One of the best ways I have found I can reset and recharge in a more purposeful way is by packing my bags. Where am I going, you ask? A retreat. Read more to find out why.
The homeschool life is a glorious life, but sometimes it can get overwhelming, like anything else.
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I know you are enjoying the togetherness, as am I. However, by Week #6 or 7 of summer break, our family is ready to recharge and reset. What about you?
One of the best ways I have found I can reset and recharge in a more purposeful way is by packing my bags. Where am I going, you ask?
Why, to the Charlotte Mason Together Retreat, of course! Held in the wooded lakeside Atlanta Evergreen Marriott Conference Resort, the retreat is aimed at refreshing moms who are homeschooling or teaching other people’s children under a Charlotte Mason philosophy.
The retreat usually runs Friday to Saturday, with a pre-retreat on Thursday. Historically, I have attended all of these days. Held the second-to last weekend in July, the timing of the retreat is perfect – right before school starts back for many, but also a time when many families like to vacation together. I have friends whose husbands and kids will do something touristy during the day, while they attend the retreat.
I thought I would gain new ideas and inspiration when I first signed up in 2020 to attend my first retreat. I gained so much more – I gained friends. I gained a renewed love for my family. I even regained a joy in worship! The worship time on Saturday morning is priceless.
I came up all giddy-like. I was just tickled to meet the author of some of my favorite education books, to-date! Karen and I chatted about the classical thinkers and their influence on two of Charlotte Mason’s principles (“Education is the science of relations” and “Children are born persons”). A great chat, from which I left feeling quite inspired to continue teaching the Charlotte Mason way.
2. Amber O’Neal Johnston, also known as “Heritage Mom” on her blog and social media, has been teaching me about using living books as “windows” into the lives of others. Using books as windows is a wonderful thing, but how about using books as “mirrors”? Knowing one’s own heritage and identity helps him or her appreciate the culture of another. That is Amber’s premise and mission: to curate an inclusive culturally rich home education.
Well, I got to meet Amber last year, and I reconnected with her today. Between yesterday and today, I have really been enjoying these extraordinary homeschool moms who are as dedicated to the nurturing and teaching of their children as I know you are.
Not to mention, Amber is about the most down-to-earth homeschool mom I’ve met. She is a lovely soul!
Her session today was entitled “Belonging Together: Managing the Seasons of Community and Fellowship”. I learned so much about the workings of a co-op from listening. Amber took us through the steps of a co-op, from exploring the idea to initiating the concept, to living it out, to excelling and growing, to moving on.
3. I was able to go line dance last night in the conference ballroom. Sonya Shafer and her daughter were also in line. We all had a wonderful time!
4. The sessions on portraits of a homeschool parent were so encouraging and convicting, if I’m being honest. Sonya Shafer delivered the session, which was full of truth and grace. We do not do this alone, and there is so much to learn from Charlotte Mason on parenting, believe it or not.
When I spoke with Sonya later, I asked her where to start in Charlotte’s volumes, if I am looking for a good parenting read. She recommended starting with Volume 2: Parents and Children.
5. I attended a session on using technology well with Doug Smith. He drove home the point about technology as a tool to be mastered. Charlotte Mason wrote about the elaborate models of “appliances”, or what we could call “tech” in today’s vernacular. These tech models are not to be the basis of our learning, and are to be introduced progressively.
Would you give a five-year-old child a calculator before teaching him the principles of math? The same concept applies here with technology.
Technology can be a wonderful gift when used appropriately.
6. Lastly, and possibly my favorite part of this retreat has been making new friends and reconnecting with the old friends of retreats past. I cannot tell you how much it warms my heart to know there are kindred spirits miles away who are in my corner, as I am in theirs!
So, do I attend this retreat for rest and renewal of mission? YES.
Grow with us as we learn about Charlotte Mason and learn from each other!
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Where are you on your homeschooling journey? If you are just starting out, perhaps researching different philosophies of education and methods is where you are camping out this summer. Maybe you have already found a couple ideologies that work well for your family and you want to explore one further. When I first set out researching this homeschool thing about five years ago, I was barely thirty years old, with just two little ones. Now, I am officially in my mid-to-late thirties…and am very tired… with three young children. I don’t know about you, but I do not often find the time to extensively research something. Then, there is something called “decision fatigue”. To reduce decision fatigue, I gladly took a well-crafted quiz to determine where I lean on the educational ideological spectrum back in 2017. If you already own Cathy Duffy’s 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum (2014), go ahead and open it and take the quiz where you find out which educational approach resonates most with you. She gives you a comprehensive explanation about different educational methods. I can say that taking the quiz confirmed some paths for me.
If you do have an idea about Charlotte Mason and her methods, then you might appreciate going deeper by reading about these women below. I will call them my “team of pundits”- those to whom I look for good discussion, implementation and modeling of the lifestyle I want to incorporate into our family culture. Each one has either directly or indirectly impacted me. Each woman comes from a different background, but all have chosen a similar way for their families, in terms of motherhood and education.
If you have a chance to read over their bios and click on their resources, you will most likely find some kindred spirits and learn more along the way.
Let’s get to know some of these authors, speakers, bloggers, and dedicated homeschool moms:
1. Karen Glass
“Karen Glass is the mother of four children, all graduated, and a veteran Charlotte Mason homeschooler who lived in Krakow, Poland for 25 years before recently relocating to the United States. She has immersed herself in the philosophy of Charlotte Mason and is passionate about bringing her life-giving ideas to contemporary educators. She is one of the creators of the AmblesideOnline curriculum, and has been writing and speaking for many years. She is the author of several books based on those educational ideas, including Consider This, Know and Tell, and In Vital Harmony.”
“Sonya Shafer is a popular homeschool speaker and writer, specializing in the Charlotte Mason Method. She has been on an adventure for more than 20 years studying, researching, practicing, and teaching Charlotte’s gentle and effective methods of education. Her passion for homeschooling her own four daughters grew into helping others and then into Simply Charlotte Mason, which publishes her many books and provides a place of practical encouragement to homeschoolers at simplycharlottemason.com.”
In recent years, I have been blessed to attend the Charlotte Mason Together Retreat in Stone Mountain Park, Georgia! It has been an honor to see Sonya in her element and to just “hang” with other Charlotte Mason moms.
3. Amy Bodkin
“Amy Bodkin is an Autistc Adult, School Psychologist, and Homeschool Mom to her two Autistic kids. She consults primarily with homeschool families as the Special Needs Consultant at A Charlotte Mason Plenary. She works with families who have experienced chronic health conditions, disabilities, trauma, asynchronous development, etc. Her practice is guided by Charlotte Mason’s idea that “Children are born persons” and she makes it her goal to see each child as an individual, not a diagnosis.
Amy has recently started a new venture at amybodkin.com to provide a home to her advocacy work and her new podcast Special Needs Kids are People Too!“
Amber O’Neal Johnston (Heritage Mom Blog) gave me the great idea to feature Amy on this list. Her experience is multifaceted and she offers great insight.
4. Cindy Rollins
“Cindy Rollins homeschooled her nine children for over 30 years using Charlotte Mason’s timeless ideas. She is the author of Mere Motherhood: Morning Time, Nursery Rhymes, and My Journey Toward Sanctification, The Mere Motherhood Newsletters, Hallelujah, Cultivating Advent Traditions with Handel’s Messiah and the Morning Time: A Liturgy of Love. She co-hosts The Literary Life Podcast with Angelina Stanford and Thomas Banks and The New Mason Jar Podcast. She is also the owner of the Mere Motherhood Facebook group and runs an active moms’ discipleship group on patreon.com/cindyrollins. Her heart’s desire is to encourage moms and go to baseball games. She lives in her sometimes empty nest in Chattanooga, Tennessee with her husband Tim and dog Max.”
You can find Cindy at:
morningtimeformoms.com where she publishes her newsletter Over the Back Fence
I have also really enjoyed using Cindy’s Commonplace Book this year to improve my personal reading life.
5. Amber O’Neal Johnston
“Amber O’Neal Johnston is an author, speaker, and worldschooling mama who blends life-giving books and a culturally rich environment for her four children and others seeking to do the same. She recommends we offer children opportunities to see themselves and others reflected in their lessons, especially throughout their books, and she’s known for sharing literary “mirrors and windows” on HeritageMom.com. She is the author of A Place to Belong, a guide for families of all backgrounds to celebrate cultural heritage, diversity, and kinship while embracing inclusivity in the home and beyond.”
I had the chance to meet Amber at the 2021 Charlotte Mason Together Retreat! She is a wonderful resource on worldschooling, among her resources on teaching children to be secure in their personhood and culture.
6. Min Jung Hwang
“Min awakes with joyful anticipation of what God will do as she cooperates with Him in home-educating her 4 creative children, as well as her friend’s precious two children. She delights in sharing the Gospel-grounded Charlotte Mason philosophy and methods with every family and church.
Over a decade ago, having become convinced of the life-giving paradigm the Charlotte Mason philosophy brings, she has embraced Miss Mason’s principles, allowing them to inform her ministry with moms, college students, and children.
If you were having tea with her, she would tell you God doesn’t waste anything; she can testify to how her varied background in Nursing, law, and nonprofit work establishing safehomes for sexually exploited, pregnant mothers, has helped equip her for her current vocation.
Min is a wife of more than 20 years to her best friend, Young. They have the blessing of pastoring a beautiful, ethnically diverse church in New Jersey. In addition to serving as Pastor’s Wife, the Children’s Ministry Director, an artist, and home-educator, you’ll find her loving on mothers at Life-givingMotherhood.com – a worldwide community of mothers desiring to grow in their spiritual disciplines and life-giving habits – and podcasting at Charlotte Mason For All and Charlotte Mason’s Volumes.“
“Erika Alicea is a former public school teacher turned homeschooling mama to one amazing young lady. Born and raised in NYC, Erika helps her husband, Efrain, pastor their church in the Bronx.
When Erika was first introduced to Miss Mason’s educational philosophy through God-sent friends, who are now her co-hosts on the Charlotte Mason for All Podcast, it was an answer to many of her prayers. As she began to learn about all the beauty a Charlotte Mason education offers, Erika had to be creative in implementing Miss Mason’s methods in the context of city life and as a family of color.
As a firm believer in a multicultural education for all children through the use of diverse, living books, Erika uses her website Charlotte Mason City Living as a resource to help educators diversify their instruction. It’s her prayer that it serves as an encouragement to all families, especially those who feel Miss Mason’s philosophy may not be inclusive enough or even possible for multicultural or urban families.
On any given day, you can catch Erika taking pictures of nature treasures in the city that often go unnoticed in the hustle and bustle of urban life. You can also find Erika at The Art of Color as co-creator of these carefully crafted and curated CM-inspired Art Appreciation resources showcasing artists of color.”
“Originally from Southern Brazil, Mariana is a mom of two boys, who has been home educating them since the beginning of their schooling in 2016.
She lives in Westchester, NY, and can be found daily with a delicious cup of black coffee paired with a good book. She enjoys serving her Catholic Church alongside her family, taking family hikes and soaking in the beauty of God’s creation at the seashore.
On her home educating journey, Mariana found a great friend in Miss Mason. This friendship has yielded precious fruit not only in her homeschool, but in the atmosphere of her home and her life.
She’s active in the CM Brazilian community co-hosting a podcast and online community in Portuguese: Descobrindo Charlotte Mason and founding a publishing company, Editora Ideias Vivas, that publishes living books for all ages. In addition, Mariana co-hosts the podcast Charlotte Mason for All, alongside Erika Alicea and Min Hwang. She also serves as a COO at the Life-Giving Motherhood Membership.”
“Leah Boden is wife to Dave, mother to four children, a long-time home educator, and student of Charlotte Mason.
With over two decades of experience in church leadership, Leah’s working background also features many years in youth, children’s, and family work within the church and for the local education authority. Leah speaks, writes, hosts podcasts and coaching sessions, and runs workshops sharing the beauty of a Charlotte Mason approach to childhood, motherhood, and education.
Leah is the author of the upcoming book Modern Miss Mason (Tyndale Publishing, Jan 23)
She and her family live in the West Midlands, England.”
I personally have had the joy of speaking with Karen Andreola and have truly enjoyed the time I have had to dive deeply into the application of Charlotte Mason methods through study of her book, A Charlotte Mason Companion. My book club and I have been reading and discussing it since October 2020! We are still going strong, as we meet monthly and discuss about three chapters at a time!
Shopping for Homeschool
My friend from Humility and Doxology, Amy Sloan, writes about homeschooling from the perspective of a second generation homeschooler. Interviewer, podcaster, blogger, content creator, teacher, wife and mother, she has a lot of great experience with classical Christian homeschooling and parenthood. Her Amazon store is pretty awesome.
Other Charlotte Mason-inspired resources in Brick Schoolhouse Etsy Shop:
The Big Maine Basket – This is a Charlotte Mason and classical education-inspired narration tool. In this Maine-themed “basket”, you will find two book recommendations, narration instructions, a narration template for use over the course of two days, coloring pages, and EXTENSION ACTIVITIES! Spend time in good, living books. Read to your children, and have them narrate part way through the reading using this template. This narration tool is designed for multiple developmental levels, is good for keeping record of narrations, and utilizes Charlotte Mason and classical methodologies. It would also pair well with any MORNING TIME, CHARLOTTE MASON, or CLASSICAL CURRICULUM.
I was tired of not having a plan, but every time I tried to set out to make goals for our upcoming year, I would get stuck! I started curating some wisdom from various women who have walked the walk. Lara Casey, Charlotte Mason (Sonya Shafer at Simply Charlotte Mason), and my own experience have helped me develop this tool you might find as a breath of fresh air to help you organize your thoughts about uncovering what matters, as well as implement habits to change the atmosphere of your home! This is my process. I hope it blesses you in some way.
This resource includes:
-workbook-style planning pages
-habit tracker on calendar
What Works for Your Family Is Truly Best
I remember how overwhelming it can be to research all the methods and practices. Keep in mind your own home atmosphere and what you envision for your own family. I hope you have found this brief directory of sorts helpful in seizing your [own] self-education in the methods of Charlotte Mason. I cannot claim to be a “purist” in the sense that we follow Charlotte Mason “by the book”. I doubt many of us are. However, I do believe that exposure to people in your “camp” can be edifying and inspiring.
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 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:
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.
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.
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 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: