Homeschooling Encouragement with Karen Andreola

Disclosure: As an Amazon associate, I may earn a small commission from the purchase of these materials, at no additional cost to you. Thanks so much for your support.

Encouragement

There is nothing quite like that feeling when you get some unexpected encouragement from a trusted source.

It was December 2020. I had just gotten off the phone with a far-from-trusted-source: a vanity publisher. Mr. Salesman was trying his very hardest to pull out all the stops and sell me a book deal that I would have to pay for up-front! Thankfully, my husband and I talked about it and decided this kind of thing would be more of a sham or scam (you decide) than anything else.

But I was longing so badly to get my book published. I had a manuscript that I could not wait to share with someone with trained eyes and a vision like mine.

Karen Andreola, Charlottemason.com

Enter Karen Andreola. I had managed to contact her about book publishing to get some tips and put my feelers out there in case she had any leads. She is well-acquainted with the publishing world. After all, she and her husband republished Charlotte Mason’s writings in America, which is probably one of the reasons you know of Miss Mason’s name today. So, I was hopeful.

Not only did Karen Andreola take the time to listen to me and see that I had a vision to deliver a living story to the people who would embrace it; she also took the time for a phone call. She listened to what I had to say about the book. After hearing me out, she gave me her own wise take on the modern publishing industry. She reflected on my work, and gave me great words of encouragement. I left that conversation feeling refreshed and understood. I will never forget her generosity. Fun fact: Karen Andreola’s son Nigel is an illustrator and has his own business.

Karen Andreola has not only encouraged me in conversation, but also in her written words.

Book Club

Our book club is comprised of about four to five mothers of elementary aged children. We are all fairly familiar with Charlotte Mason homeschooling, but this was not the case two years ago.

In July 2020, I attended a Charlotte Mason conference in Georgia where I met a friend who would become a founding member of our book club here in North Carolina. Kate was passionate about growing and learning more about Charlotte Mason’s methods, even though her wisdom far surpassed my own. She and I met at a Panera Bread that same year, in August, to discuss what we wanted to read. We both knew that Karen Andreola’s A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning was to be our first book club pick for its format (short, easy-to-read narratives), its candid and lovely tone, and its practical application of Mason’s philosophy.

So, we began our monthly meetings in October 2020 on my friend Joy’s screened-in porch, adjacent to her lovely backyard garden.

I have thoroughly enjoyed our readings and discussion. We have not rushed our book study, as we are just now about to wrap up A Charlotte Mason Companion two years (24 meetings) later!

Wisdom

I have grown and gathered wisdom from reading this gem. One of the first aphorisms I jotted down to remember in my homeschool was:

Be sure that your children each day have:

  • Something or someone to love
  • Something (worthwhile) to do
  • Something to think about

Andreola’s book encourages self-reflection and group discussion by asking questions at the end of many chapters. As I look back on my written reflections about the nature of education in response to her questions at the end of chapter three, What Is Education?, I see these notes:

“When I hear the word ‘education’ my first impression is that education used to mean more of a system-based idea. I always believed in educating the whole person, but the methods in place were insufficient, leaving me baffled.”

What is meant by we are “educated by our intimacies”?

“The things we love and hold dear to our minds will make us who we are.”

What opportunities for loving can your home provide?

“We can practice the habit of encouragement.”

Name some worthwhile things to do at home or for others outside the home.

“Visiting lonely neighbors, building LEGO creations and imagining, writing thank you notes and encouraging notes to family.”

Have you heard it wisely put, “You are what you eat?” In what way do we become what we read (with discernment and discretion)?

“The ideas of our culture’s best thinkers will shape our own ideas.”

What are three simple things to remember about educating – whatever curriculum you choose?

“Give the children something or someone to love, something to think about, and something worthwhile to do (daily).”

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Now, What?

My dear Charlotte Mason Companion will become one of my staple reference books on my bookshelf. I plan to pull it down and find that chapter on narration or vocabulary or nature study to refresh my approach and keep the methods consistent with a living education.

I will seek fresh ideas on how to enliven our afternoons through outdoor group games by turning to her chapter Ready, Set, Go! Believe it or not, I have made a more intentional habit of taking the kids out to the front yard lately to play some of the favorites: Mr. Fox, What Time is It?; Red Light, Green Light; Duck, Duck, Goose, and more.

I will go back to the first few chapters of the book: A Living God for a Living Education, What is Education, and Education is a Science of Relations when I need to get back to the basic fundamentals of why I home educate the way I do.

Andreola’s book is marked up with my notes and underlined passages. There is so much to tuck away into my memory. Are you yearning for a group with whom to discuss Charlotte Mason’s principles? Are you looking for practical ideas of ways to enjoy homeschooling with your children? I bet you could garner a lot of interest in this book should you choose to begin a book club.

Karen Andreola, author of A Charlotte Mason Companion and Mother Culture, makes Charlotte Mason’s ideas attainable, more amplified. Miss Mason’s original volumes are referenced throughout her works. If you find that reading the original volumes seems daunting, then try Andreola’s companion first. Her encouragement will go with you throughout your reading journey.

Karen Andreola Biography:

Karen Andreola is best known for her groundbreaking book, A Charlotte Mason Companion. She home educated her children K-12. Way back in 1989, Karen and her husband Dean fueled the revival of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education in the homeschool when they republished Miss Mason’s writings in America. Mother Culture is her newest book helping mothers prevent burn-out. Unique to the homeschool world, Karen also writes fiction to offer mothers a peek at a gentle and happy home life.  

Find Karen Andreola online at: Charlottemason.com

(source: Karen Andreola)

Books I Have Loved This Summer, Books I Look Forward To Reading

C.S. Lewis once said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” I have a new book list I am dying to share with you.

I am so thankful for the Internet, aren’t you?! It allows us to find books within seconds and either check them out at our local libraries, or use our devices to get them delivered brand new to our doorsteps! Oh, technology surely has its pitfalls, but I do love that we can do some things so much easier in this day and age.

Disclosure: As an Amazon associate, I can recommend these books to you, and might receive a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support!

Our homeschool has seen the accumulation of these beloved books over time. I cannot say that I’m ashamed to admit that I still have to read a handful of the more “adult” books I ordered for myself, because… you know what? The picture books get my attention first.

C.S. Lewis once said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

Do you agree?

I sure do! That’s why I picked out the books on this list to reflect my hunger for living books. These books give us the noble ideas, the virtues and the facts about a person, place, time or process in the world. Some of these stories are fiction; many are nonfiction.

Please take some time to study this list. They span subjects of history, literature, science, math and I threw in some fun book basket ideas and summer read alouds, for good measure. I cannot wait to share these titles with you! You might get some ideas for future reading in your upcoming school year, or you might find something to enjoy before the school year begins. We have either read, or will read, every one of these books listed in our own homeschool.

We will be studying middle ages history this upcoming year, and I could not be more excited! The cross-section castle book looks amazing. I also cannot wait to read authors with whom I have not become familiar. They will become dear friends, I am sure, just like A.A. Milne and C.S. Lewis were for us this past school year.

As this new school year begins, I thank you so much for supporting me and my mission to recommend quality, living books to families who love to read with their children.

In addition to these wonderful books, when you get the chance to sit down and think about what poetry you might read next year, you might consider Robert Louis Stevenson. I have a freebie I will send you that includes: 3 summer poems, copy work, an interactive 4-square template, and project ideas to introduce you to his work before you dive in and get his poetry collection. If you love his poetry already and are searching for a sweet, illustrated collection of “A Child’s Garden of Verses”, I am happy to share my recommendation with you here:

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson (Illus. Tasha Tudor)

Would you like the Poetry Mini-Unit (Freebie)?

One of my favorite homeschool memories of all time was when we read Aliki’s A Medieval Feast and later held our own very special medieval feast, complete with cornish hens and “blackbird pie”, medieval tarts, and of course, “ale”. Where would we have gotten that inspiration if it had not been for that picture book?

Morning Time In Practice + FREE Poetry Mini-Unit

Disclosure: As an Amazon associate, I may earn a small commission from the purchase of these excellent morning time resources, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support!

I hope I am not sounding like a broken record.

By now, you probably know that I am pretty passionate about the practice called “morning time” in the homeschool day. To read up on how we have enjoyed this thirty to forty-five minute period, try these blog posts:

Make Morning Time More Beautiful

History Lessons, Book Lists and Morning Time

December 2021 Morning Time

Morning Time

While I love singing hymns and reading about history, I cannot contain my excitement surrounding our “beauty loop” for the upcoming school year (for a rising third grader and kindergartener).

The beauty loop has its benefits. First of all, you are able to rotate subject areas on a three to four day “loop”, allowing everyone to get acquainted with composers through composer study, artists through picture study, and poets through their poetry and accompanying biographies. If you missed the free planning template for the beauty loop, feel free to grab it below.

Secondly, I love how deep we can dive with our subjects. We have studied A.A. Milne for a solid semester this year. We studied Bach for at least six months of the school year, and we have been able to get acquainted with Michelangelo for the past three months. I have found that this deeper “friendship” lasts throughout a lifetime, as I myself am forever changed and tethered to the minds behind the great works.

Morning Time Beauty Loop Plan

Right now, I’d like to share the nitty gritty of our upcoming year’s beauty loop by inserting our plans. These are not set in stone, but I have already gathered my books and have linked the resources we’ll use during the loop below for you. I am making units to go along with each poetry study (designated by term). I hope this helps you in some way to at least visualize what it can look like.

If you’d like to snag a FREE mini-unit for our Robert Louis Stevenson poetry study, I invite you to subscribe to My Little Brick Schoolhouse community. You can do that below.

If you want to purchase A Child’s Garden of Verses to go along with the unit (not necessary, but recommended), Amazon is offering a great price right now.

Beauty Loop is a  3-day rotation, change topic each term:

TERM 1
9 weeks
TERM 2
4 weeks
TERM 3
4 weeks
TERM 4
7 weeks
TERM 5
6 weeks
TERM 6
7 weeks
POETRY (day 1)Robert Louis Stevenson
6 poems 
Term project: dramatization of 1 poem
A.A. Milne3 poems
Term project: cereal box biography
Christina Rossetti
Term project: lap book biography
Favorite Poems Old & New – seasonal themes
6 poems *include poetry of Wilhelm Muller, a contemporary of Schubert
Term project: compose an original seasonal poem
Eugene Field (Field Poetry)
5 poems
Term Project: create a comic strip to summarize one of Field’s poems
Jack Prelutsky 
6 poems from  Ride A Purple Pelican
Term project: plan a poetry tea and invite someone special to hear recitations and view accompanying artwork (gallery walk)
COMPOSER STUDY – Classical period
(day 2)
Schubert (first 2-3 weeks focus on biography)SchubertSchubertBeethoven(first 2-3 weeks focus on biography)BeethovenBeethoven
PICTURE STUDY
(day 3)

Renaissance period
The Stuff They Left Behind: Ancient Rome (Simply Charlotte Mason)The Stuff They Left Behind: Ancient RomeThe Stuff They Left Behind: Ancient RomeGiotto (Simply Charlotte Mason)Raphael (Simply Charlotte Mason)free choice (tracing favorite works with pencil and tracing paper with narration)
Morning Time Beauty Loop by Term and Subject

Resources Used in Morning Time

Doxology (reference: YouTube “Doxology: Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow”)

Singing the Great Hymns (Simply Charlotte Mason)

Poetry-

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson

When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne

Who Was A.A. Milne? by Sarah Fabiny

AmblesideOnline Poetry Anthology Volume 2: Walter de la Mare, Eugene Field, James Whitcomb Riley and Christina Rossetti

Favorite Poems Old and New by Helen Ferris

Schubert’s Winterreise: A Winter Journey in Poetry, Image and Song by Franz Schubert, Wilhelm Muller and Katrin Talbot

Ride A Purple Pelican by Jack Prelutskty

Composer Study-

Music Study With the Masters: Schubert (Simply Charlotte Mason)

Music Study With the Masters: Beethoven (Simply Charlotte Mason)

Picture Study-

The Stuff They Left Behind: from the Days of Ancient Rome (Simply Charlotte Mason)

Picture Study Portfolios: Giotto (Simply Charlotte Mason)

Picture Study Portfolios: Raphael (Simply Charlotte Mason)

Does this help you in some way? Please feel free to comment below, and ask any questions by emailing me: mylittlebrickschoolhouse@gmail.com

This Is What Every Homeschool Bookshelf Needs: A Living Picture Book Biography Collection 

I am thoroughly enjoying this season of life, as it relates to read-alouds. Plopping myself down with a good picture book, I announce that it is time to read. Within a second, I have the bees buzzing up to the hive and all is well.

In fact, I cannot tell you how much I relish this time. Two or three kids surround me; their sweet heads rest inside the crooks of my elbows.

What’s on the menu today? I pull out a hardcover book with whimsical and detailed illustrations on its cover. In an instant, my daughter recognizes the work of the illustrator.
“This is a John Hendrix book!”

It sure is.

(Even if you only have one or two good picture books in your stash, that’s a win.)

Disclosure:  As an Amazon associate, I may earn a small commission from the purchase of some of these living biography picture books, at no additional cost to you.  I thank you for your support!

I am thoroughly enjoying this season of life, as it relates to read-alouds.  Plopping myself down with a good picture book, I announce that it is time to read.  Within a second, I have the bees buzzing up to the hive and all is well.  

In fact, I cannot tell you how much I relish this time.  Two or three kids surround me; their sweet heads rest inside the crooks of my elbows.  

What’s on the menu today?  I pull out a hardcover book with whimsical and detailed illustrations on its cover.  In an instant, my daughter recognizes the work of the illustrator. 

 “This is a John Hendrix book!”

It sure is.  

I mention the title: A Boy Called Dickens (by Deborah Hopkinson).  I crack it open and we are immediately taken on a flyover chase around London’s (almost) Victorian-era streets. The year is, well, long ago.  We can see that.  It would be helpful if the author gave an exact year, but in reading the author’s note, we can find out that British novelist Charles Dickens lived from 1812 to 1870.  This dreamlike picture book brings the reader in touch with the life of London’s poor youth.  

The chase-like scene sucks the reader in.  Where did Dickens go? Oh, there he is!


As the family gathers round for this reading, we learn that Charles Dickens had a dream to write stories, and was quite adept at telling them.  However, he had to overcome a major obstacle to realize his dream of becoming a true writer. 

I will not spoil it for you, but will point out that this book is one of a few that I would deem “living”.  

One hallmark of a Charlotte Mason education is the reading of good, living books.

“Our business is to give him mind-stuff, and both quality and quantity are essential. Naturally, each of us possesses this mind-stuff only in limited measure, but we know where to procure it; for the best thought the world possesses is stored in books; we must open books to children, the best books; our own concern is abundant provision and orderly serving.”

Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education

What, you might ask, is a living picture book?

Living books, generally speaking, have a few common elements (paraphrased from Simply Charlotte Mason website):

  1.  They are written in narrative form, by an author who is passionate about the subject on which he/she is writing.
  2. They are well-written and include a lot of description. 
  3. They feed the imagination and ignite the emotions.
  4. They contain living ideas, which spur the reader on to beauty, truth, awe, joy, confidence, compassion, etc. “Ideas are sparks of truth passed on from a greater thinker to another mind” (https://www.amblesideonline.org/art-definition)
We read these 3 while on our trip to the mountains Memorial Day Weekend.

How does one detect a good, living book?  

Usually, it only takes me a minute or two.  I read the book’s first page.  I skim the middle of the book.  I flip through the artwork on each page.  Oftentimes, a good illustrator will accompany a well-written book ( but not always).  I take into account how the author presents the material, and how engaging the story is for children and adults alike. Sometimes, I read the author’s note at the end of the book. I skim to ensure there are not any hidden agendas or glaringly inappropriate themes. These actions are what make up my quick “test”.

Let’s take a look at an example of a living picture book “opener”.  The first page of A Boy Called Dickens beckons me to plunge into its setting.  (As a side note, I would say this book is written for anyone about seven years old and up.) 

“This is old London, on a winter morning long ago.  Come along, now. We are here to search for a boy called Dickens.  He won’t be easy to find.  The fog has crept in, silent as a ghost, to fold the city in cold, gray arms.

Maybe the boy is down by the river – the thick, black Thames.  There are ragged children here, to be sure, scrambling for bits of copper and wood to sell.”

What did you learn from reading the first page?

I learned that the setting is London, a long time ago.  Foggy London is by the River Thames, and at that time there are many children on the streets who are trying to sell what they can find to make a little money.  I am still left wondering what year we are in, but that is not a deal-breaker, I suppose.

The first page is an excellent way to draw the reader in.  Throughout the book, Deborah Hopkinson uses vivid description, quotations, and clear transitions between time periods.  She weaves living ideas of perseverance and motivation into the story, as well as includes important facts.  Exposing children to biographical history in this way is more enjoyable than reading an encyclopedia article on the life of Charles Dickens, in my opinion.  

I stand up and grab another living biography off the bookshelf (or out of the book basket, in our case).

Maybe the kids will find this one endearing, I think to myself.

The title is Tad Lincoln’s Restless Wriggle: Pandemonium and Patience in the President’s House.  Written by Beth Anderson, it paints the picture of a loving and patient Lincoln with his impulsive, yet loveable son, Tad.  You might know the Lincolns’ story.  After losing a child, they have Tad: a vivacious, benevolent child, who is hard to understand when he opens his mouth, but has a heart to serve others.  This book is also pretty captivating, at first glance.  While it does show the everyday concerns of the president amid war, it does more than that. It highlights the uncertainty and trials of war, while also emphasizing the importance of charity and familial understanding.  Beth Anderson paints a picture of a winsome and sincere boy: Tad Lincoln. The opening page is quite simple, but accomplishes its purpose:

“Thomas Lincoln wriggled from the moment he was born.  Like a tadpole, thought Abraham, and he called his son ‘Tad’.  The name stuck.  So did the wriggle.”

I believe the reader could learn something about the demands of daily presidential life after reading this book, but even more, the reader is acquainted with the humanity of a presidential family.  A very nice author’s note is included in the back, with photographs of the Lincolns.

Now, for the book that surely engages children’s minds in more ways than just the historical: the engineering and innovative nature of Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis and illustrated by Gilbert Ford will hook young engineers’ brains.  Themes of dreaming big and tenacity to persevere in the midst of criticism are central here.  Mr. George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.  was the mastermind behind the unlikely monument that would become a landmark and mainstay of modernity: the ferris wheel. Learn about the process, from design to implementation.  Read about the ferris wheel’s debut at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.  

The first page test results in an easy decision to take the book home:

“It was only ten months until the next World’s Fair.  But everyone was still talking about the star attraction of the last World’s Fair.  At eighty-one stories, France’s Eiffel Tower was the world’s tallest building.  Its pointy iron and air tower soared so high that visitors to the top could see Paris in one breathtaking sweep.”

How does this page make you feel?  What does the page paint in your mind? 

I think you will find that the pages in Mr. Ferris and His Wheel are packed with facts, ideas, and artistic depictions of an era in time that showed our world was surely changing, with innovation and new technology at the forefront of science.

What should the result be, for our children, after reading living books? Delight and wonder are two things that should arise.  “This delight will arise from the experience of receiving those sparks of truth from the author” (https://www.amblesideonline.org/art-definition).

How about you, Mom or Dad? Shouldn’t you also experience delight in reading living books, too? I think so.

After evaluating my selection of books today, I must ask myself, “Why do I love the mid-to-late 1800s so much?”  

Maybe you’ll find a time period that draws you in.  Or perhaps you will be drawn to a particular group of people – inventors, artists, politicians, writers, explorers – and will want your children to take hold of the living ideas written about the lives of such notable women and men.  Flawed humans, yes, but significant to history. 

Think about what you want to read with your children this summer, “Mom” or “Dad”.


I hope your summer is filled with picture books that tell stories about people who accomplished great feats, lived lives that are different from your own, and most assuredly, were real humans who have a lot in common with you, too.  

Some of you might be familiar with the Charlotte Mason method of narration.  I am linking my narration matrix to this post for families who want to take reading aloud a step further

Recapping the Books:

A Boy Called Dickens

Tad Lincoln’s Restless Wriggle

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel

References:

Anderson, B. (2021).  Tad Lincoln’s restless wriggle: Pandemonium and patience in the president’s house (S.D. Schindler, Illus.). Calkins Creek.

Davis, K. (2014). Mr. Ferris and his wheel (G. Ford, Illus.). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing.

Hopkinson, D. (2012). A boy called Dickens (J. Hendrix, Illus.). Schwartz & Wade Books.

Make Morning Time More Beautiful

What is the beauty loop? It sounds kind of like a skincare regimen if I really think about it. While I do not take credit for the term, I know I have used the term now for about two years.

For those of you familiar with Charlotte Mason’s idea of education, you might recall this quotation from Towards A Philosophy of Education: “We spread an abundant and delicate feast in the programmes and each small guest assimilates what he can” (Vol. 6, p. 183).

The feast is dispersed throughout the school day, even the school week. For a detailed blog post describing scheduling, you might want to read over “A Weekly Homeschool Schedule: Simple as 1-2-3” .

I think that spreading the feast out is a great way to alternate between various subjects of different sorts, as well as expose children to the “abundant and delicate feast” Charlotte Mason describes.

For my family this year, we have found that spreading out the feast occurs best at the beginning of the school day, during what we call our “morning time”.

Morning time usually begins right at the breakfast table, once dishes have been brought over. We sing and pray. For a few morning time blog posts, peruse these.

A beauty loop is the component of morning time that occurs right after our doxology, hymn and prayer, after the kitchen is fully cleaned. The beauty loop is a rotation of four days of subjects, each occurring on a different day of the week. I label them Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4, so they do not have to be relegated to a specific day of the week (too much pressure!).

Follow this link for more:

  1. information on the beauty loop
  2. a FREE resource that I made to show you how you can plan your beauty loop
  3. PLUS an editable template

Without morning time, our days would lack a little luster. Let me know if you have any morning time stories, and I’d love to incorporate them in some way over here!

Ten Questions for Mothers

Some journal questions for you on this Mother’s Day…

Some journal questions for you on this Mother’s Day:

  1. Who is your closest friend? 
  2. How do you feel supported as a mom?
  3. How do you parent differently from your own mom?
  4. How is your parenting similar to the way you were parented?
  5. What is your most treasured memory as a mom? If you cannot pick one, can you describe one precious memory?
  6. What is a Scripture verse you hold dear as a mom?
  7. How does Jesus infiltrate your parenting?
  8. How have you changed as a person since becoming a mom?
  9. What feels hard right now?
  10.  How does God show you that you are not alone?

Here are some favorite books to hold dear, on Mother’s Day and always:

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn a small commission for the purchase of any of these Mother’s Day books, at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support!

Love You Forever by Robert Munsch

I Love You Mommy This Much by Wonderbly (Personalized books for Mommy)

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

I Love You to the Moon and Back by Amelia Hepworth

The Unhurried Homeschooler: A Simple, Mercifully Short Book on Homeschooling by Durenda Wilson 

Just Me and My Mom by Mercer Mayer 

May God bless you as a mother.  


Isaiah 66:13 “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you.”

A Textbook-Free History Curriculum: It Is Possible!

Does This Look Familiar? 

I’ll admit, I have always loved learning about history.  The in-depth study of a person’s life or a place or an event in the form of narrative has been captivating to me. 

Wait! My history classes never looked like an in-depth study of any one person, place, or event. My history class consisted of lectures, scrawling down copious dates, and textbooks.  My history class consisted of test-induced panic attacks and memories that still haunt me to this day.  One question on a test might look like:

Which of the following best describes the key factors at play in the Third Punic War?

a. and b.

a.,b., and c. 

a. only 

b. and c.

Looking for a Different Way?

I will not dismiss the potency of a test that assesses one’s prowess in timeline chronology, “true or false” reasoning, essay writing, and knowledge.  There is a lot of power there. I will even argue that there is a time and a place for these kinds of tests, especially the essay portions.  However, the training I received in my high school history courses prepared me more for taking tests and studying well.  I cannot say I was able to marinate in a time period or biographical account.  I was introduced to those things, and maybe this sparked an interest or curiosity that I could have taken into my own personal study.  Nonetheless, I was not given the time to just bask in the glory of the Renaissance Period, for example.  Maybe I was allowed to take a little time, and I do have fond memories of making projects and preparing for oral reports.  I do not want to discount the fact that my tenth grade world history teacher was probably one of the best in the state.  She was certainly passionate about making sure we knew the facts!  However, I needed more than an intense, flyover course riddled with color-coded notecards and late night study sessions.  

I needed more time and a relationship with the content.

Does this resonate with anyone else?

Thankfully, I have two parents who loved to travel.  They loved to take me and my little brother to historic battlegrounds on Sunday afternoons after church.  They prioritized taking us to as many national parks (which are filled to the brim with history) as possible in our eighteen years at home. They were certainly into delivering experiences.  I cannot thank them enough!  In fact, my mom was known for reading every single word in every single exhibit whenever we visited a natural or historic landmark.  She was very “completion-oriented”, much to the chagrin and groaning of the rest of us.  Needless to say, my classroom went beyond the four walls at Providence High.  If you can relate, thank a parent.

When I sat down to take Amy Sloan’s Textbook-Free History Masterclass, I suspected she would be of the ilk of homeschool parent who teaches history from a place of freedom and joy.  I wasn’t very surprised when Amy, a second-generation homeschooler, shared her childhood memories of driving from historic marker to historic marker with her enthusiastic parents over the course of an afternoon.  One summer, Amy’s parents took her family on vacation, exploring old battlefields for two weeks. She struck a chord of amusement and endearment with me when she shared about the time her family ran up to one of the museums at closing time (unbeknownst to her mom), hoping to spend some time there.  Her mom knocked on the door and was able to convince the museum caretaker to take her family on a private, after-hours tour! 

Amy shares:

“When it came to those big billboards advertising used and old books, I was definitely going to be the one to yell out from the back seat.  And sure enough, my dad would pull over at the exit, and we would spend hours browsing the bookshelves. We were always late to our destinations, but we generally had lots of old books in the trunk and stories to tell about the unique historic sites when we arrived, so we didn’t mind too much.” 

As she writes at Humility and Doxology and hosts her own podcast interviews about homeschooling, one theme Amy reiterates to her readers and listeners is that history can be taught in a way that deviates from the norm you and I probably had in our public (or private) schools.  History can be taught in a delightful and rich way, without detracting from history’s essence. History is a narrative, or story.  Chronology is a list of dates.  

I invite you to take the Textbook-Free History Masterclass!  You will be equipped to plan for a school year of read alouds and field trips.  Amy clearly explains how to go about choosing a topic for the year, along with a good “history spine” as the core history reading.  She describes how she uses memory work, art and drama and themed parties to make the story come to life.  With five children ranging from ages six to sixteen, Amy has used various methods over time.  She shares her tried-and-true tips with us.

How I Teach History

In list form, I’d like to share some of the components I currently use to teach history.  I have taught history now for three years, and hope to share some of my ideas for next year, as well.  These are just quick notes.  I will place an asterisk (*) next to the ideas I have not yet implemented, but hope to do so next year.

History Spine

The Story of the World Volume 1: Ancient Times, From the Earliest Nomads to the Last Roman Emperor

(3 to 4x per week) 

Read aloud two times per week.  Ask students (ages 7 and 5) for an oral narration.  Complete map work on day three.  Complete coloring page on either day three or day four.

Amy lists some other great history spines in her masterclass.

Select Read Alouds/Independent Reading

(supplemental reading, either during quiet time in the afternoon, or independent reading during the school day)

Choose historical fiction AND non-fiction picture books (for elementary-aged students)

Refer to my booklists for help finding good titles.  

Note: Many of my titles are non-fiction, but some are historical fiction. I have found the Ranger in Time series to be a great elementary historical fiction option.  

Plan Memory Work*

Choose famous speeches, poems, plays, etc. from the time period you are studying.  Print out one work per term.  Read it together each day.  Teach memorization by reading each chunk three times aloud and having your student(s) repeat the chunk in-full.  Do this each day until the work is memorized.  

Humility and Doxology has a great memory work plan for the year.

I was in Classical Conversations for my first three years of homeschooling.  I printed out flipbooks and focused on two to three subjects per day of the week to drill. For example, Monday would be Science and Latin.  We’d drill the week’s Science and Latin memory work on Monday for about 15 minutes.  I dropped the ball my last year of CC, but I was relieved to know that this wasn’t the only way to do memory work. 😉 There are other ways, as Amy explains in her masterclass.

My plan for next year’s memory work (by term):

  1. 1 longer scripture passage (i.e., Psalm 23)
  2. 1 ancient times work (i.e., a few lines from the Iliad)
  3. Times tables 1-12
  4. 1 speech
  5. 1 poem
  6. 1 song in a foreign language

Art and Music

Through our “Morning Time”, we incorporate the study of art and music, as well as poetry.  These are components of a generous history feast.

Our “beauty loop” currently consists of:

Day 1: Poetry study

Day 2: Composer study

Day 3: Joke Book (NOT art, but isn’t humor an artform?!)

Day 4: Picture Study

Next year, I plan to keep poetry, composer, and picture study in the rotation. The joke book will probably still be a hit during their free time, but I do plan to include memory work in its place.*

Visual arts: I am not a crafty person.  I hate crafts, unless someone else is leading them.  I know that sounds harsh, but it is true. My idea of crafts is drawing freehand or going outside in nature and drawing something beautiful.  I do not do the glue and paint and scissors.  That’s why I keep these materials within reach of my seven and five-year-old children.  I am happy to have them readily available when they need them, which is usually very first thing in the morning while I am making breakfast or later in the afternoon when we have free time.  I trust them. They clean up their own mess (sometimes), and all is well.  

The Story of the World has craft projects for each week of study. I have not used this portion of the activity book (read: I hate doing crafts), but it looks like a great addition to a unit study.

Musical theater: I am not plugged into our local drama community, but I know some homeschool moms who have taken children to productions of Shakespeare plays and auditioned children for musicals at the local arts council.  This would be good for my family when the children get a little bit older.*

Plan Field Trips

I am a part of a Charlotte Mason co-op that includes monthly field trips.  Sometimes, our history study and the field trips overlap.  Oftentimes, they do not. Nonetheless, children are very capable of making connections organically.  Not every field trip’s theme has to be matched perfectly to the theme of the history content.

Two years ago, my kindergarten student and I were studying medieval history.  On my family’s fall break, we took a trip to the Charleston area.  I made a point to incorporate “fortresses” into some of the hot spots to visit since we were reading about castles, fortresses and the like.  In fact, our read aloud around that time was The Castle Diariy: The Journal of Tobias Burgess. It was such a fun trip!  I am linking my page where I write about it here.

Last year, I attempted to work in some history to our family trips again, but it was a flop.  We never really got to study modern times in field-trip form as I had hoped, but our curriculum we used was a unit study.  It was so comprehensive, I did not feel a need to be so tied to aligning field trips with the history because the children made connections organically.  We did manage to travel to Williamsburg and Gloucester, Virginia to see the colonial way of life. That was memorable, as we were studying early modern history. So, maybe it wasn’t a complete flop.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the field trips our co-op took that were living history in nature.  From carding wool by hand , to spinning wool to make yarn, our students got a lot out of their trip to the Charles B. Aycock Birthplace and living history museum.  We also visited many farms that year, snuggled lambs with fleece as white as snow, picked strawberries, gleaned sweet potatoes, and found Native arrows and spearheads.  So, don’t tell me learning and making connections cannot be done if everything isn’t planned to a “T” to match the history curriculum!

Next year, I will call history field trips a “success” if I can work in  these components, many of them with our co-op:

  1. 1 symphony performance
  2. 1 historic battleground
  3. 1 living history museum
  4. 1 nature hike
  5. 1 farm/production facility
  6. 1 local business

Book of Centuries

We have been keeping a book of centuries for about two years now (since first grade). I would love to share my thoughts about it with you, as I write in my recent history post on the blog.

Drama and Skits at Home

This is one great way to make history come alive at home.  The only thing is, I have never implemented a skit or reenactment of a historic event at home, yet.  The key word is: yet.  If anyone has suggestions, I am all ears!*

Videos

YouTube has some great options for quick (like 10 minutes) videos about an historic event or person.  Just be sure to view in advance before showing it to the kids!  Some things are marketed as being geared towards children, but include some violence or themes that might be too heavy for your family.

RedeemTV has a good series called Torchlighters.  These are biographical accounts of various Christian martyrs and missionaries over the course of Christian history.

Themed Parties

While I haven’t really hosted a themed party for those outside my little clan, I do have a few ideas up my sleeve.

Our Medieval Feast

These ideas usually pair well with books we have read.

  1. Host A Medieval Feast to go along with Aliki’s book by the same name!  We did this two years ago, when my son was in kindergarten.  For pictures, check out this page.
  2. Go on a picnic with Aslan from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.  The history connection would be the World War II setting in Britain.
  3. Celebrate Holy Week by hosting a “Seder meal”, as the Israelites remembered the passover, when the angel of death passed over God’s people in Egypt who had the blood of a spotless lamb painted on their door frames.

I have more ideas, but I will write on these later.

How Will I Assess Learning?

As a former teacher, I am well-versed in “formative” versus “summative” assessments.  The formative assessment is what we are constantly doing in our homeschool.  For example, if the student is practicing 2-digit addition with regrouping, I will formatively assess his understanding by giving him a problem to work out and look over his shoulder as he works it out.  I give feedback. Or, I might ask a question about what he has learned from something we just read, and give him some feedback if he is deviating from the main points.  

Summative assessment takes the form of written tests, usually.

How would I assess my history student?  Narration and record-keeping through notebooking is a great tool for assessing what students know and understand. Read my blog post on narration for a more comprehensive explanation of how I understand narration.  There are many more narration tools I include on my website (for free) and in my Etsy shop, Brick Schoolhouse.  

Amy’s Masterclass also includes some helpful tips on assessment and notebooking.

Have I whetted your appetite for a history experience that is textbook-free? If you are looking to find more content related to teaching history, I cannot vouch enough for Humility and Doxology .  I also want to point you to Pam Barnhill and her “Your Morning Basket” podcast Episode #111, “Teaching History Without A Curriculum: A Conversation With Amy Sloan”.

In short, I hope your year is full of connection and joyful learning.  History can be fun, so I hope this post gives you some fodder for a good start to your school year.

Our Gloucester, Virginia trip last May

One Month of Narration Ideas, Three Years’ Worth of Books!

Narration Ideas for Days… Book Ideas for YEARS!

Narration

I designed a narration resource back in June and wanted to give it a little facelift for you. I am linking it below. Narration is the “art of knowing” and retelling what you have learned after reading something. You can retell a reading in spoken words, in written words, or in another creative way. My aim in designing this matrix is to give you ideas in the case of brain cramp. We all get those at the most convenient moments, don’t we?

Booklists

I want to bless you with three years’ worth of book recommendations. Each selection is carefully chosen based on the criteria for a living book.

A living book:

  • is written in narrative form by someone who is passionate about his or her subject
  • fires the emotions
  • ignites the imagination
  • is well-written
  • is written more like a chat with an expert in her field of expertise!

*90% of the books on my lists are living books. I denote the books that do not meet living book status, because there are some. I think you’ll love all of them, though. You can use them in any way you’d like. The content areas for the three Classical Conversations Cycles are present here in every book list. Enjoy, friends!

Year 1 Booklist

Year 2 Booklist

Year 3 Booklist

Make sure you don’t miss out on MORE resources and booklists! Sign up to be a part of our email community. It’s one way I encourage and show support to my most engaged audience.

How I Fell In Love With Picture Book Biographies

Disclosure: As an Amazon associate, I may earn a small amount from the purchase of these wonderful picture book biographies, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support!

Does it surprise you that I love picture book biographies? I’m writing one; in fact I already wrote a picture book biography. If you had told me fifteen years ago that I would author a picture book biography for children and adults to enjoy, I would have choked on my water (because that is about all I was drinking fifteen years ago). I most assuredly loved reading good, living picture books to my students, but I would have been unfamiliar with the term “living book” if you had used it around me.

I have always enjoyed a good story, like most of you.  I taught in the public school system for four years and was undoubtedly exposed to some good ones.  Nonetheless, my love story does not begin there.  In fact, my love for good picture books has developed a lot more since I now have children of my own. It is more about connecting with little humans and big humans and less about analyzing the literature. Now, I think I am in love with well-written picture book biographies. Really.

My love story begins with a book called Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant.  The year was 2019. I had just listened to a popular reading podcast that inspired me to budget and buy some recommended picture book biographies.

a beloved book

Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille is the story of how Louis Braille came into the world and changed it for better.  He was underestimated from a young age, but especially misjudged after an injury and ensuing infection left him blind as a child.  Jen Bryant does a fabulous job stretching out the scene of the moment in time when five-year-old Braille’s curiosity got the best of him, changing his life forever.  For a young man who saw darkness, Louis Braille’s life story was told so vividly.  I felt deep empathy as Bryant used simile to show Braille’s frustration with his sudden blindness.  In the narrative, Braille recalls a chained dog in his small French town and identifies with it.  It was as if his blindness held him back, like the tightly chained dog.   

I felt a connection to him that could not be replicated in the reading of a textbook. 

You see, when you read a well-written living book, you do not need to understand simile, metaphor, or iambic pentameter. You certainly can enjoy literary elements, but they are not essential to connecting with the text and the story. You will ascertain beauty, if it is in fact a story that exposes a transformation, connects struggle to a success, or disseminates a moral truth.

Everyone loves a good transformation story.

Louis Braille’s story is one of overcoming the odds.  He was the one who created the six-dot system of writing for the blind, enabling them to read anything they wanted to. 

When he arrived at the school for the blind in Paris, Louis had limited access to books.  Resolving to be one of the best students at the school, the day finally came when Louis earned the right to open the few books the school had.  This endeavor proved disappointing.  Louis, tracing the outlines of the standard alphabet letters only to read a couple of sentences on one page, wanted more.  He wanted to learn.  How was he going to learn if each page only had a couple of sentences, and the books were only so long?

The recurring theme in this story is Louis’s aversion to other’s pity for his situation.  That aversion and his own determination to learn and live life propelled him forward toward innovation.  He dreamed of the chained dog breaking free.  He spent hours each night developing a new alphabet that would eventually replace the old way of teaching the blind to read and write.

The story is so good and would be sufficient without beautiful artwork to accompany its pages. 

Nonetheless, the picture book biography is a work of art in varying media.

I fell in love with Louis Braille’s story as I gazed at the art depicting his hardship and determination.  The words carried most of the weight in telling his story, I will admit.  Nonetheless, the pictures certainly breathed life into a time and place I was getting to know.  Boris Kulikov has developed his distinct style.  His art style makes me think of olden days.  I surely do not want to neglect acknowledging the immense contribution visual artists have given our world.  They deliver truth, goodness, and beauty in a most palpable way.

The first-person narrative of Louis Braille includes an author’s note, q & a, and resources for further study at the end.  In addition, the inside of the back board includes a tidy graphic of the Braille alphabet and numerals.

There is power in a story.  A story moves people. 

There is connection in a story.  A story connects us to the characters.  Reading stories aloud and telling stories to our children connects us to one another.

There is art in a picture book. A picture book is like a handheld gallery of beauty and ideas.

I love the power of a story to connect people across different places and times. 

I think writing about others appeals more to me than writing about myself.  This is one of the reasons I was compelled to write a picture book biography.  After some searching, I arrived at my subject: I am honored to tell the story of Ole Kirk Christiansen, LEGO founder.  This man was incredibly visionary.  I cannot wait to share his story with you!  If you look through my list of some of my favorite picture book biographies, I know you are going to love this one.  I have already written the book and we are in the editing phase.  To follow me on my journey from first draft to first printed copy, you can join my email community.  I love being able to communicate these intimate details with my most engaged audience.  I hope to inspire and humbly share.

I briefly described here what captivates me in the picture book biography.  I am passionate about stories that utilize literary devices to skillfully disseminate beauty, truth, and goodness about a person’s life.  I must share a few of my favorites with you. In case you haven’t yet found my booklists on the internet, here is a link.

The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon by Jacqueline Davies; Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Balderdash! John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books by Michelle Markel; Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford; Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World by Paul L. Maier; Illustrated by Greg Copeland

Pippo the Fool by Tracey E. Fern; Illustrated by Pau Estrada

Becoming Bach by Tom Leonard

Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue and Corinne J. Naden Illustrated by Don Tate

Mathematicians are People, Too: Stories from the Lives of Great Mathematicians by Luetta Reimer and Wilbert Reimer

The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons by Natascha Biebow Illustrated by Steven Salerno

Leave It to Abigail! The Revolutionary Life of Abigail Adams By Barb Rosenstock

Until later, fellow biography lovers!

National LEGO Build Day, Living Projects Are My Treat To You & Week 15 Booklist

Disclosure: As an Amazon associate, I might earn a small portion from the purchase of some of these LEGO books, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support.

I am so thankful to my email community.

People I personally know have shown me support and have spread the word. Thank you, dear friends!

I am also humbled in seeing how my community has grown over the past month. I cannot think that the only people interested in my content are those who know me personally. I have met kindred spirits, near and far! Thank you!

I want to invite you to join my email community. I am regularly designing exclusive, free content for my inbox buddies. I love doing this. So, if you are not already a member of our email community, please sign up.

Each Living Project includes:

  • links to engaging educational videos that serve to enrich thematic content
  • read aloud suggestions
  • narration ideas
  • family discussion questions
  • enrichment or extension projects that align with Classical Conversations content
  • LEGO trivia
SAMPLE of one page of a Living Project (Week 2)

Booklist

Another perk I have created for my email community is the booklists I make each week. Are you ready to see Week 15?

Here is the Week 15 booklist, aligned with Classical Conversations Cycle 1, Week 15. I try my best to curate quality, living books. This list has some lovely books.

Last but certainly NOT least, did you know that TOMORROW, January 28, 2022 is LEGO BUILD DAY?

Get your build on!

Check out these LEGO titles:

The Lego Ideas Book: Unlock Your Imagination by Daniel Lipkowitz

The Big Book of Amazing LEGO Creations with Bricks you Already Have by Sarah Dees

How to Build LEGO Houses: Go on a Journey to Become a Better Builder by Jessica Farrell

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