Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Magic Mirrors: Exploring Living Books

 Here is a  living book that I am reading with my 12-year-old daughter.  It is my second time through and this truly is a living book by the wonderful author, Elizabeth Yates. Prudence was a  schoolteacher in Connecticut in 1833 who dared to open a school for young black girls who wanted an education.  It's one of those books that spark relations with all sorts of things that you weren't expecting to learn about.  As early as page 12 one finds Prudence wrestling all night with her conscience - a passage worth remembering when experiencing things not nearly as monumental as Prudence experienced. This is an outstanding example of someone governed by their will on the right side of the chart!.
Prudence Crandall - Woman of Courage by Elizabeth Yates - highly recommend!

This quote from Charlotte is one of my favorites and encompasses another quote I am fond of -
"The glory of God is the human being fully alive" - St. Irenaeus. Thinking about great literature - and living books in particular - was an activity we did at the Rochester Gathering a few weeks ago.  We examined many passages from Charlotte and then wrote our own narration definitions.  Here are some beautiful examples:

personal definitions of a living book

"A living book breathes the life of a person or story directly into your heart.  One does not get bogged down in that they are learning per se, but rather enters into that author's life, story, or expertise. A living book often leaves you desiring to know and learn more about things introduced in the book."
 - Amy V.

"A living book is sustainable food for our minds and souls. It makes us dig, grapple, and contemplate the Truth, rather than handing it to us in a sound byte or neat packagge. A living book puts us into relationship with God and/or others in a life-changing way." - T.F.

"A living book uses rich language. We must choose books wisely, like our friends. Living books connect us, mind-to-mind with great thinkers and great ideas. They nourish and sustain us, mind and spirit.  It's important that we do not spoon feed our children. The things they will retain, are the things they dig for themselves." - Shauna M.
Aren't those good?!  I hope you are reading many living books this school year. I found these other books about Prudence while looking about but haven't read them yet.  I wonder how the writing in these will compare to Elizabeth Yate's skillful pen?


Thursday, September 10, 2015

All the World's a Wonder-ball

One of the things I love about this whole living education thing is that everyday I get to learn and discover alongside my children.  Then I become interested in something that strikes me and pursue it at my own pace.  Learning about Amy Carmichael, the Irish missionary to low caste girls and boys in India for over 50 years is one of those pursuits.

Since she lived from 1867 to 1951, one of the first questions that I ask is "Did she know of Charlotte Mason?"

In this case, the answer is "Yes!"

Susan Schaeffer Macaulay has written a few words about this in the highly-recommended book, When Children Love to Learn.  She states, "The Ambleside books by her (Mason) on education were sent out to India to Amy Carmichael, who founded the Dohnavur Fellowship. She too recognized in the writings the “roots and trunk” she was looking for as she cared for and educated Indian children.”

And Amy certainly recognized the benefits of a PNEU education. Just read how Iain H. Murray delves into this fact a little deeper in his book Amy Carmichael 'Beauty For Ashes'  and listen as he describes the education Amy provided for these cast-off children.

Evangelicals were unaccustomed to think in terms of the education of lower-class girls; such a programme hardly existed in India, and few saw any urgency for its provision.

Amy took the need very seriously and had a definite understanding of what she wanted. First, the objective of schooling must be the formation of character, not merely a training of the intellect. That meant that love was the starting point, to be taught in the first instance by example. Not a child went to sleep at night without a kiss from Amy, and even when the numbers ultimately made that impossible, as long as she could, she sought to see each child every day...as much as possible everything characteristic of an institution was avoided.

Education was not in order to bring a rise in social standing, or material prosperity. It was preparation to serve Christ and others. Learning Scripture was therefore foundational, and at Dohnavur this was made as appealing as possible. Just as Amy wanted her girls dressed in bright colours (especially blue!), she wanted them to see Christianity as the source of a truly happy  life. She herself was a musician, and an artist with words as well as pictures. Many truths and observations from nature were put into verse by her to be sung by the children. Yet care was taken that song should not be an end in itself. (Murray, p. 54-55)

Teaching was to be made as appealing as possible. This was not the same as being as entertaining as possible. The years of childhood were too important to be filled with temporary amusement. She wanted them to take in what they would need for life.

Along with the Bible, the book of creation was a constant study. Animals, flowers, trees, birds and much more, were all to be enjoyed and to be the subject of study. The children had their own gardens, and sometimes their own pets; they learned how to see chlorophyll in the leaves of plants and to study drops of water through a microscope.  There were outings to 'the forest' in the mountains where there was swimming and fun as well as learning.
Amy Carmichael has left a legacy that continues to this day.

We also know that before she left for India (from whence she never returned!) she attended the Keswick Convention in the Lake District.  The meeting in 1887 changed her life when she heard Hudson Taylor speak.  It was then that she devoted her life to serving God on the mission field. I can't find that Charlotte Mason ever attended this convention, but she certainly must have known about it and quotes one of the founders on occasion, the Quaker Robert Wilson.

So interesting!

I have also enjoyed Elizabeth Elliot's biography A Chance to Die.  Murray's book is shorter and more like a primer on Carmichael - a good place to begin learning more.  Amy also wrote a lovely devotional that I enjoy, Edges of His Ways.

I will leave you with a wonderful poem from Mountain Breezes, The Collected Poems of Amy Carmichael. If you get this book, check out the poem "Looking Through the Microscope."  It really lets you see how her enthusiasm for God's world must have influenced those children!  Here is one of my favorites, "Wonderland."

by Amy Carmichael

Lord, Thy little children stand
     At the opening of the day
Bordering on Wonderland.

Very near to us it lies,
     Gathers round us as we play,
Waiting for our seeing eyes.

Wonderland is everywhere;
     Can we go where it is not?
When we go, we find Thee there.

And Thou art so very kind;
     Thou hast never once forgot
To put things for us to find.

Oh, a thousand voices call,
     "Come and find what has been hidden;
All the world's a Wonder-ball."

Father, may we take Thy hand?
     We will do as we are bidden.
Come with us to Wonderland.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Spelling Other Than By Dictation

I read this article in the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection and found it thought-provoking. Well, thought-provoking for those of us who continually examine how to do things in the most natural way as prescribed by Charlotte Mason.  It is good to know that even those trained under Mason continued to ask questions and seek guidance on how to do things. Spelling can be a  difficult subject for some parents and teachers who wish to do their best for the child yet dictation just doesn’t seem to work.  I do find that it really is the underlying principle that is most important and if we understand that we can usually find solutions that either weren’t available or thought of 100 years ago. And, like the resolution at the end of the article, we pray "some genius may arise to invent a method of curing incurably bad spellers!"

First I would like to share with you Mason’s own words on spelling from Home Education (Volume 1 p. 241) for the underlying prinicple.  After that I have shared the article from L’Umile Pianta, May 1914, p. 73-75.  L’Umile Pianta was the alumni magazine for graduates of The House of Education, Mason’s teacher training college.  What do you see as the underlying principle?  Did you see anything surprising in the article?  Please share your observations and thoughts in the comments.

THE RATIONALE OF SPELLING - But the fact is, the gift of spelling depends upon the power the eye possesses to 'take' (in a photographic sense) a detailed picture of a word; and this is a power and habit which must be cultivated in children from the first. When they have read 'cat,' they must be encouraged to see the word with their eyes shut, and the same habit will enable them to image 'Thermopylae.' This picturing of words upon the retina appears to be to be the only royal road to spelling; an error once made and corrected leads to fearful doubt for the rest of one's life, as to which was the wrong way and which is the right. Most of us are haunted by some doubt as to whether 'balance,' for instance, should have one 'l' or two; and the doubt is born of a correction. Once the eye sees a misspelt word, that image remains; and if there is also the image of the word rightly spelt, we are perplexed as to which is which. Now we see why there could not be a more ingenious way of making bad spellers than 'dictation' as it is commonly taught. Every misspelt word is in image in the child's brain not to be obliterated by the right spelling. It becomes, therefore, the teacher's business to prevent false spelling, and, if an error has been made, to hide it away, as it were, so that the impression may not become fixed.



I have been asked to write a paper on “The Teaching of Spelling otherwise than by Dictation,” taking for granted that dictation is the first and best means of proving spelling.

That it is one of the most important subjects we have to deal with only dawns on one after varied experience with weak spellers and seeing the great drawback it is to them when neglected.

The quick speller learns to spell by reading.

Transcription also helps him, and
Committing a short sentence to memory and writing it.

We find it necessary in Class 1B to take spelling and dictation on alternate days through the week. Short, quick lessons of twenty minutes.

This paper is only a short one to introduce a discussion on the subject, as I am anxious to gain rather than give information.

Is it always advisable to take a paragraph from a book and learn all the words in it? Is there not the danger of spending time over words which need no learning, which are spelt just as they are pronounced, and yet one wants the pupil to see them in print?

It has been suggested that a pupil does not learn a word by spelling it aloud, that he must write it really to learn it perfectly.

A suggestion for a lesson for older pupils.

Take them into an imaginary shop, and each one gives the name of something he sees there, or for an imaginary walk or journey, and each gives the name of a thig seen on the way. They get very keen.

Time 20 minutes.

The words to be learnt should be carefully selected. As many as possible should be model words, to build up others on.

The chief aim: To present the words again and again, until thoroughly mastered. The weak pupils should do most of the work aloud, the quicker ones following, and writing when necessary.

1. Look carefully at a word in print.
2. Write it in the air from memory.
3. Look at it written on blackboard.
4. Write it from memory on paper (in pencil), and see it again on blackboard, marking an “R” if right, and “W” if wrong.

Not more than five or six words being given at a lesson, and as many of these as possible should be types, e.i., teach BAKE.  The next day in dictation the word CAKE or MAKE, etc. may occur. You point out that they are spelt the same as the word he learnt (which word?).

When all the words for the lesson have been gone through in this way, the paper should be turned over and upside down, and the words written from memory in ink. These should be corrected clearly in red ink by the teacher, and the pupil told to keep his paper and go through his “red ink” words at home, or with someone outside the schoolroom. These words, or others like them, should be given in a dictation on the following day, when the more prevalent mistakes should be noted by the teacher, and given again at the next spelling lesson.

On a day towards the end of the week the fifteen (or so) words learnt should be dictated to the pupils, who enter them in neat, little pocket books, which, when corrected, they may have in their own possession (a great joy) to look through in any spare time. (I find they have a lot in bed in the morning.)
M. MacSheehy.


The question arose, “Should a child be allowed to use a dictionary in composition?” It was decided that for a mentally lazy child it might be advisable, but there would be the danger of an average quick child depending on the dictionary rather than on her memory.

Many present had found that much of the bad spelling was the result of carelessness; for instance, a child might write an almost perfect dictation in class today, and tomorrow write a letter to a friend full of mistakes. Should we not try to impress upon our scholars that they owe it to those to whom they write to spell correctly?

“Is it advisable to give actual spelling lessons?” asked someone.  “Decidedly,” was the unanimous feeling of the company present. One told how she invariable gave a few minutes at each dictation or grammar lesson, as opportunity arose, as, for instance, on the spelling of synonymous words. The children would use the various words in sentences which they wrote in their note-books, and at the close of the lesson their own names were written on the board and each member of the class gained a star for perfect spelling during the lesson. This proved a great incentive to correct spelling.

Another said that to ensure correct visualization of words, she occasionally allowed her pupils to spell them aloud with their eyes shut.

We must each follow the method which we find most effective, remembering that it is merely a means to an end, and not an end in itself.

Resolution: “That the meeting prays some genius may arise to invent a method of curing incurably bad spellers!”

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Well-Read Child

 "A child of any age should be a well-read person for his age." - Charlotte Mason

some books we enjoy
The air has taken a cooler turn as our our thoughts turn towards the upcoming school year. Everyone is talking about books, myself included. My mentoring sessions have increased as usual for this time of year and I find myself living vicariously through those who have these sweet 1st and 2nd grade years to plan.  I have a 6th, 9th, 10th, and 12th grader this year.  So much goodness in that, too!

There is something that, as the years go by, I find myself repeating over and over to others.  And that is this; I would much rather see families choose fewer books and live with them properly than an entire list from any curriculum that results in box- checking for having read the book.*

I occasionally  share my schedules with those I mentor.  That feels safe to me because I can qualify why I do what I do with the philosophical foundations intact.  Inevitability, the person looking  at is is rather stunned.  Why?  Because it appears to be a much lighter load than they were anticipating. Yet some have mentioned that my children are the best-read people they know. Indeed, Mason states that "A child of any age should be a well-read person for his age." (from The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 116) So how do those two things exist at the same time - well-read children and a lighter schedule? I think it has to do with how those books are used.

In order for me to properly introduce a book to my child (scaffolding), attentively listen to narrations (administrating), appropriately engage in fruitful discussions (grand conversationing), I need to choose fewer excellent books.  My brain simply doesn't have the time, knowledge, or energy to properly engage with dozens of titles every single day.  The result of assigning too many books is either burnout or box checking. 

"You mean occasionally people have a problem with this even in a Mason paradigm?"

 No, I mean people often have a problem with this in a Mason paradigm.

So when I plan my school year, I write up an ambitious and glorious rough draft of the books and things I think would be great for that child that year. Then slowly, over the course a a few days, I pare things down, down, down, until the schedule breathes and flows with ... life.  Try it.  You'll know when you have it right for your family as there will most likely be peace in your heart.

freshly rearranged history section in library
*I recognize that yes, sometimes you can use huge book lists with certain children. (I have some of those.)  And yes, sometimes you should use about 1/2 of those lists with certain children. (I have some of those, too.) It's about how those books are used and the relationships that should ensue in the end.