Monday, September 1, 2014

A Peek at Charlotte Mason's Principles of Education, by Karen Andreola

A Peek at Charlotte Mason’s 
Principles of Education 
Are you relatively new to home teaching? Perhaps it’s the new school year that leaves you feeling a bit daunted. May I simplify some thoughts for you?  

Recently the editor of The Old Schoolhouse magazine sent me an invitation to describe Miss Mason’s principles in 400 words. Yikes, a 400 word piece - really? Apparently, a handful of methods will be presented to give new teachers an introduction to each. My first reaction was to cringe. A twitch of an eyelid, followed. I’d never written anything so abbreviated on Miss Mason before, having resisted the task of reducing my heroine into a nutshell. Nevertheless, I felt it an honor to be chosen to write it. And, happy to include Miss Mason into the company of other modern-day one-minute sound bites, I complied. It was an exercise of adding and subtracting words fastidiously for five afternoons.  On this post I share it with you.  

Here’ Goes

The teaching method of Christian British educator, Miss Charlotte Mason, makes a good fit in today’s homeschool.

In her writings Miss Mason insists upon using “living books,” as schoolbooks. These enliven the mind and secure interest. Classroom textbooks, compiled by a committee, tend to be crammed with dry facts and information. Living books, by contrast, are often written by one author who enthusiastically shares his favorite subject with us.  

With living books children gain knowledge through their own effort. They dig out the facts and information clothed in literary language, expressing what they’ve learned by narrating it in their own words (composing orally or in writing). Their thinking is personal, follows a train of thought, and isn’t stunted by a page of multiple-choice.

Teachers needn’t be trained in giving lectures. Children educate themselves by narrating from the well-chosen words of authors. Too much explaining by a teacher elicits boredom. True education is self-education.

No bells announce the end of hour-long class periods. Children are free to move promptly onto the next lesson. When drills and skills are kept short children develop the power of attention. Dawdling is discouraged. Students are encouraged to give their best effort. Education is a discipline. This means establishing good and helpful habits, built one action at a time, one day at a time.

Education is an atmosphere. With living books children are motivated by a love of knowledge rather than artificial stimulants such as prizes (stickers, candy, money), competition, and grades. They retained their inborn curiosity. Cramming for tests is avoided. Examinations require the child to narrate what was read during the semester.

Inspiring the love of knowledge in children depends of the presentation of ideas. Ideas are what the mind feeds on. Miss Mason served children a wide curriculum of subjects. She says, “Varied human reading as well as the appreciation of the humanities is not a luxury, a tid-bit, to be given to children now and then, but their very bread of life.” Education is a life.

Miss Mason places an emphasis on being outdoors to observe nature. Students keep a Nature Notebook. They record their “finds” in drawings, adding poems and mottoes.

After-hours homework is withheld. Children apply their minds at the time of morning lessons. Afternoons provide recreation. For children this means running, climbing, yelling, all out of doors. Handicrafts, chores, life skills, practicing an instrument, and play, are their homework.

Nature Notebook of Yolanda Andreola - 1990s

End of Piece 

Although high school has lessons that overflow into the afternoon, the above is quite doable with elementary age students. Not all at once - at least to start, but as a goal that will be reached as the days and weeks unfold. 

Warming Up to a New School Year

In our house we’d warm-up to a new school year. After breakfast, after shared chores, (usually dishes into the sink, laundry into the machine, guinea pigs fed, etc.) we’d gather around the table for a group reading – the Bible, sometimes a song, a devotional theme, a poem, or a seasonal nature-minute reading. Then, I’d introduce a new book per child and they'd go off on their own. I might display a new painting, assign the drawing of a picture for the cover-page of a notebook, or review multiplication with cuisenaire rods. Light daily lessons made our first week. 

While our warm-up-week brought forth a series of new things in small steps, it enabled me, the teacher, to gradually gain a firm footing on the schedule. For the student, harder tasks were soon up-and-coming, but the first week (or two) of lessons were intriguing and suspenseful. And, opening the first pages of a fresh supply of living books at the start of a school year felt a little like Christmas.  

Post Script
My photograph above shows a small sampling of what Miss Mason would call "schoolbooks." Pulling them off our shelves, they fit into a particular time period but are not meant to create a curriculum here. They are to be an affirmation to my readers that books of various kinds will enliven and enhance a time period of history in a more memorable, more detailed, more expansive, more interesting, and more enjoyable way, than any one textbook can possibly accomplish. The freedom to use living books, and the freedom to home teach in America, is a freedom won and held by activists and is nothing short of a blessing from our Heavenly Father.

Happy new school year to you.

Thoughts off the top of your head (on any part of this post), fond memories, and sentiments are invited.
As Always,
Karen Andreola 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Sunbeams and Sunflowers

Sunbeams and Sunflowers
“The friendship between Emily and Dolly deepened with time. They shared a passion for flowers, reading and little children, and were lucky enough to find plenty of each to keep them happy.” Miss Clare Remembers 
The Lady-of-the-House is in the middle of reading Miss Clare Remembers by Miss Read. It is the fictional biography of Dolly Clare, the older teacher in the two-room schoolhouse of the Fairacre series, whose childhood memories begin in the 1880s. This is the Lady-of-the-House’s second or third reading of it. Have you noticed, that in a subsequent reading something pops up that was less striking before? Beginning chapter 9 the Lady-of-the-House paused. What a sweet set of girlhood delights, she thought; friendship, flowers, books and little children.

Andreola children 1991

Reminiscing during these summer days she recalls the sunflowers she and her children started from seed (in 1991) and planted up against the house – the sunniest part of our suburban front garden.

Their sunflower experiment made it into The Parents’ Review, later into A Charlotte Mason Companion - yet again into Pocketful of Pinecones. When sunflowers turn up, they turn the heads of passers-by. How can they fail to impress children with their towering stalks that emerge from little seeds?

Fast-forward ten summers. The Lady-of-the-House remembers her daughters playing a sunny song on their string instruments for the little children of VBS.

“I’ll be a Sunbeam” is a happy sounding children’s hymn. Opening the old hymnbook, the violinist improvised with the right-hand piano part, while the cellist played the “oom pah-pahs of the left. It brought a cheery atmosphere to the little country church in Appleton and was a good reminder to share the light we’ve received with a sort of radiant living.

Hymn I'll Be A Sunbeam

“Jesus wants me for a sunbeam, to shine for Him each day” is simply put, with child-like friendliness. But perhaps too easily dismissed as “quaint.” For Christians of all ages, it is a high and worthy ideal. Apostle Peter explains how we can live in the sunshine with “joy inexpressible” through this world’s trials - by keeping our “believing” eyes on Jesus. (1 Peter 1:3-9)

It is August on the early pages of Lessons at Blackberry Inn. During her weeks of recuperation Carol had memorized every crack in the walls and the way the afternoon sun cast polka-dot shadows through the eyelet curtains. It was the sunshine through the window glass that made her patience run out. Leaving her bed one day sooner than doctor’s orders, she couldn’t wait to sit under a tree with her husband Michael and feel the warm breeze and dabbled sunlight on her face.

Squinting at the blue sky above her, the lines of a children’s poem came to mind, from R. L. Stevenson’s “Summer Sun.”

Above the hills, along the blue,
Round the bright air with footing true,
To please the child, to paint the rose,
The gardener of the World, he goes. 

Wood Lily  Lilium Philadelphicum

The gardener of the world has been kept busy in this part of it. On a walk to the mailbox the Man-of-the-House was first to spot something red in the woods. He pointed it out to the Lady-of-the-House who had to look up his “find” in her Audubon field guide. In all her years of Nature Study she hadn’t yet stumbled upon these beautiful wildflowers. Wood Lily (Lilium philadelphicum) likes thickets. Its roots were once gathered and eaten by Indians.

The woodland border is a refuge for wildflowers and weeds. You can hardly see the house from the street through the brambles. Behind the mailbox is the tall mauve-colored Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) in the sunflower family. It attracts a silent party of swallowtail butterflies high above the camera lens of Lady-of-the-House. Folklore tells us that an Indian Joe Pye used the plant to cure fevers.

Joe--Pye Weed Eupatorium purpureum

 The coneflowers the Lady-of-the-House planted around the lamppost are bright and bushy. They are abuzz with honeybees, with stems speckled with aphids that seem to be doing the plants no harm.

Equal in sun-hunger are the purple Echinacea. The little clump on the south side of the house, thrive. Those the Lady-of-the-House unwittingly planted on the north side died of starvation she concluded. They are hardy perennials usually, but only when fed large servings of sunbeams.

Sun-ripened fruit bend the bows. The daughter of the Lady-of-the-House went berry-pickin’ with her little guys. They were keen at the task.

At home she preserved the bounty of blackberries into jars. When she gifted a large jar of jam to her parents, Mom couldn’t resist blurting out, “Someday, when you read your mother’s home-teach-y Charlotte-Mason-inspired-story, Lessons at Blackberry Inn, I think you’ll find that you have things in common with Carol.”

“Oh?” her daughter smiled, caught off-guard by her mother’s too-forward-to-be-just-a-hint remark.

Her mother held her purple jar with admiration She softened the jest with, “This jam looks wonderful. Thank you. And seedless did you say? – Oh goodie, just the way we like it. And with blackberries picked by my little grandsons. Perfect.”

Post Script
“Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.” William Shakespeare

We’ve enjoyed the most mild, most pleasant, summer that we can ever remember. Are you sensing the brevity of it, too?

cross stitch Lessons at Blackberry Inn

I was invited to contribute a guest article for the Simply Charlotte Mason Blog. Sonya Shafer has been hosting a workshop on the method of narration. Her readers are finding questions answered along with practical tips and direction.

By-the-way, the hooked rug of sunflowers isn’t normally kept at the front door. I placed it there to photograph it in brighter light than it receives indoors.

Wishing you and I radiant living,
Karen Andreola

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Likable Mothers

Likable Mothers

     Mothers are infrequently the prominent characters in novels. They seem to be unassuming and in the background, if they are mentioned at all. Because of their scarcity I started looking for them. When there is a likable mother on a page she has my full attention, no matter how quiet a person she is. 

     Last summer I returned to Maine – not to the physical place (although that would have been lovely) but the Maine of Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs - a calm story told in first-person.

     The setting is an 1880s fishing village. Perhaps the only conflict is the reality that lies in the shadow of everyone’s minds; that summer, so long in coming, would be so soon to leave. The plot, if it could be said to be one, meanders. Suspense isn’t what makes the pages turn. Rather, it is pure pleasure of being there. On her summer holiday, the young woman who narrates the story has deepening connections with the local characters. She finds something interesting about each person she meets. As she savors the sounds and sites around her, I savor them with her.

Karen and Dean Andreola, 2004

     I remember how steep a hike can be along the rocky coastline. I can recall the shy whippoorwill’s soft call in the night as I lay awake. I know the scent of the salt sea air and see the bright sunlight on the wind-rippled water of the harbor. And I’ve met some idiosyncratic backwoods Mainers. And so the story sets my mind easily to wandering.  

A Comfortable Hostess 

     The young woman narrator rooms in the white clapboard house of Mrs. Todd, an herbalist-widow who knows all the commonplace news of the village and likes to talk about it. One day, when the tide is right, Mrs. Todd puts up a small sail, and with her boarder, is wind-driven to Green Island. There Mrs. Todd introduces her new friend to her mother, Mrs. Blackett, an islander in her eighties. Any gentlewoman would like her I suppose, as much as her visitor does.

     Oh, to be as comfortable a hostess as Mrs. Blackett. If I were as self-forgetful in my hospitality I’d suffer less nervous tension, I’m sure. Sarah Jewett says:    

     Her hospitality was something exquisite; she had the gift which so many women lack, of being able to make themselves and their houses belong entirely to a guest’s pleasure, - that charming surrender for the moment of themselves and whatever belongs to them, so that they make a part of one’s own life that can never be forgotten. Tact is after all a kind of mind-reading, and my hostess held the golden gift. Sympathy is of the mind as well as the heart, and Mrs. Blackett’s world and mine were one from the moment we met. Besides, she had that highest gift of heaven, a perfect self-forgetfullness. 

A Place of Peace 

     After a chat in Mrs. Blackett's front parlor, after a stroll around some of the island with Mrs. Todd to glean the herb pennyroyal, after a tasty fish supper, it was near the time the visitor was to give her farewell. The young woman stands at Mrs. Blakett’s bedroom door and peeks in. She sees a pink and white quilt on the bed and hears: 

      “Come right in, dear,” [Mrs. B.] said. “I want you to set down in my old quilted rockn’chair there by the window; you’ll say it’s the prettiest view in the house. I set there a good deal to rest me and when I want to read.”
      There was a worn red Bible on the lightstand, and Mrs. Blackett’s heavy silver-bowed glasses; her thimble was on the narrow window-ledge, and folded carefully on the table was a thick striped cotton shirt that she was making for her son. Those dear old fingers and their loving stitches, that heart which had made the most of everything that needed love! Here was the real home, the heart of the old house on Green Island! I sat in the rocking chair, and felt that is was a place of peace, the little brown bedroom, and the quiet outlook upon field and sea and sky.

     It takes a special ability with a pen to affectionately write of the simplest things in life, and get readers to appreciate them. Perhaps this is why Sarah Orne Jewett’s, The Country of the Pointed Firs hasn't gone out-of-print for more than 100 years.

      You probably will not see it on a local library’s recommended summer-reading-list. Perhaps it is too quiet a book. Gentle souls who find it, however, keep it on a shelf next to their classic novels to read it again in other summers. I enjoyed the first half of the story more than the last half. Nevertheless, I was glad I read to the end to get the whole picture. 


     Do you look for likable mothers? I’ve come across more I could share with you in future.

     Because The Country of the Pointed Firs is public domain I took the liberty to quote these choice nuggets by whole paragraphs.

     Mother Carey’s Chickens is a book I wrote about on this blog some years earlier. It has a likable mother as the central character. A click will bring you to it.

     Most of the photographs of Maine were taken by my daughter. The photograph of Dean and I, taken by a good friend and Mainer, shows Rockland Harbor in the background. What a steep climb we took that day at summer's close. Has it really been ten years? Behind us are wild blueberries among the rocks. 


  Kim Huitt of Alaska, sent me a photograph of her newly finished Lavender Strawberry Sachets. I was touched by her placement of them atop Pocketful of Pinecones. How pretty they look spilling over the teacup. I was given permission to share her photo with you. Thank you, Kim.

Until next time,
Karen Andreola