Monday, June 05, 2006

Charlotte Mason Study Group Homeschool Support Group Meeting May 2006 Summary

I am the leader of a homeschool support group whose focus is to study the methods of Charlotte Mason. Each of us uses some of Charlotte Mason’s methods. Each of these meetings is upbeat and inspirational. Today I will share a summary of what we discussed at the May 2006 meeting.

I wrote this up for a few reasons. One is that sometimes people wonder what goes on at a homeschool support group meeting. Another reason I am sharing it is that at this meeting a lot of wonderful book suggestions were shared. I appreciated hearing the different opinions of the mothers in attendance.

Business Item: Since our family does not have any income now if you wish to buy any of these books from Amazon (new or used) please consider doing so by clicking through the Amazon link because I will get a commission if you put it in your shopping cart and finalize the purchase within 24 hours. It took a long time for me to write this blog entry and to make the links so if you learn something helpful from it perhaps you will consider thanking me for it by making a purchase through my Amazon links, now or anytime in the future. Note that you can buy anything you want from Amazon through the link in the left sidebar and I earn a commission, even if I never mentioned the item or it has nothing to do with the content of my blog. Thanks for considering it!

We are reading Karen Andreola’s A Charlotte Mason Companion. The chapters assigned tonight had the topics of: William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and teaching history.

As people trickled in, they made themselves a cup of tea. I was telling the first person to arrive of the death of my cat that day, and as others trickled in they also wanted to hear what happened. They provided warm words of comfort to me. One mother shared that her mother is quite ill and she told us about that and we tried to comfort her. We then delved into discussing the chapters of the book we are reading together and to discuss books and homeschooling.

William Shakespeare
In Karen Andreola’s book she mentions using this story format telling of Shakespeare’s plays. Andreola recommends these books which are a narrative version (story version) of the plays:
Fix all of these links to make product specific

Beautiful Stories From Shakespeareby E. Nesbit
Tales From Shakespeareby Charles and Mary Lamb
Shakespeare Stories by Leon Garfield
Shakespeare Stories IIby Leon Garfield

One mother shared that she owns all of them and loves all of them, but had not brought them to show to us. I showed my copy of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Shakespeare Can Be Fun!”, ,one book in a series (called The Shakespeare Can Be Fun! series) by Lois Burdett, which I have not yet read to my children. Another mother said she owns the entire series and they are perfect for children aged six through the elementary grades.

We looked at my copy of Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales From Shakespeare. We discussed that the Ambleside Online Curriculum recommends to use this book with young children. One mother shared she is reading this to her seven year old with success. Another mother said she is holding off on that until her children are in middle school as she feels there are other books which are more appropriate for elementary school aged children.

I showed copies of Leon Garfield’s Shakespeare Stories and Shakespeare Stories IIby Leon Garfield which I said were highly recommended by Valerie of Valerie’s Living Books. One mother said she preferred them to the Lamb book.

One mother suggested attending “Shakespeare on the Sound” which is a free live production on the waterfront in Rowayton, Connecticut. These are outdoor shows which families can attend. People bring blankets and put them down on the grass and sit and watch two plays.

Another mother told of an outdoor play in Westerly, Rhode Island called “Shakespeare in the Park” which she used to attend when she lived in that area.

One mother shared that she reads the Shakespeare stories to her elementary school aged children as ‘free reading/fun reading’ time rather than as lessons, per se.

Another mother said she plans to see at least one play per year and before they go they read a Shakespeare play in story format so they are familiar with it; that is all they do for including Shakespeare in their homeschooling schedule.

The mothers who have been reading Shakespeare with their children said they all enjoy it and that A Midsummer’s Night Dream” and “Taming of the Shrew” are the favorites of the children.

Two admitted that we have not yet done Shakespeare with our children (I am one of them).

One mother shared that a very special exhibit of Shakespeare’s portraits will be at the Yale Center for British Art as of June 17, 2006; it is a traveling exhibit.

Charles Dickens
We didn’t have a robust conversation about Charles Dickens. Most of our children have already heard at least one telling of A Christmas Carol in various forms from Mr. Magoo to other films or live local productions.

We discussed the wonderful job that the Quick Center of Fairfield University does with putting on live stage performances geared for children and how they are so riveting that even toddlers will sit still for them. Their shows are usually 45-60 minutes long. A performance of “A Christmas Carol” will be done again in December 2006.

We discussed that Disney has Charles Dickens movies which are musicals, and some said they are high quality and worthwhile to watch.

I shared these Dickens books:
Stories From Dickens by Walter McSpadden (Junior Deluxe Editions)
Stand Up, Mr. Dickens: A Dickens Anthology by Edward Blishen

We didn’t discuss history much because it seems that we discuss it at every meeting. We all seem to know and agree that we love a narrative style of history book.

I shared a few books from my collection that are narrative/story telling style of history. Note that some of these authors have even more books, these are just the ones that I own and showed at the meeting.

Clarke Hutton history picture books which I believe are all out of print:
A Picture History of Britain
A Picture History of Canada
A Picture History of Great Discoveries

Little Stories of Famous Explorers by Laura A. Large

Narrative Style History Books by Susan Wise Bauer:
Story of the World Volume I
Story of the World Volume II
(There is also a Story of the World Volume IIIand Story of the World Volume IV.)

Books by Genevieve Foster:
Augustus Caesar's World
The World of Captain John Smith
The World of Columbus and Sons
George Washington's World
(If you enjoy those books there are even more wonderful books written by Foster, some of which are out of print.)

I first learned of the books by Louise Andrews Kent in the wonderful book list book Who Should We Then Read? by Jan Bloom. I later purchased two books from Jan’s business “BooksBloom”; she was a vendor at a homeschooling convention and I had the pleasure of meeting her in person. I also bought two reprinted versions through Emmanuel Books. I believe these books are currently out of print. These are historical fiction books about a boy who goes on the exploration travels with these famous explorers.

He Went With Marco Polo, published in 1935 by Houghton Mifflin Co., hardcover.
He Went With Vasco De Gama, published in 1938 by Houghton Mifflin Co., hardcover.
He Went With Christopher Columbus, republished by Kevin Coleman, Eureka California (1-800-453-8357), June 2003, soft cover.
He Went With Magellan, originally published in 1943, republished by Kevin Coleman, Eureka California (1-800-453-8357), July 2003, soft cover.
(There are more books by Louise Andrews Kent but these are the ones I owned and showed at the meeting.)

Thornton Burgess books
We had a short spontaneous discussion about the wonderful Thornton Burgess books. One mother shared that her daughter learned a lot of science information from the ‘regular’ books not just the more non-fiction based books. For example “The Adventures of Chatterer the Squirrel” taught a lot of information about animals in the forest. The Burgess books can be bought for $1.50 each through Dover Publishing or sometimes local museums or nature centers sell them in their gift shops. We recommend reading ALL of them. These are suitable as read aloud's for very young children or for independent reading for children in elementary school.

Art Instruction and Coloring Books
The discussion then turned to art instruction and coloring books.

Dover Coloring Books
One mother didn’t know about Dover’s coloring books. I showed a selection ranging from science and history. I showed the stained glass style and the regular paper style. I shared that usually if you order over $50 from Dover Publishing (internet site) they give free shipping. Many times Amazon charges full price for Dover books and sometimes there is a several week waiting period for the books to ship, so perhaps it is best to order directly from Dover Publishing.

Two of us shared that we followed the Susan Striker recommendations for children from birth to age 6 not using coloring books, which she discusses in her book Young At Art but to draw from their own imagination. Both of us see the value in using these educational coloring books to color in while they are listening to history or science read-aloud’s though.

The stained glass style books are unique and fun to do as a project.

Coloring Books of Geometric Shapes
One mother shared that her children love geometric shape coloring books which are sold by MindWare catalog (the name escaped her). They copy the page and color it in very different colors and patterns and notice on their own the effect of color theory choices and how different the same grids can look.

Dover Art Postcard Books
One mother shared that children at about age seven find memorizing information very easy. She worked with homeschooled children doing a fine art history class. She used many color images of works of fine art. The children used them like flash cards and had fun memorizing the name of the piece, the artist, and the style of the work. She said that years later the children still remember this information. A remark was made that if they can memorize the characters and traits of Sponge Bob characters they can also memorize ‘educational’ information. Dover Postcard Books books can be used in this same manner. You can also view and order these books on Dover Publishing’s own website.

Another mother shared her story of her six year old son correctly identifying “Starry Night” at the mall, on a poster in a shop window and declaring loudly that it was his favorite painting. My son did the same thing with “Night CafĂ©” in a pizza restaurant when he was six. It is so fun when that happens!

One mother shared that she loves the book which has recently gone out of print “Art in Story: Teaching Art History to Elementary School Children by Marianne Saccardi. This book presents background information about an artist and the movement, and has a narrative style story to read aloud to the children. There are suggestions of paintings to show the children and there are activities to do with the children linked to each artist, hand’s on activities, making art and journal writing exercises. One mother shared that she owns the book but never used it and doesn’t think she will ever use it. I own it and have not gotten around to using it. Two mothers said they must have it and want to buy copies! I feel it is a shame that it has gone out of print. The copy I have is from a small publisher, Linnet Professional Publications in North Haven, Connecticut, with ISBN 0-208-02431-X. I see that as of today there are three used copies on Amazon ranging in price from $49.95 to $84.95. My book doesn’t have a price on it but I will guess that it was $24.95 or less (no where near the price that the used booksellers are asking for on Amazon). I have seen copies on The Well Trained Mind Sale and Swap Board in the past for low prices.

I asked my friend to tell me again of the name of the art curriculum that she purchased last month at a homeschooling conference. The product is “Artistic Pursuits”.

She said her younger daughter began using it recently and so far she loves it. The book teaches theory and technique but what the child chooses to draw is their own choice. Famous artwork is used to demonstrate principals, with a ‘lift the flap’ type of layout which I didn’t quite get the gist of. She said that they have two books per school level, with two books for the elementary grades, two volumes for middle school and two volumes for high school. Each level focuses on one or two mediums. I want to look into this program. At $32.95 per 1-2 year course it is not expensive (compared to art classes for homeschoolers).

I showed a copy of a book that I originally discovered at a nearby public library and found so useful that it ended up being a Christmas gift for myself. It is “Artist's Materials: All the Materials You Will Ever Need to Make Art by Lorraine Harrison. This book doesn’t have projects to copy or imitate. This is a source book for everything you ever wanted to know about every art supply on the market. It tells how they are used, what other equipment you’ll need, how to clean the brushes, what brushes to use, etc. I found the book helpful as it tells lots of things to help save money and not ruin the art materials. For example, when to use a cheap brush, when to avoid expensive brushes, how to properly clean different kinds of brushes, how to stretch watercolor paper, and all that great stuff. How to store the materials so they don’t get ruined and lots of other little tricks and tips fill this colorful and inspirational 288 page book. It lists for $24.95 and is discounted by Amazon. It is a bargain compared to taking art classes. It is a reference book that I feel that every homeschooling family should own (or any adult who wants to teach themselves about making art).

A discussion began about teaching drawing and learning to draw. It is a challenge for homeschooling parents who are not artists and who feel we can’t draw to teach our children to draw. Some of us end up learning alongside our children. I ran to get my recently purchased books as birthday gifts. One mother shared that the ability to ‘see’ is something that has to be developed, because we have to see something truly, in order to draw it. I continue to want to learn to be a good at drawing and I have recently started to teach myself to draw. In the past I've tried a little then given it up. This time I am trying to be more disciplined about it and also to have fun with it.

The first I showed is Danny Gregory’s journal Everyday Matters. The book opens explaining that Danny’s wife fell upon the subway tracks and was run over by three subway cars. The back cover states that making art and New York City saved Danny Gregory’s life. The journal was passed around. I explained that Danny draws in pen and that he taught himself to draw and the book is inspirational about life in general and is also creativity-inspiring. The book was published in 2003.

The next Danny Gregory book I showed was published in 2006 and is called The Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission to be the Artist You Truly Are. I explained that in this book Danny teaches the reader to draw in pen and talks about creativity and imagination. This book focuses on journaling and the creative process. I told them that I am reading the book and doing the exercises so I have not gotten very far in the book yet. My younger son (aged 6) is also doing this along with me as he wants to learn to draw and ‘to see things’.

As we wrapped up one mother shared that her son loves Singapore math but she is considering Math U See. She asked to see my Math U See curriculum and I showed it to her. I showed the manipulatives and explained there is a video also. I don't think I explained enough to give the program justice. (If you are considering Math U See I highly recommend watching a video to get the gist of it, or watching a live demo at a homeschooling conference. The workbooks are black ink on white paper and they are not meant to entertain or to provide 'eye candy'---but they work which is the goal and the lack of colorful graphics for decoration purposes only helps the child focus on the math operation at hand, in my opinion.)

One mother was asked what science program she recently discovered and bought at the recent homeschooling conference. The program is for middle school students and is called Rainbow Science published by Beginnings Publishing and is based on hands on experiments and activities. She said the company is currently writing a curriculum for elementary school and another for high school. She said this program looks perfect for her middle school aged son. Here is a
review of the curriculum from The Well Trained Mind website.

This same mother also shared that her elementary school aged daughter loved the TOPS Lentil Science program.

The downside was that it took her about a week to find, buy and gather up so that she could do the experiments and activities. She said that once the materials are gathered the program is set up so that the child can work independently. She also said she felt that working with the lentils was soothing and fun, such as when young children are mesmerized working with dry sand or at a water table. Many math concepts and science concepts are taught in that Lentil curriculum.

Homeschooling with Toddlers in the House
One mother asked how we can homeschool more than one child if there is a toddler in the house. All agreed that it is a challenge and that sometimes creativity is used.

I suggested that some very basic ‘must do’s’ are decided upon and those be put as the main priority. Any chance that they can get done, do them (i.e. toddler napping, toddler happy playing).

Another mother suggested something she read on a chat list. Get a box of toys marked with the day. Give the young child that box to do when quiet time is needed to ‘do homeschooling’ with the older children. Have one box for each day of the week. The child is not allowed to use the box on any otherday. Add new things in the box each week or periodically.

I won’t share every detail of what was discussed about homeschooling with a toddler underfoot, but I want to share at I was happy to hear that the mothers were sharing about homeschooling with toddlers in the house as a positive thing. I cringe when I read in homeschooling magazines or on homeschool chat lists when mothers speak very negatively of the normal behavior of their toddlers as being evil or ‘bad’. I can’t stand to hear that a baby or toddler is a nuisance to the family, hindering the older children from doing things that the mother wants them to do. I was glad that none of that negative talk went on at this meeting. If a family is blessed with a baby or toddler then I feel the mother and others in the family should learn to be flexible and creative and accept what life with a little one in the house is like. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that babies and toddler should rule the house and act terribly but a little creativity is necessary and life should be enjoyed to its fullest extent instead of always complaining of what can’t get done with the little one in the house (which the mother at the meeting was NOT doing but it is what I have heard others, in other places, say.)

One mother said that she takes books that she wants to read and puts them on her nightstand. In the morning as each child wakes up they gather for cuddles in her bed and she reads aloud to them. The first books were fiction. Now the books are science and history stories. In this way all the children or some of them are cuddling in for a read-aloud but they are actually ‘being homeschooled’ with ‘school subjects’.

Another mother shared that she was so tired by the end of the day that she used the bedtime as the time when her children would read aloud to her, while snuggled in bed. In that way the child got their reading practice done and the mother didn’t have to read aloud to the child when she was so exhausted! I should note that the same mother does read aloud to her children, but it is first thing in the morning. They are a family of book addicts who don’t even watch television (lest you assume that she doesn’t do any reading aloud to her children!).

Owning Loads of Books, and Library Sales
Yet again we talked about how we all own lots of books and how husbands seem to have aversions to buying or making more bookshelves. All admitted they have cardboard boxes of books stacked up in corners of rooms. One shared that right now the stacks are two deep and lining the living room walls, with books they are currently using. Another shared that she has a stack of boxes two-wide that go up to the ceiling, completely blocking the window and covering the little wall at the end of their upstairs hallway! I felt much comforted in knowing that I am not the only one with stacks of boxes of books in rooms right now.

We discussed local library sales, which ones have what types of books, which are overpriced, which are cheap, etc. We shared which have a half-price day, a $5 per bag day and a free day. We also laughed at how in the past we have been at some sales together (by coincidence) and we would find books and say “Hey, do you have this? No? Well, you have to buy it, it is great!” We talked about how it is hard to see a great book at a library book sale and let it stay there as so many of the libraries throw away the unsold books at the end of the sale, and how the idea of that kills us.

To find library sales near you, check the Book Sale Finder site and/or sign up for their free email alert.

Sonlight Curriculum
We had a side conversation about Sonlight Curriculum.

Someone passed around the current catalog. It was at that moment that I realized I had not received the current catalog. Anther mother who orders from them every year said she had not received hers yet, either! We wondered if they are trying to reduce their catalog mailings or something.

One mother said that she bought a core package this year and didn’t like the schedule. She originally thought she’d like everything all laid out but it didn’t work for them. She is using the books and loves them but they read at their own pace, such as working more quickly through a book. Another mother shared that she buys just the books from Sonlightt and uses them in her own schedule and along with other books.

One mother shared that while she used to never feel happy recommended a ‘school in a box’ to a family who asks specifically for a ‘school in a box’ that she now feels just fine recommending Sonlight as the book selections are so good.

One mother complained she cannot read The Beam (email from Sonlight). Another complained that the editorials in The Beam are getting ‘radical’ and may scare off some people. One mother wondered if a competitor may crop up who is secular based, for those who don’t want the Christian content.

Letting People Make Their Own Choices
We had a short conversation about how I used to only recommend to people what I myself would use. However now I am more open and really want people to use and do what they need to do for their own family. I shared that I had spoken with three different families who ‘saved’ their homeschooling by using a boxed curriculum (which I can’t’ stand). I feel that if something works for one family then fine and well, they should use it.

We talked about the ads on my blogs and how one mother at the meeting had clicked on a lot of my ads one night and found three companies she didn’t know about. She ended up ordering catalogs from them and was really happy to have found out about them. We were discussing whether or not ads on blogs were helpful or hindering, and the topic of 'what if an ad is for something that the blog owner would not personally use'?

Paula’s Archives site
We talked about some of the great information on the free Internet site, Paula’s Archives, specifically the history book comparison charts, which can be used to match up various different books to read them in proper chronological order (when jumping from book to book to read the same time period but using more than one book).

Winter Promise
One mother shared that a couple of days ago at a homeschool park day one mother discussed a new Charlotte Mason type of homeschooling curriculum called Winter Promise.

A mother said it is a science program which is written to cover topics in science. (However after the meeting I began researching what Winter Promise was and I see they offer homeschooling programs for all subject areas.) The mother explained that the program is written to do the same subject with multiple ages of children at the same time. There is a list of what different aged children could do with that topic, so the homeschooling parent can tailor projects and independent study to match the ages and stages of the children. We were all curious about what this new curriculum and new company has to offer.

Bookhunting Trip?
As we wrapped up the meeting I asked anyone if they wanted to join me for a child-free few days on Cape Cod (staying at my in-law’s house) to go bookhunting in used book stores. The Cape is loaded with many used book stores, most of which are filled with antique and rare books. I imagine starting at the farthest away place and bookstore hopping all around the Cape (stopping only to eat or to take strolls on the beach!). I thought it would be fun to do that with friends. Sometimes just browsing and looking around is fun, even if the budget is very low. Spending a few days with friends and books sounds like heaven to me! The older my children get the more I feel like I need a bit of a break from them. If I am to spend two nights away from them, I’d feel less guilty about it if it is done with one purpose being to find and obtain books to use in their home education! Then again maybe after all of these years of non-stop mothering I don’t need to find an excuse like that to have some time alone….

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1 comment:

Dr. Benjamin Bernier said...

Dear ChristineMM,

My name is Benjamin Bernier,

I am a pastor, and homeschool dad of seven boys, who made his doctoral dissertation studying Charlotte Mason's Philosophy.

I came across your blog looking to contact people interested in Charlotte Mason's philosophy who may like to know about my recent publication:

Scale How 'Meditations' by Charlotte M. Mason,

The meditations are a record of a series of Sunday talks delivered by Mason during the year 1898, at the House of Education, "Scale How" in Ambleside Uk, where she presents a verse by verse commentary on the first chapters of the Gospel according to St. John.

I found this collection while doing research at the Armitt library in Ambleside. Most people are not aware that Mason wrote these, and that they are an amazing source of devotional inspiration, a direct disclosure of Mason's religious views and instructive in the art of Christian meditation.

That is why I am spreading the word so that more people may benefit from this important resource in Charlotte Mason's work.

Let me know if you have any question,

You may find more information at my blog:

Thank you for your time and attention,
At your service,

Benjamin Bernier

“This duty of devout meditation seems to me the most important part of the preparation of the mother or other teacher who would instruct children in the things of the Divine life.”
Charlotte M. Mason.

The Rev. Dr. Benjamin E. Bernier