Chickens, Children, and Cuddles

Posted by Mom on February 11, 2019

It should not come as a surprise that chickens play an important role in our family’s culture. Four years ago we brought home our first birds. Consequently, for most of their young lives, our children have known chickens. And since we have no other animals or pets, the chickens filled the “pet” void – especially for our eldest daughter.

She had one hen in particular that would put up with her loving devotion. This hen became her doted upon pet. She would take her on walks and attempt to put her in clothes. She would interpret every cluck it made as a murmur of affection. She would nurse it when it was injured and ensure it received its share of the food scraps. And she studied the nuances of that chicken so intently that she could pick her out from among 30 doppelgangers, describe her feather patterns and comb in great detail, and made it her muse and inspiration when sketching. She truly loved that chicken.

However, she had to learn the hard way that chickens don’t make great pets and that favouring one above the rest of the flock leads to problems. Flashback in your mind to grade school: do the girls at the top of the pecking order like the teacher’s pet or do they make her life miserable when the teacher isn’t looking? The pet hen was on the bottom of the pecking order and her constant removal from the flock by our daughter was not helping her assert herself and move up in the order. In fact, a remedy for a bully hen is to isolate it from the rest of the flock so that when she is re-introduced, she finds herself at the bottom of the order; knocks that troublesome hen down a few rungs.

But chickens don’t last forever. Our daughter’s pet hen had a ailment called bumblefoot, which is an infection on the foot that makes walking, scratching, and roosting uncomfortable. She was unable to sit upon a roost and instead slept alone in a nest box. All was well, until one night I unknowingly locked a skunk in the chicken run. After desperately digging and trying to escape under the fence, the skunk wandered into the coop. All the chickens were safe upon the roost and out of the skunk’s reach. All except for the pet hen. That skunk probably could not believe its good fortune! A sleepy, dopey hen sitting right in front of it for the taking. And take it it did.

The following morning was full of stress and confusion as we tried to deal with the skunk. Unfortunately for the skunk, it now had a taste for chicken and had to be permanently disposed of. Dad had been meaning to take the certification course for his Arms Licence, but hadn’t gotten around to that yet. So, armed with only a pellet gun, he spent close to an hour playing hide and seek with the skunk, trying to hit it with a kill shot while protecting himself from getting sprayed by the skunk. In the end, Dad won and the skunk lost. Through the whole ordeal, the skunk did not spray but kept that for its finale; the spray was its swan song. Multiple changes of clothes and showers later, and we were ready to get back to our normal routines.

Back to that pet hen. Our daughter was devastated. She blamed herself (probably some truth to that) for hurting her “pet” so that it could not escape the skunk. Despite our constant reminder that chickens are not pets, they are farm animals, she had grown attached to that hen and grieved its death.

In an effort to protect both our children and our farm animals from another owner-pet relationship, we adopted a different sort of animal for the purpose of being a loveable pet. Something cuddly and relatively low maintenance. We settled on a rabbit. We brought home our new pet and, unlike the chickens, we keep her in the house. Fortunately for us, she came spade and litter-trained (phew) and her upkeep is easy enough that the children can handle it themselves (with some continual reminders, of course). We could even classify the rabbit as a productive farm animal; her manure is a great fertilizer!

Following Tracks in the Snow

Posted by Mom on January 16, 2018

We just experienced some very confused weather at our country home. The week prior saw daily highs in the range of -15℃ with a wicked wind chill on top. Then this past week opened on Monday with a rise in temperature to -3℃ and an over 10 cm snowfall. The temperature continue to climb over the following days and the precipitation turned to rain. By Thursday we hit 11℃ and watched as all the snow that had accumulated since mid December disappear into the sewers and creeks. Friday started with 10℃ and more rain, that is until a cold front blew through and the temperature plummeted to -6℃. All the rain transitioned to freezing rain and then to snow. Winter weather was back.

All that melting and subsequent runoff overflowed the creeks, ponds and wetlands. Our fields were flooded by the creek and when the temperature dropped again we had open expanses of ice. We took advantage of the ice for some skating. So long as the little ones avoided the tufts of grass, dried soy bean stalks, and divots left in the ground by the combine’s wheels, they managed to do alright.

Another result of the dynamic temperature swings were animal tracks. On that crazy weather day that was Friday, when we started the day in spring and ended it in winter, the animals around our home felt compelled to venture out. During Friday night they left behind a multitude of tracks for us to follow and interpret. My little ones and I spent time studying the tracks the following morning.

The first set of tracks that drew our attention were left by a short-tailed weasel. We could see where it had scampered along on top of the snow, then tunneled under it for a few feet, then popped up again for another run on top. We followed along with the weasel tracks and found a spot where the weasel had detoured under some pine trees to investigate a collection of feathers and blood droplets left in the snow by a cooper’s hawk when it had dined on its meal of mourning dove. We continued to track our weasel until we came across two sets of coyote tracks loping across the orchard and proceeded to follow their tracks for a spell. We confirmed our ID of the tracks when we happened upon scat in the middle of the path.

You can tell a wild canid (fox or coyote around here) from a domestic dog because they walk with a purpose, typically in a straight line along the most direct, easiest to follow path. Dogs on the other hand run this way and that like an over-stimulated, hyperactive child leaving behind a zigzag trail as they investigate every new smell or sound. Dogs have energy to spare; foxes and coyotes need to conserve their energy and simply travel from point A to point B with few zigs or zags.  

In following the set of tracks we came upon a spot in the centre of the field where the two coyotes we were following had been joined by several more. It appeared a group of coyotes had a meet up in our field before splitting up again and going their separate ways. I rather like the idea that a scene from a nature show was played out a couple hundred meters from our house. It was a good reminder of who we share our country home with.

Our morning of tracking set my eldest daughter on a mission to find voles. By far, the most numerous tracks we came across were left by voles, which run on the top of the snow or burrow underneath it in a network of tunnels that can resemble cursive writing when viewed from above. My daughter wanted to see where each set of tracks led in an attempt to find a vole in its nest. She was rooting around under logs, digging into snow banks, and turning over piles of soy bean chaff that was left behind by the combine. She did eventually find one. Well, actually, her little brother scared the vole so that it ran over the open snow and she was after it like a cat after a mouse. Sure enough, she pounced on it and caught it under her mitten encased hands. She held the frightened creature and desperately wanted to keep it for a pet. I convinced her it would be happiest running freely through its tunnels and she set it free.

Along with the tracks left by coyotes, a weasel, and numerous voles, we also found rabbit, squirrel and bird tracks. While some of these creatures are easier to observe than others, a fresh blanket of snow can give a snapshot into the activities of those that are harder to observe. They are also a great incentive for us to learn more about the ways of our wild neighbours. In my opinion, a morning following animal tracks with my little ones is a morning well spent.

Pausing for Beauty with Nature Notebooks

Posted by Mom on August 21, 2017

My children spend a lot of time outside. They do not, however, spend a lot of time watching TV or staring at screens. This combination is producing some very observant youngsters who take the time to pay attention to the world around them and to notice the wonders of nature.

I came across a quote from Vincent Van Gogh (attached to my tea bag, no less), that brought to my mind my eldest daughter and the way that she interacts with the world around her: “If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere”. Those words suit her so well.

When she steps out the door all of her senses are on alert. She scans the vista before her and cocks her ears to the sounds about her. She takes a deep breath to breathe in the scents and then skips off to whatever it is that grabs her attention for further investigation. Soon I hear the call of “Mommy! Come look!” and I know she has found or seen something that speaks beauty and wonder to her and she wants to share it with me. If her discovery is small enough, she will bring it to me to show me. Often her younger sister and brother get caught up in her excitement and share in the discovery as well.

To encourage my little ones to continue making discoveries, and to look closely and truly observe what they see, I follow Charlotte Mason’s suggestion to keep Nature Notebooks. Each child has his or her own blank notebook that he or she fills with sketches or paintings of natural objects that appeal to them. Opposite the artwork is a page for writing notes about the object, such as where it was found or some interesting fact. My eldest daughter is able to write/copy her own entries; her younger sister still gets help with hers. And little brother likes having his own book of blank pages to fill with nature-inspired art alongside his sisters.

For the most part, the children choose the objects they wish to sketch. If we make a find together, I’ll suggest to them that it could be something they put in their Nature Notebook. During school season, I schedule a time for Nature Notebooks, but during the summer, I try to set aside some time once per week to make an entry. Not that they need me to tell them to do it. If something strikes them, they will pull out their books and begin to draw it without my reminding them.

Miss Mason values Nature Notebooks because what starts as a weekly routine, becomes a lifetime habit, and eventually, a way of seeing life and science. The keeping of the notebook takes the curiosity of a child and develops it into a keen sense of observation; the world around him becomes his classroom and the working of nature his lessons. I can see the truth of this in my own children, but in true Charlotte Mason fashion, the process of becoming keen observers stretches over many years; as their bodies and brains develop and mature, so too do their observations and their ability to put down on paper what they see. I am enjoying the process.

Christmas Traditions and Children

Posted by Mom on December 13, 2016

Ahh… Christmas… Is it not a magical time to be a child? I have fond memories of Christmases past and want to give similar memories to my children. What I remember is not the gifts I received but the emotions of expectation, an atmosphere of restfulness; of a sacred time set apart for the family.

I recently read H. Clay Trumbull’s book, Hints on Child Training (1891), in the months leading up to Christmas. Within the book Trumbull has a chapter on why it is worth the parents’ energies to make Christmas a special time for children. The holiday is a great opportunity to bestow love upon children. I for one don’t want to miss this chance because I’m caught up in the busyness of the season. Upon reading Trumbull, I find myself encouraged to embrace Christmas and once again look forward to the season from a childlike perspective. Trumbull emphasizes that to children, the gifts they receive have a greater or lesser value depending upon the proportion of the giver’s self that is invested in the gift. Therefore, the value increases with the effort parents’ devote to making the atmosphere in which those gifts are received a special, memorable one. Naturally, Christmas is the most important day to children and their anticipation for it is intense. If mom and dad join in the excitement too and give of themselves, the children perceive this and the anticipation ratchets up even more.
It takes time and work and skill to make the most, for the children, of a Christmas morning; but it pays to do this for the darlings, while they are still children. They will never forget it; and it will be a precious memory to them all their life through.”  (Trumbull, 1890)
Trumbull concludes his chapter with the ultimate reason for putting all that effort into making Christmas a magical time for children: when a person gives himself with his gifts, he is imitating, to a small degree, the love of Christ, who gave Himself to us and who offers the hope of something beyond our understanding that will satisfy our every longing. After reading Trumbull’s words and pondering what that would mean to us, I am excited about December and the family traditions we enjoy. Below is a list describing the traditions at Harrold Country Home that lead up to the big day. Maybe you too enjoy some of these traditions?

Advent calendars – more that just chocolate
We have three calendars to celebrate the advent season, and each one has a daily activity to count down the days to the 25th. Our first is a cloth wall hanging with a heart that the children move from one pocket to the next to countdown the days. The second is a wooden box, built by Dad, with 24 small compartments and a much larger one for the 25th. Within each box the little ones find a Bible verse or two describing the birth of Christ, an object to coincide with the verses, and a clue to the location of chocolates hidden in the house. Within the last compartment they also find the missing baby Jesus for our nativity scene. Our last calendar is a daily dose of audio drama with a Christmas theme from Adventures in Odyssey’s Advent Activity Calendar.

Trimming the Christmas tree and decking the Halls
At some point during the first few days of December we go select a tree. Our top choice is Fraser Fir due to its longevity to retain needles for weeks on end while propped up indoors. Come Saturday, Dad makes a pot of eggnog and we pull out the ornament box. The little ones examine and exclaim over each ornament, recalling it from the previous year, before hanging it upon the tree. I admit, once they go to bed I re-distribute the ornaments so they are not all clumped on the bottom half of the tree. However, the ornaments on the bottom half of the tree never seem to stay where I put them…

The same week as the tree appears the festive decorations also come down from the attic. Again, the little ones unpack the boxes and find homes for these special guests while recalling their memories from past years. We also have some decorations that Grandma and Grandpa passed along to us. These items are special because of all the memories they hold and the smiles they bring to the Grands faces when they see them upon the tree.

All of these colourful ornaments present a great opportunity for Eye Spy.  We also have a glass pickle ornament with the esteemed purpose of been hidden in the tree for someone else to find – this is a German tradition from when I was little.

Christmas storybooks and songs
We also have a collection of books with a Christmas theme that are kept separate from our other books and hold a place of honour in our home for one special month. The little ones recall these stories and describe their favourites before the books appear. We have a few with a jolly man in a red suit, but the majority of our books centre on the nativity story or acts of charity and kindness. Favourites include The Little Crooked Christmas Tree (Michael Cutting), The Legend of the Christmas Tree (Rick Osboure), and On Christmas Eve (Margaret Wise Brown).  

Just as anticipated, if not more so, is the Christmas music. These CDs are stored along with the storybooks awaiting there one-month-of-stardom. The music is primarily carols re-mixed by modern worship artists, such as Chris Tomlin, Third Day and Paul Baloche. The little ones each have their own musical taste and when it’s their turn to pop in the next CD, it’s their go-to favourite that we listen to next. My eldest daughter’s first choice is Josh Groban’s Christmas album, my second daughter prefers Matt Anderson’s album, and my little boy’s pick is Family Christmas by Kidzup (just imagine carols to modern, upbeat tunes with high-pitched voices).

Journey to Bethlehem meal
This is the favourite tradition. On Christmas Eve, we turn out the lights and have a picnic in the candlelight. Our meal consists of foods similar to what Joseph and Mary might have eaten on their way to Bethlehem; some hummus, pitas, olives, and pickled herring (the fish element of the Mediterranean Diet). While munching on dessert (pomegranates), we read the Christmas story from Luke chapter 2. Then the little ones have another annual viewing of the movie The Nativity Story (2006), starring Keisha Castle-Hughes and Oscar Isaac. Then it’s off to bed for the most excited sleep of the year.

Trumbull, H.C. 1891. Hints on Child Training. John D. Wattles, Philadelphia.

Cocoons and Chrysalises on the Front Porch

Posted by Mom on October 25, 2016

Living where we do, we come in contact with plenty of insects and plenty of learning opportunities. Within our homeschool, we wish to better understand the world around us, and insects, particularly butterflies and moths, give us a glimpse into a very different, miniature world.

Giant Swallowtail

Each year we keep a chart of the butterfly species we spot around our yard. We are far from expert entomologists, but we are learning to recognize our local butterflies. Our average number is 18 species; including the Spring Azure, Red Admiral, Monarch and Eastern Comma. These insects do have some interesting names!Around our home we have several different habitats and these attract their different species. Monarch, Red-spotted Purple, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Painted Lady, and Silver-spotted Skipper are all visitors to our flower gardens. In the grassy fields we find Milbert’s Tortoiseshell, Inornate Ringlet, Clouded Sulphur and a variety of the smaller skippers. And in our vegetable garden we see Black Swallowtails and, rather to my chagrin, plenty of Cabbage Whites. We are always excited to see the larger and rarer Giant Swallowtail, Great Fritillary and Common Buckeye when they grace us with their presence.

Cercropia Moth caterpillar

One year we ordered a Monarch kit from the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory and reared a handful of Monarchs from caterpillar through to adult butterfly. The little ones enjoyed this so much that we’ve kept the butterfly cage on our front porch each year and raise moth and butterfly caterpillars. 

Last fall we found four Polyphemus Moth cocoons and two Promethea Moth cocoons and put them into our cage. Both of these species of silkworm spend the winter as pupae within the cocoon so we left them all winter on our front porch. Finally, in June, the adults emerged. My little ones looked into the cage each morning to see who they might find fluttering about. The Polyphemus Moths were huge and spanned the width of two 8-year old palms. They were also cooperative and did not take flight immediately but remained on her hands for several minutes for a close-up look. When the Promethea Moths emerged we learned that we had a male and a female. Even though they emerged a day apart, they soon found each other again and proceeded to start the next generation right in our garden.

Male and Female Promethea moths

This summer we discovered the caterpillar of a Cecropia Moth munching on our plum tree. It too went into the cage, along with some plum branches for sustenance. Unlike the other two moth species, we were able to watch this caterpillar anchor itself to a branch and spin its cocoon. It will sit on our porch all winter long and we look forward to seeing its again in June. I find these large silk moths very interesting to observe since the adults are nocturnal and are about their business for only a short time in late spring. Keeping the cocoons in our butterfly cage enables us to study and come to know creatures that are seldom experienced any other way.

Polyphemus Moth and cocoon

And of course, we also raise butterflies in the butterfly cage. In addition to the monarch kit from the Butterfly Conservatory, we also reared in our butterfly cage some Monarch caterpillars we found living on the milkweed in our field. The little ones were excited to find the caterpillars because the previous fall they opened and threw into the wind every milkweed pod they found. I encouraged this dispersal because Monarchs need all the help they can get; their populations are threatened by habitat loss and the butterflies are a Special-at- Risk here in Canada (

The Monarch caterpillars only remain in the chrysalis for 9 to 18 days before emerging, fuelling up on nectar and beginning their marathon migration south to Mexico. So unlike the silk moths, it is easier to keep the little ones engaged in the the Monarch’s life cycle. Although they can’t really grasp the distance the butterfly has to fly, they come to appreciate how delicate the butterfly is and how amazing is its journey.

Monarch Caterpillar

Another butterfly we’ve reared in our cage is the Black Swallowtail. We find the caterpillars on dill, parsley and carrot plants in our garden and move them into the cage. An interesting feature of these butterflies is their ability to form a uniquely patterned chrysalis to match the object to which they are affixed; grey wood grain to match the greying Red Cedar. Depending on the season, the caterpillars will either emerge as adults within a few weeks or spend the entire winter as pupae within a chrysalis before revealing themselves in May. We’ve hosted both chrysalises in our cage.

My children find insects fascinating and I’m glad we have a butterfly cage. It has given them opportunities to study moths and butterflies up close. When the adults emerge, the girls sketch them in their Nature Notebooks and I read to them some interesting tidbits about the creature they just met. They come away with a deeper knowledge of the insect and a wider appreciation for the magnificence of creation. When they next see a Black Swallowtail caterpillar or a Polyphemus cocoon they will recognize them as familiar friends.

Classic Literature Inspires Children

Posted by Mom on September 23, 2016

Good books inspire a person to higher living and deserves a place of honour within a home. While many of these edifying books were penned over a century ago and are referred to as Classical Literature, their value in moulding a person’s character remains steadfast.

Boy Reading Adventure Story,
Norman Rockwell, 1923

Sadly, I missed out on many classics during my formative early years. It was only while working to amass a growing collection of literature for my children that I came to realize what I had missed. Through my own ignorance, and that of the education system in which I was placed, I was missing out on some of the best elements of western culture. If I wanted my children to read and enjoy the literary classics, I needed to crack open some of these tomes and make up for lost time.

My first memory of exposure to classic literature was A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It was a gift from my aunt that I remember starting but never finishing because I did not find the story interesting enough to continue reading. If you are familiar with the story, I think I stopped a few chapters in, somewhere through the explanation of Sara’s life as a student at Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary.

Looking back, I probably stopped because I was not used to reading or listening to children’s literature. If my parents read classic literature to me, I would have had an appetite for the stories – my mind would have been awakened by the ideas of courage, perseverance and adventure that so many of these stories contain. I would have known how inspiring Living Books truly were and would have acquired a taste for finer literature. Don’t misunderstand, my parent’s did read to me – my mom read a lot! But being the eldest of four, I soon outgrew the storybooks that appealed to my younger siblings. A love of listening to stories had kindled my desire to read for myself, and inspired my adolescent self to find my own reading material. At that point in time, my taste for literature was already on its way to refinement; I did not choose to read sensational books, but rather historical fiction, and specifically, christian historical fiction.

Now that I am reading children’s literature with my daughters, I am finally discovering stories and characters I had only a vague awareness of, if at all. And taking the advice of other Charlotte Mason educators, I am reading the original, unabridged stories. Yes, the stories are longer and full of big words and some out-of-date language, but by reading the books as they were intended to be read, the nuances of the characters tell much fuller and richer stories than you would find in the simplified, abridged versions

The classics are full or moral lessons and case studies of human nature. By spending the time with a book’s characters; by following along with them as they struggle with moral issues within themselves; by observing these characters’ interaction with others; and by seeing the whole of the story and the consequences of these same characters’ choices, we have models to either emulate or abhor. Such material is invaluable for teaching children.

I am holding to Miss Mason’s claim that by giving children an atmosphere filled with the best in artwork, music, and literature, the children will develop a taste for quality and an appreciation for the beauty of true artistic, musical, or literary genius. To this end, we are working to fill our home library with literary classics. I plan to enjoy most of these books myself before I pass them onto my children. Here is list of some of the titles I have recently had the joy of discovering:

Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson)
Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
Emma (Jane Austen)
Mansfield Park (Jane Austen)
Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
Little Men (Louisa May Alcott)
Lorna Doone (R.D. Blackmore)
Hard Times (Charles Dickens)
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

… and some of the titles I enjoyed reading with my daughters include:

Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
Robin Hood (Howard Pyle)
The Princess and the Goblins (George MacDonald)
Little Duke (Charlotte Mary Yonge)
Understood Betsy (Dorothy Canfield Fisher)
Heidi (Johanna Spyri)
The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame)
Black Beauty (Anna Sewell)
The Little House series (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis)
Pinocchio (Carlo Collodi)
Peter Pan (J.M. Barrie)

To the home educator classic literature is a priceless resource to impart lessons that are best learnt through (another’s) experience. To me, the reading of classics is an advancement in cultural refinement and personal wisdom. The classics really are that – classic! They deserve to be treasured possessions in our home.

Getting to Know Miss Mason

Posted by Mom on July 28, 2016

Educating our children at home means, obviously, that we are always together. Some people cannot imagine what constantly being with one’s children might be like (as evidenced by the trepidation some parents feel about summer vacation). Yes, I admit that always being together can be trying at times, but it is also beautiful. The beauty comes from knowing that we are the ones who care deepest for our children and know their hearts’ better than anyone else. We are the ones nurturing their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual development. We are not entrusting our children to others, we are raising them hour by hour, day by day, year by year.

The natural outcome from this “always being together” is continual opportunities for learning. Children are extremely curious and have a God-ordained desire to acquire knowledge about the world around them. Being with them allows for us to grab-a-hold of learning opportunities and explore them deeply. Simply living together presents a multitude of opportunities; for example, consider how many skills are involved in the routine task of preparing a meal, from grocery shopping, through reading a recipe, to prepping the ingredients, and finally to cooking the food and presenting the meal. 

Our constant togetherness allows us to nurture the fertile growing conditions that Miss Mason implores parents and educators to uphold. She maintains that education should be the very essence of daily life. As Miss Mason so eloquently states, “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”

Education is an Atmosphere
A home’s atmosphere pertains to the physical, emotional and spiritual ambiance within a family and its home. A healthy, peaceful and God-fearing atmosphere will nurture a child’s development because children thrive when they exist within a home where their curious minds are continually offered new ideas and where they feel comfortable being who they were designed to be. A safe and comfortable home where children know their individuality and personhood are respected and where they can bloom amid an array of living books, quality art and music is an ideal atmosphere to foster a lifetime love of learning.

We are working to provide our little Harrolds with a healthy, peaceful, and God-fearing home. For instance, we strive to feed them home-cooked meals prepared with organic ingredients; we endeavour to treat one another with kindness; and we honour the Lord as saviour and strive to live a life that glorifies him. We are also building an appreciation for quality books and art by amassing a library of living books and housing them in easy to see and to access locations, and by displaying prints by favourite artists, listening to classical musicians, and reading poetry. We are embracing the fact that if you feed your children a diet of the best, they develop a taste for true beauty and higher living.

Education is a Discipline
Habits are the subconscious modes of thinking and behaving that govern our interactions with others and establish the trajectory for future successes or failures. Discipline will hone the good habits and weed out the bad. Again, always being together provides continual opportunities to grow the good habits. A parent can watch his/her children, identify which habits require practice and, with gentle admonition, guide the children to practice their good habits until they become second nature.

Miss Mason identifies obedience, truthfulness, and attention as primary habits to focus on because upon their foundation other good habits are established. We are continually working on these three habits. When a little one has a lapse in obedience, we re-establish the importance of obeying and, through real-life consequences, remind him/her that obedience brings trust and freedom. Being together allows us to identify which areas in our children’s lives need improvement.

Education is a Life
Education is a combination of body, mind and spirit; you cannot emphasize one or two at the expense of another. A child’s physical, mental, and spiritual growth occur simultaneously. But education, as we typically understand and discuss it today, pertains to the mind and how successfully it can absorb, process, and assimilate new information. Miss Mason identified that the mind grows best on a steady flow of new ideas, which come from a varied and liberal curriculum. Her pupils had foundational lessons not only in reading, writing and arithmetic, but also lessons in Bible, language arts, social studies, and (even) science that were steeped in literary language and high moral standards. In addition, the students learnt to appreciate fine art, music, and theatre. All of these lessons taken together are a liberal curriculum.  

We wanted to give our little Harrolds the education that we wish we had had. We found Charlotte Mason’s methods to fit perfectly with our educational ideal. But how to make it work? and where to start? were intimidating questions for homeschool newbies. We found two websites (Simply Charlotte Mason and Ambleside Online) and two books (Karen Andreola’s A Charlotte Mason Companion and Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s For The Children’s Sake) to be particularly helpful. For our first two years I followed Ambleside Online’s curriculum to teach our eldest daughter. Now that our second daughter is joining her sister, I’ve made the leap to creating our own curriculum – with some help from Ambleside Online for resource suggestions.


Our decision to home educate was weighed and discussed for years before we made our final choice. Now that we are three years into the journey, we can confidently say that it is a lot of work! But our always being together allows us to experience life together and this has been a precious reward. For us, the price is insignificant in light of the outcome.

“Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.” C.S. Lewis 

Meeting Miss Charlotte Mason

Posted by Mom on April 13, 2016

When I started to consider educating our children at home rather than sending them to school, I was overwhelmed with the array of methods and philosophies surrounding homeschool. A continuum of homeschooling styles, from school-at-home to unschooling, passed into my consciousness. One style however stood out from the rest; one that was named after a person: the Charlotte Mason Method.

Miss Charlotte Mason (1842-1923) spent her adult life educating children and developing a philosophy of education. Her philosophy has been dubbed The Gentle Art of Learning by Karen Andreola. Why? Because Miss Mason studied children and founded her philosophy upon some basic truths about children. Here is a sampling of some of these truths:

Charlotte Mason (Frederic Yates,
  1. Children are persons with individual needs for knowledge and training and their minds and personalities should be respected
  2. Children can sustain attention for only a short duration, and as such, lessons should be short and the subjects varied daily
  3. Children’s minds are most attentive and receptive in the morning and lessons should occur in the morning hours
  4. Children are intensely curious about the world around them and their schooling for the first six years of life should be informal and steeped in nature exploration and living books
  5. Children learn by forming relationships, therefore, present to them inspiring stories, biographies and concepts
  6. Children also learn by telling back what they have heard or seen and this re-telling is a natural and spontaneous inclination

These foundational concepts, combined with other principles, set the Charlotte Mason Method apart from other forms of education; they guide a child toward a lifelong pursuit of knowledge by developing a habit of self-education. A lifelong love of education and the pursuit of knowledge is just what I want my children to acquire.

According to Miss Mason, books and literature are the best tool to impart knowledge. Her method emphasizes the humanities rather than the more empirical approach of the natural sciences. She proposed that children should learn by listening, and later reading, what she called, living books. Living books, as opposed to textbooks, are written by authors who care deeply about their subject. These authors present the material as a narrative that engages the listeners and sparks their imagination. Furthermore, living books contain literary language and not simplified vocabulary (i.e., twaddle) which disregards the intellect of the child. Living books provide the stimulus to gently enliven a child’s appreciation in history, geography, literature, nature study, and science.

Unlike traditional methods for education, Miss Mason did not believe that teaching and then testing for comprehension was the proper method to educate a person. And she is right! When you cram for a test, you only retain what you need to pass the test, and then forget what it is that you learned because you no longer need to recall it or because what you learned was never something you truly owned as your own. Miss Mason proposed an ingenious notion for making knowledge personal, and its acquisition, gentle: Narration.

For children, telling back something that engages their imagination or inspires them is natural. The taking in, the processing, and then the composing of a cohesive re-telling is how a child personalizes knowledge. Children begin narration by telling back, and as they mature, through written composition. In addition, because the information is obtained from living books, children also gently expand their vocabulary, improve their spelling, and practice their grammar.

Miss Charlotte Mason, and her revolutionary Gentle Art of Learning, was something that spoke to my soul; it was something I needed to understand further. Fortunately, Miss Mason established a school where her method was applied, tested, and honed. Based upon her experiences and her observations she formulated her pedagogy. She was a prolific writer and her six-volume compendium is a source of inspiration for modern homeschoolers looking for an inspirational and gentler approach to education.