Don’t know who to vote for yet?

Dear Reader,

Since I have been venting about political things, I wanted to share with you about Evan McMullin. He is a Republican running for president as an independent. You can read the principles behind his campaign here. I was not planning to vote for anyone this election since I could not do so in good conscience. McMullin has me rethinking that (though I do have one big reservation about him). Just sharing so you can make your own informed decision.


Getting Started with a Charlotte Mason Education

Dear Reader,
This is one of those topics I find myself always typing answers for on various forums (fora?) so I thought I’d just make a post so I have something to refer to.
How do you get started with a Charlotte Mason (CM) education? If your kids are young (below 7) I would encourage you to spend some time reading, reading, reading and learning all you can about it first. But if your kids are older and have already been in school or been homeschooled, then you are probably eager to jump in (you should still read as much as you can though; first about CM and then reading her own writings).
There are more and more CM resources out there. This article has a great summary of what is CM, what is partly CM, and what could be CM. Some people like to have everything laid out for them and that is fine. It is often helpful at the start. If you are looking to just pick one source and follow what it says, this thread from the Simply Charlotte Mason (SCM) forums gives a good comparison of SCM and Ambleside Online. The other big option out there is a new curriculum, A Modern Charlotte Mason, which aims to update the CM approach with some more modern books.
You don’t need to follow one of these curricula, however. And a Charlotte Mason need not be difficult to implement.
In an age of STEM and STEAM, history remains the core of a CM education. If your children have been in school or been homeschooling, there may be a next logical period of history for you to study. This may mean somebody repeats or has some gaps for now; that’s okay.  If your kids are in high school or approaching high school, you may want to think about what they need to get done and where you want to end up. But the main thing is to just pick something, whether it’s 20th century history, the age of discovery, or the ancient Egyptians.
I like using a spine book for history. This is a book which is fairly general and broad and which covers the whole time period. I recommend gearing it to your oldest or next to oldest’s level. You will be reading this book aloud to all your kids. When my kids were younger, we had this “together time” every day. Now we do it 2-3 times a week. When you get together, you read to them from your spine and have them narrate what you read back to you. I won’t get into the particulars of how to narrate here. You can search this blog or look at any good CM site for more on that (I do have a recent post on the theory behind narration here).
In addition to a spine book, you will need one book (at a time)  for each child to read on their own. This should be at their own reading level. Younger children may get through a book a week or even a day. Older kids may spend a month or more on a longer book. Because your spine gives an overview, you can pick more narrow subjects for their individual reading. Biographies are always good choices (how to find and pick books is another topic again; you can see all out recent reads on American history here; I rely heavily on the Truthquest guides for finding books). The procedure is the same for whatever you do– read and narrate, read and narrate, read and narrate. If your children are new to narration, they should begin with oral narration no matter what their ages. Older kids might move to written narration in a month or two if oral narration is going well. Younger kids might spend a few years narrating orally before attempting written narrations. If you have  a lot of kids lining up to narrate to you, have them narrate to each other occasionally or record their narrations for you to listen to later.
Once you are in a routine for history, you can add other subjects one at a time. Because it is viewed as so essential in our culture, math is probably one you want to include early on. We love Life of Fred for a living approach to math but it doesn’t work for all kids (my second one can’t seem to learn from LOF). Math-U-See is my second choice but one child is also using Teaching Textbooks this year to good effect. There are more CM math curricula out there but they can be harder to implement and more teacher-intensive. I recommend just picking something for math at this stage and not worrying too much about making it CM.
Continue to add one or two subjects at a time. Though often viewed as less essential, artist and music study can actually be fairly easy to work in. Each should only take about 10 minutes week.  Many families alternate so one day they do art, one day music and another maybe read a poem. Again there are resources out there but you need not make things complicated. Pick an artist you like, look at one of their paintings once a week for a while till you think you have a feel for them or you get sick of them. Read a poem once a week. You can pick one poet to do for a time or you can just get a book of favorite poems and pick one at random each time. Similarly, with music; pick a composer and listen to their music for 10-15 minutes at least once a week. There may be times you can put on your composer while your kids are playing or eating for a little added background education. I have often put Shakespeare in the rotation as well. You can begin by just reading abridged, narrative versions of his plays from Lamb’s or Nesbit’s books. How to Teach Your Child Shakespeare is another wonderful resource which deals with memorizing Shakespeare and can be done in 10-15 minute chunks.
You may feel like you need more in the realm of language arts. You don’t. At least, you need less than you think. Copywork or dictation (depending on your child’s age) is the main thing. Narration, whether oral or written, is already doing more than you know towards composition and writing. If you are just beginning, I recommend getting one source for your copywork/dictation passages. There are many choices out there, Queen homeschool has  a lot of resources. For more modern books your kids might be familiar with the Arrow from Brave Writer is good (though I was disappointed with the language and grammar in the passages they chose).  I like Spelling Wisdom from SCM. Don’t worry about other grammar or spelling or writing curricula unless they are 10th grade and up. SCM has some wonderful resources on how to do prepared dictation. If you have a lot of kids, try to put them into groups for this (maybe early elementary, later elementary, middle school, and high school) so you are not doing completely different passages for each. Need more time in your day? Have older kids dictate to younger ones or check their copywork.
Science depends on age but if they are below high school I would just pick living books to read and then try to get out for nature walks once in a while. The reading can be done individually at their own levels or all together when you do your history spines. The latter is probably better for younger children. Either way the procedure is the same — read and narrate, read and narrate. Science often lends itself well to drawn narrations, but always ask them to explain to you what they have drawn too. If you have high schoolers, labs are probably expected. You can read up on how we’ve done high school science (and other subjects) here.
There are other subjects you can add in over time, of course — map drills and handicrafts and civics and foreign language, to name a few. But if you start with the above subjects, history first an then the others added one at a time, you will have a pretty good basic CM education in place.
Any questions?

More Political Ranting

Dear Reader,

Okay, I guess I can’t stop with the political ranting. So far I have restrained myself from responding to the million and two Facebook posts which irritate me, but you, dear reader, get to benefit from that restraint.

From an article on Franklin Graham:

“The Rev. Franklin Graham on Friday sought to remind Americans that the presidential election is about a lot more than bad behavior, and that evangelical Christians must keep their eyes on the true prize — the Supreme Court.” (“Franklin Graham Reminds Christian Voters: Next President’s Court Picks Will Shape The Future” by Jack Davis at Western Journalism)

This is the first sentence. That’s as far as I needed to go (I did actually read the whole article though); I already disagree. The argument — not just from Rev. Graham but from many evangelical Christians — seems to be that, despite his personal faults, we need to vote for Donald Trump for the sake of the larger issue, the greater good if you will, which is the next Supreme Court justice.

I am reminded of the nations of Israel and Judah in the days before their exiles. They too put their hope in political solutions. They trusted in foreign alliances with Assyria and Egypt to save them. God rebuked them soundly for this and they did not manage to avoid the coming destruction.

Saving the unborn is a noble goal. It is hard to argue with that one (though I wonder sometimes if we elevate even that too far at the expense of other goods). But God does not tell us to hope in legislation or in judicial rulings. They are the horses and chariots of our day and we are not to trust in them, nor in the strength or wisdom of man, but only in the Lord our God.

How do we do that? We obey Him. We elect godly leaders, and if there are none available maybe we don’t consent to the election of any. We condemn sin where we see it, both in our political candidates and in our culture. We preach the gospel and call for repentance.

Would you rather have no abortions in this country because the law forbids them or because people in their hearts value life? Our goal is not to outlaw something but to save souls. We may win a political battle and get a Supreme Court justice we approve of, but if we, the church,  have lost the moral authority we should have, if we are seen to condone sin when it suits our purposes, we are losing the greater battle for hearts and souls.


How Should the Church Address the Current Political Battle?

Dear Reader,

A little follow-up to my last post on how we as evangelicals are responding to this election cycle. But first I want to commend to you this article from Christianity Today. It says a lot of what I was trying to say but much more coherently.

What I am trying to say is that we have a golden opportunity here to do what the church is called to do — to address the sins of our age and to call people and our nation to repentance. And as I think on the latest scandal — that is, some words of Donald Trump’s from 10+ years ago that demean women — I think we have been handed a perfect opportunity to address what is really one of the big issues of our day apart from the election, namely the importance of gender. Our society as a whole seems to be saying that gender is an artificial construct. The Bible tells is God created gender and that He did so for a reason. So rather than arguing about whether the Donald did or didn’t and how bad it is that he said he did, let’s seize the opportunity to say that yes, protecting women matters. It matters because men and women are different. They are different because God made them so.

The saddest part of this whole election season is that we have squandered what should have been great opportunities to speak the truth and that we have allowed ourselves to be pulled down to a base, worldly level. We need to return to addressing people’s hearts more than their ballots.


Evangelicals and Elections

Dear Reader,

I am trying really, really hard not to respond to friends’ Facebook posts this week. Politics is everywhere. Like, I suspect, most Americans, I am very frustrated with everything about this election. I am frustrated with the choices available. I am even more frustrated with the things I see my fellow evangelical Christians saying. Whatever the positions of individual Christians, the perception of society at large seems to be that we have sold our souls for the sake of {pick one: a conservative supreme court justice, the right to discriminate against homosexuals, the abortion thing, free access to guns, anything by Hillary}.

In Christian circles the phrase on hears again and again is “the lesser of two evils.” I actually take some comfort in the use of this phrase. At least it means we still believe in evil, and presumably in good. At least we are trying on some level to make moral judgments. The problem is that those judgments are so hard to make this year. First we have to decide what we are judging: Do we care more about the individual candidate’s character or his/her position on the issues? Because no one really seems to be saying “Donald Trump is a great guy. I admire his morality.” But then we look at Hillary and say, “But how can we vote for someone who is pro-choice and pro-gay rights?” These are important moral issues and (from an evangelical perspective) she is on the wrong side of them. So do we vote based on character or political position? But wait — it’s more complicated than that. Because Hillary’s character is debatable as well. Her (alleged) crimes are in the political more than the personal arena but there is a good case to be made that she is dishonest and self-serving. And Donald’s positions — while they may be on the right side of certain litmus-test issues — are not exactly compassionate. Yes, we care about the unborn, but what about the born? God says (I paraphrase), “You were strangers and aliens. Therefore care for those people.” If we are trying to decide who is the lesser of two evils, there are no easy answers here. There’s plenty of evil to go around.

I’d like to ask this instead — Whoever wins the election, what are we going to come out of this season with? I know not everything one reads online is true, but out non-Christian friends and neighbors are reading what is out there, and their perception right now is that the church has sold out. That for all our pious talk, we are willing to get into bed with some downright nasty people. We may choose our candidate based on some decent principles (not killing unborn babies, for instance) but in the process we swallow a whole lot of other evil things. We’re losing our credibility, our moral authority. It may already be too long gone.

A president is important. The future of our country is important. But both pale in comparison to the witness of the church. Our perspective has not been long enough or broad enough. We have allowed ourselves to be caught up in what is ultimately temporary and worldly. We need to ask not “Who is less evil?” but “How do we glorify God in this time and place? How do we advance His kingdom?” The answer is not to get bogged down in parsing the levels of evil but to stand up and proclaim what true goodness is.



Three Big Ideas about Narration

Dear Reader,

I can’t really take credit for these ideas. They are al things I gleaned from the reading for my local Charlotte Mason discussion group. But then again that’s very CM of m, isn’t it? To get ideas from living books (and living blog posts — can you have living blog posts??) is what it’s all about.

Three Big Ideas  about Narration

  1. We don’t teach them to think; we give them something to think about. Charlotte was a firm believer that kind are born fully formed. Unlike her contemporaries, she did not see kids as blank slates or as beings whose faculties need t be developed. They are born able to think and, as they learn to speak, able to narrate. In fact, narration comes quite naturally to kids. When they do something fun or watch a movie they like, they want to talk about it endlessly. That is narration. Charlotte did not invent a new thing with narration; she harnessed a power kids already have. Our job is to provide something meaty for them to chew upon. We give them god materials (living books, fine art, etc.) so that they have something worthwhile to narrate.
  2. Narration is about what you know, not what you don’t know. The modus operandi of schools today is for the adults to decide what it important and then ask to demand the children regurgitate it. Fill-in-the-blanks, true and false, reading comprehension questions all ask kids to tell us what we think is important. And if they can’t, they are deficient. Narration says not “let me look for what you don’t know” but “tell me what you do know.” It values what children do take from the material, even if it is not what we think they should take.
  3. A narration creates something new; narration is interpretation. No two people will narrate the same passage the same way. As we visualize a story, we may see the characters differently. We will get different things from a passage. And as we retell, we will make connections with what we already know and add our own unique spin to whatever we are telling.


Living Books: 1900-WWI

Dear Reader,

This school year we are tackling the 1900s and 2000s. Kind of a big task since last year we only got through about 1860-1900. Obviously, we will not be spending as much time on the World Wars as we did on the Civil War. My main focus is on American history but for my oldest (11th grader) I am trying to incorporate more international events. The first chunk we took was  from the turn of the century to World War I. Though my kids are all in middle or high school this year, there may be some things below that work for elementary too. I am not above using an easy book if it is a good book or gives us what we need at the time. You can find all my lists of living books here.

Living Books on 1900-WWI

I greatly simplified our spine this year. Last year we got pretty bogged down in big thick spines. This year I want to spend more of our “together time” on Bible so I chose a pretty simple spine. Here it is:


I got this series of books from a library book sale some years ago. We actually used it many moons ago when we first did the 1900s. My kids were much younger then so you can see that it is not tough reading. Honestly, it is probably upper elementary level, even 3rd-5th grade. Yet I am using it with my 6th through 11th graders. Why? Part of the answer is in what I want a spine to do — it is an introduction, a fly-over of the period we are studying. My kids will each get more detail and more challenging reading and narration in their individual work. But the spine book makes sure that we are not missing major events. (Part of it is also a lack of good spines I can find on this period; many of the ones we have used in the past are older and actually stop before 1900.) This series may not look on the surface like living books, and perhaps it is not. But it is actually fairly well-written and I am happy enough with the content. It has some of the look of the sort of modern “busy” book that annoys the sock off of me, but it keeps the side blurbs to a minimum and the text itself is reasonably interesting.

There are a lot of topics one can cover for this period; a lot of social things — immigration, women’s rights, etc. — were going on. Since we are not spending too long on anything this year, I got each child a more comprehensive book. If you are looking for things on smaller topics, you can also check out some of my posts from last year on the end of the 1800s. Many of the issues span the century divide and were covered, at least in part, last year (immigration, for example, is one we touched on last year).

I had my 6th grader read two shorter books:

Jean Fritz is a favorite author. Her books vary in length. Each of these is probably at a 4th-6th grade level, a longer chapter book basically.

My 7th grader read Albert Marrin’s Spanish American War:


I like Marrin because he tends to cover a lot of ground even in a book that is ostensibly on one narrow subject. This one might not have had the range of some of his but it was still good. Usually, I use Marrin’s books in  high school but this one didn’t seem too tough.

My 10th grader also read a Marrin book:


Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of Modern America is more typical of a Marrin book in that it gives the flavor or an era. She seemed to enjoy many of the stories and learned interesting tidbits about TR.

My 11th grader focused on the Boxer Rebellion in China. I looked at two books on this topic, The Boxer Rebellion by Diana Preston and The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China by David Silbey. Though Preston’s book looked good, I opted for Silbey’s as it was shorter and fit better into our schedule.

One more book on China I looked at was China’s Long March by Jean Fritz (again):


In the end I chose not to use this book (yet?) because it is really more about the 1930s. I am mentioning it here in case you are looking for more on China and also because I am not sure if we will have time to get to it later.

Since our spine isn’t long, I read a few other books aloud to my kids.

For brief intros to various topics I love the Cornerstones of Freedom series. Be sure to get the older editions which all begin The Story of . . . The newer ones are not living books(IMO)!

Arctic exploration was also a topic at this time:

Both of these are books we have read when my kids were littler too. Curlee’s Into the Ice is an overview of Arctic exploration. Black Whiteness is about Admiral Byrd in the Antarctic.  It is a more poetic and heart-wrenching account. (It is also set in the 1930s but I included it here anyway.)

Lastly, here are some books I looked at but didn’t end up using:

Werstien is another favorite author (look for him in my WWI booklist coming soon!). This particular volume is more of a pictorial history though there is an introduction which one could read. It might be a good choice for the boy who is into the specifics of military things. Rebel in Petticoats is about the move for women’s rights. It looked good but I couldn’t find time for it.

Until next time–




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