Category Archives: Blog

In the home stretch…

Now that it’s January, I have been flooded by questions about when, exactly, Know and Tell will be available, and that is perfectly fair because I said January, right?

When I said that (in October), I was hoping for earlier rather than later in January, too. However, I should have known better because holidays, winters, business, baking, illness, and etc.

However, I spoke with my formatting editor (i.e. husband) last night and he assures me January is still on. We are that close. Allowing for as-yet-unforeseen complications, we’re committed to having Know and Tell available before January 31. I wish it were sooner, too. I want it to be the very best I can give you, though, and meeting that deadline is going to keep us pretty busy. Back to work for me!

Books and Reading 2017

I did a post like this in 2016, so I took a quick look at that. I am sad that I read fewer books in 2017 (29) than I did in 2016 (33). I actually did a lot of reading this year, but I didn’t read a lot of books. A few of my picks were quite substantial, plus I always think I’ll get more reading done than I actually do. My eyes aren’t getting any younger. If you look at my 2016 post, you’ll see that I shared some of my plans for 2017 reading. I read my top three non-fiction picks, but didn’t get to the others mentioned there. I only read two of my top three fiction choices for 2017, but I did get that Pulitzer winner in.

Since I read so few books, I may just comment on all of them (briefly)

Contemporary Fiction–I always read a few contemporary books each year because I need to reach my yearly quota of weeping and gnashing of teeth, and this is the quickest way.

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey.

When I said I had a taste for dystopia and and post-apocalyptic fiction (not the same thing!), this book was recommended to me. In future, I must add a qualifier to everything: no zombie books. I don’t do zombies. This is a zombie book, and also a take on the Pandora myth, with some interesting perspectives on the value of education. Proceed at your own risk.

Sleep Tight by Rachel Abbot

A psychological crime novel—a once-in-a-while indulgence for me.

The Maze Runner (Book 1) by James Dashner

See “penchant for post-apocalyptic literature.” But why must everything be a trilogy or a series? The hints at the end about the sequel set off my zombie alarms, and I doubt I’ll be reading more in the series. I have theories about zombies as a relentlessly recurring motif in modern fiction, but I promised to be brief.

All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel by Anthony Doerr

Ah. That’s more like it. I don’t read all the Pulitzer Prize winners, but I do try to pick one up every couple of years. A book like this restores one’s faith in modern writers. I really enjoy stories that play with time a bit, or are told in a non-linear way, and this book ticks that box for me, too.


The Circle by David Eggers

See “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I kept waiting for the “heroine” to develop some wisdom, or at least come to her senses, but this is a postmodern book, so she didn’t.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

This and the previous book were read because yes, I saw the movie previews, then discovered they were based on books. I chose the books. This was a hard book to read, because of the subject matter, but I’m glad I did. Modern fiction that doesn’t lead to weeping and gnashing of teeth is good. But come to think of it, I may have shed a few tears over this one for other reasons. (In case it isn’t obvious from this list, I also dip into YA fiction.)

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

A reread. I probably read it the first time over ten years ago, but this year I watched the TV series, prompting the reread. Remember my taste for dystopia?

The Birdwatcher by Kathryn Judson

Modern Christian post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction. Not every day, but yes.

Classic (or at least vintage) Fiction

Re-Creations by Grace Livingston Hill

The kind of book I read when my mind is, to use Charlotte Mason’s phrase, in need of an elbow-chair.

The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer

Ditto the elbow-chair thing. Also a reread.

Somehow Good by William de Morgan

I cannot remember who recommended this author to me, but this was my first time to read him. It was a more modern take on the kind of thing Mary Elizabeth Braddon (Lady Audley’s Secret) would write. I’d definitely read another of his books.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

This was my first Dostoyevsky. Tolstoy is still my favorite Russian author. I found the first 1/4 to 1/3 of the book hard going—I just wasn’t enjoying the book. At one point, I even switched translators (Constance Garner will be my go-to in future), and finally I did begin to get immersed in the story. There will be more Dostoyevsky in my future, too, but I doubt he’s going to shake Tolstoy from my #1 spot.


Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

A reread (I lost count a long time ago). Jane Austen is a life-time favorite of mine. There was a season of my life when I reread all six of her books every year. Now it’s usually only one or two.

Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery

A reread. See “elbow-chair.”

False Colours by Georgette Heyer

Two Heyers and one Austen this year. I must rectify that imbalance.

The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty

My first Eudora Welty, recommended by a friend. This is just the kind of book I like—absolutely nothing happens (well, not nothing, but the action/plot is minimal); however, the characters are deep and sharply drawn. Character-driven fiction for the win.


Our Friend Manso by Benito Perez Galdos

Translated from the Spanish. Recommended to me by a Spanish-speaking friend who read the original.  I enjoyed the story, but I think the translation really let the book down. I had to ask for help understanding some things, and when I did, I realized that in the original language the book is quite nuanced and humorous, but it all comes off rather flat in translation. Reading the original is not possible for me, though, so I must be content.


Essays on Educational Reformers by Herbert Robert Quick

One of the books on the history of education used in Charlotte Mason’s “education course” for parents (and teachers). It runs from the Renaissance to Froebel and Pestalozzi. I found this a fascinating read–I am convinced that CM must have enjoyed Quick’s sense of humor, plus he was involved in the founding of the PNEU, though he died not long after. This book also introduced me to some historical educators I was previously unacquainted with. And there’s a whole chapter on Comenius. 500+ pages of educational history and philosophy—what’s not to like?

A Touch of the Infinite by Megan Hoyt

Megan’s (I call her that because she is a friend) new book is outstanding. If you are a Charlotte Mason educator or  just want more music in your homeschool, Megan has opened the door wide. Music is a weak area for me, so I really appreciated her enthusiasm and love for music that just bubbles from every page, combined with a keen understanding of CM’s philosophy of education and appreciation for the synthetic nature of it all. Highly recommended for improving your “science of relations” with music.

Ourselves by Charlotte Mason

A reread for me, but I have not read this book as frequently as her others, so it was nice to have it fresh in my mind this year. As always, every reading of one of CM’s volumes offers new insight. I never get tired of reading her.

Minds More Awake by Anne White

This was another reread. I really enjoy Anne’s (she’s a friend, too!) down-to-earth style. She grapples with Charlotte Mason and pulls metaphors out of the most unlikely places (crockpots and buried telephone cables?), but the title is so apt. Reading this book is like putting on a pair of new glasses—everything is so much sharper and clearer than you’d realized.

On the Art of Writing by Arthur Quiller-Couch

I’ve worked my way slowly through the “Q” books because of Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road book. I discovered, too, within the last year or two, that they were included in some PNEU programs for older students.

The Girl Without a Voice by Casey Watson

One of my very earliest forays into education was reading about special education teachers who helped traumatized children. (Remember Lovey? If you don’t because you’re that much younger than I am, don’t tell me.) I’ve been reading books like this since I was a teen, although it’s just an occasional thing now.

School Education by Charlotte Mason

My second volume of 2017—obviously, a reread.

The Story of Charlotte Mason by Essex Cholmondeley

Part biography/part educational treatise. A reread, but also—probably only the second time I’ve read it. My primary interest in Charlotte Mason is in her ideas about education, not her life or biography. In fact, there’s a new biography out, and I’m not much tempted to read it, as a biography written from historical research must be much less personal than this one, based upon interviews (in part) with people who actually knew her. In the end, I just don’t care as much about her life as I do about her ideas. So this book is really a win, because it’s about both. (Also extremely hard to find and expensive now. Sorry.)

In Memoriam by the PNEU

A collection of Charlotte Mason testimonials, mostly. I blogged about this a good bit after I read it.

An Introduction to the History of Educational Theories by Oscar Browning

A second major book on the history of education in the same year is a bit much, even for me. This book was also part of CM’s education course, but this one starts with Plato and Aristotle and ends with a chapter on “The English Public School”—ie, the “classical” schools as CM would have known them. If you were going to choose one, I think the Quick book is more readable, but this one is more comprehensive. Also, I’ve always wondered if CM was acquainted with Quintilian (my English translation is too recent for her to have read it), and now I know that she was at least acquainted with him through this book, because he features largely in the chapter about the Romans, and some of the specific things in Quintilian that remind me of Mason are mentioned, so maybe that’s not a coincidence.

Norms and Nobility by David Hicks

A reread, but an intensive one, as I was leading a book study on the AmblesideOnline forum. You can access all my study posts here (forum membership needed, but it’s free and easy). This is a modern classic, and a really great foundation for shaping an understanding of classical education that is much more than superficial.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Treatise on Method, edited by Alice D. Snyder

I’m going to have a lot to say about this book in 2018, so for now, I’ll just say that I devoured it the first time, I’m reading it for a second time more slowly, and I plan to read it a third time, quickly again, before I begin to formulate my thoughts.


I’m in the middle of several things that won’t be finished in 2017.

A Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason

I read this so many times in 2015, when I was preparing Mind to Mind, I thought I’d never want to read it again. But of course, that’s not true. I’m about halfway through it.

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

I’m just reading this one slowly and taking time to think about. I had hoped to finish it, but my Kindle says I’m about halfway through this one, too. (Wish I had a physical copy—I prefer real books for nonfiction.)

The Extraordinary Visit of Benjamin True by Jack Pelham.

I just started this one because I know the author’s wife. It’s not my usual fare (politics!), but I’m a pretty eclectic reader and intend to read to the end. I suspect it will be laced with philosophy, and fiction laced with philosophy is my jam.

I think there are two or three other books that I read partially this year, but I’m not still reading them, so they aren’t “in progress,” and who knows if I’ll get back to them?

Statistics: Grand Total: 29

Fiction: 17

Nonfiction: 12

Rereads: 11 (This might be too many. Hmm.)

In translation: 2

In the end, this is so long —a whole year’s reading condensed into one post!—I’m going to have to do a separate post about what I’m planning for 2018. Look for that in a day or two, and feel free to make recommendations. Congratulations for reading through the list! If it’s not obvious from my comments above, I’m happy to follow recommendations from friends, but please remember—no zombies!





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Know and Tell—Is it too late to start narration?

For those of us who begin using Charlotte Mason’s methods with our children from the beginning, we start narration at age six and watch the process unfold in due course. However, many families begin homeschooling later, with older children, or they switch to Charlotte Mason’s methods after using another method, and find themselves wondering how to begin narration with a child who is ten, or twelve, or fourteen.

Will that work?

I’ve devoted a chapter in Know and Tell to beginning narration with older students, but the quick answer, I am happy to tell you is—yes! Narration can be introduced with older children and still be an effective method. The reason for this is that narration is based on a normal human activity—“telling”—and we can begin working on that art at any point in our lives.

Fortunately, this means that you can also “begin again” if you need to. Sometimes things happen and we drop narration for a while—maybe even a few years. It can be reintroduced, and our children can  build fluency even after a lapse. I hope to encourage you to give narration a chance to do its work, and not to feel that it’s too late. A child of eleven or twelve needs a period of exclusively oral narration to develop that skill, but it need not be years long before introducing written narration as well.

In Philosophy of Education, Charlotte Mason makes a proposal for continuing education that would have had children as old as age 14 beginning narration—both oral and written. She assumed that they would appreciate the opportunities that narration would give them.

We go to work with a certainty that the young students crave knowledge of what we call the ‘humanities,’ that they read with absolute attention and that, having read, they know. They will welcome the preparation for public speaking, an effort for which everyone must qualify in these days, which the act of narration offers. (Philosophy of Education, p. 124)

I take that as a hint that when older children begin narration, they need to understand the reasons for it for themselves. To that end, I’ve included a short essay addressed to older children beginning narration—you can let them read it, or use it as the model for your own conversation with your students.

Narration is an effective method, even when it is begun with children older than age six. In Know and Tell, I’ll give you some strategies for starting at later ages, so that your students can begin the relationship-building practice of narration and enjoy all of its benefits.

Fluency in Narration

If you pick up a crochet hook or a pair of knitting needles for the first time, and try to maneuver a fiddly bit of string with those unfamiliar tools, it will seem difficult. Your concentration on one step makes you forget something else, and your hands feel clumsy as they try to perform the required gyrations. The early results might look like a tangled mess. However, if you keep practicing, the process becomes almost effortless. The hook or needles becomes an extension of your own hand, your motions are rhythmic and confident, and the string is transformed from mere string into a cozy scarf or a warm hat. You have become a fluent knitter (or crocheter).

In Know and Tell, I use the word fluent in connection with narration quite often. Fluency at each stage of narration is the goal. Charlotte Mason said that children who were taught using her methods—excellent books which were always narrated—learned to “express themselves in forcible and fluent English and use a copious vocabulary.” (Philosophy of Education, p. 28)

She was aware that fluency was not automatic and instant.

The first efforts may be stumbling but presently the children get into their ‘stride’ and ‘tell’ a passage at length with surprising fluency. (Philosophy of Education, p. 172.)

Just as the first attempts at handling a pair of knitting needles might result in a hopeless tangle, first efforts in narration might not be very impressive. It is a temptation to assume the method doesn’t work, or that it is not the right method for a particular child. It is easy to get discouraged and give up on narration. However, if we will be patient, and continue using narration (or knitting needles) consistently, the effort will result in…fluency.

Fluency is also built in incremental steps. It doesn’t happen all at once, or overnight. A young child practices until he fluently narrates a paragraph, while an older child may be able to narrate a whole chapter.

They require a little time to employ their power of fixed attention and that other power which they possess of fluent narration. So probably young children should be allowed to narrate paragraph by paragraph, while children of seven or eight will ‘tell’ chapter by chapter. (Philosophy of Education, p. 191)

It takes several years for children to build oral fluency when they begin at age six, but if you start narration with a ten- or eleven-year-old, oral fluency may be achieved within six or twelve months. We should focus on oral fluency before introducing written narration.

Fluency in written narration also takes time—years!—to develop fully, and fluent written narration should not be confused with formal composition. In Know and Tell, I’ll sort this out more thoroughly, and give you a plan that will allow your child to take the time they need to build fluency. Just knowing that the early stumbling steps or tangled threads will resolve into fluent narration if you persevere is encouraging. Very few people are proficient with a crochet hook the first time they pick one up, but if you look at the lovely things a skilled crocheter can make, you know that they did not quit when their first efforts resulted in a mess.

Do the same with narration—keep working on it until fluency is achieved—and your children will delight you with the results.

Narration—The Foundation for Composition

This is the big question, I think. How does simple narration—oral, and then written—grow into formal composition?

I have been through this process three complete times, and while I couldn’t possibly say that the way I’ve done it is the only right way, I know it works. I’m in the midst of the process with my youngest child right now, and I find myself calmly confident that following certain incremental steps will take us from the first clumsy written narrations to fluent written narrations to actual composition and essay-writing.

Over the years, I’ve shared my process piecemeal, in response to specific needs and questions, but in Know and Tell I’ve gathered a description of the entire process into one place.  I have one chapter devoted to developing simple written narration, but the longest chapter in the book (by a wide margin) is the chapter that lays out the process of developing written narration into composition, step by step. I’ve even provided three different time-lines for the process, so that you can fit the plan into three, four, or five years—beginning in 8th, 9th, or even 10th grade.

I’ll walk you through the process of teaching your students to edit and polish their work, provide structure to their writing, and preserve their own writing voice as they learn to write in traditional forms. Know and Tell is not a fully-developed writing curriculum, but it will show you how to develop writing without a curriculum, and explain when adding such a curriculum to your efforts, if you want to, will be most effective.

In Know and Tell, I’ll be showing you how you can gradually increase the length of written narrations, and then begin to shape them into compositions and essays. I’ve laid out the steps in a natural progression that will preserve your student’s own writing voice. Very prescriptive writing programs often result in stilted writing. I’ll be encouraging you to help your student structure her writing while retaining a more natural style. You might think you want your student to be able to write a five-paragraph-essay (and you do), but please read this:

From the article: “There may be no greater enemy to quality writing than the 5-paragraph essay.”

When we use narration as the foundation for composition and writing, we have a strong, natural foundation that can forgo the stilted, artificial process of building an essay with sentence-by-sentence rules. Did you know that you can explain the idea of a five-paragraph-essay (beginning, middle, end) to an accomplished narrator in about fifteen minutes, and they will probably be able to write one? Mature students are ready to think about the structure of their writing, and a minimum of instruction will give them a grasp of what is expected, and then they are free to focus on content, and saying what they want to say. This is why students who learn to write through narration impress their college professors.

In Know and Tell, I’ll suggest a few critical resources to use that will build your student’s writing skills, but it is the daily writing, and eventually rewriting and polishing, that will grow your narrators into writers.


Beginning Narration in Know and Tell

When it comes to narration, you don’t just begin once. You begin…and begin…and begin…and sometimes, you have to begin again.

There are certain normal reactions to beginning narration with a six-year-old. In Know and Tell, I’ll explain what those are, so that when your child repeats back the last sentence you read, verbatim, you’ll know he’s normal and hopefully won’t get discouraged.

Sometimes, however, you need to begin narration with an older student. That presents a different set of challenges, and I have a short chapter just to talk about that situation. It may be that it’s a matter of beginning again, too, because you dropped narration for a while. That happens sometimes, but it doesn’t mean you can’t take up the practice of narration for a second try, and reap its benefits.

There comes a moment when you begin written narrations. That’s another beginning and a whole new set of challenges. I’ll show you how to start simply, and then make incremental steps that will take your child from a few words on a page to fluent written narrations.

And once your child has mastered that, you need to begin developing narration into composition. I’ll tell you a bit more about that later.

We often encourage each other to trust the process, and what I hope Know and Tell will do is make the the process clearer. It can be hard to visualize when you are just getting started. The development of narration looks something like this:

From 1st to 3rd grade, the primary focus is on developing oral fluency.
From 4th to 6th grade, the primary focus is on developing writing fluency (while fluent oral narration continues).
From 7th to 9th grade, the new skill introduced is editing, and your primary focus can target your student’s needs–continue building writing fluency if you need to,  and begin to tackle composition when you’re ready.
From 10th to 12th grade, the primary focus is on developing composition skills (while enjoying all the benefits of fluent oral and written narration).

Obviously, there is some overlap in each epoch. Students don’t leave oral narration or simple written narration behind, and they sometimes dabble in the next stage while still working on fluency in the current one.

Each stage of narration represents a new beginning, and in Know and Tell I’ve tried to show you what you can expect as you begin each new stage. I have real narrations of others’ beginnings. I hope you’ll be encouraged to see how each new beginning gives your child an opportunity to strengthen and develop his thinking and writing skills.

I’ll just tell you right here one of the “secrets” of narration. Narration is a long game, and if you win, your child wins. If you understand the process, and the way each new beginning builds on the mastery of the previous stage, you will be less concerned about those off days, when narration doesn’t go well (it’s no secret that we all have days like that!). But there’s another little secret—no individual narration is especially important. It’s the continual, consistent practice that builds strong thinking and the power to express oneself clearly. Each new beginning of the process is a fresh start, but each and every narration is also a fresh beginning—either a virtual or literal “blank page” upon which your child can record a bit of knowledge and make it his own.

If you haven’t been using narration, I hope reading Know and Tell will encourage you to begin! —To begin as soon as possible, and to renew your commitment to the process each time you begin the next step.

Know and Tell—The Scope and Sequence

What would you expect to find in a book about narration?

I want to share a little of my rationale for writing such a book in the first place. I put my eggs in the narration basket (so to speak) very early in my homeschooling endeavors. Within a few months of starting, I caught a glimpse of how powerful narration was, and it made such an impression on me that I determined to use narration all the way to the end of the process, to see what it would accomplish.

At the time, I did not know one single person who had done that. It was 1996. The internet was still in its infancy, and the Home Education Series had only been in print for a few years. It was Charlotte Mason’s own words, combined with my early experience, that convinced me to put my faith in narration. I want to share with you how that faith has been realized.
By the time my oldest child was ten years old, I was a dedicated convert. I was observing the benefits of consistent narration, and hearing about similar results from others who were using narration as well. I tried to encourage everyone I could to give narration a fair trial, and I think it was then (about 2000) that I first envisioned a book about narration. But, I still had a long way to go.

We started written narration. We moved into composition. My degree is in English, and I like to write, so I developed strategies for using narration to teach my children writing. I have three adult children who are fluent writers (and a 13-year-old just beginning the process you’ll find in chapter 7). I’ll show you how you can do it, too. I sent my children off to college, and they told me that they didn’t have to do as much writing there as I had made them do. Their college English teachers were deeply impressed by their ability to write. I have heard the same tale over and over again from parents who have used narration—even from parents who felt that their student’s narration and writing fell far short of the ideal.

That’s because narration is a powerful natural art. In Know and Tell, I propose to walk you through the process. First, I’ll give you some background and insight into the nature of narration and how it has been used by others (including Charlotte Mason, of course). I’ll show you how a six-year-old begins to narrate and develops that skill. I’ll give you tools to evaluate your narrator’s progress. I’ll give you step-by-step instructions into how to begin written narrations, and how to develop them. I’ll show you real narrations from real children, so you’ll have an idea of what others have done.  I’ll show you how written narration can be developed into composition, and I hope I’ll give you the tools and the confidence to continue narration all the way through your child’s education.

I also have a chapter devoted to narration with special-needs children, and another about using narration in the classroom (it’s not just for homeschools!). I have testimonials from young adults, who share how narration prepared them for what they are doing now.

What I hope I have put into Know and Tell is the knowledge that you need to put narration into practice and trust the process.

Charlotte Mason wrote:

In the act of narrating every power of [a child’s] mind comes into play.

It is my hope that the scope of Know and Tell will give you a vision of that power, and help you to realize it with your own students.

Announcing…a new book! Know and Tell: The Art of Narration

I have some very exciting news that I’m so happy to share!

I’m delighted to be able to announce at last the big project I have been working on for a while. I have hinted at this a few times, always thinking that it wouldn’t be long before I was ready to talk about it, but the time hasn’t been quite right, until now. For over two years I have been working (and continue to work) on a book that deals with a topic that is very dear to my heart: narration.


A whole book about narration?

Yes, a whole book about narration.

Narration is a valuable educational method, and absolutely integral to a Charlotte Mason education. Narration is closely linked to knowing. Charlotte Mason assured us, “Let the boy read and he knows, that is, if he must tell again what he has read.”

Know and Tell unfolds all the whys and wherefores that lie behind the use of narration. It lays out the entire process from beginning to end, and discloses objectives for each stage. It gives you the tools you need to move from one stage to the next, offers guidelines that provide a framework to evaluate progress, and is packed with real-life narrations as examples of what you might expect. I’m looking forward to sharing a bit more about my new book with you over the next several weeks, as we anticipate publication. (No, it’s not available yet.)

As I became more confident in the way that narration works and saw the results, I have continually tried to encourage others to persevere and see it work for them. I’ve shared my suggestions piecemeal in answer to all kinds of questions. In Know and Tell, I’ve tried to gather that experience together and to anticipate those questions. I hope to  give you the tools you need to feel confident in using a method that is very different from the worksheets, quizzes, and tests that are the usual apparatus of teaching and learning. When I began using narration, I knew no one who had followed the process all the way through, but that is no longer the case. You get the benefit of seeing how this has worked with real children.

Charlotte Mason said that “education is the science of relations,” and I am convinced that narration is a relationship-building exercise. I want to show you how it works so that you can realize its full potential.

The release is tentatively scheduled for January 2018, and for the next  several weeks, I’ll be sharing things about narration each week that will give you a peek into what you can expect to find in Know and Tell. I trust that it will be a book that you can refer to again and again for encouragement and guidance as your children practice the art of narration year by year. I’m so pleased that this resource will available soon, and I hope you are, too.


Charlotte Mason and Poetic Knowledge

James Taylor’s book Poetic Knowledge isn’t the easiest book to read, but it is such a powerful presentation of some vital truths that it is worth the effort. His first task, of course, is to help us understand what he means by “poetic” knowledge. If you are well-versed in Charlotte Mason, it’s going to sound rather familiar. All these quotes are from the first chapter:

First of all, poetic knowledge is not necessarily a knowledge of poetry but rather a poetic (a sensory-emotional) experience of reality…

Take note of that reference to “sensory-emotional.” Does it hint at “relations?”

Poetic knowledge is…a spontaneous act of the external and internal senses with the intellect, integrated and whole rather than an act associated with the powers of analytic reasoning…

Again…both the internal and external senses are engaged in poetic knowledge.

The kind of knowledge that derives from the love of a thing, a person, or a place…

We see it again—the affections are stirred in poetic knowledge. We get to know things well and we learn to love them.

This is precisely the kind of knowledge that Charlotte Mason wanted her pupils to develop. The quote that we are all most familiar with comes from School Education, p. 170:

We should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest. We cannot give the children these interests; we prefer that they should never say they have learned botany or conchology, geology or astronomy. The question is not,—how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education—but how much does he care?

I can give you no more than the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding poetic knowledge. It takes time and thought and experience, and the occasional flash of insight to develop, but there is no doubt in my mind that Charlotte Mason understood and desired this for all children. This is the kind of sweet, life-giving knowledge that enriches and blesses us.

While reading School Education not long ago, I ran across an expression that Charlotte Mason used which means much the same as “poetic” knowledge—“appreciative” knowledge. If you’ve read Poetic Knowledge, you know that Dr. Taylor considers poetic knowledge to be a kind of deep, relational knowledge and he contrasts it with scientific knowledge, which is more factual—based on external things that can be quantified rather than emotion.

In a very similar way, Charlotte Mason contrasts her “appreciative” knowledge with “exact” knowledge. Look what she says about it:

Appreciative Knowledge and Exact Knowledge.––All the time [the child] is storing up associations of delight which will come back for his refreshment when he is an old man. With this sort of appreciative knowledge of things to begin with, the superstructure of exact knowledge, living science, no mere affair of text-books and examinations, is easily raised, because a natural desire is implanted. (School Education, p. 77-78, emphasis added.)

Let’s take just a few moments to unpack that. “Appreciative” knowledge stirs the emotions—it’s a matter of delight. It comes first in the educational process, and once it is established as the foundation, the superstructure of “exact” knowledge has something upon which to rest.

We find the same basic idea in Formation of Character, where Mason writes:

It follows that the first [15 years] belong to what we may call the synthetic stage of education, during which his reading should be wide and varied enough to allow the young scholar to get into living touch with earth-knowledge, history, literature, and much besides. These things are necessary for his intellectual life, and are especially necessary to give him material for the second stage of his education, the analytic, which, indeed, continues with us to the end. (p. 380-81)

If this is true, then the bulk of educational efforts for homeschoolers belong to this synthetic stage, where poetic or appreciative knowledge is our primary goal, not the accumulation of mere facts. We want to put our pupils in “living touch” with all kinds of knowledge. We want them to care. If you’ve read Consider This, you know that I use these terms—synthetic thinking and analytic thinking—to describe the ways we interact with knowledge. Synthetic, relational thinking allows knowledge to be much more than information.

But what then is knowledge? That is a question which as yet nobody has been able to answer. Our approach to a solution is to adapt Matthew Arnold’s rather inadequate definition of religion.  Knowledge is information touched with emotion: feeling must be stirred, imagination must picture, reason must consider, nay, conscience must pronounce on the information we offer before it becomes mind-stuff. (In Memoriam, p. 4, emphasis added)

And here is a curious thing, which will not seem strange to anyone who has been using Charlotte Mason’s methods for a period of time that is long enough to build fluent narrators.

One of the paths that will lead us toward appreciative or poetic knowledge is…narration!

…the custom of narration lends itself surprisingly to this sort of poetic insight. (Philosophy of Education, p. 166)

The unfortunate reality for most of us, as adults, is that we were educated in a way which deprived us of the opportunity to form and develop poetic knowledge—to have relationships with all the many wonders that the world holds. We were dragged through a monotonous course of highly-forgettable material, which we dutifully regurgitated on test day and promptly forgot. Experience quickly taught us we weren’t likely to need those particular snippets of information again, and rarely did our studies inspire mild interest, let alone a life-long love of knowledge.

Dr. Taylor uses the word “aesthetic” as a rough synonym for “poetic” knowledge. I want to share just a short portion of what Charlotte Mason writes on the topic of the “Beauty Sense”:

Our Beauty Sense.––There is another region open to Intellect, of very great beauty and delight. He must needs have Imagination with him to travel there, but still more must he have that companion of the nice ear and eye, who enabled him to recognise music and beauty in words and their arrangement. The æsthetic Sense, in truth, holds the key of this palace of delights. There are few joys in life greater and more constant than our joy in Beauty, though it is almost impossible to put into words what Beauty consists in; colour, form, proportion, harmony––these are some of its elements. Words give some idea of these things, and therefore some idea of Beauty, and that is why it is only through our Beauty Sense that we can take full pleasure in Literature. (Ourselves, Book 1, p. 41)

This, too, is a way of understanding and talking about poetic knowledge—taking delight in the way that things look, sound, and simply are. Charlotte Mason has a warning for us—we must not be deceived by imitations, nor be so taken up with small matters that we miss the greater.

Many persons allow themselves to be deceived in this matter and go through life without ever entering the Palace of Art, and perceiving but little of the Beauty of Nature. We all have need to be trained to see, and to have our eyes opened before we can take in the joy that is meant for us in this beautiful life.

Second only to “Children are born persons,” let us take Charlotte Mason’s guiding principle that “Education is the science of relations” to heart. This is the key to aesthetic, appreciative, poetic, synthetic, relational knowledge. Don’t get tangled up in which words are being used. Learn to see to the heart and meaning of all them, to find that kernel of truth, which is the same, no matter how it is presented. Education is the science of relations. And narration is a relationship-building exercise. Think about that. Not for a minute, or even ten. Think about it often. Look for it in action in your educational endeavors. Call it anything you like, but for the children’s sake and for your own, I hope you will not miss it.

The perfect Charlotte Mason curriculum

Yeah, I thought that title would grab your attention. Everyone wants the perfect Charlotte Mason curriculum, don’t they? Because if you had that, you’d have exactly what you need to give your children a perfect Charlotte Mason education, and who doesn’t want that?

What if the perfect curriculum was so authentic and perfect, that it came directly from the Parents’ National Educational Union, the organization Charlotte Mason founded herself? You couldn’t really go wrong, then. Could you?

Let me tell you about some teachers who did.

The schools in Gloucestershire, England introduced the PNEU curriculum into five schools in 1917. They liked what they saw, and by 1925, there were 196 schools using the perfect Charlotte Mason curriculum, straight from the PNEU presses. That’s right: one-hundred-and-ninety-six!!

If you know anything at all about the teacher training at Ambleside, simple math will reveal that the schools were not supplied with Ambleside-trained teachers. They were just regular teachers—like you and me—who were lucky enough to have the perfect Charlotte Mason curriculum.

But all was not as rosy as we might imagine. Some schools thrived. The children were narrating and learning, and they loved their books. The teachers were excited about what was happening in their classrooms, and loved the PNEU materials. But there were other schools, and they were struggling. The children didn’t like the books. They didn’t narrate the way the teachers thought they should. They couldn’t handle the material at all. Can you guess what went wrong?

It’s really quite simple. The teachers didn’t really understand the principles that lay behind the methods they were trying to use. They made errors in implementing the methods because of their lack of understanding, and the results were correspondingly disappointing. If the children didn’t like a book, it was often because the teacher didn’t like the book, or didn’t see a reason for it. That distaste was passed on to students. In some schools, the students were promoted too quickly through the Forms and were trying to read and work from books they weren’t ready for, so of course that was a failure. Some teachers expected “narration” to be a word-for-word parroting back of the material read, so they read tiny chunks which the children could hold in their short-term memories just long enough to do that.

They had a lovely curriculum, but without a solid understanding of the principles, they weren’t able to make the most of it. This is why, from its inception, AmblesideOnline has stressed that curriculum is not enough:

Before getting to the nuts and bolts, we’d like to emphasize that our confidence in Charlotte Mason’s method and the philosophy behind it is what prompted us to put this curriculum online. But this curriculum is only one tool and was never intended to replace your understanding of the principles behind a CM education, what its goals are, how it works. Without the understanding of Charlotte Mason’s vision, even a curriculum like AmblesideOnline won’t give your children a CM education. It will just be another booklist, a collection of texts and subjects to mark off a checklist. We designed this curriculum so that, instead of spending your time trying to figure out the best CM-quality living books to use, your children can jump into their schooling right away and you will be freed from the burden of trying to create your own CM curriculum, so you can spend your time familiarizing yourself with Charlotte’s Mason’s vision for raising broad-minded, thinking children who are as concerned about their duty to others, as they are their own rights.

Now we come to the actual point of this post. There was a remedy for these difficulties, and I suspect you can guess what it is. Since they lacked understanding of the principles, they needed to read Charlotte Mason’s own writing for themselves—to let her teach them the philosophy that governs the methods. The suggestion was given to them to read a volume, and then to read that same volume again and again. That’s A—just one—volume. Either Home Education or School Education are suggested (because these were schools, not parents). This advice was given early in 1925, and A Philosophy of Education was published later that year, so I’m going to add my opinion that it would serve the same purpose.

But what I want to underscore is the suggestion that reading just one volume is enough to give you the background philosophy so that you can implement the methods well. If you’ve read Charlotte Mason, you aren’t going to be asking children to narrate by parroting verbatim. You’ll know why Plutarch is a worthwhile addition to the program. You won’t neglect outdoor time for the children to make their own nature observations. If one carefully-selected volume is enough to prepare a teacher to teach a classroom full of students using PNEU/CM methods, then it is enough for us.

From the Pamphlet “Notes for the Conference of July 18th, 1925 on P.N.E.U. Methods”:

Here, of course, we go to the very root of the matter, and here it is most necessary for teachers to have a firm hold upon Miss Mason’s own teaching, for the tradition of elementary school and training college is all the other way.

It should be said at once that no teacher can hope to get out of the programmes and the method all that can be got, unless he reads and re-reads what Miss Mason herself has said about them. As I have said before, a copy of School Education or Home Education should be in every school, and should be in constant use.

(emphasis added)

There has been an increase of interest in Charlotte Mason and her methods, and that is a very good thing. I’ve been thinking about the best way for new practitioners to really apprehend the methods. Blog posts or podcasts are too short or too difficult to re-access to really give you a comprehensive understanding of the principles. Everyone suggests “reading the volumes”—and I’m going to suggest that, too! But if you are a busy homeschool mom with several children, those six volumes are seriously daunting. As soon as you plunge into the first one, you’re going to realize that this is not light reading, and the idea of making it through all six volumes is going to seem like an insurmountable hill of difficulty.

So, let’s hit pause. What if you don’t really need to read all of the volumes to understand the philosophy? That’s a lovely ideal—you can probably do that eventually—but I suggest taking a step back and thinking hard about which matters most—reading all the volumes, or understanding the philosophy well so that you can implement it in the education of your own children? I actually know someone who read all six volumes from cover to cover in a two-month period, but I cannot recommend that as a good plan for genuine understanding. She suffered from many, many false ideas about Charlotte Mason because she had read so quickly. Suppose you take a different approach—the one recommended to the teachers in Gloucestershire—and pick one relevant volume—Home Education, School Education, or A Philosophy of Education—and make yourself a student of that volume. Read it once—narrate it to yourself. Then read it again. Then go back and read the parts you especially like or the parts that still puzzle you. Mark that book up and make it your own.  Read it with a friend or two, or read it with an online study group (there are always on-going studies happening over at AmblesideOnline). Don’t be in a hurry to read another book until you really know the first one well.

I have a feeling that this is going to pay dividends in ways you can’t even imagine. You will know Charlotte Mason’s principles. You’ll be able to spot right away whether or not a particular practice or book or idea is compatible or not. You’ll gain the confidence that comes with knowledge. You won’t need anyone else to tell you whether something is “CM” or not, because you’ll know. Suddenly, the perfect Charlotte Mason curriculum will be the one you get up in the morning and use to teach your children, because you are well-versed in her methods and philosophy.

For many years, it wasn’t really possible to purchase individual volumes—you had to buy the whole set of six. They can be a bit intimidating. But that has changed very recently, and you are spoiled for choice. You can purchase a large-format facsimile version with  lots of white space for notes from Simply Charlotte Mason, or an easier-to-hold version, and you can purchase the volume you want to read.  If funds are very tight, you can read them for free on the AmblesideOnline website, and you’ll find instruction there for how to download them to your Kindle.

Edited to add: Sometimes we talk about “scaffolding” our children into CM practices like narration. As an adult, you might feel the need for a bit of scaffolding as well, to make reading Charlotte Mason a bit more approachable when you begin. Someone commented that Brandy Vencel’s bootcamp was a good introduction to the principles, and I decided to add a few more possibilities here. Leslie Laurio has re-written the entire CM Series in modern English, and if that would make it easier for you to read, you might want to try that. If A Philosophy of Education is your choice, I have created a shorter version which leaves out much of the non-essential material and includes short chapter introductions and subheadings that make the material easier to comprehend—Mind to Mind.

Which volume should you choose? It depends on your needs. There is no perfect, magic order in which to read the volumes, but for a first choice, Home Education, School Education, or A Philosophy of Education will narrow the field. If you’re interested in a post with a bit more information about each volume to help you choose (I’ve read all six more times than I can remember), let me know. But please do choose one and digest it well. If one was enough to equip the school teachers of Gloucestershire, one will serve for us as well, and be a solid foundation. You’ll be able to make your chosen Charlotte Mason curriculum the perfect curriculum in your home, even if it doesn’t arrive from the PNEU.