Saturday, May 6, 2017

Welcome Home

Welcome Home
Spider Sparrow 
What are you doing for your Mother Culture? I hope you can snatch some moments to enrich yourself. At the end of the day, in just a few page-turning evenings, I read this sweet story. It pulled at my maternal heart strings. It ministered to my Mother Culture.

Perhaps you've seen the film, Water Horse, or Babe. Both are based on the children stories by British author, Dick King-Smith. I happened upon a lesser known story of his: Spider Sparrow. A used-bookshop sits a few doors from where Dean and I eat California Rolls on the occasional lunch date. I can't resist popping in. Of course.




Spider Sparrow has a James-Herriot-feel to it with its colloquial dialect and farm folk. It's lambing time in the 1930s. A tiny baby, wrapped in a shawl is deposited, under cover of darkness, at the door of a shepherd's hut. "What's this?" Tom, the shepherd, cradles the baby in his arms before a warm fire. With a beer bottle covered by a nipple, he feeds the scrawny, hungry baby the same milk he happens to be feeding to an orphan lamb that night.

He's smitten by this tiny one. Molly is smitten, too. Tom and Molly were married 15 years but hadn't been able to have a baby. They would have liked a son of their own. With help from the lord of the manor (and farm boss) Tom and Molly adopt the baby, who, village gossips believe, was abandoned by a young girl who had a fleeting love affair with an American soldier.





Tom and Molly eventually notice something strange about this baby. 

He doesn't crawl like other babies. At age 2 he gets around, keeping off his knees, on his hands-and-feet in the back garden; thus his nickname Spider. He eventually walks. But he walks funny. He talks funny, too, using a word rather than a sentence, by the time he is school age. Tom and Molly accept him as he is. Spider is docile, curious, and pleasant. And he is "slow." Unable to learn how to read, however, he isn't accepted into the village school. Molly is relieved, really, because most of the children make fun of him. Therefore, he's brought-up entirely at home.

Although unable to use language fully to express himself, he can mimic the sounds of nature. He imitates the birds and other creatures all around the farm, remarkably well. He doesn't mind being alone with nature. Animals are drawn to him. They are pacified by Spider's simpleness and gentleness.

When Spider reaches his teens England is at war. (The author was a soldier in WWII.) But Spider's world is the farm. Its workers (all older than he is) are kind to him. Eventually, he helps out on the farm in a way that is tailor-made for him.

Because of bits mentioned above, and the light swearing of a gruff farmhand ("bloody . . . ") you might prefer reading the story aloud with trifling omissions. Otherwise, it claims to be for age 10-up.

No matter what a child's abilities or disabilities, no matter how bright or slow he is, no matter what a child's strengths or weaknesses, a child is a person, created in the image of God. I know you will like Spider Sparrow for your Mother Culture, especially if someone you love and care for is "slow."

When a Christian reads fiction she can't help wonder whether the main character has ever been imparted a saving knowledge of Christ. In this case Spider is depicted without sin-nature. Although the lord of the manor and his wife attend the parish church no other character in the story does.

Master Cornhill
All my children read, Master Cornhill by Eloise Jarvis McGraw during their home-learning years, and were impressed with it. They remember it with fondness. (I've recently verified this.) Although out-of-print for some years (I obtained ours 25 years ago) Sonlight is publishing it I am told. I hadn't read it. Until this year. When I spied our copy on my daughter's shelf (she is homeschooling now) and I borrowed it back.


Although this historical fiction is filled with authenticated details of London, the year 1666, and The Great Fire of London, it moves swiftly. The details of clothing, buildings, street names, and best-of-all, persons, draw the reader into "being there" like no history textbook can.

Our sympathies are stirred for Michael who the year before, at age 11, had to leave London and his foster family there, to escape the Great Plague. When he returns he can't seem to find them. Thousands had died or fled the city. Where will he go? What will he do to earn a living at his age?

Fire of London by painter Stanhope Alexander Forbes
Seeking to avoid the dreaded workhouse he agrees to join a minstrel/storyteller who sells scripts. The minstrel gives Michael a few coins a week and a place to sleep, for being part of the audience. All Michael has to do is listen to the storyteller, fascinated. Just like he did the first time he heard the minstrel. It's an easy job. One that gives Michael a roof over his head and food to eat. But not one he is guaranteed to keep long.

One very minor character drinks too much. This brief scene ushers in the natural consequence of hardship (as it should.) Overall, you and your children will like Michael and his circle of friends (all older than he is.) These friends are caregivers in his life that ease mounting anxiety. How does any civilization survive? When difficulties are met together while kindness is at work.
The print is small, making it probably best for ages 12-14-up.

The Chestry Oak
First published in 1948, The Chestry Oak by Kate Seredy is back in print. The story begins in a royal castle in Hungary at the onset of WWII. The old-way-of-life is described with a kind of dream-like-remembering. When the Nazis occupy the castle, young Michael, prince of the House of Chestry, is given strict orders by his Nanny and his father-the-King, how to conduct himself. These two grown-ups guide young Michael discretely through their new oppressive castle-life. To not frighten him they tell him they are playing a game of pretend.

Graduating from pony to horse on his birthday is an exciting step-up for Prince Michael. One beautiful black stallion plays an important role during an air raid (when the Americans intervene.) Then, the formal-feel of the first half of the book ends. The war is over. Michael's life changes dramatically.

I wouldn't be recommending the book if the second half of the story kept to the same strained-feel as the first. When we follow Michael to America a contrast between a life of oppression and one of freedom-from-oppression becomes evident. I read about Michael's new life with relief and rejoicing, grateful I was born in America. Your shoulders will relax, too, when you read about his new life. Therefore, keep reading and you'll be enriched. Age 12-up.

East,West - Home is Best
I've intentionally left out the best parts of these stories. You'll happily discover them for yourself.
All 3 happen to be about orphans who are welcomed into the homes of kind-hearted, seemingly God-fearing people. The caregivers are everyday heroes. A loving home is what is central to everyone's well-being. Adults who persevere through life's difficulties in making a home for their loved-ones, will find these stories as touching, or more touching, than the children who read them. They will relate to the care-givers. They will be encouraged to persevere in love, putting kindness to work in the common duties of life.


Giving Thanks for Home
I am a Bible-believing Christian. Although I am not Mennonite (my neighbors are Amish) I picked up a book of Mennonite children's prayers. It's been by my bedside this week. Here is one adapted from the Die Ernsthafte Christenpflicht 1739, that fits my theme today.

O God,
We give thanks for the goodhearted people
who love us and do good to us and who
show their mercy and kindness by providing
us with food and drink, house and shelter
when we are in trouble or in need.

End Notes:
Linked to Amazon:
Spider Sparrow, 

Master Cornhill, and available through Sonlight.

The Chesty Oak

This Antique Star Bed Quilt, I discovered on close inspection (through my bifocals) is a genealogy quilt. Inside each star is a faded name penned with a birth date such as "Jacob 1820". I'm partial to this star quilt block. I quilted the mug rug (above) for a long-distance friend. I call it "Midnight Garden."

Farm paintings are by Agnes Clausen

Keep up your Mother Culture, ladies.

Thanks for visiting,
Karen Andreola


Friday, April 7, 2017

Keen Observer

Keen Observer
I hesitate suggesting one more thing for you to do. Especially near the end of the school year. This suggestion, however, promotes a refreshing change.

Would you like to take a break from doing the subject of English indoors? How about taking credit for doing English-Outdoors . . . on a beautiful day?


Description of Place 
During my winter reading I'd been noticing descriptions of "place." Now in spring it feels good to be walking on the lawn in bare feet again, observing "place" in person. Spring makes me feel like dancing.

Not long ago I posted a suggestion on Facebook on observing "place." With spring brightening the landscape, living things catch our notice.

Children are observant. We can refine this natural attribute. We can encourage them to be keen observers, then, require that they describe what they see.

This is one exercise that goes into making a descriptive writer. A walk downtown would draw forth a description of a different sort than a walk in the country. But both are useful to the keen observer.

Firm Roots in Narration 
Yes, children gain an enormous benefit from narrating good books. They pick up descriptive style, polished grammar, paragraph construction that develops a train-of-thought, etc. from all the reading we do aloud and all the reading they do silently. The benefit of narrating from books is immeasurable. Not only do these strengths show up in the student's writing, they find their way into a student's speaking, countenance, inflections, etc. Narration develops a student's ability to reason, discern, and form opinions. I could go on.


Here, however, I'm suggesting another form of narration. For this Outdoor-English assignment the child describes what he sees, and hears, smells, feels, or senses in his soul - all and only from what he observes in his surroundings. In Story Starters I explain the use of what is commonly called, "sensory language." With sensory language we paint a picture and sense of "being there" for others. It is one of the warm-up exercises in Story Starters for descriptive writing.
Laura Ingalls Wilder - Her Powers of Observation
I just finished reading a biography: Donald Zochert's Laura - The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder. About halfway into the book Laura returns to the Big Woods of Wisconsin. Pa's two summers of wheat crops were devoured by grasshoppers. In an interim the Ingalls live with extended family. One of Laura's chores is to bring home her uncle's cows. She loved this chore. It was difficult to separate how much of it was play and how much of it was work. The two merged together amicably.
See the Conestoga wagon in the back? (Landis Valley) 

"Bringing home the cows is the childhood memory that oftenest recurs to me," Laura said when she had grown up. "I think it is because the mind of the child is particularly attuned to the beauties of nature and the voices of the wildwood and the impression they made was deep."*1

An ox (Landis Valley)
Laura dilly-dallied along the cow paths, unmindful of milking time and being corrected yet-again for her tardiness. While daylight was softening and coming to a close she lingered, gathering wildflowers, wading in the creek, watching the squirrels, listening to the birds twitter as twilight approached.

When I reached the part where Mary becomes blind as the result of being "very sick" I remembered reading on-line that it is now surmised that Mary's symptoms match those of meningitis.


After Mary looses her sight Laura becomes even more of an observant child. You see, Pa asks her to be Mary's eyes for her.

Now that [Laura] must see for Mary as well as for herself. Laura saw everything - the way the wind bent the grass, the way the land rose to meet the sky, the way the sky seemed lit by a strange luminescence.*2

Mary and Laura sit in the back of the covered wagon on their way west to Silver Lake. Keenly and accurately observing "place" awakens the artistic sense in Laura.

"Necessity had sharpened her perceptions, and [Laura] struggled for words to express them. When she saw a white horse and a rider and the sun come together where the rim of the prairie touched the sky, she saw more than a man and his horse and the red blazing sun. She saw something wild and free and beautiful. When she tried to tell Mary about it, she felt how poor words were for telling what she had seen. She tried to find the right words, but there were some things which couldn't be fitted into words."*3

An Intelligent Exercise 
A daughter's Nature Diary
To describe our surroundings is a bit more strenuous of an exercise than narrating description painted for us on the pages of a book. We have to come up with a description ourselves (from scratch). What we see in person, we tell in person or on a page.

Yet years of narrating books gives us the vocabulary (and a wide range of other people's experience) from which to draw.




Sketching in a Nature Notebook is a kind of narrating. And yet it cannot describe the sound of geese overhead, the sound of rustling leaves in the treetops, the gurgle of shallow water moving over round rocks in a shallow creek bed, a bumble bee humming rhythmically flower-to-flower, how soft and cool a bed of spongy wet moss feels under the toes, what odor a skunk leaves behind, or what it feels like (afterwards) to be bit by a secretive mosquito.

"Summer Senses for Country Folk" is a chapter in A Charlotte Mason Companion. It provides pages of examples of the kinds of things to notice in our surroundings.

The suggestions are quaint. My efforts were to make them inviting, close-to-home and serene. Don't let "quaint" fool you. They are educational exercises none-the-less.





I like making pin cushions for gifts. I may keep the yellow chicken. The round ones are oft-used. 
Add Onomatopoeia for Some Fun
Like Laura's mix of play and chores, I hope you and your children will find "observing place" and describing "setting" enjoyable. As spring brings its joyful days of living things, of going bare foot again, hearing tree-frogs chirp, and watching blossoms unfold, let us observe and "tell." Try one or two sentences. This brief description can be copied into a Nature Diary. Story Starters also has instances for the use of onomatopoeia; words that mimic sound such as: atchoo, bang, buzz, caw, clip-clop, cock-a-doodle-do, flutter, hee-haw, hiss, hoot, howl, ker-plunk, meow, peep, rumble, screech, snap, splash, vroom, whip-poor-will, whoosh. Invite your child to invent one of his own.

High School 
Describing "place" is a legitimate English lesson, even though it be English-Outdoors for a high school age student. Here's a challenge. Take a description and reform the sentences of prose into verse. Thus the high school student will be making a poem out of what he observes akin to William Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, or John Greenleaf Whittier. I like Whittier's "Barefoot Boy."

I added a new scrappy doll quilt to my wall. The pieces in the nine-patches finish at 1 inch. 
Feel free to share some lines of your child's outdoor observation here in these comments, prose or poetry.

I also invite you to share a description of your own for keeping up your Mother Culture.

Always happy to hear from you,
Karen Andreola


End Notes

Link to my book, Story Starters. 

Link to Laura by Donald Zochert on Amazon

*1, 2 & 3 Donald Zochert, Laura - The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Avon Books, 1976, page 132



Sunday, February 26, 2017

Glow of Intellectual Life

Glow of Intellectual Life
(an alternative to burn-out)

A little phrase in Miss Charlotte Mason’s writing popped out at me. I thought, here’s a reason to rejoice. I highlighted it in yellow. Later I underlined it in green. The 60 years Miss Mason was in close contact with countless children gave her a keen understanding of how they learn. Combine the right atmosphere, books of literary quality and regular opportunities to digest them, and a child’s face will be radiant with the glow of intellectual life. *1 It is wonderfully true. I’ve seen it work. Have you?

Granddaughter wearing Grandma's kitted purple pinafore

Years ago, I read the lecture that the mystery novelist Dorothy Sayers, delivered during vacation-school in Oxford in 1947. Educators in America today refer to this lecture as being a kind of classical approach. In this lecture, Dorothy Sayers starts out apologizing for not ever having taught children. Her opinion is based on a reasonable historic premise that dates back to the Middle Ages and seems lofty, somewhat stiff, and impressive. Yet, when you get right down to it, her opinion is really supposition – what she assumes (without experiment) to be the best possible way to educate children.

After being persuaded to follow the advice contained in Dorothy Sayer’s ten-page essay mothers are experiencing burn-out. The children are, too. Mothers who end up writing me claim so, that is. Therefore, when a mother also shares with me that she has decided to turn another leaf, back to the approach and the lady who first inspired her, Charlotte Mason, I always cheer her on. Welcome back.

News reached my ear again over summer (and recently). Giving the young mother anonymity I am sharing the gist of it. I hope to guide any who are in a similar situation or – quandary.

Dear Mrs. Andreola,
I dropped out of a classical co-op. Because of the thousands of dollars it cost me I stayed in for the year. In hindsight, I could have dropped out sooner. But my son liked the games. My daughter liked seeing her friends. I felt less lonely. Now I’ve lost my friends. Some aren’t returning. They’ve decided home teaching is too stressful and they’re putting their children in the government school. Yikes.

I should have known better. I read your book, A Charlotte Mason Companion before I got involved and even started reading Charlotte Mason’s books. I’d like to make new friends. I haven’t found any yet, though, who follow what you describe. In my heart-of-hearts I want to see Miss Mason’s ideas through.

I guess I gave in to fear. I thought I needed to heap more memory work upon my children’s heads. I was afraid, along with the other moms, that my children wouldn’t do well in college unless they had the superior advantage that only memorization can give – supposedly. All school year we put in the effort. We kept up the memorization, covering and re-covering lists, facts, names and dates. We spent less time with living books, very little time outdoors observing nature, appreciating art and good music. I wish I had never signed up. For all this exhausting effort all I feel is burn-out.

Thanks for listening. If you could give me some advice I would appreciate it. Feeling alone, Anonymous.

My dear,
Anything we do differently than large groups of people can feel lonely. I remember my loneliness. Here’s some good news. You have more of an opportunity today of meeting parents who have chosen the Charlotte Mason approach to education, than I and many of my readers had, 30 years ago. Friends have spread her ideas far and wide.


A Quilt of Flying Geese - My latest Mother Culture Project

Walk by Faith, Not Fear
When a mother worries that her children aren’t covering enough—or fast enough - anxiety hangs in the air. Anxiety wears a mother down. It disturbs the atmosphere of learning. It is natural to want children to learn. But love and faith must be stronger than our fears. Without faith it is impossible to create a peaceful, pleasant intellectual atmosphere.

Fear is a strong motivator. It definitely gets things moving. Like the sting of the whip that quickens the horse, fear motivates the teacher. It is also used to motivate children. It is used in schools today, though more subtly than the Victorians used it, when it was common for a child to receive a caning of his fingers as swift punishment for a blot of ink on the page of his copybook.

The Child is a Person
A child is not one of Pavlov’s dogs or merely a subject for Skinner’s behavior modification. He is not a memory-machine, either. He is created in the image of God. He has a soul. Education is a spiritual matter. [It is] by knowledge one grows [and] becomes more of a person.*1


Hand-quilting around the leaves

Faith in Something Big -Curiosity
To educate by faith it is helpful to understanding that God has endowed our little persons with curiosity. They are born with an appetite for knowledge. It is calming when we stop to consider how large a part curiosity plays in a child’s learning.

It is not the only feature, but it is capable of doing the lion’s share of the teaching. For instance, throughout the day a 2-year-old can be heard to ask, “Wus tha?” as he points to one object after another, for the pleasure of hearing his mother name the bird at the feeder, the rain on the windowpane, the car in the driveway. His mother is, in a sense, cooperating with curiosity. She is cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit in the child’s life.

Miss Mason refers to the Holy Spirit as the Divine Educator.



Curiosity is so precious, so valuable a player in acquiring knowledge, that it needs to be preserved. You might even say, “pampered.”

Sadly, this precious feature of childhood is seen as something insignificant. Therefore, it is squashed - as if it were nothing but a pesky bug. How? When an inordinate amount of time is given to memorization. Then, we reap what we sow. “We get a narrow, accurate, somewhat sterile type of mind,” says Miss Mason.*2

Curiosity cannot thrive when the emphasis is on rote memorization. It withers away. Therefore, with curiosity so withered children are inevitably made to be motivated by:

• Grades


• Prizes and Contests


• Competition


• Fun and Games


• Praise and Approval


• Punishments


• A Profusion of Quizzes and Tests

“A school may be working hard, not for love of knowledge, but for love of [grades], our old enemy . . .”*3 The above incentives all motivate the student to work, but his work becomes mechanical. For instance, he will study for an A on a test even if it demands midnight cramming for what he soon forgets.

“Then, young faces are not serene or joyous but eager, restless, apt to look anxious or worried. The children do not sleep well, and are cross: are sullen or in tears if anything goes wrong, and are generally difficult to manage.”*4

“We foresee happy days for children when teachers know no other exciting motive . . . is necessary to produce good work in each individual of however big a class than that of the love of knowledge which is natural to every child.”*5






Tiny snow drops beside the basement doors.

Expanding Horizons with Ideas
Memorization is a tool for learning, yes. But it must never supplant or supersede a life of ideas – especially in the early years of a child’s education. If the child is a person, he must do the work of a person - not a parrot. We owe it to our young people to expand their horizons, to give them new ideas to think about, to lay out for them wide open fields of study.

“Astonishing fair things will grow in that garden of mind in which we are invited to sow the seeds of all knowledge.”*6

Children trained by the Charlotte Mason Method linger with knowledge, for sake of knowing, for the sake of growing - in wisdom and favor with God and man.




You can place your trust in the following list also. These things will not be new to you. I am reminding you of those things you say you originally held "in your heart-of-hearts."

Trust in Your Calling
The Majesty of Motherhood is a concept that is meant to leave you with a strong impression. You are the queen of your household. The day your little one was placed in your arms was your coronation day. You were crowned with authority from God and are accountable to God. Your duty is to rule with a firm, loving hand while understanding the nature of children. Your children, in return, are to honor and obey, cheerfully.


Trust in Your Children
When hunger is satisfied by wholesome intellectual food children will delight in lessons. Then, you will see signs of a reawakened curiosity, and a quiet contentment. Reach for those library books that are nestled in the basket by the sofa. Read about the kinds of things your child has a desire to know. Open your field guide to identify the living things that surround you.


Trust in Living Books
We are not educated by memorization. Miss Mason says that we are educated by our intimacies. It is important to note that knowledge-made-personal and information-memorized are two different things. The typical schoolbook (especially the memorization of it) with its dry factual treatment of a subject, was one of the first things Charlotte Mason found to be a stumbling block to curiosity. A living book enlivens the child’s mind with ideas.

Using books of literary quality enables students more brilliantly tell in their own words what an author is sharing. This is the impression-expression of an intellectual life. Rather than note-taking for tests, hearing lectures whereby a teacher’s explanation does the thinking for the child, Miss Mason let the children connect directly with the mind of an author. She says, “Let the lessons be of the right sort and children will learn with delight. . . . The children must do the work for themselves. They must read the given pages [once through] and tell what they have read, they must perform . . . what we may call the act of knowing.*7

Trust in Narration – the Art of Knowing
Give memorization a lower seat of important. It is far better to require the child to use his whole mind rather than be wearing down the grove of a narrow part of it. Narration is no “parrot-exercise,”*8 says Miss Mason. To narrate, to tell the passage in one’s own words, takes the place of memorizing names and dates, multiple-choice quizzes, and questionnaires.

As he forms his narration, a child ponders. He forms a train of thought; he digests, sorts, summarizes, he sequences events, etc., as he reflects upon the reading – without a teacher’s meddling. This “act of knowing,” is a kind of self-education. It is deliciously satisfying. The teacher may highlight the names and dates from something read (once through only). Then, require the student to tell the history (story) passage in his own words - using the names and dates indicated. The student will be using his own mind - with a cohesiveness that makes the names and dates meaningful and memorable. To ponder is better than to parrot.

Trust in a Wide Array of Subjects
The long hours some are dedicating to memorization (claiming it to be the Charlotte Mason approach) is startling to me. Miss Mason insisted upon a wide curriculum. This wide ground can only be covered by keeping lessons short. With short lessons optimum attention is achieved, especially with what she calls the disciplinary subjects, such as math, spelling and grammar. You’ll have time to transition, to alternate lessons with Bible, poetry, history, fiction, art, folksong, outdoor nature study, recess, chores and life skills like cooking, to keep minds bright (and allow for freedom of movement). It isn’t the number of subjects but their duration that tires the mind (and makes a sedentary body). We did a quick math drill every morning and a review of the same facts before supper. A better memory of facts was the result. Memorizing Scripture (which is the living Word) or poetry (which opens the eyes of imagination) verse by verse takes minutes a day. Scripture and poetry also warm the sympathies. They are not dull, dry facts alone.

Trust in the Discipline of Habit
Habit draws us forward to do the “next thing.” Children will readily do what is customary. “I can see how practical good habits are,” one mother shares. “When math is completed, the children always look forward to a mid-morning snack, then to hearing an episode of history. After this refreshment, spelling is tackled automatically, with drawing anticipated next.” During the first months of homeschool this mother made every effort to keep to a regular schedule of short lessons. Now, with less effort, habit carries her children smoothly and pleasantly through their morning schoolwork, more smoothly than at the start of the year. Prizes or punishments are not necessary for a result of work well done.



In Conclusion
With the 3 tools of teaching; Atmosphere, Discipline, Life of Ideas, we usher in the blessings of the intellectual life. A calm and contented intellectual glow can be seen on the faces of teacher and children alike. Over-much memorization results in intellectual feebleness – Miss Mason pointed out. Such undue emphasis is unknown in homes where her philosophy is tried.

I close with Miss Mason’s beautiful words:
“The bracing atmosphere of truth and sincerity should be perceived in every school; and here again the common pursuit of knowledge by teacher and class comes to our aid and creates a current of fresh air perceivable even to the chance visitor, who sees the glow of intellectual life and moral health on the faces of teachers and children alike.”*9

Children brought up by Miss Mason’s method do enter college and do well. I’ve seen this first-hand and brought this up in an earlier post.

Thank you for writing,
Karen Andreola

End Notes from Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy of Education


*1 pg 325


*2 pg 277


*3 pg 97


*4 & 5 pg 98


*6 pg 277


*7 pg 99


*8 pg 273


*9 pg 97


Sundry photographs taken at Landis Valley on Dean’s phone this February.
You can write me at karenjandreola@gmail.com