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Hello friends! I’m just popping on here today to remind you of the BIG SALE that’s wrapping up today at Compass Classroom! See my previous post for more details on their excellent video-based curriculum that we have enjoyed. Click HERE to go directly to the sale!
If you are catching this a day (or more) too late for the spring sale, I can still get you 25% off with a discount code at my new Compass Classroom landing page, where you can find some of my favorite curriculum items from their store. This code is good on your next purchase (but not valid during the spring sale), so take some time to figure out what you need and then load up your cart to make that discount stretch as far as you can!
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I read 35 books last year! So I’m releasing my micro book reviews in manageable chunks. Here are the books I read while homeschooling or in support of my role as a home educator in 2022.
Books Read for Homeschool
Grimm’s Fairy Tales These were sometimes delightful, sometimes familiar, and sometimes utterly absurd. I pre-read this collection of 55 tales in order to select the best for my son to read for school this year. Here are the ones I chose for their cultural importance and/or entertainment value: The Cat and Mouse in Partnership, The Frog Prince, Briar Rose, The Fisherman and His Wife, Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel, Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Elves and the Shoemaker, The Water of Life, The Golden Goose, The Table, the Ass, and the Stick, Red Riding Hood, Tom Thumb, Frederick and Catherine, Snow White and Red Rose, The Four Accomplished Brothers, The Giant with the Three Golden Hairs, Hansel and Gretel
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (My copy translated by Marie Borroff) This is probably the first epic poem I’ve ever read all the way through. What does that say about the education I received from Kindergarten through college?!?!? I pre-read this before having my 13-year-old read it this year. It’s a little bazar but also fun. The alliterative style of poetry was new to me, but I enjoyed it. Here’s a passage that highlightss the story’s themes of Providence, courage, and integrity, as Sir Gawain tells how he cannot turn back from meeting the enemy:
Fair fortune befall you for your friendly words! And conceal this day’s deed I doubt not you would, But though you never told the tale, if I turned back now, Forsook this place for fear, and fled, as you say, I were a caitiff coward; I could not be excused. But I must to the Chapel to chance my luck And say to that same man such words as I please, Befall what may befall through Fortune’s will or whim. Though he be a quarrelsome knave With a cudgel great and grim, The Lord is strong to save: His servants trust in Him.
Trial and Triumph by Richard Hannula (read aloud) This is a years-long read-aloud project that we finally finished this past summer, reading it alongside our history book (see next). I highly recommend Trial and Triumph as a good survey of individuals whose stories inspire our faith and play an important role in church history. I dare you to read it aloud to your kids without crying.
The Story of the World, Volume 4: Modern Times by Susan Wise Bauer (read aloud) This has been an incredibly enjoyable journey through all four volumes of The Story of the World. This one on Modern Times was a really great read at ages 12 and 10. My boys were old enough to handle the challenging level of violence that makes up modern history. Bauer traces patterns and events well, helping the reader to see how events connect chronologically, geographically, and in parallel.
The Fallacy Detective by The Bluedorns (read aloud) This was an incredibly fun read—my boys would constantly ask for it, or ask for me to read more when it was time to stop. Fallacies may not be the most ideal way to get acquainted with logic for the first time (it’s generally recommended for any discipline that you learn the rules before you learn how they are broken), but this was so accessible and fun (not to mention I won a copy as a door prize at a local homeschool event) that I couldn’t resist. The boys love to identify errors in thinking: in the news, each other…. We have urged them, though, that they don’t actually know logic yet, so take it easy. These are tools to help us evaluate arguments and propaganda, not for us to tear others down.
Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? by Richard J. Maybury I pre-read this book for my 7th grader this year. I don’t remember having any early and gentle introduction to economics before being thrown into it in high school—having to read a large portion of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations over the summer and take a test over that tome on the first day of class. I wish I had learned a little bit along the way and in the context of history. Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? supplies this need quite well, covering topics like money, inflation, boom and bust cycles, the role of government, and more in short, well-explained chapters—err, uh, letters, from Uncle Eric to his nephew. This would NOT make for a complete economics course for high schoolers, however. Just like The Fallacy Detective is not a comprehensive study of logic, Penny Candy is not a comprehensive study of economics–but both books can whet the appetite for further study.
Gather by Pam Barnhill and Heather Tully This was less for school and more about it. Gather is about what many homeschool moms refer to as Morning Time–a time in the school day when most everyone in the family is together for shared learning or activities, ranging from worship and singing to reading, making, and exploration. This book is full of inspirational and practical essays and full-color photographs from a handful of homeschool families in various stages and of various sizes. It’s a pretty great day-in-the-life kind of encouragement for homeschool moms. I enjoyed it.
These are the issues of CommonPlace Quarterly that I read cover-to-cover last year: Lonely Places, Way of the Will, Balance, Method, and Ordo Amoris.
I have read every issue from the first year of publication. It is a little pricey, but the content is very encouraging in the faith, in loving and educating my kids well, and in growing in my own education toward what is true and good and beautiful. About a year ago I was thinking super-frugally and canceled my subscription, and my husband questioned me on it, saying I’d probably regret that. And he was right. 🙂 This makes for excellent bedtime reading when I’m too tired to read a stiff book. If you are into Charlotte Mason homeschooling, this is a resource worth checking out.
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I have done some form of Morning Time with my boys for something like ten years. It looks a little different now that they are 13 and 11 this year instead of 3 and 1, when I likely started with a song, a scripture, and a calendar at the kitchen table. For one thing, my youngest is no longer restrained in a high chair (though there were a few years where he would be upside down on the couch or literally climbing onto my shoulders as I read aloud that I might have wished for that high chair again!).
This year we are continuing our study of Latin with Visual Latin 1. We did the first 20 lessons last year and the plan is to finish Level 1 by Christmas so that we can start Visual Latin 2 next semester. I made it through the first 20 lessons last year without doing the worksheets myself (thanks to many hours of college-level Spanish), but this year I have printed off lessons 21-30 so that I can get in the same translation practice that my boys are doing. The grammar is a bit more complicated now, so it’s easier for me to keep track of it if I’m doing the work, too. And as an added bonus, I can very easily check the boys’ work without having to pull up the answer key pdf every time.
On lighter days in Visual Latin, we’ll sprinkle in some reading from Lingua Latina and perhaps also from Familia Mala (“Bad Family”…this book doesn’t shy away from the fact that the Roman myths are a hot mess).
Just finished at the start of the year:
Cue drum roll… We have finally finished reading The Story of the World Volume 4: Modern Times by Susan Wise Bauer. It’s crazy to think we’re done with the whole series. I think we’ve actually read Volumes One and Two twice. This series goes down as one of our family all-time favorites. My kids would ask me even on the weekend: “Read Story of the World while we play Legos?” This has been a great adventure through chronological world history.
We also recently finished The Fallacy Detective. This was a big hit with my boys–a fun read with often-entertaining examples and exercises. I’ve tried to make a point to my sons that being able to identify logical fallacies is fun and useful, but 1) it isn’t to be used to tear others down, and 2) fallacies make up a small, small fraction of the study of logic–we have yet to begin to cover all of what logic actually is. We’ll take a break this year before heading into formal logic when my oldest is in 8th grade. The Fallacy Detective has certainly whet their appetite for it.
New reads this year:
I pre-read The Ology a few years ago but it’s finally making it into our rotation this year. I think it would have been great to read sooner, but I think it will still be a good, simple treatment of theology for us to enjoy and discuss this year.
In our home, we love books by H. E. (Henrietta Elizabeth) Marshall, having enjoyed Our Island Story (British history), This Country of Ours (US history), and Scotland’s Story in the boys’ independent elementary studies. This year I decided we could start reading her book English Literature for Boys and Girls together. I’m eager to read it myself, and sometimes the best way to make that fit in my schedule is to read it aloud. 🙂 The boys are excited to hear again from a beloved author, and I’m excited for us to venture into the world of British Lit–more deeply than I ever did in school!
I’m in the process of starting a co-op with some local families, so we’ll be covering hymns, Scripture memory, folk songs, poems, artist study, composer study, and nature study in community this year!
There’s also a book club time and my boys (who are both in the “older kids” group) will be studying Shakespeare, one play each semester. This fall, it’ll be The Tempest.
I’ll try to work our co-op selections into our daily Morning Time. But as the kids are getting older and our Latin studies require a daily commitment, this will be more sporadic than regular (has our Morning Time ever been more than sporadic? Hmmm…). One of the reasons for the co-op, after all, is because it is hard to make space for all of these beautiful things!
Want some inspiration for Morning Time in your home? Over the summer, I enjoyed reading Pam Barnhill and Heather Tully’s new book Gather. It’s a beautiful compilation of thoughts, practices, and examples from their own homeschools, and it’s chock full of lovely photos of other homeschool families (of all sizes!) who enjoy learning together. It’s like one of those “day in the life” blog posts, only there’s a book’s worth of it and you can actually hold it in your hands. Tangible book lovers, rejoice!
What about you? Do you do Morning Time? Or something like it at another time of day? What are your plans for this school year?
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I’ve posted a few articles in the past few months, but I haven’t posted a personal update of any kind in a long while. Life has been full, so it seems like a good time!
Back in August my husband broke his neck and my oldest son broke his arm (both by falling off of a backyard zipline). That began a new (unusually slow in some ways, unusually busy in others) season for us that lasted right up until Christmas, when Nathaniel was finally released from his neck brace. Woo-hoo!
We thought we were jumping into “normal” again when January rolled around. No injuries! No extra doctor’s appointments! The medical bills are almost behind us!
We had a steady first two weeks, and then my Grandma was put on hospice. We traveled to see her before she passed. We made it to town in time, but not to the hospital. Still, I was thankful to be there with my family, my parents and my brother. It was good to say “good bye” to Grandma together.
The morning of the last day we planned to be there with family, Nathaniel woke up with a fever. A quick test confirmed he had that contagion that gets posts flagged on Facebook. We got out of dodge as quickly as we could, and thankfully my parents and brother stayed well. The boys and I, however, followed Nathaniel’s lead a few days later. Fevers and coughing and headaches, oh my.
We didn’t have as easy of a time as some, but we didn’t have a serious case, either–nor did we pass it to family. And for all of this, we are thankful for the Lord’s mercies.
We had a ski trip planned two weeks from the day we first came down with the C bug. Fatigue and cough still present, we played with canceling, but to no avail.
We went ahead with our trip, and had a great time–but with doctor’s orders restraining Nathaniel from literally risking his neck on the slopes (avoiding trees and jumps in particular), and with some of that lingering fatigue holding us (mostly me) back at altitude, we took it easier than we normally would.
We had two solid weeks of school after Christmas break before we took school with us to visit family around Grandma’s passing. Sickness knocked us out for a week. And we got back to it for a week before taking a week of vacation. We’re back at it now. It feels like a very interrupted start to the spring semester, but our daily routine is strong, even if the Monday after a vacation is still the Monday after a vacation. 😉
And the Monday after that is a Monday, as well.
The boys are working independently on their core school work (math, writing, reading living books for various subjects), and the things that I’m teaching/doing with them are things that I’m excited to be learning alongside them (Latin, logic, and history read alouds).
This may seem like a strange addition to the list, but the Scholé Sisters are doing a Spring Seminar called Excellent Marxmanship inside Sistership (the online network for Christian classical homeschool moms to discuss all-the-things–free to join, but this course is available at the paid Sophie level). Marxism, which is antithetical to Christianity, has influenced our modern world in many ways, and there’s no better way to see it for what it is than to get it from the source. I listened to The Communist Manifesto (available at librivox.org) back in 2020. That was a great first pass, and this Excellent Marxmanship seminar is giving me a chance to read it again and dig deeper–along with other ladies who are interested in Truth more than knee-jerk reactions. Along with Marx’s Manifesto, they’re reading two other books related to the subject. The background knowledge provided and discussion via comment threads and video chats makes this a high value course! It’s worth the cost of paid membership in Sistership, to be sure. Just make sure you can set aside some time for it.
Even if you can’t join this seminar, it’s valuable to read The Communist Manifesto for yourself. It’s sometimes hard to understand, sometimes (ok, often) infuriating, but well worth being aware of, especially if you are guiding your children through the ideological jungle of our world today.
A good book to pair with Marx would be C. S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man. I’ve been thinking for a while that these two books, both short and a bit challenging, one diabolical and the other full of truth and insight, are so worth wrestling through in order to understand our world today. Let me know in the comments if you’ve read either of them or plan to!
Prepping food for my family has always been part of my day job, but there have been some seasons, like last fall, where I get into survival mode and I rely way too often on canned refried beans and tortillas to get a quick meal of bean burritos on the table. We still love our bean burritos, but I’m getting creative in the kitchen again. 🙂 It’s funny how when you put just a little extra thought into something, even something as every day as dinner, you can turn the mundane into something creative. And it makes the whole process more enjoyable.
Every year I appreciate the coming of spring. We encounter trials and dry seasons in life, but God graciously gives us signs of life even during the coldest time of year. The trees started budding as soon as the days started getting longer again (back in January!). We’ve seen a few daffodil blooms in the past two weeks. Sure, I live in the south, so your experience may vary, but the imagery of spring, whenever it does come, is a beautiful reminder of a God who can raise the dead. Of a Father who provides for His children. Of a Savior who died to give us life and who rose again for our justification and our hope. I love finding hints of the gospel of grace in the world that God has made. As we look forward to spring, may you find those traces of His grace around you, as well.
I’ve got a pre-release e-copy of The Convivial Homeschool and it is excellent! I highly recommend this, my friends! Mystie has been a huge blessing to me over the past [nearly] six years, in both homeschooling and homemaking. She has a knack for bringing gospel truth to bear on everyday, ordinary [and sometimes crazy!] life–offering both encouragement in Christ and godly motivation to take the next right steps. Her book is slated to release this week, and you can get a sample of the first chapter by getting on the wait list here.
Another amazing book that you can snag for FREE on Kindle: You Who? by Rachel Jankovic.
In You Who? Rachel Jankovic offers a breath of fresh air to those of us struggling to sift through the worldly ideologies that so dominate our culture and our newsfeeds. We desperately need to know who we are and Whose we are. I highly recommend this book as a helpful tool for both personal discernment and discipleship, encouraging us as Christian women to find our identity in our Creator and to live lives of purpose rooted in Christ. How exciting that it’s available for FREE on Kindle now through November 28!
Compass Classroom has so many great courses to enrich your homeschool journey. My family has LOVED WordUp! the Vocab Show and Visual Latin. I’ve taken one of Jonathan Rogers’ Creative Writing courses myself and found it quite valuable. As the kids get older, we plan to explore more offerings from Compass Classroom. Their courses are high quality and a lot of fun!
This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may make a commission at no additional charge to you.
We’ve been reading The Story of the World series of history books for several years, and we’re now starting into the fourth and final volume: The Modern Age. I read the author’s foreword and was reminded why I love reading Susan Wise Bauer’s narrative of history.
Having a degree in history myself, I’m turned off when materials aimed at children push political agendas rather than an understanding of history and human nature itself. Bauer does not disappoint. I’ve appreciated her handling of history from Volume One on. Reading the foreword to Volume Four, my appreciation has only been confirmed and strengthened.
Here are her words concerning the violence of history, and especially the brutality of our modern era–why this particular volume should be saved until at least fourth grade, but also why it should not be kept from children.
…A fourth grader hears the news on the car radio, on the TV, or in the conversation of his elders. He hears the words (“terrorism”) and senses the worry of the adults around him. A fourth or fifth grader who has a vague idea of what is going on in the world deserves to be started on the path to understanding. The shape of the world today is not random; it has been formed by a very definite pattern of happenings. To deny a child an understanding of that pattern is truly to doom a child to fear, because war, unrest, and violence appear totally random.
Even in this book [on the modern age], violence is not random. It is alarming, but not random. As you read, you will see, again and again, the same pattern acted out: A person or group of people rejects injustice by rebelling and seizing the reins of power. As soon as those reins are in the hands of the rebels, the rebels become the establishment, the victims become the tyrants, the freedom-fighters become the dictators. The man who shouts for equality in one decade purges, in the next decade, those who shout against him. Boiling history down to its simplest outline so that beginning scholars can grasp it brings this repetition into stark relief.
Again and again, while researching this book, I was reminded of the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who spent eleven years in the labor camps of the Soviet Union, and who, when he became powerless, finally understood that revolution never brings an end to oppression. Solzhenitsyn wrote, “In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer and an oppressor. …Even in the best of hearts there remains…an unuprooted small corner of evil. Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being. …And since that time I have come to understand the falsehood of all the revolutions in history: They destroy only those carriers of evil contemporary with them.”
Revolution shatters the structures; but the men who build the next set of structures haven’t conquered the evil that lives in their own hearts. The history of the twentieth century is, again and again, the story of men who fight against tyrants, win the battle, and then are overwhelmed by the unconquered tyranny in their own souls.
Bauer’s telling of history–in each of her volumes–gives this kind of instructive look into the patterns of human nature played out in the global theater. There is drama and interest and wisdom–without need for embellishment or politicized rhetoric.
This is why I love her books and I love reading them to my children. Because at my core I believe that history in itself is instructive if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. There is a bigger story than our current political drama. And there is a higher right and wrong than our current iteration of left and right. I want to give my kids wisdom and understanding so they can see straight in the midst of fearful and confusing times. Mere social studies or politically-driven books for children won’t cut it. I want to give them history.
Whether you homeschool or your kids are in public or private school, these books make for great family read alouds. My children have begged for them over the years: “Mama, let’s play Legos while you read The Story of the World!” We simply read, discuss, and sometimes find the place we’re reading about on a globe. Easy. A small investment that has reaped huge dividends in our family’s understanding and ability to have good conversations about all that is going on in our world today. It’s hard to grasp big principles without some kind of context. History gives kids (and their parents!) the story, the context, for understanding the patterns and principles at play in our world.
Bauer’s books are by no means our only source of history reading (reading more than one author is incredibly important), but these volumes have made for a delightful overview and they are a great place to get started if reading history with young children is new to you and your family.
If you have early elementary children (K-3rd graders), I recommend starting with Volume One: Ancient Times. The reading level increases a bit with each volume, and the story unfolds in a chronological sweep, so this is a great series with which to grow. If you have kids that are at least ten years old (or a mature nine year old), you may enjoy jumping in to Volume Four: The Modern Age. Just know that it’s like jumping into a movie series at the end. No worries, the movie may be enjoyed as a stand-alone. But it’s so much more meaningful if you know what led up to it! 😉
All four Volumes are available as audiobooks if you find that more convenient.
I suppose this post may have turned out to be something like an ad. That’s not really the point. If needed, go back and read the quote again and let it sink in. Bauer’s words are more the point of this post. Her books are just a great way to apply it, and I couldn’t help but recommend them because my family has found them so valuable.
Any other history read alouds that your family has enjoyed? Have you noticed the difference between giving kids social studies and giving them history?
The following article has been adapted from a talk I presented at the Natural State Charlotte Mason Retreat in April 2021. This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may receive a commission at no additional cost to you.
Here’s a little literary puzzle for you: What do the following books have in common?
Literary nerds would say most of these are examples of “The Hero’s Journey”, but my husband says they’re all just backpacking stories.
Getting Outside to Live the Adventure
This spring my family reached the halfway point of the 223-mile Ouachita Trail.
We’ve been section-hiking the OT ever since I read True Grit back in 2018 and wanted to walk down where the story takes place.
Backpacking has provided our family with many transcendent connections—literary and otherwise. When we set out to cover some ground on foot, we’re getting in touch with a very ancient human practice. When we do something challenging, we have a chance to grow in character. When we face a grueling, rocky climb, our books can inspire us: “It’s the steps of Mordor! Onward to Mount Doom!”
Backpacking isn’t for everyone, but I firmly believe that reading living books and spending time outside are the one-two punch when it comes to helping our kids experience and enjoy what Charlotte Mason calls the science of relations. Some of our best family discussions and most interesting ah-ha moments happen on the trail. And it’s beautiful. But the magic doesn’t happen if we don’t step outside.
Do you know the context for the familiar Charlotte Mason quote “…mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them?” It’s from Volume One, in the section on “Out-of-Door Life for the Children.” Miss Mason recognizes that getting our kids outside might require us to work wonders. It’s a high calling. And it may feel at times that we have to climb mountains to make it happen. But the payoff is worth it. The connections made, the character built, and the awe at our Creator’s handiwork are all worth the effort.
I want to address two attitude obstacles, drawing from my family’s journey into backpacking. Even if you don’t choose to get into backpacking, I hope these concepts will help you recognize your own obstacles to getting outdoors and think of how you might work wonders to overcome them.
Attitude Obstacle #1: The Anxious Mama
We have not always been a backpacking family. I’ve enjoyed hiking since my teens, but sleeping outside is another story.
Several years ago, my husband looked into hammocking as a more comfortable alternative to sleeping on the ground. One evening, he set up a brand-new hammock kit in our yard, complete with a narrow “mummy” sleeping bag, bug net, and rain tarp. He tried it out and thought it was great. I tried it out and literally started hyperventilating. I’d never slept in a mummy bag before, and it turns out, I’m mildly claustrophobic. I couldn’t see the sky, I couldn’t move my arms or legs. It was too much all at once.
My husband realized that we needed to start by just getting me comfortable being outside. So, he’d set up the hammock on a pretty day and suggest I go out to take a nap or read a book. That, I could do.
Over time, as I got more comfortable, we tried sleeping outside on mild nights with no need for rain tarp or bug net. But I would still sometimes go inside midway through the night. This was not my thing, but it was growing on me.
Fast forward to today: I find my hammock quite inviting after a long day of hiking. And I’ve even gotten to the point where I can sleep on the ground on an ultralight air mattress.
Your husband may not be the one leading the charge into the great outdoors for your family, and that’s ok. You may not be interested in backpacking, and that’s ok—I wouldn’t be doing it if it weren’t for my husband. But I hope you can see some of the takeaways from this story.
First off, we need to be patient—with ourselves and with our people. We are all–moms, dads, and children–born persons. So, consider your people and their quirks.
Secondly, we also need to recognize that if there is a strong reaction to something, it may mean we’re doing too much too soon. Start small, with things you can enjoy, and build up gradually from there.
Thirdly, our fears and anxiety may also mean we need more exposure—not less—to the things that scare us.
Let’s say you’re terrified that a snake is hiding behind every rock, just waiting for you to walk by so it can strike. You go over the facts: “Snakes are as eager to avoid me as I am to avoid them.” But often the facts by themselves don’t govern our emotional response until we’ve had the experience of safely walking past 100 or maybe even 1,000 suspicious rocks, with no snake incidents.
Facing our fears and dealing with our hangups is part of practicing masterly inactivity. It’s well worth reading chapter three of Volume Three to get better acquainted with what that means. But Miss Mason does give us a short list of what masterly inactivity involves: authority, good humor, self-confidence, confidence in the children, and a sound mind in a sound body.
Miss Mason adds, “If the sound body is unattainable, anyway, get the sound mind.” 😉
Our anxiety can trip us up, but it can also trip up our kids if we allow it. If we don’t face our fears and cast our cares upon the Lord, we may fail to communicate “confidence in the children,” we may be more inclined to say no when we should say yes, and we may deny our kids opportunities to test their capabilities and to grow in grit and resourcefulness.
Instead of modeling anxiety, we want to model curiosity and wonder at the things God has made. Instead of allowing our fears to keep us inside, we want to show our children by example how to step out beyond our comfort zone and grow.
Attitude Obstacle #2: The Reluctant Child
We know we’ve got to deal with ourselves first, but we may find that our kids are just as hesitant as we are–or perhaps even more so. What’s a mama to do?
Here are some considerations that may help.
Make it Sensitive
My oldest son loves Legos. When we started more serious backpacking the thought of missing out on more than one day of Lego playtime almost brought him to tears. So, for his birthday one year, my husband bought him a minifig backpacker complete with accessories. There’s even a Lego bear, a fish, and some poison ivy. He gets it out when we stop for lunch or after we’ve set up camp, and it’s made our extended time in the woods much more enjoyable for him.
It makes a big difference for a child to know that their interests have been considered. If there’s an activity that they already enjoy, taking it outside may be a good way to gently encourage a new love for the outdoors. Take read-alouds or poetry tea-time or something artsy out on the lawn. If your reluctant child can get more comfortable doing ordinary things outside, it can help the transition into more outdoorsy activities.
Make it Special
We can also make our outdoor time more fun by making it special. There are treats we enjoy only while hiking—things like pre-packaged snacks or GORP (good old raisins and peanuts) or homemade apple leather or dried fruit. And this brings up the idea of special responsibilities. You don’t need to do all of the preparations, mama. It can be more fun for kids if they have some skin in the game and can say, “I made the trail mix!” or “I sliced the apples!” Give them the opportunity and see what happens.
We can also give our children special tools as appropriate. A well-timed gift of a compass, spyglass, or pocketknife can be a big boost to a child. If you have a garden or do landscaping around your home, let your kids use real tools as soon as they are capable of safely wielding them. Our kids are often more capable than we give them credit for. If we tell them “no” all the time when they’re little, we shouldn’t be surprised if they shrink from doing big person things when they’re teens.
In backpacker culture, people use special names that in some way describe who they are. My trail name is Persistent Turtle. 😉 My 9-year-old is ALP, which stands for Apple Leather Power. You don’t have to be a backpacker to enjoy coming up with trail names.
Make it Social
We can also make our outdoor time more fun by making it social. My kids love having friends over to play in the woods or in our creek, and we enjoy hiking with other families. It can be a really great way to learn, too, as we observe and wonder at things with friends whose outdoor knowledge and skills are different than our own.
Make it Seasonal
Make it fun by making it seasonal. Nobody really enjoys tick season. So, we do our backpacking mostly in spring and fall. In summer, we do more short hikes to swimming holes. Bonus points if there’s a waterfall to jump off of.
And in winter, our day hikes might focus more on finding waterfalls—frozen waterfalls look really cool.
Other seasonal elements we consider are fall colors, spring blooms, and berry picking season. For years when my boys were small we would read Blueberries for Sal and then go and pick blueberries.
Make it Smile
Make it fun by smiling. This is simple, but powerful. When your kids make an observation or create something with mud or rattle off more snake facts than you ever thought you wanted to know—or better yet they bring a snake inside the house—acknowledge their discovery or creativity and smile, even if you’re simultaneously leading them and the snake out the back door. Miss Mason says it like this: “…if they see that the things which interest them are indifferent or disgusting to you, their pleasure in them vanishes, and that chapter in the book of Nature is closed to them.” Vol. 1, 58
So, keep that book of nature open by showing interest and smiling. Even if it’s gross.
Make it Screen-Free
Sometimes our screen habits are an obstacle to our outdoor habits. One may need to be cut back significantly to make room for the other—not just as a consideration of time but as a consideration of how our habits are training us. Charlotte Mason emphasizes training our children to really see when they are outside. The more we look at screens, the less practiced our eyes are at seeing depth and detail that isn’t pre-focused for us. Carefully consider screen habits in your home, as they can affect attitude on a general level as well as hinder our ability to really see and appreciate God’s world.
Once you’ve addressed attitude obstacles, the rest is just details.
This post isn’t going to go into all of the potentially relevant details, but I do want to briefly address hiking safety. The three most important things I can tell you about keeping your kids safe on the trail are these:
Train the habit of obedience—when you have little ones on the top of a cliff, they need to be able to stop when you say stop.
Train the habit of attention, of really seeing and being aware of their surroundings.
Get every walking member of your family a whistle. In our family, one blast means “Where are you?” or, in response, “Here I am.” Two blasts means “Come here.” And three blasts is an international distress signal, used for emergencies.
Along with these safety tips, check out the principles of Leave No Trace–these are outdoor ethics which serve as an excellent guide to walking wisely, practicing good stewardship, and loving your neighbor while out on the trail.
Take the Long View
Remember that this goal of getting outside is not a competition. To whatever extent we lead our children out of doors, we’re setting their feet in a wide room, and it doesn’t get much wider than the big world God has made and the living books that we enjoy.
Three years ago my family set out on the first section of the Ouachita Trail. I was so sore and tired by the end of our third day that I suggested to my husband that he might need to hike out to the highway and hitch us a ride back to our car in the morning. But after a good night’s sleep in my comfy hammock I felt much better, and we set out to complete the last eight miles of our 24-mile trip. Toward the end of the day, we climbed to a peak and looked behind us. After diligently studying the map and the horizon, my husband told me to look at the furthest peak in the distance.
I asked, “Is that where we started four days ago?”
“No,” he said with excitement. “That’s where we started this morning.”
Remember that if you and your family just keep taking the next step, before you know it, you will reach a vantage point far on down the trail, look back, and be amazed at the ground that you’ve covered.
Looking for great places to hike and camp or otherwise explore Arkansas? Check out my friend Lindsey’s website: All About Arkansas.
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“What Bible curriculum do you use for grade x?”
It’s a question I get from time to time, and it never ceases to make me squirm a little.
Why, you may ask? Well, because the idea of “Bible curriculum,” and especially for a particular “grade level,” is foreign to me.
Now of course I’m aware of the fact that “Bible curriculum” and “Bible classes” exist in Christian school settings, but I’ve always wrinkled up my nose a bit thinking about the Bible being made to fit the mold of an academic subject, added on to a school day like just another textbook or workbook to get through. What affect does that have on the way kids approach the Scriptures? And do they give grades for those classes? What does that teach?
Our approach to the Bible looks a lot less like school and a lot more like discipleship. Reading the Bible together has been a part of our family culture since before our children were born. We haven’t ever felt a need to make sure we added Bible to the kids’ schooling because they’ve been getting Bible with their breakfast since they were tiny.
In fact, while every part of school is informed by the Scriptures, we like to keep the Bible itself separate from “school” in a sense so that they don’t get the impression that a day off of school is a day off from devotion to the Lord.
But what does that look like? And how can you get started with this holistic family discipleship model of Bible learning if it’s foreign to you?
Well, let’s start with why.
Our Why: Created Reality and Biblical Goals
Our children are precious creations of our Heavenly Father–and they are precious gifts entrusted to us as parents. We desire to give them access to the Truth that God has revealed in His Word so that they can grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man, that they would begin to know and love their Creator.
Ultimately, we desire that our children would trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation from their sins and that they would love and serve Him all their days–for their good and God’s glory, both in this life and in the life to come. We don’t ultimately control this outcome. But we can be faithful to train our children in the way they should go.
Our Why Dictates Our How: Holistic Family Discipleship
Given the nature of our children, the nature of our relationship to them as their parents, and the nature of our goal (that they would have a relationship with God), it follows then that we ought to teach them in a way that is first and foremost relational. And decidedly not academic.
This means that interaction with the Scriptures comes woven into the fabric of our every day lives. There are no worksheets nor tests, no grades nor grade levels.
This doesn’t mean we don’t use printed materials to aid our children’s learning (I will link to some below), but we need to remember that the greatest resources we have to instruct our children in the ways of the Lord are His Word, His Holy Spirit, and our own lives lived alongside and before our children.
God’s Word: We must be in the bible ourselves and we must offer the Scriptures to our children.
The Holy Spirit: We must be seeking God to be at work both in us and in our children–apart from Christ we can do nothing. We may have had a direct role in bringing about our children’s physical life, but the spiritual life is of the Spirit–we cannot manufacture it in our kids. Prayer is indispensable.
Our Own Lives: We must model for our children what it means to believe the Word of God, to study it, to meditate on it, to practically submit our lives to it, and to receive both correction from it when we fail and comfort from it when we repent.
What does this actually look like?
Family Bible Time (what some call Family Worship)
Our current family Bible reading pattern, which we’ve had going for several years, is Proverbs at breakfast and Gospels at supper.
Now, this doesn’t mean each one happens every day. The reason we read the Bible over breakfast and dinner is because we often don’t read the Bible over breakfast and dinner. This is a scattering of seeds, not mechanical planting.We aim for faithfulness and perseverance rather than anything that resembles perfect consistency. But in keeping up the habit, we pretty reliably hit at least one of these each day, sometimes both. And before it was Proverbs and Gospels, we read slowly through the entire Bible at meal times–it may have taken a decade, but we kept going. The reason we’re in Proverbs and the Gospels right now is because the primary needs of our children are to receive instruction and correction according to God’s wisdom and to receive Jesus the Messiah as their Savior.
While we eat breakfast, my husband will read a few verses from the chapter of Proverbs that matches the calendar date (since there are conveniently 31 chapters in Proverbs), either selecting these verses ahead of time or asking for the kids to randomly select a number. He reads a verse and asks what it means. The kids give it their best shot and then we all discuss the meaning. He asks if they can think of any examples (a child may not use his brother as a negative example–this is a necessary rule, folks!). It has been fun over the years to hear the examples the kids come up with–sometimes from a fable, from literature, from a Bible story, from a movie. They are learning about wisdom and foolishness and learning how to identify each.
After Proverbs, we recite the Shema and the Lord’s Prayer. We switched up this recitation time over the holidays last year in order to recite and memorize Mary’s Magnificat. Now that we have the placeholder for recitation, we may use the time for other passages when they seem fitting.
Our evening Family Bible Time involves my husband reading from a passage of Scripture (currently Luke) at mealtime and then asking a few questions:
What did we learn? This is a good time for kids to either pick one thing that stuck out to them or simply narrate what they heard.
What can we worship God for? Sometimes, when we’ve been in the prophets, the answer is usually “That God was so patient and gave so many warnings.” Now that we’re in the first few chapters of Luke, the answer is usually “For sending Jesus to save us.” Sometimes the answer is different, but it’s no problem to worship God for the same things over and over again–in fact, it’s right to do so. Once answered, we pray and praise God based on what we saw in the passage–even if it’s simply for preserving the genealogy of Christ (which is pretty amazing when you think about it). Sometimes there may not be an obvious answer. When we were in the middle of Job as a family, it was admittedly hard to find any answer from the text–so we felt Job’s desolation a bit but worshipped God anyway.
What can we do with what we have learned? This is where we pay attention to the right response(s) to what we have read. Sometimes it is simply to worship as we did in the second question. Sometimes there is a command that we ought to obey. Sometimes there is something for which we ought to be thankful, something that ought to amaze us, something that ought to cause us to care for others, an example to follow or an example not to follow.
Now, these questions aren’t magical. They’re just the tools we have used for discussing the Bible as a family and for attempting to respond to it properly. Sometimes the kids are fully engaged and wow us with their insight. But sometimes the kids aren’t super excited to answer. Sometimes we get blank stares. But we don’t read the Bible and ask the questions in order to get perfect responses from our kids. We do it so that they are regularly interacting with the Scriptures and learning by modeling how to respond to them. It’s not perfect, but it is worthwhile. We are planting seeds.
Other Applications and Resources
The seeds we plant in Family Bible Time are watered by a lot of other practices and experiences.
We pray together as a family before meals and before bed. We try to remember to include intercession: to pray for neighbors, friends, family members, etc–sometimes on a weekly rotation so we don’t forget (but let’s be honest, we sometimes forget and go for long stretches with just basic bedtime prayers).
We have also made sure to include Bible time for our children to enjoy independently, even from a very early age by listening: Dove Tales (with cassettes–yes, we inherited these from my in-laws), Jesus Story Book Bible (with CDs), and a dramatized audio Bible from Faith Comes by Hearing. Now that our boys are 11 and 9, they are expected to read a chapter of the Bible first thing in the morning before coming downstairs for breakfast. This doesn’t mean it always happens, but that’s the goal and the general habit.
We’ve also enjoyed watching videos by The Bible Project–edifying for parent and child alike.
This emphasis on the Word of God being integrated into all of life means that it also influences our school day–just not in the graded-Bible-curriculum sort of way.
We have enjoyed singing many hymns in our Morning Time (currently singing along with this channel), and we have also enjoyed music by Sovereign Grace Kids (from a Christian seller). Even as adults, when we listen to music with lyrics, we generally choose music that is spiritually edifying. Our kids take this in as well.
The Scriptures inform the other books we choose–and how we read them–whether literature, tales, history, poetry, nature, etc.
The Scriptures make it into our kids’ copy work and dictation, too (that’s language arts).
Keeping It Real
We don’t do all of these things all the time. The most regular parts of our every day life are family Bible time, listening to hymns and other spiritual songs, family prayer, and good discussions on all kinds of things as we go about our days together. And these discussions aren’t just aimed at our kids. My husband and I discuss books, current events, and so many things with each other, seeking to apply God’s Word and His wisdom to everything we encounter. Our kids are audience to these adult conversations, too.
The aim is holistic, not check-list driven. And it is gloriously free from pressure to “get through it” on any kind of annual school schedule (thank God!).
The point of this post isn’t to say we’ve got it down, nor to set any kind of expectation for anyone else. The point is to demonstrate the many ways in which we can spiritually nurture and disciple our children–without boxed curriculum. And to remind all of us (myself included) that we may sow seeds, but the Lord causes the growth. Our dependence upon Him is central to our efforts at training up our children in the ways of the Lord.
All of the things we do have begun as small habits. A little here, a little there. If you are just starting to bring Scripture into your home and homeschool, don’t be discouraged or overwhelmed. Pick one thing. One habit that you and your children can enjoy. Plant a seed. And then another. Water where you can. The Lord causes the growth.
I hope this post has helped to somewhat answer the “What do you use for Bible curriculum?” question. It’s not a short answer, but I hope it may encourage some to think outside that proverbial box … of curriculum. 😉
How do you nurture your children in God’s Word? What resources have you found helpful?
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This is not at all an exhaustive list, but I wanted to pass on a few deals for things that I myself use and deeply appreciate!
Prodigies Music has steep discounts on memberships during their Cyber Monday Sale [sale is now over]. As a reader of Kept and Keeping, you can get an additional 5% off with coupon code KEPT. Our family has enjoyed the Lifetime Membership for four years now! We started learning on desk bells and are now dabbling in recorder, ukulele, and piano! The Prodigies team keeps adding more colorful sheet music and more fun instructional videos. My family’s music education library keeps growing and growing!
Right Start Math is having a sale on gently used curriculum, manipulatives and instructional/tutoring kits [sale now over]. We’ve used Right Start in our homeschool for over six years, and it is giving my kids a fantastic, hands-on foundation for understanding and enjoying math. If you’re not sure if this program is for you, they have tutoring kits that you can use to supplement your child’s math education or use to get a feel for how Right Start teaches math–it is different, but I have found it is worth it!
Check out Cyber Monday discounts at Grace and Truth Books–a great source for Christian books. We have especially enjoyed the Little Lights Biographies (for early elementary school) and the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series (for upper elementary) in our homeschool. They also carry Teaching from Rest–a great encouragement for Mom!
Mystie Winckler over at Simply Convivial is offering her Homemaking 101 Course for only $17 (regularly $36) [sale over]. All of Mystie’s courses are such a blessing. This Homemaking 101 course is practical and purposeful but definitely NOT perfectionistic! You’ll find real Christian encouragement for managing and enjoying your home, not someone else’s.
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In my last post, I shared Why We Homeschool, and part of our WHY included the freedom to choose HOW.
I explained a bit of our story–how my husband was homeschooled and how I went to public school. And I shared our mission statement:
Since before they were born, my husband Nathaniel and I have purposed to bring our children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and to educate them at home by means of whole/living books, meaningful work and life experiences, and disciplined habits of wisdom and personal responsibility—for school and for life and ultimately for eternity.
In this post, I’ll give a little more of our story and begin to flesh out just how we have come to do what we do–and how we think about it, summarizing Charlotte Mason and classical philosophies as best I can.
A Little More of Our Story…
That mission statement above was written recently, but it pretty well describes what our aims have been from the beginning, owing much to what Nathaniel’s family passed down and to his experience with the literature-based Robinson Curriculum.
Our initial trajectory found further inspiration nearly six years ago when an older mom-friend at the local homeschool co-op first introduced me to the ideas of Charlotte Mason and Christian classical education (yes, both at the same time–it’s taken me years to sort them out! Ha!).
We were already legally homeschooling our five-year-old at this point–attempting to use my mother-in-law’s KONOS unit studies curriculum. Think: a text-only Pinterest board in a three-inch binder (though I’m sure it’s more up-to-date these days). I had already found that, rogue that I am, I took the subject matter we were supposed to cover in KONOS, ignored the binder and its overwhelming amount of options completely, and simply went to the library to check out as many quality books as I could find for us to read aloud on a given subject.
I’m not a crafty mom, nor do I like Pinterest.
While carting books home from the library for our immediate needs, I began to explore Charlotte Mason via Ambleside Online and some of my friend’s Well Trained Mind materials (which are Classical, too).
Somewhere in that first year I also acquired Educating the WholeHearted Child, an excellent resource on Christian homeschooling, by Clay and Sally Clarkson–and I found Charlotte Mason quotes littered throughout.
Hmmm…Interesting. The wheels were spinning.
Half way into our second year, now invested in a couple of those Well Trained Mind materials and a practice called Morning Time (recommended by my friend and expanded upon by Pam Barnhill), I found myself tuning in to a new podcast called Scholé Sisters, “a casual conversation…” for “the classical homeschooling mama who seeks to learn and grow while she’s helping her children learn and grow.”
Inspired by the podcast to “find your sisters,” I invited the friend who had started this mess 😉 as well as a few others to form our own book club and read Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s For the Children’s Sake–arguably the Charlotte Mason gateway drug.
At this point my research perhaps turned into somewhat of an addiction.
I began to see that Charlotte Mason’s ideas about books, habit training, and real-life learning lined up with so much of what we were already doing–and they challenged me to grow further out of my push-through-to-the-next-thing mindset that I’d acquired in my own school years.
I also began to explore classical education a bit, but never really hopped on the Trivium-as-stages Train. I was delighted to find in further listening and research that the “stages” application of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric was a gross oversimplification–classical education, as I had hoped, has far more to offer.
Since that first year where I didn’t-really-follow-KONOS, we haven’t used any sort of all-in-one curriculum (though I have borrowed a lot from Ambleside Online and we do use curriculum for math). We appreciate the educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason and Christian classical education, and we choose materials eclectically guided by a lot of the principles from these philosophies.
So, what exactly are they?
Charlotte Mason, a British educator who lived at the turn of the 20th century, describes education as “an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.” Atmosphere refers to the naturally occurring environment of the child—the home in which they live, the people they live with, the world outside their front door. This also includes the attitudes that they pick up from, say, their parents.
Discipline refers to the formation of habits, whether personal cleanliness, academic, or other habits of character. Again, who we are as parents teaches a lot!
Life might be a bit confusing. By life Mason means “living ideas,” or knowledge that is vital. This kind of knowledge is found by being in living touch with the world around us and especially by being presented with a rich curriculum that puts us in touch with the knowledge made available in books—and particularly books of literary quality rather than dry textbooks which can often strip knowledge of its delight. When Charlotte Mason mamas speak of living books, they’re in this realm of “education is a life.”
Our mission statement corresponds with this framework for education: “…meaningful work and life experiences…” — a big part of atmosphere. “…disciplined habits of wisdom and personal responsibility…” — discipline. “…whole/living books…” — and there’s the life.
Now, that’s Charlotte Mason on a very general level. She also has a list of 20 principles and six volumes in which she develops her philosophy and method. Some of the key elements include training the habit of attention, growing in self-education, narrating back what one has heard or read after just one reading, spending time outside in nature, studying a wide range of beautiful things, and resisting the urge to over-teach so that the child does the work of thinking for him/herself. But that’s just scratching the surface.
When I list Charlotte Mason as part of how we homeschool, I mean that we are happily influenced by her ideas, but I do not mean that I follow her method anything near completely. Her principles resonate with me and challenge me to be a better mom, but I implement them very much in our own way. And that’s perhaps why I sometimes feel that we fit more easily within Classical education (a philosophical umbrella with arguably various methods up for grabs) than we do in a strictly Charlotte Mason approach (a philosophy with a prescribed method to go with it). But they really do meld together well in our home!
Christian classical education aims at wisdom and virtue and at cultivating an appreciation for what is true, good, and beautiful. It emphasizes an ancient and long-standing educational tradition that has been abandoned in the past 150 years or more, but it’s making a strong comeback today. Training in The Seven Liberal Arts of Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric (the arts of language); Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, and Music (the mathematical arts) is a key part of the curriculum. But this isn’t the sum total of learning, either. Other elements in this tradition include training in piety, gymnastic, music (in more than a mathematical sense), common and fine arts, sciences and history and philosophy–with Christian theology as both the guide and the goal.
There is a learning curve here, especially since the words I just used to tell you what’s included in a classical education all have older definitions and understandings that are either completely abandoned or else eclipsed by the way we understand them today. There are helpful resources out there, though. Podcasts like the Scholé Sisters, Ask Andrew, and Cafe Schole have been helpful. As for reading, these articles at the Circe Institute can get you started, and the booklet Introduction to Classical Education is a helpful overview. But once you’re ready to dive into a thorough treatment of Christian classical education, be sure to grab The Liberal Arts Tradition (revised edition) by Kevin Clark and Ravi Scott Jain. This book ties all the pieces together with lots of historical references so that you come away with a better and deeper understanding of the whole paradigm and where it all comes from. There’s also a short glossary of key words and concepts at the back of the book that’s a very handy reference!
Charlotte Mason and classical both aim at a holistic education that respects the nature of the child as made in God’s image. As such, children ought to be nurtured and educated in body, mind, and soul–and primarily by those that love them most. Today’s secular school system doesn’t acknowledge the soul of the child, so it falls short even when it aims at a holistic education.
Some of what we do will sound flowery, but that’s because our focus isn’t just on academic skills—it’s on all of life enjoyed and lived to the glory of God—and this includes a lot of things that are both enriching in an enjoyable way and pay dividends academically, too. What we do is academically rigorous, but in a very different way.
We’ve found that both Charlotte Mason and Christian classical education each resonate with our priorities and direction, while also giving a greater depth and breadth to our efforts than we knew was possible.
Do you have to follow either of these philosophies or methods to homeschool you kids well and raise them in the ways of the Lord? No. The best way to do that is to be humbly and constantly immersing yourself and your children in God’s word, believing it and living by it together in your everyday, everywhere life. But both classical and Charlotte Mason philosophies can be extremely helpful to that end–not only for the way they give you many positive things to implement in your teaching, but also for the way they challenge you to peel back the layers of negative influence from our modern, materialistic education system.
Stay tuned for more in this series as I begin to post specifically about how we handle various subjects in our homeschool (without actually concerning ourselves much with “teaching all the subjects”).