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


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


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