A book review of Jesus Helps Me from Graham Blanchard

Wednesday, February 3, 2016



I'm excited to review the newest book in Graham Blanchard's Knowing God series - Jesus Helps Me.


I've been talking a LOT about books lately.

I research books.  I 'pin' books.  I organize books.  I buy books.  I borrow books (by the dozens...). 

And... sometimes, I get the delight of reviewing books.


 I don't have any babies in my home right now (sigh), but I still LOVE board books.  And I know many of you have babies and toddlers and are seeking good quality, living books for your littles.

And you know what?  There is something very special about those first books we read to our babies and toddlers.  Why not choose deeply meaningful, God-honouring literature, even in the earliest years?

Honestly - I love all the titles that I've read from Graham Blanchard.  This is a Christian publisher of books for young children that are created to inspire and deepen a child's relationship with God.


I love these words from their website:

"Bringing a new soul into the world is a profoundly spiritual passage of life for new parents. We welcome you to a loving community of moms and dads, mentors, educators and pastors who have developed helpful resources to support your growing family’s spiritual life."

I adore the way this publisher categorizes their books into three groups - Learn, Absorb, Praise.  Jesus Helps Me is a 'learn' book by Callie Grant.  The book shares truth about how Christ helps us by using John 12:44-47 as the basis of the writing.



Jesus says, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me.  I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. “If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.

Yes!  What truth to plant into the hearts of our children.

Each page includes a beautiful photograph from nature of various animals (a swan and her cygnets, a kingfisher diving for food, arctic tern, an owl, a cardinal in winter, a woodpecker feeding her young, etc.).   These photographs are accompanied by text expressing how the qualities and habit of the animal reflect the truth revealed in the scripture.

Here's an example from one two-page spread:

Image - a beautiful owl perched on an Autumn branch.

Scripture - "So that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness."

Caption -  "This owl rests in the day and works at night.  Owls have special eyes that help them find their way through the dark.  When you trust in Jesus, you use you special sense called faith that can lead you out in the darkness in the world."


At the end of the book there is a two-page feature for parents/kids.  This gives parents tips and encouragement for applying and getting the most out of the book.  the "What Do YOU Think?" page asks thought-provoking questions of the child.

I really love this book.  I think it is a wonderful combination of scripture, truth, nature study, and application for young toddlers, preschoolers, and even early school age/elementary students.



Other nice features from Graham Blanchard:

There are links to various book-tie-ins on Pinterest.

You can get a good look inside the book, by clicking here.

Also, Graham Blanchard offers a 'Free Tips for Parents' section for this book on their website.   This offers insight and ideas for engaging further with the book.  Ideas include things like, encouraging our children to engage their senses in worshiping God for His creation, visiting the sea (or waterfront) and comparing the various aspects of the boy's day to your child's experiences, talking to children about the idea of water and how oceans, lakes, rivers, etc. cover much of the earth.  I love these ideas!
Many of the books on the site include engaging ideas like these in the Tips for Parents sections.  What a great tool for applying these books to our children's lives!


PS.  Right now, if you visit GrahamBlanchard.com, you can sign up to receive a free ebook, called, Spiritual Parenting in the First Five Years.  



(hugs)

A Review of Your Morning Basket along with The Big Basket planning tools for inspiring meaningful Morning Time

Monday, January 25, 2016








I've been talking quite a bit about Morning Time lately.  If you are unsure what I mean by Morning Time, I recommend you read this post.

I was excited to receive and review the Your Morning Basket book and resources from Pam Barnhill at Ed Snapshots.  


Through her blog and her podcasts,  Pam offers so many great resources and so much encouragement to home schoolers.  I absolutely love listening to the Your Morning Basket podcasts!  They are so informative with so many fantastic guests... I always feel refreshed, inspired, and pumped to get up and get to it.  (This is impressive, considering it is usually near midnight by the time I get a chance to listen!)  I actually just finished listening to one about Narration with Sonya Shafer from Simply Charlotte Mason.  (SO helpful and informative!)

So, about the book and planning tools...

If you are new to the idea of a family learning time or are seeking to implement a more meaningful Morning Time (family time/circle time) into your homeschool, this book will BLESS you.  I have been doing Morning Time with my children for quite a while (or at least a version of it) and I still learned a ton and felt super inspired and encouraged by the Your Morning Basket ebook.

I also love how Pam not only offers the ebook but also couples it with practical planning tools and hands-on help for getting started.  I've heard so many Moms say things like, "Oh, I love the idea of a rich, Charlotte Mason-inspired family and Morning Time - but I have no idea where to start...".

So, if that's you - here is a great place to start, Mamas!




What's in Your Morning Basket?

I love this book!  There is so much packed in, yet it is an easy, quick read... which I know so many of us need!  Even though I'm very familiar with Morning Time, I learned quite a few new things, was exposed to exciting thoughts,  and felt super encouraged and refreshed as to the 'whys' of this wonderful practice.
Your Morning Basket
Click on the photo to link to Your Morning Basket.

Chapter headings include things like, Why Do Morning Time?, Morning Time Subjects, How Long Should it Take?, On Getting them to Be Still, How to Plan Morning Time, Morning Time FAQs, and further resources.

I love Pam's discussion of Morning Time being a way of bringing 'Truth, Goodness, and Beauty' to the beginning of our homeschool day and to the forefront of our minds.  Through the '3 Rs - Ritual, Reading, Relationship' we introduce our children to insightful and beautiful ideas, meaningful scriptures and character training, and (hopefully) infuse our homes with that deep-rooted family experience we are so longing for.

The book whispers words of wisdom and also offers a ton of practical advice.  A whole chapter is devoted to giving wonderful suggestions for potential Morning Time 'Subjects' along with great suggested resources to use in every subject area.

(SO HELPFUL!)

There is also planning help for getting started and encouragement for Moms who are doing Morning Time with little ones.  This is a fantastic resource.



Here are a couple of my favorite quotes from the book:

"Schole, which is a Greek word that means 'restful learning', is learning with time for contemplation and discussion - unhurried, free from anxiety, and full of wonder.  So often our schoolwork has a tendency to be reduced to the utilitarian.  We complete check off lists, learning necessary skills with little thought to life-giving learning practices  The ritual and pace of Morning Time forces us to slow down, enjoy, and savor ideas as we encounter them together..."

"The habit of a warm drink and a few moments of contemplation creates in me a disposition for a very good day.  Children also need to get their days off to a good start."

"Our job is not just to shape their intellect, but also to flood their affections with beauty."



The 'Subjects' in our Morning Time:


Bible and Scripture Memory Work
Poetry Memorization and Reading
Hymn Study
Character and Habit Study
Nature Study and Natural History
Art, Artist Study and Picture Study
Music Appreciation and Composer Study
Shakespeare, Fables, Folk Tales
Hero Admiration Readings
Other Memory Work: Prayers, Blessings, etc.
Geography - Map Drills
Greek/Latin/French

History and Literature happens as a family, usually at lunch time.  This is sort-of part of our 'Morning Time' though it happens later in the day, if that makes sense.



To see some of the actual resources/books, etc. we are using this year for Morning Time, click here.





How I used the Planning Tools...


Alright, so maybe I'm a bit strange, but I LOVE planning things - especially homeschool things.  Not that the things I plan always happen, but in theory, and on paper - they look GREAT.  *cough*

Anyways, planning charts, weekly grids, and outline sheets are SO up my alley.  I create a lot of my own, so I'm a bit picky about them.  Having said that,  I found the planning tools from The Big Basket to be really helpful and easy to use.   (I actually really liked them in lay-out and design!)

The planning sheets really helped me envision what our Morning Times will look like and then, made it simple for me to plug them in daily so all I have to do is open up my binder and get going on any given morning.  *breathe and smile*

Pam also completely walks you through how to start planning a Morning Time using the planning tools right in the ebook.  So nice!

So, this is different for me because I did not have a Morning Time Binder like this in the past.  I would simply write down what I wanted to do in a separate planning book.  The problem is - I often couldn't find what I was looking for and I had to juggle too many books and print-outs.

Even though we had our Morning Basket, if we were singing a certain hymn, I'd have to fetch the hymn book... if we were memorizing a poem, I'd dig out the poem book to the right page... if we were learning a morning prayer, I'd find THAT book too - so much juggling.  And with antsy kids... yeah.

Having a binder with print-outs of a lot of our memory work and daily activities for Morning Time has been SUPER helpful, so I'm very grateful to the Your Morning Basket tools for that!

So, our binder has the Morning Time Plan schedule at the front (this is part of the Big Basket planning tools I link to below), as well as tabs and sections for every day of the school week plus a daily tab.  (I also added sections for Morning Time Ideas and Other... but not sure that's really relevant...)

It's fairly straight forward.  The 'daily' tab contains things we do every day (this includes our current poem we are memorizing, a morning prayer we are memorizing, and our scripture verse).  

The Monday through Friday tabs contain things we do specifically on each day.  So, if its Tuesday, then I flip open Tuesday and I automatically have our poem, "What are Heavy?" by Christina Rossetti, and our Picture Study prints with question cards.  The other things we do on Tuesday are Habit and Character Study (which will be out of our Laying Down the Rails book), and usually French, which is practicing common words out of an Usborne book.   We would have already covered our Bible, Scripture Memory, and Poetry readings because they are in the 'daily' tab.  

We still use a TON of books apart from the print-outs in the binder, but the binder has helped HUGE with organizing all the tid-bits together.

Make sense?

Also note, Pam offers tons of fabulous advice about organizing in the resources.



Here's a peek at how I used the planning tools and some of the stuff we put in our Morning Time Binder:


Here is one of the planning sheets - I didn't use it exactly as Pam outlined, I just fiddled with it as a rough draft for our weekly plans for different Morning Time 'subjects' and which day they worked best for our schedule and to spread them out in a way that made sense.



This is now my 'good copy' (feel like I'm back in school!) for our Morning Time Schedule/Plan.  This is very helpful for me when it comes to planning.  I can pull this out and plan our readings with certain books, poems, Art and Picture Study, Music Appreciation, etc.  

Who knew there were dividers that extended LONGER that page protectors!?  This is new to me and I was WAY to excited to find out about these, buy them, and use them in our new binder.  Honestly, having almost the whole binder be in page protectors and STILL seeing the tabs? *GLORIOUS!*  

Our Morning Time Binder/Book and some of the stuff you'll find in there - a print out of the Aaronic Blessing we are learning, a poem we've memorized and use for review, and Map Drill of Canada with Province/Territory tabs- ready to go for our Friday Morning Map Drills.

Some more of the things in our Morning Time Binder - SQUILT sheets for Composer and Music Study, Hymn print-outs for lyrics, Picture Study prints and question cards, poetry print-outs, and reusable Map Drill prints and word/Country tabs.


Having things ready like this is SO helpful, especially with wiggle boys joining in for Morning Time.  This was my Monday morning "Daily" tab - a poem along with our weekly memory verse is right there and ready to go.

This is a sort of Morning Time board area.  This is right beside our kitchen table where Morning Time happens.  We've mounted our current memory verses, our current Habit/Character focus (kindness), some special people/needs we are praying for with our map of persecuted nations, special thoughts, quotes, scriptures, as well as our picture study print for the week. 

A peek at one of our Morning Times this week.  Arctic Aesop's Fables, Poetry Memorization, and some easy and fun Greek/Latin lessons.





I really enjoyed The Big Basket, which included the following:



  •  Your Morning Basket ebook    
  • 6 Morning Time Snapshots
  • Binder forms and Binder Covers (planning sheets for getting a quick and efficient start)
  • A 6-week email mini-course for planning Morning Time
  • A Binder Tour Video (very practical, detailed how-to of organizing a successful Morning Time Binder)

There is also The Little Basket which gives you the Your Morning Basket ebook, Binder Forms and Covers, and the Binder Tour Guide.  I would strongly recommend either.

Your Morning Basket
Click above to link to Your Morning Basket.
I think these kinds of resources are by far the best things to invest in for any homeschool.

Especially those looking to embrace a more Charlotte Mason, family-centered learning structure.

The reason I value these types of resources so much is because I am not purchasing a one-time or one-year 'program', I am purchasing tools that will help me learn how to implement my own program, year after year!


And, friends, from the bottom of my heart - learning how to plan and implement a meaningful Morning Time is one of the best things I've ever done for myself and our children.  It will be a skill that will continue to grow and develop and bless our children (hopefully, prayerfully) more richly than I could even imagine!



Morning Time has been transformational and so deeply meaningful for our family... I encourage any family to try it!  You won't regret investing in time together.  This is an intentional way to focus on what is lovely, write truth on our hearts, and learn together in a very memorable way.













Consider checking out my Morning Time board on Pinterest for more ideas:


Follow Cassandra's board Morning Basket / Morning Time on Pinterest.


*This post contains Affiliate Links

What is a Living Book? Encouragement for embracing a Living Books-based Home Education, Part 2

Friday, January 22, 2016







Simply put, a Living Book is a book that is well-written, enjoyable for both young and old, makes the subject come alive, and is memorable and/or inspiring.  Living Books are highly effective in teaching because we make a connection with the material, the characters, the time period, etc.   We remember what we've read because we not only enjoyed the experience of reading it, but we've made a 'relationship' with the words and ideas.  We did almost all our learning this way for the first three years using Five in a Row and it has richly blessed our family and filled us with a passion for reading and learning.  You are literally just using piles of books, a few fun activities, and daily life to learn.  It's fantastic!

{Read my posts about Five in a Row studies}


An example of the books we used for our study of The Salamander Room.
A pile of the books we are reading this year...




It has become fairly easy for me to pick out Living Books from the rest as I've grown in my understanding of what to look for.   I thought I would share some thoughts in Part 2 of "What is a Living Book?".  Click here to read Part 1.

See how I put together Living Books for our plan for 2016, right here.



Is it a Living Book?  Some of the questions I ask when choosing our books... 



Does it weave history or information with a great story that engages the reader?


Nothing compares to a captivating book that not only tells a fantastic story, but teaches at the same time!  We have read countless novels and picture books like this.  These types of books make up the spine of our learning, especially in History, Nature Study, and Science.  There are so many historical fiction books available to choose from from every era and at every age level.

I look for books that are well-written, tell a great story, and are historically accurate.  When we read about the Revolutionary War in a story and through characters that we connect with - the history comes to life.  


In the past few months, we've lived in a small colonial town with Johnny Tremain and felt the pain of his injury and the triumph of his comeback and involvement in the Boston Tea Party.  We've sailed (and fell in love with  *ehem, maybe that's just me...*) Nat Bowditch as we learned about navigation and the life of a young apprentice in the 18th century.   We've felt the excitement and courage within the heart Paul Revere as he rode through the town with his famous cry, "The British are Coming!".

The kids have learned a TON and it has all been done through Living Books - picture books and novels about the topic we are studying.

Another example which is common for many families is our connection to Laura, Mary, baby Carrie, Ma, Pa, and the whole gang from The Little House series.  Our children love those books so much and learned all about early pioneer life from them.  We have listening to each book at least twice on audio book in the car.  I constantly make references like: "Alright, so, this happened at the same time that Laura was a little girl", or "Oh!  Did you know Mary and Laura could have read some of Stevensen's poems!?" and so on.  They instantly have a friend to remember and a time frame to add understanding to history's flow.

This is why we put pictures of book covers on our Book of Centuries/timeline.



Does it combine high quality writing with interesting/relevant content and engaging pictures?


Great writing, beautiful illustrations/quality pictures.  It does't seem like these are very earth-shattering requests in a book, but, unfortunately, there are a ton of books out there that have neither of these qualities.

I often seek out high quality picture books on a variety of topics to use within our homeschool.  There are thousands of phenomenal picture books for children that read like prize winning novels.  I look at these as short stories with illustrations.  Our children do not need pictures or illustrations to hold their interest, but rather, I find illustrations pull them in and make the content more powerful and impacting.

 For instance, this week we read the book Frederick's Journey.  I highly recommend it.  It's about the life of Frederick Douglass who was born a slave and fought his way to freedom with dignity and wisdom.  It weaves the author's words with Douglass' own words to create a beautifully written Living Book that pulls the reader into the gut-wrenching life of a slave fighting for their freedom.

The story in itself would have been wonderful, but when you add the gripping illustrations, you've got Mama and the kiddos spell-bound by this powerful story of a real man who fought a very real war against injustice.  We see his face, his Mama reaching out frantically for him as he is pulled from her arms as a baby, we see the setting, the cotton fields, the types of places he was forced to sleep.  We really *feel* the story in a way we might not if there were not illustrations.

And there are so many picture books like this out there.  I highly encourage you to seek them out and use them frequently with children of all ages.  Picture books are not just for young children~!  




Is it enjoyable for us all to read?


To be sure, a good Living Book will light a spark in hearts and minds.  It will be engaging and enjoyable to read.   And not just for your children, but for you as well.  If you aren't enjoying it - you might want to reconsider your book choice.

Believe it or not, this is a big debate among many Charlotte Mason inspired homeschoolers.  There are many that believe you should keep reading through a book, even if your child does not like it.  They believe you should work through the books on said list because it is good for your child to learn to engage with difficult material, finish what they start, use these specific materials/lists/books,  etc.

Okay... I can see the point of the whole, 'stick to what you start', 'try hard things' mentality, but when it comes to books - I don't think this is always the case.  There have been books we start and do not finish.  There are two reasons we usually stop - 1.  We aren't enjoying the book.  2. The content isn't what I thought it would be or I feel led to stop reading.


My theory for engaging with Living Books is this - a Living Book should, primarily, make the information or topic come alive for that child. 

We had to stop several of the books on the Ambleside list, to be honest.  Our children just didn't like many of them and I didn't feel comfortable with the content in some of them.  As I expressed my concern to other Ambleside Moms, I felt judged!  I felt like if I did not read what was on that list, I wasn't doing right by my kids.  That just doesn't make sense to me.

 If children are not enjoying a book, they will not form a relationship with it or with the content in it.   So, I do not force my children to read books they do not enjoy and I certainly don't continue to read books I feel uneasy about.  This isn't every person's philosophy, but it is mine, and it has worked remarkably well in our home.

Again, this is my philosophy and I know many disagree, and that's ok.  I'm just sharing what I feel will work best for offering that vibrant, living education we are seeking.  A "Living Book" should not be confusing, boring, or dull - it defeats the purpose of using that book.

I know our children are loving a book when they keep asking me to 'read more', which so often is the case.  It is so rewarding to see the connections we all make when we invest in quality literature that we are enjoying.  What a wonderful feeling when you finish a well-loved book, sigh deep, feel inspired, enlightened, and sometimes even desiring more knowledge on the topic covered.



Does the book provide enough interesting content that it could be used as an exciting spring-board for further learning?


This is a skill (which sometimes feels like a curse!) that I learned largely from my use of Five in a Row.  The Five in a Row program basically takes high quality picture books and uses them as springboards for further learning.  After doing this with upwards of 30 books, you start to get the feel for how to make it work on your own with your own books.  I am forever grateful to FIAR for this passion for using books to learn that they instilled in my children (and myself as an educator).

A really good Living Book will usually be rich enough, full enough to offer the opportunity to dig deeper based upon what is in the book itself.  This is an INCREDIBLY cost-effective way to do 'curriculum'.


Here's an example from recently in our home.  This week we read the book Ice Bears.  This was a great Nature Study read, well written and beautifully illustrated.  Often I pick up books like this from the library because they are just nice, easy, Living Book reads for lunch time or Morning Time.

I would consider this a great Living Book because it offers quite a bit to 'chew' on.  So, for instance, from this book we could springboard off into the following topics:  Polar Bear anatomy, growth, hibernation patterns, habitat, family structure, diet, survival, habits, life cycles, as well as life in the Arctic, the Arctic Circle, seasons in different parts of the world compared to seasons in the Arctic, Arctic plants and land forms, other Arctic animals (such as Arctic Fox, Ravens, Seals, Mosquitos), and dangers of the Arctic.  The list could actually go on.  

So you see?  Seek out books that offer a feast for the eyes, ears, mind, and also the soul.  You don't HAVE to use books as springboards for further learning, but I encourage you to look for books that offer the kind of content that would make that possible.  These are often much higher quality literature.

(If you aren't sure where to start, you could check out the lists of books used in Five in a Row, as their books follow this 'rule'.)




Let's talk about some of the most common Living Book Misconceptions I've encountered...



There are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there, so let's touch on a few of the most common ones -


"Charlotte Mason Living Books are all written like 100 years ago."


I spoke about this in the last post as well but it is incredibly important to address.  There is this bizarre myth that Charlotte Mason-inspired homeschoolers can only use super old books written before or when Ms. Mason was alive.  Um... this is crazy and completely false.  There are wonderful Living Books that have been written very recently and there are wonderful books that WERE written in 1870-something.  The time doesn't matter, the content does.


"Living Books can't be picture books."


I've heard this quite often, to be honest.  I haven't found any proof that Charlotte herself was against picture books, so I'm not sure where this idea developed.  Charlotte Mason coached parents to choose wisely and sparingly their picture books, which I think is still sound advice but we also have to remember how things have changed since she made this statement.  Picture books as we know them today didn't exist when Charlotte was teaching.  (Just google 'books published in the 1800s to see what I mean!) 

The engaging, richly illustrated and written books which are the Living Picture Books of today are leaps and bounds beyond the stuff that Charlotte would have had to choose from in her day.  So, we can keep this in mind in light of 'choosing sparingly'.  I think we can focus on choosing well - and if we find large quantities of wonderful Living Picture Books, then why not share them with our children?  

I've also heard the argument that picture books take away a child's ability to imagine the images presented in a story.  (Because an illustrator has already provided them.)  I suppose to some extent that is true, but I would also argue that a good picture book will inspire a child to use their imagination even further!  

A good example for us is from our reading and studying of Roxaboxen.  The illustrations of the children in the story running their own 'town' with rocks outlining streets, shops, and homes inspired hours of play for our children.  Literally, they spent weeks building countless Roxaboxens of their own with friends.  They even created snowy Roxaboxens this past week in the backyard!

In no way did illustrations take away from their ability to imagine or add to this story.  In fact, the illustrations enriched their experience with the book, which is so often the case with really good picture books.

Please, please, don't stop reading picture books.  Great picture books are written for children and adults alike.  There are so may incredible picture books that are absolutely Living Books.  They are written in challenging language with inspiring and challenging content that not only inspires us but draws us in, helps us learn, and feeds our very souls.  To skip picture books, in my opinion, would be like robbing our family of the true fullness that the Living Books-based education is all about.


Living Books have to come from a certain reading list or curriculum in order to be good.


Nonsense.  Any list you see anywhere was compiled by a Mom or Dad just like you.  Any homeschooling parent can learn how to find great Living Books, then make their own list that works for their family.

I wrote about my thoughts concerning feeling pressured into adhering to specific 'Charlotte Mason' curriculums and booklists right here.  The truth is, this whole Living Books education thing should be freeing, not binding.  If you feel locked in or tied down to a 'list' that might not work for you, that isn't going to be healthy, effective, or encouraging long-term.

No list is perfect... they are all just created by other human beings!  Just like anything I share here on the blog - it is just one imperfect girl writing her thoughts and experiences!  Test everything!

Having said that, there are great suggestions on many, many book lists.  Book lists can be amazing resources to save time, money, and energy in the great search for high quality living books.  But, the thing to remember is this - they are only resources.  They are not the final word on what should be or shouldn't be read in your individual home.  


"Living Books can't be non-fiction."


Um...?

This is probably one of my biggest frustrations with misconceptions about Living Books. 

Somewhere along the way confusion set in and parents started to think EVERY SINGLE Living Book had to be in the form of a story.  If we are learning about geology, by jove, it has to be in story form or it just isn't Living!  (Talking rocks?)

This couldn't be further from the truth.  In fact, much (all?) of Charlotte Mason's writing for children was non-fiction completely.  Her widely known geography and grammar books were both non-fiction.

To get our children in touch with 'great minds' is also often to read them high quality non-fiction.  More often than not it is better to read books by one author, an expert in their field or someone with a personal passion or investment in the topic.  (IE: We read about painting in nature from a non-fiction book by Robert Bateman, a well-loved Naturalist/Painter.)

There are many, many wonderful Living Books that are non-fiction.  We happen to LOVE Usborne books in our home.  They have tons of super interesting and engaging history, science, geography, art, music, and nature books that are completely factual but entirely 'living'.  

These books are living in the sense that they make the subject come alive - our kids LOVE to read the books, they retain what they are learning and hunger for more knowledge on many of the topics they read about in these kinds of books.


Our son LOVES non-fiction.  Just tonight, he was completely glued to one of his favorites- Usborne's The Last 500 Years.  This flows chronologically through the last 500 years of history and includes an interesting combination of good/challenging writing, illustrations, graphics, maps, and real photographs of historical events.  He is constantly saying, 'Hey Mom, did you know...?"

How is this not living?

Many children (especially boys) gravitate to non-fiction and that's perfectly normal and healthy!  It is okay to have your child read and narrate from high quality non-fiction!  Just because it isn't a 'story' does not mean it isn't a Living Book.  

This is a complete misconception!




"A Living Books-based education is just way too expensive.  I can't afford all those books!"


First, I can attest to this truth - there are TONS of great living books at your local library. (My library record and late fees prove this... ha!)

If you are blessed enough to have access to a library, you can very successfully homeschool using a Living Books method at almost no cost to you at all.  

Personally, I choose to invest in quite a few books in our home.  This is mainly because I highly value owning many of the book we use and love.  There is high value and deep meaning in actually owning books and keeping them in your home long-term.  I find our kids will ask, "Mom?  Is this our book?"  What they mean is, do we get to keep this friend close at hand?

Even with this passion to fill our bookshelves though, our yearly budget is still pretty conservative.  Especially compared to homeschoolers who are investing hundreds and even thousands in boxed curriculums.

You can find loads of great books at Thrift Stores, Book Swaps, Library Sales, Used Curriculum Sales, you name it.  You can also buy many new titles on Amazon and the like (ThiftBooks.com!) but super cheap.

Having said that - I am convinced, based on my experience, if you have access to a good library, you can find more than enough high quality literature to homeschool for free using this method.

This is what makes using Living Books so lovely as well, it is all-inclusive and open to anyone and everyone who has access to books.









Coming in Part 3 - Answering the question: "How do I use Living Books to build a great education for my children?  Don't I need a curriculum?"



Stay tuned.  

(smile)



What is a Living Book? Encouragement for embracing a Living Books-based Home Education, Part 1

Monday, January 18, 2016





This will be part 1 of a 5 part series in which I hope to answer the question, "What is a Living Book and how do I use it in my homeschool?"


"I understand the right books can make learning come alive in our homeschool - but how do I choose the right books?  I hear a lot about Living Books but... I'm confused.  What exactly IS a Living Book?"



This is one of the most common questions about Charlotte Mason's philosophy.  

So, if you are wondering this same thing, you aren't alone.  

I was just talking to my husband today about how desperate I was to understand this whole Living Book thing when our kids were younger.  I attended a Charlotte Mason support group and the (wonderful) Moms there kept throwing around the term Living Books like it was second nature to them but I had NO IDEA what they were talking about.  I felt too embarrassed to actually put my hand up and say, "Um, can we back the Charlotte Mason train up for a second here... what on earth is a LIVING book?"

It took me a good couple months to find the answers I was looking for about Living Books.  Then it took me a good couple YEARS to learn the art of finding the best Living Books and implementing them into our every day homeschool.  (Five in a Row was instrumental in helping me learn to use Living Books a a whole curriculum.)



So, what is a Living Book?

For me, simply put, a Living Book is a book that is well-written, enjoyable for both young and old, makes the subject come alive, sparks our interest, inspires us, challenges us and encourages us to hunger for more.  It has become very easy for me to pick out Living Books from the rest as I've grown in my understanding of what to look for.  (I plan to go into great detail about this in Part 2.)

Rather than just repeating what has already been so eloquently written, I will share a section from Simply Charlotte Mason:


Charlotte used books as one means of helping a child form a personal relation with someone or some idea. But not just any book can do that important task. Here is a short list of what Charlotte said to look for when you are book shopping.
  1. Make the subject come alive.
    To make a real connection, a relation, with an idea, it must touch our emotions. Mere dry facts don’t usually accomplish that vital aspect of real knowledge. Look for living books.
  2. Get in touch with great ideas from great men.
    As much as we, parents, would like to think that we know a lot, there is so much we don’t know. So let’s allow our children to form relations with great minds of the past and present. The best way to get in touch with those great minds is by reading their thoughts. Look for worthy ideas in books.
  3. Well-written.
    Charlotte described well-written books with these terms: “written with literary power,” “a word fitly spoken,” “worthy thoughts, well put,” “inspiring tales, well told.” Look for books written in good and simple English (or Spanish or French or whatever your primary language is) with a certain charm of style.
  4. Not childish twaddle.
    Avoid books that present “little pills of knowledge mixed into weak diluent.” Twaddle talks down to the child and assumes she can’t understand more than tidbits of information. Look for books that you, the adult, will enjoy too.
  5. Give the children the idea that knowledge is supremely attractive and that reading is delightful.
    In other words, check both the content and the style in which it is presented. Look for books that will give your child a love for learning through books.
  6. The best you can find.
    Charlotte admitted that sometimes it’s very hard to find just the right book for just the right occasion. In those cases, choose the best you can find and remind yourself that those are the exceptions, not the rule. Look for the best of what’s available at the time.


My thoughts on Charlotte Mason Book Snobbery


That's my term, by the way, and I quite love it.  (hehe)  But it is something that I feel needs to be addressed as we look at this idea of Living Books in light of a Charlotte Mason home education.

So, um... Charlotte Mason people have earned the reputation of being book snobs.  I get it.  I'm one of them - I'm SO choosy with books and have been known to make a scene upon finding an out of print or hard to find title at a book swap or sale...

But, I've also come to notice a certain book exclusiveness in CM circles that concerns me.  It basically can be summed up by saying that many believe only certain (pretty select) books qualify as great, Charlotte Mason-approved Living Books.  But, here's the thing...

Charlotte worked as an educator in the late 1800s.  The last century has been one of magnificent development in so many areas of life.   Let's be honest, there have been many changes to the way children's books are written and published since then.  There is also a ton more information available to us in pretty much every area of study.

One of my biggest frustrations with so many Charlotte Mason enthusiasts and curriculums is that they often become almost snobbish in their book choices, giving the impression that anything Miss Mason did not personally recommend or endorse is of no or little value.  Ladies.  This makes absolutely no sense to me.  

Charlotte could only endorse that which was written at the time she was alive.


Shocking statement, I know.  But, honestly, to narrow our Living Book choices to those that were used by Charlotte Mason herself, by the original CM schools, or endorsed by the PNEU is to cut off the majority of fabulous living literature that exists today.  It's just plain crazy-pants, as we would say in our house.

Also, just because a book was written in the early 1900s does not make it a good book.  Neither does it automatically make it a better book. I can certainly attest to this!  It was just one written before many of the just-as-great-if-not-much-better books written in the 2000s.  The time frame in which it was published doesn't make or break a book.  There were terrible books written 100 years ago.  And there are some pretty horrible books published in 2015.  

But there were also a lot of wonderful, Living Books published in 2015. 


The bottom line is, Charlotte Mason encouraged parents to read their children 'the best' available literature.  So, our job is to find the best books available to us.  And, oh boy, do we have FAR more wonderful books to choose from than mothers in the late 1800s!  And I am so thankful for that!



“Thought breeds thought; children familiar with great thoughts take as naturally to thinking for themselves as the well-nourished body takes to growing; and we must bear in mind that growth, physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, is the sole end of education.” 




Let's Talk a bit about Twaddle...

Oh, this term of 'Twaddle'. I love it and I hate it.  I love it mainly because it just sounds so interesting and provides so much to think about and chew on.  Twaddle.  Go ahead, say it with an English accent.  It's fun.

So, Twaddle is the term used to describe books that just aren't good enough for us Charlotte Mason book snobs.  (Come on, honestly, that is seriously what it means in homeschool circles... especially to non-CM people).   The problem is, I think a lot of us don't fully understand what Charlotte herself even meant by the word or the concept.  It's much more than Shakespeare VS. comic books.

Charlotte Mason described Twaddle in several ways.  Diluted, dumbed-down, overly juvenile literature that rejects the intelligence of the child is Twaddle.  Second-rate, stale, predictable books are Twaddle.  Easy books lacking good vocabulary and literary quality could very likely be Twaddle.


But it isn't always so clear cut.

Often, I think the term Twaddle can be used in the wrong context.  I recently heard another Mom refer to much of Usborne's non-fiction as Twaddle.  I nearly choked!  I couldn't disagree more!  If you aren't familiar with Usborne, they are a very popular publisher of some of the best, most 'living' non-fiction around.  So, I was wondering was it because the books were non-fiction and from a modern publisher that this Mom automatically considered them  Twaddle...?

It's just one example of how I've heard misconceptions of what the word means.  I've also heard people say anything modern must be Twaddle, and that even picture books are Twaddle as they leave no room for imagination (because they provide illustrations).  These are all misconceptions that could rob children of wonderful Living Book experiences.

Honestly, what all my babbling is trying to get at is this-  I think Charlotte Mason homeschoolers need to just relax a bit with their plight against Twaddle.  I'm not saying we should just throw our hands in the air and not be choosy about books (I'm the last person who would say this...) but I do think we should be careful how we voice our thoughts and how we form our opinions about book choices.

I mean, Twaddle is often a personal opinion.

Just like families have very different ideas of acceptable movies, families tend to have different ideas of what qualifies as Twaddle or 'junk food books' as they are often called.  

For example, some people say Beverly Cleary's Ramona series qualifies as Twaddle because they aren't considered classics, they are written in simple language (they are not literary poetry, I'll admit that), and they are a book series (I don't see how this alone can be a problem since many series are living books, to be sure).

I, for one, think the Ramona books are fantastic!  Our children love them so much and feel like they are kindred spirits with little Ramona, Beezus, Henry Huggins, and the gang.  The books are well-written, humorous, engaging for both young and old.  They have taught us much about relating to and understanding young children.  They have inspired empathy in our children and had our family talking about some pretty big topics.   I believe they are 'living books' about a young girl and her experiences growing up in the 1960s in a middle class American family.

But I know many will disagree.   And that's ok.  As you can see, the 'proper' Charlotte Mason-acceptable books can range from family to family and region to region and even year to year!

We have to use our own judgement and discernment in book choices.  We can take advice from our well-loved and trusted friend, Ms. Mason, but we also can use our own minds and souls to decide for ourselves what is bringing light, truth, laughter (the pure kind!), enlightenment, excitement, and wonder into our homes and the hearts of our children.




More "What is a Living Book?" chatter coming in Part 2, stay tuned for Simple Ways to Spot a Living Book! 











Our Morning Basket (encouraging meaningful Morning Time and answering the question, "What matters most in your homeschool day?")

Sunday, January 10, 2016






Morning Basket.

Morning Time.

Circle Time.

Family Time.

Morning Meeting.



There are quite a few terms in the homeschool world that all (pretty much) mean the same thing.  Or, at least, are referring to the same concept.


We call our special time together in the morning Morning Time and we refer to what we use in Morning Time as our Morning Basket.  



Make sense?  I don't know... "Circle Time" just reminds me of public school Kindergarten, so it isn't my favorite term, but to each, her own.  We can call it anything we want, the idea is this - every single day your family is spending intentional time together reading and learning intentional, meaningful things, and bonding in intentional, meaningful ways.

For some Moms, Morning Time is a very short, 15-minute time with their children. This isn't the kind of Morning Time I'm referring to in this post.  My Morning Time usually takes between 1 1/2 and 3 hours of our day and makes up the most important part of our day together.

(I wrote the above paragraph just in case you look at the stuff below and wonder how on earth we squeeze it into 15-20 minutes!!!  We don't!)

Cindy Rollins  is kind of known as the homeschool 'founder' of this Morning Time thing (although I think she really just made it better known among Charlotte Mason and Classical families).  If you click on the links below of her podcasts, you can hear her talk about the 20+ years she did Family Time/Morning Time in her home.  She advocates that this time together can take 2-3 hours of your day or longer, depending on what you consider to be 'Morning Time' work.

This is not 'wasted' time, this is the BEST time!  Reading, learning, looking at art, listening to classical music, looking at living maps, talking with and about God...

If you have younger children, your Morning Time might look very different and be much shorter.   When our kids were little, this time would have been maybe 45 minutes/hour.

Or, if you do not follow the same philosophy as we do- you may not feel comfortable or led to spend that long every day on Bible, reading, history and the arts.  It's all a personal thing - I'm just sharing what we do in our home (which is all I really can do!)



So, What does Morning Time look like for our family?


For us, Morning Time is an intentional time when we all sit and spend quality time together.  

This usually includes prayer, Bible reading and study, reviewing our Scripture Memory work, Poetry reading and Poetry Memorization, Hymn Study and singing, Fables, Nursery Rhymes, Tall Tales, and Shakespeare, as well as much of our Artist and Picture Study, Composer Study, History and novel read-alouds.  Yep, it's a full Basket.  *smile*

I've seen Morning Time or Family Time done differently by many parents, so you really will have to decide for yourself what it might look like in your home.  

My goal is to have our children look at Family Time as a time of joy and something they want to do!  Something they remember with fondness!  Something that never feels like 'work'!

In fact, just the other day, my eldest son (who is also sometimes my hardest to please) said something that warmed my heart.  The conversation went like this:

"Mom, I'm done all my work."
"That's awesome... oh, no, wait, you're done your individual work... but we still have Morning Time stuff to do, hun."
"Oh!  That's ok!  That's not work."

*smile*

Morning/Family Time comprises of about 70% of our homeschool 'work' but our kids don't perceive it as work because it is fun, engaging, enjoyable, and special!  


 Homeschool win, right!?



"What Matters Most in your Homeschool Day?"

I've been asked this question many times in various ways.  Most homeschool Moms have probably wondered (or stressed) about the question, what really IS the important stuff?  Especially when life gets busy; there's a new baby, visitors, a foster child, an illness, a time of stress, changes, moves, you name it - if a whole bunch of homeschool stuff had to go - what would you be sure to hold on to?

In other words, if you knew you only had a bit of time left - what would you want to be absolutely sure you got into your children's hearts and minds?   (This is not often the case, but pondering this question can really help you narrow your priorities).

Establishing an intentional Family Time has really helped me see what truly matters in our homeschool.  Having this daily habit or routine of reading together and focusing on those things that are important for our hearts, minds, and relationships has really grounded our homeschool in so many ways.

It has also allowed me to present 70% of our 'curriculum' in a way that is not perceived as 'work'!  This is a beautiful thing because it means the children are enjoying the journey of learning so much that they are embracing it as joyous, not cumbersome.


So, I've been praying and seeking the Lord on this idea of What Matters Most for quite some time now.  Oh, about 7 years?!  *smile*  And, there are a few things that I've realized should never change for us.  


Monumentally important to me are the following:

1. The Atmosphere of our home.  So, basically, is the Holy Spirit?  Does the way I treat my children consistently reflect Christ's love?  Do I exhibit the Fruits of the Spirit?  When I do mess up, am I humble and honest in the way I approach my errors?  And then, are the children growing and learning to be more like Jesus in the way they treat me, their Dad, each other, and others?  Then... are we reaching out to the world around us with love?   


2.  Cultivating a relationship with God and each other.  Families are their own little church communities.  I firmly believe this.  So, learning to serve God and each other is foundational.  Not easy... but foundational.

For us, this includes learning more about God through His Word (the Bible) and hiding His Scriptures in our hearts through memorization.  It also includes singing hymns and songs of praise together, celebrating God's Holidays and Feasts,  talking about God's truths and how they apply to every day life as well as big questions like, "What is my purpose?" and "Where did I come from?"

This would include also how we are cultivating a relationship with one another.  So, are Wes and I really investing quality time into our children?  The kind that builds life-long, trusting, discipleship-focused relationships?


3. Encouraging our family to Feast on Ideas and to ENJOY the feast.  Yes, we want to learn great things and we want to LOVE to learn!  This comprises mostly of enjoying wonderful Living Books together that focus on good, true, and noble things, at also includes nurturing a love of the natural world/God's creation.  This also means, endeavouring to think deeper, embracing an understanding of History, Geography, and Science (nature) and how God's nature and truths flow through all of these.  Also -questioning culture, learning about heroes of the Christian faith, and considering inspirational thoughts and ideas.


So, from these 'Most Important" ideas comes our list of what to include in our Family Time.  It is easy to see that for me, what I deem to 'matter most' in our homeschool is not largely focused on what many would view as traditional academics.  

Sometimes, it isn't about more stuff.  It's about the right stuff.



If I was to break down our day and put all the most important stuff in a basket, you'd have our Morning Basket.  



Morning Time is typically what we do first and often what we continue to do throughout the day (for readings during lunch, dinner, etc.).

Before we worry about Math or Grammar or any of the stuff traditional school puts as the top priority, we are focusing on Bible, Hymns, Character Study, Poetry, Fine Arts, and Living Books. 

And then we can enjoy the peace and joy that comes with this choice~!

*smile*

For us, Morning Time is very easy going.

We usually all get a little snack or tea (or hot chocolate!) and sit around the table together.  Then, depending on the day of the week, we will work through a bunch of readings and activities.  We read, we discuss, we pray, we recite, we chat, we read, we sing, we read, we narrate.   We laugh and enjoy each other's company.   Oh, and, we read.

And that's it.




Using our Morning Basket for Morning Time


So, our house is overloaded with two things.  Books and Legos.  If I could use two words to describe our home decor it would be, well, Books and Legos.  

And to be honest, for ages, there was no rhyme or reason to how I organized our readings for the day.  They were just stacked behind our book holder, which is actually a recipe book holder and our youngest referred to our reading picks as 'the book menu'.  (I love this, by the way!~)

So, yea, books are EVERYWHERE.  And though this is lovely in theory, it can play havoc on Family Time if you don't have what you need when you need it.  Because if your kids are anything like mine - all it takes is for me to have to walk away and search for a book and I've lost them all in a moment's time.

So, here is the blissful vision of the Morning Basket area (this is at the start of the day...):




And then, here is the reality at the end of most days:




*snicker*

So, nobody's perfect but I can say from experience that having a Morning Basket has been wonderful for our Morning Time because all my stuff is RIGHT THERE.  No searching.  I grab the basket, bring it to the table or couch, and we can get started easily and flow through our stuff without interruptions(ish).


So, I've established that we:

1. Love Family/Morning Time and use it as a foundational part of our homeschool to ensure we are daily covering 'what matters most'.
2. Use our Morning Basket as a tool during this time.

But, I thought I should share with you what is IN our Morning Basket these days!

This might give you some ideas for your own family as you either think about starting this habit in your family or continue to nurture it.  The book lists (apart from scripture) may change, but the heart of idea stays the same.

Our Morning Basket is for a 10, almost 9, and 7 year old, for reference!

So, here goes...


What's in our Morning Basket right now?


  • The Bible - we are using The NIV Adventure Bible, and the Chronological Life Application Study Bible 
  • Our yearly devotional book - this year we are using NIrV Adventure Bible Book of Devotions for Early Readers
  • Morning Time Book - this is a little folder that I put together and stays in our Morning Basket.  This includes our Prayer and Poetry Memory work (right now this includes The Lord's Prayer and several short poems from Christina Rossetti), Hymns and songs we are working on (right now we've got This is My Father's World, Take My Life and Let it Be, Amazing Grace, Rock of Ages, The Wondrous Cross, and various bible songs), Blessings (like the Aaronic Blessing from Numbers), and the 10 Commandments and Apostle's Creed which we will be working on for memory work.  I also have some rhyming prayers I would love to memorize with the kids. (This part of our Morning Basket takes no more than 5-10 minutes because we rotate every day between the various components.)  






  • A Child's Book of Prayers illustrated by Michael Hague
  • Hymns for a Kid's Heart Volume 1 by Bobbie Wolgemuth and Joni Eareckson Tada
  • The Children's Treasury of Virtues by William J. Bennet
  • The Book of Virtues by William J. Bennet
  • Trial and Triumph by Richard Hannula (Christian Heroes study -1 chapter per week)
  • Come Look With Me- World of Play by Gladys S. Blizzard (Picture Study)
  • Claude Monet: Sunshine and Waterlilies along with various Claude Monet color prints (Picture Study)
  • Beethoven Lives Upstairs by Barbara Nichol (composer study), last term it was Tchaikovsky Visits America.  
  • Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare by E. Nesbit (we cover 1 play per month)
  • A Child's Book of Poems compiled by Gyo Fujikawa (we read a poem every day, at least!)
  • The Voice of the Martyrs annual report (this might sound funny, but we use it as a prayer guide for the nations along with the map we received).
  • First Hundred Words in French (by Usborne... we use this maybe once a week if we feel inspired).

For our History and Novel Read-alouds, there is honestly too much variation to list all the books here, what I can do is give you some ideas of the books we are currently reading and have recently read:
  • Can't you Make Them Behave, King George? by Jean Fritz
  • The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh
  • Stories of the Nations and Stories of America from Simply Charlotte Mason
  • various Nature Study picture books
  • Boys and Girls of Colonial Days by C. Sherwin Bailey
  • Indian Captive by Lois Lenski
  • King of the Wind by M. Henry
  • Ben and Me by Robert Lawson


Other books we've recently had in our Morning Basket:
  • The Jesus Story Book Bible
  • The Case for a Creator for Kids
  • A Child's Garden of Verses
  • All Year Long (poetry book from Christian Light Publications)
  • Hero Tales Volume 1-4 by Dave and Neta Jackson
  • Bard of Avon by Diane Stanley (Shakespeare)


And before you get super overwhelmed - we don't read from every title every day!  Our days go on a rotation.   One day we will read from Trial and Triumph, the next we will read some Shakespeare, the next it will be Composer Study... so it works out quite nicely.

Some Links I Found:

Morning Time Podcasts
Cindy Rollins blog
CiRCE Institute - the long haul 
GROUNDED, the physics of Morning Time
Teaching from Rest
100 Things for Kids to Memorize







I pray this post is helpful and/or inspiring to you in some small way!

A review is coming but I highly recommend checking out this book and the planning tools!

Your Morning Basket







I've pinned tons of ideas, articles, and many of the books and resources we use in our Morning Basket on my Morning Basket/Morning Time board on Pinterest...


Follow Cassandra's board Morning Basket / Family Circle Time on Pinterest.

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