Category Archives: Blog

A Long-awaited Book

I don’t know that anyone else has been waiting a long time, but I have! I began writing this book in 2019 and now it’s 2024. Many things have happened since I began, and of course I wasn’t working on this book all that time. That’s why it’s taken so long to finish! I had to keep putting it off to take care of other, more pressing things, including my share of working on Six Voices, One Story which was published last year. However—at last—my little book is nearly ready to venture out into the world.

Much May be Done with Sparrows is a collection of essays—educational meditations based on nuggets of wisdom gleaned from Charlotte Mason. Her volumes are littered with little gems of wisdom—idea-seeds that sprouted and grew into these reflections.

Have you ever heard of a chapbook? It’s a little collection of an author’s writings gathered together and published in a small format— quite often poetry, but it can be prose as well. (This is prose!) I hope you’ll find it a nice size for tucking into a day bag, to be pulled out when you’ve got a minute to sit down with a nice cup of coffee or tea. In these pages, we won’t be wrestling with big philosophical ideas. Instead, we’ll take a nice pocket-sized piece of Charlotte Mason’s genius, turn it over and and over in our hands and thoughts, and appreciate how precious the little things in life can be.

All teachers need to refresh their hearts, souls, and minds at intervals, and this is especially true for homeschool moms. This is a book for homeschooling parents.

I hope that the thoughts and reminders here will keep your heart focused on the things that are truly important. I hope you will pick up a useful idea or two, like a stray gift, that will ease some part of your teaching work.

I hope, most of all, that as you enter into the little things I’ve written about here that you will find the joy of your work renewed and strengthened. Yes, homeschooling is a large and important task. Yes, the days can grow long and tiresome. Yes, sometimes we get weary and disheartened. But in the end, teaching is not a drudgery. The joy of learning that we want to preserve and encourage in our children is our joy as well. Here is a little passage from the title essay:

We would do well to apprehend the truth that our lives are made up not of years or months or even weeks, but only moments, one after the other. We have only today, this crumb of time. What are we meant to be doing with it? What life-giving blessings have been poured into it for us? If we pay attention to the blessings at hand—whatever they are—this moment will be a moment of nourishment, joy, peace, or labor. Whether we are washing dishes or picking up toys or changing a diaper, that is not a wasted or worthless moment. Those tasks are a sign that we have been blessed with food to eat, a home to live in, and children to love.

from Much may be done with sparrows

I’ll have to keep you updated about the exact publication date, but I’m hoping it will be available in June 2024. We’re in the home stretch with this little book and I’m so excited to show you the cover and talk about it. I hope it will be a blessing to you as you take a break from the 23/24 school year and get ready to dive in to 24/25. Home educating your children is a big job, and sometimes you just need some encouragement. That’s what this book is for.

Books and Reading 2022

I’ve published a post like this for many years.

2017. 2018. 2019.

I did not publish one in 2020. Guess why? I did read books in 2020, but I was mostly in survival mode, and I wasn’t terribly successful. I didn’t have the heart to post anything about reading in 2020.

In 2021, my life was dominated by a few major life events that (thankfully) occur only seldom, and for some people (also thankfully), never. But I had more than one. I’m pretty sure I read some books in 2021, but they were mostly to distract me from Other Things, and not especially memorable.

And so we come to 2022, which appears to be the year in which I realize I have nearly forgotten how to read. I read some books, but somehow the total is dramatically lower than the other years I recorded above. Thirteen. I finished thirteen books. Now, I read more than thirteen books, because I did a good bit of partial re-reading in books I’ve read before, and some of the books (very plural) I’ve been reading simply can’t be counted because I’m not nearly finished with them.

That’s a really terrible number, and I feel bad about it, but I don’t feel bad because I can’t show off a big number like 30, or 40, or 50, or 60—and there have been years when I read more books than that. I feel bad about it because I like books and I want to read them more. I have noticed that sometimes I stop reading because my eyes aren’t working quite right, so I think I need new glasses.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that because it seems harder to read than it used to be, I won’t let myself read second-rate stuff. Can’t waste my finicky eyesight on that! So all the books I’ve read are good books. I will tell you about a few of them.

Nonfiction:

Jesus the Great Philosopher, by Jonathan Pennington.

I bought this book after reading this review by Patrick Egan, and I am glad I did. It was basically a round-about argument for Charlotte Mason’s philosophical insight that education is the science of relations.

 

 

Everything Sad is Untrue, by Daniel Nayeri

I missed the memo somewhere about this—that it was a memoir—and read the entire book thinking it was fiction. It was a shock to discover my error immediately upon finishing. If you read it (and I’ve seen it on any number of other people’s lists this year), please begin by knowing that it is a true story, in spite of the title.

 

Fiction:

Something to Hide, by Elizabeth George.

Do not rush out to buy this book, but if you like character-driven crime novels (ala Dorothy Sayers), and don’t mind some gritty modern reality, consider beginning with earlier Inspector Lynley novels. Elizabeth George takes at least two years to bring out a new book–sometimes  longer. It’s the only thing I ever pre-order for my Kindle and devour instantly. Please let there be a next one, but I won’t be holding my breath in 2023.

A Town Called Solace, by Mary Lawson

If you haven’t ever read anything by Mary Lawson, I suggest you remedy that in 2023. Read Crow Lake first. Mary Lawson takes even longer than Elizabeth George to write a new book, and I have no idea when or if there will ever be another. But Betty Smith wrote less than five, and we remember her forever for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Mary Lawson is that good, and is also Canadian, if you’re counting that sort of thing.

I have very, very eclectic reading tastes, and I want to read more in 2023 than 2022. That’s my only goal. More than thirteen. Tune in next year to see how I do. Maybe this will be the year I “discover” audiobooks.

 

(Links are affiliate links—you know the drill. No extra cost to you; a few pennies in the book budget for me. Hope you read some great books this next year!)

 

Nuggets from the Armitt #8

Do you keep a commonplace book? Many Charlotte-Mason-inspired readers do, and we encourage our older students to keep one as well, in lieu of the copywork that belongs to younger children.

Since Charlotte Mason recommended it as a practice, I suppose she kept one, too, though they seem to have gone astray. Amongst her things at the Armitt, however, there is this little book, small enough to have been kept in a pocket with a stub of pencil, because everything there is written in pencil. It is a A commonplace book, if not THE commonplace book. It occurred to me that writing, for Charlotte Mason, was a matter of sitting at a desk with a bottle of ink, dipping a pen after every few words, and waiting for the ink to dry before going on. It really doesn’t lend itself to something you would stop in the middle of your reading to do, especially if you were lying on a couch (which she did in later years because of poor health) or were reading in a sunny spot outside to enjoy the fresh air.

I think a little book like this would be very handy to jot things down that you might later transcribe into a more formal commonplace book. I have no idea if she really did that or not. I wonder whether she could even read her own handwriting, because it is fairly illegible. However, just for fun, here’s a page I have been able to decipher. There are three quotes here, although the top one is continued from the page before (and there’s a word on that previous page I haven’t been able to figure out yet).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The quote at the top is:

“I’m not strong enough; you see a minute goes by so fearfully quick; you might as well try to stop a Bandersnatch.” Here the logic is unanswerable.

—Rev. Cyril A. Arlington.

(The full quote, from Alice in Wonderland,  is “I’m good enough , ” the King said , “only I’m not strong enough. You see,  a minute goes by so fearfully quick . You might as well try to stop a Bandersnatch.”—in reply to a request from Alice, “Would you be good enough to stop a minute?”)

So, it’s a quote of a quote, in part. The first part is from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, but it’s attributed to Rev. Cyril A. Arlington. He’s written any number of books, but I’m making a guess that Charlotte might have been reading A Schoolmaster’s Apology. Its date of publication is in line with other dates in the booklet.

The next two quotes are attributed to Clement of Alexandria, but I cannot decipher the attribution at the end. The first one says:

Clement of Alexandria affirmed that Christianity is the heir of all past time, and the interpreter of the future.

And the next is:

He (C. Of A.) claims for the Gospel the power of fulfilling all the desires of men and of raising to a supreme unity all the objects of knowledge.

I really am not sure what book she was reading, but it’s obvious that she’s reading about Clement of Alexandria rather than a book by “C. of A.” It might been this one, published in 1911.

It’s interesting to me that these last two quotes align closely with Charlotte Mason’s educational premise that “Education is the Science of relations,” and if you read the linked page (all I could find), there’s even more on the topic.

But the real take-away here is that—if you keep a commonplace book, write legibly and cite precisely so that a hundred years after you die, interested parties know what you were reading.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these nuggets from the Armitt. It’s a lovely place to visit. I’ve been there twice, and I was supposed to go again in 2020, but that went the way of most 2020 plans. I do hope to visit again, because you never know what you will uncover in those dense old tomes! It’s always a treasure hunt, and I’m always happy to share with all of you.

Have a wonderful and blessed holiday—Happy Christmas! (That’s what they say in the UK.)

 

 

 

 

 

Nuggets from the Armitt #7

One of the interesting things buried in various volumes of the L’Umile Pianta are records of the questions that teachers had about little practical details. Sometimes they had the advantage of being able to go directly to Charlotte Mason and ask her about how to deal with some particular problem, and her response to the question was recorded for posterity. However, few copies of the L’Umile Pianta are available, and the little nuggets of wisdom have to be mined for. (What I mean is, you have to sit on an uncomfortable wooden chair and spend the precious few hours you have in Ambleside, England turning over the leaves, scanning, and hoping to spot something valuable.) When you do find a gem, you take a picture, and now it can be shared with everyone.

This is a dense page of text (most of those pages are). The topic of discussion revolved around some of the complications encountered when a child moved from one Form to another. Sometimes they weren’t ready to do the math and grammar that the higher Form was doing, and in that case, the advise was not to jump ahead, but to keep going so that nothing important was missed. But for history, the answer was different, and that’s what this “nugget from the Armitt” is about.

It was a standard practice for some history books to be spread out and read across two or sometimes even three years. Because of that, if a child moved from a lower Form to a higher one, the class might be in the middle of book. Charlotte Mason had some specific and wise advice about how to handle the situation, which can be very relevant for contemporary homeschoolers. Sometimes, the chronological flow of history is interrupted by changing from one curriculum to another. Sometimes, you jump into a curriculum with an older child, and their history is already in the middle of a book, similar to the PNEU Forms. This is what you can do:

Miss Mason suggested that one or two lessons should be given to bridge over the interval; they should be bright and descriptive, and should just sketch in the changes that had taken place: the children should not be required to reproduce them.

So, the teacher (or mother) should simply summarize the missed parts of history as interestingly as possible, and the child need not narrate those summarized lessons. That will give them a framework to begin reading the new history or the next assigned chapter, and they will be able to pick up the thread of events and follow along.

I’ve seen many parents raise the same questions that the PNEU teachers did, and since we can’t go and ask Charlotte Mason exactly what we should do, it was nice of our predecessors to write it down and preserve it. Imagine how surprised they would be to know that the whole world could read about their dilemma and their answer, thanks to modern technology.

Nuggets from the Armitt #6

One of my favorite books is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I have read it countless times, and reread it in every decade of my life. I love Francie Nolan, who once got a job at a Press Clipping Bureau. Now, because I have read the novel so many times, I also read the description of her work many times. It’s all explained very clearly, but at the same time, I really had no idea what was going on.

The interview was short. She was hired on trial. Hours, nine to five-thirty, half an hour for lunch, salary, seven dollars a week to start. First, the Boss took her on a tour of inspection of the Press Clipping Bureau. 

The ten readers sat at long sloping desks. The newspapers of all the states were divided among them. The papers poured into the Bureau every hour of every day from every city in every state of the Union. The girls marked and boxed items sought and put down their total and their own identifying number on the top of the front page. 

The marked papers were collected and brought to the printer who had a hand press containing an adjustable date apparatus, and racks of slugs before her. She adjusted the paper's date on 
her press, inserted the slug containing the name, city, and state of the newspaper and printed as many slips as there were items marked. 

Then, slips and newspaper went to the cutter who stood before a large slanting desk and slashed out the marked items with a sharp curved knife. (In spite of the letterhead, there wasn't 
a pair of shears on the premises.) As the cutter slashed out the items, throwing the discarded paper to the floor, a sea of newspaper rose as high as her waist each fifteen minutes. A man 
collected this waste paper and took it away for baling. 

The clipped items and slips were turned over to the paster who affixed the clippings, to the slips. Then they were filed, collected and placed in envelopes and mailed.

While exploring a box at the Armitt,  and only because of reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I knew what these were as soon as I saw them. Press clippings! The PNEU paid a press clipping bureau just like Francie’s to look through all the papers for anything that mentioned their organization, Charlotte Mason, or her publications. And here they are—envelopes stuffed full of them—pasted onto their slips and mailed to the PNEU office so they could see what people were saying about them. It’s a primitive version of Googling, if you think about it. If Elsie Kitching had been able to Google, she wouldn’t have needed these.

I did not have the time to read all of them—and many of them are pretty mundane. One that struck me as funny  was a book review that complained that Charlotte Mason was too wordy, and if her contemporaries felt that way, it’s easy to understand how much harder it is for modern readers to follow her.

But I snapped a picture of a few press clippings at the time,  just in case there are other fans of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn who might be interested to see how and why those press clipping bureaus existed.

Nuggets from the Armitt #5

This particular nugget will be especially valuable to parents of older children. If you have been using Charlotte Mason’s methods for a good while, you have probably found that, at approximately age 12 or so, children can become rather bored of simply “telling back” all their reading by way of straightforward narration. This is still the “best means to adopt” up to that point, as these notes suggest, but—“with older children, other means of recapturing may be adopted.” Now that is very interesting! Here is the whole summary of the topic:

At a Criticism Lesson given this term, Miss Mason called attention to the importance of ascertaining by means of a summary whether the lesson has been assimilated by the children. With younger children narration of a whole or part of the lesson is the best means to adopt, because it is not only a training in accurate and coherent thought, and an exercise in correctness of expression, but also the very fact of narrating causes the children to make a vivid mental picture of what they describe. It is important not to interrupt the narration by questions; but if one child hesitate, to allow another to take up the thread of the story. With older children other means of recapturing may be adopted, and it is well to vary them as much as possible. One good way is to allow the children to write down two or three questions such as would contain the most important points of the lesson ; answers in this case are unnecessary. There are of course many other methods of summarizing, e.g., writing a short report on questions set previously by the teacher, and carefully chosen, so that the answers may not be vague or rambling. Another good way is to use a map if the subject permit, or to sum up by a few oral questions on a part or the whole of the lesson. If the children know a part, they will probably have grasped the whole equally well.

Now here are some interesting thoughts about narration for older children, and I suspect there are a few reasons for these alternative ideas. First, of course, is boredom with plain narration, as I mentioned earlier. But also, these older students were reading quite a bit more material, and time for all of them to narrate all of the material wasn’t available in the schedule. One key, I think, is permission to narrate only part of the material. But the idea of writing a short report as a written narration in response to a question, rather than writing out a narration of the whole, is a very interesting idea. To keep the question from provoking a “vague or rambling” response, it would have to be quite definite. For example:

What are some ways that seeds are dispersed? Use specific plants as examples.

What hardships did young Jane Eyre face at Lowood School? What helped her to deal with them?

What changes did the Industrial Revolution make in the cloth-making industry? Who benefited from the changes, and who was harmed?

“Many other methods” invites a teacher to be creative, and I think what I call “creative narration” belongs here as well. Children can write from the first-person perspective of a character or historical figure, or an animal! They can write in the form of poetry, a newspaper article, a screenplay, or even a graphic novel. They can summarize with a list of questions, in an imaginary letter, or in the “voice” of Shakespearean English.

I think it’s very helpful to know that Charlotte Mason’s primary method of narration can be expanded to include a wide variety of activities, and even that “it is well to vary them as much as possible.” If your narrators are getting a little tired of merely “telling back,” put some interest back into the process by trying something different.

Happy Christmas to all!

In 2020, I posted a series of four “nuggets from the Armitt,” in which I shared fun tidbits that I gleaned from my visit to the Armitt museum in Ambleside, England, where all of Charlotte Mason’s and the PNEU’s artifacts are housed, including a complete collection of all the volumes of the Parents’ Review and L’Umile Pianta. I have much more than I was able to share then, and with the holidays coming up, I decided to make a gift of several more.

Beginning on December 1, and posting once  a week up until Christmas, I’ve got four more “Nuggets from the Armitt” to share with you (which I’m numbering consecutively to the last four).

Keep an eye out for them—some of them are just for fun and interest, but there are a couple of really useful tidbits in there, too.

If you missed the last round, you can check them while you wait:

Nuggets from the Armitt #1
Nuggets from the Armitt #2
Nuggets from the Armitt #3
Nuggets from the Armitt #4

Nuggets #5-8 coming soon!

May your holiday season be blessed by Jesus, the Light of the World.

Upcoming online courses

I began teaching online classes earlier this year. So far, I’ve taught several sessions of a book study on my own book, In Vital Harmony, which I’ll offer again in the future. I’ve received several suggestions for future classes, and I’ve been working on a few things.

I’ve got two new classes lined up for the new year. The first one is half book study/half seminar based upon Know and Tell. It will be a six-week seminar that starts in March, covering all the whys and hows of narration, with plenty of opportunity to ask questions and discuss the process. If you’re interested in that one, you can get the details and sign up here:

Know and Tell book study

The next one is a longer course requiring an investment on several levels. I’ll be teaching through David Hicks’ seminal work on classical education, Norms and Nobility, which is 22% off on the day I’m publishing this! If you’ve already invested in the book but haven’t been able to get as much out of it as you want to, you might like to invest in this course. We’ll be taking it a little slower—meeting every two weeks—so you’ll have time to read. There will be a place for online discussion as well, so questions can be asked and we can explore some ideas more fully when there is interest. I hope you’ll consider joining me! This class will last from January to June, and will include study material for each chapter.  You can get all the details for the class and sign up here:

 

Norms and Nobility book study

I’m looking forward to both of these classes, and I hope you’ll be able to join me for at least one of them.

 

(n.b. Amazon links are affiliate links.)

Narration—it’s what’s for breakfast.

Imagine the most wonderful breakfast you’ve ever had, or dreamed of having. Of course there will be multiple parts to it. Eggs, bacon, toast, biscuits, delicious jelly, perhaps pancakes or waffles with cream and berries. Naturally, it will be accompanied by the very best coffee or tea (or both), along with creamy milk and fresh-squeezed orange juice. This is a very good breakfast, and you would be happy to have it.

But imagine having to prepare that every day. We need breakfast, and it’s important. But what if all we have time for today is a piece of toast with peanut butter? What if our energy levels are low? A bowl of cornflakes will keep us going for a bit. Maybe we need to grab an apple or a granola bar and hurry out the door for a busy day.

The ideal breakfast is out there, and without a doubt, there will be the day when that breakfast is served. And we will be delighted. We will enjoy every bite and tuck it away in memory as that time when we got to savor the best of all possible breakfasts. But life doesn’t generally allow us that every day, and we can be content with toast, oatmeal, cornflakes, or a tub of yogurt most of the time, because those more modest breakfasts meet our needs and keep us going until lunch.

What does this have to do with narration?

If you practice narration in your home school and hang out with other moms who practice narration, you are going to hear about other kids’ narrations. Moms like to share. You’ll read about the great narration someone else’s six year old, or ten year old, or teenager did, and you might look side-wise at your own kids and worry that their narrations aren’t quite at that level.

But neither is every breakfast.

You’d take a picture of that fancy breakfast and post it on Instagram, but maybe not the peanut butter toast, and definitely not the pre-packaged yogurt or granola bar. It’s the same with the narrations we tend to share. We share the best of the best—the really good ones that we appreciated and savored because they were special.

But the daily round of breakfast—and narrations—isn’t always photo-worthy.

And that is one hundred percent okay.

Read that sentence again and make sure you really, really get it. It is okay—absolutely, positively fine—that breakfast and narrations are a little ordinary.

Because the raison d’être of breakfast is just to fuel you up until lunch, and the raison d’être of narration is simply to exercise the mind so that it digests what it has taken in. It isn’t a graded performance.

If your child’s narration lacks the bells and whistles of a fancy breakfast, just think about the basic substance. Did they understand the material enough to be able to narrate it at all? That’s enough—you can move on to the next thing. The need has been met, and there will be many opportunities in the future for the really lively, engaged narration with flourishes and connections to other things. That’s the one you’ll want to savor and share (like those other moms). But it doesn’t mean the more humdrum daily narrations don’t matter, or haven’t done their work in the marathon task that is a child’s education.

Just as we don’t have the time and money resources to make every breakfast a picture-perfect feast, our children don’t have the mental resources to make every narration a stand-out masterpiece you’ll want to share on the internet. But if they’ve shown up and made the effort to narrate at all, that’s what needed to happen, and like oatmeal for breakfast,  everyone will be satisfied enough to keep going. For today, that’s what counts.

 

In Vital Harmony book study

Hosted via the Beautiful Teaching website, I’m going to be offering another in-person online book study for In Vital Harmony. Over six weeks, we’ll meet once per week on Thursdays for live lecture and discussion. This time, there will also be some study notes available ahead of time and discussion space outside of class time to interact further with each other and the ideas we’ll be covering.

Class will run from September 22 to October 27 (with lectures available to view for one week if you have to miss a live class). I did a session of this a few months ago for the first time ever, and I’ve made several improvements. I got great feedback from the last group, and I’m hoping the experience will be better than ever this time around.

If you want to understand Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy in a comprehensive and cohesive way, this course will walk you through all the parts while keeping the larger picture in view. Join me! I look forward to seeing you there. (Space is limited for the sake of discussion, so register soon.)