Education is an Atmosphere

“Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life.”

I have always found it perplexing that when a child is asked, “What are you learning in school?” many have a difficult time answering you, looking at you with a blank stare, if eye contact is made at all.  I inquire further, again to no avail, “What type of activities do you do in science? What kind of problems did you do in math?”  And when asked, “What is your favorite subject?”,  inevitably they exclaim, “Recess!”

Not long ago, my kiddos joined me in the hot tub after my swim workout and they visited joyfully with the other adults.  It wasn’t surprising that they were asked this same question.  However, my munchkins respond without reservation.  “Oh lots of things.  This week we took apart our old bicycles to learn about simple machines.  There were so many screws!  In math, we are doing multiplication of fractions.  I also wrote a thank you letter to Mr. Eberhard. We went on a field trip to his dairy. In history, we are learning about the Inca. History is my favorite subject!”

The adult with whom my little ones were talking was impressed with their responses.  I shared with him my observations about the ease at which homeschoolers have in talking with adults and sharing what their discoveries.  His hypothesis was that this was because to children in formal school settings, everything in their life is compartmentalized.  School is where they learn.  Home is completely separate from that.  They can’t comprehend why someone outside of school would talk about school.

I’ve also realized that homeschool parents approach their child’s education in a much different manner than those of most public school children.  I’ve eluded to this in a previous post … Nature Journaling & Parental Approaches to Education.  Homeschoolers are learning all the time … taking advantage of every possible learning opportunity.

We are no different.  Many of my friends are surprised to discover that we homeschool year-round … even on the weekends and on holidays.  Learning never ceases.  I sprinkle formal math lessons in as we drive to Portland. While on errands around town, I will randomly ask questions or give instructions in Spanish and if I know it, in Mandarin and Norwegian as well. 

Education in our home is as instinctive as breathing.

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As a part of the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival community, I’ll be sharing more of how Charlotte Mason’s philosophy fits into lives in the next few months. Feel free to join us!

Ideas for Art Appreciation & Artist Study

Charlotte Mason was a lover of all the arts. During vacations she would visit museums in Europe. She read and wrote much poetry. Along with her associates, she developed ways of helping children establish relationships with the arts.

“The art training of children should proceed on two lines. The six-year-old child
should begin both to express himself and to appreciate, and his appreciation should be well in advance of his power to express what he sees or images.”
(Vol. 1, p. 306)

To develop a child’s appreciation of art, bring the child into direct contact with the best art. Choose one artist at a time; six paintings per artist; study one painting per week (maybe 15 minutes per week). Allow the child to look at the work of art intently for a period of time (maybe five minutes). Have him take in every detail. Then take the picture away and have him narrate (tell back) what he’s seen in the picture. As the child gets older, have him write detailed descriptions of the pictures.  Have him try to recreate a favorite piece by incorporating coloring pages (Dover Publications) or using online tutorials.  Many other homeschool families have shared online how they have studied a specific artist.

But where can I get art prints at a reasonable price?

Using an art calendar is an excellent way to obtain twelve gorgeous reproductions without excessive cost.  Purchasing calendars when on sale provides even bigger savings. I buy calendars with works by just one artist that include most or all an original piece of art – not portions of the artwork.  When we study the artist, I take the calendar apart so that we’re not distracted by the month and place them into 12″x12″ sheet protectors which are then stored in a scrapbook.  My children’s artwork can then be stored alongside the artist which inspired it.

If the calendars are really inexpensive, then I buy two. One of the calendars becomes a set of jigsaw puzzles. I take apart the calendar, glue the image onto cardstock and press it flat between heavy books. Once dry, I cut the print into pieces. Put the pieces in a small zip close bag. I cut the tiny picture off the

Another great resource is a publication called Taschen Portfolio which we frequently find on the discount table at Barnes & Noble. At approximately $12.99, each portfolio includes fourteen full-colour 11″x14″ art prints and a brief biography.  [Admin Note:  You may wish to view the website without children present as, sadly, the publisher has iffy so-called “art” books, too.]

We have the Taschen Portfolio book for M.C. Escher and two similar books by PCR Publishing of Rembrandt and Dali.  I hope to purchase the Taschen Porfolio books for Claude Monet (one of my favourite artists), Edvard Munch, and Leonardo DaVinci.

When we’ve gone to art galleries we’ve been fortunate enough to buy postcards of different works of art. If you purchase two postcards of each, it makes for a fun game of Concentration with your kids. Use Post-It Notes to hide the name of the artist or glue a piece of dark paper to completely cover the back of the postcard.

We’ve found art calendars at bookstores, stationers’ and at Costco Wholesale. I’ve also posted requests on and Craig’s List and have have gotten good response.  Ask friends and family for their calendars at the end of the year as well.  We’ve built our collection of art prints by simply asking around.

Tiger Tiger :: Book Sharing Monday

Those who admire and respect Charlotte Mason may sometimes wish that she were here with us to tell us what books to use in our home schools. Good books are vital to the kind of education that we wish for our children and this responsibility weighs on us. Charlotte Mason stated that literature is used for character training and should be fun and engaging. All books should be developmentally appropriate to the child’s individual timetable. Literature books will not give you precise information, but they will give you a sense of the time period they were written in or about.

“The children must enjoy the book. The ideas it holds must each make that sudden, delightful impact upon their minds, must cause that intellectual stir, which mark the inception of an idea.” (School Education, p. 178)

A week ago, we finished listening to the audio book, Tiger Tiger by Lynne Reid Banks.  We all enjoyed the story and it provided a springboard for an in-depth discussion about the class system of Ancient Rome that we previously hadn’t touched upon when we studied the ancients in history.  Additionally, it brought out a discussion about the ethical treatment of animals.  Tiger Tiger is designed for children and adults that can cope with the truth of history (the colosseum was not a pleasant place) – we were all spellbound.

Whether we read from Story of the World or from a selection of quality literature, I always try to provide a real-life experience for my children. This weekend, we had an opportunity to experience a tiny bit of what Aurelia must have enjoyed when she spent time with Boots.  We visited the West Coast Game Park and actually got to play with and feed two young tiger cubs.  We were also able to interact with two lion cubs and a caracal.

“The story of the fate of two captured tiger cubs in ancient Roman times. The focus of the actual story is on power, compassion, and martyrdom. After the two tiger cubs are brought to Rome, they are separated and lead entirely different lives. Brute, the larger and stronger cub, is taunted and trained to be a man-killer for the circus in the Colosseum. The smaller cub, Boots, is given to Caesar’s 12-year-old daughter, Aurelia, for a pet. Boots’ fangs are removed and his paws covered with leather pouches. Boots visits Aurelia frequently accompanied by his keeper, Julius, who worships Aurelia from afar. When Aurelia’s jealous cousin suggests playing a trick on Julius, she reluctantly agrees to hide Boots. When Boots escapes from the royal compound, Julius must pay the price: he’s sentenced by Caesar to fight both Boots and Brute in the Colosseum before thousands of Roman citizens. Aurelia pleads for Julius’s life, but her father is unyielding. Jan Francis’s narration is strong yet tender, projecting just the right amount of fondness and adoration in Aurelia’s relationship with Julius and Boots, and anxiety and compassion when Julius and Boots are condemned to fight for their lives. The long, slow days of playing with Boots in the palace are expertly balanced against the cold, cruel days of imprisonment that Brute experiences. Listeners should be aware that scenes of the martyrdom of Christians, slaves, and animals in the Colosseum are described in the story. A bittersweet tale.” – Wendy Woodfill, Hennipin Country Library, Minnetonka, MN

A Day of Sewing

I’ve been refreshing my sewing skills the past couple of months in an effort to create heritage costumes or Norwegian bunads for each of us as well as a few other random projects. I haven’t sewn in many years so I have had a lot of frustrating moments. My mother came over to help me a few weeks ago and we finished my bunad. The vest I created still needs some minor changes – I’ve decided that I don’t like the peplum and will likely remove it as well as add a few tucks for a better fit.

I had picked up a wool skirt and a shirt at the Goodwill in hopes that I could make a few alterations and thereby create a costume for DD that would grow with her. I didn’t get the hem even all the way around and the tucking I did in the back could use a few modifications. However, I am very pleased with how it turned out. The shirt I initially purchased for myself works perfectly for her… and she can use it for years to come.
With all the sewing I have been doing, Sweetie has taken an interest as well. Charlotte Mason advocated the child’s learning handicrafts. In her day, those handicrafts could help to support and enable the child as he or she grew to adulthood.

Four succinct points should be kept in mind when selecting handicrafts and life skills.

  1. The end-product should be useful. The children should not “be employed in making futilities such as pea and stick work, paper mats, and the like.”
  2. Teach the children “slowly and carefully what they are to do.”
  3. Emphasize the habit of best effort. “Slipshod work should not be allowed.”
  4. Carefully select handicrafts and life skills to challenge but not frustrate. “The children’s work should be kept well within their compass.”

She hasn’t stuffed it yet – as I didn’t have any Polyfill – so it’s off to the fabric store this afternoon. Her seam lines are pretty good though there are a few places we’ll have to touch up by hand. She plans to enter it in the county fair in August. I don’t imagine there will be many entrants for 6 year olds in sewing.

Charlotte Mason or Classical / Trivium ??

When I meet new people and they learn that we homeschool, one of the most frequent questions I am asked is, “How do you do it? Do you buy curriculum?” Generally, the one asking is simply being polite and isn’t seeking a lengthy response. I try to put it in a nutshell and I reply, “I do buy some curricula (a math text and workbook so I don’t omit something and history); mostly though we do a lot of reading and science.” Occassionally, they will inquire further – but generally not.

I usually don’t go into our methods unless I am speaking to another homeschooler. Even other certified educators are unfamiliar with the leading philosophies of home education. Evidenced when they tilt their head and their brow line turns down as their eyes focus in on my face as if to say, “What are you talking about?”

A recent post on the Well Trained Minds forum led me to give some thought to how two different approaches to homeschool education are so well suited for one another. I thought I would take a minute to summarize how we utilize both in our homeschool.

What we do a la Charlotte Mason:

  • Lessons of short duration
  • Lots of narration (all oral at this point)
  • Lots of copywork
  • Nature Walks
  • Picture Study
  • Composer Study
  • Living Books (i.e. good literature)
  • Shakespeare
  • Lots of handcrafts (cross-stitch, crochet, illustration, etc.)
  • Masterly Inactivity encouraged
  • Foreign Language (Charlotte encouraged French – remember she hailed from England in the late 1800s – we went with Mandarin and Spanish)

What we do a la Classical / Trivium:

  • 4 year rotation (science and history)
  • Story of the World
  • Classic Literature (Gilgamesh, Odyssey, Shakespeare, etc.)
  • Latin (though not yet)
  • Singapore Math
  • 3 distinct stages: Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric

Yet, I would imagine our school doesn’t look anything like the school of another family following Charlotte Mason or the Trivium. People learn by playing, thinking and amazing themselves. They learn while they’re laughing at something surprising, and they learn while they’re wondering “What the heck is this!?” I thereby sprinkle in a little Sandra Dodd / John Holt into our approach to education.

Thus, a little bit Unschooling:

  • Life learning
  • Child directed (though I do plan lesssons, I will change direction upon interest)
  • Very much ‘play’ oriented (particularly at this age) – i.e., Masterly Inactivity
  • We do not adhere to a rigid schedule, we go with the flow and with what feels right

There is no right way to educate your children at home. It is a journey. You’ll find what works for you along the way. The important thing to remember is that you are building solid relationships with your children. You are growing and learning together.

Change of Direction – Mid Year Review

When I first started homeschooling, I devoured print and online materials about teaching styles, approaches to education at home, and curriculum. Along the way, I came across the philosophy of Charlotte Mason and soon thereafter, The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Bauer. I was immediately drawn to the style of Charlotte Mason – her blend of practices includes narration and copywork, nature study, fine arts, languages, real-life applications, and a Literature based curriculum instead of textbooks. I knew this was how I wanted to educate my children. When I discovered The Well-Trained Mind, I suddenly had a plan – a road map that would lead us along our homeschooling journey.

I spent hours devising our Master Plan. Planning. Listing the subjects and skills I wanted my children to be exposed to and eventually master. I began a list of curriculum and books that I would use as resources. I noted programs and certification opportunities that I wanted my children to take advantage of as we progressed (Junior Ranger Programs, Scouts, 4H, Roots & Shoots, etc.).

One of the most exciting components of the Well-Trained Mind was the 4-year cycle. To me, this was the perfect way to approach science and history. It provided me with an open-ended calendar or planning template. I thereafter created a cycle for nature study as well. Keeping in mind that I wanted to be flexible – allowing the children’s interests and questions direct us in our studies. History
Our history study is going slowly – we explore each culture / country as it is introduced in The Story of the World extensively before we move on to the next chapter. Life has also gotten into the way. We have frequently neglected history, set aside our study of the ancients as we have focused on other subjects. We are renewing focus this week. I hope to finish the text by June – assuming that we’ll go faster as the book revisits regions.

Nature Study
Though I am fastidious about taking advantage of teachable moments and imparting nature knowledge to the kiddos as opportunities present themselves, I haven’t been approaching nature study in any organized manner whatsoever. I need to do better. I can do better.

We’ve spent most of this school year focusing on life sciences. Throughout the summer, we focused on plants. In the fall, we began an extensive look at the animal kingdom beginning with vertebrate animals and most recently invertebrates. In doing so, we have integrated ecology studies learning about forest ecosystems and most recently, ocean ecosystems: open ocean (sunlight, twilight & midnight zones), coral reefs, kelp forests, rocky shores, sandy beaches and estuaries(eel beds, mudflats & salt marshes).

Over the past month or so, the kiddos have been asking more and more questions about the earth. What are the names of the planets? How are rocks made? How does a volcano erupt? What happened to the dinosaurs? What is it like on the other planets? Do animals live on other planets? Their interest and curiousity about geology has grown. Last week Sweetie asked me, “When are we going to learn about the earth? I am tired of animals.”

I had originally intended on spending the winter and spring on the human body and additional ecology studies. However, I can not delay their interest any longer. I need to take advantage of their passion and follow their direction. I feel strongly this is just what Charlotte Mason would have advised. Allowing the children’s interests to direct our learning. We’re thereby going to jump to earth sciences with the new year. I’ll keep you posted of developments as we proceed.