Homeschooling Encouragement with Karen Andreola

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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)

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

History Lessons, Book Lists, and Morning Time

I wanted to share the page I recently updated: Story of the World. If you are looking for an engaging, classical curriculum for history, The Story of the World is a good option. We use this in our morning time. Read more to find out if it is the right fit for you and your family!

the 2 resources we use

In addition to The Story of the World, I have made my book list to align with ancient times because Classical Conversations Cycle 1 covers ancient history. Skim each week to see if you could snag a few titles to go with your study of ancient history, whether or not you end up using The Story of the World.

What’s covered in The Story of the World? Here is a table of contents found inside:

(by chapter)

  1. The Earliest People
  2. Egyptians Lived on the Nile River
  3. The First Writing
  4. The Old Kingdom of Egypt
  5. The First Sumerian Dictator
  6. The Jewish People
  7. Hammurabi and the Babylonians
  8. The Assyrians
  9. The First Cities of India
  10. The Far East: Ancient China
  11. Ancient Africa
  12. The Middle Kingdom of Egypt
  13. The New Kingdom of Egypt
  14. The Israelites Leave Egypt
  15. The Phoenicians
  16. The Return of Assyria
  17. Babylon Takes Over Again!
  18. Life in Early Crete
  19. The Early Greeks
  20. Greece Gets Civilized Again
  21. The Medes and the Persians
  22. Sparta and Athens
  23. The Greek Gods
  24. The Wars of the Greeks
  25. Alexander the Great
  26. The People of the Americas
  27. The Rise of Rome
  28. The Roman Empire
  29. Rome’s War With Carthage
  30. The Aryans of India
  31. The Mauryan Empire of India
  32. China: Writing and the Qin
  33. Confucius
  34. The Rise of Julius Caesar
  35. Caesar the Hero
  36. The First Roman Prince
  37. The Beginning of Christianity
  38. The End of the Ancient Jewish Nation
  39. Rome and the Christians
  40. Rome Begins to Weaken
  41. The Attacking Barbarians
  42. The End of Rome

Self-Education is My New Venture

I am not writing today to discuss the idea of education in-depth. My goal is to share something that enlivens me to my core.
My most recent venture is starting the habit of a literary life. A literary life, in essence, is reading the things I want to read. It is reading widely and faithfully from the “Great Books” and from well-written modern texts alike. It is connecting with more than just the annals of the ancient world through a primary source text like an epic or ancient play. It is reading a complete volume of poetry, or an intimidating book I’ve been avoiding.

I Want to Become a Book Girl

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I’d like to think of myself as an educated human.
How is education measured, though? By test scores? By wit? By ability to think through a situation and solve the problem?

“Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.”

Charlotte Mason

I am not writing today to discuss the idea of education in-depth. My goal in writing is to share something that enlivens me to my core.

My most recent venture is starting the habit of a literary life. A literary life, in essence, is reading the things I want to read. It is reading widely and faithfully from the “Great Books” and from well-written modern texts alike. It is connecting with more than just the annals of the ancient world; it is being transported to a time and place and living amongst the people through a primary source text like an epic or ancient play. It is reading a complete volume of poetry or an intimidating book I’ve been avoiding.

I wish I could tell you reading for self-formation in partnership with the Holy Spirit had been a goal for my entire life up to this point, but I’d be lying.

I am coming off of a very stale relationship with books written for adults. I admit, I have a grand affinity for well-written children’s books. (I myself am writing one, after all!) C.S. Lewis said that, “a children’s story which is only enjoyed by children is a bad children’s story”. I agree. I know I have been exposed to some great ideas through the works of Robert McCloskey, Barbara Cooney, Thornton Burgess, modern authors like Melissa Sweet, Tomie DePaola, Jen Bryant, and Barb Rosenstock.

The staleness comes from a (sometimes valid) need for information regarding my station in life as a mom and homeschooling parent. For example, I recently discovered the podcast “Raising Boys and Girls” with Sissy Goff, David Thomas, and Melissa Trevathan. In an effort to improve my parenting, I made an impulse-buy and got their Are My Kids on Track? I truly think I made a good decision, albeit a rushed one! However, I used to think I only had time for nonfiction, parenting books. What a drag.

My newly found love for the kind of reading that isn’t just in the form of self-help and parenting books is what gives me the motivation to press in to new worlds. It is the thing I most likely want to talk about, too – this new love for books. My husband hears a lot of it, but I am constantly looking for wise readers who can “point me in the right direction”. I am not saying I haven’t had a developed taste for books in the past. I remember taking a wonderful college course that pointed me to the “Great Books”: Persuasion, Madame Bovary, and Metamorphosis are three that I remember the most.

Nonetheless, I have held the incorrect assumption lately (as in the past 10 years) that I simply do not have time to read for fun, aside from the children’s picture books and read-alouds. This cannot be true, friends. I know it isn’t true because I have met a few kindred spirits who weave reading for pleasure into the fabric of their weeks. They are homeschooling moms, too. Don’t tell me that they do not lead already-full lives.

Take my friend Sarah Clarkson. Okay, she and I do not personally know one another, but she is my friend because I sense a kindred spirit within her. She is the author of my newest read, Book Girl: A Journey Through the Treasures and Transforming Power of a Reading Life . My real-life friend who I met on Instagram (does that count?), Laura, recommended this one for me to read.

A woman who reads is one who takes ownership of herself…she knows that to read is to begin an adventure of self-formation in partnership with the Holy Spirit.

Sarah Clarkson

In Book Girl, Clarkson asserts that to be a reader, one must choose reading, again and again. It sounds simple, but it illuminates a specific phenomenon that is taking place in our modern culture: people are spending less time reading good books now more than ever. As an anecdote, Clarkson recounts the day a young editor visited her girlhood home. He gestured to the bookshelves, groaning under the weight of copious books. “All of this…will be gone in another few years. We can read so much more quickly now on a screen.” Sigh.

Clarkson’s response:

“I don’t think physical books will go out of style because we are embodied beings who need to touch and feel, smell and see reality in tangible ways. Books are more than ideas bound to black type. They are also gifts, companions, physical presences that walk with us through certain seasons of our lives.”

I find that the buzz of a busy brain overloaded with bits of information is a real detriment to reading. Mental space is one of the first things I need in order to be a reader… something I choose again and again.

Sarah Clarkson

I agree that physical books will never become extinct. I do share Clarkson’s concern here, too:

“My only concern with the use of technology for reading is simply that the fragmentary nature of online reading, the skim from headline to blog to article to Instagram not replace the habit of quiet, sustained reading, the kind that immerses you in the mind and ideas of another, giving you the space to consider, ponder and discern.”

Okay. So with that, I will wrap up this blog post.

Here is a look at one of the quotes that truly resonate with me from my reading of Book Girl:

The words you memorize become a part of you.

Sarah Clarkson

If you agree that we were created people of words that eventually shape us into who we are, then we are definitely on the same page. May we seek to encourage each other into a reading life. I can keep you updated on my journey. Would you join me?

books on my nightstand (some of these I am just starting)

My Reading Life in the Commonplace Book

The quest for connection and self-education through good books brings me to The Literary Life Commonplace Book by Angelina Stanford, Cindy Rollins and Thomas Banks.

How It Works

This is more than a reading log. It is carefully choosing the books I will read for select genres, then reading them. Making time during the day is what I’m dedicated to doing now – mostly at night, before I go to sleep. The thing that I love about the commonplace is the area where I can write down the best quotes that resonate with me from what I’m reading. It also has a section where I can review each book and give it a star rating. The authors of the Literary Life Commonplace Book also host the Literary Life Podcast. On pages 28-30, they offer their own suggestions for books to read, but I like to ask my social media and newsletter audience for suggestions. By the way, each book I am currently reading was a suggestion from a friend!

Literary Life Commonplace Book

May I share the titles I have chosen with you? If you have suggestions in any of these categories, the titles are not set in stone (aside from Book Girl and the Wendell Berry work).

In no particular order, I choose to read this year:

We are people of words. Moms count, too. Let’s spur each other on to a literary life.

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.

Six Things in an Introverted Mom’s Survival Kit

It’s the end of a long day and I’m spent.  I am an introvert.  This probably doesn’t come as a big surprise to those people who know me well.  I am very happy to be around others, but by the end of our hangout sessions, I am done.  I relish time spent in my thoughts.  I relish time alone.  My ideal time would consist of me waking up, enjoying a hot cup of coffee with my breakfast, and spending time with a good book, the Word, or writing something new, at my own pace and at my own leisure.  I’d most likely peruse Pinterest for some inspiration, as well.  I am creative, when left to my own devices.

The introvert life is a thing of the past.  Well, it at least seems like I left it in the rear-view mirror a few years ago.  My time spent with one young child was a breeze.  How I remember those couple of years fondly!  Putting him down for his nap meant I had alone time. 

So, how am I doing it now, you might ask?  I have three kids: aged 7, 5 and 3.  Oh boy!  I know, some of you are masters in your own 3-ring circus, and yours is probably larger than mine.  However, three is a weighty number when it comes to two married individuals who also both happen to be introverted. 

In all seriousness, I love our children and realize that they are blessings from the Lord.  They are an inheritance, and they are arrows in my quiver.  I realize these things.  I do often relish the time I have with them.

However, the need for a rest during the day makes things excruciating, because I rarely get one.  Let’s face it: all moms need a rest, no matter their natural dispositions. 

I once heard of a blog called “Naptime Kitchen”.  It is probably a very popular blog.  However, the name struck me as this reality to which I said farewell many moons ago.  Naptime kitchen?  I do not get a naptime kitchen, but it sounds extremely nice.  What a luxury! 

How do I make things work and how in the world do I function in a world devoid of a naptime kitchen?!

Of course, there is retreating to my room and exercising.  But can I also order my day in a way that prompts thriving?  This is more than an escape.  It is a rhythm.

Here are a few big-picture rhythms that allow me to at least see the light at the end of the tunnel.  A few of them are probably unexpected things.  I have had to mature and come to a few of these realizations through a process of sanctification.  It has been a painful process.  Nonetheless, the process has allowed me to grow in wisdom. 

Systems

Let me preface by stating that I am not an uber-organized human.  I love organization and structure, but I am not COMPELLED to organize beyond the necessary.  Don’t get me wrong – I love a clean kitchen and feel like I cannot commence my daily activities if I do not clean the kitchen first.  So, I suppose I have standards.  Who doesn’t?  I mean, your standard is surely different from my own, but we ALL have standards.  It’s the system that you implement that makes the standards work for you, not the “you” working as a slave to the standards. 

If I had to place my “systems” in categories, they would fall under:

  1. Systems of self-regulation
  2. Systems of physical organization
  3. Systems of mental organization
  4. Systems of atmosphere

Systems of Self-Regulation

Systems of self-regulation are the tools that I use to help talk myself off the ledge.  They are emotional and mental regulation techniques.  Taking a deep breath before I engage with another irrational human is one such emotional technique.  Refuting lies from Satan with the truth of God’s principles is one such mental technique.  The mental is related to the emotional.  If you believe a lie (mental), you will feel a certain way about this distorted reality.  This also leads to physical responses (i.e., increased heart rate, increased levels of stress hormone cortisol, fight-or-flight response).  I mean, YES, I was trained as a counselor but it does not take a counselor’s training to arrive at the basics of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  Do I use these self-regulation techniques often?  As an introvert, you bet I should!  I also take myself to a “safe place” to regulate again if I am pushed to the brink of an emotional meltdown.  You know what else I do?  I refuse to engage in back and forth over text messaging (or social media).  That is futile.  I do not recommend it to anyone.

Systems of Physical Organization

Systems of physical organization really speak for themselves.  “I put x over here and my physical space is more orderly”.  The process is really a no-brainer, but the motivation is so hard to muster up sometimes.  Some of you are probably thinking, “I organize a new space in my home every single day,”. I really want to be more like you one day if I am being honest.   I love Mystie Winckler.  She is an author and blogs on her website Simply Convivial.  She formed a support group with her email community.  Together, during the month of February, we are committed to organizing a different, small space of our home each day.  YAY!  I am in her community, but I am not accepting this challenge, at least not every day (sigh).  I know.  I must prioritize, and I feel like I am coming from an incredibly overwhelming January.  I could beat myself up about not participating.  However, now that I know what the community is working on, you know what? I am inspired to do something organizational this month!  I really am!  Thank you, Mystie!  It may not be every day, but it is something.

One thing that has been a help to me is learning how to organize my laundry system.  I know, you might be a laundry queen and have it all figured out.  That’s awesome! Well, I am not there, YET (saying “yet” helps me feel better).  I do have a system, though.  My friends are these big dish bins.  I color code them (bought these on Amazon), one for each child.  I commit to doing one load of laundry a day. (Do not smirk, laundry queen!).  Okay, so I do the necessary linens each day, but I commit to washing and drying one load of clothing per day, usually specific to a particular room in the home.  I have laundry baskets in each of the bedroom closets.  The laundry I wash IDEALLY gets folded and placed in the proper color-coded bin of the respective children.  Then, I am done.  My son is seven.  He puts all his laundry away, not without complaining (something we all need to work on).  My daughter puts her laundry away with my help.  My three-year-old son perfectly hangs his shirts up.  JUST KIDDING!  I do all of that for him, but ONE day, he will take the baton.  The 5-step habit training system is going to come into play when I see he is ready to begin taking on his own laundry.

What is the 5-step habit training system, you might ask?  Well, this is something I stole from Simply Charlotte Mason, so I take zero credit for the idea.  I will take credit for this cute “habit tracker” worksheet, though. 

Okay, so the 5-step habit training goes like this:
1. I do.  You watch.

2. I do and you help.

3. You do and I help.

4. You do and I watch.

5. You do and I inspect.

Do you know I have only used this system on forming one habit, so far?  I am a failure (Wait! That’s a lie I must refute! NO, I am not a failure.  I am a work in progress.  “Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1 ESV).  My son now makes his bed.  That’s the one habit. 

Anyway, I thought it was worth sharing with you because I would have loved to have this little tool a couple of years ago, but now I have it and it has been working (most of the time).

Systems of Mental Organization

One word comes to my mind when I think of systems of mental organization: LISTS!  I love some lists, you guys.  However, I used to be such a list freak that I would write down stupid things like, “unload the dishwasher” and plan out every minute of my day.  Who has time for that now?

I still use lists.  Furthermore, I have a sticky note obsession.  It’s the squares, y’all.  Those perfect squares help me compartmentalize.  When I am finished with one task, I get the satisfaction of throwing that task in the TRASH!  I chuck that sticky note!

Just as good as the list is the LOOP.  Loop schedules have helped propel me through otherwise daunting tasks or long series of tasks that would cause me to despair if I did not get to one thing.  You see, loops are not time-sensitive.  They are sequential, but do not have to be completed in any particular time frame.  That’s why I love the loop during the morning time, our interdisciplinary studies.  By the way, morning time is my favorite time of the school day, so we do not choose to miss it unless we are so far behind.  My children all love morning time.  At the moment, our morning time consists of:

  1. Singing doxology together at breakfast
  2. Praying
  3. Hymn

Clean up breakfast, move into living room

  • BEAUTY LOOP

Day 1: Poetry

Day 2: Composer study

Day 3: Joke book

Day 4: Picture study

I build in buffer time when I only allot 4 days to BEAUTY LOOP.

  • Math word problem
  • ANCIENT HISTORY STUDY LOOP

Day 1: Read and children narrate

Day 2: Read and children narrate

Day 3:  Map work

Day 4: Coloring page

Systems of Atmosphere

Lastly, the systems of atmosphere are harder to put our fingers on if you catch my drift.  However, I love atmosphere because it reflects a lifestyle and is more like breathing than it is like consciously striving.  The atmosphere of a home is so important.  It is also kind of tricky.  So, how does one make a system of atmosphere? 

We look to ideas, beauty, and connection to provide atmosphere.  Ideas and beauty come in the form of good books and occasional movies, music, nature study, play, outdoor time and the rhythms of meeting together (more on anchors later). 

Why Systems for the Introvert?

How do systems help me as an introverted mom? They are life-giving yet provide boundaries.  The textbook introvert might be described as lacking strength in boundary-setting, but I am learning that boundaries are exactly what I need as an introvert.  At any rate, I think systems will help any person function in the framework of the household.  There are so many systems you and I use each day, without thinking twice.  What’s your system for communicating with the entire family?  The calendar.  You probably keep one somewhere.  I am not to the point where I display the calendar in a central location where all my kids can read it and write down their engagements, but one day I plan to do this, when it can be utilized by everyone.  Systems are easy to spot and easy to create.  It’s harnessing them and maintaining them that make all the difference.

Anchors

Anchors are built-in points during the day that absolutely must happen, no matter what. 

We must eat three meals a day.

The kids must go down for bed. 

The day must start and school must begin.

You get the picture.

An introverted mom like me is always looking for the anchors in the day.  I attach things that may be hard to accomplish in isolation to anchors because they suddenly become inescapable.  This is best accomplished when the little people are contained.  Sitting at the kitchen table to eat breakfast is a perfect segue into morning time.  After morning time is enjoyed, we breathe and move (physically and mentally) to the next task until we reach the next anchor: lunch.

Lunch, for me, is merely survival right now.  I used to envision a “literary lunch”.  In my mind, I would read aloud to my three children, who would attend to the engaging story and ask the best questions and provide the best insight.  Yeah, we are not there yet.  Not even close.  Right now, it is all about keeping the little dude in his seat to eat his food.  It’s also about training them in the way of manners and such.  Most days, it’s me trying to keep their plates full and then I eat at the kitchen counter, away from the chaos.  So, there is room for improvement.

The next anchor of the day is my son’s nap.  This is the signal to my older two that they are on their own for the next couple of hours – an introverted mom’s dream.  Yet, I am never alone.  No, not really.  The only way I could ever really be alone would be to hire a babysitter.  Sometimes, that is exactly what I do!  Other times, I look at the naptime as my chance to engage with the older two in short spurts, after I clean that kitchen.  By the time I’m finally done cleaning, I’m kind of ready to collapse, but sometimes, I really do make the extra effort to do something with them.  It might be drawing in the school room.  It might be playing outside.  It might look like reading to them.  Whatever it is, I know I am kind of at the dregs of my bucket.  I have just a little more left.  So, I need a recharge.  That’s when I look at my pockets (more on those later).

The final anchor of the day is dinner.  Dinner is when I have a captive audience for storytelling and recapping the day.   We also take dinner to narrate to Daddy about the day, or about something we have been learning or something we saw.  We attach number facts and phonogram flash cards to dinner.  We do this because our son is rusty on his facts and we want to use our anchor time wisely.  Plus, when Daddy calls out facts, it is a form of outsourcing.  My son gets rewarded with my husband’s reading a chapter from The Hardy Boys. Therefore, I can devote my attention to the other two kids or… I clean the kitchen. 

Both my husband and I look to the last anchor of the day (kids’ bedtime) to which we attach prayer, singing, and a short book.  Then we hope for the best and say goodnight.  We are zapped. 

Anchors are a natural part of the day.  Figuring out the best use of the anchors in your day will help you feel like you are working smarter, not harder.  Which activities will you attach to your anchors?

Pockets

Pockets are (mostly) enjoyable opportunities that propel us toward the anchors in our days.  One of our pockets is music.  Can you think of a song you could play to act as a cue to your children that an anchor is about to happen?  I’ll tell you about my son in the first grade.

My son was a first grader last year.  Our song was “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne.  I really don’t like that song very much, but it has grown on me, and it is catchy.  My son loved it in the first grade.  So, that was his cue to come get started with me once I had cleaned the kitchen.  It told him that were moving toward beginning our schoolwork.  Did this pocket work? I would say it did, 85% of the time.  The other 15% consisted of him begging for another song or delaying further with a snack request.  So, we had to adjust, and I made the rule that all snack and water must be gathered by the time the song was done playing.

Other pockets for us are: snuggling with the preschooler, a TV break right before lunch, blessing Daddy by cleaning up before he gets home from work, a bedtime story and snuggle. 

Pockets bring us some vigor to days that are mundane.

Confession and Repentance

An introvert internalizes a lot of her interactions.  Why did I say that?  Has that crossed your mind before? Ha!

Sometimes, we just make mistakes and lack a filter in communication.

Other times the things we say are sinful and wrong.  The weight of this sin is such a burden, isn’t it?

Remember, we have forgiveness in Jesus Christ.  Repent and believe the gospel.  I fight my flesh daily.  When I give in and sin badly against another soul, I look to David’s Psalm 51.  The first two verses are:

1 Have mercy on me,[a] O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin! Psalm 51:1,2 ESV

(The entire Psalm is so good.)

Recently, I had to read this Psalm.  Afterward, I did feel the weight of my sin flow out of me.  Then, I was able to breathe again. 

In response to Psalm 51, I had to give myself time in my safe place, my “time out” place.  I had to admit my sin to myself and to God.  I had to turn from it and acknowledge there was something much better.  I had to pause and try to realize that it is not a battle of flesh and blood I was fighting.  It is against the powers of darkness that we wrestle.  “Being right” is not winning, because not a single person on this earth is truly wise.  I had to let that go and just look at the One who is perfect and right and offers something nobody else can offer: grace. 

Receiving Grace

You are an amazing work of art that God put into being!  Do you really believe it, though?  You are smart and beautiful.  You are loved.  Do you even know it?  I think sometimes we women especially devalue ourselves and fail to realize just how special we are. 

I know, we are also sinners.  Yes, and yes.  However, do we go back to the fact that God chose to bring himself glory by creating us?  He sent His only Son to die for us, to redeem us, and to bring us everlasting life.  He makes us completely His and we are enough.  We are made in His image. We are enough, in Christ.  If you go about life and fail to realize your worth in Christ, you will fail to set boundaries for yourself and for others.  You will also strive to prove yourself constantly. It will be your modus operandi.  So, receive the grace that covers everything.  Yes, we are worthy in the sense that we are made in God’s image, every one of us.  Sure, we are not enough without Christ, but realizing that is beautiful.  When we embrace that we are enough in Christ, we can move forward with dignity and wholeness.  We can make decisions out of a more secure place. This grace helps me move through my day, even though I sometimes go the entire day without seeing it and taking hold of it.  My prayer is that I would be drawn to the reminders of grace when I start my day, when I am in the middle of it, and before I lay myself down to sleep.  Grace yields peace and security, forever.

Wonder

Among the many things to wonder, grace is at the top of my list.

“Wonder: a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.”

What makes you wonder?  What is beautiful and admirable?  I’ll tell you what I like to incorporate into our days that can elicit my wonder.

  1. Nature Study
  2. Watercolor
  3. Play
  4. Walking outside

So, go ahead and wonder.  Build it into your day.  Make it a pocket that propels you toward your anchors. 

I will be cheering you on!

Books that allow me to wonder these days:

Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin

Gentle and Lowly by Dane C. Ortlund

Nature narratives, like: The Burgess Animal Book: Mammal and Nature Education Storybook by Thornton W. Burgess

any kind of good, picture book biography with quality illustrations

Tools Work With Right Perspective

The good news about these tools – systems, anchors, pockets – is that they augmented when I see my life through a lens of confession and repentance, grace and wonder. 

The world is a noisy place.  Thinking about all the ways we want to implement tools can be overwhelming.  Seeing the big picture first helps me.  Breaking up the things I want to work on into chunks is key.  Outsourcing certain responsibilities can be beneficial.  I admit I am weak, but He is strong.  Order will come if we pursue it and ask for God’s guidance.  Knowing that my time is not my own is helpful, too.  Reframing this idea that I am owed any peace and quiet and acknowledging that I am owed nothing and cannot expect a naptime kitchen or a cheerful child is also key.  I can be responsible for myself.  God will meet me there and has already orchestrated everything, so I can trust his plan is good because He is good.  I can let go of control.  I can focus on my own obedience in the mundane instead of despising the mundane. 

Besides the usual, albeit good coping habits of retreating to a safe place and exercising, I think structure, boundaries and right perspective all help an introverted mom not only survive but live well. 

I hope this has given you something to think about.  How do you live well?


 

Blue Monday, MLK, Jr. Day and CC Cycle 1, Week 14 Booklist

Our week was quite different from what I had originally planned. We did not have morning time most of our days, we had a few kids feeling under the weather, and frankly, I had a slumpy day or two. Has that ever happened to you? I know that some of you have reminded me to be less hard on myself. I agree, and I also think that there are a couple of things we did that allowed us to hit the “reset” button. Sharing these, especially in the bleak midwinter, might help some of you.

Our week was quite different from what I had originally planned. We did not have morning time most of our days, we had a few kids feeling under the weather, and frankly, I had a slumpy day or two. Has that ever happened to you? I know that some of you have reminded me to be less hard on myself. I agree, and I also think that there are a couple of things we did that allowed us to hit the “reset” button. Sharing these, especially in the bleak midwinter, might help some of you.

For a quick “reset”, try these 7 things (one for each day of the week):

  • Go outside – I know, it’s cold! Just one hour outside will brighten anyone’s mood, though. Trust me. If it is dark throughout the winter and your days are super short, you might want to look into getting a light therapy lamp like this one.
  • Get your blood pumping. Either by dancing, doing some good, old-fashioned boot camp style calisthenics, or playing tag with the kids outside, you can start feeling more of the happy hormones!
  • Take a mental break and write down all the things floating around in your brain. If there are tasks that you are juggling in your brain, write those tasks down. Then, get started with prioritizing. Seeing all the tasks paper will help tackling them feel more manageable.
  • If you are an “organization therapy” person (I do not think I am), then perhaps think of one place in your home you want to reorganize. Start small. It could be a linen closet or a corner of a room. Even rearranging furniture can breathe more life into your day and give you a feeling of accomplishment.
  • Talk to someone. Yes, that’s right. Just picking up the phone to dial a friend (the old-fashioned way, NOT Marco Polo or Voxer) can bring a mood boost to the day. Walking outside to chat with one of our neighbors can brighten my day. Just talk to a human, face-to-face or over the phone.
  • Read God’s Word and write down a verse to copy. Then, make that verse into a doodling masterpiece. This does not only serve as therapy, but it can help you remember the verse better.
  • Read a book of your own, just for fun. It does not have to be a read aloud book with your kids, although those can be good for uniting everyone in the middle of a rough day.

Okay, now that we’ve addressed the blues of winter, just know that you are not alone during this season. In fact, you can look up the “bluest day of the year”. According to a trusted source (ahem, Farmers Almanac), “Blue Monday” falls on the third Monday in January, each year. This year’s “Blue Monday” falls TODAY, January 17th, 2022.

A Holiday

Maybe the holiday we have here in the United States (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) will offset some of the blues. Holidays usually help because the shared honor or celebration makes people feel more united; less lonely.

As we look ahead to this week and the booklist for CC Cycle 1 Week 14, I wanted to share a book I am looking forward to reading with my kids this week:

Hammering for Freedom: the William Lewis Story by Rita L. Hubbard

I know Dr. King stood for what William Lewis stood for. Although each man has his own unique story, 19th-century William Lewis did the back-breaking manual labor of a blacksmith and did not stop hammering until each and every member of his family was set free. Like William Lewis, Martin Luther King, Jr. indefatigably led marches to speak out against racial injustice for the sake of his children’s generation. Read MLK Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech here.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

Martin Luther King, Jr. (“I Have a Dream” delivered August 28, 1963)

I want to sit down and read the entire speech. I hope you find some time today to reflect on the way that God created all men to reflect his image, the Imago Dei. All men (and women) reflect our good God. We were all made in His image, and we are also all sinners. I am praying for the day Jesus comes again to right all wrongs and bring true justice to this broken world. Until that day comes, I will keep honoring the stories that reflect the diversity, beauty, tenacity and struggle of my black friends, who are each uniquely created in God’s image. For a more robust catalog of books to read that honor black voices, check out my friend Amber O’Neal Johnston at Heritage Mom Blog.

Classical Conversations Cycle 1, Week 14

Whether or not you are currently on Week 14 in CC, this week has an interesting roundup: linear equivalents, three kinds of rock, trade in Africa (think: Mali Empire and Ghana’s gold), geography of Ancient Africa, and Lorenzo Ghiberti. So many connections could be made, but sometimes it’s just good to not go all-out matchy-matchy on read alouds and what we’re learning in our co-op. Kids are able to make some pretty amazing connections between things that are seemingly unrelated. So, do not sweat it when you gather resources. It might be tempting to make everything matchy-matchy… but really, that is an awful lot of work for you, and it is sometimes a lot of fun to just lay the feast out and let them figure out the connections on their own (no digesting the feast for them, please!). You can find the booklist here.

Lastly, I am having some fun making “Living Projects” for families to use with each week of school. Living Projects align with each Classical Conversations week, but you do not have to be in CC or any co-op to appreciate them. I include a video link, a book to read, a fun fact about the subject of my new book, LEGO founder Ole Kirk Christiansen, and an engaging activity or project to do that is appropriate from most students elementary-aged and up. However, I make this content FREE for my most engaged audience. If you’d like to be a part of my email community, you can sign up! I’d love to welcome you in.

I am currently learning about Charlotte Mason and her principles. If you like learning about Charlotte Mason, too, then you’ll also love the art design I insert into my regular emails (they’re quotes like the one below). You could start your next commonplace book of pretty, CM quotes! Who’s with me? Pin and share, friends. Pin and share.

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/925489792146481741/

Happy New Year! My Favorite Posts of 2021

This is my 30th post! Making it to a round number is celebratory. I wanted to share some of my favorite posts from the past year (2021) with you. I hope you find them helpful in your homeschool.

This is my 30th post! Making it to a round number is celebratory. I wanted to share some of my favorite posts from the past year (2021) with you. I hope you find them helpful in your homeschool.

My Top Posts

1. The Reason (Why We Homeschool)

This was the very first post I wrote on My Little Brick Schoolhouse. If you are curious about our reason, I think you should read it. “My family is just one tiny dot in an ocean of homeschooling families. I know we are nothing special, and there are so many wiser people who have come before. But I do have a song to sing. Can I share it with you?”

2. Resources for the First Half of Classical Conversations Cycle 1

Here is the booklist I compiled to align with the first twelve weeks of Classical Conversations Foundations Program, Cycle 1 (Ancient History). I hope it serves you in some way. Even if you are not in Classical Conversations, the list is subdivided by content areas: math, fine arts, geography, history and science. Anyone can find some titles on the list that are enjoyable to read with family!

3. Tea Time Discipleship

I love tea time. This is how we have incorporated tea time into our homeschool days.

4. My Kids Know that I like them (just because we can days!)

I am feeling a February slump coming on… fast! So, I have already put our next JBWCD on the calendar. I hope you find freedom in the fact that we can enjoy our kids for an entire day, no strings attached or agendas to fulfill!

5. A Living Story: Ole Kirk Kristiansen and LEGO®

LEGO®  is a trademark of the LEGO® Group, which does not sponsor, authorize, or endorse this website.

This Danish man’s legacy amazes me. Read more about the founder of the LEGO® company here.

6. How I Plan A Homeschool

I wrote this in May to give you all a glimpse into the process I take in homeschool planning for the year. I hope it helps you in some way!

7. Garnering Wisdom As Our Year Ends

Even though I wrote this from an end-of-the-school-year vantage point, I could definitely take some time to do a midyear evaluation. What am I learning now, in January? What do I need to do differently?

The Newsletter

If you’d like to keep updated on our homeschool journey, receive updates on my book, and be privy to exclusive resources that pair with the booklists I create, then please sign up for my newsletter!

A newsletter is a better way for me to connect with my special readers than social media, if I am being honest. Although I see the merits of social media, the conversation gets much more robust in the newsletter. Maybe you would like to reframe some ways of thinking and start looking at life from a different perspective. Well, that’s what I’m working on, too! I would love to share more about that with you in the newsletter, so do not miss out!

What Narration Is and What Narration Is Not: My Opinion

In my humble opinion, narration is quite misunderstood. One of the newer habits I have aimed to introduce into our home education is the art of narration. I once read that an art is something practiced, but it is not a system to be mastered.

In my humble opinion, narration is quite misunderstood.  One of the newer habits I have aimed to introduce into our home education is the art of narration.  I once read that an art is something practiced, but it is not a system to be mastered. 

My oldest narrating the Frog and Toad story, “Down The Hill”. He recreated the scene by designing the sled in the story.

My go-to book for the art of narration has been Know and Tell: The Art of Narration by Karen Glass. It is a resource I have referred to from time-to-time.  At the same time, I have found a look at Your Questions Answered: Narration by Sonya Shafer to be helpful in coming up with alternatives to the question, “What did you read about?”.   I also designed a narration matrix to provide a variety of ideas you can implement to practice the art of retelling. It does not have to be boring!

In short, narration helps one to practice sifting through a reading.  A student beholds knowledge for herself as she sifts through and articulates her own relationships between the subjects and herself. 

I’ve found that our readings of The Story of the World (Ancient Times) captivate my seven-year-old son’s attention and engage us all.  The subjects in the history stories come up at mealtimes, during car rides, and within questions at bedtime.

I am not a purist, and I’m learning to do this thing called narration, however imperfectly.  I know I’ve been lacking in some areas, and I haven’t consistently kept up the habit of follow-up discussion after narration.  I’m going to keep up narration, though!

The texts from which I usually ask my seven-year-old son for a narration:

The Story of the World (Ancient Times)  (after he listens to me read)

Independent reading books, like Frog and Toad All Year  and Sharks (after he reads aloud)

If you don’t know where to start, just remember that oral narration is usually NOT practiced before age six.  Written narration happens a lot later – at earliest, age nine.

“The Corner”, from Frog and Toad series. Narration by drawing.

Narration is NOT Memorizing

Rote memorization is not about building relationships with the subjects in a book.  Narration is about building relationships.  No matter how basic or flawed, a child’s oral narration can give him enormous benefits of synthesizing information.  He doesn’t extract rote sentences he has memorized from the story. He puts together the pieces of the story, recounting them, simultaneously making meaning. Children are given mental food, i.e., books.  It is their job to assimilate it for themselves.  Think of the books we give our children as a feast.  We do not give them just one kind of mental food during their feast.  Neither do we chew the food up for them and feed to them like they are baby birds (GROSS!).  Rather, we feed them the right quantity and variety, and they assimilate it into their being.  Giving a narration is like digesting the mental food.  Yum!  If narration were merely memorizing, it would be like looking at the mental food, knowing about the mental food, but never eating nor digesting the mental food.  Are you familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy?  It’s like a hierarchy of thinking skills.  It goes from most basic, knowledge, to-comprehension-analysis-synthesis-and finally, evaluation. The most basic tier of the thinking skills is knowledge.  Memorization is an exercise in acquiring knowledge, BUT it is the most basic of thinking skills.  Karen Glass reminds us in Know and Tell: The Art of Narration that “narration gives us an opportunity to reclaim those higher-thinking skills for the next generation and even to develop them for ourselves” (2018, p. 25).  Agree with this statement, and you probably realize that narration is different from memorizing.

Narration is NOT Only Oral

Narration can take the oral form as early as age six.  However, around age nine, when hand muscles and reading skills have developed, written narration can begin. I love how Glass puts it so frankly here, in Know and Tell : “Too often we attempt to address the symptom of poor writing rather than the disease of weak thinking” (2018, p. 25).  So, she seems to say that weak thinking causes poor writing.  Perhaps.  If we start narration in the written form and fail to give children the chance to narrate orally first, then we are not exercising the muscles of critical thinking.  We must start orally, get the feel for synthetic thinking, then allow that same thinking process to flow out as words on paper.  I have not started written narration with my own children, but hope to be able to in the future, as they approach the recommended age.

Narration is NOT Formal Rhetoric Instruction

This is interesting.  There are different camps regarding how people best develop written language.  One camp believes it is prudent to learn formal rhetoric (i.e., a modern-day grammar and composition program) to be able to write eloquently.  Another camp believes that good rhetorical practiced can be achieved more naturally, through narration of good, living books.  For example, Augustine wrote:

And, therefore, as infants cannot learn to speak except by learning words and phrases from those who do speak, why should not men become eloquent without being taught any art of speech, simply by reading and learning the speeches of eloquent men, and by imitating them as far as they can?  And what do we find from the examples themselves to be the case in this respect?  We know numbers who, without acquaintance with rhetorical rules, are more eloquent than many who have learnt these; but we know no one who is eloquent without having read and listened to the speeches and debates of eloquent men.

 (Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/augustine/doctrine)

So the question still remains: are formal grammar programs and composition instruction necessary?  Well, I do not know.  I believe they still probably have their place in education, BUT I am also apt to believe the efficacy of narration goes far beyond just developing thinking skills.  Since thinking skills are required in order to write well, I am in agreement with Glass that, “narration becomes the key that builds our relationship with knowledge, develops our thinking skills, and gives us the power to collect our thoughts and relate them accurately and effectively, both in speech and in writing” (2018, p. 12).  Yes, my homeschool will be focusing more on narration in these younger elementary years than on formal grammar and composition. 

Narration is NOT Done In Isolation

If we fail to give some context for what we are reading, it may cause frustration when the child is trying to give a narration.  Giving the children a little context about “what we read about last time” before jumping into the “what happens next” of today’s reading is suggested.  A discussion after narration cannot hurt, either.  The narration itself is not a discussion.  It is the child’s hard work assimilating knowledge to be conveyed in his or her own way, perhaps even in the same style as the author’s. The teacher leaves the children to do the work.  The teacher is not to interrupt and ask, “What’s his name?” or anything like that.  Remember, it is the child’s knowledge to behold, and he is working on developing this muscle. 

Narration is NOT Done In Response to Empty Books

As always, narration is to be done in response to literary books that convey a variety of ideas.  In other words, the books we read together must be captivating – not entertaining – rather, wholesome, substantial, and well-written.  Living books are those written by an author who is passionate about the subject, are well-written, fire the imagination, and engage the emotions.  If these criteria are met, then chances are, the book will be captivating to children. 

Narration is NOT Original to Charlotte Mason

Narration has been around for centuries.  The early Greeks “formalized the study of rhetoric, and narration was one of the earliest exercises, appropriate for beginners” (Glass, 2018, p. 13).  In the Greco-Roman world, the simpler topics of rhetoric practiced by beginners was called the “progymnasmata”.  Narration was one of these topics, and it was meant to give practice in telling something that occurred.  The thinking skills a student would have to employ are varied: paying attention to matters of definition, classification, differentiation from similar forms, and etymology.  How interesting!  We know the Ancient Greeks were advanced for their time, so this idea of narration is one to which we can pay attention.  Charlotte Mason paid attention, too!  She recorded the narrations of many of her students, aged six to eighteen. 

Narration of “The Corner” from Frog and Toad series with modeling clay.

Narration is Relationship-Building, NOT Contrived

I love this Karen Glass quote from Know and Tell:  

Everything will be connected and presented in some way that has required the narrator to think: to order and classify, to structure and formulate, and finally to articulate her thoughts in adequate sentences and vocabulary.  In short, the deceptively simple act of narration incorporates all the powers of the mind and exercises them in a coordinated way, just as tossing a ball requires the coordinated efforts of the nervous, skeletal, and muscular systems, which are energized by the digestive and endocrine systems. (p. 19)

So, narration connects mental processes, for sure.  Does it connect anything else?  For me, anecdotally, narration has allowed us to continue the conversation beyond the reading time.  We discuss the ideas and events found in our history at the dinner table.  The kids recount a scene from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis in their imaginative play together. So many ideas are being tried on and masterfully woven together during a narration and afterwards.  For us, narration has been a way to step into another person’s world.  Instead of asking questions like, “how does this passage make you feel?”, the narrator is asking more about a time and place and character that is outside of himself.  I think that is a good thing.  While introspection is good and has its own place, narration is not that place.  Let’s be the outsiders looking into another person’s world.  Mirrors can be good, too, but windows are paramount in narration.  I think that mirrors will occur, no matter what.  Identifying oneself with another character is a natural process that takes place while reading. Yet, the narration exercise takes more looking outside than looking inside. 

Narration is NOT Self-Centered and Introspective

Narration is certainly not spouting off facts as if they are just there to be spouted off and that’s it.  No.  Narration is thoughtfully describing the experience of another, the series of processes happening in the natural world, etc.   And narration helps us see things in relation to each other as they all rest under the unity of knowledge that only our trinitarian God provides.  I once read in Jen Wilkin’s book, Women of the Word, that one fallacy we tend to gravitate toward when reading the Bible is to look for OURSELVES in God’s word.  While we can certainly find out about ourselves by reading the Bible, our aim is better placed in finding out more about God Himself – His character, His relationship with us, His will.  The Bible is, after all, about Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Jesus was even referred to as “the Word made flesh” in John 1:14.  Mirrors are important, but if they do not reveal a greater Purpose and Power, the mirrors are empty. Narration is like this.  Narration takes looking into another person’s window much more often than looking at one’s own reflection in a mirror.

Want to talk more narration?  Let’s chat!  Email me and the conversation can continue. In the meantime, check out these fun resources I developed:

Narration Matrix

The Big Maine Basket

Until later, friends!  Have fun reading (and narrating) with your children.

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