Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Language Pie

Language Pie

It was at breakfast midweek when Dean suggested, “Let’s go antiquing.”

“What, today?” My husband is more spontaneous then I am. You’d think I’d be used to it by now.

“Yes, today,” he matter-of-factly stated.

“Alright,” I softened. I even lightened up. 

It was far too beautiful a spring morning for sitting behind a computer with writing deadlines met. Butter-colored sunshine tantalizingly streamed through the kitchen’s east window onto the oak farmtable while we deftly set to work. Dean made a sandwich with yesterday’s home baked bread and I an avocado-pear salad. Apples, raisons, pecans and pretzels individually wrapped, made ready snacks for the picnic basket. Amply supplied we took to the winding back roads. 

We didn’t go far. Yet, being roads new to us we passed some charming old homes we hadn’t seen before, a covered bridge  – and many neat farms. We were lost twice (and blamed the detour.) Still, we managed to step into several antique shops to poke about their wares. 

Then, pulling off the road again we peered into the window of an historic stone house at Pool’s Forge that was locked, empty and needing restoration but it was prettily adorned with flowers.

Although we returned home without an antique-anything we have snapshots to share and decorate this post.  Click any image to enlarge.

The Art of Shaping Sentences

"Mud Pies" by Ludwig Knaus (1829-1910) German painter 
“What are you making?” the young mother asked her four-year-old son as she sat on the steps of the back deck. Baby was napping and her little boy was busy under the shade tree before her.

“I’m making a birthday cake,” he answered. I’m going to bake-bake a cake-cake. I’m making it for you . . . and one for Daddy, and one for Baby . . . and one for me. ”

“That’s nice,” she said. She had been reading him nursery rhymes and noted that he must have picked up the repetition of Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, Baker’s man . . . He was absorbed in his task of making mud pies and mud cakes. The mud was a mixture of the sand from his sandbox that had spilled over into the surrounding garden soil. It didn’t matter whether no grass would grow there for a bit. What mattered was that the little boy was making something. And it gave him something to talk about. “Will you have a party?” his mother asked with a ring of interest.

“Yes. I’m going to have a party.” Then, after a pause he asked in a refreshed tone, “Mom, would do me a favorite?”
She understood him to mean, “favor” but chose not to correct him. “What do you need?”

“I need birthday candles,” he answered. “I want blue ones. Can you get them for me?” 

He was pushing his plastic grocery cart up and down the garden path earlier so she thought to ask, “Didn’t they have any candles when you went shopping?”

 “No.” he answered. “They gave them all out.”

“You mean they were sold-out?”

“Yes, they were sold-out,” he echoed. He was in mud not just up to his elbows but everywhere else. Although his answers were short he knew how to carry a conversation and form sentences while he formed his mud pies and cakes. He patted and molded and pressed each into shape. The mud cakes could be seen plainly. How his words were shaping his brain and organizing his thoughts could not be seen plainly --- but it was just as surely happening.

Conversation is the Curriculum

In a word-rich environment, one that makes time for conversation, children learn how to use language in empowering ways - long before they sit at a desk for their first language lesson. The language of a word-rich environment shapes their thinking, it shapes their out-look on life, it shapes their brains. As a child puts his words in order to form sentences he is putting his thoughts in order, too. 

Yet our fast-paced, 21st century lives encourage a kind of linguistic passivity. From birth children are bombarded with noise and hurry. Obnoxious music plays in the marketplace. Screens flash images. Screens are even attached to the ceiling of our cars to keep children fuss-free in traffic. Where are the unhurried, quiet moments of conversation? Where is the stillness, the quiet or bored moments for reflecting upon his world with a sort of inner conversation? 

Language is not the garment but in the incarnation of our thoughts. – William Wordsworth 

A child can be in a room with designer-toys and didactic materials but it is the words he speaks to the words he hears that will be what develops his brain in readiness for reading, in readiness for gaining the lion’s share of his knowledge – that is - knowledge from books.

Reading is words in pattern. A child first becomes familiar with pattern, rhythm and rhyme by the pleasant way language is put together in his nursery rhymes. He hears them over and over. When the words are familiar to him, you can stop after a line and he will tell you the next. He is reading already in a sense, through his ears not his eyes, when he connects diddle with fiddle, moon with spoon, pig with jiggety-jig, Miss Muffet with tuffet.

An enormous amount of learning takes place in the young years - all without the aid of the workbook. How quickly, by grade one, the dial is turned and set to the workbook - when it seems that children cannot be expected to grow or learn much outside it. We cling to the security of the workbook for all the grades thereafter. Is it because without ten problems on a page we aren’t able to measure learning by the proper percentages of understanding? But my post is not about when to use and when not to use a workbook, how few or how many. Rather, I wish to open eyes a little wider to a sampling of other things – things less clearly visible – less apparently measurable – and mark them as trustworthy. 

They are:

age-integrated conversation,
reading aloud,
silent reading,
spontaneous telling,
formal telling of a book’s passage with narration,
quiet reflection,
day-dreaming and imagination,
traditional story telling.
Also to note are hands-on experience and observation. These are learning experiences that can be shaped in words. 

An Atmosphere of Home Learning

If education, according to Miss Charlotte Mason, is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life of ideas then as much as one third of education is atmosphere – the quiet, unhurried, word-rich environment where children live and breath within an atmosphere of learning – just as they live and breath within the atmosphere that surrounds the planet. 

"The person rises to understand, master, and enjoy whatever he is surrounded with in language, ideas, literature, and in appreciation of beauty.” Susan Schaeffer Macaulay For the Children’s Sake pg 39

Years back I picked up a used copy of The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease published in the 1980s. It has underlinings by the previous owner. If one of the paragraphs were not already starred I would have starred it myself – in pink ink. Mr. Trelease eases the conscience of the teacher who thinks she is neglecting the curriculum in order to take time to read aloud to her class from a well-written story. Reading is the curriculum Jim Trelease points out boldly. He sees language to be the principle ingredient of all learning. “Not only is it the tool with which we communicate the lesson, it is also the product the student hands back to us – whether is it the language of math or science, or history.” How brilliantly basic! 

He claims that children who hear words intelligently, intriguingly and elegantly expressed through a read-aloud, are better able to share their own thoughts verbally and in writing. “Each read-aloud, then, is a language arts lesson, bolstering the four language arts: the art of reading, the art of listening, the art of writing, the art of speaking.”

The Art of Knowing

When The Read Aloud Handbook was published, its ideas were ripe-for-the-picking among home teachers. Other voices were also praising the value of reading aloud. In the 1980s Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, too, upheld this teaching method in For the Children’s Sake when she introduced us to Miss Mason’s “living books” and the simple yet marvelously empowering method of narration. Susan Macaulay speaks highly of  “literature [as] an important and central part of education.”

“The best thought the world possesses is stored in books,” says Miss Mason. She insists upon the right kind of books - well-written books on a variety of subjects – books that capture interest – books with juicy details – books that take their time – rather than those that are striped of life – the deliberately made-to-be facts-only schoolbooks that are typically set before a child and said to be authoritative. A living book, however  – will enliven the learner. It opens the door of the child’s mind with nourishing ideas. When a child becomes a student of these books and can narrate, we perceive he has knowledge because it is shaped in his own words (as it was shaped in his own mind). Miss Mason heralds her discovery:

Here . . . is the key to that attention, interest, literary style, wide vocabulary, love of books and readiness in speaking, which we all feel should belong to an education that is only begun in school and continues throughout life. . .  Philosophy of Education pg 29

To most of you I am preaching to the choir. May my message be affirming to you who are in the throes of teaching. You cannot see, as plainly, how language shapes the mind as a little hand shapes a mud pie. Take heart. I remind you that it is just as surely happening. We can call it “language pie.” Why not?

Discussion is invited,
Karen Andreola

I am honored and happy to be favorably quoted. Quote freely, please. And thank you for including my name with whatever I’ve written that resonates with you while you pass along the kindled torch of ideas to your readership.



  1. Oh my. What a rich post! Rich in wisdom and beautiful photographs. Thank you, Karen. I love this post. This was such an encouragement to read today! :)

  2. Hi Karen!

    It is a delight to watch a child's mental cogs turning. One fond memory is of my niece coining a phrase of her own: My father was looking for my mother who was sweeping the porch. He asked my young niece if she knew the whereabouts of her grandmother. My niece replied, "She's out brooming!"

    Personally, I think it's more descriptive than the word sweeping, for if we actually sweep the broom, it just makes a bigger mess.

    Have you noticed that you cannot even go to the doctor's office without being bombarded by a television...or two..or three?


  3. I start a book study (with other moms) going through A Charlotte Mason's Companion on Monday...I am so excited! Just thought I would share. Happy Thursday, Karen! :)

  4. Hi Ladies,
    I can see that you, too, treasure the funny and clever things children say. My anecdote is based on the things Grandma is told over the telephone.
    Ooo, a book study with my "Charlotte Mason Companion." I'm am happy to hear it and do hope that all who participate will find the ideas to be both practical and inspiring.
    Thank you for stopping by,
    Karen A.

  5. Karen,
    I have been reading your posts for the last few weeks, but have never left a comment, despite the wonderful encouragement I have received from you.

    This post is so timely and encouraging for me that I had to take a moment and thank you from the bottom of my heart! I truly feel uplifted and encouraged whenever I come by to read. Thank you!


  6. Thanks for such taking the time to put together such a great post! I am planning out our material for the next school year and I decided to really simplify down to a "literature based" curriculum this year....which is really just a fancy way of saying that most of my curriculum this year will be plucked out of my overflowing Amazon cart! We'll add in the three Rs and nature study with some hands-on (handicrafts) for reinforcement......but basically we'll read a lot. My children are all still fairly young so lots of picture books can still be included.

    Anyway, thanks for articulating the value of words, books and conversation so well. It is encouraging to feel supported in the direction I've chosen for us.

    Ps I am just reading the Companion for the first time as well and really enjoying it :o)

  7. I think this may be my favorite post you have written (of course, if I go through the archives I will find equally fabulous posts and disagree with myself). :)

    I am SO glad you are blogging!

    At my daughter's wedding reception (now twelve years ago), she thanked her parents for the conversations through the years.

    I love it that I still can spend time with either child and they immediately began sharing what they are thinking. They never get old enough to have Mom and Dad listen, do they?

  8. Yes indeed.

    Your message IS affirming to me!

    Very much so in that all of these things are so easily forgotten in the day to day of child raising, home educating and training, training, training...

    And just a matter of fact I am in this season of life with an infant where I seem to be nursing and while I'm finding that I do in fact read a lot to the children, I've had this guilt come over me that math isn't getting done. Science is left alone. and we certainly aren't taking as many nature walks as I'd like.

    so, it's of a great encouragment to know that by reading to them they are gaining {as you say} so much more.

    Wishing you a lovely weekend.

  9. I always love your posts, Karen. I have owned the Charlotte Mason Companion for several years now. I have finally decided to purchase my own copy of Charlotte's series. I look forward to reading them, though the task seems a bit daunting. I hope you continue to share.

  10. Wonderful post Karen and even though we have no children of our own I definitely agree with all you have said. I came to books in my 20's ( my parents never encouraged reading and never read to us) however I have always read good books and love reading now. A day does not go by without some book in front of me. I do enjoy your post and the lovely pictures in this one.

    Blessings Gail

  11. Dear Karen,
    Once again I came to your post for a little "Mother Culture". I loved your post and the beautiful pictures. We lived in PA for a few years and miss the beauty of the countryside. As we approach the summer months I look forward to simpler days and more living books and nature study. We school throughout the year as my 4 adopted children have some special needs and do best if we continue to have a light schedule. You are such a blessing to me as I travel along my Charlotte Mason journey. Thank you for caring for all of us homeschooling mothers. Julia

  12. I know this isn't the venue for this, but I was wondering how long it might be before your website for the Charlotte Mason Research and Supply Co. Will be up and running again. I have decided to purchase the Original Homeschooling Series and was wondering what the cost is. I'd like to spend the summer reading it before the next school year. Thanks!

  13. Hello Ladies,
    Charotte Mason's original writings are sold through Christian Book Distributors. You can get to the CBD website by clicking any of the photographs of my books in the sidebar or "Andreola's Reviews" or go directly to and type Original Homeschooling Series in the search.

    Since our website has been down some have asked about the sale of the back issues of Parents' Review. They are still available and I've made a note to picture and price them on MWMC.

    It is so good to hear that you are reading my book, A Charlotte Mason Companion. I am grateful for you sharing this. I meant to quote from Companion in this post (supposed to be good for business) but got carried away with the two books mentioned here.

    Happy Reading and Moments of Being Carried Away,
    Karen A.

  14. oooohhhhh....those photos did this far-from-PA girl's heart good! I grew up on the other side of the river, but it looks just like your side, and it was beautiful to see those farms and hills and trees and fields. Thank you, from a girl in Asia.

  15. Hello Karen, For the Children's Sake was one of the first books I read on home education. I spent many hours reading to my children as they were growing up. Just tonight, my son Michael graduated in our home. We were talking about his growing up years and talking about learning to read. He told his younger sister, "You didn't want to learn to read. I told you you'd love to read. I told you you'd love history!" I didn't do everything right, but I raised kids who love to read and know how to learn the things they want to learn. By the way. He made As in his two dual enrollment classes and his older sister made all As in her 4 college classes this semester. They know how to learn even if it wasn't very formal. God bless you for your part in that Karen.
    Laura Lane
    Carthage, Missouri

    I'm going to share this post on Facebook.

    1. This is a praise. Knowing how to learn, and taking delight in reading, are two pastimes that will serve your children well. Consider it an accomplishment, Laura. Reading aloud has oodles of benefits for children of whatever age. Millions of students leave their years of school with a bad taste in their mouth for reading. I didn't do everything right, either. But I am happy my children all now read in their adulthood so I must have done something right.