Children are Born Persons

A Philosophy of Education ~ Chapter 2

Children are Born Persons

“His mind is the instrument of his education and his education does not produce his mind.”  Pg 36

From birth and through the ages counted in months, a child devotes himself to learning by touching, pulling, tearing, throwing, and tasting. He will explore until he knows and then he will go on to something new. He reasons with his unending questions of “Why?”  He has imagination and the knowledge of the difference between right and wrong.

At school-age, “A child comes into their hands with a mind of amazing potentialities.”  Play, environment and motion are all good in education, but ideas are what connect the minds.

“Education, like faith, is the evidence of things not seen.” Pg 39

An idea is born of the spirit and desires to be explored and confirmed. The mind, like the body, begins with the business to grow. The body grows on food and the mind grows on ideas, appearing in stages of life. An idea is presented; we take it in, accept it, and for days after the idea will present itself in various ways, through what we read, people we talk to, and things we will see. This is how adults process ideas and children are no less. Therefore, as educators, it is our business to present the great ideas of life, clothed with facts but released to the child to do with as he chooses, for he knows what to do.

“History must afford it’s pageants, science it’s wonders, literature it’s intimacies, philosophy it’s speculations, religion it’s assurances to every man, and his education must have prepared him for wanderings in these realms of gold.” Pg 43

Every one of these subjects has a purpose, a value to the student.  A good education is broad to touch on many subjects and also equips a child for their exploration of them.

But what of motivation? Can we trust children to seek knowledge on their own accord?  Children hunger for knowledge, not information. The constant barrage of questioning only interrupts a child’s train of thought as they process ideas. It is not the requirement of a teacher to manipulate and control stimulation and attention from the student. If we understand the capacity and requirements of a child’s mind, these things come quite naturally.  They are due the dignity we give ourselves and those around us; children are born persons.


Beautifying the Mind: Picture Studies Pure and Simple

The Purpose Behind Picture Studies

The appreciation of art has the potential to shape the very people we are or are to become morally, intellectually and spiritually.  Charlotte Mason said,

“But we begin to understand that art is… of the spirit, and in ways of the spirit must we make our attempt.”                                        Volume 6, A philosophy of Education, pg 213

Appreciation of art is a skill the self seeks to acquire very naturally as in intelligence, imagination or speech.  It does not require even elementary understanding of art appreciation skills to be able to look at a masterpiece and have it affect you on one or all of these levels.  The purpose behind applying ourselves to this exposure is foremost, character development and secondly, to develop a general interest.  Both are closely tied together to form the roots of aesthetic sense; having a sense of the beautiful or characterized by a love of beauty.

How does art develop character?

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”                                                       Philippians 4:8

When we put beautiful in, beautiful comes out, and that beauty which is stored inside in the form of memory, becomes treasures that cannot be stolen.  Furthermore, these practices help develop observation skills and offer reinforcement to the relationships developed in history, geography, literature and other cultures and socio-economic characteristics.

Practically Speaking

Charlotte Mason practiced picture studies regularly, looking at 6 pieces by one artist every term, and she had three terms a year.  A quick calculation brings us to an easy conclusion that if this is practiced throughout the child’s educational career, upon high school graduation they will have been exposed and considered 39 artists and 234 pieces of art!  Is that not a beautiful accomplishment for a practice that takes 10-30 minutes every two weeks?

When I do a Picture Study, I print out a color 8.5 x 11 reproduction of a single picture for each child.  I found to be reasonably priced, particularly if I do the printing all at once for the year.  I also decided last year to give each student a binder for their pictures so that they have a sense of ownership of them and feel free to go back and revisit them as often as they like.  We combine this binder with their weekly recitation assignments and it is used regularly.

I will give each student their single picture for the session with the title and date on the back, and allow them to just look at it for 2-3 minutes.  They are encouraged to close their eyes for brief periods during this time and see if they can recreate the image in their mind.  If they can’t, they can open their eyes and continue absorbing the image’s details.

When the time is up, I will have the students flip their pictures over and have them “Tell Back” or narrate what they saw, giving them time and space to reimagine the picture in their mind and share what they recall.  When one student finishes, I will let another student fill in more details until everything has been shared.  Then, we flip the picture back over and review it again.  This time I will point out some details that may have been missed and offer some short biographical or historical information that is relevant to the appreciation of this piece.  This information I collected the night before on the internet.

I have three questions I picked up from John Muir Laws, a nature journalist, that I use to guide our investigations in every subject of study, including art.  I ask my students to consider these three thoughts:  I notice…, I wonder…, and It reminds me of….  These three questions stir just about every consideration the engaged mind might have and helps direct the processing of new ideas in a personal way, awakening curiosity and inquisitiveness.

Older students, maybe 3rd grade and older, might enjoy the reading of a biography of the artist.  It is imperative that this book not be “Twaddle”; just a dry compilation of facts about the artist and their work.  Instead, search for a piece of literature that will create a relationship with the artist.  To do this, we need to get to know them; their character, their thoughts, their challenges, the culture they lived in and how they responded to that culture.

You may ask, “What about form and composition?  When do we discuss color or movement?”  Yes, yes, yes.  These things come all in due time, but try to avoid clouding the study with analysis, sacrificing the relationship and personal joy your student is having.

For the older students, after the second viewing is complete, a great conversation is ready to take place.  Notice I did not say LECTURE.  A conversation requires input from more than one person and that is what you are looking for.  Within that conversation, you can bring up one or maybe two of these concepts as pertinent to the picture.  From a few articles I have a list of questions to choose from but again, I will use only one or two per study and they should be significant to understanding the piece.

  • Describe the use of space
  • What types of shapes do you see? Lines?  Colors?
  • What feelings or emotions do you feel when you look at this picture?
  • If you had done this painting, what would you have called it?
  • What do you think the artist is thinking or feeling while he created this piece? What are they trying to communicate?
  • What is the focal point and why does it stand out?
  • Look at the picture with your eyes half shut to see divisions and shapes of light and shade, balance and tone
  • What is in the foreground? In the background?

Last Minute Pointers

  • As tempting as it may be, be the guide but not the leader.
  • Refrain from sharing your observations and allow your students to find their own.
  • Lessons for younger student should not be longer than 10 minutes, older students can go as long as 30, but it is really nor necessary most of the time.
  • Don’t worry about teaching the different “schools” of artists.  After developing a relationship with 2 or 3 artists from the same school, your student will naturally notice similarities and identifying styles to their own joy and delight.
  • Art is a beautiful way to communicate a culture or time of history.  Try to pair your studies with where you are in your history timeline to offer another dimension to history and literature studies.
  • Lastly, don’t forget to incorporate three-dimensional art like sculptures, engravings, metal and ceramic creations.  An architectural study is fascinating when studying the middle ages.


Goegan, N. (2015, August 30). Corot Picture Study. Retrieved from Living Charlotte Mason in California:

Jimenez, G. (2007, June 18th). Looking at Art. Retrieved from Bright Kids:

Laws, J. M. (2016). The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling. Heyday.

S, J. (2015, June 10). Artist (Picture) Study Workshop. Retrieved from Charlotte Mason in the Bluegrass:

Smith, C. (2013, May). Elenor M Frost and the Narration of a “Picture Talk” Part 1 & 2. Retrieved from Charlotte Mason Institute:

Vencel, B. (2015, September 1). A Beginner’s Look at Picture Study. Retrieved from Afterthoughts Blog:


Self Education

Philosophy of Education ~ Chapter 1

Self Education

“A person is not built up from without but from within, that is, he is living, and all external education appliances and activities which are intended to mold his character are decorative and not vital.” Pg 23

 Charlotte Mason had a respect for people that is unprecedented in most educational methods I’m aware of. She insisted that children were not gardens and we, the educators, not the gardeners. How brazen we are to assume we have that level of power and influence over another human being that we can manipulate and form them to our liking.  Education comes from within.

“Life is sustained on that which is taken in by the organism, not by that which is applied from without.”   Pg 24.

We cannot impose our will on another to any level of success more than their willingness to submit to it. Let us consider individuality, personality and independence; hallmarks of our Creator’s fingerprints; To disregard these, is a dishonor.

 Education comes from within. As the body is sustained by food, care and exercise, the mind is sustained upon ideas. Many are out there to be conceived and pondered but let us consider the ideas that influence character and conduct. Charlotte Mason believed these passed from mind to mind and outside educational efforts could not influence them.

 “We feed upon the thoughts of the mind; and thought applied to thought generates thought and we become more thoughtful.” Pg 26.

Just as no one teaches us how to digest food, but that we are born with the ability and desire, so our minds are born with the ability to reason, compare, and imagine and the drive to do it comes from within.

Education comes from within. It is a matter of the spirit; it is and can only be self-education. Our business then becomes to provide these ideas in quality and quantity through books and many of them. The information (facts) from these books hang on a principal, inspired by an idea, and remembered because of the created relationship.

Education comes from within. What are the advantages to this theory? Self-education fits all ages and all levels of aptitude. It secures interest and attention without effort from the teacher. Children learn to express themselves well and develop excellent vocabulary. Parents remain invested in the education. Children delight in books and grow a love for knowledge.  This desire to know is to be differentiated from a student motivated by good marks but failed to consider self-application to the information.

 “I am. I can. I ought. I will.”  Pg 29.

This communicates the power that belongs to the person. We would do right to remember this and respect it if we should hope to encourage a desire to learn for a lifetime in others. That desire is already there but needs to be protected from being extinguished by our own poorly directed intentions.  Education comes from within. 

“The teacher who allows his scholars the freedom of the city of books is at liberty to be their guide, philosopher and friend; and is no longer their instrument of forcible intellectual feeding.”  Pg 32

The Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason ~ The Introduction

The Brain vs the Mind

                Charlotte Mason uses the Introduction to address some broader concepts of education and define her purpose and goal with this volume.  She begins with the role of the brain in education.  Is thought just a function of the brain?  How do we define the brain versus the mind?  What part does the brain play in education?  And as education goes, what are our goals?  Do we want an education that “qualifies for life or earning a living”?  Won’t the first make a better person and a better service for society?

In an attempt to define the brain and the mind, she looks at the role of Darwinism in the utilitarian schools of Germany that had become so popular prior to World War I.  She points to their attempts at removing the mind and training only the brain, using natural selection and survival of the fittest to accomplish Germany’s goal of a “super state”.  She concluded when we derive our code of ethics from the laws of science instead of spiritual laws, we get the manifestation of brutality and an emancipation from moral restraint.

Science would define the brain as a mass by which electric pulses travel, emitting chemical ergo chemical reactions to create a series of thoughts, memories and emotions.  But what of the mind?  Could it be, if we dare to consider, that we are made of more than matter but spirit as well?

Charlotte Mason and the PNEU arrived at a working theory of education based on her last 35 years of practice, five previous volumes she wrote, and her experience and observations of thousands of children in her schools.  This theory differs from current practice of the time in a few ways.

For one, the children are responsible persons and do their work by self-effort.  The teachers are available and offer guidance but are not responsible for the actual work.  Thousands of pages are read, according to age, skill and maturity, from a broad variety of well written books on many subjects.  Done well, each child is able, after only one reading, to narrate or write on the passage.  These children delight in their books and desire to learn without need for prizes or punishments, bribes or blame and with a well-developed habit of attention.  These methods work well for all children, clever or dull.  It takes less time than ordinary schoolwork without homework and leaves time for vocational work, interests or hobbies.

A Child’s Mind

                In CM observations, the child’s mind rejects abstract concepts.  It takes in only what it needs as a means to feed the growing curiosity they are cultivating.  Children are well equipped to process ideas with their appetite for knowledge, imagination and judgement, without the need of explanation, questions and summaries.  These practices actually inhibit the mind’s processing of these ideas.  “In fact, the Desire of Knowledge (curiosity) is the chief instrument of education and the use of prizes develops self-emulation (rivalry), avarice (a hoarding greed), ambition and vanity (excessive pride).”

How badly do we really need knowledge?  CM’s observations found the curiosity of a child is so insatiable that the whole world and all its history are barely enough to satisfy it.

What is knowledge?  “That only becomes knowledge to a person which he has assimilated, which his mind has acted upon.”  Consider this now.  All the information in the world can be put before me, but I will only take in what I notice and consider interesting.  At that point, my brain has acted upon it and I have made it mine.  If this be the case, is there anything within moral value that a child should be restricted from?  I would say no!  To withhold knowledge would starve the appetite for it!  Our responsibility is only to ensure the right portions so as to avoid a choking reflex.

“Mind appeals to mind and thought begets thought and that is how we become educated.”  Education is not achieved by what we see or do but by the connection of our spirit.  To put the spirit in touch with great minds is to beget great thoughts, we, the educators, open the doors to a vast array of worthy books for them to delight in.

Now, how do we secure attention from our students.  Charlotte Mason did not find the responsibility to rest in the teacher’s charisma or subject matter.  She goes back to the idea that children are persons like ourselves, with the same motives.  The desire for knowledge is a strong craving, natural to everyone and can be duly stoked to grow with the right encouragement or lack of discouragement present.  Again, we see the need for a wide and varied curriculum through reading… reading to know which is more than reading to complete.  It’s more than listening or even listening to tell back.  Reading to know requires assimilation of ideas which are expressed in a good narration, requiring the brain to work various places and parts.  If they are consistently expected, the habit of paying attention will quickly be established.

Children are perfectly equipped to process knowledge.  They have an intellectual appetite, a desire of knowledge, an unlimited power of attention and power of retention.  Therefore, if a lesson isn’t holding their attention, maybe the fault is in the lesson.  We must restrain ourselves from questioning throughout the lesson for it interrupts the processing of the brain.  We can question in the beginning for review and at the end for emphasis, but let us leave the center of the lesson for the child to listen and reflect on the great thoughts we are presenting.

Method Summarized

  • A child is a person with the spiritual requirements and capabilities of an adult.
  • Knowledge nourishes the mind like food nourishes the body
  • A child requires knowledge as much as he requires food
  • He is equipped with a desire for knowledge (Curiosity)
    • To grasp knowledge (Attention)
    • Powers to process knowledge without help from the outside using Imagination, Reflection and Judgement
    • Interest in all knowledge
    • And power to retain and communicate knowledge; all that is necessary to him.
  • He requires knowledge to be communicated to him, in most cases, in literary (book) form and reproduces the knowledge acquired, only that which touched his personality.
  • The child is naturally equipped to assimilate knowledge but moral control is necessary to secure attention.
    • This habit is developed when narrations are consistently and regularly required for each reading.
  • Children have the right to the best knowledge we possess, so the best books should be made available.
  • Lecture and questions are distracting. Allow the child to own their learning and seek your help if necessary.
  • They require a wide range of knowledge so a wide curriculum should be made available.
  • The teacher offers direction and support in the studies but does not necessarily lead the child in an educational conquest. The responsibility of learning remains with the child.
  • Pursued under these conditions “studies serve as a delight”

                 These ideas must be applied with consistency to expect positive results.  She uses the example of the knowledge of bacteria.  To know of the presence of bacteria or to understand the use of antiseptic is not enough.  Antiseptic treatment to the surgeon’s tools has to be complete and consistent to be effective.

Coming Full Circle

                Charlotte Mason concludes, education occurs in the mind.  It is in the mind, indelibly linked with the spirit, that craves knowledge and is able to receive or assimilate it with its powers of attention and reflection.  A child will learn only the facts it can hang on nourishing ideas.  The results of these methods seem to develop capacity, character, countenance, initiative and responsibility available to all, in varying capacities.

“The stability of mind and magnanimity of character which are the proper outcome and unfailing test of a liberal education” should be available to all men in all classes.


Come Ye Sinners, Poor & Needy

Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy ~ Hymn Study

Music Selections found on YouTube:

  • Fernando Ortega (with Amy Grant) Contemporary version

Music Selections found on Spotify: 

  • Fernando Ortega w/ Amy Grant on the Storm album


Author’s Biography

Joseph Hart was English.  He resisted Christianity while growing up in a Christ-centered home, and eventually even wrote against the preaching of many of the popular preachers (like John Wesley).  In 1757 the prodigal son returned as he came to know Christ and became an independent Calvinist preacher himself.



This hymn was written in 1759, just two years after his conversion.  It rings with the very real knowledge of being a sinner and the grace that frees.  Hart had the revelation of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane showing him that His sufferings were for him (and the Church), a beautiful expression of love and sacrifice.


Bible Verse for Reading, Narration and Copywork

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”         Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)

The Prodigal Son as told by Jesus in Luke 15:11-32


Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.


I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you night

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.


View Him prostrate in the garden;
On the ground your Maker lies.
On the bloody tree behold Him;
Sinner, will this not suffice?

Lo! th’incarnate God ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood:
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.



Charms:  a power of pleasing or attracting, as through personality or beauty

Bounty:  a generous gift

Nigh:  near in space, time, or relation

Laden:  burdened; loaded down

Tarry:  to delay or be tardy in acting, starting, coming, etc.

Prostrate:  to cast (oneself) face down on the ground in humility, submission, or adoration.

Suffice:  to be enough or adequate for; satisfy

Incarnate:  embodied in flesh; given a bodily, especially a human, form

Ascended:  to move, climb, or go upward


Venture:  to take a risk; dare; presume




(n.d.). Retrieved from (n.d.). Retrieved from Bible Gateway: (n.d.). Retrieved from

United Methodist Church Discipleship Ministries. (2017). Retrieved from

Holy Ghost with Light Divine

Holy Ghost with Light Divine ~ Hymn Study

Music Selections found on YouTube:

Music Selections found on Spotify: 

  • Walden Grove Orchestra (instrumental)
  • Remedy Collective (also found on YouTube) This version has a current melody with a beautiful horn sequence.  They only sing verses 1, 3-5 but I really enjoy it for personal listening pleasure.


Author’s Biography

Husband of hymn­ist Eliz­abeth Reed, An­drew Reed (1787-1862) at­tend­ed Hack­ney Coll­ege, Lon­don, and be­came a Con­gre­ga­tion­al min­is­ter. He was pas­tor at the New Road Cha­pel, St. George’s-in-the-East, then at Wy­cliffe Cha­pel, which he helped build in 1830. He al­so earned a de­gree from Yale Coll­ege, and found­ed the Lon­don Or­phan Asy­lum and Reed’s School in Cob­ham, Sur­rey. He wrote 21 to­tal hymns



This hymn is an important teaching on the ministry of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life.  The Holy Spirit, if regarded, can offer direction, reveal Truths, sanctify my life, and be a strength and power to enable God’s ministry to flow through me.  Complete surrender to the Holy Spirit is complete surrender of our lives to Christ.  (Osbeck, 1985)


Bible Verse for Reading, Narration and Copywork

15 “If you love Me, keep My commandments. 16 And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.                                         John 14:15-18 (NKJV)


Holy Ghost, with light divine,
Shine upon this heart of mine;
Chase the shade of night away,
Turn my darkness into day.

Let me see my Savior’s face,
Let me all His beauties trace;
Show those glorious truths to me
Which are only known to Thee.

Holy Ghost, with power divine,
Cleanse this guilty heart of mine;
Long has sin, without control,
Held dominion o’er my soul.

Holy Ghost, with joy divine,
Cheer this saddened heart of mine;
Bid my many woes depart,
Heal my wounded, bleeding heart.

Holy Spirit, all divine,
Dwell within this heart of mine;
Cast down every idol throne,
Reign supreme, and reign alone.

See, to Thee I yield my heart,
Shed Thy life through every part;
A pure temple I would be,
Wholly dedicate to Thee.


Object Lesson on the Holy Spirit

I can’t imagine a child that hears about the “Holy Spirit” or the “Holy Ghost” for the first time and doesn’t picture an actual ghost inside them.  This can be a very confusing topic to explain so I found this study for families with a great object lesson that will make explaining the Trinity a little easier.


Divine:  coming from God: divine laws; divine guidance. Extremely good or unusually lovely.

Dominion:  the power or right of governing and controlling; sovereign authority.

Woes:  grievous distress, affliction, or trouble:

Idol:  an image or other material object representing a deity other than God to which religious worship is addressed.  Something regarded with blind admiration, adoration or devotion.

Reign:  to have control, rule, or influence of any kind.

Yield:   to give up or surrender (oneself)

Devotion One

The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness.  He intercedes in our prayers before the Lord, bringing even the cares of our heart that we can’t put to words.  He is our helper, always seeking to build relationship between us and the Lord.

26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us[a] with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.                                          Romans 8:26-27 (NKJV)


Devotion Two

The Holy Spirit points out sin in our hearts and minds.  He encourages us to repent and choose a path that will honor the Lord.  He teaches us God’s Word so we can understand and obey it.

16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.      Galatians 5:16-18 (NKJV)


Devotion Three

The Holy Ghost is the giver of hope, one of the greatest powers in the world and in a Christian’s tool box of disciplines, able to overcome evil.

13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.              Romans 15:13 (NKJV)



(n.d.). Retrieved from (n.d.). Retrieved from Bible Gateway: (n.d.). Retrieved from

Osbeck, K. W. (1985). 101 More Hymn Stories. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.


Music Studies for the Musically UN-Inclined

So, how does a music study work for the musically un-inclined teacher?

Music studies, why do them?  I mean really, with all the information and experiences I am trying to expose my children to day after day, is there really time?  Quite frankly I couldn’t have imagined ever being the one to say, YES!, but here I go.

Last summer, at the CMI retreat in Los Angeles, each daily session was started singing a hymn and a folk song accompanied by a piano.  The first day was a bit awkward for me.  I’m not what you would call musically inclined.  I can’t read notes, challenged at playing a kazoo let alone an instrument made of wood or brass, and though I enjoy worship in church, my voice might be closer to “a beautiful noise unto the Lord”.  However, I walked away from the experience enlightened.

First of all, music is FUN and FUN is a very important aspect of learning!  Music involves self-expression and that is a valuable skill to exercise.  Music is inspirational and as educators, that is one of our goals.  Music has a lovely and subtle connection with history.  Music adds life and depth to both cultural and biblical history and history does the same for music.  Lastly, music can affect our hearts and minds, bringing peace, joy or just a proper perspective to the moment.  In short, from my perspective, music is the color to an otherwise black and white day.

So, how does a music study work for the musically un-inclined teacher?  I started with choosing one hymn and one folk song for each month.  I researched it’s history, printed out it’s verses and found the songs on Spotify or YouTube.  When I introduce the song for the first time, we read through the verses while the music plays and take notes if there are any variances in the wording.  After that, we sing along with the song, finding our timing and melody with the music.  One morning we go over some of the vocabulary they might not understand.  Some mornings we talk about the concepts expressed in the song.  Sometimes I can find a Bible verse that goes with the hymn and we discuss that.  Sometimes the songs have fascinating authors or history and we learn about that.  Each morning we sing one of our songs and discuss one of these aspects until the month is through and the selections are changed.  It has been inspirational, encouraging, funny, thoughtful and interesting.

Will we ever discuss music theory, learn to play an instrument or hire a singing coach?  We’ll see.  But for now, the world of music is filling my home and our hearts as it adds a new layer of interest to our studies.  I know it’s making an impact on our lives because even the dogs have taken to howling with us!

A New Method~ Mastery Based Learning

“Mastery based learning changes the mindset of the student.  An 85% on a test doesn’t brand a child as a B student in their DNA, but impresses them to keep trying, to persevere, to take ownership of their learning.”                                    Sal Kahn, TED Talk, November 2015


Because most of us, as educators, have only our experience in traditional academic models to rely on, we often use that understanding to model our home educating experiences.  There is often little reason to challenge these ideas, they are so deeply ingrained in us.  Then a wrench falls into the gears of our finely tuned system of education:  a slow reader, a math struggler or just a squirrely 6 year old, and suddenly there are waves of discontent.  Maybe we recognize that for all we are pouring into the system in the form of money, time and energy, very little progress seems to be happening in the area of learning.  Instead of a growing level of curiosity, we are faced with strong resistance and that leaves us with a great big question mark.  I am so thankful for these points in time!  These are the moments of revelation that require me to throw out the old expectations and open my eyes to new possibilities.  I am forced to truly see my students for who they are and consider their needs as individuals.  I must challenge my expectations, motives and techniques to birth new methods fine-tuned to the child before me, instead of enslaved to tradition, the unrelateable systems of the past.

This is what excites me about this TED Talk by Sal Kahn, of Kahn Academy as he speaks on Mastery based learning.  His presentation makes the point that classroom teaching is not conducive to this approach, but I think it’s a beautiful approach for home schoolers.  Let’s throw out the August to May schedules that come with the curriculum!  Let’s not panic when we come to a lesson that needs a week of investigation and practice, instead of its allotted day!  Let’s break the shackles of a system that doesn’t apply to us by ceasing the practice of dragging students through their journey of learning!  Instead, let’s practice some respect and embrace the amazing little individuals before us.  Let’s run alongside them as their coach as they set the pace for their learning adventure and develop character of fortitude and responsibility.

[Video Link- “Sal Speaks at TED About Mastery-based Learning” November 2015]

It’s worth a watch and I hope you will let me know your thoughts.

Drawn to Know

I was pre-reading a resource for the CMI Retreat this summer.  The book was “The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling” by John Muir Laws, who was also the keynote speaker at the retreat last August.  Within the first few pages I read, “You cannot truly know something until you have drawn it” and I stopped.  Think about that for a moment.  Isn’t that rather profound?  Consider what would happen if we sat down and drew something we really didn’t know or understand.  Imagine all the focus of attention, the time and concentration we would put on that ONE thing before it was drawn to completion.  What would happen?  Would we notice things we hadn’t seen?  Would we wonder about it and have curiosity spark?  Would we relate to it as we compare it to other things or experiences?  Of course we would!  And in the end, we would know it deeper and more intimately than ever before.

This was only the beginning of the epiphanies I enjoyed as I journeyed through this amazing resource and listened to his multitude of presentations at the retreat.  It opened my eyes to a brand-new way of approaching Nature Studies in our home and why we should continue to fight for room in our ever-tightening schedule for time outside, in nature.

I came with the understanding that nature study was THIS….  botanical-example

Every day I should pack up the kids and go outside with our nature journals for 2-3 hours.  We should be enjoying our time as we look for something natural that interests us and then we should draw it.  It shouldn’t take too long; the kids would love it, they would learn to focus and become inquisitive, develop powerful skills of deduction for studying science in the later years and in the end, we would have a whole journal full of beautiful documentation of God’s creation and plenty of joyous memories to boot.

In our best moments, we had some lovely memories of picnics in the park, working on journals and doing some of our reading for the day while enjoying lunch.  That was at its best.  I struggled to get out of the house more than once every couple of weeks.  Frustrations rose over our drawing skills; the huge gap between the reality on paper and the expectations in our heads.  In the end, it was hard to justify the investment with little to show in accomplishment, all the while thinking if I had just started this when my kids were younger they might have enjoyed this more.  I had conceded this wasn’t for us.

WAIT!  Don’t throw in the towel!  In steps Mr. Laws with a whole new paradigm shift.  First, he introduced the idea of “I notice”, “I wonder”, “It reminds me of….”  These prompts have begun to permeate our whole world of studies and ignite in us a growing flame of curiosity.  While we are observing Nature, we are challenged to identify exactly what we are seeing by completing the statement, “I notice…..”  Then we are encouraged to find questions by finishing the sentence, “I wonder…….”   Relating our new concept or object to something we have already experienced brings us to the “It reminds me of…..”

For example, as I spy an insect on the ground, I speak my observations out loud.  “I notice this critter has four pairs of legs but he also has two long arms which come from the middle of his body and he lifts them when threatened.  The arms remind me of a small scorpion because they have little pincers on the end.  I notice his head is a flesh color but his body is spotted and brown like a cricket.  He is very active and moves quickly.  He also has two pairs of mandibles on his head so I wonder if he is carnivorous.  You can see two close high-set eyes on his head.  I found him at night so I wonder if he is nocturnal.”

A little research took me to a website where I identified it as a Sun Spider or Camel Spider (Solifugae).  Quite a ferocious arthropod, I learned the arms are called pedipalps.  But it did not answer my questions about his behaviors.  I will have to continue my quest on that information.  Notice, I didn’t rush to identify.  The more time you take to notice and ask questions (think about the who, what, why, when, where and how), the more you will see and create a relationship with what you are observing.  Identifying needs to be the VERY LAST thing you do in your journal entry.  But, the very FIRST thing you should do is notate the date, location and weather.  Everything recorded on that page can now be considered scientific data.img_1451

Do you see the whole new level of purpose we have just applied and achieved in learning with Nature Studies?  I don’t have to point out that I am not an artist and my journal is nowhere near “beautiful”.  It actually has quite a bit more writing than I normally do, in part because a certain distance was required to observe this guy… and he was quick!  Detail was challenging.  But you know what my journal is?  It is mine.  It records what I saw, what I was interested in and helped me store that experience for future learning.  That’s what we want for our students, right?  We want something applicable to them!

I would like to encourage you, separate from your Nature Studies, to offer some instruction on basic drawing techniques.  This is not about making our pictures prettier, but improving our ability to communicate beyond words.  For some learners, this is a precious relief from the world of words.  This was surprisingly frustrating for my dyslexics who struggle with varying levels of dysgraphia.  Our approach was a discipline of expressing ourselves for who we are and resisting comparing ourselves to others who are expressing themselves for who they are.  Whatever the case may be, basic drawing skills can reduce frustration for hesitant drawers and broaden our ability of expression.

Also, it is imperative that you embrace nature studies, or any studies for that matter, with the same amount of enthusiasm that you want your students to have.  If journaling does not become a priority for you, it will not be for them.  Get yourself a journal, grab a few supplies (also discussed in his book) and your student’s hand, and go on a journey together, exploring the wonders around you.

Mr. Laws’ resource is a vast amount of information.  Not only does he spend well over half his book guiding his readers through artistic techniques for capturing nature on paper, but he has a whole chapter of suggestions on different types of journal entries, such as:

  • Draw what you see
  • Pick a subject and choose different perspectives and scale
  • Observe changes over time
  • Choose a species and look for similarities or differences.

I particularly liked the suggestion to take some string and tie the ends together.  Open it on the ground and observe anything that is going on inside the stringed area.  Narrowing down the area of observation seemed to help overcome anxiety from being overwhelmed by the great outdoors.

You can approach nature journaling as a unit study and focus on one element at a time.  An intense look at local birds, insects or geology, as an example, can be a great place to get started, especially with younger children.  Older students might like a more independent approach and may appreciate the development of awareness by giving them quarterly goals for observation.  For example, over the next 6 weeks, my students will need to document 5 local plants, 3 local trees, 5 local birds and 5 local insects.  They may decide what they record and when, but I look for them to be exercising the techniques we have already discussed and becoming aware of our surroundings.

“You cannot truly know something until you have drawn it.”  If someone drew me, the evidence of age would, no doubt, be obvious.  But would they notice that my wrinkles are laugh lines?  Would they wonder how I got that scar on my shoulder?  Would they recognize the color of my eyes as the same as my dad’s?  There is so much to be known about the world around us.  If we can inspire and teach the habit of wondering, noticing and developing relationships, we have infected a new generation with curiosity and helped them to think like true scientists on the never ending road to discovery.

Why I File a Private School Affidavit

There, I did it.

It took me exactly 9 minutes and I included printing the hard copy for my records and time spent walking across the room to staple it together and three hole punch it.  What am I talking about?  Filing my Private School Affidavit with the California Department of Education (CDE).  Next question..

Why would I do that?  Well, I was hoping you would ask…..

According to the CDE, if I have children who are 6 by September 1st, they must be enrolled in public school UNLESS I choose one of 4 exceptions:

  1. Participate in a Chartered public school
  2. Become a credentialed teacher and teach at home
  3. Participate in a private school satellite program (PSP)
  4. or file a Private School Affidavit (PSA)

I could go into a lot of detail on each of these options but instead, I will post links to my sources at the end and you can research what interests you.  I want to stick with your question which is, why do I file a PSA and the answer to that comes down to two words….  Mission Statement.

Our school has a mission statement and it is one of the most key documents we function by.  Educating our children is no quick, small task.  It is a get dirty, in for the long haul, I’m not going to give up task and that requires vision.  We have to know where we are going and a general idea of how we are going to get there, with a smattering of flexibility so we can adjust our coarse as new possibilities reveal themselves.  With a mission statement, I can realign myself when new, fabulous, exciting ideas threaten to blow me off course. A mission statement guides my decision making between the good, better and best.  A good mission statement documents the goals we are seeking so we never forget the purpose in our efforts.

So, years ago, after being encouraged to write a Mission Statement by a wonderfully wise mentoring home school mother, I recognized that I could not reach my goals, trying to teach within the constrains of public school standards and accountability paperwork.  The public schools require a separation of church and state that I cannot abide by, and which is actually never what Thomas Jefferson intended but that is a subject for another time.  The paperwork required for private satellite programs seem unnecessary, cumbersome and time consuming for me, if I am willing to be self-disciplined and responsible to my task of home education.

So each year, between October 1st and October 15th, I will receive a reminder from HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Fund), another organization worthy of our support if we are filing independently) to file my affidavit.  They will have already reviewed the forms available online and made suggestions on how to complete it.  I go online with the CDE and 10 minutes later I am ready to pursue another year of home education.

So tell me, have you written a Mission Statement for your home school yet?

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