Joyful Motherhood--

Influenced by our Catholic faith,
Charlotte Mason, Lifelong Learning
and the
Everyday Realities of Homeschooling and Family Life

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Charlotte Mason - Who Is She?

I am perfectly inadequate to describe the life of Charlotte Mason, to define her educational concepts or to explain her philosophy of life.

I am now, a novice, a beginner's student of Charlotte Mason. I will most likely be her lifelong student.

As she has made a great, life-changing impact on me, on our homeschooling and on our family life, many friends are curious to know more.

I will give a very humble, feeble attempt at briefly summarizing what I have learned so far.

Who Was She?

Charlotte Mason was an Anglican educator in England at the beginning of the 20th century. She was a principal and oversaw the education of thousands of students from all walks of life. Through her experience, she developed 20 Principles of education.

She was a bit of a REBEL, a revoltionary. At a time when children were to be "seen and not heard," Charlotte Mason insisted that children are born persons, and should be treated with the respect as such. This may seem obvious, but as a parent or an educator, the implications are endless. Charlotte believed it to be so important that it is her first principle of education.

Charlotte Mason believed that "education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life." It consists of so much more than just job training, passing exams, or becoming a cog in the economical machine. 

Education is a spiritual process, in which we continue to grow and learn, becoming closer to the people God intends us to be. 

It is living a rich, full life, with wonder, curiosity, discipline and grace. 

Again, I am paraphrasing. Furthermore, most of what I have read so far have not actually been Charlotte Mason's actual works, which make up six volumes. Like most homeschooling moms, my reading time is limited. I do hope to eventually read her actual texts, but for now, reading the summaries and practical applications given by other homeschooling moms has been so rewarding and extremely helpful.

I could never write all of the ideas of Charlotte Mason's, nor should I. There are too many other bloggers, web sites, books and of course the actual works of Charlotte Mason, that do a much better job than I ever could.

I can explain the main changes that we have made in our own way of learning at home.

Living Books

Charlotte Mason believed in what she called Living Books. Living Books are written by individuals who are passionate about their subject matter, not by a board or a committee. They include the text as a whole, rather than snippets cut out of a text or an abridged version. They usually have a story, a narrative. Rather than just reading and learning about meaningless facts, one reads stories about the people of a place or period in time. This helps the reader to make an emotional connection with the text, helping them to connect with what they're reading, care about it, own the knowledge they gain from it and remember it. Charlotte Mason believed that the goal of education was for one to CARE about as many subject matters as possible.

If a person doesn't care about the subject matter, they won't remember it, and what would be the point anyway?

Living books are rich stories, with developed characters and plot, full of rich vocabulary, and are not dumbed down for children or what Charlotte Mason called "twaddle."

In the past few months, my children have listened to Little Women, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, The Cat of Bubastes, many of the books from the Narnia series, a short story and some poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, the poetry of Robert Frost and The Green Ember, 

and have LOVED them all. 

On Friday nights, our four-year-old, Veronica, gets to go have a sleepover in her brothers' room, who are eight and ten. They get to listen to an audiobook for about an hour, but they all have to agree on it. Last night, they chose to listen to the first disc of Little Women again, as they have enjoyed it so much.

We are studying Shakespeare together, right now focusing on A Midsummer Night's Dream. Our 10, 8 and 4 year olds can all recite two Shakespeare passages from the play, and the 8 and 10 year olds can explain what they mean and what is happening in the play at that point.

I DO NOT share this to boast. Not in the slightest. This is TYPICAL and AVERAGE for Charlotte Mason students. There is nothing particularly advanced about our children.

Charlotte Mason had high expectations for her students and they thrived with them.


Charlotte Mason believed that rather than children being tested on how much they don't know, they can share how much they DO know through the simple act of narration. It is EXTREMELY simple, so much that in the day and age of SAT's, state testing, end-of-chapter tests, etc, it makes one wonder if it actually works.

It is somewhat a leap of faith for me. However, I have spoken with so many like-minded mothers and read so many books that believe in this process.

Furthermore, it's a natural process that makes sense.

Basically, one reads or listens to a text, and then shares what they recall about the information or story.

That's it.

I realize it seems overly simple.

But think about it. When you read an article, a book or see a great movie that really touched you, what do you do? You share it with others, don't you? You want to discuss it. You exchange ideas about it with others. And in doing so, you have processed those ideas further, and have made them a permanent addition to your library of thoughts. You now own that knowledge and can draw from it years later.

We are simply using this very natural process not to test our children, but to help them process their own thoughts and own the information that they have learned.

Time Outdoors

Charlotte Mason believed that science begins with the love, appreciation, awe and wonder of nature around us. I had never really thought about it that way, but it makes sense to me! She believed that children and adults alike need DAILY time spent in nature.

This is an ideal, but we are striving for it. We go on daily walks, and get to nature trails and parks hopefully a few times a week.

Lifelong Learning

Charlotte Mason believed that education is a lifelong process. It doesn't end once you become a certain age, pass a certain test or earn a certain degree. She created colleges for teachers, where they learned how to learn alongside their students. Students and teachers alike were to grow in curiosity and wonder alongside one another.

This is another major change in my life. I am continuing my own education, and am learning daily. I have my own nature journal, commonplace book, and book of centuries. I have begun a Schole Sisters group, and am trying to learn to draw and paint when I have the time. I have joined our church choir and am trying to enjoy the gift of singing once again. I feel inadequate in all of these things, but oh well.

I am learning and enjoying the process.

Also, my children are witnessing me learn and enjoy the process.

The Books and People that Helped Me Begin the Journey

As I have learned and read about Charlotte Mason's ideas, it has consistently been like reading the truths and beliefs that I have been developing in the past six years of homeschooling, the past ten years of motherhood, and even since my own experiences in formal education.

In the past year, however, there have been some major influences that have helped me to understand and embrace this lifestyle.

Sarah MacKenzie
First of all, there is Sarah MacKenzie, her book Teaching From Rest and more recently, her podcast and web site, The Read Aloud Revival.

I DARE you to read her material and not be forever changed by it.

The Circe Institute, Dr. Christopher Perrin, Schole and The Mason Jar
Sarah pointed me to the ideas of schole and to the lecture of Dr. Christopher Perrin about schole.  From there, I created a Schole Sisters group. From there, I found the Circe Institute and their podcast on Charlotte Mason, The Mason Jar.

Karen Andreola - A Charlotte Mason Companion
In the past few months, I have connected with and met another homeschooling mom in the area who has been using Charlotte Mason's methods for the past three years. When I asked her what books to start with, she first recommended A Charlotte Mason Companion, by Karen Andreola. I am still working through it, but it has been an encouraging, helpful, real resource helping me to understand how to implement these philosophies in our daily life.

Susan Macaulay - For the Children's Sake
Susan Macaulay was one of the pioneers in the United States, bringing Charlotte Mason's ideas to life in an accessible way to families in 1984. I am now reading her book, For the Children's Sake, with a Charlotte Mason's mom group, and it is so enormously helpful in understanding this philosophy and way of life.

Brandy Vencel
In September, I was able to attend the West Coast Charlotte Mason Conference, and see Brandy speak. She was lovely and helped me so much in understanding the 20 principles. Our Charlotte Mason's group is going to be reading Brandy's Study Guide about the 20 principles alongside For the Children's Sake.

Catherine Levison
I also had the pleasure of seeing Catherine Levison speak at the conference, and have read her book, A Charlotte Mason Education. It is a short, concise book, which gives very practical advice about how to implement these philosophies into everyday homeschool life.

Ambleside Online
From their web site, Ambleside Online is "a free homeschool curriculum that uses Charlotte Mason's classically-based principles to prepare children for a life of rich relationships with everything around them: God, humanity, and the natural world. AO's detailed schedules, time-tested methods, and extensive teacher resources allow parents to focus effectively on the unique needs of each child."

They also give a much better summary of Charlotte Mason's life and her ideas that I do. You can see that here.

We do not follow their curriculum exactly, but more use it as a guide and as a great source for finding Living Books.  

The To-Read List
There are too many to list. But when I am done reading what I have started, I have already purchased The Living Page, by Laurie Bestvater and Consider This, by Karen Glass, both of when are supposed to be wonderful.

That's it for now! I hope this may have given you a tiny insight into who Charlotte Mason was and what her philosophy is about. To learn more, you can see her works or any of the materials above, all of which will do a much better job than I just have :)

I will end by saying that Charlotte Mason has been an enormous blessing to me and our family. I believe that God meant for me to find her philosophies, as they were always in my heart. I now just have something to refer to and to call this way of life. I believe that God inspired her those many years ago, as her writing contains such truth and beauty. I am so grateful for her works, and that through her experience and writing, we may live a richer, fuller life.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Making Time for Compassion

An Update - Where I'm At

We are finally getting into the swing of the school year. We have made a lot of changes, and it's been a bit of a bumpy start as we have made the transition.

A couple of weekends ago, I attended the Northwest Charlotte Mason Conference in Federal Way, along with about fifty other like-minded mamas from all over the west coast. I haven't had time to write about it, but you can read about it here and here.

I was able to hear Brandy Vencel, Catherine Levison and Cathy Wickward speak, an enormous blessing. I also met so many other Charlotte Mason homeschooling moms, many here in the Pacific Northwest. I am so excited to be getting involved with this community!

I have been extremely busy for the last nine months or so, learning about the Charlotte Mason approach, classical education from the Circe Institute, Teaching from Rest from Sarah Mackenzie, listening to a podcast about Charlotte Mason titled "The Mason Jar," featuring Cindy Rollins with the Circe Institute, beginning a Schole Sisters group, watching lectures by Dr. Christopher Perrin and

completely falling in love with this way of life.

This has been a lot to take in. I would say that it's been life-changing; a sort of paradigm shift within my heart and within my soul.

That's why I haven't been writing. I've been learning! SO much. It has been an incredible, rich and joyful part of our family's journey, and I am so excited about it. I still have so much to learn and read!

I have missed writing. I tried to make my blog more "professional" about a year ago, but I discovered that I don't like that at all. I need to write when I am feeling inspired and have something to share (and the time to do so!), not because it's another item on the to-do list. There are so many amazing blogs sharing about Charlotte Mason anyway, so we don't really need another one.

My focus here will be joyful motherhood, and how that is influenced by our Catholic faith, Charlotte Mason, lifelong learning and the everyday realities of homeschooling with four kiddos.

I will be continuing to update and enhance the blog as time allows.

Time For Compassion in Family Life

I hope this goes without saying, but this blog is simply a place where I share about the truths that I have found in our family life. Of course, our way of life is only one of infinite possibilities of how to try and raise children "well."

I say "try," as I fail daily. But through my failures, prayer, a strong reliance on God's grace and a refusal to quit trying, I have grown and learned along the way.

One truth I have learned is that I need unscheduled time for compassion in my life.

Within our day, we are constantly interrupted. We are interrupted by a child's bad attitude or disobedience, by a poopy diaper, by my weakness and need for prayer, by an argument between children.

My typical response is to get very frustrated with these interruptions. They are getting in the way of the "real learning." We didn't get to our Shakespeare, historical fiction or through all of Plutarch today.

We had to spend time talking about "not sweating the small stuff."

My children came to me, rubbed my back as I cried for a minute, got me a Kleenex and asked me what was wrong.

I answered,
Sometimes life is just hard. I'm supposed to be forgiving and be able to do all of this joyfully, but sometimes that's just really hard and I'm not very good at it. 
From there, I decided that we would go cuddle on the couch together; Joshua read the Bible to the younger ones, while I read my own Bible and prayed; we did a faith lesson and read a chapter out of The Green Ember.

This isn't what I planned, but it's what I needed.

That's the thing, if all of our time is committed to our plans, then we often don't have the time for the unexpected things that arise that we need.

Prayer. Time in Scripture. A walk. A talk with a friend. Time to comfort a little one or read them a book. Time to listen to our children. Time to form their hearts and their minds. Time to hold hands with your husband. Time to read a book. Time to take dinner to a friend in need.

These things take TIME.

And if we don't have time for these things, what is the point of all of this?

It is SO challenging and a constant battle for me against busyness in our fast-paced, multi-tasking, efficient, goal-oriented culture that we live in.

But I have found that our family MUST battle this, if we are to have joy and peace in our home. For me, I just cannot be running around from activity to activity, and also strive to be a peaceful, joyful mother and wife.

I need to have time for compassion for myself, for my children, for my family, for my friend, for my neighbor.

Do you struggle with this as well? How do you try and create peace and time for compassion in your home?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Yesterday morning, my fellow missionaries and I arose at 3 am in order to get to the airport early enough for our 6:45 am flight back to the States.

As I sat in the plane and gazed out the window at the land I had grown to love in ten short days, hot, persistent tears streamed down my cheeks. I was thankful that the women sitting in my aisle were both trying to sleep, so I needed not to explain. How could I explain?

How can I explain?

My heart had been turned over and turned inside out and is sore from the growing pains. The wounds, left by some of the horrors I saw and heard of, are still fresh and will never fully heal, but only leave scars that will twitch and sting at reminders of human suffering.

Moreso, the overwhelming sense of joy and honor and love and strength in human spirit runneth my heart over,  spills over my lids and down my cheeks, trails of joy tracing my face.

When our parish, St. Luke in Shoreline, began going to Project FIAT for mission trips, we asked Sister Gloria who leads the volunteer house, if if would be better for us to just send the money down there rather than spending it on our trip down there.

She answered no.

She said that what is gained in relationships is worth much more and needed much more than the money itself. While this was a nice thought, I didn't entirely understand what she meant.

I understand now.

The depth and richness and strength of relationships that I formed over the past 10 days was surreal. So many individuals left a deep imprint on my heart, and in the short time I was there, we were able to form a strong connection.

Let me just say that in my small experience of the people of El Salvador, they seemed much more open to this type of relationship than the people of America. In Seattle, people keep to themselves and are very guarded. It is difficult to connect even with the people who I meet regularly, as we mostly relate through small talk and then go our separate ways. If I do form a real connection with someone, it is usually over months or even years, after getting to know one another and possibly finding out if we "have something in common."

In El Salvador, all of that pretense was gone. There was no guarding of their hearts, but just seemingly a deep, immediate acceptance into their community.

Imagine walking through your neighborhood or through the city, smiling and saying hello to each person you come across. For real. Each person. This is how it seems the Salvadorians live all of the time.

Now imagine that in the past forty years, the people of your country have lived through the horrors of poverty, oppression and war. Boys as young as twelve were forced to become soldiers; bodies were found on the streets each morning because of the Death Squad; those who spoke up against the violence were tortured, raped and/or killed, including priests, nuns, and of course, the Blessed Archbishop Romero; the bullets of nightly battles sailed through villages and homes, often killing civilians. The war ended only twenty years ago, you live in a shack made of scrap pieces of corrugated metal that you were lucky enough to find, the drinking water gives your children dysentery, you have enough food to maybe provide your family with one meal a day, and on average, twenty people are dying each day due to the gang violence, another after affect of the war.

Imagine two daughters, ages about 12 and 14, whose mother is very sick and requires expensive medicine to live. In order to keep their mother alive and not lose their home, the two girls become prostitutes in order to make the $32 per month for rent and electricity.

Imagine a 12 year old girl who lives in an orphanage because it is a safer place than her home, where she is abused. The government is closing the orphanages. An American couple who cannot have children begins the process to adopt the girl, with the parents' consent. The girl moves to America with the family, and is taken care of there for several months. The mother then changes her mind, and the police have to tear this girl away from her adoptive parents to bring her back to El Salvador. She goes back to her parents in El Salvador, her mother OD's and dies and her father abandons her. She then becomes a victim of sex trafficking.

Not as horrific, but possibly causing a slower, just as lethal death, young men in their twenties live in an impoverished village with absolutely nothing to do day after day after day. Their education ended at ninth grade, but they are at a much younger grade level than that by American standards. They could not attend high school because there is no high school within walking distance and their families cannot afford the cost of about $30 a month in transportation to get them to the closest high school.

All of these stories are common in El Salvador.

Now tell me, if this was the society that you lived in, would you be saying "Buenas Dias" to everyone you passed with a smile on your face?

Would your faith be so strong that the 7 am daily Mass in the local church was full of people, singing and worshipping before they went on with their days?

The hospitality, friendliness, kindness, love and faith of the people in El Salvador comes from such a strength of spirit as I have never witnessed before.

I honestly didn't want to leave. I wanted to see my friends and family, but I would have rathered that they just came to El Salvador. If I thought it would be a safe place for our children to grow up, I honestly might be discerning if it was God's will for us to live there.

Why would I say that? Why would I ever want to live in a place with such suffering and poverty?

It seems that although or maybe because the Salvadorian people have so very little, they really understand what's important. Faith. Family. Relationships. Laughter. Life.

I connected with their culture in a way that I was not anticipating.

In some ways, I felt more at home there.