Monday, March 6, 2017

Boxed Curriculum vs. Charlotte Mason: A Comparison of Results in Grade 3

My mother recently handed me a box of curriculum from my childhood, third grade to be exact. This was especially interesting to me because my eldest son, SA(8), is in third grade right now. My natural reaction was, of course, to compare the work I was doing then with the work SA is doing now.

I was homeschooled using A Beka Book, a boxed curriculum designed for Christian schools. It has a reputation for its rigorousness, and I was a studious child. The work I had put out was beautiful and plenteous: workbook pages filled with gorgeous handwriting, impressive lists of spelling words, pages of mind-numbing math drill, history questions correctly answered in complete sentences.

Friends, I panicked for a minute! SA is not near being able to do what I did in third grade. His handwriting, while it is coming along well, is slow and laborious work. We don't do spelling aside from copywork. I don't require pages of math drill. His output in history and literature lessons, while often impressive, is oral and unrecorded. I began to question my decision to give him a Charlotte Mason style education. Have I been requiring enough of him? Has my focus on a broad and generous education taken away from time we could have been spending on proficiency in the Three R's? Is this a problem? (Am I ruining his life?)

We spend about equal amounts of time homeschooling as I did when I was young. Mostly, work is done in the mornings, leaving lots of time for free play.

Given equal time, what would I give up in our homeschool day in order to give SA more practice in sitting and writing?

Because that is the difference. I had much more practice in sitting down and writing in workbooks. My lesson times were mainly spent reading and writing out answers to comprehension questions, filling out grammar worksheets, copying spelling lists, and filling pages of math drill. Of course I was better at it than SA is...I had much more practice.

In contrast, SA's day is filled with a much larger variety. His main skills for learning have been listening (paying attention), reading, and narration (telling back what he has learned). In addition, careful observation, visualization, handicrafts and drawing have not been neglected. Indeed, given that his handwriting skills have lagged behind since the beginning, I have been grateful that this is no impediment to his learning in a Charlotte Mason education. He simply practices it for a short time every day, making slow and steady progress.

So what am I willing to give up in order to give writing more time?
Oral narration? Nature walks and journaling? Picture study? Composer study? Poetry tea time? Folk songs? French? I did none of these things in my homeschooling lessons, though a few of them were part of the atmosphere of my life (nature and classical music).

Seeing my work was a revelation of the amount and quality of writing that a person can expect of a third-grader. It is quite probable that I do need to expect more in the writing department than I have been.

And yet, I have made a choice. When I fell in love with Charlotte Mason, I chose not to focus exclusively on the Three R's. This choice has consequences...SA is not as proficient in writing as I was, and he has never been required to put out a page of math drill. However, though he is not as proficient now, he will continue to become more proficient until he is fluent in these skills, however many years this may take. Will it matter then how long it took him to get there? (Incidentally, I lost my beautiful handwriting over time ...bored, I expect... and relearned Italic handwriting when I was 20, which I still use.)

In the meantime, his days are full of richness. He knows what he has narrated --the Bible, living books on history and nature lore, and great literature-- knowledge and ideas that have so much more value than the textbooks I answered comprehension questions on. I don't know if he will remember all of this long-term, but he is making connections in his mind because of this that I could not have done at his age. He has a few great works of art stored in his mind, and he enjoys poetry in a way that (aside from a CM education) he would never have naturally been attracted to.

Last week I was reading in Charlotte Mason's A Philosophy of Education and was delighted to find this quote there:

"a knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic is no education and no training but merely the elementary condition of further knowledge. In many schools the boy is labouring on with these mere rudiments for two or more years after all reasonable requirements have been satisfied. The intelligent visitor looking at the note-books of an average class will be amazed at the high standard of the neatness and accuracy but he will find the excellence of a very visible order. The handwriting is admirable, sixteen boys out of thirty can write compositions without a flaw in grammar or spelling. Yet it will occur to him that the powers of voluntary thought and reason, of spontaneous enquiry and imagination, have not been stirred." (A Philosophy of Education, p. 120. Charlotte Mason is quoting A. Paterson's Across the Bridges.)
What do you choose to fill your lesson time with? Your choices will have consequences. Are the benefits of the choices you are making outweighing the drawbacks? Would you trade any element of a Charlotte Mason education for more time practicing writing and filling out workbooks?

All things considered, I like the choices I've made. I'm going to stick with them.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Canadian Living Book Review: Cartier Sails the St. Lawrence

I thought Esther Averill's Cartier Sails the St. Lawrence was special when I first opened it last year. Now that we have read and narrated it in our homeschool, I think it is my very favourite Canadian living book (so far) for the elementary years.

Is it written by a single author with a passion for her subject?
Esther Averill clearly communicates a deep interest in Cartier's story. In several places she quotes Cartier's logbooks directly.

Does it have ideas, not just facts?
There were many connections with the other books we have been reading about this time period. There was also discussion of the motives of kings and explorers. Averill presents these as they were without either glorifying or excusing them.

Is it well-written?
The writing gets five stars from me! It is beautifully written, and my children were completely engaged. They narrated well, and remember details several months later.
I must also mention the gorgeous black and white maps and illustrations from Caldecott winner Feodor Rojankovsky. They add immensely to the appeal of the book.

Is it inspiring?
Cartier's interests and observational skills are illustrated in several quotes from his own logbooks. His sense of purpose and his leadership skills are seen very clearly, particularly in contrast to Roberval in the latter part of the book. At the same time, Averill does not play down Cartier's act of claiming the new land for France, though she does place it in context, calling it "a practice common among European explorers." That was good food for discussion at our house!

For what age group would this book be a good fit?
I think this book is perfect for lessons in grades 1-3, and (like any living book) interesting for all ages. We used this book over one term with a grade 1 and 3 student. This was a fairly fast pace, and some may wish to take it a little slower. (You can see my schedule at the bottom of this post.) I read it aloud to my children, and beyond replacing the word "Indians" with "First Nations" (or a specific tribe name), I did not have to edit anything out. In addition to the history, it covers a fair amount of Canadian geography, from Newfoundland down the St. Lawrence to Hochelaga (Montreal).

Where can I find this book?
Sadly, the edition I have is out of print, but it's worth checking out at the library or keeping an eye out for at used book sales. I noticed on that there is a print on demand edition available that is fairly affordable. I'm not 100% sure if this edition includes Feodor Rojankovsky's beautiful artwork, though I expect it does (usually these editions are facsimile copies of an old book). You can also borrow it online at

Bonus: A One-Term Schedule for Cartier Sails the St. Lawrence
Most of the time, I did three 20-minute lessons per week. I agree, that is pretty heavy, but keep in mind that I used only this book to cover this time period in Canadian history. I did not use a Canadian history "spine" during this term. My purpose was to co-ordinate my Canadian studies with Ambleside Online Year 3. Because of that, I planned to cover the years 1509-1598 in Term 1, 1598-1685 in Term 2, and 1685-1759 in Term 3. If you are using this book for a Year 1 student only, I definitely recommend slowing it down and taking two or three terms to finish it. In my case, I decided to do this with my Year 3 and 1 students together, and I don't regret that. Also, keep in mind that when you add a book into the curriculum (AO in my case), it is essential to take something else out. This replaced This Country of Ours for my Year 3 student, and Our Island Story for my Year 1 student (I decided to start with Canadian history instead of British with him.).

Here is my 12-week schedule. Where I stopped in the middle of a page, I included the words to end with.

Week 1: pp 3-12
Week 2: pp 15-22 "...glossary of them."
Week 3: pp 22-29
Week 4: pp 33-41 "...may still be felt."
Week 5: pp 41-48
Week 6: pp 49-56 "...league away."
Week 7: pp 56-64
Week 8: pp 65-71
Week 9: pp 72-78
Week 10: pp 81-90
Week 11: pp 91-100 "...Indian language."
Week 12: pp 100-108

I hope you find this book and read it in your home! It is a delight.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Living & Learning Update #7: Fitbit, Canadian History, The Brothers K, MBTI


We are finally anticipating a big snowstorm tomorrow! We are hoping for 25-30 cm from Monday morning to Tuesday morning. We have had comparatively little snow so far this winter, but this will make up for it. It's time for some nice, cozy snowed-in time, maybe some hot chocolate and a movie.

I told you that I now have a fitbit. I have since brought my steps up from 5,000 per day to 7,500 per day. For a little while I was annoyed because my life seemed to be revolving around getting my steps in, and that's not something I want my life to revolve around. Also, I would find myself having to play catch-up at the end of the day. But now I have discovered the secret to getting enough steps: divide the amount of steps by the number of hours in the day, and never let myself get too far behind. It seems to be working, and I think I'm ready to bump it up to 8,000 per day this week. I am still amazed at people who get 10,000 steps in, but I'm starting to hope I'll get there someday.


I am really enjoying Canadian history with my boys. This term we are reading portions from The Story of Canada by George W. Brown, Eleanor Harman and Marsh Jeanneret; The Story of Canada by E.L. Marsh; and Great Canadian Lives by Karen Ford. I have talked about these titles before. Now that I am using them, I think I can add to my assessment then. I am finding that my boys (year 1 and 3) are not narrating particularly well from Brown's Story of Canada, and I think it may be a bit too fact-heavy. The funny thing is, I think they are finding it interesting (SA in particular loves facts!), but it is not translating into good narrations. I am continuing with it, though, as I like to give books a fair trial. On the other hand, Great Canadian Lives is turning out to be a particularly valuable resource. As I said in my previous post, the quality of the chapters in this book is uneven. Some are well-written, and others are choppy lists of facts. I have been reading the well-written chapters, and the narrations from the boys have been outstanding. I would recommend this book to all Canadian Charlotte Mason homeschoolers for use as a supplement in grades 1-3. This book is valuable for its table of contents alone --a list of a wide variety of Canadian people by time period. While a number of its chapters are not really well-written enough to be usable for reading and narration, the ones that are make the book worthwhile to have on your shelf, assuming you can find one! (This title is out of print, but keep an eye out at your local library sales and My own library system has this book in circulation as well, and yours may too.)


I've been reading The Brothers Karamazov with my book club. This is the first time I've ever read a Russian novel, so I don't know if they're all like this. It's hard to describe. The story seems melodramatic, almost unbelievable in places. On the other hand, there are the most amazing speeches and conversations that go very deep, that present ideas that you can chew on for days (and maybe a lifetime). For me it is impossible to race through this book. I read a few chapters and have to stop and let it digest for a while. This week I read Father Zosima's words about the beauty and power of God's Word, and how little it would take for priests to teach it to the people, even children, and it encouraged me in my own teaching to my children:

"So, one evening a week, to begin with, let them gather the children round them--and the fathers will hear of it and they too will start coming [...] Open this book and start reading to them in simple language and without conceit, but warmly and humbly, without elevating yourself above them, just enjoy reading them a well-beloved text and take pleasure in their listening to you and understanding you, pause once in a while to explain the odd word which may be beyond the grasp of simple folk, but don't worry, they'll understand it all, the truly believing heart will understand everything!...

..."Fathers and teachers, forgive me, and do not take offence that I talk like a small child about something which you have known for a long time already, and which, indeed, you can teach me a hundred times more skillfully and eloquently. I am talking merely out of happiness and excitement; forgive my tears, for I do so love this book! Let him, God's priest, also weep, and he will see how his listeners' hearts will tremble when they hear his words. All that is needed is a small, a tiny seed: if he sows it in the heart of the common man, it will not die, but will live in his soul all his life; it will hide there in the darkness, in the stench of his sins, as a glimmer of light, a sublime reminder. And there is no need, no need to explain or to teach much, he will understand everything simply."

Where else will you find this kind of passage in a novel? And yet I'm not sure how well I love the book as a whole...I'll let you know when I'm finished it, maybe. Right now, I'd say it's Original, Fascinating, Wordy, Incomprehensible, and Amazing. And definitely well worth reading. I can't wait to discuss this with my book club.


If you're interested in MBTI (personality types), you'll want to listen to the latest Schole Sisters podcast episode on cognitive functions. This episode laid to rest any lingering doubts I may have had about myself as an ISFJ. I had just been rereading one of my own posts on this blog, and as Mystie was talking, I recognized myself in that review as quintessentially ISFJ...the way I tried to be kind and fair (extroverted feeling) and the way I see the factual details as foundational (introverted sensing). I still think I'm right there... how can you have a true big picture when the details are not quite right? Anyway, it laid to rest my doubts about my ISFJ-ness. My doubts usually spring up because so many of the ISFJs I know seem to be naturally excellent housekeepers, and I am definitely not. (Though hope springs eternal, and I never stop working at it. I am loving Simplified Organization!)

At the same time, I have some questions about this podcast, and I almost joined the Schole Sisters forum just to have a chance to discuss it. I know I don't have time for another forum, though, so writing my thoughts here will have to do. The Schole Sisters had recorded an earlier podcast on learning styles (Episode 13: Learning Styles are Bunk). Without going back and listening to it again, the point I took away from that episode was that you and your children may have learning preferences, but it is counterproductive to cater to those learning preferences. Catering to them does not result in better learning, and could result in a person never learning to learn in ways outside of their preference. 

So my questions are, how are how much should we cater to our children's personality types in our homeschooling? And how are our learning preferences (styles) related to personality type? 

I have found it very helpful to think through MBTI personality types, especially when it comes to understanding and dealing with family members whose personalities are very different from my own. It has been helpful to realize that "different" does not mean "wrong", and to appreciate others' strengths where I might otherwise have been blinded with irritation at their weaknesses. However, I feel cautious about beginning to cater to a child's personality type. Obviously, children will each take what they are ready for and in their own way from the feast we lay out for them educationally. It may even be beneficial in some ways for a parent to understand how and why. But I worry that understanding could result in a parent laying out a lesser feast, assuming the child will not appreciate this or that based on their personality type, and the child will be poorer for it. Does that make sense?
Another concern I have is that I could have a tendency to excuse my own children's weaknesses based on their personality type, and children often live up (or down) to the expectations we place on them. For one small example, I still need to expect kindness and considerateness from my "thinking" child who is not naturally sensitive to others' feelings.

I would love to hear what you think.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

My Personal C.S. Lewis Reading Plan

One of my reading goals for this year is to read through all of the C.S. Lewis books on my shelves. When I made my goal, I assumed we probably had most of the books he wrote. I assumed wrong, but we do have 25, and I'm happy to start with that. I'm pretty sure I will not get through all of them this year. I will dive in and see how far I get.

I finished reading Terry Glaspey's book C.S. Lewis: His Life & Thought. It was short and sweet. I especially enjoyed the biographical portion, and almost wish I'd read a more extensive biography. The part on Lewis' thought was more disjointed and read like a series of short articles on various topics. Still, it was easy to read and worked well as an introduction.

Using an appendix in Glaspey's book, I arranged all the Lewis books on my shelves in chronological order. Here's what I have:

The Pilgrim's Regress (1933)
Out of the Silent Planet (1938)
The Problem of Pain (1940)
The Screwtape Letters (1942)
The Abolition of Man (1943)
Perelandra (1943)
That Hideous Strength (1945)
The Great Divorce (1945)
George MacDonald: An Anthology (1946)
Miracles (1947)
The Weight of Glory (1948)
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
Prince Caspian (1951)
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
Mere Christianity (1952)
The Silver Chair (1953)
The Horse and His Boy (1954)
The Magician's Nephew (1955)
Surprised by Joy (1955)
The Last Battle (1956)
Till We Have Faces (1956)
The Four Loves (1960)
The World's Last Night and Other Essays (1960) (I don't have this but my public library does.)
A Grief Observed (1961) (I will buy this.)
Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (1964)
The Discarded Image (1964)
Present Concerns (1986) (My public library has this.)
Compelling Reason (1996)

Of these, I have read only the Chronicles of Narnia, Till We Have Faces, Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, and A Grief Observed. I know I've dipped into a few more over the years, but my memory of them is gone now.

So here I go!

I want to hear from you. What is your favourite book by C.S. Lewis, and why?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Priorities in the Education of Little Children

I was reading some of Charlotte Mason's works today in preparation for a meeting with my online "Start Here" study group tomorrow. In the middle of Home Education, there is a wonderful summary of six points Mason has made in the first part of the book.

(a) That the knowledge most valuable to the child is that which he gets with his own eyes and ears and fingers (under direction) in the open air.
(b) That the claims of the schoolroom should not be allowed to encroach on the child's right to long hours daily for exercise and investigation.
(c) That the child should be taken daily, if possible, to scenes--moor or meadow, park, common, or shore--where he may find new things to examine, and so add to his store of real knowledge. That the child's observation should be directed to flower or boulder, bird or tree; that, in fact, he should be employed in gathering the common information which is the basis of scientific knowledge.
(d) That play, vigorous healthful play, is, in its turn, fully as important as lessons, as regards both bodily health and brain power.
(e) That the child, though under supervision, should be left much to himself--both that he may go to work in his own way on the ideas he receives, and also that he may be the more open to natural influences.
(f) That the happiness of the child is the condition of his progress; that his lessons should be joyous, and that occasions of friction in the schoolroom are greatly to be deprecated. (Home Education, pp 177-178)
Mason then says,
Premising so much, let us now consider--What the children should learn, and how they should be taught. (p. 178)
The word "premising" really struck me. This list comes first, before the books and the teaching.

This is something I need to keep coming back to, because my natural tendency lately has been to let our whole day revolve around our lesson time. Outdoor time has been neglected. My oldest child is only eight, and the things on this list are still important for him, not to mention for the preschoolers running around.

And point (f)! Last week Friday, I sent the boys outside after breakfast to play in the snow. I made a thermos of hot chocolate for them, and they stayed out until after 11:00. It was hard for me because we did not have enough time anymore to get everything on my homeschooling list done. But the attitudes that day were 100% better than they had been for a few weeks. I hadn't even realized how bad things had gotten until the moment I saw how good they could still be.

Happiness matters in your homeschool. It is not artificially produced with a certain type of lesson. It is a natural by-product of a healthy amount of fresh air, sunshine, and free play.

If your lessons have not been "joyous" for a while, it might be time to stop and think about these "premises" again. That's what I'm doing right now.

Related: Charlotte Mason and Preschool Priorities 1: The Outdoor Life for the Children

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Living & Learning Update #6: Drawing, Math, Organization

Our first school week of the new year! It was not a bad week, considering that most of us were in some stage of sickness or recovery from colds and flu.

We did two drawing lessons this week from What a great resource this is! I have decided that SA(8) needs some more time with a pencil in his hand, writing and drawing. Year 4 is coming up quickly, and he is still a very reluctant writer. He is currently at seven minutes of copywork per day, learning cursive italic. He does it very neatly, but very rarely writes anything else for any other reason. There is no ease in it for him even yet, though he has very slowly and steadily improved over the last couple of years. So I'm adding a workbook into his daily work as an excuse to make him write a little more. I'm also going to try to have all the boys do a drawing every day. All of the boys love the Art for Kids Hub, so I'm anticipating that no one will complain about that.

We have been studying Canadian artist Emily Carr for picture study. For some variety, I decided we would try to draw our narrations after trying to fix the painting in our mind's eye. That was pretty difficult. When we had done all we could, we looked again. There was so much we'd missed! JJ insisted on finishing his.

We have also been taking part in the 2017 Read Aloud Revival 31 Day Challenge. The challenge is that each reading child reads aloud for 15 minutes per day. They enjoy it immensely, as do the little children who get to listen. I love to see them all crowded together enjoying books without me. (I'm still reading plenty aloud myself, of course!)

I am very intrigued by a math program someone pointed out. It's called Mathematics with Numbers in Colour by Caleb Gattegno. I have been using Miquon with JJ(6), but in looking through this other program, it looks like it does a better job of showing a teacher how to guide exploration with the Cuisenaire rods.

I have begun to work through Mystie Winckler's Simplified Organization program. My goal for the year is to give everything in my home a place. I need help with this, people.

My sister gave me a fitbit recently. Shockingly, I'm finding my reading goals are competing with my step goals. So far, the reading goals are winning. I am hoping to work up to 5,000 steps a day this week. I don't know how people do 10,000 steps. Audiobooks?

I finished Zinsser's On Writing Well and Gerald Bray's Augustine on the Christian Life. I also continued to work on the Iliad, and started The Karamazov Brothers. The latter is fascinating to me. I have a feeling it's going to be in my top ten for this year, but I won't get ahead of myself yet at only 200 pages in. In light reading, I read The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood. I shouldn't have, but it came in at the library and I couldn't help myself. I liked it.

This week I have to finish the Iliad, as my discussion group is coming up on Friday. I also plan to read a couple of chapters of Side by Side for a Bible study coming up soon. For the rest, I suspect The Karamazov Brothers will keep me busy again this week.

Have a great week, everyone!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2017 Reading Goals

I have joined Tim Challies' 2017 Christian Reading Challenge again. It was so helpful in getting me reading again last year. I went from reading almost nothing in 2015 to reading 65 books for the challenge (plus a few extra that didn't fit into the categories in the challenge.). Like last year, I will not follow the challenge in order, but read whatever I want and fit the books into whatever category seems best. However, I do have some specific goals for the year:

1. Learn from C.S. Lewis. I am beginning with a biography, then I will go through the C.S. Lewis books on my shelves in chronological order. I may not have every single one, but I have most of them. I am not putting an end date on this project. It may take more than a year or two, but this is the year I'll get started. I am working on my first book already, a biography entitled C.S. Lewis: His Life and Thought by Terry Glaspey. I came across it at a thrift store last week, and picked it up because the introduction was written by George Grant, a voice I trust. I'm not sure how it compares to other biographies, but so far it is concise and well-written, and it is inspiring me to read all of C.S. Lewis's books.

2. Keep up with my book clubs. I'm part of two local homeschool mom book clubs, though there is considerable overlap in the membership. In one, we are going through the Iliad. We will finish that this month, have a little break, then begin the Odyssey. In the other, we read mostly classics, though we've been known to throw in some Wendell Berry and Elizabeth Goudge. Our first book for the year will be The Brothers Karamazov. I have never read any Russian literature before, so this is exciting! I anticipate we will read five or six classics by the end of the year.

3. Keep reading Charlotte Mason. Right now I am doing that with an online study group using  Start Here by Brandy Vencel of Afterthoughts as a guide.

4. Pre-read at least some of next year's school books for SA(8). I'll be reading from Ambleside Online's Year 4 booklist. This is becoming more and more important as SA begins to read more of his own school books. I'll start with Kingsley's Madam How and Lady Why and Bulfinch's The Age of Fable.

5. Read through the ever-expanding list of books people have recommended and/or lent to me. This is where I start getting a bit overwhelmed. Number one on the list is pure fun, though: The Complete Father Brown by Chesterton. Then there is The Book That Made Your World, a gift from my parents. I also have a stack of John Eldredge books in my basket, earnestly recommended by a friend. I started Wild at Heart a while ago. Maybe I need to make a rule that I have to finish that before I get to read my Father Brown. At least it will fit neatly into a category in my reading challenge this year (ECPA bestseller). I also just added When Helping Hurts to my list, which I'm really looking forward to.

This month, I plan to finish a few books that are almost complete:
C.S. Lewis: His Life and Thought by Terry Glaspey
Augustine on the Christian Life by Gerald Bray
On Writing Well by William Zinsser (I love this one!)
Wild at Heart by John Eldredge (slogging through this one.)
The Iliad by Homer

I plan to begin:
The Karamazov Brothers by Dostoevsky
The Complete Father Brown by Chesterton (I may spread this out over half a year)
The Pilgrim's Regress (depending on when I finish the Lewis biography)

I plan to continue slowly, along with a group:
For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer MacAulay
portions of Charlotte Mason's Original Home Schooling Series
Side by Side by Ed Welch

Reading all this at once is a little much for me...once I finish the loose ends from last year I will try to focus on no more than three books at once.

What are you planning to read in 2017?