Childlight USA Conference, History of Charlotte Mason, Newcomers, PNEU
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Getting Ready: Childlight USA Conference, 2011 by Bonnie Buckingham

"Trees in a Lane, Ambleside" by John Ruskin, 1847

I  live close to Gardner Webb University, which makes it easy  to go to the Childlight USA Conference,  but there are  more reasons why I go back every year.   My spirit ignited when I first read Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s For The Children’s Sake in 1992 when I began homeschooling our 4 sons.  In 1995, Susan came to Charlotte for a weekend conference on Charlotte Mason. Looking back, that was extraordinary (plus lunch with her!). When the Childlight USA Conference began in 2004, I had to go.  I’ve come to it every year.   I’ve given workshops on poetry and become an avid lover of poems and words.  I’ve made friends. I’ve watched a group from Canada drive down  (see below what CM said at her last conference about travels to the P.N.E.U. Conference) to the hot days in Boiling Springs. I’ve met those from Ambleside Online who come. Every time I go to the site, there’s a deep gratitude to people rather than names. Ranald Macaulay came one year. We called him one year, and his son-in-law came one year. John Thorley came for many years. All of these visits gave us a sense of a wider educational movement (rather than just our own locales) and excellent teacher training.   Now, I’ve graduated those sons and just have the last one, Emma, at home entering high school.  Charlotte Mason said, “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline and a life.” That’s why I keep coming back.

This year is the 7th annual Charlotte Mason Educational Conference.  If you are new, here are a few thoughts to “get ready“ as you land or drive into Boiling Springs:

-Sit with a speaker at a meal. Sign up for the discussion meals in Bailey.

-Ask questions, share ideas, listen.

-Speak to those in line in the cafeteria about workshops or struggles.

-Go to fireside chats. It is a relaxed atmosphere to learn.  Talk about the book being discussed while walking back to the apartment with a new friend.  Stay up a bit late.  This year, I will share on Makoto Fujimura. I’m bringing “The Four Gospels” alongside “Refractions” and notes from International Arts Movement conference in NYC in March.  These are essays to dig into for truth, beauty and goodness from a living artist.

-Look through the workshop schedule. How do you decide which one to go to? Maybe break up your group and cover more . Discuss afterwards. If you are alone, pick which one will most help you for this next year.   Or pick the one you are passionate about.  You will go deeper into that subject:  art, poetry, writing, history, etc…

-Take a walk. It is a beautiful campus.

-Drink water. It is June in North Carolina!

Charlotte’s very last conference was the Whitsuntide Conference in Ambleside in 1922. Her opening address (read with a British accent):

“ It gives me and gives us all extraordinary pleasure to meet so many PNEU members, especially when one reflects on the fatigues of travel through the weary hours of a long, hot, dusty day; for members are here from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, from the most distant as well as the nearer counties of England, and, of course, London has sent a large contingent notwithstanding the ‘season.’… The PNEU have taken pains to master a distinctive philosophy of education which some of us believe will do a great many things for thousands of children and their homes”   (The Story of Charlotte Mason, pg. 172-173).

I agree with the following attendee, who went to the PNEU Conference over 100 years ago.  C. C. Cotterill wrote “Some Impressions of a PNEU  Conference”  (Parent’s Review in 1899 , p. 544).

 “One single aim seemed to me to pervade everything spoken and every person that spoke–how best and most harmoniously to develop the whole nature of a child. It is impossible to overstate the refreshing and exhilarating effects of such an atmosphere. It was an atmosphere of ideas and ideals.”

“Among the most suggestive and interesting communications to which I listened were the remarks, amounting often to not more than a few sentences, made by persons in the audience, in the course of a discussion.”

“In a word, everyone seemed desirous of communicating to others the proved results of successful observation and experiment in the education of children.”

If I ask myself what I enjoyed most, I think the most interesting and enjoyable element of all to me was the spirit of the thing–the healthy, friendly, disinterested, open-minded spirit that seemed to pervade everything and everybody; the sense that everyone was there with the single aim of giving and receiving that which might be most helpful towards making the world–the child-world, doubtless, chiefly, but not the child-world only–something fairer and better, truer, happier, more beautiful, in the rolling of the ages. But it was for me rendered the more delightful, because it was all simple, unpedantic, natural.”

Any thoughts or impressions on “Getting Ready” for the 7th Charlotte Mason Educational Conference, June 8- 11, 2011?

© Bonnie Buckingham, 2011


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.


  1. Preparations for previous Childlight USA conferences for me have been a bit complicated with everything from last minute airport runs to taking John Thorley around Charlotte for a bit of sightseeing. He could have spent hours in the Pre-Colombian exhibit at the Mint Museum, but we stopped there last!

    I was privileged to be a part of these conferences from their inception, to watch the ceaseless efforts of Carroll and Andy Smith, the tireless work of Deborah Miller, my fellow board member and an extraordinary educator who put her heart and soul into the formation of the original organization we came to know as Childlight USA. There were so many details to be ironed out at first. Speakers to invite, breakout sessions to prepare for, ideas to be shared, wisdom to be gleaned from Ranald Macaulay and Elaine Cooper. It was thrilling and exhilarating, and I left each conference completely exhausted — in a good way. I met so many wonderful people, each of them with a different bit of the glory of God shining through them as they spoke, each with that glisten in their eye, the spark of engagement that we love to see in children. I guess I’m saying our conference attendees looked like they had been ignited. And that is the ultimate compliment! It’s just what we were trying, with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, to accomplish. To inspire educators to learn a new way of reaching their young charges. What a true honor to have been a part of it.

    The one bit of advice I would give someone attending for the first time would be to give yourself a break. Don’t fall into that trap of “I am not doing this whole Charlotte Mason thing nearly well enough! I’m a failure!” You will find that implementing these ideas comes easier with each passing year. It happens in stops and starts. You discover new things to try each year. Some of them will stick, and some you’ll find yourself saying, “Well, I will try that again later when I better understand how to do it.” And that’s okay! Don’t be hard on yourself. You are there to learn, to connect, to enjoy, to be inspired!

  2. Andrea Wilson says

    I have never been and my excitement gets the best of me. I have just begun home schooling this oldest turned 6 in April. I feel new and feel that I know so little. My hopes for the conference is to take in as much as I can for what I need to know at this point in my journey. I pray to be relaxed and open to what I need to hear. I hope to meet others who have walked before me that I can learn from, and hopefully make new friends. =)

  3. Jeannette says

    My thoughts exactly Bonnie. Hope to see many new and old friends there! Beautifully expressed. Loved the idea of imagining all those PNEU souls luxuriating in the same climate of ideas and ideals.

  4. I love what you wrote Bonnie and it is why I keep coming back. Well, that and certain responsibilities . . . I agree with Meghan too. It is tempting to do everything: I did that the first year when there were no process times and ended up with a rip-roaring headache!

    Another vital tip: BRING SHEETS for your bed!

  5. I’ve been systematically reading my way through PR articles, and I’m in the ones where they’re at their conference back in 1900, and it’s exciting to think how we’re carrying on the same thing they were doing way back then – gathering speakers, traveling to meet together with old friends and new ones, sharing ideas about education. I think the PNEU conferences were very much like our present-day ChildLight conferences. It puts it in a different light, too – reading what was published in the PR, and imaging what it must have been like sitting at the conference, hearing it for the first time, and reading some of the comments the hearers made at the end — so much like a ChildLight conference!

  6. Cheri S says

    Thank you, Bonnie, you expressed it so well. The conference gives me such encouragement for the coming year. I often come away with my mind feeling like my tummy does after Thanksgiving! Ideas feed ideas and grow. Each year I learn something new and I echo what others have said to just add to what you know. Every year now my goal is to become better at something, it’s ok that I haven’t fully arrived. Will I ever? That’s why I’ll be at Tammy’s math session this year.

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