Books, books, and more books!

40255929_10204741450371921_8177308442399080448_n“When I was nine years old, my family moved from Brandon, Mississippi, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, for a little more than one year. In spite of my exposure to some truly fascinating people and some of the most amazing experiences I’d ever know, my world shrank a bit to the gated and walled confines of our apartment complex. My closest relationships (referring to proximity) were with my sister and parents, the two elderly women who lived above us, the one elderly woman who lived below us, the grizzled custodian, and the little girl my age who lived two buildings in front of us. Thanks to the language barrier, my already over-indulged imagination sought freedom and expression through reading. Over the course of that year, I became very close to my family, was introduced to the fun of homeschooling, learned passable Spanish, grew to appreciate living in a major city, traveled throughout neighboring Chile, and made scores of lifelong friends – both real as well as those dwelling only in the ever-expanding realm of my invented worlds. When we returned to the States, I carried those friends with me and became the little girl traipsing back and forth from the library each week with a stack of books so high I could barely see over it. In order to gauge the quality of my reading material, my very wise mother read or reviewed every single book I read until I was about fifteen years old. Because every book I read during those years passed first through her careful hands, I developed a taste for rich language, great storytelling, and lasting literature. I consider that one of the greatest gifts my mother gave me.” – borrowed from my little book review blog here.

When I think back over what I learned from my own school days, I must admit that most of what I’ve retained was not first introduced to me through textbooks, but through the many wonderful living books that I read. So when I was researching curriculum options for my children, the Charlotte Mason method stood out in capital letters in my mind. Everything I learned about it, I loved. Habit training- isn’t that what all parents strive for? Living books- YES!!! That’s how I had always learned best! Treating education as a way of life rather than a list of things to get done- this was my husband’s and my desire for our kids long before we began formal lessons.  You’ll quickly see that we are by no means CM purists. (We may end up there one day, though.) But we have chosen from among her many wonderful methods those aspects that fit our family and our long term goals the best. My daughters are in second grade now, and every year since pre-k we’ve inched further along the path laid out by Ms. Mason so long ago.

For our 2018-2019 school year, this is what we use:

IMG_2293Morning Time

We start each school day with morning time. We all gather around the piano to sing hymns, then pile onto the couch to pray, review Bible verses, recite poetry, and read from this list of books:

Hero Tales by Dave and Neta Jackson- a wonderful collection of missionary stories by a husband and wife writing team. One of my daughters has a passion for missionaries and a deep desire to grow up to be one herself, which led me to add this book to our daily routine. But we’ve all been blessed by its stories.

Stories from the Holy Writ by Helen Waddell- a beautiful treasury of Bible stories perfectly suited for reading aloud and narrating. We read from this weekly, so it’s taking some time to complete, but it’s lovely.

Everyday Graces by Karen Santorum- this collection of short stories and poems helps to keep good habits continually before us. We read this one weekly as well.

Life of Fred: Butterflies by Stanley F. Schmidt- admittedly, this is not exactly lovely in the sense that our other books are, but it is fun and a great way to build on the idea of math in daily life. We read one chapter each week.

We read one new poem each morning. I love poetry, and my children have all learned to love it as well. Right now we’re reading through Creatures of Earth, Sea, and Sky by Georgia Heard.

Lastly, on the first day of each month we read that month’s pages in The Year at Maple Hill Farm by Alice and Martin Provensen. This is especially a big hit for my three year old son, who of course is right there with us.

Critical Thinking

Mind Benders, level 2- The girls LOVE all things riddles and puzzles, so we do one of these each day after morning time to stretch their mental muscles and prepare for the day.


There are many ways we have fallen short as parents, but I’m grateful to say that ourimage1
children have been immersed in God’s Word since infancy. Jonathan and I have read through at least a half dozen children’s Bible story books with our kids several times. Last year we decided we wanted to begin giving our daughters a framework for how those stories fit together, so I started using Picture Smart Bible: Old Testament with them in first grade. It has been a wonderful resource, which I pair with What the Bible Is All About: for young explorers by Frances Blankenbaker. We’re over halfway through with the Old Testament now, and will move on to the New Testament equivalent once we’ve finished this.

IMG_2292Read Aloud Practice

When I was a child, my family often read from the Bible together around the supper table, or in the living room before going to bed. My father insisted on our reading the holy Scriptures beautifully, with due reverence and powerful inflection. At the time, I thought he was a bit fussy. What did it matter how something was read, so long as it was read correctly? I eventually realized that reading correctly involves a lot more than merely getting the words right, and I’m very grateful for his training. I want my children to read confidently in a group setting, to have the ability to follow along and pick up the reading when it’s their turn, and to use their voices to convey the meaning behind the words. So every day we take just a very few minutes to focus on these skills. I went to a local used bookstore a couple of times and picked up a lot of simple readers for five cents each. I have at least three copies of each one, and sometimes four copies (so I can join in some weeks). The girls can focus on their posture, their voices, and following along with a group without worrying about difficult words to sound out or getting bogged down in a very long book to work through. I imagine that by later this year or for sure by next year, we’ll move on to longer books for practice, but for now these inexpensive readers are perfect.


I grew up using the rigorous A Beka math, and I was perfectly prepared for higher level math in college. I had fully intended to use the same program with my children until I realized early on that one of my daughters needs to be able to see and touch problems to grasp the concepts. I went back to my research and landed on Math-U-See. We’re more than halfway through the third level at this point and still going strong. I do math individually with each of my girls every day, so they’re never at exactly the same place, but this frees them from any competition with each other and allows them to progress at their own pace.

Composer Study

Like many of our morning time resources, this subject is pure pleasure and beauty. Right now we simply listen to Mozart every day (often while doing our independent reading), and I have a picture book biography that we’ll read about him, which helps us to connect a real person to the lovely music we enjoy. About once a week or so I’ll hand each of the children some scarves and encourage them to dance along however they feel while they listen, or we’ll draw however we feel the music might look if we could see it as well as hear it. It’s simple but powerful. They’re recognizing his work now in movies, when we’re out shopping, etc.

Independent Reading

My girls took off with reading early on. I noticed halfway through kindergarten that our38878083_10204682495858095_8668970958138114048_n phonics lessons were no longer actually teaching them anything, just frustrating them instead. So I passed on our phonics curriculum and began assigning books for them to read to me daily. We continued that trend through first grade, and now they still read mom-assigned books for fifteen minutes each day, but to themselves, returning to me for a short narration. My daughters will read whether I assign it or not, but this way I can choose books for them that they may not choose for themselves, and I often choose books that share the time period we’re studying in history, or the material we’re covering in science, or the people we’re learning about as we study artists and composers and missionaries. Sometimes I will offer them the choice of three or four books, and they get to have some say in what they’re reading. Felicity just finished The Cabin Faced West by Jean Fritz, Violet is reading Sacagawea from the Childhood of Famous Americans series, and Merideth is enjoying All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor.

Language Arts

We have a nice long list of books to read aloud this year. Their daddy is currently reading The Mouse and the Motorcycle to them all in the evenings, and I’m reading Little House on the Prairie to them during the day. Right now these are followed simply by oral narration.

38831508_10204682496778118_7914455494696108032_nI really love All About Spelling! My girls are voracious readers, but somehow, one of them is an extremely bad speller. She can read the word, define it, and keep it in her ridiculously large daily vocabulary, but she just can’t seem to spell it! All About Spelling, done individually with each child as often as you like, is a great way for children to learn the rules of how to spell words in English instead of memorizing an arbitrary list of them. Like our math, this is a go-at-your-own-pace curriculum, meaning that my three daughters are in three different steps at any given time; one of them is even in a completely different level than the others!


The same daughter who has trouble spelling also has a little trouble writing. In my search to find a way to help her, I learned that cursive can often help children who struggle with printing. We’ve added Simply Charlotte Mason’s easy Print to Cursive Proverbs to our routine and we love it! I prefer it hands down to the curriculum I grew up using and to the several other options I checked into before finding Print to Cursive. And guess what? My daughter’s chicken scratch print turns into careful, lovely cursive every time she practices. She is so excited, and I’m so pleased.

Picture Study

This is our first time doing picture study, and so far it’s loads of fun! We’re using Simply Charlotte Mason’s Millet study and greatly enjoying it!


We’re using Answers in Genesis’ God’s Design for Science. We use the third edition rather38840289_10204682496658115_3618116965962350592_n than the new fourth edition, as I prefer the beginner’s section of the older books. This year we’re studying the Heaven and Earth set. We add in fun library books from time to time, do at least one simple experiment each week, and the girls are taking an outer space class in our weekly co-op.

Nature Study38828220_10204682495778093_4254744643805118464_n

Exploring Nature with Children is a wonderful resource that helps us get outside purposefully year round. We journal about once a week. This is new for us, but we’re getting better as we go along. We’re also trying to get in a nature hike with friends once or twice a month. In addition to this, the girls are in a nature study class each week at co-op, and we have a pretty good supply of nature-focused living books we enjoy reading.


image2I found TruthQuest a couple of years ago and fell in love. It’s an outline of history filled with lists of great living books for every grade. We’re currently in American History for Young Students II. We read a lot of wonderful books together, practice oral narration, occasionally practice written narrations and illustrations, and enter important events and people into our timeline book (we use this one that I found for cheap secondhand, with three more lines added to represent Bible/Church history, Science/Technology history, and Arts history). The girls are also taking part in a TN history class at our weekly co-op.

American Sign Language

Once a week, we watch another video from Signing Time. My background includes training as an ASL interpreter and I’ve always loved the language. All of my kids enjoy this, but especially one of the girls. We review the signs as we go along, often using them throughout the day, and add in new signs with each new video. I’m working on finding a deaf chat that we can join a couple of times a semester in order to get more practice, but I haven’t found anything local thus far.


My missionary wannabe is determined to learn French and Spanish. I can’t help much with French at this point, but my time spent living and traveling throughout South America helps some with the Spanish. We’re LOVING Flip Flop Spanish, and I highly recommend it! Easy, short lessons but everyone’s learning! We have some good friends who are originally from Mexico and we plan to get together with them on occasion to practice what we’re learning.


I’ve had exactly zero art training in my life, but it’s important to me that my children are able to explore this means of expression. We were introduced to Artistic Pursuits about a year ago and we thoroughly enjoy it! It’s something we pull out once a week and have a lot of fun with!



Little brother wants to do school too! He’ll be turning four this year, which is rather young for formal lessons, but he joins in for morning time and all our reading aloud, does science experiments with us, and art with us, and has his own nature journal. I’ve got a used All About Reading Pre-reading set that we use from time to time, as he’s quite impatient about learning to read. We also keep some puzzles and little activities for him to play with during our school time, calling it his “school.” He loves being a part of everything, and he’s so proud to have his own work to do too!

If you made it this far, I’m shocked! Seeing it written out like that makes it seem like an awful lot, but we enjoy it all and my kids truly do love to learn. They’re curious and interested and our lessons are short and gentle. Keep in mind that we do NOT do all these subjects every day. At most, some subjects are done four days a week, as we spend one whole day at co-op. Some are twice weekly and others just once a week.

– Katie

Put A Bookmark In It!

39085230_2130310117294212_5481813729370701824_nWhat do a receipt, a friendship bracelet, a prayer card, and a scrap of paper all have in common? They’re all saving me from “lesson planning induced anxiety,” that’s what!

Allow me to back up a little.

Last year, while homeschooling my daughter for first grade, we moved from our home in Florida to a rental home in Tennessee. Then we bought a house and moved AGAIN just a few months later. My husband started a new job. I kept my job but moved to working remotely without the help of childcare. We joined a new co-op. We all got the flu at the same time. All of this while juggling a first grader, a preschooler, and a toddler.

Oh yeah, and right smack in the middle of all of that we had a baby and I was hit with a terrifying bout of postpartum depression.

To say it was stressful would be a supreme understatement. Not much went according to plan and the lesson plans were boxed up and never unpacked. But the beauty of homeschooling is that it can take place wherever “home” happens to be for the moment. While I’m looking forward to educating my second grader and kindergartner in the same house for the entire school year, I still need to keep it s i m p l e. When I sat down to plan our upcoming year, I went straight to the Ambelside Online Emergency Learning Plan which was designed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina for families who needed to continue their children’s education during times of crisis. And with all due respect to actual hurricane victims, my family and I are still operating in survival mode for the time being. Their bare bones plan allowed me to hone in on the absolute best and most important aspects of the classical education we are striving to provide for our family.

Instead of spending my limited time and energy on planning out lessons, making checklists, and penciling in page numbers in my calendar (all things homeschool moms have a reputation for enjoying and/or overdoing), I spent my time and energy finding the best materials I could get my hands on. All of that effort that could go to planning out lessons, instead went to choosing books. And instead of following a list or a calendar that dictates what lesson we are “supposed” to be on, I just stick a bookmark in it.

That’s right. Just stick a bookmark in it! The answer to your lesson planning woes can be found in between your couch cushions and at the bottom of your purse!

No need to plan everything out. When is the last time anything you did went according to plan anyway? What works for our family is to simply have the books I’ve chosen easily available, pick them up, read them aloud as often as possible, and then stick a bookmark in them to return to next time.

Because we follow the principals and methods of Charlotte Mason, our daily lessons don’t require much preparation or planning. Things such as:

  • Narration as our main form of assimilating the ideas that have been read. (Because as Charlotte says, “If we can’t tell, we don’t know.”)
  • Short, varied lessons to train the habit of focused attention.
  • “Living” books that are rich in ideas (rather than dry facts) and are well written by authors who have a passion for the subject.
  • Copying beautifully written passages as our main form of handwriting and spelling.
  • Nature study and nature journaling as our primary form of science exploration.

With those principals in mind, I set to work selecting the best materials the world has to offer. This will look different in every family, even those families who provide their children with a classical education in the tradition of Charlotte Mason. But for the sake of any curious minds out there, here is what I’ve selected for our family for the 2018-2019 school year.

History (K and 2nd)39098008_1836495476437186_3840823724773212160_n

A Child’s First Book of American History, Earl Schenck Miers

I read a chapter at a time and both of my school aged children narrate. For this subject only, I record their narrations and then transcribe them in a notebook for them to then illustrate.

The collection of historical fiction books on various Native American tribes by Sonia Bleeker.

Read aloud and narrate.

Geography (K and 2nd)

Home Geography for Primary Grade, C.C. Long

Read aloud and narrate.

Paddle to the Sea, Holling C. Holling

Read aloud, narrate, do mapwork together. My husband will be leading this one while I’m away for work in the evening.

Handwriting (K and 2nd)

Beautiful Handwriting, Penny Gardner


All About Reading

Level 1 for Kindergarten and Level 2 for 2nd grade. But we leave out most of the games to keep the lessons short.



I loved going through the Kindergarten books with my daughter and am enjoying them again now with my son. I’ve taken a break from the next level with my 2nd grader to master her math facts first. We use XtraMathfor this.


We have a pretty extensive poetry collection that we pull from at any given time. Our favorite way to enjoy poetry is afternoon “poetry tea/snack time.” At this stage, we just delight in poetry together. No formal lesson for us yet.

Natural History

The Burgess Bird Book for Children, Thorton Burgess

Read aloud while coloring the bird for that chapter and narrate.


The Child’s Story Bible, Catherine Vos

Read aloud and narrate. No need to plan out the books and chapters, just stick a bookmark in it! I really love the way this is written and it makes for excellent narrations.

The Story of the Bible

We listen to the audio in the car and it always sparks some great conversations.


Faith and Life, Ignatius Press

Read aloud and narrate. (are you seeing a trend?) This is also what our Sunday school uses.

Our kindergartener also receives Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at our church on Sundays.

Religious History

We regularly read about the lives of the saints through picture and chapter books. We also enjoy listening to Glory Stories by Holy Heroes in the car almost every time we drive for more than five minutes.


We begin our homeschool day gathered around our prayer table singing a hymn. We use a list of hymns I’ve collected that are frequently sung at our church.

We also listen to and sing lots of folk songs on Spotify.


Picture Study Portfolios, Simply Charlotte Mason

We did Monet last year but I haven’t decided which one to do this year. Help me choose!


Last, but most definitely not least. Quality literature is the hallmark of our family’s education and our absolute favorite way to learn together. We will certainly not get to all of these books this year, but here is the wonderful list we have to choose from:

  • Aesop’s Fables
  • Lang’s Blue Fairy Book
  • Shakespeare (for children) (Lamb, Nesbit, or Garfield)
  • Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling
  • Robin Hood
  • Understood Betsy
  • Heidi
  • Beatrix Potter
  • Tanglewood Tales, Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Five Little Peppers and How They Grew
  • Five Children and It
  • Doctor Doolittle
  • The Door in the Wall
  • Caddie Woodlawn
  • Water Babies
  • King of the Wind
  • The Wheel on the School

It may seem like a lot, but keep in mind that most of those subjects are only tackled weekly and we keep lessons very short. We also do almost every subject “morning basket style” so the baby and the preschooler are also soaking up these riches and the second grader and kindergartener are combined for most lessons.

If you managed to get through all of that you’re either a literature loving homeschooling mama or you’re my kids’ grandmother. And if you skipped down to the end, just remember to spend your energy putting your children in contact with the greatest minds our world has to offer through quality books, skip the stress and hassle of “lesson plans,” and put a bookmark in it!

– Kaitlin