The Institute is announcing another preconference workshop that we believe will be most beneficial to parents and teachers.  

Building A Foundation of Number Sense PK-2 with Suzanne Bazak
Suzanne Bazak is one of the best educators that I know.  I worked with her when I was a principal in Roanoke City Public Schools where she was then an excellent support person for teachers and principals in the use of technology.  Math instruction is so difficult and at the same time of such importance that, as an educator, I am extremely sensitive to what is provided as training in the teaching of mathematics at our Charlotte Mason Education Conference.  Suzanne is the person I would trust.  She has convinced teachers to follow good developmental practices for the teaching of math in order to get the results they seek for state testing, rather than, bowing to teaching to the test.  She is an excellent math instructor while at the same time a fun and enjoyable person.  If you are concerned about the teaching of mathematics to your young child(ren), you will want to attend this session.  If you have math phobia yourself, but do not want to pass it on to your children, you will want to attend this session.  And, most importantly, you will want to get to know Suzanne.                   
 Carroll Smith
 From pre-kinderleben* through second grade, children develop a mathematical foundation by building beliefs about what mathematics is and developing a strong understanding of numbers and their relationship to one another.  effective mathematics instruction begins with effective teaching.  This workshop will provides classroom teachers and parents with rich experiences and proven classroom resources needed to insure that all children develop a strong sense of number.  an early foundation in number sense (numeracy) is critical for continued success in mathematics throughout a child’s life.  Emphasis will be placed on the idea of “playing” with numbers through the use of games and manipulatives.
Suzanne Bazak is an Elementary Math Specialist with Roanoke City Public Schools in Roanoke, VA.  She has taught all levels of mathematics, K-12, as well as undergraduate and graduate level courses in Elementary Math Methods, Middle and High School Topics in Mathematics and a variety of instructional technology courses.  She holds a Bachelors of Science in Mathematics from Vanderbilt University and a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from Virginia Tech.  Suzanne believes that the best way to build an early foundation of number sense is to engage young children will “playing” with numbers; ranging from the use of board and dice games to mathematical manipulatives and real-world experiences.
*Note – Kinderleben is a term coined by Dr. Jack Beckman, an early childhood education specialist.  It means “Childlife” rather than “Childgarden.”  The idea for using kinderleben rather than kindergarten is that children are persons, not gardens to be tended.  As persons they grow and change fro within and we must teach them in ways that are consistent with what it means to be a human being not in ways that are consistent with tending a garden.  

My life-long reading style could be described in one word: fast. (In recent years, I attempted to read James Sire’s How to Read Slowly—but I was reading too fast to learn how to read slowly!) The ability to read fast is very helpful when scanning the departure listing to find the gate for the flight one is about to miss or when looking for a reference to a particular person in that last chapter one read, etc. However, fast reading is not appropriate for the “one reading” insisted upon by Charlotte Mason—the reading that results in knowing (demonstrable by narrating).

I have long been the person who could read a book and tell you that I really liked it, but not be able to recall a single detail from it. (I’m the same with movies.) I often read to my husband at bedtime; sadly, it is not uncommon for me to turn to the bookmarked place and have no recognition of the passages I read aloud to him the previous night. I am also sometimes the frustrated and impatient mother of a child who is simply unable to begin to read (or be read to) without knowing the context. Daughter: “What happened just before this?” Mother: “I don’t know. Can’t we just read?!” (Hello. My name is Cindy and I have an “I-don’t-know-the-context-and-why-does-it-matter-anyway?” problem.)

It all started in first grade. Over on the window ledge sat a large box labeled “SRA.” Inside were dozens of cards, presumably designed to enhance reading comprehension. As a child who already read well— and fast—I was enticed by SRA. The cards were color-coded, beginning with red, blue, and green, progressing to the much more lovely (and exotic?) aqua, violet, and rose, and moving inevitably toward the boring but prestigious gold, silver, and bronze (hues perhaps exciting only to Olympic athletes). I was a quiet and shy child, but SRA brought out an innate, covert competitiveness. On my own time, in the privacy of my own desk, I whizzed through those cards as fast as I could. (I still remember the teacher’s written comment on my first-grade report card: “Cindy is an excellent student, but she is sometimes careless.” Perhaps SRA helped nourish that carelessness.) .

My learning curve in applying Charlotte Mason’s philosophy has been quite slow over the course of the past ten years; however, the Holy Spirit has given me treasured epiphanies along the way which have been truly life-changing. I would like to share one of them here. First, a bit of personal background:

Our older daughter (now 14 years old) became ill in November 2011 and has neither walked nor talked since then. Needless to say, our lives have changed! My days are filled with many childcare responsibilities which had been appropriately laid aside years ago.

Recently, I was talking with a friend during a weekly mother/daughter “playdate” we share. (Last week we sat and read to one another from our commonplace books—a lovely experience which I highly recommend!) I honestly don’t remember any particular words that were spoken, but I distinctly remember realizing that in my present life situation, I could actually READ some books (despite my life- long habit of blitz reading)! This probably sounds quite lame to those of you who have been immersed in a Charlotte Mason lifestyle for years. For me, however, it was an epiphany.

Because of our daughter’s illness I have bought (and devoured small bits of) many, many, MANY books—books on PTSD, books on alternative therapies, books on Christian healing—dozens and dozens of books during the past two years. Each time a book came in the mail I would immerse myself in it immediately, reading voraciously (and yes, very fast—in my first-grade-SRA style) in search of a way—

any way—to help our daughter; when the next book arrived, the first was abandoned to the ever- growing piles beside my bed.

Recently, I took those piles and sorted the 34 books (Yes. Seriously.) into categories. (This was revealing in that it not only showed me which genres I was reading, but also helped me identify what was lacking in the “feast” I had randomly spread for myself. Whether or not I’m able to fill in those blank spaces now, I am at least more aware of what I’m missing.) I then put each stack/category in prioritized-for-reading order. Finally, I made a reading plan for myself that looks something like this:

Monday/Wednesday/Friday 8:30-10:00

  •   Laurie Bestvater’s The Living Page: Keeping Notebooks with Charlotte Mason
  •   A book (written by an M.D.) that explores the power of the unconscious mind toproduce physical symptoms (and the power of the conscious mind to obliterate same)
  •   A book on Christian healing1:00-2:00
  •   Biography of a pioneering woman naturalist (who found solace—and fame—in this workafter suffering a nervous breakdown; she was formerly a school teacher)
  •   Jayber Crow (by Wendell Berry)Tuesday/Thursday 8:30-10:00
  •   A book on recognizing the holy–and the opportunity for sacrifice–in all things
  •   Biography of 110-year-old pianist (oldest Holocaust survivor until her death in February)
  •   A book I’m reading with a friend (meeting bi-weekly)11:00-12:00
  •   A book on how the Bible came to be
  •   Charlotte Mason’s Ourselves (reading with local CM book club)Most evenings 7:00-7:30

 Juvenile Fiction 9:30-10:00

 Bedtime book with Philip (currently Maphead by Ken Jennings)

Oh, the changes that have been wrought by my adopting this reading plan! Lyrics from the old pop song, “Time in a Bottle,” come to mind: “There never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do once you find them.” My experience flies in the face of this lament! I have found that, because I have the reading of living books to look forward to, I am all the more eager to accomplish all the “have- to’s” in my life. Before I implemented the plan, I dreaded starching and ironing my husband’s shirts and would often just make sure I had a shirt ready for him for the next day. Now, my ironing is all done— and stays that way. I CANNOT WAIT to get the dishes washed and the kitchen cleaned each morning so I can jump in to my reading!

Like most of you, I did not have the advantage of a Charlotte-Mason-informed education. Like you, I normally struggle to make changes in my personal habits. But, like you, I am called by our Creator to an ever-higher place. The calling in this particular epiphany has been accompanied by an abundance of grace, allowing me to form my new reading habit quickly. In addition, the passion I feel for and the energy I receive from this new addition to my life have been and continue to be restorative.

Does that mean I am doing this perfectly? By no means! Life happens. There are interruptions. I fail. In recent weeks there have been several days in which I have neglected my reading plan almost completely due to any or all of the following: a professional commitment which gave me the opportunity to do some work that I love, a Lenten practice called “40 Bags in 40 Days” (http://www.whitehouseblackshutters.com/40-bags-in-40-days-2014/ ), the NCAA basketball tournament, and the IRS’ irritating insistence that I file a tax return every year!

On top of all that, sometimes there are crises. Years ago I stumbled across a post on Ambleside Online’s site in which the author gave both encouragement to those in crisis and suggestions for ways to continue homeschooling in a scaled-down and manageable fashion during such times. (https://www.amblesideonline.org/HELP.shtml) For one who is a perfectionist, who succumbs to all-or- nothing thinking, and for whom task completion is of great urgency, these ideas were very helpful. More thoughts to encourage you: Something is better than nothing. When you fail (not if), just jump back in as soon as you are able. Breathe deeply. Go ahead. Try it now. Inhale. . . Exhale. . . Repeat.

In addition to crises and normal events that I perceive as interruptions to my plans (!), there is another major obstacle to overcome in the process of establishing a reading plan (or any new habit): myself! As cartoonist Walt Kelly said, “We have found the enemy and he is us!” I want you to know, though, that if God can give to me the idea of a reading plan and then use it to transform me, He can (and is surely ready and waiting to) do something similar in, for, and through you. Ask. Seek. Knock (Matthew 7:7).

Charlotte Mason said that education is a life. Jesus came that we may have life and have it to the full. (John 10:10) Mason asserted that persons can only be built up from within. Paul insisted that we not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. (Romans 12:2) Mason claimed that self-education is the only possible education. Paul wrote that we are to live up to what we have already attained (Philippians 3:16).

What is the Holy Spirit nudging you to do? Start now! May our God count you worthy of His calling and by His power fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith (2 Thessalonians 1:11).

My deepest gratitude goes to all whom God has used to inspire and instruct me in this endeavor (whether they knew/know it or not): Carroll Smith, Sandy Rusby Bell, Jennifer Spencer, Nancy Kelly, Laurie Bestvater, Deani Van Pelt, and Leslie Laurio.


© 2014 by Dr. Cindy Swicegood

Homeschooling my children is a humbling experience. It should be. I was brought low when reading Mason’s ideas about the Sacredness of Personality.   This idea slapped me awake, and I saw my shortcomings. But, what immediately followed the realization of my shortcoming was the hope that I could see coming by reading Mason’s words. I put my fist on these ideas and made them hold still while I understood what to change and slowly the shift in my understanding began.

In the case of my husband and me, homeschooling was not a glimmer of a thought until my firstborn was 5. For the conviction to be upon us both was confirming and we ventured forth in complete ignorance. Anyone can teach! The answer to that is NO! Thank God Charlotte Mason tells us to get out of the way and let the children sit with the masters; and this wise advice has probably saved my children from much stress and burn out.

Even so, we are home, together, a lot, and I am scaffolding children in many ways and in many lessons, because education is truly a life. What does that look like day in and day out in the rub of personality (difficult situations dealing with a child’s personality)? That is where An Essay Towards A Philosophy of Education has made all the difference, particularly chapter 5.   We have many ingenious, affectionate ways to maim, crush, or subvert a personality according to what Mason (1925a) says on page 80.   For me, the tendency to use pleasure or displeasure runs deep. When a task is impeded….displeasure! When a little person does not do as they are told….displeasure! When the lesson goes well…how pleased! And it goes on.

Let’s look at some other ways chapter 5 mentions.

1. A winning personality.   When I think of this personality I think of a person such as a drug salesperson who is very personable.   One who can pump everyone up to think positively and to move in the direction desired. If the teacher has a strong personality, she can wield this “personable” weapon with great accuity and effectiveness.

2. The power of suggestion. Mason suggests that it is not neccessarily lollipops and boogiemen of the nursery but spiritual prodes and scares. Or there is the “character trait of the month” studies like the statements seen on our local elemenatry school marquee: “The character trait of the month is Courage.” By the end of the month “That particular virtue becomes detestable; no other virtue is inviting; and he is acquiring no strength to stand alone but waits in all his doings for promptings from without” (Mason, 1925a, p. 83).   How much more inspiring is the walk through a life in the mind of a great character who makes mistakes and overcomes those mistakes. Many virtues are raised to light with no effort of the “teacher.”

3. Influence.   To influence someone’s morals is a good thing but too much influence can undermine a person’s character.   “We imbibe it from persons real and imaginary and we are kept strong and upright by currents and counter-currents of unstudied influence. Supineness before a single, steady, persistent influence is a different matter, and the schoolgirl who idolises her mistress, the boy who worships his master, is deprived of the chance of free and independent living. His personality fails to develop and he goes into the world as a parasitic plant, clinging ever to the support of some stronger character” (Mason, 1925a, p. 83). Ouch!

Then Mason begins to dive into the desires we might play upon that exist in all of humanity and invariably come into play to motivate us. When one chord is strummed too often, the result is to suppress and hamper intellectual and moral growth. The desire for approval, emulation, avarice, ambition/power, society is brought out and discussed one by one.   But there is one desire that is safe to play upon, the desire to know.   It is staggering how true her thoughts apply to our modern age of education as the quote below tells us.

“Each such desire has its place but the results are disastrous if any one should dominate. It so happens that the last desire we have to consider, the desire of knowledge, is commonly deprived of its proper function in our schools by the predominance of other springs of action, especially of emulation, the desire of place, and avarice, the desire of wealth, tangible profit. This divine curiosity is recognised in ordinary life chiefly as a desire to know trivial things. What did it cost? What did she say? Who was with him? Where are they going? How many postage stamps in line would go round the world? And curiosity is satisfied by incoherent, scrappy information which serves no purpose, assuredly not the purpose of knowledge whose function is to nourish the mind as food nourishes the body. But so besotted is our educational thought that we believe children regard knowledge rather as repulsive medicine than as inviting food. Hence our dependence on marks and prizes, athletics, alluring presentation, any jam we can devise to disguise the powder. The man who wilfully goes on crutches has incompetent legs; he who chooses to go blindfold has eyes that cannot bear the sun; he who lives on pap-meat has weak digestive powers, and he whose mind is sustained by the crutches of emulation and avarice loses that one stimulating power which is sufficient for his intellectual needs. This atrophy of the desire of knowledge is the penalty our scholars pay because we have chosen to make them work for inferior ends. Our young men and maidens do not read unless with the stimulus of a forthcoming examination. They are good-natured and pleasant but have no wide range of thought, lofty purpose, little of the magnanimity which is proper for a citizen” (Mason, 1925a, pp. 88-89).

Principle 1.   Children are born persons. I come back to this daily. I know I need to respect the child’s personhood but how can I implement this more clearly in our day to day life. In my deficits there is a heightened sense of awareness when confronted with the truths of Mason’s educational principles and the Holy Spirit. After all, Principle 20 states: We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life” (Mason, 1925a, p xxxi). There is a need for candour and respect as Mason brings out in her book Ourselves in Chapter 13, Justice to the Persons of Others. Why wait to read it together when they reach Ambleside Online’s House of Education Online for middle/high school. To mindfully model these ideas toward the childperson gains the advantage of familiarlity before ever studying the ideas. Many of us were not brought up on these ideas and must ask in the middle of a rub, “How can I love more?” When this happens, I turn to this chapter. In teaching the Learning Disabled I turn to this chapter. In my home we have a nice mix of Dyslexia, Apraxia, Sensory Processing Disorders (I have a low sensory child along with my combination of high and low sensory child which results from a combination of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Down Syndrome), which all give way to attention issues.   It is an undertaking to raise any child; to train them up in the way they grow, their bent, to follow the Lord.   These wild little shoots are challenging my every nerve fiber to tease out what needs scaffolding and what is just a stubborn sin, which most times I do not feel confident to actually KNOW. I ask, what does that look like? I come back to these ideas in Chapter 13: Gentleness, Courtesy, Not Free To Think Hard Things About Others, Justice To The Character Of Others, Candour, Respect, Discernment, Appreciation.

Whenever there is an attention issue I can say something impatient like,”Go look at your chore list again!” or repeat whatever it was. Displeasure.

Suspicion of sin is sinful.   Here is a quote from Formation of Character (Mason, 1925b) the section entitled, Young Crossjay. “Chivalry, honour, delicacy and obedience, impassioned obedience, to the divine law, these are the chords to play upon if we are to have pure youths and maidens. But we must believe that chivalry and chastity are there, and are not foreign ideas to be introduced by our talk; and this is where many parents fails. He is aware of evil in his child, and makes deadly allowance for it; and his suspicions create the very evils he dreads. We know how Helen Pendennis believed the worst of her son when the worst was not there, in order, one would think, that she might make occasion for self-sacrifice. It is well we should understand that suspicion also is sin, and begets mistrust and offence” (p. 397).

I know on more than one occasion I have treated an honest mistake, an undertrained skill as sin and I shudder. Our goal is to grow strong minds, that can accept and reject ideas. Therefore I turn again to Mason’s founding idea that a child is a person. I ask forgiveness and think about the scaffolding that is needed. I allow for natural consequences when appropriate and ask God to give me strength to rise above my source; to draw from His streams of wisdom and I thank Him for Charlotte Mason. Because I need her to spell these things out for me daily.


Mason, C. M. (1925a). An essay towards a philosophy of education. London: KeganPaul, Trench, Trubner and Co. Ltd.

Mason, C.M. (1925b). Formation of character. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co. Ltd.

Mason, C. M. (1989). Ourselves. Wheaton, IL:  Tyndale House Publishers, IL.  (Original work published, 1905 London:  Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co. Ltd.)

© 2014 by Melody Poli

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” Ecc 3:1

It’s been a long, cold winter in the Great Lakes region of the US. In Ohio, where I live, it has been a season of record cold and snowfall. There have been so many school cancellation days, our state government was forced to add more, so as not to extend the school year beyond the middle of June. The Vernal Equinox was last week. Yet, I see neither bud nor flower in my little yard. Even as I am writing, the snow continues to fall in great, blowing swirls. This time of year, I always find myself saying, “Enough, already!” I am so weary of winter.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Ecc 3:11

Some seasons are bright and flowering, others rainy, green and filled with newness. Another season may have the pale beauty of a world washed in white, or of a vibrant, multi-colored quilt stretched across the woods. The Word of God tells me that there is beauty in every season, for those who would look for it, and not wish it away too quickly, before the lessons of the season have been gleaned.

I am guilty of having done this. There are always times in life that are difficult, and we would like to impatiently hit the fast-forward button on life. SKIP. It’s exhausting to care for a house full of busy little children. It’s not easy to encourage a husband who is unemployed. Sometimes it is a difficult medical diagnosis that brings you to your knees. It’s so easy to forget about beauty.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

My husband and I joined the ‘sandwich generation’ last year – homeschooling our 3 teenage boys, while caring for our 3 aging parents. My 83-yr-old mother is a lovely woman, and she lives with us. She is extremely kind, terribly forgetful, and always pleasant. She is legally blind, and she needs assistance with many things. We cannot leave her home alone. She has some dementia as well, and she has had three major surgeries in the past 15 months. My husband’s parents live 5 hours away, but they require regular assistance as they grow older and more feeble.

In this ‘sandwich’ season, I am thankful that my children are able to bear witness to my husband and I caring for our parents. They see the hard decisions and the strain, but they also see the joy, the care, and the thankfulness. Sometimes, they see our own self-pity and irritation. But then they see repentance and forgiveness. My husband and I must allow the Holy Spirit to first do His work in us. Then, we can teach the lessons to our children – it’s the narration of life.

Instead of wishing away this season too quickly, my prayer is to embrace it fully. I want to learn all the lessons that God has for me, and teach them to my children. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we may otherwise miss. It is so precious to see a teenage boy take his grandmother for a walk, to help prepare her dinner, or to cover her with a warm blanket. I have seen my boys turn off a television show they were watching, so that their grandmother can listen to the evening news. They will stay home with her on Monday evenings, so that my husband and I can go out to dinner. Our boys are learning what it means to serve, and to lay their own ‘rights’ aside. It is a lesson that God will use for the rest of their lives. One day, they may be asked to care for a wife, or for children, or for a friend, or for us.

“Justice requires that we should take steady care every day to yield his rights to every person we come in contact with; that is, ‘to do unto others as we would that they should do unto us: to hurt nobody by word or deed.’ Therefore, we must show gentleness to the persons of others, courtesy to their words, and deference to their opinions, because these things are due.” Ourselves, 137

Perhaps the most important lessons in this season are not about the subjects that my children study. Maybe they need to learn the lessons of respect, duty, gentleness, courtesy, and deference.

Perseverence must finish its work.

Our school year does not look AT ALL the way I had planned. In fact, my lesson plans from last summer have been discarded, and we have scaled back most of our subjects. Others, we had to omit altogether. But education is a life. We have enjoyed six years of a great feast of ideas in our homeschool. My children understand what it means to think for themselves. They have learned to labor with their own minds, to read great books, to love truth and beauty, to educate themselves. We are surrounded by great books in our home. We share rich relationships, and we have the constant instruction of the Holy Spirit. There is no need to worry about whether my children have ‘done enough school’ this year. They are learning the lessons that God has given, laid upon a solid foundation. So, instead of anxiety and fear of the future, the fear of not having ‘done enough,’ I choose gratitude.

“The grateful man has a good memory and a quick eye to see where those who have served need service in their turn. Especially does he cherish the memory of those who have served him in childhood and in youth, and he watches for opportunities to serve them. Gratitude spreads his feast of joy and thanksgiving for gifts that come to him without any special thought of him on the part of the giver… He is thankful for all the good that comes to him.“ Ourselves, pp. 110-111

It occurs to me, as well, that these hard seasons are opportunities to further lay the rails of habit. Learning to walk through a difficult time, with thanksgiving, trusting the Lord to lead you, makes the next hard season easier. (There will always be a next time.) Adversity smooths out our rough edges, allowing us to more easily overlook the small things that drive us crazy. We come into the next season changed, equipped for whatever God wants to do in the next season. It trains our eyes to become quick to see those in need, and to lay ourselves aside.


“Never let us reflect upon the small annoyances, and we shall be able to bear the great ones sweetly. Never let us think over our small pains, and our great pains will be easily endurable.” Ourselves, p. 90


I glance back at our school year, with all its stops and starts. It was very bumpy, and in many ways, not so very pretty. I see everything I had hoped to accomplish, but failed to do. I see the field trips I wanted to take, but didn’t. There were books unread, pages unfinished, chapters missed.

However, I also see how my children have grown this year. They have taken on projects and studies of their own, read books that were never assigned. They took things apart and put them together again. They wrote in journals, wrote computer code, and wrote poetry. They watched and performed Shakespeare. They took pictures of nature’s beauty. They dug for fossils and minerals, and came away with treasures. They started a worship band with some friends, and are writing their own songs. They are leading Bible study with groups of younger children at church, and helping in the nursery. They ski and they swim. They cook, crochet, play instruments and draw. They care for their grandmother.

“It is quite plain that to think fairly, speak truly, and act justly towards all persons at all times and on all occasions, which is our duty, is a matter requiring earnest thought and consideration – it is, in fact, the study of a lifetime.” Ourselves, p. 138

I know of no way to document the lessons we learned, but yet, those are the ‘study of a lifetime.’ I can smile in this season, at the end of a long winter. I see that my 3 teenage boys, approaching high school graduation in the next few years, have their feet set in a very large room.

That is all the progress I need to see.

“The question is not, – how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education – but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?” School Education, p. 171

Maura Timko is a member of the Great River Learning Community in the Cincinnati, OH area.

© 2014 by Maura Timko

In July of last year, my 11 year old daughter and I were privileged to be able to travel from our home in rural Australia to the United States. During our month long stay, we travelled from the beaches and deserts of California to peaceful Tennessee.  We visited the prairies of Minnesota, the dairy country of Wisconsin, the beautiful New England State of Massachusetts, and the wonder that is New York City. And in all those places we met up with Charlotte Mason educators.

These families introduced us to the delights of America. We visited Disneyland.  We ate fish tacos and hot dogs and barbeque and grits and Reuben sandwiches and Chicago pizza and hamburgers as big as your plate.  We drank Starbucks coffee, and sweet iced tea and delicious Californian wine. We saw for the first time sweet little hummingbirds and a glorious cardinal and a prairie alive with wildflowers. It was a magical trip.

2013 01 14 Melbourne Zoo with Julia - Kangaroo feeding_0005

Jeanne and the children feeding kangaroos at the Melbourne Zoo.

Yet despite all of the wondrous differences we encountered on our journey, my daughter and I were struck more with the things that were not so different.  The families we visited all seemed like old and familiar friends.  Not different, but the same.  These families all spent time outside in nature.  They all had totally swoonworthy libraries of delicious books.  The children, while still being kids, were interested and interesting and charming and delightful. Their homes felt warm and inviting, with classical music and fine art and comfortable areas for relaxing.  The families spent time together, reading and singing and talking and laughing and playing games.  Although we came from halfway around the world, we were joined by that strong link that is the Charlotte Mason family.

In many ways CM in Australia is just like CM in America or Canada or the United Kingdom, and yet just as we could find differences between America and our country, you will find differences between Australia and yours.

More than 80% of Australia’s flowering plants, mammals, reptiles and frogs are unique to this land, along with most of the fish and almost half of our birds.  You will be familiar with the kangaroo and the koala and the platypus and maybe the Tasmanian devil from Bugs Bunny, but do you know the bilby or the numbat or the bettong or the dunnart or the quokka or the quoll?  When we looked at the Burgess Book of Birds, the English sparrow was almost the only bird we recognised.  Our wrens are blue, our kingfishers are called kooraburras, our eagles are not bald.  Most of the other birds don’t have equivalents here at all.  When we go on nature rambles we are likely to visit bushland filled with some of the 1000 species of acacia (we call them wattles) or the 800 species of eucalyptus (we call them gum trees).  We watch for two of the world’s most deadly spiders, and four of the world’s five most deadly snakes.

To fully implement a Charlotte Mason education in Australia naturally requires that we use Australian field guides, Australian natural history books, Australian nature study.  But it also means substituting Australian poets, Australian artists, Australian composers.  Naturally, as part of the world we enjoy art by Turner, Monet, Manet and Cezanne, but we also have our own artists – von Guerard, Heysen, St Gill, the Australian Impressionists, Roberts, McCubbin, Phillips Fox, Condor, and Rix Nicholas, as well as wonderful botanical artists like Ellis Rowan.  Australian history is naturally different, as is Australian geography. We even have our own living books, every bit as good as those of America and the UK.

All of the required substituting of existing CM booklists has probably been the main factor holding back the implementation of Mason’s philosophy in Australia, but things are slowly beginning to change.  Educational publishers have begun republishing out of print living books, and Australian copywork books using Australian handwriting fonts and UK English spelling are available for the first time. My friend, Ruth Marshall, has produced an Australian history cycle for the users of the Mater Amabilis curriculum, and I have attempted to do the same for the users of Ambleside Online.  There are some great lists of Aussie living books. The long-running CM ANZ (Australia-New Zealand) Yahoo group has been joined by new and exciting Facebook groups. Australian CM bloggers are writing. Another friend, Tim, even dreams of a Charlotte Mason school in Melbourne.  Be still my beating heart.

Until now, most Australians have used a Mason influenced curriculum, a few good books here and there, some time in nature, good art and music, combined with non-CM elements like workbooks and language arts programmes, but the internet has opened Charlotte Mason’s work up to the world, and I am confident that the time is coming when we will see more and more Australian graduates of an education that is Australian influenced but purely Charlotte Mason.  I am excited to be a part of that.

If you’re like me, you’re always after some living book recommendations.  Here are a few of Australia’s best:

  • Storm Boy by Colin Thiele
  • Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner
  • The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
  • The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson
  • Poetry by C J Dennis for the youngest and by A B Banjo Paterson for the rest.

©  2014 by Jeanne Grant Webb

I have recently become acquainted with Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) through reading his (1962) book Herbert Hoover On Growing Up:  His Letters from and to American Children and was struck with the similarities of things dear to him that were also dear to Charlotte Mason.  They both had a high regard for the mind of the child.  In School Eduction Mason says, The fact is, we undervalue children (p. 171).  Herbert Hoover wrote in the forward to his book:  If we appraise them as they appear in the press and in the abundant statistics of crime, we would believe that children of today are a bad example of this species (p. 9).  

He goes on to say  . . . I have developed some ideas of what goes on in children’s minds.  They are not born evil.  They are endowed with a cheerfulness and a surplus of dynamic energy and a self-starter which demands exercise at any moment.  They are bundles of affection.  They are ambitious, joyous, and anxious to take part in the serious business of the world.  They have more awareness of the world around them than had the kids of my generation.  A child, being naturally and uninhibitedly inquisitive, demands more information every half-hour.  They are intent on discovering the world for themselves (p. 10).

Before sharing three of his letters, a brief overview of Herbert Hoover’s life:  born in Iowa, orphaned before 10 years old, he went to live with relatives in Oregon.  He left school at fifteen to work in an office and attended night school and graduated from college.  After working 18 years as a mining engineer, he did humanitarian work during World War I and became America’s 31st president from 1929-1933.  For 26 years after his presidency, he was chairman of the board of the Boys’ Club of America and enjoyed an extensive correspondence with children.  Answering these letters . . .  has been a great relief from sleepless nights haunted by public anxieties, and they are a restoration of confidence in America’s future (p. 10).

Below are two letters and one article by President Hoover.

Letter 1    I appreciated the reminder in 3.

To the question Richard asked, “What do you think is essential for success?” Herbert Hoover wrote:

I believe the essentials for success are:

1.  Religious faith and morals.

2.  Education, including college.

3.  Do not neglect being just a boy.  It only comes once (p. 105).

Letter 2  With the current fascination with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) it is interesting to note President Hoover’s advice to Ralph about becoming an engineer.

Dear Mr. Hoover:

I am in the eighth grade in school, and I want to be a construction engineer.  I was told, that before you became a president, you were a great engineer yourself.

Therefore, I have prepared several questions which will help me in making plans for the future.  They are as follows:

1.  What school subjects and special training are necessary, or helpful, to an engineer?

2.  Is English important in this type of work?  How?  Why or why not?

3.  How much English is necessary?

4.  How much Math. is necessary?

I will appreciate any information you can give me, and will be looking forward to receiving your letter.

Thank you very much!

Yours truly,

Ralph _____________

My dear Ralph:

That was an especially interesting letter to me, and I am glad that you wish to be an engineer.  Engineers are always working to improve living conditions of people. 

As to question No. 1. The foundations of training to be an engineer are the sciences of physics, chemistry and mathematics.  But engineers must also have training in geography, government, literature, or they become narrow minded. 

Question 2.  English is absolutely necessary as engineers must write intelligent reports and must be able to explain their work or their purposes.

Question No. 3.  How much English is necessary?  It must include a broad knowledge of literature to make a rounded mind and an appreciable man. 

Question No. 4.  How much math is necessary?  All the elementary mathematics and also algebra, calculus and descriptive geometry.  This last one is the test of ability to visualize an engineering project in one’s mind before it starts (p. 113).

The Article  This article contains so many jewels–the power of one person and living books to effect a nation!  Helping students create a love of the story through living books has consequences.  When Herbert Hoover was asked by Reader’s Digest to write about the best advice he had ever received, he wrote the article “Thank You, Miss Gray!”  for the July 1959 issue and he often included a copy of this in his letters to children.  Below is the main portion.

At fifteen years of age I left school to practice the profession of office boy in a business firm in Salem, Oregon.  One day there came into the office a Miss Gray.  She was a tall lady in her thirties, with agreeable manners, kindly eyes, and a most engaging smile.  I was alone in the reception office.  She announced that she was a schoolteacher and asked me about my schooling.  I told her I had to work but that I hoped to go to a night school that was soon to open in town.  Later I found that Miss Gray’s extracurricular occupation was advising—or just being interested in—the young working boys in Salem.  She asked if I was interested in reading books.  She must have thought that some wider scope in book reading was desirable from my replies to her questions as to what I had read.  As a matter of fact, under my austere Quaker upbringing my book reading had been limited to the Bible, the encyclopedia and a few novels which dealt with the sad results of demon rum and the final regeneration of the hero.  As office boy, I read only the morning paper, when my superior finished with it. 

I also mentioned that outside my office hours I had duties with sandlot baseball and fishing.  Not withstanding this, Miss Gray asked me if I would go with her to the small lending library in town.  At the library she said she wished to borrow a copy of Ivanhoe, and she gave it to me saying I would find it interesting.  I read the book at the office between chores, and in the evenings.  It opened a new world filled with the alarms and excursions of battles, the pomp of tournaments, the tragedy of Rebecca’s unrequited love, the heroism of the Black Knight and Locksley, and the destiny of Ivanhoe.  Suddenly I began to see books as living things and was ready for more of them.

A few days later Miss Gray dropped in again and suggested David Copperfield. I can still remember the harshness of Murdstone, the unceasing optimism of Micawber and the wickedness of Uriah Heep.  I have met them alive many times in afteryears. 

And so, through books, my horizons widened, sometimes with Miss Gray’s help, sometimes on my own initiative.  I devoured samples of Thackeray and Irving, biographies of Washington, Lincoln and Grant. 

At the night school the principal introduced me to textbooks on mathematics, elementary science and Latin.  They were important, of course; but, looking back, I realized that the books inspired by Miss Gray had great importance.  While textbooks are necessary to learning, it was those other books which stimulated imagination and a better understanding of life.  They made the whole world a home.  They broadened my scope and made me feel a part of the mighty stream of humanity.

At 17 I went to Stanford University to study engineering.  My time was occupied with the required reading and the extracurricular duties of managing the baseball and football teams and earning my way.  But occasionally Miss Gray wrote to me and suggested certain books to read.  Miss Gray’s influence widened when I began the practice of my profession as an engineer, and it extended over the 18 years which followed.  In that work I had long days of travel, and many hours of waiting for things to happen on ships, railways and canalboats all over the world—from the United States to China, to Burma, to Mexico, to Australia, to Africa, to Canada and to Russia.  On one journey, thanks to Miss Gray’s inoculation, I armed myself with paper bound volumes of Defoe, Zola and Balzac; on another, with such less exciting books as those of Herbert Spencer, James Mill and Walter Bagehot.  Another time I took along Carlyle’s French Revolution, Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and some popular histories of Greece and Egypt.  I also read books on Mohammed, Buddha and Confucius, as well as more American history.

With the coming of World War I and with official duties devouring my time and energy thereafter for many years, my book reading slackened.  Nonetheless, Miss Gray’s influence penetrated even as far as the White House.  When I arrived at the residence in 1929 I found it was mostly bare of books except for the published papers of former Presidents—incomplete at that.  One day I mentioned this famine of representative American literature in the White House to John Howell, an old friend and a leading bookseller.  Under his leadership and with the co-operation of the American Booksellers Association, some 500 books were selected.  Most of these I had read long ago but they were much enjoyed by the many other inhabitants of the White House. 

To me they were always a reminder of Miss Gray, and of the words of John Milton:  “A good book is the precious life blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.”

I repeat the title of this article—“Thank You, Miss Gray!”; thank you for guiding me to the rich world of wonder, beauty, wisdom and imagination that can be found in books  (pp 149-152).

“No pains should be spared to make the hours of meeting round the family table the brightest hours of the day.”            Charlotte Mason in Home Education

One of Charlotte Mason’s favorite parallels for education is eating; she often uses the concepts of feeding, appetite, or digestion to illustrate her principles. Her main teachings—the importance of building good habits, of creating an atmosphere of respect and of presenting a broad, varied feast—apply as well to feeding children as to teaching them.

I discovered Charlotte Mason education when my children were small, in the late 1990s; by then I had already noticed how big a problem picky eating was in the U.S. The more I explored Mason’s teachings, the more they enriched our family life, and the more I realized how directly her principles address the problem of picky eating. Though bad advice abounds on feeding children, as in educating them, true authorities on feeding children consistently confirm Mason’s teachings.

I began a blog with advice for parents of picky eaters in 2008. Since then, I’ve offered parents support through workshops, home visits, and individual coaching. As a result, I’ve seen happier families and children eating better. I’ve had many exciting opportunities to share Mason’s revolutionary approach to child-rearing through the subject of picky eating.

Doing Too Much and Too Little

Almost invariably, I see parents of picky eaters following the culture, reacting desperately, and violating Mason’s principles of child-rearing. A child’s abnormal eating often triggers abnormal parenting. Parents become overactive in feeding their children. They pressure and manipulate, and meals turn into power struggles. Parents often resort to giving children anything they will eat (short-order cooking, in picky eating terminology). They don’t trust children to know how much or what they need; instead, they insist that their children eat certain amounts of certain foods. As in education, children’s appetites for what’s good for them are dulled through rewards, pressure, and inappropriate nutrition.

These parents are usually under-active in the three pillars of Mason’s philosophy: instilling the discipline of good habits, providing solid nutrition and creating a positive atmosphere. They’re often on their children where they should be hands-off, and hands-off where they should be taking charge. Parents lack solid guidance about where they should hold the line and where they should back off. When it doesn’t work, not knowing what else do to, parents do more of the same.

The Wrong Tools

I love to start out working with parents by asking them what tools they have at their disposal to get their picky children to eat. Invariably, they propose various forms of pressure: dessert, a video game, whatever motivates their children, or (less often), the threat of denial of a privilege. The goal is to get food into the stomach, regardless of the child’s feelings about it; few seem to have any illusions about getting a child to want to eat. One mom got her son to eat by having the entire family do the chicken dance after each bite. If she let him play a video game, he would let her spoon food into his mouth.

Such force feeding and disregard of a child’s personhood is the main way parents of picky eaters dig themselves further in the hole. Pushing results in push back. I tell several eye-opening stories from Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards to show that while this kind of pressure may get short-term results, it further erodes interest in eating. I give other illustrations about how pushiness naturally raises resistance. That these bad tools can be the problem is news to most parents. Many are convinced, but some react the way many parents do when it’s suggested that children would learn without having grades held over their heads: with skepticism.

The Right Tools

Having exposed their favorite tools as worse than worthless, I press them: “Can you think of anything else you have going for you? Any other assets or advantages against pickiness? No ace up your sleeve?” They answer with blank stares.

“What about hunger?” I ask. Generally these moms have never considered hunger a leverageable asset. If hunger is, like “knowledge-hunger,” what Mason calls “the quite sufficient incentive” to eat, why isn’t it happening at their house?

“What about really, really good food?” I ask. “That’s the problem: what kids think is good. What do you even mean by good food?” they respond.

“Mouthwatering,” I say. Piping hot, savory, aromatic, crisp, juicy, crunchy, and all the other mouthwatering words I can think of. Enjoyment is essential, I add.

Then I ask, “What about a happy dinner table? Is that a tool you could use?”

“We don’t have that one,” they say. How could that help? Inflicting misery and withholding happiness at the table are key weapons they’ve been using to try to change the situation.

Then I mention good habits. Some look at me as if I’d asked them to go dip seven times in the Jordan River.

How to Pasture Your Child’s Appetite

I recommend a total reversal of what parents are generally doing: to give freedom where they’ve been controlling and to control where they’ve been giving the wrong freedoms. I use Mason’s image of placing lambs in a carefully chosen pasture of abundant food. Correctly set up the environment for eating, and then use “masterly inactivity”: a “wise and purposeful letting alone,” within that environment.

In the last few years, I’ve learned that numerous children have diagnosable medical issues, sensory processing issues or developmental delays that call for diagnosis and treatment, but my personal belief and observation is that even these children are better able to work through these issues when parents follow certain rules. The rules are the same for every family. Even a child on a feeding tube benefits from sitting at the table and being part of family meals.

To create the right environment, or pasture, parents need to do their job of putting the limits in place: what I call the “fence posts” of Good Habits, Good Food and Good Company. These rules or tools are the only legitimate, effective ones, the tools that respect the child, have no drawbacks, and set a healthy pattern for life.

Good Habits

The bad habits of chaotic eating and random snacking are among the biggest contributors to picky eating in our culture. As my mom used to tell us when we’d “piece” on food before a meal, “You’ll spoil your dinner.” The solution to this lack of structure is simply to set regular meal times and build the habit of eating only at those times and only at the table. For better eating, narrow the window of opportunity to eat. Parents of picky eaters in particular often have a hard time saying no to a child who wants to eat. They’re desperate to get food inside their children. They may feel it’s their right and duty as a good parent to force a child to eat, but that ever keeping a child from eating would be cruel and obviously not in their interests.

The appetite is like a river, I tell them. It’s a powerful force in your favor if you play your cards right. If it’s going in the wrong direction, it’s no use trying to push it in the right direction. Instead, you block it from going in that wrong direction. Restrict all the wrong foods at the wrong times, without turning it into a power struggle or being ugly about it, and the right foods take on far more allure, as if by magic. Pulling away with understanding is far more effective than pushing. It’s far less effort, because the child’s will engages in the right direction. It’s not all up to you. The solution for some families is as simple as moving dinner time a little later, or adjusting the schedule of the afternoon snack.

Once children see that you mean what you say and accept the new structure in the home, these habits contribute powerfully to more mindful eating and more enjoyment. When the appetite is strong, we relish meals. When children know that food is available only at meals, they get in the habit of paying attention to their hunger. They tune into their appetites and take responsibility for themselves.

Good Food

Educating children’s tastes is a science of relationships. I encourage parents to aim at introducing their children to all nutritious foods, as many and as positively as possible. Set children’s feet in a large room, as Mason teaches. Don’t prejudice them against any proper foods. Expose them to only good choices: the tastiest, most nourishing dishes possible and the widest possible variety of flavors, colors, textures and aromas. Involve them in cooking and shopping. I encourage moms to learn to enjoy cooking and experimenting with new dishes, for the children’s sake and for their own. Open yourself and them to food as a sensual, cultural and scientific topic of interest. We learn to love what we are exposed to. That’s how children in foreign countries learn to love foods we find repulsive and how little Americans learn to love junk food.

I lose all credibility with some parents when I advise them to deprive their kiddos of all processed junk food and fast food, without apology, with no “choices.” Many parents believe children can appreciate only “kid food”: chicken nuggets, fries, pizza and junky sweets, substitutes for real nourishment, the equivalent of “twaddle.” They feel that denying them these fun foods would be to rob them of their childhood. Healthy food competes for our children’s hearts with fun food marketed with cartoon characters and engineered to be tasty and addictive. I wouldn’t go to bat against them with dry skinless chicken breasts and plain steamed broccoli. As “knowledge is delectable,” so should nutritious food be, as delectable as we can manage.

My motto is “love healthy food and eat whatever you want,” to paraphrase St. Augustine. Folks who view eating healthy food as a duty that calls for self-denial have a tough time sticking with it. Coercing children to eat healthy foods that are unappealing and that they’re not hungry for spoils children’s natural appetite for what’s good for them. It’s valuable to teach children the benefits of a healthy diet, but enjoyment is a stronger foundation. Just as you introduce a child to reading with great stories, not grammar lessons, it’s the only way to sustain a good diet for life

Good Company

One study showed that the primary way to get a child to like certain foods is simply to “pair” those foods “with positive interactions with a friendly adult.” Such an uncomplicated, natural cure to picky eating, and within every parent’s reach, does sound too easy to be effective. Yet it’s harder than it sounds when you’re in the habit of battling over food. Most parents of a picky eater are waiting for the child to eat they way they want him to before their dinner table can become a happy place. I tell them to start by creating the happy dinner time and that better eating is likely to follow. Our children need us to be amiable and cheerful at the table, not controlling, worried and frustrated. Children need to learn how to behave pleasantly at the table, too. My refrain is, “What’s good for them is good for us.”

Just as “there is no education but self-education,” getting children to eat against their will is not progress. It’s counterproductive. Eating isn’t an issue of obedience or “being good.” I urge parents to give children control over what they put in their own mouths at meals. It’s a piece of control that’s nearly impossible to relinquish for many parents of a picky eater. Interestingly, dads, especially, often feel their role as a good father is to insist that a child eat. But eating should no more be done for duty than wearing a coat if you’re not cold or not wearing one when you are.

I advise parents to treat children with as much respect as they would an adult guest at the table. Expect no less from children. Outlaw fighting, complaining or insulting the cook. “Is that how you want your children to talk when they go to someone else’s house? Or do you want them to be rude to their spouses that way someday?” I ask parents. “Why would it be OK to treat you that way?”

Outlaw all boring talk about what you don’t like and all negotiations about eating, which get nobody anywhere. Neither are acceptable dinner table conversation. Don’t squander the daily opportunity to talk about what really matters to you. Get to know your children, nurture that relationship with them so that when you’re old and senile they’ll take care of you, I tell parents. Some moms smile at that, but others get tears rolling down their cheeks.  Who doesn’t long for that kind of atmosphere at the table? Nobody enjoys power struggles at the table. Many parents are highly skeptical that such old-fashioned, low key, slow acting and indirect efforts could ever pay off for their picky eaters, but they do like the idea of it.

One Magic Tool

I try to reel parents in with a deceptively simple magic tool at the end, to jumpstart their efforts: serving family style. Parents of picky eaters generally fill their children’s plates for them and plop it down in front of them. Instead, I recommend passing around serving dishes; let children serve themselves. It doesn’t sound like much of a miracle to parents who want power and might and instant results. Since serving family style is such an easy experiment, many do try it. Invariably, they’ve reported back, that yes, it really did help. It is almost magical. One mom said her children had even eaten rutabagas when they were given free choice about it that way. One mom who was going to come to my workshop heard that tip from someone else who’d gone, and it worked so well she didn’t bother coming to my workshop. A victim of my own success, I lost $5 right there.

The results have been mixed. Most parents don’t tell me much about what they think or do about it. One mom told me her child wasn’t really eating better yet, but that dinner time had become pleasant instead of disagreeable. I call that a big step in the right direction. One woman took several years to come around, as circumstances opened her eyes and successes gave her reassurance in giving up the wrong kinds of control and taking more control where it was needed. Her son has since made enormous improvement in eating. The most exciting results are parents who begin to move toward a more mutually respectful and less manipulative relationship with their children.


Anna Migeon blogs occasionally at SacredAppetite.com and lives in San Antonio, TX. Her children (ages 21 and 23) are both adventurous eaters and pursuing higher education. They attended Charlotte Mason schools most of their lives and were most blessed and privileged to be taught by some of the world’s top Charlotte Mason teachers: Carroll Smith, Lisa Cadora, Nicolle Hutchinson and Rebekah Brown Hierholzer.

©  2014 by Anna Migeon


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