Thursday, March 3, 2016

To All Unorthodox Teachers

Since the days of my homespun Parents' Review I've been talking about Mother Culture -since the 1993 issue pictured here. I liked the term Mother Culture so much I eventually made it one of my company brand names. Anyway, it is good to stimulate our minds in various directions, to keep something meaty, something sweet, a biography, a history, a novel, a devotional, etc, nearby, and pick up the one we feel fit for.

One week this winter I picked up something light, A Year with Miss Agnes. 

I have a pretty-good-guess that you will like it as much as I do. It's a children's book. Yet, because of its positive-vibes on the subject of education I recommend it for the home teacher.

Upon closing the book (oops, I speak out of habit - I read it on Kindle) I thought, This is a good example of a teacher who shares Miss Charlotte Mason's supposition that "the child is a person."  

Ten-year-old Frederika (Fred for short) describes her people - natives of Alaska - and the events in their lives - with fondness. She shares casually with the occasional native vocabulary and the tacked-on phrase "and all that stuff."
Nigel's map work at age 10, while reading Seabird.

In 1948 the Athabascan people follow the rhythm of the seasons with their extended fishing and hunting trips. In between this necessary wilderness survival the Athabascan children attend a one-room schoolhouse. It was a regular occurrence that teachers would come and go at the schoolhouse.

Photographed in 2111 while visiting my parents at the Jersey Shore. 

Frustrated, they rarely stay a whole year. One, teacher, however, is sane-enough, nerve-enough, clever-enough and generous-enough to pull it off. That teacher is Miss Agnes. Seeing that her students learn something and  catch a spark of a love-of-knowledge is a higher goal to her than forcing them through any rigid scope-and-sequence.

Tea Anyone?

Frederika's life is suddenly full of pleasant surprises. Miss Agnes arranges the desks in a circle. When the boys act up that first day this teacher doesn't holler or even act ruffled.

Fred explains,"Everything was different. But good different."

The differences are not surprising to the Charlotte-Mason-minded reader who will notice, on close inspection, that Miss Agnes's classroom runs on a certain atmosphere, discipline, and a kaleidoscope of new and interesting ideas.

(Married daughterSophia - now age 33 - made rolls from a recipe in The Tasha Tudor Cookbook this winter, then sent this photograph to me of what I had inscribed to her when she was a teen. I'd forgotten. My, the years fly.)

The teacher even talks funny. That's because Miss Agnes was brought up and educated in England. She drinks a strange brew at lunchtime - called "tea." I don't recall her drinking anything else. She must have been familiar with what was in the miserable textbooks of the day but she has other methods up her sleeves.

On her first day she has the children pull out all the ugly grimy hand-me-down textbooks from their desks. They are told to pack them away in cardboard boxes while she mentions that she pays no attention to grades or grade-levels. Fred is relieved to hear it. From her own box Miss Agnes pulls out colored pencils, paints, paintbrushes, and paper. Fred is agog.The first drawing assignment is to draw what they liked - but fill in all the white space. The walls of the school needed brightening up, Miss Agnes, says.

She plays opera on her record player. The singer speaks a strange language. Italian. On the big map she attached to the wall, she points out Italy. After lunch, while the children do penmanship Miss Agnes walks around the room reading aloud from a book the children never heard of: Robin Hood. This stimulates their imagination. (Fred tries to imagine all those shady tall trees), It brings them to a new land and time, like in a dream. It makes them, too, ask questions. (They want to know stuff.) Literature, for the-time-being, puts them in company with good English grammar (which Miss Agnes corrects in their speech).

The teacher is learning, too. She gets to know her students which enables her to challenge individual potential. More joys of learning are in store. But I'll let you meet them afresh. I will add another observation, though. Miss Agnes has a way of awakening a quality of self-education in her students. The only true education is self-education - Charlotte Mason reminds us.

The author, Kirkpatrick Hill is herself a teacher in Alaska. I took note of her dedication in the front of the book. It is inclusive of "all unorthodox teachers." Isn't this what we are? And our children are unorthodox learners to manage to come through years of education with their curiosity intact - a blessing Miss Charlotte Mason hoped every child (and teacher) would possess.

I finished my little quilt of Spools using a William Morris charm pack. The edges of the spools form a tiny pinwheel.

Can you tell how much I liked reading A Year with Miss Agnes? It would make a good read aloud. And your children will always have a little picture in their heads of Alaska. I link it here for you.

Hanging in the corner of the parlor I originally made it for my office/sewing room in the attic.

Post Script
Have your children filled-in a map following what they are reading? The map on the blog today was material published in 1990s by Beautiful Feet Books for the Holling Clancy Holling Series. Their geography course, it seems, has been updated with writing assignments.

Keep up your Mother Culture,
Karen Andreola


  1. What a delightful review, Karen. I shall get this book for Lydia. I was cleaning out a closet the other day and came across our BF maps I did with Sam when he was about 9. I didn't want to toss them, but how many things can you save from homeschooling:-) I love that you bought Tasha's cookbook for Sophia. On my FB group Take Peace we do a Tuesday's with Tasha Cook-Along. Members sign up for a Tuesday and pick a receipt and post a review and picture of the finished receipt. It's been great fun. I know you admire Tasha, I will add you in and you can nose around and if you like stay awhile:-) Would you mind if I shared Sophia's picture there with a little explanation? Your quilt is absolutely darling! Where did you find that pattern, do share. You hand quilted it too, how nice. I do love the spools and WM fabric. I recently bought a charm pack from Moda in Scarlet and have been looking for just the right project for it. The spools may look lovely done in all different reds. Well, thank you for the book review, always looking for good, clean literature to read. I hope this finds you feeling good:-)

    1. Yes, Suzanne. I asked Sophia this morning and she was tickled that you'd like to use her photograph. At Christmastime I would make ww clover-leaf rolls from T.T.'s Cookbook. Thank you for signing me up to your FB.

      To make the Spool Quilt Squares I followed a YouTube tutorial titled, "Easy Spool Quilt Block Featuring Precut Fabrics by Edyta Sitar" - a long title but the first four words should get you there. I've only had a fast enough computer to play YouTube this year and have watched, in the evenings, a number of helpful quilt clips by Missouri Star and by Quilty. I started a Pinterest
      board I titled, "Quilt Candy - Doll Size" recently. I hand-stitched around the spools in off-white and used a dark blue inside the boarder (that is not apparent in this photo) of a leaf design. I "fussy cut" some striped fabric for the threads of the spool. Happy quilting, Karen

  2. Lovely. Miss Agnes brings to mind Miss Stacy from Anne of Green Gables...

  3. This brought back so many happy memories of the years I homeschooled my last two children - born in 1985 and 1988. Now I get to do some of these same activities with my daughter's quadruplets! They are nearly four years old and soak up knowledge and experiences like little sponges!

  4. I am reminded of Understood Betsey. I love when the teacher moves her up in reading, though she lags in arithmetic. Common sense!
    Thoughtful Sophia. :-) Her photo must have warmed your heart. TT's cookbook is one of my favorites. It is splattered and sticky but I wouldn't part with it.
    God bless you Karen!

  5. I live in my memories at quiet times but enjoy making new ones, too. Wow, quadruplets, a whole bouquet.

    Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield (a lady highly-educated for her times - esp. in the handful of languages she could speak) is a darling story. I like the teacher in it, too.

  6. A year with Miss Agnes sounds like a must read for all ages. We loved Understood Betsy,so we surely will like A year with Miss Agnes. Sophia is a thoughtful and a wonderful daughter. Nigel was a beautiful drawer even at the age of 10.
    Thank You for sharing your memories.
    Marion and family

  7. Good Day Karen,
    I am thankful I understand and embrace your life of Mother Culture. It flows easy in my life, my heart desires to reach out to the next generations and lead the young mothers alonside us.
    Your quilt is charming and puts me to dreaming of making one for my sewing room wall.
    I love children books, and The Year with Miss Agnes is now in my Amazon cart. I do believe Charlotte and I would enjoy reading it together.
    My boys and I read and mapped the Holling Clancy Holling's books years ago. I loaned it to someone and that was the last of that. But it was too good to hoard!

  8. Thank you, Karen, for sharing another wonderful book idea! I already know I'll love it! Claudia

  9. What an interesting story! I have never read it, but look forward to the pleasure.

    Conversations with my more orthodox acquaintances over the years have revealed that many of them believe they could be more unorthodox if they were in more extreme or unusual circumstances. Such statements of grudging admiration almost sound like longings to me. They remind me of Edith Schaeffer's encouragement/admonition to not wait for perfect circumstances to come along before implementing SOMETHING that interests or inspires.

    Why is it that some will read a story like A Year With Miss Agnes and be giddy with excitement and boulstered to branch out and explore while others read the same story and come away even more certain that their experiences could never be altered in any way?

    You have given me a lot to thnk about today, Karen.


  10. Karen, it is so good to see this post. As always, you give me much food for thought. You are such an inspiration, and if I might add, a reason there are so many books on my shelf.:) I am going to add this one to my cart and order it soon. I am reading Miss Read at bedtime; it is such a delight. Your little quilt is beautiful. You do such fine work on hand quilting. It is a challenge for me to get two stitches the same, but I persevere. Sophia's rolls look delicious. I, too, have Tasha's cookbook. I love to sit quietly and enjoy the illustrations. My son is reading Minn of the Mississippi and mapping as he goes. Seabird is on our shelf to be used with our bird study coming up soon.

    Here in Texas we are enjoying an early spring. Birds and flowers are in abundance this year. Oh, joy.


  11. The Year of Miss Agnes was one of the first (chapter) books that Daniel ever read out loud to the family years ago. The second was Understood Betsy. Both of these books bring very fond memories, as well as homeschooling inspiration. I think we need to re-visit them with the younger kids.

  12. I love reading these comments and seeing "mutual friends" among the books we have enjoyed. I read the Miss Agnes story this week and will read it allowed when the demands of Lent and Holy Week are over.
    Speaking of books, some time ago you mentioned Gervase Phinn's books, Karen. I bought my mom _The Other Side of the Dale_ for her birthday. She is a retired math teacher and she just loved it. She told me she hated to see it end. Mr. Phinn was like Miss Agnes--- he knew everyone is good at something. I like Marie in the Miss Agnes story because she loves the art of homemaking. She IS portrayed as a little featherbrained, but that's okay. Multi-tasking is often misunderstood. :-)

    1. How neat to hear that your mom liked "The Other Side of the Dale". My British pen-friend, Frances, told me about Gervase Phinn. I know he wrote more books. I could relate to Marie in "A Year with Miss Agnes", too, and her desire to be a homemaker surrounded by as many of her own children as she had brothers and sisters. Oh how I like that "every one is good at something" or eventually can "get" good at something. Karen

  13. Karen,
    I stumbled onto your blog and have been reminiscing over the last 24 years of hsing. Your book was put into my hands my third year of homeschooling and I never looked back. Our lives are fuller and richer because of your influence. I have gone on to study Charlotte's volumes which I love dearly. But your companion holds the "doable" inspiration. I have 6 more years of homeschooling. But now it no longer feels like school but life. Thank you for penning that book. And now I can keep in touch through this blog. How wonderful.
    Sharyn Kelly
    (Annie is my oldest daughter still at home.)

  14. Hi readers. This is a gathering of kind-hearted souls. I wish we could have tea together in person. Someday, perhaps, we shall, on the other side of the river.

    Welcome, Sharyn. So happy to learn that "A Charlotte Mason Companion" was a friendly guide in your early years of teaching. Thank you, Karen

  15. Miss Agnes came in the mail today and I devoured her in one gulp. May I be such a teacher to my precious childen!

  16. Hello again, Karen,

    Miss Agnes came a couple of weeks ago and I enjoyed reading it. I have passed it along to my daughter who has her eye on early childhood education. I hope it will inspire her to be unorthodox. Thank you for the recommendation.

    Here in Texas where the sky is cloudy and the temperature is mild,