. Instead, it is recommended to lay the specimen on a blank sheet of white paper in front of you so you can see it without overshadowing it. In any case, take some time, at least a few minutes to study your specimen, noting angles of the lines, color variations, vein patterns and general shape.

If the specimen is not just a twig or bud or if it has breadth such as a broad leaf or a blossom, you may want to do a quick outline in yellow to establish the parameters of your painting. This is called an underpainting. In the Eve Anderson DVD, she skips this step but Melissa Duffy includes it. Bobby does his in a very pale blue. Some teachers allow a pencil outline of the object being painting but both Bobby and Melissa note that this will make your outline muddy when you paint over it. A yellow or pale blue outline is much more versatile and will allow you to paint over it where you need to with no unwanted effects.

A word about holding your brush—you will want to hold it like a pencil close to the ferrule, lightly gripping the ferrule so you have maximum control of the tip.

To begin painting, you start with your larger brush by dipping it into the water and then into the selected pan of paint to collect paint.  Then transfer paint and water from the pan onto your palette to create your first color splotch.  You do not blot your brush dry when mixing paint. You need a wet brush to do this. Remember for a lighter color, you just add more water. You may at this point want to mix some of the main colors you will need in the same family. For a first effort, a leaf in all one color might be best. But even a single colored leaf will have variations. When painting a green leaf, Melissa mixes up three different shades of green by adding increasing amounts of blue to the yellow. Just a dot of blue will change the shade of green. She advises mixing a quantity of one color, transferring some of it to the adjoining spot, adding a dot more of blue to make a deeper shade, transferring some of this new green to the adjoining spot and adding still a bit more blue. You end up with a palette of greens.

The Eve Anderson DVD is the most simple of the instructions. I think the purpose of it was not so much to teach technique but to introduce the children to the idea of transferring colors from their pans to the lid (palette) and then to the paper in the shape of their special leaf. She told the children to start at the top of the leaf and stroke in one direction with their brushes, filling in the center of the leaf as they went. This along with many encouraging words from Eve to each child in the class was the main part of the instruction. If you have very young children, her video may be all you need to get started. But if your children are older or if you want to learn this technique yourself, Melissa’s tutorial is most helpful.

Once your paints are mixed, you can take your number 1 round brush and do the under painting of the outline of your shape and the veins. Just dip it into the yellow you have mixed with water in your palette. Remember to dry your brush before dipping it into the paint. If you have too much water, you can blot your brush on your paper towel. After the outline and veins are completed, my daughter recommends painting in the shadows that you can see. This is optional but I like doing this. It gives an anchor to your painting. To paint the shadows, you can use a dot of blue and one of black and lots of water. Clean your brush in the water, blot it dry and just barely dip it in the shadow mix. Look where the shadows are and paint them with a loose hand. You can also wait until the very end to paint in the shadows. Use your scrap paper to test your loaded brush to see if it is the right consistency and color. Bobby Scott says change your water as often as you need to, whenever it gets muddy. Melissa hardly ever cleans her brushes or changes her water. I like clean water and if you have access to water, it keeps your paint pans from getting too muddy.

Next take the lightest green you mixed and fill in your outline. Now layer different shades of green if you are painting a green leaf. You can paint around the yellow under painting of the veins to fill in the leaf color. Always start with the lightest colors and move to the darker ones. A serrated edge can be painted by just drawing out the paint on the outline with the tip of the brush while it is still a bit wet. If your brush is blotted enough, you should never have any buckling of your paper.

Here are some more tips from Eve, Bobby, Melissa, and my daughter.

Work on small sections at a time so as not to become overwhelmed.

Don’t press down on the brush. Keep the point nicely pointy.

Paint with the tip and not the side of the brush.

Never use the green in your paint box, mix all the greens you need with your blue and your yellow. Some CM art teachers remove the green so students are not tempted to use it.

To tone a color down, add the complimentary color. To tone a yellow down, you can add a dot of purple; to tone orange down, add a dot of blue.

Always paint actual size.

Give each painting its own sheet in your notebook, don’t use the back of the paper for another painting.

Paint all the defects: small holes, brown spots, missing bits. Nature is never perfect.

I like to use a gray fine tipped marker to add some fine line details if needed.

A color wheel might be helpful in mixing colors.

For older students, you may want to have them make their own color scale. My daughter suggests taking a color – Yellow ochre for instance, and mixing it with each color in your palette in turn to see how that changes the yellow. Here is a visual example she sent me using some of the more useful watercolor pigments. You can see how every shade of green can be mixed. A smaller version of this can be done with your Prang paint box. As you move from right to left, more of the color on the left is added. This will serve to increase the confidence of the student in mixing colors and in adding increasing amounts of color to achieve different shades. You can keep this with your supplies to use as a reference when mixing.


When you finish your painting, you will want to label your finished drawing. Bobby and Melissa suggest a pencil but I like to use a very nice fine tipped pen.

At the top left is the name of the specimen, its common name with the Latin name underneath (Genus species). At the top right , put the date. In the lower right hand corner put notes as to where the object was found/location, event etc. The bottom left could be used to add a quote, poem or interesting facts about the specimen such as lore, story behind name, medicinal uses etc.

Finally, rinse and wash your brushes and set them to dry with bristles standing up so they will dry straight. Do not wash your palette. Once the colors dry, you can just reconstitute them the next time you paint by adding some water. You may want to take your paper towel and gently clean the surface of your paint pans if some colors got mixed together. This is especially important with your yellow.

I do hope this post has encouraged you to give dry brush a try in your nature journals. I have found that if I have all the supplies in a little zippered pouch, it is easier to begin than if I have to collect them every time. I have also found that you have to plan carefully and intentionally to actually do the dry brush. Once you begin, the next time will be easier. Our monthly co-op is really the only time I do it for myself, but once a month is better than never. Perhaps you plan a nature outing weekly. If so, schedule some time at the end of it for entering something into your nature notebooks. I would love to hear about your trying this out. I am confident that, like Mason’s students, your nature notebooks will become treasures.

Every flower of the field, every fiber of a plant, every particle of an insect, carries with it the impress of its master and can – if duly considered – read us lectures of ethics or divinity.                                                                     —Thomas Pope Blunt

© 2014 Jeannette Tulis

Grandparents have to be careful. Not everyone is as interested in their grandchildren as they are. Cute grandchild pictures and instances of clever grandchild behavior must be shared sparingly. Earlier this year, during a telephone conversation with Dr. Carroll Smith, I mentioned that I was in Arizona spending some time with my granddaughter Ada. I told him how attentive she was to particular stories and books, some of which to me seemed challenging for a two-year old, and that I had been thinking about why this might be the case. Being the good friend that he is, Carroll – rather than moving the conversation on to the business at hand – said he would like to hear more about my thoughts and ideas concerning Ada’s literary development. His interest focused my observations and reflections; since then I have been attentive each time I have had an opportunity to read to and play with Ada. Here are my current thoughts.

At the time of my aforementioned conversation with Carroll, one of Ada’s favorite naptime and bedtime stories was the heffalump chapter from Winnie-the-Pooh. Ada’s mother has small versions of the individual chapters, all of which are stand-alone stories. At naptime on the first day of my visit, Ada wanted me to read chapter five “In WShepard_heffalump-16hich Piglet Meets a Heffalump.” I was doubtful about her ability to understand the details of the story, so I skipped, summarized, and hurried my way through the reading. Over the next few days, I came to realize that Ada could and would patiently listen to every word on every page of the little book. Ada seemed to know that a heffalump is an elephant. (0f course, the book’s illustrations show that this is true, but Ada listened more than she looked while I was reading.) Obviously, her parents had read this story to her many times; she seemed to want to hear it over and over because of the pleasure this gave her. Her usual busy self became quiet and thoughtful. (And then sleepy.)

Once I began to pay more attention to the story, I realized that some objects, words, and events in the chapter were familiar to Ada because they were part of her daily experience: for example, objects like a jar of honey and actions like reaching into a cupboard. I do not know if Ada has seen an actual live elephant, but zoo animals are a common theme in toddler picture books. In Ada’s mind, the heffalump story related to other books as well as to everyday experiences and vocabulary used in daily conversation. Later, on the playground, Ada pretended parts of the story; she dug a pit into the cedar mulch so she could catch a heffalump. While she played, she talked about what she was doing, often to herself, but also to others who might be able and willing to play another part in the enactment. For instance, if Ada was pretending the part of Pooh, she would ask me to “talk” Piglet. This put me in mind of Dr. Jennifer Spencer’s Theory of Personal Integration, which describes how ideas resonate with a learner, and in the early stages are “processed . . . mainly through play and language” (2014, p. 217), until they become an integral part of the person.

Dr. Spencer’s theory correlates with the work of James N. Britton, a British educator and professor at the BookUniversity of London whose writings were published in the latter half of the 20th century. Britton provided examples of conversations he had with his daughters and granddaughters to support his ideas about language, learning, and literature. In his book Literature in Its Place (1993)Britton pointed out that very young children are able to communicate with adults even before they have speech. “And then, in the course of months, the interchange of meanings becomes possible, all in enacted make-believe play” (Britton, 1993, p. 81). This acting-out-the-meaning play, according to Britton, develops before a child is able to verbally narrate meaning (Britton, 1993, p.13). When adults respond favorably to a child’s “enactive, imaginative mode of speech” . . . they are finding “a way of sharing their lifespace and the role that language plays in their early experience” (Britton, 1993, p. 82).

Charlotte Mason also teaches us about the importance of imaginative play and admonishes us to refrain from asking young children to verbally narrate. In Home Education we read, “Until he is six, let Bobbie narrate only when and what he has a mind to. He must not be called upon to tell anything” (1989, p. 231), and in School Education (1989):

There is a little danger in these days of much educational effort that children’s play should be crowded out, or, what is from our present point of view the same thing, should be prescribed for and arranged until there is no more freedom of choice about play . . . . Boys and girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures, live heroic lives, lay siegeAda Playing in the sand-20s and carry forts, even if the fortress be an old armchair; and in these affairs the elders must neither meddle nor make. They must be content to know that they do not understand, and, what is more, that they carry with them a chill breath of reality which sweeps away illusions . . . ; he who is most played with by his elders has little power of inventing plays for himself; and so he misses that education which comes to him when allowed to go his own way. . . . (pp. 36-37)

(I just have to say here, that grandparents are pretty good at participating without meddling when invited into imaginary play.)

There is really no accounting for some of the books Ada takes an interest in and asks to have reread constantly. In midsummer, her favorite library book was Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. So much so that her mother ordered her her own copy. During my visit to Arizona in August, this is the book I read over and over. During that visit we also read a version of The Three Billy Goats Gruff and one of Ada’s mother’s childhood books, The Silver Slippers. As I write, two of Ada’s current favorites are Stars Wars A, B, C and Star Wars 1, 2, 3.

While some of the stories Ada likes may not precisely meet the definition of a living book, her related play and talk allow her to process and integrate new concepts and vocabulary. The Silver Slippers includes the following words and phrases which do not often occur in a child’s everyday conversation: inspired, frequently discouraged, recital, cusimage-small-23hion, glistened, strains of music, prima ballerina, aglow. When the Grinch is trying to decide how to stop Christmas, he drums his fingers on a big boulder in the entrance of his cave. Every time I read this book to Ada in August, I stopped and drummed my fingers on the page. Soon Ada tried; she could not exactly drum her fingers so instead tapped them in unison. Weeks later, when I was once again visiting in Arizona, The Grinch was still a favorite, so I read itat naptime. Before I realized I was about to turn to the finger-drumming page, Ada surprised me by starting to tap her fingers. And, on a recent visit to South Dakota, Ada’s favorite activity was playing “Three Billy Goats Gruff” with her grandfather in the “park with the bridge.” When they needed a break from playing, Ada and Grandpawatched an animated version of Charlotte’s Web on VHS. Over the course of ten days they viewed it twice; she was entranced both times and later talked accurately Ada&GrandpaWatching Charlotte's Web-24about the story. Ada now has plans for a Wilbur the Pig costume for Halloween. It looks like baby sister is probably going to have to be Charlotte!

Ada’s voluntary play and enactments from stories strengthen the relationship between the spoken word and its meaning and provide a basis for communication between child and observant, caring adult. It is a blessing to share literary experiences with one’s children, grandchildren, and students. James Britton points out that early imagined childhood experiences flow directly into later imagined experiences represented in literature – living books that help us understand and tell our stories to ourselves and others. I believe that Ada’s continuous exposure to stories; the encouragement she is being given to use her senses to explore her world, to play, and use her imagination; and the talk that naturally occurs around her experiences are allowing her to see and build relationships that support the multiple facets of the development of her unique personhood.





Britton, J. N. (1993). Literature in its place. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers, Inc.

Mason, C. M. (1989).  Home education. Wheaton IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (Original work published 1925)

Mason, C. M. (1989).  School education. Wheaton IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (Original work published 1925)

Spencer, J. C. (2014). Getting personal: The theory of personal integration. In J. Carroll Smith (Ed.). Essays on the life and work of Charlotte Mason (pp. 211-238). Roanoke, VA: The Charlotte Mason Institute.


©  2014 by Donna Johnson, EdD

My daughter, 3 years old, is crazy about favorites.  I mean crazy in the sense that she walks around endlessly asking me what my favorites are about Everything.  All the time.

“Yes or No.  Is that your favorite?  Yes or No?”  she asks, and if an answer isn’t forthcoming in a nanosecond, she repeats herself.  “Yes or No, I said, Mommy.  Is that your favorite?  Yes or No?”  And then, because I understand the definition of favorite as preferring one over another, I think about it.  I ponder my choice, thinking about which one actually is my favorite, because really, isn’t she just trying to learn more about me?  Doesn’t she want to know what I really think?  Isn’t she trying to relate to me and know me better and don’t I want to foster that kind of thing?

So, I think about it.  I tell her that yes, I think G just might be my favorite letter.  After all, her name starts with G and so does God and about a million other words that I couldn’t possibly do without.  And she calmly tells me all about the letter W being her favorite, but so are T, J, and L, with X, B and D making an appearance as “mostly my favorites,” but really “all the letters are all favorites.  Yes, all favorites.”  That’s when I start thinking about a lesson in understanding the meaning of the word favorite being in order.

IMG_2249-15When it comes to music, she has a long line-up of favorite songs and composers; currently Seiji Ozawa and Leonard Bernstein top the list as favored conductors.  With a composer for a father and frequent attendance at chorale rehearsals and performances, much of her days are immersed in music. She almost never listens to music without moving.  Sometimes in earnest, sometimes just a little toe-tapping or finger wiggling as she does something else.  But she’s always moving.  She can pick out the different instruments playing in different pieces, but more than that she talks about what is happening in the music.  Sometimes it is story-like and her leaping and dancing take on specific, determined movements.  Sometimes she talks more about emotions or feelings and her dancing is less precise and more emotive.  She loves music.  She listens to music.  She hears it.  Obviously.  I took for granted that all children do.

I have children aged 4-6 in my kindergarten class.  We sing a lot during our mornings.  But I was surprised when we listened to musical selections for composer study.  It was almost as if most of the children didn’t know what to do.  I expected them to have a lot to say about what they were hearing.  I expected they would want to move.  But most of them didn’t.   I wondered about that.

Had they not been exposed to music much previously?  I found that hard to believe.  It’s almost impossible to go anywhere without hearing music.  Our satellite and car radios are preset to our favorite stations.  It pops up on our screens.  Music is readily available at home.  We hear it in every store, every restaurant, and in our town, music is piped outside every business on Main Street.  I began to wonder if music for them had become like wallpaper.  It’s in the background of our lives and we almost don’t notice it anymore.  Were they being unintentionally trained to not listen to music sometimes?

I’m not sure.  It may be a number of reasons, but I found some things helpful in scaffolding the little ones in my classes to purposefully, attentively, joyfully listen to music.  Henry Riding, in a lecture on music instruction for children given at the Wanstead Branch of the P.N.E.U. states, All should be taught to understand how to listen to music, and this early training – be it ever so little – will help everyone to use ears more intelligently.  To be really interested in anything is the most refreshing thing in the world, and Music, physically, morally and mentally, is all powerful in this way.  

Almost all of the instruction in our kindergarten finds its beginning in story.  And so with listening to music.  We began with songs (or parts of songs) which clearly portray a story or bring vivid images to mind, for example, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee, Jessel’s Parade of the Tin Soldiers, or Copeland’s Billy the Kid:  Gun Battle.  (I should say that this is not an article on How To Do A Composer Study, but rather, what worked for me in terms of scaffolding children in order to do Composer Study.)

To begin at the beginning we started with songs which had corresponding pictures of great art to accompany them.  Can You Hear It?9k=-18a book by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, pairs paintings in their collection with great musical selections.  Showing the children the paintings as we first listened to the songs gave them the idea that there was something they could imagine in their mind’s eye as they listened.  As we listened attentively they began to develop the ability to notice the different sounds of the different instruments and how they interacted with one another during the course of the song.   After listening (without talking) the children would share their thoughts – what they heard, what they noticed, what they imagined, what the song made them feel, think about.

Then we listened to the song again.  This time the children were free to get up and move about, responding to the music.  One child almost always stays seated and closes her eyes.  When a friend asked if she was going to get up and dance, she replied, “Shhh.  I am listening with my eyes.”   Perfect!



Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights from Romeo and Juliet, age 5


At this point we get out our music journals and respond in picture to the song.


Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee, age 4











Once the children were comfortable with this, we began to listen to songs that were still rich in imagery, but I did not show them a picture as we listened – they provided the image using their own imagination.  They loved to hear how their ideas differed or were similar to those of their classmates.  Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals was one of their favorites to listen to.  As their attention and discernment increased so did the length of selections we listened to.  The children begged to hear Peter and the Wolf over and over again.  (We enjoy the version conducted by Claudio Abbado and narrated by Sting.)



Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals (Lion), age 6

During our times of free play indoors or clean up time, the children began to recognize some of the songs that were playing on the cd player.  Music was becoming less like wallpaper and more and more a delight and an integral part of their day.  As a matter of fact, one day as we were getting ready to go home, I was playing Saint-Saens, and one of the children said, “Oh, listen! It’s our friend the Swan!”





© 2014 by Rebekah Brown Hierholzer


Is it just me, or do you find yourself answering more questions about schooling options these days?  Whether pursuing a private or charter school option, online learning, or home schooling, it seems like a growing number of parents are seeking different means of educating their children. This growth has extended to the Charlotte Mason educating community, as we’ve seen a rapid increase in the number of local support groups, regional and national conferences, schools and cooperatives.  Even Facebook users in Indonesia can join the Charlotte Mason Indonesia Community, which boasts over 2,800 members!

There are a myriad of reasons that parents choose alternative education options, but I cannot think of one parent who wants to walk that road alone. I am extraordinarily grateful for the authors and communities that “virtually” supported our transition from public to home schooling: Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, Sally Clarkson, Karen Andreola, Charlotte Mason Help, and Childlight USA (now Charlotte Mason Institute).  I remember the many nights when a hungry newborn gave me another excuse to read one of Mason’s books or look at the book lists on Ambleside Online. What a blessing those parents and educators, many of whom I’ve met in the last six years, have been to our family and so many others.

In 2008, I was able to attend my first conference with Childlight USA (CMI) in North Carolina. I had the same feeling that so many first-time conference-goers experience – drinking through a firehose, completely overwhelmed with information. I relied heavily on my virtual friends from the online forums and email lists to process the information that I learned in my first conference experience. This year (June 2014), I attended the CMI national conference with 13 local CM parent-educators, eight of whom attended for the first time. We narrated the conference on the five hour drive home, but after three weeks of “processing” the conference with our spouses and children at home, we met to offer further reflections on what we each took away from this year’s conference. Perhaps their experience will further demonstrate the value of being in community or attending a regional or national conference if one is available to you.

The fact that the Institute invites speakers who are not affiliated with CMI is a big plus in my mind. It shows that they are open to other ideas and want to seek and share knowledge with people who are leaders in other fields related to children and play, technology and education. (Father, new to CM)

I learned more about music from [Gillingham Charter School music teacher] Sam’s 15 minute Kodaly session than I’ve learned in my whole life about music. I think I could have loved music.  I wish we could do this with our kids. (Father, not new to CM)

Lowell Monke’s talk was big for me.  It made me want to touch books.  I realized how special a book’s cover could become to my child’s mind. Even as an adult, I remember the tattered covers of my favorite books.  I don’t want my children to remember my purple Kindle cover. I want them to remember the cover and pages of the books they read. (Mother, starting 3rd yr of CM)

I’ve been doing CM for five years now, and I still feel like I’m in the paradigm shift, though I think I’m much farther along now having been in the co-op and going to the conferences.  This second time at the conference really solidified for me that I cannot make connections for my child. That’s hard for my personality.  I have to let go and trust the philosophy.  I have to remember that it will come; I cannot obsess over the results.  If I want my kids to learn perseverance, I have to persevere myself.  I learned a lot about slow reading and taking time to reflect on the books. (Mother, 6th yr CM])

I loved Art’s talk on poetry and spiritual formation. I always hated poetry. That’s why I went to his talk, to find out how I could share it with my kids if I hated it.  Now I realize that if I want my children to love it, then I need to learn to love it.  Art said, “Nobody wants to be taught by a hypocrite.”  So I know I can’t expect my kids to love it if I don’t try to let it enrich my own life first.  (Mother, starting 3rd yr of CM)

This whole year I was really struggling with the paradigm shift. I’ve already graduated one homeschooler, so I’ve been struggling with why I should change for my other five kids.  The only reason I was open to CM was because [previous curriculum] was too much reading, and I thought CM would be just as good as it but less reading.  Then the more I learned about CM, the more I was overwhelmed because I realized it was way more than “less reading”; it was changing my whole approach to education and truly our whole lifestyle. I have really resisted that. I need someone to tell me what to do. I don’t trust my own judgement to tell me what my kids need for each year.  All through the conference, I was really depressed and discouraged. It all sounds so good but my personality can’t relax and let the lists go, let the guidance from a boxed curriculum go. Part of it was that I had traded following [previous curriculum] for following a CM curriculum. So my paradigm had not changed – just the list of books.  I was overwhelmed there, too. Then I went to Kerri Forney’s session.  She said that we really had to know our children, that if we had gotten through all of the years of school and read every book and checked every list but didn’t KNOW our children, what would we have accomplished?  I realized that I had to let go of seeing any curriculum as making my child smart enough to do this or that. I realized I don’t know my kids.  I want to pick books this year that will set my kids hearts on fire.  I want to know my kids better. I don’t want them to hang their heads when I tell them it’s time for school because I don’t want to use the word school.  I want to see each of them and their gifts and use this year to focus on getting to know them better and reading books to them that are NOT on some list somewhere, but books that I know will make them love to learn again. (Mother, starting 2nd yr of CM)

I learned at the conference that I must schedule for peace in our home.  We have to get away from going through the motions and checking off the list.  I need to use different approaches to narration instead of just oral.  I want us all to notebook instead of just the kids because I think it will be good for me to make time for myself.  I need to stop scheduling doctor’s visits during school hours and really protect our time together. (Mother, starting 3rd yr of CM)

I learned from Lowell Monke and Nicole Williams (and Art Middlekauff the year before) that books are symbols of reality, just like an iPod screen is a surface to interact but does not represent face to face interaction.  Real life is more important than books.  Books can tell us about life, but they can’t replace it. I realize now that my scheduling was so heavy on books that it left out the masterly inactivity, the real life. I REALLY wish I knew more about masterly inactivity.  I think the scheduling workshop [given by Nicole Williams] should have been heard by everyone at the conference.  Character and experience are not as much about the books themselves as what you DO with what you’ve read.  I want my kids to do more than read a book. I want them to do the mental work of assimilating what they’ve learned from the book into their ACTIONS.  I don’t think many people get this at all.  It’s about character transformation, not just narration or exams. (Mother, starting 3rd yr of CM)

The Newbie immersion class was so helpful for me.  I needed to become the student to see how much *I* could learn from just five subject areas.  The notebooking class was also great.  For someone who is new to CM, I have never seen these things in practice before, so I feel like I’m flying blind. To have it demonstrated for me was invaluable. I’m so excited about this year. (Mother, brand new, starting 1st yr of CM)

Kerri Forney’s sessions on narration and notebooking were so helpful. Art’s opening talk was incredible, convicting and encouraging.  I love hearing the overarching philosophy in the plenaries, with the reminders to focus my heart and mind. Then the workshops with the hands-on are a great way to balance the conference experience. I loved it. (Mother, 6th yr CM])

I hear similar feedback from attendees of the many regional CM conferences that are planned by Charlotte Mason educating veterans who dedicate many hours to supporting the CM community. As you have read, there is great thought and purpose behind the workshops, plenary sessions and fellowship times that are offered at a conference. Conference organizers also spend a significant amount of time after the conference is over, requesting feedback and suggestions for making the next year’s experience even more valuable. I encourage you to find a national or regional conference, or a local community, and JOIN IT.

Charlotte Mason thought community was important. When she formed the Parents National Education Union (PNEU), she wrote:

No other part of the worlds work is of such supreme difficulty, delicacy and importance, as that of parents in the right of bringing up of their children. The first obligation of the present  that of passing forward a generation better than ourselves  rests with parents. As every child belongs to the common weal, so his bringing up is the concern of all. Yet parents, with the responsibility of the worlds future resting upon them, are left to do their work, each father and mother alone, rarely getting so much as a word of sympathy, counsel or encouragement.

All other bodies of workers, whether of hand or brain, enjoy the help and profit of association; commonly, of cooperation. Thus the wisdom, the experience, the information of each is made profitable for all; enthusiasm is generated by the union of many for the advance of a cause, and every member is cheered by the sympathy of his fellow workers.  Charlotte Mason, A Draft Proof pamphlet, 1888

Ms. Mason’s words remind us of the need for community among educationalists: to be united for the advance of a cause, all of us cheered on by the sympathy of our fellow workers. Whether by book, or by website, or in meeting together locally, we must remember we do this for the children’s sake.

One final item to share: in 2015, the Charlotte Mason Institute National Conference will be held from June 17-20 in Wilmore, Kentucky, on the campus of Asbury Theological Seminary.  Based on the feedback of previous attendees, CMI is confident that Asbury will be a wonderful new venue for the anticipated growth of the conference. Asbury has met and exceeded all of our conference “requirements,” from facilities and greenspace to family-friendly activities and dietary needs. When the 2015 Conference registration details are finalized, those of you who subscribe to this blog or follow CMI on Facebook will receive an invitation to join next year’s conference. I hope to meet you there!

© 2014 Jennifer Stec

Implementing Charlotte Mason’s principles into my homeschool in the past several years has been a journey of releasing educational ideas that I once held dear. As I learn more through conferences, books and blogs, I fine-tune my practices to be more in line with Mason’s philosophy and methods. The most recent principle that I have been applying more intentionally is the art of standing aside and letting my children take responsibility for their education. This has been hard for me because I was a classroom teacher for seven years and my job was to be the talking head. I remember the first time I read the following quote, “Whereby teachers shall teach less and scholars shall learn more” (Vol. 6., p. 8). That did not make sense to my educational paradigm. How am I supposed to leave the analyzing, summarizing and thinking to the children? What if they miss something? What if they don’t make the connections?

Mason said that “wise and purposeful letting alone is the best part of education” (Vol. 3, p.128). This act of the teacher being a co-learner and not being the “fountain-head of all knowledge” or the “showman of the universe” is a foundational principle for Mason. You may already be implementing nature study, reading living books, and having your students narrate. However, if you don’t allow your students to take ownership of their education, then you are not adhering to a distinctively Mason education.

Mason said to “let them get at the books themselves, and do not let them be flooded with a warm diluent at the lips of their teacher. The teacher’s business is to indicate, stimulate, direct and constrain to the acquirement of knowledge . . . The less parents and teachers talk-in and expound their rations of knowledge and thought to the children they are educating, the better for the children” (Vol. 3, p. 162). A child is to “dig” knowledge for himself out of living books because what he learns on his own becomes his “possession” and is assimilated as opposed to “what is poured in his ear”(Vol. 3, p.177).

And if that wasn’t enough to persuade you to zip your lips, Mason goes on to say, “Half the teaching one hears and sees is more or less obtrusive” (Vol. 3, p.66). Do we want to be obtrusive and stand in the way of our children having a mind-to-mind meeting with the great authors, poets, painters and composers of the past and present? Most importantly, do we want to get in the way of the relationship that our students develop with God and his world? Why should we limit a child to our mind, our words, our vocabulary, and our connections?

Mason recognizes that some teachers use oral lessons because they realize the books that are used by the students are boring and dry. So it’s understandable that teachers will try to make the subject come alive with oral teaching. However, if we are using living books, then we don’t need to gather and summarize the information for our students, but just let them be. Mason said, “The child and the author must be trusted together without the intervention of the middle-man” (Vol.6, p.192). If the author does not talk about something the reader may be wondering about, the reader just needs to wait for the time being. That is part of the relationship the child is building with the author. We don’t need to step in and explain everything and most likely spoil not only the text but also a child’s chance to self-educate.

So what does the art of standing aside look like? When the child narrates, it is not the time to interrupt, make corrections or talk much. Mason rightly asserts, “The child of six has begun the serious business of his own education, that it does not matter much whether he understands this word or that, but that it matters a great deal that he should learn to deal directly with books” (Vol. 6, p.172).

When it comes to the Bible, Mason believes children should have the words of Scripture read straight to them without “distracting moral considerations” and pointing out what was bad or what was good (Vol. 6., p.337). By making the reading of Scripture a delightful time, God’s word will slowly sink in and new truths will be revealed to the child year by year, as he is ready. In picture study, the child does the work as she tells about the picture and lets the picture “ tell its tale through the medium the artist gave it” (Vol.6, p. 216). It is not the place for teachers to give extensive talks on schools of painting, or to talk about style or critical analysis. When it comes to nature study, in Home Education, Mason spends almost 100 pages explaining the importance for young children to be outdoors, gaining knowledge by themselves about the natural world and building relationships with plant and animal life.

We also need to make sure that children have the time and space to reflect and be left alone with their own thoughts. Mason also called this masterly inactivity or wise passiveness. If children are rushed to the next activity or errand as soon as lessons are done, the learning process will be affected and the children may not make those connections or internalize the ideas that were presented to them. The afternoons should be free to work on handcrafts, be outside, and engage in unstructured free play. As Mason stated, “Boys and girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures, live heroic lives, lay sieges and carry forts . . . and in these affairs the elders must neither meddle nor make” (Vol. 3, p.37).

I encourage you this new school year to practice the art of standing aside. I know for me it has been hard to stay quiet and listen instead of correcting or explaining or asking too many questions. It is also hard to say “no” to all the great activities that we could participate in that would keep us away from home. But I trust the principles of Charlotte Mason based on the truth of how God created children. But most importantly, I want to practice wise passiveness because I trust God and do not want to hinder the work that he is doing in my children’s lives.



 Mason, C. M. (1989).  Home education. Wheaton IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (Original work published in 1925).

 Mason, C. M. (1989).  A philosophy of education. Wheaton IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (Original work published in 1925).

Mason, C. M. (1989).  Home education. Wheaton IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (Original work published in 1925).

© 2014 by Shannon Whiteside

Two words spring to my mind as I recall my first experience at the Charlotte Mason Conference this past June: nourishing and harmonious. Having finished my second year of teaching and started my third graduate class, my physical body boasted exhaustion throughout the conference week while, on the contrary, my mind was revived with life-giving words from the presenters—snippets from Mason’s works and other like-minded texts, such as our conference poem by Emily Dickinson:

He ate and drank the precious words,

His spirit grew robust;

He knew no more that he was poor,

Nor that his frame was dust.

He danced along the dingy days,

And this bequest of wings

Was but a book.

What liberty

A loosened spirit brings!

The words from this particular poem continue to penetrate my heart as I am reminded that I imbibed, chewed, and digested living ideas. I was brought closer to LIFE, surrounded by persons united in purpose. What an incredible growing experience!

The first year following my initial baptism in 2012—or Cathartic Leap as I like to refer to it as—was one in which I was fully submerged underwater, so much so that I did not have full capacity of all of my faculties.   Teaching I was, but only according to the topical ideas of Mason’s philosophy. However, last year, with my head finally above water, my vision cleared and my heart opened and awakened to receive more nuggets of truth. For each one of us, this paradigm shift paces differently. But for all of us, the end result—The Shift—is similar. For me, it was a leap from fantasy to nonfiction—from caged words to living ideas as I described in Parts 1 and 2 of “Meeting Mason” (my previous blogs).

A significant change materialized into the purchase of my first Commonplace book—a lovely and durable journal from Ollie’s—in June. Now these deeply-resonating ideas have a place to reside. I will readily admit that I am quickly becoming attached to this little book and recommend everyone to take the leap to start their own. Mason’s ideas bleed into how I teach my Sunday school children, as well. I am in the process of introducing them to narration and the grand conversation instead of being a “talking head” with crafts following each lesson as I have done in the past.

What has happened from 2012 until now to cause this change? Perhaps it was due to the day my students began to beg to read more and skip the word sorts. It might have resulted from a discussion with a parent with two daughters who love to come to school at Gillingham but who, at a previous public school, would beg not to go to school and then bicker with each other on the way home each day. Yet, I am sure it must have been the result of a letter written by a high school student. She declared that she had been contemplating the idea of taking her own life, but upon attending Gillingham, instead found life and a home with us. Maybe from the moment I said “yes” to Gillingham in 2012, Mason’s ideas started following me like a komodo dragon stealthily stalking a buffalo or a mongoose slowly but swiftly surrounding a cobra. Nonetheless, partaking in these ideas has simply wetted my appetite, but now it is time to dig deeper. The milk is no longer satisfying. I desire to partake in the meat.

One of my students reading in a special nook inside the closet.

One of my students reading in a special nook inside the closet.


Kara Stalter in her classroom (Taken by one of her students at the end of the 2013 school year.)


Gillingham teachers at the Charlotte Mason Education Conference in NC with our Director, Nicolle Hutchinson.

One big idea that has traveled with me since the conference is the concept of symbolic experiences versus real experiences that Dr. Lowell Monke so eloquently and poignantly discussed. He said, “Learning about cannot substitute for learning from.” Watching videos or googling information is not a first-hand experience. These are disembodied facts that cannot inspire in us the qualities such as compassion, reverence, and respect. Real experiences cannot be replaced. They must be lived through our five senses. Likewise, Dr. Monke advocates that social media is alienating us from relationships like industrialization alienated us from nature. The result is a society that is numbed and stunned with difficulties in real intimacy and growth and becoming a valuable member of the community.   Of course, in strong agreement with Dr. Monke is Mason, who, although she lived to see a fraction of the modern age unfold, promoted the importance of nature study and ample time outdoors to explore, observe, enjoy, and establish friendships with the trees and the flowers and the shrubs and the critters. As Mason firmly declares, “The child who learns his science from a text-book, though he go to Nature for illustrations, and he who gets his information from object lessons, has no chance of forming relations with things as they are, because his kindly obtrusive teacher makes him believe that to know about things is the same as knowing them personally . . .” (Vol. 3, p.66). Children first need to know the world through real experiences and then enhance those experiences with rich ideas from living books.

Perhaps the greatest joy I experienced from this past year occurred toward the end of the school year when one of my fourth graders adamantly declared, “You know, Miss Stalter, I didn’t like reading until this year. Now I love it!” The goal is for each one of my students to be brought closer to life as I have been and strengthened by this feast of ideas. As Mason purports in her work, An Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education on page 72, “The work of education is greatly simplified when we realize that children, apparently all children, want to know all human knowledge; they have an appetite for what is put before them, and, knowing this, our teaching becomes buoyant with the courage of our convictions.” I confess that these notions are creeping from my mind to my heart and affecting not just how I teach math and reading at Gillingham to my Title I students but how I live my life outside of these walls. This realization is exciting but also startling as I consider the reality that I will soon be rendered incapable of consciously teaching anything apart from Mason’s relational education model, hinged upon education as an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life. Consequently, just as baptisms effect life-long commitments, so it is my undying desire that the lives of the children whom I help to baptize using Mason’s methods will experience that positive influence for their entire lives.

In this mission, in OUR mission—the whole of the Mason community—the conference has encouraged and strengthened me that Gillingham is not alone—WE are not alone. We have supporting leaders of this philosophy throughout the United States and the world as we strive to attest that ALL children have a right to this type of education that is as natural to us as persons as weaving a chrysalis is to a caterpillar. Therefore, from fantasy to nonfiction, I close this “baptism” saga by asking you once again: Is it a mission impossible? Nunca. A hazardous journey? A veces.   A leap of faith? Todos los días.

In the words of our Director, Nicolle Hutchinson, “I dare us to dare greatly” (CM Conference, June 2014).

© 2014 by Kara Stalter



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