simplicity, Charlotte Mason homeschooling, Old World inspiration, Oriental dance, style & beauty

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Charlotte Mason & the Catholic Conundrum, Part 1

O Angelic Doctor St. Thomas, prince of theologians and model of philosophers, bright ornament of the Christian world and light of the Church; O heavenly patron of all Catholic schools, who didst learn wisdom without guile and dost communicate it without envy, intercede for us with the Son of God, Wisdom itself, that the spirit of wisdom may descend upon us, and enable us to understand clearly that which thou hast taught, and fulfill it by imitating thy deeds; to become partakers of that doctrine and virtue which caused thee to shine like the sun on earth; and at last to rejoice with thee forever in their most sweet fruits in heaven, together praising the Divine Wisdom for all eternity. Amen.

Here is today's question: What would happen if I simply dropped Charlotte Mason from my homeschooling philosophy? Why am I asking this question? I think it's the fault of St. Thomas Aquinas. After reading a couple of internet articles yesterday, I started wondering what had gotten me on the St. Thomas path in the first place. I could not remember. It just seemed as though his name kept mysteriously popping up. But then I realized the obvious reason. I had been praying ardently over my homeschooling vocation. Remember when I was saying that I just want to be a Catholic homeschooler and quit obsessing over methods? Evidently the answer is Thomas Aquinas.

Finding any information on what would constitute an Aquinas-based homeschooling method, however, is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. The most one will typically find is the term "traditional," usually meaning having text/workbooks for every subject, with the Catholic Faith running through everything. It seems rather dull to many people, and to Charlotte Mason homeschoolers in particular, who contrast living books with the dry dust of textbooks. But from my studies so far, Aquinas was not at all about uninspiring textbooks which merely give summaries and facts, and copious fill-in-the-blank questions. He was a university professor whose teaching method focused upon sincere dialogue. His scholasticism of the 13th century reconciled the reason of Aristotle with the Catholic religion--no easy feat! If he had not accomplished this miracle, the Church would have experienced an extreme crisis, a massive loss of Christian faith, so popular were Aristotle's ideas taking hold.

What I fear I've discovered is that Charlotte Mason pitted herself philosophically against the teaching authority of the Catholic Church that St. Thomas so clearly represents. For right now I'm just going to present you with the trail of my reading yesterday, the articles which led me to see the Catholic conundrum in regard to CM more clearly. First I read "The Formation of the Catholic Mind" by Dr. Ronald P. McArthur, which clearly illustrates the primacy of Aquinas in Catholic philosophy, theology, and education ( As Catholic homeschoolers we are most certainly concerned with the formation of the Catholic mind in our children. That must be our first priority.

Then I found Art Middlekauff's article, "Thomas Aquinas and the Great Recognition" ( You may remember that I had suspected some connection between Charlotte Mason and the scholasticism of St. Thomas, wondering if she had indeed been inspired by it. Middlekauff has shown that there is a connection, but his conclusion is that CM intentionally chose to distance herself from Aquinas and the Catholic Church. He refers to chapter 25 in CM's Vol. 2, Parents and Children, which addresses a certain Dominican fresco and the "great recognition" that CM says is imperative for parent-teachers. My reading of this chapter confirmed Middlekauff's conclusions. (You can find a link to all CM's volumes on Ambleside Online's introduction page.)

Now, Middlekauff has argued against the idea that CM's method is "classical," in opposition to Karen Glass' linking of CM to the classical tradition of antiquity in her book Consider This. I've written about this before and decided that it didn't matter whether or not CM is "classical," that it didn't affect how I homeschooled my child one way or another. But it seems with this Thomas Aquinas article that his concern may be that putting CM in the Classical Christian category would necessarily associate her with the Catholic scholastics of the Middle Ages.

What I suggest is that you read the two articles I mentioned and then read chapter 25 in Parents and Children, and we can come back to discuss the details in Part 2.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Pray. Study. Act. (and a Loop Schedule!)

May has always been one of my favorite months. Despite the unseasonably cool weather this year, the days are beautiful. Since becoming Catholic, the special honoring of Mary during this month brings me the greatest reason to be joyful. During the Easter season, we continue to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, and we do so through the eyes of our Blessed Mother. I'm currently reading a devotional by Rawley Myers, Embraced by Mary, which contains readings for every day in May.

Mary is our best model as mothers, and especially as homeschooling mothers. Like all of us, Mary suffered worries and grief in her vocation. She had the unparalleled responsibility of raising the Son of God! Imagine the courage, humility and patience required of her. We must do as she did and continue to say yes to God--daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. In order to follow the will of the Father, we have to pray. I am reminding myself of this today, because my patience has been tried and found to be wanting. Putting first things first, at the top of the list is a daily prayer life. If we try to go it alone, the ship will hit the rocks for sure.

The next right thing is to study. Primarily by this I am referring to the Bible. We also need edifying spiritual reading. So before you dive into your studies on educational philosophy and methods, seek out the words of the saints or contemporary spiritual writers. And don't forget to include a good work of fiction. Keep it simple. If you're reading Sacred Scripture, one excellent book on spirituality, and one enjoyable novel, plus one book on education, that's more than enough to juggle.

Once you've fortified your mind and soul (and don't forget to take good care of your body as well!), it's time to act. Trust that you've assimilated what you need to carry out your vocation, and that the Holy Spirit is there to guide you every step of the way. Make a plan, assemble the curriculum materials, and teach your child in the way he should go. Make faith formation and the pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty the foundation of your goals. Sometimes we fail to do the teaching well because we're trying to do it in some exact, "pure" kind of way. Instead we need to make the actual carrying out of our homeschooling lessons a priority, and stop comparing ourselves to other mothers. One learns to teach by teaching.

In my recent post about my "unit studies" plans (May 2, "Multum Non Multa & Homeschooling through History"), I promised to show you a schedule including the sources for ancient Egypt, and I was going to do it according to subject area. Instead I've created a simple loop schedule. I'm only including those books which we will be using to begin the first term in the fall, but as we go along some will be set aside and others will be incorporated. This schedule is for a four-day week and is divided into three sections: the Daily Core, Twice Per Week activities, and a Weekly Loop. Keep in mind that a schedule is a place to start, and mine is only a suggestion for your own process. You will find the best balance for you and your children as you go along.

Music will be covered via Choir and Musical Theater classes at a co-op on Fridays, plus weekly piano lessons. Physical education will also be partially outsourced. As usual, please post any questions in the comments!

Daily Core:
- Literature: Mara, Daughter of the Nile
- Total Math
- Piano practice
- Cursive writing (Seton)
- Language of God grammar (CHC)

Twice Per Week:
- The Harp and Laurel Wreath (memory recitation, copy work)
- Dictation/spelling
- Written narration
- Learn Spanish with Grace!

Weekly Loop:
- Religion for Young Catholics (Seton)
- A Child's Geography of the World and Usborne Essential Atlas of the World
- Draw and Write through History
- Science 7 for Young Catholics; Nature Study
- Bible History: Old Testament (Seton)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Homeschooling--Notebooking & Workbox Strategies

vintage train case workbox

You know how sometimes you can spend a very long time, hours even, surfing the net for homeschooling ideas, only to come up with nothing? Well, last night the search was worth it--I got the last bits I needed to allow myself to let it all go for summer, confidently prepared for Beezy's upcoming 7th grade year.

But you thought we were done obsessing over homeschooling philosophy and methods?! Though there will always be a little tweaking of the curriculum as we go along, discovering what works well and what needs to be altered, I feel good about my Vintage Catholic Home Education method. In producing a synthesis of Charlotte Mason, Classical Studies, and the Scholastic Method, I find that each helps to balance the strengths and weaknesses of the others in my mind, and together they form a holistic integration.  

What we are addressing today is the topic of organization. I've been wanting to move Beezy toward greater independence in her studies, but I haven't been sure how to do this, apart from the natural transition from me reading most of the books aloud, to her reading the majority of her own school books. 

One wise mother solved the mystery. She wrote that homeschooled children need to know when their work is going to be done, just like children who go to school know when their day is over. The solution is in something called a workbox. This system was invented by Sue Patrick (see The basic idea is that each child has a set of boxes, each box numbered in order of assignments, one task to each box. Some of the examples I saw online were stacked, plastic boxes with drawers. Once the child has finished completing the work in his boxes, he is done for that day. 

As I was reading about his system, Sarah Mackenzie's notebooking strategy came to mind. She spends a few minutes each evening writing the child's assignments for the next day in a spiral notebook. The child checks a box after he completes a task, and Mom checks off a 2nd box when she has inspected the work. Of course, some lessons must be done with Mom's help. 

I put the two ideas together, and I have the system set up to begin on Monday. We have a couple weeks left to this 6th grade year, so this will give me the opportunity to try it out and fine tune the details. My hope is that this process will end the whining--"How many more things do we have to do?"  "Do we still have a lot of things left to do?"  "Why can't we just be done?" 

The picture at the top of the page shows the vintage train case I set up as Beezy's workbox. Up till now I've had control of the clipboard with the list of the assignments. She now has her own clipboard with that day's assignments. She'll check them off as she goes, and I'll put a line through the check mark when I've inspected the work. Workbook pages that she will need to do will be on the clipboard, and the books she will be reading will be in the box. This will make her responsible for completing her lessons. She will be able to see what she needs to do, and she'll know when she is done!

I'm keeping a 3-ring Mother's Master Book of all the assignments on loose leaf paper, with work samples in pocket folders. The curriculum outline and general planning ideas also go in the book. So a portfolio is being made for our end-of-year evaluation by a certified teacher as we go along. I have my own clipboard with the schedule for the week printed out, and I just check things off as they're accomplished. It's a simple record-keeping system, and you could do something similar for each child in your family. You could either have a section for each one in the Master Book, or a separate book for each person, just as each one has his own workboxes. You could also create a "morning basket" for group read alouds and activities. 

Here are some more pics of all the things I've just described. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions!

 Monday's assignments on Beezy's clipboard

My clipboard with weekly schedule

Mother's Master Book


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Multum Non Multa & Homeschooling through History

It seems that the classical principle of multum non multa (much not many) can be as confusing as the meaning of classical education itself. In podcast episode #11 at the Schole Sisters blog, the hostesses discuss what Pliny the Younger meant by multum non multa and how this applies to the homeschooling curriculum. They conclude that the idea would be to track less books, not fewer subjects. Therefore, Pliny is right in step with Charlotte Mason, being that CM advocated covering a broad spectrum of subjects while going slowly and deeply through the books themselves.

The Schole Sisters fear that there can be too much cutting back of the curriculum in the name of multum non multa. They see this happening with the "minimalist" homeschooling trend and also in The Latin-Centered Curriculum. (You can read this "Multum Non Multa" article by Andrew Campbell at Memoria Press for the strictly Latin-based interpretation of the principle:

In his youtube series on the 8 classical principles of education, Dr. Christopher Perrin seems to agree that Charlotte Mason's philosophy fits within the classical framework. For example, CM would correspond the history, geography, and literature studies, in a similar way to Perrin's classical approach of putting subjects into "family" groupings. One book can cover three or four subjects. Perrin says that multum non multa is about achieving breadth through depth. But he differs with the Schole Sisters in that he advocates tracking both fewer books and a smaller number of subjects.

Whether or not Charlotte Mason is "classical," and if she is, in what way this might be true, will likely never be perfectly resolved. But if we start with the idea of corresponding history with literature and geography, we have found a great place to begin in designing the curriculum. RC History is a popular Catholic program which labels itself as both a classical and unit studies method. It is actually "neoclassical," with respect to corresponding the trivium with stages of child development. CM was definitely not classical in this sense, and neither am I. She also didn't believe in unit studies, in which all subjects are tied to a particular theme.

It just so happened that as I was planning my 2017--2018 (7th grade) curriculum, I noticed that the books I had chosen would allow me to expand beyond corresponding literature, history, and geography to include additional subjects. It wouldn't be a true unit studies method, but it would be a more comprehensive way of homeschooling through history; akin perhaps to the RC History program, but more streamlined, more multum non multa.

My favorite quarter of college at OSU was one in which the three classes I took corresponded to the same time period. I believe these were English, classics, and history courses (perhaps relating to the Middle Ages). This happy coincidence allowed me to experience first-hand how enriching such a living approach to learning can be. I so much enjoyed these studies done together that I wished my entire education would have been organized this way! I was able to make so many wonderful connections on my own, and I'm certain Charlotte Mason would have approved!!

I have so far planned units for ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and ancient Rome/early Middle Ages. In this way history will be studied chronologically, as CM advocated, and we will venture into the realm of Classical studies. We may get no further than the early Middle Ages, but that's okay, because we can pick back up where we left off for the 8th grade.

This way of scheduling organizes the material in a very natural way, and I can see now how the curriculum I've planned will flow in an organic manner. There will be both rhyme and reason present in our lessons! Not that there wasn't before, but going forward there will be a clearer picture, a better system in place, and more selective choices for the spreading of the feast. I think that subconsciously I had selected the books with following history in mind.

We already read the chapter on ancient Egypt in Our Catholic Legacy Vol. 1 (Seton) this year, but we did not dig deeply into this subject; so Egypt will be the first theme to be studied during Term 1 for the upcoming year. Beezy will finish reading the Bible History: Old Testament book from Seton for the history portion of the unit. (We are wrapping up history this year with King David and His Songs by Windeatt, along with the Bible History chapters on David.) The additional books will touch upon the other civilizations that were covered in the chapter on Egypt as well.

The following is a list of the books and specific chapters that will be included:

Bible History: Old Testament from Seton (chapter 21, "The Wisdom of Solomon," to the end)
A Child's Geography of the World by Hillyer (chapters 50-52, 54, and 64)
Mara, Daughter of the Nile by McGraw (plus mini-guide from Rainbow Resource Center)
Science 7 for Young Catholics from Seton (History of Science chapter 1, sections I and II)
Draw and Write Through History: Greece and Rome (The Hanging Gardens of Babylon)
The Meaning of Trees by Hageneder (Introduction)

It's possible that Jansen's The Story of Painting will be included, but I have misplaced the book! In the next post I will provide the entire Term 1 schedule, organized by subject area, and you will be able to see how each item in the Egypt unit fits. Until then, I hope this gives you some additional ideas for planning your curriculum. I'm really beginning to see how my synthesis of the Charlotte Mason, Classical, and Scholastic methods is going to work beautifully!!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

My Yard in Bloom!

“Nobody sees a flower - really - it is so small it takes time - we haven't time - and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.”
― Georgia O'Keeffe

When my family and I walked out the door to go to church on Easter Sunday, we were delighted to see that the tulips had popped into bloom, as if on cue. They are still on parade. Some have faded away while new ones have opened up, so I wanted to capture the scene while I still have it to enjoy. Here is my yard en fleur, tulips and beyond... Happy Spring!

Monday, April 17, 2017

2017--2018 Catholic Homeschool Curriculum

Happy Easter, everyone! I know it is only the middle of April, but yes, I have already prepared my curriculum for the next homeschooling year! Keep in mind that I'm only teaching one child, so I have more time than many of you to get a heart start. 

Very often I encounter some sort of difficulty or suffering during Lent, and this year was no different. There was a death in my family right before Lent began, and that was a sorrowful time. But what was keeping me awake at night toward the end of Lent was a peculiar crisis in which I felt anxious about how I was going to approach 7th grade literature. I think this came about because 7th grade means junior high school, at least for those of us for whom "middle school" was not a thing growing up. So this is the phase when children become teenagers and are gearing up for high school. It's the beginning of the big leagues, and I knew I would need to present new experiences and greater challenges.

In order to work through the crisis and start sleeping well again, I had to go ahead and hammer out the curriculum. Thank goodness for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the wonderful moms who answered my questions and supported my ideas in various Facebook homeschooling groups. I appreciate you more than you can know!

What I've come up with is a curriculum which reflects a synthesis of approaches recently discussed here at Organic Mothering--Charlotte Mason, the Scholastic Method of traditional Catholic education, and Classical studies and principles. I explored the connections between these philosophies, and I'm now feeling like I can proceed confidently forward. I'm calling this synthesis, Vintage Catholic Home Education.

Initially in my struggle with how to approach literature and historical fiction for 7th grade, I considered working with the study guides from Memoria Press. But after much prayer (and debate in my own mind!), I've decided to continue in the CM method, transitioning from mostly oral narrations to a greater practice of written ones. (I will, however, be using a mini-guide for Mara, Daughter of the Nile, that I found at Rainbow Resource Center.) 

This spring term I've begun having Beezy answer chapter study questions that I write, and those will be incorporated next year as well. At the end of each book will be a final exam, basically a CM-style essay. I've also added Laura Berquist's classical compilation of poetry, speeches, and Shakespeare, The Harp and Laurel Wreath, which includes lessons for dictation and study questions. This is a most excellent resource, and I'm excited to get going with it!

I've assimilated CM well over the years, but I will continue to read her Original Homeschooling Series and refer back to books I've already read as needed. I want more structure for science next year, so I'm adding Seton's 7th grade text/workbook. We will continue to take nature walks and keep the nature notebook, but especially during the winter it will be beneficial to study science and health subjects more formally. I've also added a couple of art lesson books, as this is an area I felt was weak in our curriculum this year. Though I've always designed my own curriculum and have been intent upon following Charlotte Mason very closely, I realized that for going to the next level I felt more comfortable adding a little more of the traditional materials. 

Please note that music is being delegated to others for the most part next year. Beezy will have Choir and Musical Theater classes with a homeschooling co-op and will continue with her piano lessons. Physical education this year is being covered by a tumbling class, and that will continue next year. These are subjects of intense personal interest, and I think it's important to feed those needs. And we homeschooling parents cannot do everything ourselves!

As usual, my curriculum outline is set up for the requirements of my state. If it seems like an overwhelming number of books, please know that I don't expect to get through everything in one year. Like Sarah Mackenzie says on her blog, Amongst Lovely Things, planning is guessing! We will likely defer some of this plan to the 8th grade. Feel free to use what you would like for your own curriculum! 

I. Vintage Catholic Home Education: We will be using a self-designed curriculum integrating the Scholastic Method of traditional Catholic education; the philosophy and method of Charlotte Mason; and Classical studies and principles. Drawing from the books and resources listed below, learning tools such as living books, narration, copy work, dictation, and memory recitation will be utilized, with a core of Religion and the liberal arts.
II. Curriculum Books and Resources:

- Seton Home Study School (
- Memoria Press (
- Catholic Heritage Curricula (
- Charlotte Mason Original Homeschooling Series
- The Holy Bible, Douay-Rheims Version
- Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie
- Public and home library selections
- Real Learning by Elizabeth Foss
- Ambleside Online (
- Mater Amabilis: A Charlotte Mason Style Curriculum for Catholics (

III. Subjects and Books/Materials:

Language ArtsA Book of Fortitude (Seton reader); Mara, Daughter of the Nile (McGraw) and mini-guide from Rainbow Resource Center; A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys and Tanglewood Tales (Greek myths by Nathaniel Hawthorne); Lassie Come-Home (Knight); King Arthur and His Knights (Robinson); The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (Pyle); Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb; Bard of Avon and Good Queen Bess (Stanley/Vannema); The Harp and Laurel Wreath (poetry and dictation); The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Twain); Language of God grammar and composition (CHC); Handwriting for Young Catholics (Seton); correspondence; popular fiction (free reading); Learn Spanish with Grace!

Religion, Geography and History– Religious Education class at parish church; Prayers for Young Catholics (Daughters of St. Paul); Pure Faith: A Prayer Book for Teens (Evert); The Gospel of St. Luke; Bible History for Young Catholics (Seton, Old and New Testament volumes); Journeys with Mary (De Santis); Our Catholic Legacy Vol. 1 (Seton world history); A Child's Geography of the World (Hillyer); Usborne Essential Atlas of the World; The Life of Saint Patrick (Reynolds); Augustine Came to Kent (Willard); Columbus and the New World (Derleth); Pocahontas and Captain John Smith (Marie Lawson); Fifty Stories from Ohio (Martzolff); Sauder Village Farm and Living History Museum membership; States & Capitals flash cards

MathematicsHamilton’s Essentials of Arithmetic (measurement; fractions; time and money; place values; addition and subtraction with regrouping; multiplication; division; decimals and percentages, etc.);; Archimedes and the Door of Science (Bendick); math manipulatives; flash cards; calendar; board games; baking

Science and Health Science 7 for Young Catholics (Seton: history of science, scientific method, geology, chemistry, electricity, space flight, the five senses); General Hygiene (Overton); Nature Anatomy (Rotham); The Meaning of Trees (Hageneder); Nature walks and notebook; The Feelings Book: The Care & Keeping of Your Emotions (American Girl); sustainable living and organic gardening; Humane Society volunteer work

Physical EducationTumbling class; basketball team; dance; daily outdoor play; hiking; sledding; trampoline; running; swimming; scooter; climbing; horseback riding; bicycling; dog walks

Fine Arts Choir and Musical Theater homeschool co-op classes; piano lessons; The Story of Painting (Janson); Creating Art: Lessons & Projects for the Grammar Stage (MP); Draw and Write Through History: Greece and Rome (Gressman); Anholt’s Artist Books for Children series; folk songs and hymns; card making; art museum visits; attendance at plays and concerts; dramatic play; parks and recreation/library arts and crafts programs; movies and documentaries; videography and photography; creative writing

First Aid, Safety, and Fire Protection – Continued reinforcement of these subjects through library materials, field trips, and home safety plans

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Giving Up Distractions--Clutter

Here we are in Holy Week, the final stretch of Lent. How have we faced our trials and carried our crosses? How well have we offered up our sufferings? And how can we continue to give up our distractions, for good?

Everything I've written about in this series is clutter of a kind. The mental, emotional, and spiritual clutter is perhaps all the more insidious because we can't literally see it. But it could also be that the physical clutter in our home environments is indicative of the deeper, hidden elements. I think that the physical clutter has something to do with holding on to the past.

Some of us are more sentimental than others. Indiscriminately throwing everything out is no better than clinging to every little possession. Either extreme is a sign of imbalance. So no, we can't just set fire to all of it and begin again. Unless there is, actually, a fire or a flood or some such disaster that clears the clutter for us. Usually, we have to employ prayer and self-discipline and attend to our stuff with temperance and diligence. It sounds as if we are being called upon to cultivate virtue, doesn't it?

When I was a young adult, I tended to pride myself on being from a family of pack-rats. I also believed in the popular notion that creative people are by nature messy. The chaos of my apartment bore testament to my artistic, sentimental soul! It didn't help that as a Montessori teacher, I was encouraged to save anything that could be used to create "works" for the children. As such, I had a substantial collection of things like laundry detergent lids in my tiny kitchen closet.

There was one saving grace. Two, actually. The first was the Kidney Foundation charity. My youngest brother had a kidney removed as a newborn, so as a way to protect the health of his remaining kidney, I gave to the KF. They came to collect one's donations. I gave so often that they would call me monthly when they were scheduled to pick up from my neighborhood. I had no money to give to the poor, but somehow I always had stuff. I learned that when one gives of one's abundance, the Lord provides.

The other saving grace was my sensitivity to beauty, which I inherited from both parents. My mom's primary artistic outlet has always been home decor. I grew up with her regular rearranging of the furniture. Because of my own impulses to suddenly need to move the furniture around and re-decorate, I would be forced to clean! I also enjoyed entertaining friends and having parties, so there was that motivation to bring order to my surroundings as well.

These principles should hold true for all of us. We are called to be charitable with our time and our possessions. Our God is a God of order. There is no Beauty without order. And hospitality and Christianity go hand in hand. So it seems that we've received a divine ordinance to clear the clutter.

After sorting out my clothes to donate this Lent, I realized that there is no need anymore to store away off-season clothing, having pared my wardrobe down so well. And the way the weather works in my neck of the woods, it makes more sense to have just one, year-round capsule wardrobe. Sure, there are those few items that belong exclusively to winter or summer, but much of the time we are in-between the various seasons. Layers are the name of the game!

And so with clothing squared away and my vanity table tidy (jewelry and make-up sorted and organized), I had to face finishing up with my books. And this I have accomplished. I'm far from finished. There are still the magazines, the personal papers, and those sentimental items that will require my intense attention. There are closets, drawers and cupboards that will see the light of day and be shown very little mercy. Oh, and there is my daughter's room. But let's not think about that today. It's painful, my friends, this clearing of every type of clutter, but it's the virtuous thing to do. It's the kind thing to do, for ourselves and for our families. We have to start with being good stewards of our own homes before we can effectively spread the love.

Have a happy Easter, my dears, and I'll see you dancing in the Son!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

What If Sarah Mackenzie Is Right?

 Sarah Mackenzie

Okay friends, time to get real! I am very, very distracted right now. My Lenten dreams seem like so much sand running out from between my fingers. This might be a moment of reckoning. I was up at 3:30 a.m. filled with anxiety. Maybe it's hormones, or the fact that I'm on antibiotics for a sinus infection. Perhaps the weather is to blame. But today the sun is out. Though not quite warm enough for porch sitting, things are looking springy and fine.

Well, with my blurry-eyed vision in the wee hours of insomniac hell, I pulled out Sarah Mackenzie's Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakable Peace. I've been mulling over a certain paragraph in her book, and here it is:

     Whether or not you purchase an open-and-go curriculum doesn't really matter. You can pretty much forget all the heated discussions about whether you are caving in to school-at-home if you use traditional workbooks or a straight-from-the-box curriculum. I know successful homeschooling families who use textbooks and successful homeschooling families who eschew them. I don't think that's a relevant debate to be having if we want to teach from rest and become happy, content, peaceful, and effective homeschooling moms.  (pp. 31-32)

And then there's her article at Amongst Lovely Things titled, "My Biggest Homeschooling Mistake: Over-thinking Methods and Philosophies" ( The whole thing is quotable, so read it in its entirety. But here is a portion of the wisdom:

"It was only when I silenced the voices of educational gurus coming from the bookshelf and internet and really paid close attention to my own children that I found our groove. One does not need to be versed in educational methodology to teach well. One needs to love her child. Pay attention to him. Notice how he learns- what he understands easily, what hinders his understanding.

If I had spent those hours watching my children and following my instincts instead of reading up on this or that educational philosophy, I would have reaped greater rewards far sooner.

My children would have received a better education, and I would have been a happier, more-content homeschooling mother."

I have resisted what Sarah is saying in this regard for some time now. Of course philosophy and method matter, right? How can they not? What if we have attached so much time and energy and faith to this stuff that we have become obsessed, confused, and the very antithesis of unshakable peace. More like a bowl of jello during an earthquake.

What if I just want to be a Catholic homeschooler and take JPII's advice, "Families, be who you are!"?  Do you know, I can't even find a general Catholic homeschooling group on Facebook anymore? Everything is a niche or combination of niches--classical, Charlotte Mason, unschooling, following a particular curriculum, you name it. But oh, I have told myself, I don't want to be eclectic. I want to be true to CM. But I like Seton and their text/workbooks and vintage reprints and Catholic historical fiction. And CHC's grammar and composition book really fits the bill. But...what about those lovely classical principles???

The truth is, we can't say yes to everything. We have to say no to some things, even good things. 
(And you can quote me on that.)

I think that researching scholasticism has made me realize the we have a grand tradition of Catholic education going back many hundreds of years, and there is no reason to reject it. Can I just be a Catholic home educator, in complete and true freedom, please?!

What if Sarah Mackenzie is right?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Scholastic Charlotte Mason Education

The topics on this blog for the current Lenten season have been all about giving up distractions, and I've focused quite a bit on homeschooling methods and resources. But reducing our distractions does not mean that we stop learning and growing. One way of simplifying matters is to go more deeply into an idea to achieve a clearer focus.

I've been pulling together some ideas that I've been exploring this entire school year, along the lines of applying certain principles of classical education to Charlotte Mason, as well as incorporating traditional Catholic curricula to insure that the Faith permeates the curriculum. I stepped back from the CM label for awhile in order to focus on the particularly Catholic elements in our homeschooling, and to explore the Catholic educational tradition of "living books through eyes of faith." I think I've discovered a missing link to connect these various facets; that is, the philosophy of scholasticism. 

I'm only beginning to explore what scholasticism is and will continue with my research, but I'll lay out the basics as I understand them. First read this article from New World Encyclopedia: What I'm gathering is that scholasticism is the meeting of ancient classical philosophy (Greek and Latin) with Catholicism. It's the marriage of faith and reason. The Scholastic Method of education originates in the Middle Ages and is based upon the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas. In short, it's the Catholic interpretation of classical. This was the traditional method used in Catholic schools up until the burgeoning confusion following Vatican II. Seton Home Study employs the Scholastic Method, and I think Catholic Heritage Curricula incorporates it as well. Read the history of Seton and the use of the Scholastic Method here:

I've discussed my opinion that Charlotte Mason is not a form of classical education as it's presented in the neoclassical movement (with the Trivium allegedly corresponding to stages of child development), despite the similarities that can be found between them. However, I have suggested that it may be edifying to explore how certain classical principles can be applied to CM, to provide one with a deeper formation and crystallizing of her unique philosophy and method. Or in other words, to explore how Charlotte Mason's interpretation of a liberal arts education is rooted in classical antiquity. I think we can do the same with scholasticism.

Charlotte was an Anglican Christian, and during her time there was a revival of medieval scholasticism, known as neo-scholasticism ( Though she was not Catholic, I am wondering if she took some inspiration from the neo-scholastic revival, considering her foundational idea, Education is the handmaid of Religion. While Protestant and disconnected from the papacy, the Anglican Church retains a strong degree of Tradition.

It has been argued that CM is clearly not classical, because it is specifically based upon the Bible, the current psychology of her era, and CM's personal observations of children (see Art Middlekauf's article at Though clearly not scholastic either, there is that similar sensibility in CM of the marriage of faith and reason. The Scholastic Method is a form of classical learning. We might conclude that CM and scholasticism both have their roots in the classicism of antiquity, though they each represent a unique divergence.

While the Catholic CM homeschooler would not have to incorporate books from a scholastic provider such as Seton in order to make sure that the Faith permeates the curriculum, I think there is great appeal in connecting with our Catholic educational heritage in such a way. There is also the matter of convenience. Rather than gathering Catholic books from various sources as you would do with the Mater Amabilis curriculum, you can simply visit one website and find books that are solidly Catholic and that are designed to be used together. This may also benefit the parent who can use such books to increase a child's independent work, especially as he or she gets into the middle school years (6th through 8th grade). Also, if the parents want their child to receive a diploma from an accredited school, using a number of books from Seton would help facilitate the transition to high school.

So am I advocating a blending of the Scholastic Method with CM? I'm not entirely sure. I have advocated for choosing one method and sticking to it, and I would still say that we are substantially Charlotte Mason homeschoolers in my family. But considering that we are Catholic, that right there puts us into a niche that is not "pure CM." Charlotte Mason's writings do not give us a guide to providing a particularly Catholic education, and as Catholics faith formation must come first.

Where I'm at right now is in a process of thinking about the classical principles, as laid out by Christopher Perrin in his webinar videos on youtube, as informing our central Charlotte Mason method; and exploring how the Scholastic Method fits into the big picture as well. As I have done before, I'm using the model of the fleur-de-lis as a visual representation:

The base of the symbol is Catholic Faith Formation, and I think of the lower prongs as representing Jesus, Mary, and Joseph--the Holy Family. The central petal above the base represents Charlotte Mason as the primary method. The left and right petals represent Perrin's classical principles (and the idea of schole found in Sarah Mackenzie's book, Teaching from Rest), and the Scholastic Method of traditional Catholic education. The supporting petals are corollaries to the primary method.

My idea is not about mashing together a hodgepodge of methods and just calling it "eclectic," but rather about creating a holistic approach to a Catholic education, putting together elements that though distinct, are intrinsically related. Another variation on the fleur-de-lis model could be to put the Scholastic Method in the center, using books from a traditional Catholic program as a "spine" on which to hang the classical principles and particulars of the CM method. It's all about what makes the best organizational sense to you, what will make your efforts all come together and bring you to the end goal. Whatever the methods we choose to put together, we want to be clear about our aim. What's needed is a synthesis, an integration that brings a sense of wholeness to our efforts.

What do you all think about the connections I've drawn between the Classical, Scholastic, and Charlotte Mason traditions? Does it make sense? Does anyone else use a similar approach? As always, I welcome a discussion!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Giving Up Distractions--Procrastination

Are you a habitual procrastinator? We all put things off from time to time, but when we make it a habit, the weight those items that we are leaving undone can accumulate and hold us back from living the lives we hope for. I feel the pressure when there is a to-do list in the back of my mind, even when I'm not consciously thinking about it. I feel much lighter these days as a result of reducing the distractions I've been working on this Lent, including removing those burdens of procrastination.

If you have let certain things go for too long, start by getting them out of your head and on paper. That way you won't have to continue trying to hold them in your memory. Do the things you can easily do first. You might have doctor appointments that you need to make, a thank you letter or other correspondence that you need to send, phone calls to return, an overdue trip to the grocery store, or basic housework that needs attending to. Just catching up on the laundry can give one a huge boost!

Then you can move on to the longer, more involved projects. Repairs to the house, painting a space that desperately needs it, decluttering a room filled with overwhelming piles of stuff...

And that's where I am now. Having caught up on the smaller procrastinated items, I have no excuse left not to get to finishing my paring down and re-ordering of personal and household possessions. The best place to start is always with your own clothes. I've been in the habit for the past few years of going through my clothing in the spring and when the cold days of fall hit. I give away pieces that no longer fit or that I don't like anymore, or have just seen better days. This process helps with one's Lenten almsgiving. I'm putting the winter clothes I'm keeping away in the back of my closet and getting my spring/summer items washed.

For the rest of Lent I will keep you posted on my process of giving up clutter--once and for all! But remember, in all of the hustle and bustle of housekeeping and hospitality a la Martha, to prioritize the better part that Mary has chosen.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Giving Up Distractions--Social Media, Email & the News

I hope everyone is having a good Lent! The next set of distractions I've been working on reducing is social media, email, and the news. I am down to checking each of these only once per day, or at least that is the goal! The first thing I typically do is to log in to my yahoo account and check my email. I've already reduced blogs, newsletters, and the like that I subscribe to, so there typically isn't too much for me to go through. I immediately delete whatever I don't need. I cancel subscriptions to things I don't wish to receive; or maybe I did want to receive them, but I realize that I just don't have time to deal with it at the rate that it comes in.

My yahoo inbox will usually lead me to Facebook notifications, so I deal with those next. I respond to any ongoing conversations on my wall or in groups. Occasionally I scroll through my news feed. When I've closed out of my email, the yahoo news page comes up. I quickly look at the headlines. If something looks really interesting, I click on it. I'd say at least 90% of the stories are junk. I know all the political features are biased, so I rarely read them.

I spend no more than a half hour in the morning with these three items. Now, sometimes I might check back with Facebook or email if I'm expecting an important message, but most days I keep this process to once a day. Then I am FREE the rest of the day from having to think about or react to anything I read or see. This makes it difficult to get caught up in any arguments on social media, if you have to wait until the next day to revisit it! I'm not a member of Twitter. This week my goal is to check my media only 3 times the entire week. Today was one! I want to be weaned down to nothing for Holy Week, so I will have no media distractions during that important time.

We don't have TV reception at my house, so I don't watch the news. If you do have TV, try not to watch more that one news program a day. When I did have TV, the same news was repeated all day long. There was a Netflix show that I was watching too often, but I finished all the seasons last week, and I'm picking up no new shows. I listen to Catholic Radio probably no more than half an hour, maybe 4 or 5 times per week. Try not listening to the radio at all when you're in the car! Oh, I don't have a "smart phone," so I don't have that temptation. If you do, consider setting serious limits there as well.

The thing to recognize is that checking our electronic media is habitual, even compulsive. It can be a way of escaping whatever it is that we ought to be doing or would be better off engaging in--like conversations with family members, visiting in person with friends and relatives, prayer and meditation, exercise, spiritual reading, good books, and clearing clutter. Virtual life has replaced real living. We must get our priorities straight, put first things first. One of the best things we can do for our children is to role model good habits! Remember, Lent is our time in the desert.

I'd love to hear about how you are reducing your distractions this Lent!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Charlotte Mason Schedule, Term 3 Updates

Our spring homeschooling term began on the first of this month, and I have continued to work on spreading that delightful Charlotte Mason feast while at the same time embracing the classical education principle of multum non multa (much not more). In practical terms this means a pared down version of CM that allows us to sink more deeply into fewer books and subjects. After completing the schedule that we will begin next week, I feel satisfied and relaxed. God willing, I have struck a good balance. I have found the sweet spot. I am victorious!

I want to point out a few changes. After trying unsuccessfully to wing the Spanish lessons with flash cards and The Everything Kids Book of Spanish from the library, I broke down and bought a curriculum book and 3-CD set, Learn Spanish with Grace. And it's Catholic, so the Faith now permeates the curriculum in an additional subject. Yay! 

I took the Language Arts loop out and put those subjects into the Daily Core, designating how many times per week each will be done. (Items without a designation are done every day.) I did not list dictation, because this is included in the Language of God grammar and composition book from Catholic Heritage Curricula. The dictation lessons are drawn from the child's reading, so this is still CM-aligned. We take spelling words to work on from the dictation readings. "Free reading" means that the child is not required to narrate. However, I will perhaps have Beezy do a simple book report when she is finished with the novel. 

The remaining subjects are "looped" through. I plan for a 4-day week, so one item is done from the loop per day. 

I print this list off each week, making any necessary changes, and just use an orange pen to check each item off as it is accomplished. I also write what is covered daily in more detail on loose leaf notebook paper, which goes into Beezy's portfolio for the end-of-year review by a certified teacher.

I think the rest is pretty self-explanatory, but please feel free to ask any questions in the comments!

Catholic Charlotte Mason Schedule, 2016-2017 Term 3 (6th grade)

Daily Core: (open with prayer)
- free reading (A Wrinkle in Time, L'Engle)
- Hamilton’s Arithmetic
- Piano practice
- Cursive writing (Seton, 2 times per week)
- Grammar & Composition (CHC, 2 times per week)
- King David and His Songs (oral narration, 2 times per week)
- Learn Spanish with Grace (2 to 3 times per week)


- Rosary: Sorrowful Mysteries (1952 Catholic Confraternity Bible)
- Nature Study & notebook (written narration/drawing): Minn of the Mississippi;
  Anna Comstock Handbook (reptiles); nature walk
- Religion 6 for Young Catholics (Seton)
- Artist and picture studies: Claude Monet (Nancy Nunhead); Linnea in Monet's
  Garden (Christina Bjork)


Piano lessons
Religious education class
Tumbling class

Monday, February 20, 2017

Giving Up Distractions: Homeschooling Resources

Today we are continuing the series on giving up distractions for Lent. In the last post I discussed the distraction of researching homeschooling methods and advice and recommended paring down your membership in Facebook homeschooling groups and the general online searching of blogs and the like. I emphasized choosing a method and sticking to it, pulling focus and buckling down. Proceeding with confidence.

The reason that I want to touch some more upon this topic is that a few days ago I received Seton Home Study's catalogue in the mail. I am on their mailing list because we use some of their books. The catalogue was glossy, colorful, and oh-so-enticing! I started to fantasize a little. How easy it would be to switch entirely to Seton, maybe even get the lesson plans. Wouldn't this be so much simpler than creating my own Charlotte Mason curriculum and schedule? My friends, the grass always does look greener on the other side.

Then I started thinking about Catholic Heritage Curricula, and how their program is a more "gentle" approach and can be used in the CM style. At least that's what they say, but I have my doubts about the reality of using an open-and-go program in its entirety while authentically adhering to the CM philosophy. I went online to find discussions comparing Seton with CHC and which program people like better. Was this helpful? Of course not. Everyone has an opinion, a preference, or really no idea what they want to do. But maybe I should pick up a spelling program, the devil on my shoulder whispered. I looked at the spelling book samples at the CHC website, as I have done a number of times. Each time I decide that, no, this is not going to be helpful. We just need to keep following CM's method for language arts consistently, as it does work! Sure, we can use a few carefully selected books from Catholic homeschooling publishers within our CM curriculum, but we can't have our cake and eat it too.

It is so tempting to add just one more thing, and sometimes there is indeed a gap that needs to be filled. However, could you fill it with a library book? Or maybe you already have a book in your home that you can use. For example, we've been using the Nature Anatomy book that Beezy got for Christmas. I found that it does not give enough breadth of information, so we need a second resource. I've used both Anna Comtock's Handbook of Nature Study and A Story Book of Science (Fabre), which we own. Another great book that I forgot we had until today is a Reader's Digest publication, ABC's of Nature: A Family Answer Book that I picked up at a library book sale. And of course you can always find great science stuff for kids online.

All of this is to say that we have to stop trying to reinvent the wheel. We need to give up this distraction of self-doubt when it comes to homeschooling, and this addiction to unnecessarily acquiring curriculum books and resources. Sometimes we just need a refresher course on how to approach a particular subject. Since I was feeling "wobbly" today about science, I went to the cabinet in which I keep my homeschooling resource books and pulled out Real Learning by Elizabeth Foss and reread the section on science (nature study).

These insecurities and impulses to assuage them will come up. Don't beat yourself up over it. Stop and reflect upon the root of the problem. Why are you doubting your chosen method? Why do you think you need another book (or to do yet another online search), either for yourself or for your child's curriculum? Perhaps you simply need to go back and revisit a topic or subject, remember why you chose to do things this way in the first place, and figure out what information you may need to proceed in the right direction.

For instance, in the Nature Study example I gave, I have just been feeling like I want it to be more vital and living. Soon the weather will allow for more nature walks, and there will be all kinds of new growth to observe. Since The Story Book of Science's selections lead into each other, it is difficult to choose a particular topic at random. Therefore, I'm going to proceed in it from where we last left off and use Nature Anatomy as a supplement, which contains lovely illustrations and succinct bits of information.  I want to have more drawing incorporated into Beezy's nature notebook, and Nature Anatomy has selections for use in this area as well. So this is how I want to pare down our nature studies, though of course I can use one of the other books as a need arises. I want to relax and allow for schole, the classical concept of learning as leisure.

And as for that lovely Seton catalogue? Before it could drive me crazy, I tossed it into the recycling!

Remember, whatever our grand plans, we can only carry them out one day at a time. Just do today and let tomorrow worry about itself.  From Matthew 6:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.